25 February 2013

update. best of 2012 fever. Academy Awards.

I've spent the past few months trying to catch up on what I missed in 2012, which seems to be almost everything, based on the top ten lists I've scoured the internet for. (Okay, for the most part I just used the ones aggregated by Metacritic.) It's gotten to the doldrums of this annual process where I needed sort of a break so I've spent the past few days watching Fritz Lang movies and random film noirs on Netflix. Strangely, I've seen all of Metacritic's top 30 except for two that are readily available on Netflix and ostensibly films I would enjoy (Deep Blue Sea and that Oslo movie). I don't know why I'm holding off on watching them. Anyway, if there is one type of movie I never get tired of watching it's noirish old thrillers. Even clunky old ones like Jules Dassin's gloriously overrated but strangely compelling in its deceptive simplicity The Naked City.

Anyway, it was of course the Oscars yesterday. Like every year, I thought most of the nominees were glaringly mediocre. Even the better ones, for the most part, didn't strike me as particularly excellent. But so it goes. Of the best picture nominees, I would have voted for Amour. I didn't love the ending and think it strange that everyone has been gaga over Emanuelle Riva while seeming to forget that Jean-Louis Trentignant basically carried the movie. But honestly I was impressed by all three of the main performances, the other being that of Isabelle Huppert. But when is Isabelle Huppert ever not phenomenal?
It blew my mind when I realized this, but I probably would have selected Silver Linings Playbook as my second choice. I know a lot of people thought it was simple or trite or I don't know what, but I thought it was, for the most part, pretty well executed. There was some good, snappy dialogue and compelling characterizations that mostly made up for the missteps like the silliness about the letter and the oddly off-key counselor. My third pick would probably be Lincoln, as I did love a fair bit about it. I mean, I thought Sally Field was mindbendingly miscast and for me she seemed to be doing that thing where seasoned film stars gradually revert to playing caricatures of themselves. I found Tommy Lee Jones a little overearnest, but by the end I think he sold it, though I don't think the film really handled the bit about S Epatha Merkerson very deftly. I'm not sure if that fault lies on Spielberg or Kushner, but I have more faith in Kushner so let's blame the king of overblown shlock. It was be uncharitable to say anything about Joseph Gordon Levitt, but Daniel Day Lewis and David Strathairn were quite effective as Lincoln and Seward. I guess I didn't say much nice about it there, but in general it was pulled off well and the correlation to the gay marriage debate was present without shooting too far.

As for Beasts of the Southern Wild and Django Unchained, all I can really say is they were okay. Pleasant enough to watch, but I somehow couldn't connect to the former and found the latter kind of problematic. I expected to find the latter problematic, but it ended up being for different reasons than I anticipated: more narrative than moral. Oh well.

I disliked Argo and Zero Dark Thirty for similar reasons. In general, I found them disrespectful of the truth and the people they depicted. Especially Argo, but while Argo was reckless in a child of the 80s kind of way, I found Zero Dark Thirty almost Orwellian in its lack of context or any discernible morality. Maybe worse than that but possibly because of that, I also found it immensely tedious. Sad to say, but it kind of but a chink in my affection for Jessica Chastain. I don't really have much nice to say about Life of Pi. Or anything at all really. I mostly just thought it was really stupid and half-baked. I guess I didn't identify with it at all.

I didn't really care about any of the acting categories because they didn't seem to nominate any of the right people this year. I'm fine with Daniel Day Lewis, I suppose, because I haven't really thought of anyone else I'd have liked to see win. David Strathairn would have been my pick for best supporting actor, had he been nominated. I also felt like Michael Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal in End of Watch probably deserved acting nominations more than some of the actual nominees. I'd have picked Amy Adams for supporting actress, though I probably would have preferred for Doona Bae (Cloud Atlas) to be nominated. For best actress, I would have likely voted for Emanuelle Riva, but I feel like it would have been more interesting if Keira Knightley (Anna Karenina) or Melanie Lynskey (Hello I Must Be Going) had been nominated. Or Helen Mirren (Hitchcock), or Michelle Williams (Take This Waltz).

