Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Oh, Oscar! 2014 Edition

It’s less than 3 weeks until the Oscars, and I’m working down the list of nominated films. Well, to be completely truthful, I’m working down the list of the ones I’ve been wanting to see or at least curious to see.

I will fully admit that there are some films I refuse to see, among them Captain Phillips and 12 Years a Slave, both nominated for Best Picture. Both of these movies focus on the survival of one man against circumstances out of his control. They also embody classic narrative tropes: Man versus Himself; Man versus Other, Man versus Society (emphasis on man). I have never been a fan of survivalist stories, especially ones that are so blatantly masculinist, so I’m not going to torture myself with those two...Aside from the fact that every review of 12 Years a Slave harps on how the movie borders on torture porn...

I also admit, I haven’t gotten around yet to seeing Nebraska and Gravity. But they are on my list! Hope to get to them before Oscar night on March 2nd.

I have, however, managed to see quite a few of the nominated films for this year, and I have for you here my undiluted opinion for your reading and watching pleasure in order from the ones I enjoyed the least to the ones I enjoyed the most.

Note: there may be spoilers, but I’ve tried to keep them to information you can readily glean from a theatrical trailer or watching the Golden Globes.

The most impressive part of the
filmmaking in this movie is
undoubtedly the many insanely
orchestrated crowd scenes.
The Wolf of Wall Street: Exactly what everyone has said about it. It has been jokingly called “douche porn”and that really sums it up. I won’t even get into the issues of sexism and women in this movie, as many other articles, including  this one from Al Jazeera (complete with a discussion of the male gaze and Laura Mulvey) have already done it. Aside from everything else, at the very least Mr. Scorsese should invest in a better editor. This film would probably be quite funny and really live up to its generic convention as a black comedy if it fit into 2hrs. At 3, it is simply boring--and that saying a lot, given how much glitz, glamour and blow jobs this movie throws in our face. And yes, Jonah Hill’s prosthetic penis is really lame.

Philomena: I think I wanted to like this film a lot more than I did.  Admittedly, it a “small” film, especially compared to a lot of other ambitious Oscar movies and thus hard to compare to them, but that isn't usually enough for me to discount a film. Judi Dench is pretty much brilliant in everything she does, though I’m not sure why she had to have a (kind of lame) Irish accent for this movie. She and Steve Coogan play off each other well, and the film is both deep and touching. Unfortunately, the film is dogged by typical English anti-Catholic sentiments that have cropped up in a lot of films from the last ten years. Yes, Catholics are creepy, you have already proved this to us in Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Prince Caspian, and Brideshead Revisited. Let’s find another theme to harp on, ok?

August: Osage County: Lot of hype about this movie & the cast, and it contains another powerhouse over-60 actress, Meryl Streep. Like Dame Judy Dench, Meryl Streep is really amazing. She just blends into whatever role she plays with complete self-effacement. I'm not rea`lly sure why she was nominated in the leading category and Julia Roberts was nominated in the supporting category, as they should obviously be reversed. Loved the photography, though I admit it was jarring to see these actresses looking so terrible (lighting is everything and apparently Oklahoma doesn't have good lighting.) Why they couldn’t find American actors to play the male parts, I don’t quite understand, but the film is really mostly about the female characters, so I suppose we can give it a pass. (NB: Benedict Cumberbatch does a passably good Southern accent...Ewan MacGregor still can’t fake a passable American accent of any kind.) Overall fairly good, but not the kind of movie I would want to watch again.

Her: Her is a fascinating film for a variety of reasons: Joaquin Phoenix’s mustache, high-waisted tweed pants, and Scarlett Johanssen’s voice being among those reasons. More to the point, the film successfully manages to convince us that a relationship between a computer and a person can be as fascinating, complex and original (or even sexy) as one between two humans. The idea, of course, is nothing new, though the lack of body is perhaps the most original twist the film brings to the concept. Melancholy and touching, it’s worth a viewing, even if it wasn’t my fave film of the year.

Added bonus: bizarre cameo by Olivia Wilde.

Indeed, who would have thought, ten years ago, that
these two would be nominated for acting Oscars?
And that they will be totally deserved?
Dallas Buyers Club: A film definitely worth watching first and foremost for the acting. Much has been made of the body transformations of Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, who lost 80 and 60 pounds respectively to play their roles as AIDS-infected men in the 1980s in Dallas, TX. Their performances are what make this film so great. The story is interesting but not earth-shattering, and it’s told in a fairly conventional "this is a true story" kind of way, though I concede that it does reveal a side of the 80s AIDS epidemic that probably many people are not familiar with. The film mis-casts Jennifer Gardiner as a doctor (totally unbelievable), but she doesn’t ruin the film, which manages to be both touching, original, funny and heart-breaking by turns.

So. Amazing.
Blue Jasmine: This film is not nominated for Best Picture (gigantic oversight), but Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins are both nominated for acting categories. If Cate Blanchette doesn’t win this year, I might finally have to start boycotting the Oscars for real. She is spectacular as the Blanche-esque character in this Woody Allen loose remake of  A Streetcar Named Desire. She IS Jasmine and her performance, along with those of Sally Hawkins and even Peter Saarsgaard, are brilliant. The colors of the film, the style of it, as well as the screenplay are well put together, but in the end, it is Blanchett and, no doubt, Allen’s directing, that make this film so excellent. Just watching Blanchett's character lose her shit in a key scene is enough to illustrate her amazing acting abilities. 

American Hustle: By far my favorite Oscar-nom movie this year and one of the best movies to come out of the Hollywood machine in a while. The film-making borders on the virtuosic. Everything feels perfectly timed, planned out, and put on screen nearly effortlessly. It helps, of course, that David O. Russell’s film is able to draw so wonderfully on the clothing, hairstyles, and music of the 1970s to help illustrate his film. The wonder is that the glitz of it all doesn’t overwhelm the film and distract from brilliant performances by a slew of actors: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Jeremy Renner, as well as Robert DeNiro, who manages to make an impression in just a five-minute cameo. The plotting is complex but never complicated and the screenplay is dazzling. From the hilarity of Lawrence as an unhappy wife (pay no attention to her dodgy Queen-esque accent) to the surreal beauty of Adams and Cooper dancing in a 70s style discotheque, this movie is one I will be watching far into the future.

Why can't every movie be this good?
The soundtrack is pretty amazing, too.

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