About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Pre Oscar -- Best Picture

I don't know how Bryce Moore manages with two kids to find time for more movie reviews than I do, but it's time to at least say something in preparation for Sunday's Oscar ceremony!

We have nine Best Picture nominees, I've seen all of them to some extent or another.

Let's say I won't be rooting for Hugo.  I started to feel weary within ten or fifteen minutes of the film starting.  I eventually woke up, decided sleeping was to be preferred, and ended up walking out.  During the brief moments that I was awake, I could see that the movie was brilliantly made from a production design standpoint or a music standpoint or in any and many fashions you could say.  But the story was just boring, I didn't care about the kid, I didn't want to see a peon to motion picture history or preservation.

I also left The Help.  I hadn't read the book, I read the first page or so and recoiled at the very thought of it.  Trying to watch the movie cold reminded me of what it must have been like to try and watch Sorceror's Stone without having started in on the Harry Potter series.  It was dramatically inert, I didn't care about the main character or any character just from what was on the screen.  The buzz is that this will mean I will not properly appreciate the virtues of the actresses most likely to win in both leading and supporting characters.  Pardon the pun, but there's no Help for for that.

I did kind of like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  I thought it rang true in a lot of important ways, in the relationship between the mother and child, in the child's reaction to what happened on 9/11.   It's not "real" after that, it's a movie.  But I was bothered a lot more by the unreality of having World War I stop for ten minutes so a British and German soldier could take care of War Horse than I was by anything in Extremely Loud.  If the Best Picture race were between the two of these pictures, I'd put the horse out to some incredibly close pasture and be done with it.  Not that War Horse doesn't have some virtues as well, but its mawkishness and manipulativeness was far more apparent in my eyes.

I don't know what to say about Tree of Life.  I saw it.  I stayed awake, pretty much.  But it's not a movie.  It's a tone poem or an elegy or something but it isn't a movie.  I'm sure whatever it is, it's a very good example of whatever.  But I like to see a movie when I go to the movies.

Of the above films, Extremely Loud and War Horse are the only ones that I was in any rush to see.  I only went to The Help at all because it was a free screening months after it opened, I waited weeks to see Tree of Life.  Hugo was part of a double feature with the rather disappointing Young Adult.  By and large, I was right to have been disinterested.

Similarly, I saw The Artist pretty much only because I had an opportunity to see it as part of a last minute add on to the Variety Screening Series.  And this was entirely disposable and missable as well.  It's not a bad movie.  But it's such a trifle that I don't entirely see the point of it.  The most interesting part of it to me was correctly noticing that part of it was filmed in the Bradbury Building, which might be best known for being used in Blade Runner.  The ornate staircase looked a lot different here, but it's one distinct piece of staircase.  It pains me to think that this amusing little trifle is thought to be the leading contender for Best Picture.  Really?

Extremely Loud might be preposterous in some ways in some eyes, but I at least see it as a legitimate attempt to go near the events of 9/11, and where it approaches them most directly to do so in real vibrant ways that speak -- accurately in the eyes of someone in NYC on the day -- to some of the actual emotion of the events.  

If I'm not rooting for The Artist...

well, I'm not rooting for Moneyball.  Brad Pitt is awfully good in the movie, Jonah Hill is awfully good in the movie, there are some good performances lurking elsewhere, like Philip Seymour Hoffman as the Oaklands As manager Art Howe.  The last third or maybe last half of the move was actually pretty darned good.  The problem here is just that the first chunk of the movie isn't really that good.  It's too slow to get going.  Not rooting for it, but of the nine nominees this is in the half that I at least don't mind seeing in the running.

