My Week(s) in Movies — Oscars Edition!
With the 2011 Academy Awards looming, I’ve spent the last couple weeks catching up on the Best Picture (and one Best Animated Feature) noms I may have missed during the year (aided in no small part by the annual Best Picture Showcase put on by AMC Theatres).
TOY STORY 3 — This is the exception to “missed during the year,” as I saw it in theatres. After my disappointment with RATATOUILLE and UP, I was kind of nervous about going back to the Toy Story well, especially after the extremely rocky history the project had (it was one of the projects Disney’s in-house 3D animation division, Circle 7, was developing as a “fuck you” to Pixar when the companies appeared to be going their separate ways). How wrong I was.
TS3 is one of Pixar’s finest films to date, with a depth and power of emotion that most films rarely achieve — even more astounding given that the characters are animated hunks of plastic. If the scene in the incinerator — one of the ballsiest things I’ve ever seen in a “kid’s movie” — doesn’t choke you up, you’re a robot. A true classic in its own right, and possibly the best conclusion to any trilogy I’ve seen. I’m sorry I ever doubted you, Pixar.
127 HOURS — I really don’t want to talk or think about this movie. It’s impressive that they were able to make it feature length and Franco’s performance is totally engrossing, but then there’s the climax. I believe it when I hear that people fainted watching it — I almost did myself. Protip: the worst stuff happens in the lower-left corner of the screen. If you block that from view you can watch without having to hide your eyes completely. A really solid technical achievement, impressive prosthetic effects (apparently they had one prosthetic and shot The Scene in one continuous take, which means the prop arm would have been quite complex) but I’m never, ever going to watch this movie again.
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT — I’m never going to watch this movie again, either. While the performances were alright in terms of making be believe that these people were these characters, the problem is that I hated the characters pretty much across the board (though the kids, indeed, were all right). I felt no chemistry in the relationship between the two female leads, and I was infuriated and disgusted by the plotline where one of them starts sleeping with their kids’ sperm donor.
Look, I totally understand that sexuality is a gradient and not a totally binary thing, but with so many people demonizing homosexuality and insisting that it’s a choice, the last thing I want to see in a movie trying to show the reality of gay relationships is homosexuality treated as a choice. Maybe it’s just my personal axe to grind here, but I hated this movie.
TRUE GRIT — But then I loved this movie. Which was a genuine surprise, given how little faith I have in the Coen Bros lately, and how much predisposition to hate it had to overcome. I absolutely hated NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and A SERIOUS MAN, and BURN AFTER READING was amusing but poorly-paced and disposable. But TRUE GRIT worked for me. I loved the characters, the performances, and the Coens’ total willingness to fuck things up for anyone at any time worked phenomenally for this story.
The last ten minutes or so, with an unnecessary and somewhat pointless coda, started to wade back into “stop wasting my time” territory, but it was brief and doesn’t taint my impression of the film all that much.
THE FIGHTER — I thought the performances were great all around, totally believable. Christian Bale was a standout as always, but Amy Adams — who is quickly becoming a favorite of mine — did a great turn as a no bullshit, strong woman. In fact, I think Adams’ character is one of the best strong female characters I’ve seen, demonstrating that love and affection are not and should not be seen as the same as weakness, and that she’s with her man because she wants him, not because she needs him. It’s even explicitly stated that he needs her. A solid flick and definitely worthy of the nomination, though I don’t know if I’d pick it over some of the other nominees to win.
WINTER’S BONE — I think the most succinct review I could make of this would be “lolwut.” While it was a fascinating portrayal of modern backwoods outlaw life (this could be rewritten as a period Western with very little trouble), the first half was extremely repetitive and kind of plodding:
She’d go to a member of her extended family asking where her dad is. They’d say they didn’t want to talk to her. She’d say please. They’d say okay. She’d ask again. They’d say we don’t know. She’d ask again. They’d threaten her. She’d leave. On her way out they’d cave in a little and tell her who she should ask next. And the cycle would repeat.
The movie spoon-fed us where I didn’t think it was necessary (“My dad’s your only brother!” or “You think I forgot he’s my cousin?!”) and didn’t give us any information where it might really have helped to understand what the hell is going on.
I will say that I thought the performances were great all around. I believed all the characters completely — and apparently they cast mostly locals, which goes some of the way toward explaining that. But as a film, I just didn’t understand enough of what was happening to really engage.
It sounds weird to say, but you know what format might really have worked for WINTER’S BONE? Webseries. The repetitive nature of the first half would totally work in serial form, with her going to different people and getting different characters and performances. But then it wouldn’t be Oscar-nominated (might’ve landed a Webby, though. Live the dream).
