So this weekend and last I attended AMC Theatres' Best Picture Showcase, like every year, and saw all 10 Best Picture nominees for this evening's Academy Awards. Which, trust, are more fun to watch when you've actually seen a bunch of the movies. Following are some thoughts on the nominated films (oh, god, now I'm one of those pretentious people who call "movies" films).
Toy Story 3: This was a good movie. Of course -- it's Pixar. Pixar makes a good movie. And I loved that they still found a way to make the Toy Story franchise relevant and fresh, even with a third installment. The visual gags were fantastic and the story was engaging. I mean, I wasn't sitting there weeping like a lot of people I know claimed to do during this movie, but I was definitely invested. Also, it was not shown in 3d at the showcase, and I don't think I missed anything.
127 Hours: This was a great movie -- the story of Aron Ralston, a dude from Colorado who went hiking alone in the Canyonlands and fell into a crevice, an arm pinned beneath a boulder; he had to cut his arm off to get free. The combination of Danny Boyle as director and James Franco in the lead role make for a gripping movie which could have been really boring, given the subject matter. But there were just enough diversions and flashbacks to keep it moving, and James Franco's performance is so engaging. He's a well-deserved Best Actor nominee for this one, and while he'll likely be beat by Colin Firth, he's definitely worthy.
The Kids Are All Right: This is the story of a lesbian couple played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore and their two teenage children, who initiate a meeting with the sperm donor who their moms used to conceive them. They all wind up drawn in to one another's lives in different ways. It's a good movie, and everyone in it is really fun to watch, but it's not all that. Sometimes I think I'm missing something when a big fuss gets made over a movie or someone's performance in the movie, and that's kind of what I think is happening here -- critics have compared Annette Bening's performance in this movie to her performance in American Beauty, and I just don't see it. Mark Ruffalo is perfect as the sperm donor who's not really a slacker but wants everyone to think he's a slacker. Julianne Moore's character is hard to pin down -- the things said of her character form the part of the movie that annoyed me most: at one point Annette Bening accuses her of micro-managing their lives, but then it's clear she sees her as flaky and devil-may-care. So which is it? I don't think you can be both a micro-manager and a flake. That's just not real. And then I read this funny thing by someone in Slate who complained that it didn't make sense that Mark Ruffalo's character was all into organic food farming for his restaurant, but didn't seem to give a shit what Julianne Moore's character was doing to the garden in his yard -- it just didn't gel. And that was something that I had gotten hung up on as well -- the characters just didn't make any sense sometimes.
I mean, it's a good movie. It's just not worthy of Best Picture.
True Grit: What do I say about this one other than "OMG it's so amazing"???? From the opening piano note in the score (literally, the very first note) to the very last second of the credits, I was just hooked. I mean, at times my mouth was hanging open. The performance of Hailee Steinfeld as the girl was absolutely fantastic; I don't know the mechanics of billing and stuff, but feel she should have been nominated as Best Actress, rather than supporting actress. I didn't expect to like this movie, let alone fall madly in love with it, because it's a western and that feels like a dirty word to me. But fall madly in love is exactly what happened. The Coen brothers gave it their own special sauce, but otherwise apparently stayed pretty true to the original. Jeff Bridges is great as always, and Matt Damon was barely recognizable in his role as the Texas Marshall hunting the same man -- totally a good thing. I absolutely loved this movie, and can't recommend it enough.
The Fighter: Look, I get it -- hardscrabble story of a boxer down on his luck, and the drug addicted brother who brings him both inspiration and a lot of grief, and their journey into healing through... boxing. It's one of those quintessentially American stories that we are all suckers for. But no fuss would be made over this movie if it weren't for Christian Bale's scenery-chewing performance as Dicky. I mean, it's a pretty good movie. But it isn't fantastic -- it doesn't transport you anywhere. It just makes you glad you never smoked crack. Or took up boxing.
