Happy Oscar Day
This may be the first time in my whole life that, going into the Academy Awards ceremony, I’ve seen all the films nominated for all the major awards: Best picture, director, actor, actress, supporting actor and actress, and original and adapted screenplay.
I’d say 2013 was a good year for films. Especially the last couple of months of the year — no surprise there, since that’s the Oscar playbook. But I wouldn’t say it was a GREAT year for films. Not one of the films nominated for best picture stood out to me as the BEST, just good. So I’m not even really that interested in predicting who will win or who SHOULD win, as is the trend.
No, this morning, sitting in my jammies, watching the Siberia-like landscape out my back window and sipping a pretend-latte, I’m going to take on the role of Movie Critic. I’m going to tell you what I think about each of these Best Picture-nominated films. Because they all have merits.
- American Hustle is vastly entertaining, but the sum of its parts don’t really add up to anything meaningful. The best thing about this movie is the amazing acting ensemble: Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, and Jennifer Lawrence. You can’t take your eyes off any of them.
- Captain Phillips: Tom Hanks has played the Everyman and the Nice Guy for so long and we love him so much that we sometimes forget what a powerful actor he is. He alone is the reason to see this movie — and be prepared for a wild ride. His supporting cast is frightening and realistic. I left the theater literally shaking.
- Dallas Buyers Club: I have a predisposed dislike of Matthew McConaughey. He has made way too many stupid movies in which all he does is preen and smirk. I am not a fan, to say the least. And I was not a huge fan of this film. I thought the story was important, but McConaughey’s character was unlikeable and I didn’t think his HIV diagnosis changed him in the ways it really would have. However, it’s set in a critical moment in the fight against AIDS, and I appreciate that. I also appreciate that it wasn’t filmed as a big blockbuster — that would have been wrong. And supporting actor nominee Jared Leto should win for his role. In the end, I grudgingly have to give McConaughey credit for taking on a tough role and doing a great job with it.
- Gravity: I really hate movies that rely heavily on special effects. Generally this means that everything else is out the window: storyline, character, dialogue, humanity. So I wasn’t really too excited about seeing this film. However, I was wrong. I can’t ever remember sitting in a theater WITHOUT BREATHING for so long. This is one hell of suspenseful film, and you believe with all your heart that it’s really happening. This is no animated feature with a couple of actors on a green screen. Sandra Bullock is amazing as our hero who may or may not make it back to earth alive — all of her own volition. A big thumbs up.
- Her is a bit of an oddball film, which is my favorite kind of film. It doesn’t look big-budget, and despite the slightly futuristic bent, it’s not filled with special effects. It’s the story of a lonely man who falls in love with his operating system — and yeah, you really believe it and understand why. This is no ordinary operating system: it’s Scarlett Johansson on the other end of the line, and it’s a bit more like phone sex than any computer I’ve ever encountered. Considering the fact that she is never seen on screen, it’s a pretty amazing love story. Quirky throughout, happy and sad, maybe not Best Picture, but a great little film.
At this point I’d like to stop and complain again publicly that the Academy should have never expanded the Best Picture category. It used to nominate just five films, and you could bet that those films were some of the best of the year. Now, with nine or ten nominees, I feel like the category is watered down. But what are ya gonna do…
- Our next nominated film is Nebraska, directed by the wonderful Alexander Payne. I love this guy, because he tells nice, quite stories about real people. Quirky people in unusual situations. Think “Sideways” and “The Descendants.” His characters are so rich, and his films are really well paced. I highly enjoy them. He finds great actors to play his characters, too. “Nebraska” is filled with characters — quirky, unloveable, exhausted, sweet — just real people you’d meet in your own life. The film tells the story of an old man, Bruce Dern, who wants to end his life in a blaze of fame and glory by redeeming a bogus “You’ve won a million dollars” come-on he received in the mail. But that’s not really what the film is about. It’s about his relationship with his son (Will Forte, who deserved a nomination for Best Supporting Actor), his bitchy wife, his extended family — and ultimately, finding himself. The film is shot in black and white, which I loved. This is a quiet movie, maybe not Best Picture, but so very good.
- Philomena is another quiet film, rather under the radar. But it’s so worth seeing. The story line — an older woman (Judi Dench) is determined to know what happened to the son she was forced to give up for adoption long ago. It’s filled with surprises, with humor and sadness, and with one incredible performance by Dench.
- The Wolf of Wall Street: I can’t say that I really liked this film. It wasn’t as entertaining as “American Hustle” and had the same sorts of problems, only bigger. I didn’t care about any of these characters, and I despised their lifestyles. It’s actually pretty grotesque. But I’ve gotta give credit to Leonardo DiCaprio, because he gives one of the best performances of his life — and he’s given plenty.
- 12 Years a Slave: I feel like a bad person when I say that I didn’t love this film. Oh, it was good, for sure. It had strong characters, a compelling storyline, and some great acting. But somehow it felt like it was shooting for Most Important Film and Most Serious Film and Bravest Film to Make instead of just a great movie. It felt long, the editing seemed sloppy, and it was simply hard to, well, LIKE. It sure has a lot of Oscar buzz leading to tonight’s awards show, but it definitely wasn’t my favorite film this year.
Shout-outs to Cate Blanchett in the Best Actress category for her work in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” and to the un-nominated “Saving Mr. Banks” (my favorite movie of 2013) and “The Way Way Back” (a sweet and wonderful summer film). I also really admired the Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis” for its morose portrayal of a folk singer in early-1960s New York.
Like I said, I didn’t love any of the nominated films to really root for one tonight. So I’ll just watch and see what happens.
SMALL IS BETTER?
Also for the first time this year, I got to see all of the films nominated in the Animated Short Film and Live-Action Short Film categories. These have always intrigued me, but I’ve never known where to see them (along with the documentaries and many of the foreign films). This weekend our local theatre showed the whole block of them, and I saw them yesterday. What fun! Viewed together, they were very LONG (about 4 hours, with a 10-minute intermission) but so unique and mostly fun to watch. Keeping with the “short” theme, I will briefly hit the highlights:
LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM
All nominated from various foreign countries, these ranged from the hilarious “Do I Have to Take Care of Everything” (a very short film about a botched attempt to get to a friend’s wedding), to the longer, very serious “That Wasn’t Me” (a harrowing account of two doctors brutalized in a war zone) and “Just Before Losing Everything” (the tale of a woman and her two children trying to flee from her abusive husband). The very brief and entertaining “The Voorman Problem” is something like a Twilight Zone episode. My favorite, “Helium,” tells the story of a sick little boy and an orderly who helps him die a magic death.
ANIMATED SHORT FILM
Two of these were definitely directed toward children but were entertaining for adults, too. “Get a Horse!” is a Disney entry that was shown before “Frozen” in the theaters — pretty cute, but also pretty basic stuff. “Room on the Broom,” however, felt like a storybook come to life, with delightfully animated animals, a clumsy witch, and an increasingly crowded broom. I loved it. I also liked “Feral” for its storybook-quality artwork, but the story didn’t do much for me. “Mr. Hublot” had the best art direction, hands down, and the storyline about a strange little OCD man in some futuristic, industrial city who meets a little dog captivated me from beginning to end. The only one of the bunch I didn’t like was the Japanese entry, “Possessions.” That one may have been the longest 14 minutes of my life.
Happy Oscar watching!