We had two great weekends to set up the Academy Awards tonight. We have been going to the Best Picture Showcase since it started back in 2006. Usually I have seen all the movies by that point but as it became apparent that this event was going to be an annual occasion, we started being a little cautious and waited because we knew we had this as a back up. The Academy has upped the number of nominees the last three years, ten for the previous two and nine this year. Before this event I had seen four of the Best Picture Nominees and so I had five new experiences. I am not going to do full reviews on all of them, but I will provide some quick thoughts. For the four I did full reviews on, the poster should provide you a link to that review.
Tree of Life
One of the posters that we won at the Best Picture Showcase in the trivia contests is this lovely image from the movie Tree of Life. Admittedly, the movie is filled with lovely images but it has no storytelling skills and those images are in service of a ponderous pile of pretentious nonsense. Amanda read that of all the text ratings sent in by the ticket holders from the BPS, this one had the lowest rating, Obviously some critics disagree but while I respect the right of others to find meaning where they may, I need to point out that the Emperor is naked.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
This is another movie that appears to have polarized critics. Some have loved it and others have described it as mawkish 9/11 porn. It is certainly different and there are some things about it that I like a lot. Here is a trivia question you could probably win a bet or two on, “Which acting nominee fails to speak a single word in their performance?” Many people will be suckered in, thinking that the silent film “The Artist” is the answer, in fact the correct answer is Max Von Sydow in this film. He is one of the great things about the movie. There is also a wonderfully muted performance by Jeffery Wright in the last part of the film. I had problems with the way the story develops and the concept. There is a slight remedy of some of my objections in the last section where Sandra Bullock’s mother reveals her involvement in what is going on. It is reassuring and also a bit of a cheat. This is the poster that we won in another of the trivia contests during the long day.
The Artist This is the film that has all of the buzz and appears to be the likely winner tonight. It is thoroughly entertaining and deserves to be recognized as an excellent film. I do think that as the years go by it will appear to be a novelty pick rather than a reflection of the best film making this last year. The actors perform virtually without speaking, and they tell the story in a way that movies did a hundred years ago. Some of the techniques are very clever and the dog is one of the best special effects of the year. John Goodman appears in this movie as well as Extremely Loud. There were a couple of performers who appeared in multiple best picture nominees this year. Another character actor that was a favorite of mine since the 1970s, is Ed Lauter. He has a couple of small scenes here and I just like to see that people I have enjoyed for years are still making a contribution and working. The music for this movie is also nominated and it was strong, but I swear I heard the love theme from Vertigo used in the movie and it would be a shame if this film wins on the basis of a misunderstanding of which music was original.
War Horse This was one of the two films that effected me the most
emotionally. I have been a fan of Steven Spielberg since I saw “Duel” as a TV movie of the week way back in the early 1970s. This guy knows how to tell a story. He can make a sprawling event like a world war, into a personal drama that pulls us into the individuals experience. He did it with “Saving Private Ryan” and “Schindler’s List”. Here he manages to do so with a central character that cannot speak a line of dialogue but manages to break our hearts with his courage and spirit. I hope someday to see the play that this movie is based on, because I have heard it is magnificent. Spielberg is not limited to the stage or horse puppets to tell the story and he makes the most of the settings on the battlefields and farms of Europe. Tom Hiddleston, is another one of those actors in two best picture nominees. Here he is the Captain that takes Joey with him to the Great War, in “Midnight in Paris” he is F. Scott Fitzgerald. Most of the characters who encounter the horse are sympathetic, regardless of the side of the war they are on. It is however obvious that war is casually cruel to animals as it is to people. One character tries to diminish the emotion by saying that after all, he’s a horse not a dog. I’ll bet there are horse people out there who sat up in anger at the thought that their love of an animal was any less valid. I am a sucker for animal stories and this one pulled me in completely. If this were the upset winner tonight, I would be delighted.
Moneyball The great American Pastime is given a modern makeover with technology and desperation. Baseball movies that work, are usually not focused on a single game, that’s not how baseball works for the most part. There are one-hundred and sixty-two games played by each team each season, that is why statistics matter so much in this game. The theme of Moneyball is the courage of your convictions that the way to gain success is by playing the odds rather than swinging for the fences with a player who is really a reach. From a romantic perspective, it is a hard concept to wrap your head around. Baseball fans love stats but they also love a hero, and this movie is about guys being heroes for doing the mundane job they are chosen for. If it all works out they are a success. Brad Pitt joins our list of performers appearing in two nominated pictures for this and for “Tree of Life”. He is personally nominated here and his performance was so natural that I think it was under appreciated. If Aaron Sorkin had not won the screenplay award last year, he would be a lock this year for turning an idea into a screen story. This is based on a book, but it is not a narrative like the movie is. Good job again Mr. Sorkin.
The Help This is the movie that should be the favorite but it suffers from having come out in the summer and the original impact it had on audiences will have faded a bit. This is an empowering story of women, civil rights and dramatic changes for the better in our culture. It is hard to fathom that the world portrayed here was actually part of my lifetime. Most of my students will see it as ancient history so they may not be able to feel the same kind of power from it that I did. This movie is filled with great performances from the women in the story. Viola Davis is probably going to win tonight as Best Actress, she is also in our two nominee Best Picture Club having also appeared in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”. Joining her at the victory table tonight will be Best Supporting Actress nominee Octavia Spenser. Jessica Chastain is also a nominee and appears in another Best Picture Nominee, “Tree of Life”, so she and Viola can compare their membership cards when they see each other after the show. Oh, and here is a leading contender for Best Picture that apparently directed itself. Terrance Malick is sitting in the theater tonight with Tate Taylors directors nomination in his pocket. Shame on the Academy for honoring a director who can’t find a story to save his life instead of one who told an incredible story and actually directed people in the movie he was making.