January 26, 2014

Oscar Nominated Films (and a few strays)

Colin McEnroe recently blogs:
I’m starting to believe the people who say 2013 is one of the great years for movies. Having recently piled “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Nebraska” on top of the long list of other last year releases viewed, I’m starting to see this as a crop that just keeps yielding.
And who am I to argue with him? I've been seeing a lot of movies myself this awards season. It's not something I do every year, but this year the combination of frigid weather, work schedule, interesting movies, and a fairly dormant (dare I say, comatose) social life has drawn me to the big screen more often. And while my normal movie watching generally is about 60% Real Art Ways, 10% Cinestudio, 10% mainstream movies, and 10% Out Film Fest, I've been out to the local multiplex (in provincial Berlin CT, matinees at the Starplex run until 6 pm and cost $5 - very affordable for the self employed with a flexible schedule).

So, with Oscar season around the corner, here is a listing of what I've seen, what I've liked, and what I've missed. Although I'm trying not to drop too many big plot bomb, there are probably a few spoilers following, so be warned.

In no particular order:

America Hustle: Did not expect to go see this, but what a treat. A double feature with Dallas Buyers Club would have worked in terms of bringing back the fashion, cars, and vibe of my youth. Loved the story, loved the music. Jennifer Lawrence was awesome in a "not the Hunger Games" role. Christian Bale was so deeply lost in a role as insane as Andy Kaufman's Tony Clifton alter ego, that I needed to wait for the credits to see who it was.  Totally not something I would ordinarily go see, but it was a total joy to watch.

Dallas Buyers Club: Confession, I went to see how problematic Jared Leto's portrayal of transwoman Rayon was. In fact, Leto did a great job, and was really such a secondary character. Loved Matthew McConaughey, loved the 80's vibe, Jennifer Garner was great. Totally loved it. 

Gravity: I could totally have done without the star power (Clooney and Bullock carry so many of their roles with them, I think I liken it to the Uncanny Valley phenomenon wherein a human features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural human beings, causing a negative response) and there were enough technical holes in the plot to fuel a half dozen web sites.  But it was nevertheless a visual thrill ride in 3D ($8 at the Starplex matinee) 

Her: Another one I might have skipped, but for some positive reviews and comments from friends. Joaquin Phoenix was great in a role that vibed John Hodgeman; Scarlet Johansson's vocal work was perfect, and there's Amy Adams again (also in American Hustle). As a "be here now" yoga teacher, seeing all those folks with their noses in their PDA's, interactive video games, etc. was a little unsettling, but I liked the idea of the sentient operating systems evolving and deciding what to do about that in a way that did not involve Skynet and Terminators. Call it dystopia lite.

Nebraska: Just saw this one tonight (Oscar nomination brought it back to Berlin) and I was totally charmed. Not 100% sure that the decision to use black-and-white was perfect (or at least, required) - although there were some really amazing landscape and townscape shots that probably would not have worked as well. I kind of wanted a 70s era instagram filter for the thing. While Bruce Dern is getting kudos for his portrayal, I was much more interested in Wil Forte (familiar to this nerd as Jenna's cross-dressing love interest in 30 Rock). Loved the film, in a lot of ways,

Blue Jasmine: I saw this when it first came out. Did not wow me (if I recall correctly) and so very dark in a lot of ways (except cinematography, if memory serves it was a pretty bright film, in terms of light and color). Alec Baldwin does not seem right for a lot of roles, but her he was. And Cate Blanchette's journey through the film  was hard to watch.

Frozen: The only thing that kept this from being perfect for me was the damn snowman. Get rid of that "we gotta sell toys" candy-ass Ewok / Jar-Jar Binks plot excuse for a snowman and put a ghostly Miyazaki silent snowman in there, and it would have been awesome. But it was still pretty great. A few odd plot points (I totally got Ana's loss of her beloved big sister, not so much Elsa's trauma and fear), but so much ran pleasantly counter to the typical Disney princess meets prince plot. And if the songs made it seem like Wicked II (I was mentally comparing the songs as I watched, Idina Menzel's lovely voice only made it more pointed), that's not a bad thing. I'd go see it again....

Despicable Me II:  OK, it's been a while. When the original came out I never saw it, not really a Steve Carell fan, and my loss (happily rented it after seeing the sequel). The Minions were amazing in their whimsy, slapstick, and irreverence - Harpo Marx meets the Oompah-Loompahs, and cranked up to 11.

