Oh my! It’s the Oscars!

Here’s da list for Best Picture: 

  * “Black Swan” Mike Medavoy, Brian Oliver and Scott Franklin, Producers
    * “The Fighter” David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman and Mark Wahlberg, Producers
    * “Inception” Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan, Producers
    * “The Kids Are All Right” Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and Celine Rattray, Producers
    * “The King’s Speech” Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin, Producers
    * “127 Hours” Christian Colson, Danny Boyle and John Smithson, Producers
    * “The Social Network” Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca and Ceán Chaffin, Producers
    * “Toy Story 3” Darla K. Anderson, Producer
    * “True Grit” Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Producers
    * “Winter’s Bone” Anne Rosellini and Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Producers

Black Swan
See here.

The Fighter
This is every mediocre fighter-becomes-champion movie you’ve ever seen. This is Rocky, basically, except not as satisfyingly hokey. I was bored silly, mildly annoyed at some of the reductive characterizations and can’t imagine why director David O. Russell, a director known for his stylistic experimentation, took this project. What interest can anyone take in this movie? Every single move can be predicted. I don’t get it. Bale overacts and looks awful. Wahlberg, thank the gods, does his thing with a minimum of fuss. Without him, I could not have stood the excess I saw everywhere else. I fast-forwarded a lot.

Inception
I thought The Dark Knight would remain in my memory for awhile as the most over-estimated, over-talked about popular movie of the last decade. (Dear superhero geeks: It’s a movie about Batman. BATMAN. Not Jesus or Ghandi.) But no, Christopher Nolan has done it again with this boring, faux thriller overloaded with heaps of sci-fi baggage and slippery self-importance. Every time a character opened its mouth I thought of a scene in The Great Muppet Caper in which Miss Piggy asks of Diana Rigg as Lady Holiday why she’s just spent the last 5 minutes spewing to a stranger about her evil brother, Nicky, played by Charles Grodin:

It’s exposition; it has to go somewhere!

Director, please: It goes into the dramatizations, not into the mouths of your plastic characters. Poor JG-L: He tries his best and I guess he really enjoyed floating around on those wires. And DiCaprio? Well, until I checked the IMDb link, I’d forgotten he was even in this film. (I remember him in Shutter Island, however; the Academy didn’t.) Ellen Page? I’m still trying to figure out who the fuck she is and why I should care.

Anyway, anyone who thinks this is interesting speculative fiction has no familiarity with sci-fi television scripts of the last oh, 30 years. In other words, I’ve watched more challenging Voyager episodes, and certainly more coherent ones.

I saw Inception in a theater and so, alas, could not fast-forward.

The Kids Are All Right
It’s been over 10 years since Lisa Cholodenko directed Ally Sheedy in her career’s best performance; however, Kids proves she’s still an estimable director of actors. The achievement is less notable here since I already knew Annette Benning was a goddess; and she’s wonderful in the little box Cholodenko has put her in. On the other hand, although I like Julianne Moore, in this movie, I thought she came off a bit shrill. There were also moments of fakeness — enthusiastically performed moments of fakeness, true.

I watched this movie right after finally catching up with the last season of Six Feet Under, a show I used to look forward to watching, usually with my boyfriend. Years later, after having not been in the United States for 8 years, I found I was much less tolerant of the tropes of the “dysfunctional family” as dramatized on television and in movies. In fact, I found myself not wanting to watch those characters at all and came to really want to yell at Ruth/Mrs Fisher who used to be one of my favorite characters.

I thought: If you hate each other so much then why the bloody fuck don’t you get away from each other? Nate and Brenda? OMG! And WTF? Same deal with David and Keith. Why exactly were they together and what in hell made them think they could raise kids? What dumbfuck social-service agency gave them the go-ahead? I got no pleasure out of any of them, other than that of seeing “old friends” again. And just like the moment after getting together with “friends” from high school, I remembered why I never needed to again.

Kids reminded me of Six Feet Under: A similar sort of dysfunctional family’s bitching and sniping at one another, if at a much lower and tolerable pitch. Barely tolerable. Cholodenko, not surprisingly, directed one episode of Six Feet Under. Are there still shows like Six Feet Under on TV in which unpleasant, if complex and interesting, characters make the lives of their loved ones complete hell? There was definitely an ideological itch being scratched which is either no longer there or no longer noticeable in 2011, at least for me.

So, Kids seems a bit “out of time” to me despite its modern marriage. Maybe that’s why I had difficulty believing much about the settings and the background stories of any of the characters. Did you believe, or remember even, for longer than a few seconds, that Annette Benning’s character was a doctor? Didn’t think so. Did I believe that Julianne Moore’s could be a landscape designer? That she’s reached her age and doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life? That Mark Ruffalo’s character owns a restaurant and rides a motorcycle (sort of, more or less)? Or, that the latter two really had an affair? Really? Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actor?

WHAT?!

Director, please.

The extent I believed anything in this movie depended on the performances and Cholodenko gets some good ones even out of the cute-as-hell teenagers. But, it wasn’t enough for me and these gaps made even more obvious Cholodenko’s lack of skill in all the other areas of filmmaking, not least of which is the ability to structure a narrative to provide more than just moments of actorly skill, however emotional, and to provide an overall consistent tone and to back it all up with a believable world for the characters to live inside.

A film, to my mind, needs all of these to be great; at least if it sets out to be a traditional Hollywood drama it needs to deliver those traditional goods. Only one movie on this list did so for me and that one I’ll save for last. (I’m re-watching it on Blu-Ray tonight.)