I haven't seen No, but of the four foreign film nominees I've seen I may have picked Amour, although I really feel like I have been rooting for War Witch. Then again, I feel like Romania's Beyond the Hills really should have been nominated because that probably should have won. Of course, I say this having seen only like 11 of the submitted films, so who knows. Anyway, mostly just glad that Caesar Must Die didn't get nominated because it's terrible. I also quite like Christian Petzold's Barbara, but it really had no chance of winning an Oscar. Actually, Beyond the Hills was probably too complicated to win anything either. Oh well.

For the short films categories, I was happy that Paperboy won since it was the best of the mediocre nominees, and while I would have voted for Henry, I'd have been happy with any of the nominees winning except for Buzkashi Boys, which was the weakest to me, but probably just because I don't care about sports, boys, men, or father/son relationships. Especially when it involves headless goat carcasses. I only saw one of the short documentaries, Inocente, which won. Honestly I didn't care for it much at all. I think it's a story that's been told better by other people and I thought the filmmakers made the mistake of exalting the child while slamming the mother. I don't know, based on the trailers for the other films I'm really surprised it won because it seemed the weakest to me.

I haven't seen The Gatekeepers yet, but of the four nominees I saw, I liked them all, though as is typical, I think the weakest film won. It took a great story and mangled it, I thought. Anyway, I would have picked How to Survive a Plague or The Invisible War and I would have nominated The House I Live In and/or Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel over 5 Broken Cameras or Searching for Sugarman.

I thought all of the animated movies were pretty weak, but in my opinion Brave, which won, was the strongest. I really didn't think it was anywhere near as weak as people said it was, and of course I thought the other four nominees were pretty bad. My favorite animated movie of the year was Consuming Spirits, though even if it were up Oscar's alley, I don't know that it would have been eligible this year. Sigh. Maybe next year. As of yet, it remains my favorite English language movie of last year and one of the top five altogether.

Not much to say about the other categories except that the music in Life of Pi is the one thing I liked about it.
Anyway. Not really sure this was very interesting to read, but I felt like I should get back into posting here.

18 January 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild and the State of the Oscar Slate

I put off watching BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD because I was worried it would fail to meet my expectations. My suspicions were confirmed tonight. It's an interesting movie, worth watching, one would say, but I'm not sure it quite lived up to its potential. Much like just about any other Oscar nominee I could think of, but WRECK-IT RALPH comes to mind, it's a great idea not fully realized.

12 January 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Peter Jackson, 2012)

When it comes to trying to write on here about a movie as tedious and silly as this dumb movie, I begin to see that it takes a very special kind of person to review films. Everybody knew the plot going into this thing. I mean, I never read any of the books, but I saw the cartoon when I was a child and understood the rough sketch of the plot. So all that's left to talk about here is how silly it all is because it takes itself so absurdly seriously. I found it dull. It seemed to me, that it was being presented as a spoof of the previous films since it had all the weaknesses and none of the strengths of that film. D

Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell, 2012, USA)

Over the years I've had a number of friends who were bipolar or some other kind of crazy that was in the same ballpark. Lord knows I'm probably not too far off that field myself. Thus, I confess to having been pretty excited about seeing this movie, though somehow I resisted, presumably out of fear of disappointment. I finally went to see it the other night after the Oscar nominations were announced since it was one of the handful of nominated films I hadn't seen yet. While I'm a little surprised by all the acting nominations, I have to see I was more or less satisfied with the movie. There are a few rough patches toward the beginning, generally the parts that try to present "mental illness" to the naive audience. I understand how problematic those scenes can be so I wasn't really surprised that there were moments that didn't quite ring 100% true. I was surprised that every scene involving the shrink seemed off. I don't know if he was miscast or the part was 'miswritten,' but it was a minor distraction. It's a slight film, but at its heart it's more or less truthful about its subject matter. True to the director's style, the film contained scenes that were so energetic that they seemed improvised, and these were probably the strongest moments in the movie. I really believe that the scene where they make the crazy bet that sets up the big climax is the reason this film received so many nominations. I understand the criticisms about this movie being too optimistic about this couple's chances. Certainly there will be rough patches, but I don't think that negates the ending. B+

Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow, 2012, USA)

Before seeing Zero Dark Thirty, I was prepared to be scandalized and horrified, the same way I was when I saw The Hurt Locker. (Un)fortunately, the film is far too dull to be scandalous. The torture scenes are pretty tame, especially if you've seen documentaries like Taxi to the Dark Side. The film is basically a plodding procedural thing. I found it hard to care about anything because the entire thing was almost completely devoid of context. So I waited for something that felt like three hours for the big climactic scene to occur. This, again, was ruined by a dearth of context, though unlike the rest of the film it spared the audience the silly dialogue that seems to be Bigelow's hallmark. My only feeling after seeing the film was a desire to know who all the collateral damage types were, like the parents gunned down in front of their children, who may have just been neighbors. I found it really hard to tell what was happening during the big climax. I didn't care for the film, but it was too ponderous to get very revved up about. Also, I like Jessica Chastain. I've loved her in some roles. But I don't understand why her performance in this movie is seen as so incredible. The movie never asks any questions, like whether it was worth all the resources and lost lives to kill this man in the middle of the night. It felt worth it when I first heard the news, but watching this movie I started to wonder. Perhaps that was intentional, but again, Bigelow doesn't seem to like to get herself muddied up with ideas so it's hard to believe that's the case. C-

09 January 2013

Awards Humbug

When I was younger my best friend and I would get so excited about the Oscars, scrambling to see the nominees and then putting together a fabulous Oscar party. Either I'm getting older or the ceremonies are getting ever more tedious. Probably both, but how can I know? I'm surprised that I've gotten to that attitude that always made me bristle when I encountered it in others: I don't for the life of me understand the point of giving out these awards. Well, scratch that. I understand multiple points for the awards. I just believe that the extent to which these awards mean anything is severely limited. The Spirit Awards are still marginally interesting to me, but my relationship to the Academy Awards is generally characterized by a blend of indifference and frustration. I mean, how do you get excited about a thing like that when this crap exalting groupthink prevails. I'll admit that Lincoln is partially redeemed by a few strong performances (like David Strathairn, whom nobody seems particularly interested in nominating for anything) and an interesting script, but, hello, it's total kitsch, and Sally Field, bless her heart, certainly didn't help matters. Argo, Django Unchained, and Zero Dark Thirty are all mind-numbingly unremarkable. Well, the Tarantino one was remarkable for making me think about how much liked Lars Von Trier's Manderlay better, just like, I suppose, I couldn't stop thinking as my mind wandered during the insipid Argo how much I liked Persepolis. Then you have the adaptation of Les Miserables that was so botched and marred by bad style that you'd think it was directed by the same guy who delivered the shlocky The King's Speech. I haven't seen Life of Pi, Beasts of the Southern Wild, or Silver Linings Playbook, but I'm hopeful they'll be better than most of the other presumptive nominees. Right now, the only credible nominee is the uneven, Spielbergified Lincoln.
What was so great about Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone? I like her, and it was a decent performance, but why has the borg decided it was such a powerful performance? Because she's vain and likes to dance with killer whales and get banged by abusive men? I don't know, I think that movie was kind of overrated. And for man-acting, the only performance that will likely be nominated which is neither bad nor inconsequential is that of Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln. I mean, again, I like Hugh Jackman, but his turn as Jean Valjean made me feel like I was watching a spoof on SNL. Actually, I felt that way through most of the movie, so it's probably Tom Hooper's fault, but why not blame the lot of them, I say. Ben Affleck was fine in Argo, but is that what this award means? Award to the least inadequate high profile performance?
It's been a lousy year at the cineplex. I'm hoping I love Silver Linings Playbook and Beasts of the Southern Wild enough that I don't spend the next two months sulking about the fact that I can't think of a single mainstream film that I liked better than Cloud Atlas  or Sleepwalk with Me. What???? Thank god that living in Chicago means I can see movies any day of the year that have nothing to do with the cineplex. I feel like I'm being an elitist here, but seriously, Zero Dark Thirty and Argo are the best you've got?

