Sunday, March 2, 2014

Better Late than Never. The Annual Oscars Blog

The stars are already in their seats at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood.  The envelopes are stuffed and I am just finishing the last of the nine movies nominated for “Best Picture” at this year’s Academy Awards.  I’ve never put out my annual Oscar blog even remotely this close to the deadline.  Perhaps my tardiness stems from a lack of investment in this year’s ceremony.  Last year, I was on the red carpet, covering the awards.  This year, I will be watching on my couch. Both have their pluses. But, I think the bulk of my procrastination is because of how disappointing this year’s nominees are.  There were only two movies I really loved.  I liked/was truly entertained by a handful and I only hated one, but this year’s Oscars are really about some fantastic performances in mediocre movies. On that note, unlike year’s past, I am missing one “Best Actress” nomination.  I could not bring myself to watch “August: Osage County”.  I could be way off, but it just seems like a bunch of actors sitting around a table trying to out-act each other.  I don’t know if I could stomach two hours of a movie that’s entire goal was to generate Oscar nominations.  Meryl Streep is the greatest actress of our generation, blah blah blah. I get it.  I’m confident without seeing the movie that award belongs to someone else anyway.  But, I digress…

Movie(s) I loved:
Her – When I saw the preview for this movie, I was pretty sure it was going to be terrible.  Maybe low expectations are what propelled “Her” to the top of the list for me.  But, “Her” is not about a man falling in love with the operating system on his phone.  It’s about so much more than that.  It articulates the state of modern human relationships, between both friends and lovers in a way that’s undeniably true without being preachy.   “Her” is deep and thought provoking.  Lauren and I watched it on a train and despite the less-than-optimal viewing conditions I was completely drawn in.  I know it’s a tired comparison, but if like me, you think “Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind” is one of the best movies of the past 10 years, you’ll appreciate this movie.

Wolf of Wall Street – I don’t know what it says about me that two years in a row I have loved the movie most people found too crass and offensive ("Djiango Unchained" last year).  It’s true, this movie was an hour too long, but it was funny in ways that it shouldn’t have been and it was packed with awesome performances.  Say what you will about Jonah Hill, but he can back up his newfound swagger with this role.  Other than Barkhad Abdi in “Captain Philips”, his was the most visible of the Best Supporting Actor nominees. What I loved most about this movie was that it changed between hilarious and despicable at the drop of a hat.  As I’ll detail below, there were a lot of “true stories” that strayed from the facts.  This one didn’t seem to go down that road.

Movies I liked:

Nebraska – If I had a category called “Movies I REALLY Liked”, “Nebraska” would be in it.  I can’t say I genuinely loved it, but I came close.  I thought the black and white thing was going to be gimmicky, but when you watch this movie it makes sense. It’s the characters that are colorful and complex.  Their backdrop is boring and bland.  Bruce Dern would win Best Actor almost any other year (more on that later) with his character of a drunk, absentee and borderline abusive husband and father that you for some reason feel bad for.  Will Forte who I hated on “Saturday Night Live”…hated…is excellent in the role of a son trying to solidify some sort of relationship with his father before it’s too late.  There is a lot of Jonathan Franzen-esque dysfunction in the family profiled in “Nebraska”, but unlike Franzen characters, I like and therefore, care about these people.

Philomena – When I finished watching “Philomena”, I put it in the “Movies I Loved” category with “Her”.  Then, I researched it.  I loved this movie because the story was so compelling.  There was a heartbreaking narrative that concluded with a satisfying redemption.  Unfortunately, a chunk of that satisfying redemption is dramatic license.  It didn’t really happen.  I think if you are going to make a true story, tell the real story.  Finding out that my favorite scene of this movie never really happened was disappointing.  Had the scene not been in the movie at all and the true story been told, “Philomena” likely would have been at the top of my list.

Captain Phillips – If I were just judging the last 15 minutes of a movie, “Captain Phillips”, it wins best picture.  It’s as intense as “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave” for that final sequence.  What I loved about this movie is that it doesn’t get bogged down with backstory.  It provided me with just enough context to know that Captain Phillips character is a husband and the hijackers are desperate people doing the only thing they can do to make money and stay alive.  Then, it moved on to the action.  But, this movie lost points for the same reason as “Philomena”.  According to almost every other crewmember of the Maersk Alabama, the real Captain Phillips was much more responsible for steering the ship into pirate waters than this movie shows.  Would including that make the movie’s final scenes any less climactic?  I don’t think so.  I do however, think Tom Hanks was phenomenal in this role (full disclosure: I’m a big Tom Hanks fan, but this is one of his best performances) and deserved a nomination.

