The 84th Annual Academy Awards are coming up in a few weeks (Sunday, February 26) so I figured I would jot down some thoughts that have been on my mind grapes. Not super psyched to watch it but there are a few gems I am looking forward to see win plus it is a reasonable excuse to get drunk, the Oscars are pretty much the Superbowl for people who don’t give a shit about sports and commercials.
The Artist (Hazanavicius, 2011)
This is probably the best movie of the bunch and has the highest chance of taking home Best Picture. It is original, looks great, and is surprisingly entertaining. Michel Hazanavicius really has a knack for capturing the feel of bygone eras. In his previous two films OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (Hazanavicius, 2006) and OSS 117: Lost in Rio (Hazanavicius, 2009), he parodies the 1960 spy movie genre perfectly by not only incorporating aspects of its characters and plots but also its sets, action, scores, direction, and overall tone. He does the same thing with The Artist, to an even greater effect, but steps back 30 years further in movie history. Both Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo are justly nominated for Lead Actor and Supporting Actress respectively. I can’t even begin to imagine how tough it must be to deliver a moving performance without words but they do it. Dujardin has a charisma that just won’t quit and Bejo makes my dreams come true. I was a bit skeptical going into this film because the handful of silent films I have watched, mostly Chaplins and Keatons, were not nearly as enthralling as this. Although The Artist was not my favorite film of 2011 (that honor most likely goes to either Warrior (O’Connor, 2011) or 50/50 (Levine, 2011)), it is an excellent experience and my choice out of the nine.
The Descendants (Payne, 2011)
Second in the running for Best Picture, The Descendants, is another all-around great film. Alexander Payne fails to disappoint yet again, going four for four in my book. Some notable points of interest – Shailene Woodley gives an outstanding performance despite being the main character on what I can only assume is an awful and mind-numbing ABC Family television series entitled The Secret Life of an American Teenager (Hampton, 2008); the screenplay is co-adapted with Payne by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash both of whom I recognize from their minor recurring roles on Reno 911! (Garant, Kenney, Lennon, 2003) which I found both surprising and pleasing, I would be interested to find out how match ups like this happen; and baaah I don’t really have a third point of interest, all things considered it is an above average film and a wonderfully compelling yarn but I just do not envision it beating The Artist.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Daldry, 2011)
The kid, Thomas Horn, pulls out a few show stopping monologues and I was quite surprised that he did not get nominated for this performance while Max von Sydow joins Dujardin and Bejo as the third person this year nominated for a role in which they don’t speak. I enjoyed the movie but I really had to try to enjoy it. Normally a movie that panders this hard is impossible for me to watch so instead I just chose to ignore how overtly it attempts to personally connect with each viewer. The kids performance is the best, the pandering is the worst, and everything else falls somewhere in the middle, not really much to say.
The Help (Taylor, 2011)
Another nominee that exceeded my expectations, I had firmly believed that this was going to be terrible but as it turns out it really wasn’t that bad. I doubt that it needed to be 146 minutes, seems like they spent far too much time on meaningless subplots but I watched it from start to finish anyway. Viola Davis does great, Jessica Chastain is pretty good too, but I really don’t think Octavia Spencer was all that impressive especially considering her performance was deemed better than both Shailene Woodley and Berenice Bejo at the Golden Globes earlier this year. The Help is average in all other areas.
Hugo (Scorcese, 2011)
I have not watched it.
Midnight in Paris (Allen, 2011)
This is my second pick for Best Picture but unfortunately it stands no serious chance of winning. As far as Woody Allen films go, Midnight in Paris is better than his recent average but I have yet to see a film of his that I have not enjoyed. Like Wes Andersen and Quentin Tarantino, Woody Allen is a director who has a very distinct style which means that if you like his past films then you will like this one and if you don’t then you won’t. Somehow he manages to put out a good-to-great movie every year (for the past 43 years) which he writes himself as well as directs. I can see how some people might view his work as annoying but he seems like one of the few people around still genuinely interested in making a decent film and not just a large profit and for that he should probably be admired. Back to the movie, Owen Wilson performs capably, relieving the apprehension I had about him in the starring role. Marion Cotillard is amazing as usual, it would be a pretty tight race between her and Berenice Bejo for who pulls off the sexier 1920s look. Michael Sheen, as the pedantic intellectual, and Corey Stoll, as Ernest Hemingway, manage to stand out in their rolls amongst a full cast. I wish it hadn’t been so long since I took my 20th century literature class; it would have enriched the experience understanding more of the expats references. I did however smile when Owen Wilson was telling Luis Bunuel to make a film about a party where no one can leave since I happened to watch it a couple years back. Overall – excellent.
Moneyball (Miller, 2011)
The writing of Aaron Sorkin makes this film great. The director, Bennett Miller, is more than competent and the great cast of actors doesn’t hurt either but Sorkins unique and impressive writing style sets Moneyball apart from the crowd. Sorkin, like Woody Allen, has a particular tone that is either love it or hate it and in his case I…don’t really want to say love but I greatly enjoy it nonetheless. Jonah Hill makes a resounding entrance into the dramatic acting arena and I would be quite happy to see him take home the Best Supporting Actor Award. Chris Pratt from Parks and Recreation (Daniels, Schur, 2009) makes a minor appearance but not nearly as impressive as his role of Andy Dwyer. Brad Pitt and Phillip Seymour Hoffman perform great as well but that has come to be expected of them. Moneyball is a…homerun.
The Tree of Life (Mallick, 2011)
I will reserve my full judgment of this film until I see it again. I started a review of it earlier this year when I saw it in the theater but stopped half way through out of boredom/frustration. It has now been so long since I watched it that I have lost most of it in my memory. On the shallowest level possible, The Tree of Life is lengthy, slow, and tasking. I have watched four of Terrence Mallicks five films and can’t say I am a fan of any. I take full responsibility for this opinion, I find it hard to believe that anyone could put a great deal of thought and effort into a piece of work and have it be critically acclaimed yet at the same time still have it be what my interpretation of it was as I was leaving the theater. So either the director is talentless and the critics are wrong or I missed it entirely. Odds favor the latter.
War Horse (Spielberg, 2011)
I have not watched it.
I will stop at the Best Picture Nominations since writing much more would make this article unreasonably long. One last thing, each year the nominees tend have interesting similarities. What caught my eye this year was the number of actors who were in more than one Oscar nominated film. The folks working double duty this year include: John Goodman, Viola Davis, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jessica Chastain, Jeffrey Wright, Christopher Plummer, Robin Wright, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. This is by no means the first time this has happened but the large volume does stand out to me.