127 Hours
Ordinarily I wouldn’t mind looking at James Franco for two hours, and not just because he’s handsome. I think he’s a genuinely engaging, intelligent actor. But, this movie required a lot of fast-forwarding to get through, and not because I wanted to find the scene where he cuts off his arm.

You might not believe this but I knew next to nothing about 127 Hours before I watched it. I knew: Starring James Franco, directed by Danny Boyle, getting good reviews. That’s it and that sounded like I should give it a shot.

I did, for about 30 minutes. Franco’s watchable no matter what and Boyle has lots of visual tricks up in his CCDs. Still, I knew what was coming very early and once the character gets trapped in the crevasse and starts hallucinating (and apparently sees a vision of his future wife), I lost interest.

Yes, I predicted he’d have to cut off his arm even before he got trapped. I don’t know why or how I knew this. Perhaps from seeing a lot of formulaic Hollywood movies or perhaps, in my mind there’s some residual memory of the news story about this real-life character.

Boyle does a damn good job of distracting from the obvious narrative progression (and the even more obvious narrative thinness) but again, as with most films on this list, the pleasures of this movie seem to be primarily ideological. I don’t share the ideology that makes this movie work for so many people as a fiction film. The life of Aron Ralston after this crippling incident fascinates me, however. A documentary about that would more suit my temperament; but, a movie whose narrative impact pivots around someone’s cutting off their arm does not interest me.

Plus, Franco should have been nominated for Howl, in which he gifts us a careful, detailed and beautiful performance depicting Alan Ginsberg. However, it’s not the sort of work that the Academy notices. Cute jocks sawing off their arm? OH YEAH!

The Social Network
I watched about half of this much-lauded faux biopic (It’s kind of a biography of Facebook, and not of Zuckerberg) before I sighed and hit the pause button. I had to leave it and came back to it the next day, feeling some sort of obligation. (I mean, we’re all supposed to be soooo interested in Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg. He’s such a GENIUS!) Then, hitting play again, I found myself unable to complete the movie without employing a moderate amount of fast-forwarding.

Why? I’m sick of the attention paid to social media. I’m sick of Jesse Eisenberg, who really was wonderful in The Squid and the Whale. I despise Facebook. Facebook is AOL circa 1996 except that you really can’t get away from it if you want to continue to have “friends.”

I didn’t find anything in this movie particularly interesting or new but realize that it only has to be half-accurate for me to believe that Mark Zuckerberg has, at times, behaved like a douchebag.

Most importantly, where was the drama in this movie that wasn’t telegraphed and delivered rote and dependent on my finding Facebook as important as the slaughter of dolphins in Japan or the waste of American youth in Afghanistan? I don’t; I never will; so I don’t get it.

(By the by, Restrepo is far and away the best Oscar-nominated movie I’ve seen so far, judged by any criteria at all.)

And: Does Mark Zuckerberg talk as fast as Jesse Eisenberg does? And if not, does that mean he doesn’t deserve an Oscar?

The King’s Speech
Well-made, feel-good movie which could have been plotted by some random Joe off the street and populated by two of the world’s most talented actors that I’m glad I watched but will never watch again. I have limited interest in movies about royalty regardless of whom plays the part.

True Grit
This somber-looking but lovingly rendered Western gets on my very-short-list of Coen Brothers’ movies I can tolerate. It doesn’t have the steel-trap construction and nerve-wracking tension of No Country For Old Men (It does have some of the camp elements, however.) or the fascinating, comic fatalism of A Serious Man but it’s not a glib pastiche, either, as I find most of their other work.

There’s still an obsession with “People From Other Parts of the Country Who Talk Funny” but, unlike in Fargo, I felt mostly affection in the characterizations, not condescension. The demands of genre almost always reign in a director’s excesses and The Western must have done that for the Coens.

The brief homage to Night of the Hunter, as Rooster Cogburn rode through the night in an effort to save Mattie, irked me, however, possibly because the latter is one of my favorite movies but also because the sequence wasn’t even remotely equivalent in invention or beauty and visually seemed by-way of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow rather than directly via Laughton’s masterpiece.

Further, the Revenge Reel held no real power for me, possibly because I barely remembered its origins and partially because I thought it was executed and edited awkwardly. My involvement with the film ended at the point when Mattie meets her father’s killer, played comically and anti-climactically by Josh Brolin, at the river. The rest of it’s a blur.

I realize that’s not a majority opinion and again I think I feel that way largely because I don’t share the ideological fascination and therefore the final satisfaction with tales of revenge. American directors always believe their Last Judgment scenes feel more powerful than they’re actually dramatized, or rather, believe the need for satisfyingly bloody and sadistic narrative conclusions to revenge tales compels every culture the way it motivates Americans. Living outside the States for 8 years has shown me it ain’t necessarily so and has tempered my reactions to such tales; it’s certainly made me less patient with them.

Winter’s Bone
See here.

Toy Story 3
The worst title; the best movie.

This is the only film on this list that has everything it needs to land on any list of great Oscar contenders, any list of mine anyway: Wonderfully varied and comic voice characterizations (And we don’t have to look at Tom Hanks!), brisk, funny and surprising storytelling, non-condescending, non-hypocritical moral theme, and overall impact that won’t leave adults feeling pandered to or treated like 15-year old boys. 15-year old boys will like it, too.

I don’t even need to mention that it’s animated by the best in the business but I will say that Pixar is classic Hollywood filmmaking, in all the best ways.

This film isn’t as fresh or serious or as dramatic as Ratatouille but I’d rather watch Toy Story 3 twice over again than be forced to watch The Social Network without fast-forwarding.