Winter's Bone: Not a single actor you've ever heard of, though you may vaguely recognize a face or two, and yet this is a sadly beautiful film about a teenage girl (Ree) who is attempting to care for her two younger siblings and a mother who's gone 'round the twist, after being abandoned by a meth-cooking father. Ree learns that her father has placed their house as collateral for bail and has a court date he's about to miss; she tries to find him in order to avoid losing the house. Her search takes her on a journey through the criminal underbelly of her extended family, and eventually she learns her father was killed, but no one will produce his body. My husband rightly pointed out the parallels between Ree's journey and that of Frodo's in Lord of the Rings -- this is an ultra-modern hero's journey. Her quest is for the truth; her ring of evil is avoiding the drugs that have destroyed so many in her family; and her Shire to come back to is personified by her younger brother and sister. It's a brutally real movie, but lovely just the same. The young actress who plays Ree, Jennifer Lawrence, has been nominated for Best Actress -- well deserved. I can't recommend this one enough, either.
Black Swan: This is seriously one of the worst movies I've ever seen. It's cliche, it's poorly filmed, the acting is terrible -- it's a goddamn melodrama. The biggest issue is that you're supposed to go on this journey into madness with the main character, Nina (Natalie Portman). But you don't really want to go on this journey with her, because you don't actually give a flying fuck about her. She's cold and crazy and she has a batshit crazy mom who is just a lame shadow of the Joan Crawford portrayed in Mommie Dearest. Honestly, there's better acting in the so-bad-it's-good Center Stage, if you want ballet, and if you want a crazy mother, just check out Mommie Dearest. If you want Natalie Portman, check out almost any other movie she's been in, including the pretty hilarious No Strings Attached. Don't check out this. It's garbage.
Inception: Here's another movie I wasn't all that excited about, and in fact had no interest in it at all when it was first released. But it turned out to be really well done and fascinating -- a very cerebral action movie would be the most apt description I could give it. I've heard people bemoan its lack of acting nominations, but I don't agree -- I don't think any of the performances are all that fantastic. It's just an example of a movie that could have been sucktastic were it not elevated by an ensemble of compelling actors, led by Leonardo DiCaprio. There are some things I'd have done differently -- lose the unnecessarily bombastic Hans Zimmer score for a start -- but otherwise, it's a really good movie. Maybe a bit overlong, but still really good. Also, some people find it confusing, and I admittedly have no patience for that -- it's not confusing, but you do need to pay attention from beginning to end to follow along. If paying attention to a movie isn't your thing, you might want to skip this one.
The Social Network: Yes, this is me and Evil Rob's kind of movie -- sharp, witty dialogue and a quick-paced story. A fictional account of the rise of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. I am a huge fan of Facebook and resent the constant demonization in the press of its founder, so I had concerns that this movie would be overly critical, but it wasn't. Nor was it fawning. I think it just did its best to present a reasonably balanced picture of the early days of Facebook, framed by some of the ensuing lawsuits. I am married to an individual with undiagnosed Asperger's Syndrome (his mom just thought he was really, really smart-- and he is!) and it's always been clear to me given everything I've read and seen about Mark Zuckerberg that he has this "disorder" as well, so I get very prickly and defensive whenever it's portrayed in television or film, because it's so easy to get it wrong and be insensitive about it. So we really liked this movie on a couple of levels -- first because it's about Facebook and that's just good entertainment; and second because of the way it deals with Zuckerberg's humanity -- it doesn't suggest why he is the way he is, but it does tell us what it might be like to live in his shoes. Evil Rob was particularly struck by the moment near the end when the attorney played by Rashida Jones explains to Zuckerberg why he'd never be able to win over a jury -- Rob knows he's usually seen the same way by people who don't know him.
The King's Speech: This was a lovely movie as well, and it has Colin Firth in a quietly brilliant performance as King George VI; Helena Bonham Carter as his wife; and Geoffrey Rush as his speech therapist. It's quite well done, and no one needs to chew any scenery to make us care about this king who struggled with stuttering. This is the odds on favorite for Best Picture and Best Actor, and it's well deserved. It's not my personal favorite of the 10, but I can't wait to see Mr. Darcy win his Oscar.
So many good movies! I'm glad I only disliked one of the ten -- it's really hard to sit through bad movies.
If it were up to me, True Grit would be Best Picture, with a Best Director win for the Coens. I can absolutely live with Colin Firth for Best Actor, although James Franco runs a close second for me. My personal Best Actress pick is Jennifer Lawrence for Winter's Bone. For Best Supporting Actor, I think I prefer Geoffrey Rush to Christian Bale, although I do love his Baleness, and for Supporting Actress, I'd choose Hailee Steinfeld for sure.