Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Academy Awards--who cares, anyway?

Award season is here again and I am drawn to see the lists, see the films, see the dresses.  After all, that's what award season is about.  I thought it would be fun to put together my totally biased, uninformed, and useless look at the nominees for best film this year.

Lincoln will probably win.  I cannot object; I loved it. Tony Kushner's script is nothing short of wonderful; it  operates as historical document and primer on political efficacy.  As always, Kushner writes with an expansive ethical imagination; language and idea blend seamlessly and his characters are rounded and fully human.   Steven Spielberg apparently knew when to get out of the way, as his usual heavy-handedness was mostly out of sight, though a few moments were a bit overly illustrative, such as everything post-Ford theater.  I believed that the film was ending the moment Lincoln walked down the hallway on his way to the fateful place; it would have been the perfect finale.  While I'm editing/kibbutzing, Day-Lewis ought to have been allowed the entire the 2nd Inaugural, one of my favorite pieces of American political speech.

Silver Linings Playbook does for--or to--the mentally ill what other American films have done for the Irish.  Aren't they wacky and charming?                                                                                           Don't you want to be a little Irish?--or in this case, a bit bipolar?  Especially if you lose a lot of weight and get buff, speed read classic literature, learn to dance and get a hot chick?   I don't, but I did wonder why we don't see more of Julia Stiles; I would love to see her and Jennifer Lawrence as sisters again.  Sure, the acting was great and the script was episodically clever. I liked this movie while I was watching it, but felt a little dirty afterwards.*
Beasts of the Southern Wild   Loved it. Said so.

Amour  I made a plan to see this film but couldn't bring myself to go, given the subject matter, my place in life, and other depressing things.  A conundrum:  this film is nominated in both best picture and best foreign language film categories. How do you vote?  What gives?

Argo  Well-crafted, expertly paced and acted, good, almost old-fashioned movie-making about an interesting tidbit of history.  Alan Arkin slayed me.  This was a pretty perfect film that immersed me in the action, except for the odd moment of gratuitous cheesecake--if you saw the film you know just what I am talking about  (but Ben Affleck looks good with his shirt off).   A great opportunity to see fabulous and wacky fashion from the 1970's, though on that note, Argo is a distant second to Mary Tyler Moore reruns.

Django Unchained  Skipped it!  Thank god for trailers.  Without knowing this was a Tarentino production, I was rolling my eyes before the preview was half over.  Would there be blood?  Would there be plenty of swearin'?  My overwhelming response to everything Q.T. has ever made is profound boredom.  If he ever makes a film that is worth my time and money I'll get to the theater on a flying pig.  Maybe.  Since my good friend J. liked the film and I trust her absolutely, I may change my mind.

Les Miserables   I escaped the stage version and I'm hoping to escape this one, too.  While watching the trailer I was overcome with vertigo and had to leave the theater.  Manohla Dargis said it best in her review of  Les Miserable, which she characterized (charitably, in my opinion) as "overly busy" and yes, I know I didn't see it. "By the grand may instead be raising the white flag in exhausted defeat."  See the full review here: ‘Les Misérables’

Life of Pi   Not for the credulous or easily motion sick. I hated it--though my children, and everyone else I know, loved it.  Life of Pi relies heavily on pretty visuals and a good startle response in the audience--a sort of cheap thrill.  Was it all the God talk that put me off?  Pi saying "I submit!" in the face of roiling storm had me rolling my eyes.  Does Pi truly believe,ought we truly believe, that God sends us trials to overcome, and is watching us all the time?  I enjoy a fairy tale as much as the next person, but I experienced tremendous difficulty suspending disbelief for this film.  Maybe it was the amount of healthy looking flesh our protagonist boasted after all those months on the open sea.  What I really think is that so much of the film was digitally created (including the beautiful tiger) it was rendered, for me, lifeless and pointless.  Everything is spectacular in the digital age, and therefore, nothing is spectacular.   Our young actor, perhaps, had trouble really bringing his suffering to the fore when he was all alone on a stage, acting with nothing, being with no one.  I find in this a poignant irony: looking into the sky (the face of God?) and the depths of the sea (the soul of a tiger? Pi himself?) there was, behind all that was seemingly profound, nothing.  A pity, since I liked the novel very much.
     A creepy coincidence: the framing device kept reminding me of Slumdog Millionaire, another film I hated. The same actor who plays the police chief in that film plays the adult Pi here--and initiates the flashbacks in both films. Did this affect my viewing? Could be.  The film also kept reminding me of that Tom Hanks movie, where he is stranded on an island after being shipwrecked and every minute feels like fifteen.  And sometimes, oddly, it reminded me of "Gilligan's Island."  Perhaps I am being churlish. Or perhaps I ought to have heeded the subtle warning before the film ever started: all the trailers were for animated children's features.

Zero Dark Thirty   Brilliantly crafted, perfectly edited, well-written and incredibly absorbing, this movie may be the best of the bunch.  The scenes of torture have been argued about--and there's good reason to, given that Bigelow does give the impression that torture yielded good information. It didn't.  Yet these scenes are beautifully structured (read: disgusting, horrifying and awful in every way.  I hid my eyes for most of it).  The rest of the film is suspenseful and the acting terrific.   At over two and a half hours, it never, ever dragged.  I did, though,  find myself suspicious that the character of Maya had  fabulous hair throughout much of the film, until the near end when it takes a beating by helicopter.  When did she have time, obsessed as she was with Osama Bin Laden, to create those lush curls, that carefully tousled yet perfectly set ponytail?  I vowed to replicate at least one of these looks.
    A good review of the film and the controversy around it is found in Rolling Stone wherein Matt Taibbi discusses the inaccuracies in the film.  This is important, because of Kathryn Bigelow's claims of "journalism"; Taibbi also gets the closing scene absolutely right.

A great resource on torture and why it doesn't work:  Research|Penn State: Research Unplugged


  1. You are hilarious. I always feel entitled to critique movies without having seeing them, especially during award season where there is so much hype and too much information floating around. Plus the trailers are so gosh darn long; I feel like I've seen the movies. (Heck, I can barely remember anything when I HAVE seen them.) I've seen only one of these films you've listed (Silver Lining), but I can tell you right now that I feel the same as you do, except about Tarentino films, especially the earlier ones. (Will you still be my friend?).

    As a former movie buff, I have gone over a little to the dark side where "feel good" movies are perfectly okay. It delivers to me a world where I watch pretty people fall in love, even when I know how totally fake it is. Was it Marx who said that it (not movies, per se) was opium for the masses? Well, it has been a little bit of a drug, and yes, I need a hit every now and then.

  2. I have only seen one of these movies-- and I think you took me to it. Must get out more.
    Miss you at Oscar season- always.