Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ruminations on the Oscar Nominations

I was actually kind of excited to hear the Oscar nominations this year, after being pleasantly surprised by the Golden Globes broadcast -- both because it's so fun to watch the stars get drunk before getting onstage, and because I thought some really deserving films and performances were recognized.

But while this year's Oscar noms have some fun surprises -- Robert Downey Jr. for Tropic Thunder? Really? That's a joke right? No, it's not? Really? And did they just nominate Angelina and Brad so they'd show up? -- in the end I found the nominations kind of a let down.

Here's hoping the actual awards show doesn't disappoint me, too.

Perhaps my problem is that I've yet to see a few of the big nominated films. I know. Not like me. I've usually seen everything by the time the nominations are announced, but I've barely been to the movies the last couple of months. I do hope to go see both Benjamin Button and Milk this weekend.

Here are a few nominated films I really think you should see.

Frost/Nixon. Okay, perhaps not the most exciting topic or film ever... But if Richie Cunningham --I mean Ron Howard -- has one major talent as a director, it's in creating tension and suspense in films where the audience goes in knowing the ending. He did it with Apollo 13 and he did it with this one. And the performances in Frost/Nixon are pretty amazing. Although I'd be recognizing Sam Rockwell or even Rebecca Hall (who was also very good in Vicky Cristina Barcelona) as much as I'd recognize Frank Langella.

Slumdog Millionaire
. I feel like a broken record here. I think this is at least the third time I've mentioned this film since I saw it back in September... But I was watching a non-local channel on TV the other night and realized that, while it opened in Toronto seven weeks ago, its only just now opening to a wider release. Go see it. Don't let the slum-setting or accents or the occasional subtitles scare you off. This is one of the most exciting, beautiful, fun, romantic, clever films I've seen in a long time. (Need to see it again.)

Revolutionary Road. Another one that's been open in Toronto for weeks, but has only recently opened up across North America. (Sometimes living in Toronto, rocks.) I'm actually slightly on the fence about this one. In the end, I actually think DiCaprio was miscast. I'm not sure I bought him in the role... I keep thinking about all these young actors in Mad Men and how I totally buy them as 1960's males... and then see a photo of the actors in real life, or acting in a modern-set show, and can't believe their transformations and am even more impressed. DiCaprio did not seem "of the times" to me... Maybe he just needed some heavy rimmed glasses. Or maybe it was a problem with the writing and the character being a little muddy. (Was he a frustrated artist or a frustrated laborer, pretending to be deeper to score the actress?) Or maybe he's so out of place and baby-faced in 2009 that he just didn't seem any different in a 1960's setting. Don't know. He was good (I think he's very talented, in general) but something just didn't feel right to me.
The ending of this film will tear your heart out, but it's a slow (albeit interesting) ride to get to that end, and I was left wondering for most of it... Is this just a bunch of character sketches or a story? (But it does wrap itself into a story by the end.)

The Wrestler. Again. I think I've talked about this enough already. Just go see the fraking thing.

Rachel Getting Married. Loved this movie. It's one I'd like to see again, too, because it seems to break all the rules of good storytelling, but I expect on closer inspection, I might find that it doesn't. That's the thing with great storytelling... you get so wrapped up in the book or film that you forget to think about things like structure or technique. There are quite a few scenes in this film that seem to be just conversations between characters that, sure, are filled with tension--this is a family with issues--but don't really seem to be going anywhere -- and then they do. (I'm thinking in particular of the dishwasher loading competition.) And it's great to see a film where the protagonist is a very unsympathetic character (Anne Hathaway who plays Kym) and where the backstory is revealed at just the right times (after we're really curious and either when we're starting to hate Kym and need something to make us feel sorry for her -- or alternately, when we're starting to sympathize with her too much and we need something to be appalled by -- to understand why her family treats her the way that they do). Also, the supporting performances in this film are amazing. I predict a big future for Rosemarie DeWitt (who plays Rachel) and was also the wonderful Midge in Mad Men. My personal favourite character from the first season of that show.