PS- Also, don't even get me started on Seth McFarlane. I appreciate that he's a fellow traveler on the yellow brick road and all, but if Ted (or Magic Mike, btw) get nominated for anything, something inside me will probably die. Speaking of the yellow brick road, I'll probably plotz for shock if How to Survive a Plague gets nominated since those documentary voters sure hate gay people. I see on one of those odds websites it's currently ranked as second choice to win the award, but I'm pretty skeptical, if past is prologue.

08 January 2013

Directors Guild Awards nominees

-Ben Affleck, Argo 
-Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
-Tom Hooper, Les Miserables
-Ang Lee, Life of Pi
-Steven Spielberg, Lincoln

I hope Life of Pi is better than the other nominees because it's really depressing that these are all they've got. I'm sorry, but Les Miserables was a mess and the other three were towering mediocrities. Of the four that I've seen, I'd probably have to say that Lincoln was the most worthwhile. Of course, these same people gave this award to The King's Speech (aka, PUKE) and The Hurt Locker (aka, UGH), so clearly the award doesn't mean so very much.

05 January 2013

Hitchcock (Sacha Gervasi, 2012)

Hitchcock has a lot in common with My Weekend with Marilyn. They're both nostalgia trips and they're both likely to be forgotten. I can't think of why a film with such an A-list cast was directed by the director of Anvil, but I will say for it that the marital tensions between Alfred and his wife seem to ring true in the film. I never really believed Hopkins in this film, and I never really cared about his Hitchcock. Helen Mirren does a good job as his wife and James D'Arcy is pretty effective as Anthony Perkins. Toni Collette seems wasted in a role that makes her glorified wallpaper. Jessica Biel and Scarlet Johansson do well enough what they have to do in this picture, though their roles might be underwritten and Scarlet Johansson sometimes seems to fall out of character. Pleasant, but slight. B-

03 January 2013

Rust and Bone / De rouille et d'os (Jacques Audiard, 2012, France)

I've loved the few Jacques Audiard films I've seen so I had high hopes for this one. It's about a down and out Belgian guy who's just rescued his son from his junkie mother and moved in with his sister and then he ends up being friends with this Sea World type lady who loses her legs in a freak accident. He's a former boxer and has anger management issues, sometimes to the damage of dogs and children around him. She's naturally depressed about losing her legs, which she had been proud of, and the movie is partially about whether we should judge her for her vanity. It's kind of a strange movie, as far as the plot goes, but it's also strange that it sets up these two as a couple we should root for, even though I'm not at all sure it seems like a healthy relationship. I didn't really get what all the buzz was about after the movie. The friend I saw it with said she didn't feel like she experienced anything different from what she experienced reading the synopsis and that she was generally bored. I wasn't quite as bored as she was, but I didn't really know what people were responding to other than the attractive cast until I read a few reviews later that day, particularly Andrew O'Hehir's, and realized it was a straight people movie... C

Argo (Ben Affleck, 2012, USA)

Of the end of the year prestige type movies, this is one I had particularly high hopes for. Perhaps that's what set it up for disappointment. I was really struck by how unremarkable it was. It skimmed along on the surface from episode to episode, often feeling disingenuous or mendacious. The acting was okay, but most of the characters felt two dimensional. It also seemed to suffer a little bit from the "Will somebody please worry about the rich white people?" scenario. They never really established why we should care about these whiny privileged people. I also couldn't help but draw comparisons to the Chris Marker film The Embassy, which was inspired by the Chilean coup in 1973 that claimed the lives of Salvador Allende and countless others. Given that the events that inspired both movies are claimed to have been the result of American interference in the domestic politics of foreign countries, I have to say I found to feel too badly about the people in this story. There is one comment in the film where someone asks whether justice for the former shah would be the worst thing, and by extension one wonders if justice for the people who propped him up would be the worst thing as well. Mostly though, I feel like the movie is this glib story of Hollywood heroism that doesn't succeed in making you care too much about the people being rescued. I was also distracted by all the reports of historical inaccuracies in the story. It felt like a pointless manipulation and it left me as cold as Saving Private Ryan, in certain respects. C