Dallas Buyers Club – Looking for a theme amongst this year’s nominees?  “Dallas Buyers Club” joins “Captain Phillips” and “Philomena” as true stories that aren’t really true.  Matthew McConaughey solidifies his acting credentials as a sickly-looking AIDS patient in what I think is his best role (other than “True Detective”) and the performance of the year.  But, his character’s transformation from homophobe to best friend of a transgender woman didn’t happen in real life.  Ron Woodruff was apparently bi-sexual.  Why wasn’t that the story?  Still, this is a very good movie with very strong performances.  I saw it months ago, so forgive my forgetfulness. 

American Hustle – I had a blast watching this movie.  The dialogue is witty.  It nails the cheesiness of the 70s.  It’s music is foot tapping.  The actors shine.  The problem with “American Hustle” is that it’s not memorable.  I could tell you very little about this movie today.  Christian Bale sports a so-bad-it’s-good comb over.  Jennifer Lawrence cleans the house and dances wildly as “Live and Let Die” blasts on the stereo.  Amy Adams sexes it up.  No spoilers there. Those are all things you can glean from this movie by watching the trailer.  As I said, this was a good movie.  But, it pales in comparison to David O. Russell’s last movie, “Silver Linings Playbook” and I am not really sure it’s deserving of the multitude of nominations it received.

Gravity – “Gravity” is the only nominee I saw twice.  It’s intensely beautiful on the big screen and would lose 90% of its awesomeness once you put it in a personal DVD player.  If you haven’t seen it and it’s not in a theater, don’t bother.   “Gravity” is a cinematic masterpiece.  With a nod to “Avatar”, it is THE cinematic masterpiece of the decade.  But, amazing screenplay it is not.  There are some very cheesy lines in this movie that are wholly unnecessary.  There’s an entire subplot involving Sandra Bullock’s character that I think was included to make me care more about her eventual fate.  But, I already care about her eventual fate.  She is a human being stuck in space without a way back to Earth.  It’s a race against the clock.  That is enough to make me care.  The dialogue is an attempt to tug on heartstrings that are already pretty taught. 

12 Years a Slave – It’s hard to say I loved this movie because it is so incredibly hard to watch.  This is not a film made to entertain.  In fact, I had a hard time setting aside an evening to watch this movie because I knew what I was in for was work.  There are some scenes in “12 Years a Slave” that are absolutely gut-wrenching.  The scene everyone talks about is the one in which the main character is nearly hanged.  Its notoriousness is not without warrant.  It goes on for way too long, which is undoubtedly Steve McQueen’s intent.  There is a man gasping for air with a noose around his neck and behind him everyone, black and white, are going about their daily lives as if he’s not even there.  “12 Years a Slave” is an important movie.  There’s a reason it’s going to end up on the curriculum of many schools’ history courses.  But sometimes it’s subtly is not subtle at all.  There are a lot of metaphors in this movie that slap you in the face.  Watch it.  Even if you don’t have a keen eye for that sort of thing, you’ll see it.

Movie(s) I hated:
Blue Jasmine – I’m going to say something I have been thinking for a long time now.  Last year, it would have been blasphemy.  This year, it’s almost cliché because of the whole Dylan Farrow controversy.  But, I don’t like Woody Allen.  I keep thinking maybe I just don’t get it, and maybe that’s the case. That’s enough reason for me not to like a filmmaker right?  I have tried really hard to enjoy Allen’s movies, but the last two years, his movies have been the ones I have found to be the biggest waste of my time.  Blue Jasmine is not funny.  It’s not entertaining.  It’s not important.  It’s not even sad.  It’s just a bunch of insufferable characters ruining each other’s lives.   Much like in “Midnight in Paris”, the only remotely likeable character in “Blue Jasmine” is too stupid for her own good making even her hard to root for.  My hatred of this movie aside, Cate Blanchett is awesome in it.  I hate her character and I don’t give a damn what happens to her, but she owns it. 

Best Supporting Actor:
Who Should Win: Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)
Who Will Win: Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club).  It’s a good performance, but not a lot of screen time.  He’ll win because the Academy loves men playing women and visa versa.

Best Supporting Actress
Who Should Win: Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)
Who Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)  For all its nominations, I think this will be the only award “American Hustle” will get

Best Actor
Who Should Win: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
Who Will Win: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)  I’d say Leonardo DiCaprio could be a surprise, but he’s not a favorite with the voters.

Best Actress
Who Should Win: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Who Will Win: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)  The Woody Allen controversy has not hurt her chances.

Best Picture
What Should Win: Gravity
What Will Win: 12 Years a Slave.  I was torn, but if the category is “Best Picture”, “Gravity” wins.  It is simply on a whole different level of film making than its competitors.  But, I think the Academy will make a statement with “12 Years a Slave”.

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