Sunday, February 24, 2013

Best Picture Fest 2013

So it's time once again for my annual Best Picture nominee post. And it occurs to me that I've totally made up my own name for this thing that AMC Theatres does -- it's really called Best Picture Showcase (and I thank AMC for doing this every year, because Evil Rob and I both love going). But "fest" sounds so much more... festive.

I digress. Herewith, my thoughts both pithy and deep on the Best Picture nominated films:

Amour:  An Austrian filmmaker's French film about an aging couple living in Paris; the wife suffers some strokes and begins to deteriorate; the husband insists that he will care for her himself, at home, with little outside assistance. There is a grown daughter who lives in London with a husband that no one likes and she keeps coming to visit, to tell her father that he can't continue the way he is; he in turn tells her that the only other option is to put his wife in a hospital and he won't have it. It's an interesting film, I'll give it that. It's bleak and entirely unsentimental. There are things I like about it: the way that it looks like the husband and wife are engaged in a dance every time he helps her move from her wheelchair to a chair or to bed. That the husband only ever lost his patience with her one time. That it is entirely unsentimental. But in the end, it just left me so emotionally drained, I can't say I liked it. And the movie theatre was filled with old people and I just have to wonder how it made them feel -- like, "This is it?"

And of course every tiny ache or pain I have now, I'm convinced I'm dying.

Les Miserables:  I went to see this with two of my best girlfriends a few weeks ago and within 45 seconds all three of us were doing the ugly cry -- well, they were, but I am always pretty when I cry. Ha. Anyway, it was like that for the entire movie, save for the four minutes of comedy during "Master of the House". And we loved it. We loved every second of it. Caveat: we are all three huge fans of the Les Miserables musical (and musicals in general) to begin with. And I would never recommend it to anyone who isn't a fan of musicals or even this specific musical. The bulk of the cast was so amazing that we were able to forgive the presence of Russell Crowe, who cannot sing; I didn't mind the coldness with which he played the role of Javert as it felt true to the book to me, but my friends would have preferred him to be a little more tortured. Anne Hathaway was fucking amazing and any awards she's won for her role as Fantine are very well deserved. It's a good movie, if you're into that sort of thing.

Argo:  Ben Affleck directed himself in this tale of the rescue of 6 US Embassy employees from Iran in 1979, during the hostage crisis. These employees escaped the embassy as it fell and hid in the house of the Canadian ambassador to Iran for several months before the US attempted a rescue plan. Affleck stars as Tony Mendez, the CIA operative chosen to extract them. For what is billed as a "political thriller", it is a delightfully low-key movie and entertaining as hell, especially the humorous bits with Alan Arkin and John Goodman as the Hollywood director and producer Affleck's character turns to for help with his plan: disguise the 6 fugitives as a Hollywood film crew scouting locations for a fictitious sci-fi film called Argo. It's just crazy enough to work. This is a movie that could have been marred by a lot of fake added unnecessary drama (and they did add a little, but come on -- it's still a movie), but instead Affleck trusted in the actors to just get it done -- and that's what I think I liked most about this one. Even the bit parts are well-acted. Definitely high on my list of faves.

Django Unchained:  Evil Rob and I delighted in this hyper-violent Quentin Tarantino film about a freed slave named Django who is hired by a German bounty hunter to help him find a certain slave overseer who has evaded a murder charge; in exchange, he agrees to help Django find and free his wife, who has been sold to a ruthless plantation owner (played frighteningly well by Leonardo DiCaprio). This movie is so much more than the trademark Tarantino violence: It's a story of an unlikely friendship between the two men at its core. It's a depiction of how grisly and violent the American slave-owning past was. And it's a love story. There has been a lot of talk about this movie -- complaints that it is too violent, complaints that it is racist. And I find in general that this kind of talk comes from liberal white people who are deep down uncomfortable with confronting this part of our past, and deep down uncomfortable with a love story between Django and his wife Broomhilda. Uncomfortable with the depiction of Broomhilda, a black woman, as the most beautiful woman in the crazy, fucked up world the movie depicts. And yes, I really, truly believe that if the knee-jerk haters ("Oh, it's just so violent") really examined what it is that they didn't like, it would be that it's a bunch of white people getting their just desserts for oppressing and enslaving and brutalizing an entire race of humans.

It's a travesty that this movie hasn't been nominated for more acting awards and that Tarantino has been left out of the Best Director category. So much b.s. surrounding this movie. Whatever. It's an awesome movie.

Beasts of the Southern Wild:  I had high expectations for this movie and am happy to report that I was not even remotely disappointed. It's a beautiful depiction of a little girl called Hushpuppy and her father living in "The Bath Tub," a bit of swampy island below the levees in Louisiana. Their entire way of life is like nothing you've ever seen before; they are scrappy people who just live off the water. We would call them "poor"; they would call themselves wealthy. Hushpuppy has a big imagination and is always holding animals and other bits of nature up to her ear to listen to their heartbeats. Her father is the only parent she has; he's a bit of an alcoholic mess and he's dying of blood poisoning. A hurricane comes along and floods The Bath Tub. Hushpuppy and her father survive and eventually band together with a number of other Bath Tub residents who have also weathered the storm; these people become family to one another through the course of the film. They keep waiting for the water to go down so they can return to their homes but the levees up north prevent the water from going down, and everything is starting to die. Eventually Hushpuppy's dad and his friends take matters into their own hands and go blow a breach in the levee. The water goes down but their homes are still uninhabitable. And then the government comes and forces them all to a shelter, which is their worst nightmare -- the loss of freedom they get from their lifestyle.

