Feb. 28th, 2012 08:38 am
akashiver: (totoro)
I didn't Oscar out this year as I have previously. But I will say that I thought THE ARTIST was a deserving winner. It's a wonderful movie. You should see it, preferably without having seen any trailers or footage from it. All you need to know is that it's a film about a silent-movie film star at the dawn of the era of sound. And it's lovely.

THE IRON LADY was the film J. EDGAR aspired to be: a clinical examination of a person who pursues, then loses, power. Like J.EDGAR, this film is not a political history. It's not out to educate you. Instead it wants to take a famous political figure and strip away their defensive shell, showing us what might drive a person to excel at the blood sport of politics. J. EDGAR did this clumsily; IRON LADY does it with skill and nuance.

Streep gave a fine performance, but I'd have rather Davis won for THE HELP. THE HELP was a fine movie, with a strong ensemble cast. It was hurt because it came out during the summer, and by the time the Oscar voting began it had faded in voters' memories.

HUGO was immensely overrated, imo. It looked lovely, and I loved its recreation of silent movie sets, but the story clunked. The pacing in the last third of the film was off, and events seemed to drag rather than fitting neatly together. I also have to say that I didn't engage with the main character. The actor (who will be donning the mantle of Ender Wiggin in ENDER'S GAME) was competent; but the character remained a surface to me. I think one of the problems may have been that it took so long for the film to reveal why Hugo was stealing clockwork, etc. If you keep a character opaque, you up the mystery but lose out in audience identification.

So anyway. Some folks seem to have loved HUGO. I wasn't one of them.

And that's it for me and the Oscars this year.
akashiver: (totoro)
So my reflective post last night was provoked in part by going out to see Take Shelter at the local arthouse cinema.

It's a movie about a construction worker, Curtis, who begins to notice strange things: birds flying in menacing formations; violent storms hovering in the distance. He also begins to experience awful nightmares in which a storm triggers violent behavior in those around him.

The son of a schizophrenic, Curtis knows only too well that his visions might signal the onset of mental illness. But he is torn between trying to shelter his wife and young daughter from his mental breakdown and trying to protect them from the apocalypse he fears may be approaching. So, while secretly seeking medical treatment, he also begins constructing an expensive storm shelter in the backyard. Predictably, his marriage and relationships are increasingly strained by his fearful behavior.

This is a horror movie about anxiety. It's about a person plagued by a vague sense of dread, who keeps shoring up defenses against Something Bad That Might Happen. The genius of the film is that it also infects the audience with this dread: watching Curtis negotiate loan payments, and watching his wife try to arrange an operation for their daughter, we feel a disaster approaching. But from what direction? Is mental illness the threat? Foreclosure? The bad economy? Or is it really the Apocalypse?

There's a lot of good stuff in this movie: the idea of the patriarchy in crisis; the devastation wrought by anxiety; the stealthy creep of the Todorovian fantastic into everyday life. Oh yes, and the script is strong and the performances excellent. I think SF folks will like it for its skillful use of apocalyptic creepiness; everyone else will appreciate it as the unnerving gem that it is.

(The trailer's here, though I think it's better to watch the movie cold.)


Feb. 19th, 2011 10:13 am
akashiver: (totoro)
Well, my Oscar preparation continues. I saw 127 hours, starring James Franco as a man between a rock and a hard place. It was very well done: Danny Boyle's Trainspotting twitches gave the film a vibrant energy it needed and Franco was excellent.

I was surprised by how little the film relied on flashbacks. When I heard the film mainly took place in the main character's head, I assumed that meant it would cut back and forth between The Rock and his childhood -- or something.

It doesn't. The closest film I've seen to it was The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which also used visual imagery to evoke mental states, but it also relied heavily on voiceover, which 127 Hours doesn't.

Anyway. It's a good film. It's worth seeing, and because of the gorgeous scenery, is probably better seen on the big screen. The Scene  is not as tough to watch as you've heard.

I also checked out the animated Oscar films. I found Shaun Tan's The Lost Thing absolutely charming, but I think the award will probably go to The Gruffalo, which was the crowd favourite. Madagascar, carnet de voyage might take it as the outside artistic favourite.
akashiver: (totoro)
I always try to see all the movies nominated for Best Picture in a given year. I think I may have to change this now that the category has expanded to 10 movies. Still, providing the Academy doesn't pull a Golden Globe and start nominating films like "The Tourist," we'll continue to get along fine.

So far my pick for best picture is The Social Network. I'd call it my generation's Citizen Kane, except it's funnier and lacks any references to sledges. It's smartly written, well acted, well directed and topical. It'd get my vote.

I also really enjoyed Black Swan. Natalie Portman turned in an excellent performance; great art direction and cinematography elevated it, and that Swan Lake tune was pretty darn catchy. I really admire the camera direction in the film: the tight handheld closeups of Portman's head as she walks, the you-are-there lurch of the camera when Portman gets lifted up. True, the story is straightforward, but that's not a sin here. The suspense comes in seeing how Nina's nightmare will unfold, and in trying to figure out what's real and what isn't in any given scene.

True Grit was a great crowd-pleasing tall tale of a movie, and I'm glad to see it's done well at the box office. I wouldn't be sad to see it win an award or two, but there are worthier contenders out there.

Winter's Bone is the opposite of a crowd-pleaser: it's a bleak, hillbilly-noir version of True Grit, only without the humor or the comforting stand-in patriarch. Jennifer Lawrence turns in a strong performance as a girl willing to do anything to find her father; John Hawkes is memorable as the dangerous uncle who warns her off her quest. If the words "bleak," "chilling" and "suspenseful" appeal to you, make sure to track this one down.

The King's Speech is a fine movie. Really. It's also a paint-by-numbers Oscar film that does its best to check off every box on the Extras-Winslet-Speech list. Colin Firth (Pride and Prejudice)  plays a repressed Englishman who must overcome a physical challenge (read: speech impediment) to discover himself and fight Nazis. Geoffrey Rush (Shine) plays the eccentric genius who helps him. Everything ends upliftingly to stirring music. The only surprise is Helena Bonham Carter, who does turns in a sharp, lively-but-strong performance in a role she has not played a hundred times already.

Toy Story 3 is a worthy cap on the Toy Story trilogy, but it's not really a Best Picture contender. Inception was one of the most original summer blockbusters, but it does suffer from convoluted storytelling, thin characters, and the occasional loss of narrative focus. I want to see it win Best Sound, and it'll be neck and neck with TSN for best film score.

That's all I've seen so far. 3 more to go.


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