27 January 2014

Some Oscars contenders...

Awards season is a guilty pleasure of sorts; I can't resist wanting to have an informed opinion about the nominees. So I've been obediently tromping off to see the films (some of which I would have checked out anyways, others maybe not). In brief, my take on what I've seen so far -- 

Dallas Buyers Club
Saw this one last night. Pretty much exactly what you'd expect. It's not bad, it's just... what you'd expect. Actually, to be fair, it was more understated than I expected. They didn't full-on Hollywood it up with super heavy-handed conversions and moralizing, so that's a big point in its favor. McConaughey and Leto both delivered excellent performances and I wouldn't be surprised (or especially upset) if either won. The critique of the FDA and big pharmaceuticals is certainly timely and appreciated, but the movie can't quite decide how hard it wants to ride that angle as opposed to the other potential plot lines (he was homophobic, and now he's forced to interact with lots of gays and seems to come around, mostly kinda! he is confronting death! maybe there is a romance with a doctor! actually this other character played by Jared Leto has a lot of stuff going on that maybe we could look into?) so it ends up doing a wee bit of all of them, and seeming rather tepid overall.

American Hustle
My friend Colleen posted a link to this Slate piece that makes some pretty good points, though it's awfully harsh. I liked American Hustle. I will not be surprised if it wins Best Picture. It's a very pleasant and amusing film. Everyone is likeable and it makes you feel warm and fuzzy in all the right not-too-schlocky ways. David O. Russell is pretty adept at emotion; this movie errs more to the cuddly side than Silver Linings Playbook (which I apparently never posted about, but really liked -- I thought it managed to balance hilarious hijinks and serious consequences very well), which is slightly to its detriment, but yeah, it's fun to watch. The acting is solid, though I think Christian Bale is the only one who might actually deserve an award. The others are good, but they don't do anything particularly extraordinary -- I think Bale does a pretty remarkable tragicomic sort of thing that is a cut above the rest. And I really don't like him, so that's saying something.

This is unlikely to win anything, but it's a charmer! I thought it was going to be high drama and grim suffering, but it's a delightfully comedic treatment of pretty heavy material. Judi Dench was a "fallen" woman whose child was essentially stolen by evil nuns, and after 50 years, she makes a big push to find him, with the help of Steve Coogan, a journalist who has been sacked (unfairly, we surmise, but we don't really know why). It's pretty much all winning Irish humor, but it's not too twee about it, and the emotional restraint of it allows for some genuinely moving moments. There is some interesting subtle reflection on the nature of forgiveness (in one particular scene, the media is slyly compared to the nuns in a way I found very smart), but the subtlety that saves the film from emotional bombast also makes it somewhat too understated for greatness, perhaps.

12 Years a Slave
I think Steve McQueen is an incredible film-maker (though I didn't like Shame, in hindsight, I still think the film is kind of fascinating visually. Oddly, given the man's genius in terms of visuals, the McQueen exhibit at Chicago's Art Institute was kind of disappointing), and this film definitely blew me away. Much like Hunger, it's sparse on narrative but cinematographically lush. He can do so much with visuals, it's just astonishing. There is one scene in particular that I immediately think of when I remember this film (I saw it almost a month ago) -- when the main character is tied to a branch by his neck, struggling to stay on tip-toes so as not to choke. The camera pans back and we see that he is in this luxuriant green space, and children are playing nearby. It's such a powerful contrast, it delivers this intense punch to the gut. What is remarkable about the film, to me, is how totally unrelenting it is. It does not give you even a moment of respite; the kind of normalcy other movies like this let you feel just to ease up for a second. Here, everything is pervaded by this stark atrocity, and the film never lets you forget that even these moments of ostensible human contact are underwritten by this awful brutality. Yet, the film in no way feels gratuitous or sensationalistic. It's astonishing, and unbelievably powerful. I think the actors all do a great job, but it's McQueen who should get the award, if you ask me.

I saw Blue Jasmine last summer (and loved it) -- Blanchett should absolutely get the Oscar -- and Gravity not that long ago (liked it, though no way does Bullock get the award, and sorry Cuaron, but my vote is for McQueen). Still need to see: August: Ossage County, Wolf of Wall Street, Inside Llewyn Davis, Her, and I guess Nebraska, though I do not particularly like Payne's movies (despised The Descendants and didn't much like Sideways either).

Oh! I did not post about Captain Phillips when I saw it, so my brief take:
It was far more nuanced than expected, which I appreciated, though the complexity was more in the ambiguous feeling about American military might than genuinely delving into the lives of the Somali pirates. There was some gesturing in that direction, but they were still pretty Other, to use the technical terms, heh heh. But overall, I was surprised by how good the movie was. Tom Hanks was solid, aside from the wretched accent. His final scene was just unbelievably amazing. It's just jaw-droppingly good. I feel like I understand shock and post-traumatic stress in a whole new way now. He is incredible. Very surprised he didn't get a nomination for that (as I guess are plenty of other people). But it's Barkhad Abi who steals the show as the pirate. He is mesmerizing.

I just saw Cutie and the Boxer, which I really liked, but not having seen the others I can't wholeheartedly give it my vote. I should post about it though, it's a great film. I just saw Le Passé and it absolutely should have been nominated (I guess it didn't because A Separation won, which I also just watched as really liked, but I'm sorry, The Past is better!) but I haven't seen the others, so I can't assess.

So, my votes:
Best Picture: I suspect it will go to American Hustle. I need to see more of the movies before I decide who I'd WANT it to go to.
Best Actor: Hard to say without seeing Bruce Dern or Leo, but I think I'm voting Bale. McConaughey could get it though. Chiwetel Ejiofor is good and I certainly won't be disappointed if he wins, but he's not my top choice.
Best Actress: Blanchett, absolutely. And I think she has a good shot.
Best Supporting Actor: Barkhad Abi, I hope I hope. I hear Jonah Hill is great, but I really want Abi to win. Jared Leto is kind of a dark horse; my cynical side thinks he might be exactly the kind of thing the Academy would go for, but I am not so sure about these things anymore.
Best Supporting Actress: too tough to call. Sally Hawkins is great and I love her, but I doubt she'll win. I would be delighted if she did though.
Best Director: Steve McQueen should win. For sure. I will be kind of pissed if he doesn't.

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