Midnight in Paris, this is a great movie, but like The Artist I think it's a little too trifling for me to really want to pull for it in the Best Picture category.  Still, it's an awfully good movie, Woody Allen's best movie in perhaps 20 years, his first really good one maybe since Crimes and Misdemeanors.  If you haven't fallen in love with the idea of Paris before, it's hard not after the opening montage of the city photographed with its best side in every frame, in every shot, in every glimmer of light.  The script is tight, witty, the contemporary relationships feel real, and I'm willing then to consider that the historical parts of it are as real as the contemporary.  Whether they are or not, I don't know, but I'm willing to go along for the ride.  It's hard in some ways to say why this movie charmed me so thoroughly where The Artist does not.  Maybe it's because The Artist competes with my memories of Mel Brooks' Silent Movie?  Maybe it's because there's some edge and ambivalence to the relationships in Midnight in Paris, while there's never any real doubt what will happen in The Artist, if you've seen a lot of movies The Artist has one of those scripts that you can write from memory of other films.  I certainly couldn't fill in the blanks from my own experience on the literary experiences of Paris through the ages.

Ultimately, and rather surprisingly in light of my past experience with the director, my hands down favorite pick for Best Picture from the films that were nominated is The Descendants.  I don't think I've ever liked an Alexander Payne film quite as much as his most fervent admirers. Sideways was experienced by me in the same way as Hugo, a film better suited for napping than for viewing.  Election wasn't bad, but I'd call it Enhlenhectenh because it's kind of enh and not really great.  And somehow or other, this director I've never really warmed to managed to come up with a brilliant picture.  He's helped tons by George Clooney.  Clooney has been so good if not better in so many movies, but he gives his best performance yet in this picture.  It's quiet, subtle, yet incredibly forceful.  There's no sign of star power or glamor when he's trying to deal with the daughters he doesn't really know.  It might be the only movie set in Hawaii that makes me want to visit, because it doesn't just stay on the touristy beaches.  It reveals the islands as actual places where real people eat, meet, work.  Shows me a place I could actually walk around in and visit and experience in ways beyond worrying about whether I'd gotten all the right spots with my sunscreen. The script presents characters that movie experience tells us are to be experienced in particular ways, and then if gives us an entirely different experience, often in subtle, well-crafted scenes that put the craft and unique experience of cinema to use.  There's the confrontation scene between George Clooney and Matthew Lillard, the gangly guy from the Scream movies, who's something entirely different here.  Grown into almost middle age in his face but not quite in his life experiences, holding his own with George Clooney at his best.  There are a lot of great scenes in this movie, but to me the one that still holds in my mind's eye a few months after seeing the movie is toward the end.  Clooney's in-law has come to say goodbye to his dying daughter.  The hospital scene is rife with tension between the two, the son-in-law who's never been good enough for the daughter, the son-in-law who knows he's never been good enough in his father-in-law's eyes.  Experience suggests that we go either into some kind of full throttle final argument or to some wonderful scene of last-minute reconciliation.  We get neither.  Clooney and the camera quietly leave the hospital room with nothing fully resolved, and we peek in at the father and we peek in on Clooney's face.  There's no resolution at all to the relationship between the characters, but we see that everything the father's ever said has been said out of real love and care for his daughter, who means more than anything to him, that it might be misguided but never out of malice and spite.  And we see in Clooney's face that he might never have enjoyed his father-in-law, but that he'd managed to come to grips over time with his place in the relationship.  There's no love, there's no hate, there's a lesson passed along to Clooney's daughter and to us, quietly, gently, but with clarity, it's somehow the quiet ringing of a loud clarion call.

If I could swap out some of the movies I liked less for others I liked more...

Bridesmaids.  Comedy done right, uproariously side-splittingly funny.  This isn't easy to do.  

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.  About as good a popcorn movie as you can put together.  Director Brad Bird, known for animated movies such as Iron Giant and The Incredibles, manages to do live action action with the fluidity of animation, and does it without giving the film the CGI anything goes look and feel that makes some of today's films look artificial.  

Margin Call.  It has a nomination in the screenplay category, deservedly.  I'd settle for that if it weren't that there are so many appreciably worse movies in the 9 contending for Best Picture that this one should be in the mix for the main prize.

1 comment:

Erin said...

Re: Extremely Loud, etc. -- have you read the book? It's one of the best books I've read in many, many years. Authentic child's voice, interesting use of pictures and font and colour that somehow managed not to come off as gimmicky -- I'd highly recommend it.