So many things that are beautiful about this movie: Hushpuppy herself. The relationship between her and her father -- I think some people might see it as brutal but I love that he's teaching her to be strong, to be "The King of the Bath Tub". The familial relationship between the storm survivors. The teacher who says, "You've got to learn to be kinder to the ones who are smaller and sweeter than ourselves." (That might be a misquote but it's close.) And the beautiful moment near the end with Hushpuppy and a woman who may or may not be her long-disappeared mother. Evil Rob and I were both weeping.

My only beef with this movie is that shaky camerawork literally made me seasick; I was wishing I had a dramamine by the end. It might not be as bad on a smaller screen.

Life of Pi:  Proof that a movie can be the most beautiful thing you've ever looked at and still be completely devoid of any substance. Things I liked: the use of 3D (and I don't say that lightly -- 3D makes me ill). The young actor who played Pi on the boat. Pi's religious seeking in his early life -- it felt real, the way some children can be truly curious about the sometimes fascinating trappings of unfamiliar religions. Things I didn't like: how heavy handed the faith message was -- would a little subtlety, a little trust in the filmgoer, be such a bad thing? Apparently. The older Pi talking to the writer -- these two characters are both lame. The second version of the story that Pi gave to the investigators -- this was making women in the theatre weep and I was just scowling, wondering what the hell is wrong with people. In general, this is a pretty and expensive lame movie. But I would kind of like my son to see it because I think that's what it really is -- a movie for kids exploring faith.

Lincoln:  Oh this movie. It would have been fantastic were it not for Sally Field playing Mary Todd Lincoln as Forrest Gump's mother. I wanted less family, more political intrigue. Evil Rob wanted to punch the kid playing younger son Tad right in the face. Steven Spielberg loves an annoying kid, though, doesn't he? This one -- take it or leave it. I don't hate it, I don't love it, I will never watch it again.

Silver Linings Playbook:  I think this one is my favorite?? It's wonderful. So well done. It could have just been a silly romantic comedy in the hands of a different director, but instead, we get the first truly brilliant performance out of Bradley Cooper and another tour de force performance from Jennifer Lawrence (who I kind of wish was my best friend in real life), combining to make a great movie about love and mental illness and family and football and ballroom dancing. I love Jennifer Lawrence enough in anything that I can't tear my eyes away from her when she's onscreen, and this was no exception. I didn't want it to end. LOVE. IT.

Zero Dark Thirty:  This one is my other favorite. But again, I love political/espionage thrillers, especially when they are as well done as this or Argo. Obviously this is a little more brutal, what with the depictions of torture and terrorism and the final sequence depicting the Navy SEAL operation to take out Osama Bin Laden. Jessica Chastain is wonderful as the young CIA operative working as a finder assigned to locate members of Al Qaeda, Bin Laden included. She's a quiet badass. My favorite line of hers is "I'm the motherfucker who found this place," to Leon Panetta. And again, it's a movie where every single bit part is well-acted -- and it was kind of fun to play "Spot the guy from..." especially towards the last third. What I also think is really well done is how Kathryn Bigelow has risen above any sort of political statement one way or the other and has just told the story she wanted to tell. Sure, people will watch it with their own political agendas and read into it what they want to read into, but let's be real -- it's a fucking movie, based on facts but dramatized to make a good movie. I think it's hilarious how people are cool with a dramatization of facts (Argo) as long as it doesn't make them too uncomfortable, but as soon as it makes them squirm, they're flipping the fuck out. Get real. And watch this movie. It's awesome.


And so here's how I would fill out my Oscar ballot for Best Picture if I were an Oscar voter (you're supposed to rank them with 1 being your favorite, 9 being your least; you can abstain from doing a full ranking as well if you don't think all the movies are worthy of the award):

1 - Silver Linings Playbook
2 - Zero Dark Thirty
3 - Beasts of the Southern Wild
4 - Argo
5 - Django Unchained
6 - Les Miserables
7 - Life of Pi
8 - Lincoln (interestingly, I had this ranked above Life of Pi last night, but now that I've thought about it, I disliked the things I disliked about this movie more than I disliked the things I hated about Life of Pi)
9 - Amour.

Evil Rob's ranking would go like this:

1 - Django Unchained
2 - Silver Linings Playbook
3 - Beasts of the Southern Wild
4 - Zero Dark Thirty
5 - Argo
6 - Lincoln
7 - Life of Pi
8 - Amour (he didn't see this one)
9 - Les Miserables (he refused to see this one).

It's very, very close between my top five, and then there is a precipitous drop off between 6 and 7. I would be super disappointed if any of my bottom 3 were to win.

Okay? Now go watch some good movies!