Inside Llewyn Davis: There's a lot not to like here (Greenwich Village seems kind of sanitized and empty), but a lot to like also. Here, Justin Timberlake gets lost in his supporting role, it was fun to grab all the musical characters and plop them into my knowledge of the nascent folk scene, I loved the "wrap around itself" plot device. Even the cat, which could have been a cloying and annoying bit, was deftly and amusing employed. "Oh Brother Where Art Though" seemed a lot more contrived, to me (there's Clooney again, unable to escape his celebrity)

Saving Mr. Banks: Tom Hanks might have the same sort of problems for me that Clooney does (hell, I remember his breakout role in Bosom Buddies, much as I try to forget) but for whatever reason, he does not. He was great here, Emma Thompson was similarly awesome, and I much enjoyed the period piece (Mad Men without the alcohol and sex) and the behind the scenes look at one of my childhood memories (the Sherman brothers were great, and love to see Bradley Whitford in anything, West Wing actors are beloved). I was a bit young to see Mary Poppins when it first came out but I am sure I saw in on Wonderful World of Disney, and perhaps from the back of my parent's ranch wagon at the drive-in. 

Finally, Twenty Feet from Stardom: Another mental double-bill for me, along with this year's Muscle Shoals (not nominated). Both were great looks back to rock n' roll history, and if Muscle Shoals was a bit more relatable to me (late 60's and 70's is the music of my youth) Twenty Feet was an amazing, heart-breaking, and ultimately inspirational story.  

In the "not really nominated for much" category, I did belly up to the cinematic bar for three "junk food" movies in the past few months. Catching Fire (the Hunger Games sequel) was pretty good but not much new as compared to the original. The Hobbit II / Desolation of Smaug - pretty much the same, with perhaps a tad more resentment for dragging what amounts to a thinnish book into three movies without a particularly meaningful of satisfying break point between the folms. And Thor: The Dark World was also pretty good (I especially like the way Marvel is bringing in young nerdish folks as foils / adjuncts for the heroes; I've kind of gotten hooked on Agents of Shield).

Now, what have I not seen?

Captain Phillips: No reason, really. Perhaps the Tom Hanks star vehicle (that Uncanny Valley thing, again), although I've heard a lot of NPR interviews that make me think I'd like it, and Tina Fey's "I am the captain, now" line from the Golden Globes (which, it turns out, was ad libbed by the Somali actor, per Tom Hanks) is bringing me around. I'll rent it between now and Oscar night, probably. 

Twelve Years a Slave: Again, no real reason.  Friends who saw it were kind of shocked by it, and being a lone wolf theater goer, mostly, (and being a bit down in life of late) perhaps I did not feel up to it. It's still in theaters so I really ought to try to get to see this one. I really enjoyed Lincoln (last year's "big, meaningful historical picture" that I did go see). On the other hand, I also seems to have missed "The Butler", so perhaps I'm a bit scared of pulling the scab off of my country's history of racism. 

Wolf of Wall Street: Just not a lot of interest. Leonardo Dicaprio has done nothing for me, in fact, looking over his CV, I seem to be actively avoiding films he's been in (Titanic, Gilbert Grape, and Catch Me If You Can are the sum of his films I've seen). Oh wait, I saw (and was pretty much unimpressed with) this year's Great Gatsby.  Similarly, Jonah Hill is another Jude-aversion actor (seeing only 2011's Moneyball). 

And finally, Philomena: Having spent my youth in the 60's and 70's catholic church (albeit south central Pennsylvania, not Ireland), I've got a kind of PTSD around a lot of the issues here. Themes of adoption, abortion, priests, nuns, folk mass, and catholic education swirled around my childhood. I love Judi Dench, so I'll probably see this. But might want to not see it alone....

One thing I try to do most years is get to Real Art Ways to see the Oscar Nominated films - they generally run the Oscar Nominated short films, short documentaries, and animated shorts in rotation and promise to this year from Feb 1 - 13. So I'll probably make it up to Hartford 2-3 times in the coming weeks.

And finally, all this cinema-passion is generally a preparation for the annual "Oscar Night Hartford" (a CARC / CT Aids Resource Coalition fund-raiser). CARC became AIDS Connecticut this year, and Oscar Night became Red Carpet Experience (probably for legal reasons). I've kind of pulled back from formal fund-raisers the past few years (not feeling particularly good about myself to dress up and be social) but Red Carpet Experience is in a good venue (Spotlight Theater) that offers some good hidey-holes for the anti-social (like, the theater, to watch the show) and the opportunity to put on a movie inspired costume. (Hm....I do recall a certain Minion costume) and besides, my friend and fellow yogini Wendy is the adult-in-charge of the event. So MAYBE.... 

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