Sunday, January 4, 2009

Oscar Whore

One of my trashy habits is to follow the movie awards season. And let me tell you, the world of Oscar Bloggers is a frightening place to observe. These people live and breathe this stuff year round. But I admit, I kind of love it. It's like gambling for movie geeks. There are sites that compile critics awards, reviews, money spent on Oscar campaigns - and there is much discussion about past trends. What movie falls into the "epic" slot? What about the "period" slot? What about the "quirky independent" slot? What about...? It's lunacy, but I'm a bit of an addict.

Right now, the Best Picture Race looks like it will come down to this group.

Slumdog Millionaire
Milk

The Dark Knight

Frost/Nixon

Doubt

Wall-E

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Reader

The Wrestler

Revolutionary Road

Of course - only five will emerge when nominations get announced later this month.

I have been catching up on the movies on this list. I have seen five of the ten - and will keep catching up as movies get released nationally and money/time allows. So here are my mini-reviews thus far.

Wall-E
Breathtaking computer animation blended with action-based storytelling plucks the heartstrings to great effect. Gender role reversal is interesting. As a satire of America's future, it almost works, but the ending is very "Disney" and for me, nearly wrecked the whole experience. Of the Pixar films, this holds its own, but I think Finding Nemo and A Bug's Life are better.
GRADE: B

Milk
Gus Van Sant completely transports the audience to another time and uses a bold, yet subtle visual style to grip the viewer. Very few political films have moved me in this way, but does it work for a non-queer audience? I think it does. Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, James Franco and Josh Brolin (along with everyone else) are so good, you simply do not recognize them as anyone but the characters they portray. This film does not apologize for anything - which seems appropriate given its subject matter.
GRADE: A+

The Dark Knight
Menacing and powerful, this movie is the best comic book film ever made. It takes the material and plays it without a single wink to the genre. It is a crime film - not unlike Mann's Heat or Scorsese's The Departed. It is hyper-masculine and adrenaline filled from start to finish with a performance by Heath Ledger that is terrifying - and heartbreaking, for this actor was one of our finest. If there is a mark against the film, it is that director Christopher Nolan loses some focus in both his screenplay and direction in the third act, but that's a small complaint for such a cinematic achievement.
GRADE: A

Doubt
Shanley executes a competent screen adaptation of his hugely successful stage play. By the end, the overt manipulation of the audience - to not tell, to not be clear, to not find out what happened - is so obvious it loses all meaning. And though overt metaphor is not offensive as I do love my operatic theatricality, if the wind blew again (to show the wind at the back of one's life as preached by Flynn), or another light bulb blew (to show the self applied veil of Sister Aloysius), or the camera tilted again (to show how off-balance everyone is) or the camera shot from above (God's judging hand - of course) - I was going to fall out of my chair. But the actors are to die for. Streep, Hoffman, Davis, and Adams are on their game. Streep, particularly, gives one of her finest career performances. For acting, this is one of the best films of the year. For content...yawn.
GRADE: B-

Slumdog Millionaire
This is filmmaking at its very best. And for once, Danny Boyle does not mess up the final act of his movie. He seems to have reached a new level in his talent - and this time, has the story to match. Rarely does a film have me glued to each frame. The style, the music, the cinematography, the acting - it all comes together to create a stunning adult fairy tale about class warfare and love - and all with the framing device of India's version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Some criticize this film for its lack of plot credibility. To those, I say they have missed the point. Sometimes simplicity works. And where the story may lack complexity, its execution has layers upon layers to contemplate long after the credits have rolled.
GRADE: A+

So...if I had to choose between Slumdog and Milk? I must contemplate further! And I have others to see!

2 comments:

Jeremy said...

Man I want to see Milk and The Wrestler; thanks for the reviews.
You do the opposite of what I do. I watch tons of movies through the year mostly on DVD, and miss alot during the holiday season, so my Best of the year lists are usually not totally correct.

Mead said...

Yes, but more importantly:

!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MATT !!