THE KING’S SPEECH — This one is apparently the favorite to win [post-show edit: which it did; bah]. It’s totally an Oscar-bait film so it doesn’t surprise me, and I thought it was a good film all around, but not the best in the lot. Strong performances, an engaging and emotional (if historically whitewashed) story, but I think it’s getting extra points for being British and indie. What I really can’t understand is how it’s nominated for cinematography — I thought the framing of shots was uniformly terrible and the movement of the camera, when it did move, was intrusive and distracting. It is also apparently to stuttering what THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT is to homosexuality. Still, it’s a good film in its own fantastical vacuum, and I can see it winning.
THE ILLUSIONIST — not to be confused with the 2006 picture starring Edward Norton (which itself is confused with THE PRESTIGE from the same year simply because they both had magicians), this ILLUSIONIST is new and nominated for Best Animated Feature.
Created by Sylvain Chomet — the man behind 2003’s Best Animated nominee (and one of my favorite animated films) THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE, this film tells the story of an aging but talented stage magician trying to make his way in a world increasingly disinterested in his rather quaint (if impressive) prestidigitations. He’s a magician of the old school, what you think of if you think of a classical “magician” — wears the tux, is very upright and proper, lets the magic speak for itself instead of accompanying it with flashes or bangs. It’s showmanship of a different era; a bygone one.
Like TRIPLETS, ILLUSIONIST has a distinct personality and idiosyncrasy that I have to conclude is Chomet’s own. There is almost no dialogue in the film, and if there is it’s almost all in French without subtitles, because ultimately what they’re saying isn’t as important as what they’re doing. Chomet’s films — at least the two I’ve seen — are masterful examples of visual storytelling, getting almost everything across with gesture, posture, or tone (they do occasionally make wordless sounds to express their feelings, particularly in the case of a friendly but boorish Scotsman who does a lot of incoherent shouting).
Like much of French cinema, it’s more concerned with the lives of the characters than a story with a well-defined beginning, middle, and end. Although it does have a clear ending it all kind of meanders up to that point, and it’s really just about the movie’s own fascination, amusement, and affection for the characters inhabiting it. If you come out asking what the “point of” any given scene was, then you definitely missed it.
I don’t think it’s likely to win in its category since it’s not clean, refined American-style storytelling like its competitors (TOY STORY 3 and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON). But I’m rooting for it if only because it’s actually a 2D, hand-animated film (with occasional 3D augmentation of environments or vehicles) with real personality and artistry behind it, not some studio product farmed out overseas for stiff and impersonal keyframing.
So what’s my pick for Best Pic? I haven’t mentioned BLACK SWAN, INCEPTION, or SOCIAL NETWORK here because I didn’t see them this week, but I loved all three films in their own way. It’s actually a pretty tough field this year — in previous years one has consistently stood out to me as the best of the batch (and has not been the one to take home the statue, so shows what I know), but this year I’d be fine with seeing about half of them take it. It would be great to see the Academy show Aronofsky some love and really acknowledge his unique and powerful voice; or validate the idea that a big budget tentpole doesn’t have to be blithering idiocy, but can also be a great film, with an INCEPTION win. The Coens get a nomination just for showing up, it seems, but this year I’d be happy to see TRUE GRIT take it home if only to encourage them to make more like it, and THE FIGHTER didn’t floor me but I’d accept it as a win.
But I think if I had to choose one, my vote would go to THE SOCIAL NETWORK. As much as my hipster bone is twinging away at the idea of playing into mainstream Facebook hype, the fact is that every aspect of the film — the performances, the writing, the direction, the cinematography, the visual effects — are all pulling in the same direction, all aiming for the same target and hitting it square in the bullseye. It manages to be a huge studio movie with a cream-of-the-crop pedigree that still feels as rebellious and subversive as its characters and their story. It managed to tie up all the loose ends and yet still make you leave the theatre asking yourself…who was really right or wrong there?
The subject matter may or may not be your cup of tea (I’m not a big Facebooker myself), and it may be just as historically inaccurate as KING’S SPEECH, but in my opinion THE SOCIAL NETWORK is everything it aimed to be, and a prime example of what movies, at their best, have to offer, and why I love them so. If only by a nose, I think it really was the best picture of the year. At the very least, Fincher has been robbed if he doesn’t win Best Director [post-show edit: which he was. BAH!].
We’ll know it all in just a few short hours. I’ll be live-tweeting and may even jump into the Down in Front chatroom to snark the show in real-time. This is my Superbowl Sunday. Enjoy the show!