Films I still really want to see.

The Visitor. Can't believe I missed this one. It was at the 2007 TIFF and then playing at the Cumberland for most of the summer of 2008 and I got complacent thinking "I'll see it next week" week after week, and then it was gone. I hope I can rent it soon... I've heard such good things.

Milk.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (although I must admit that all the hoopla and nominations have made me want to see it less, for some reason)

Films I'm not that sure I really want to see.

The Reader -- I loved this book when I read it... But I feel zero desire to see it on the big screen. I think it's one of those stories that once you know the "big reveals"... you really don't want to experience it again. If someone's seen it, and thinks I should go.. Please let me know.

Films I think are getting more award noms than they deserve

Benjamin Button (How I come to this conclusion having not yet seen it, I do not know. ;-)

Doubt. I did see this one. And it's good. But is it THAT good? Not for me. (Although I did like it...)

17 comments:

Barrie said...

You knew I'd be checking in to read your comments on the nominations!

Cindy Procter-King said...

Maureen, it always freaks me out to come to your blog and see my, um, place of origination plastered in the sidebar in that widget thingie. However, I love you, so I've added your blog to my blogroll, and that means I'll be visiting much more often. Whenever I'm not freaking out about the widget, that is.

I'm looking forward to seeing Frost/Nixon. I gave my son the DVD of the original Frost/Nixon interview for Xmas, but it took it back to university with him. Will have to watch them this summer.

Benjamin Button...I saw this film in the theatre with my dh. We also saw Seven Pounds with Will Smith, and I felt the same way about both films. I honestly liked them, but I couldn't see what all the hype was about. I enjoyed Gran Torino with Clint Eastwood far more. I might have enjoyed Benjamin Button more if I'd watched it alone at night all cozied up on the couch with my dog weighing me down. Sometimes leisurely films (I'm talking pacing) come across better to me on the small screen. Or maybe it's because, with three men in the family, I've been trained?

Recently, I watched Across the Universe at home. I totally loved this movie. It took me a while to get into it, so it's a movie I probably wouldn't have liked in the theatre. But, at home alone, watching a "Cindy movie" while all the guys were busy elsewhere, it sucked me in. If you get a chance, give it a try.

Kwana said...

Hey Maureen. You know I've been waiting to see what you thought of the Oscar Noms. I'm surprised by your take on Leo in revolutionary Road. I though the opposite. I was crazy for the movie and what totally shocked me was how Leo blew me away. I totally got him. Kate is always great but he really did it for me and I'm not normally that crazy for him. I though he was perfect and should have gotten a nod.

I really liked Kate in The Reader. And I Still have to see Slumdog and The Wrestler.

Maureen McGowan said...

Kwana... Interesting. I'm still not sure what it was about Revolutionary Road. And it's not like I didn't like it. I did. But for me it wasn't outstanding and I keep trying to figure out why.

After I wrote that stuff about thinking it was Leo... I remembered all the great commuting scenes. Those really captured his character's conflict.

So, I should see The Reader? Had you read the book?

Maureen McGowan said...

Cindy! Thanks for the visit and sorry about the Big Brother is watching widget. Hey, everyone collects those stats, that one's just a bit more in your face.

I saw Benjamin Button tonight and concur with your assessment. Good, but why all the hype? I think I'll blog about it... Still thinking.

I loved Across the Universe. If you search for the title on my blog you'll find at least 3 or 4 posts mentioning it... including a review from when I first saw it at the 2007 TIFF.

Across the Universe review

Marilyn Brant said...

Thanks for taking time to detail all of these films, Maureen--I appreciated reading your thoughts on them and am looking forward to seeing several.

I'm very envious of your film-festival insider status, btw! I'm just hearing about some of these movies for the first time and you saw them months ago :).

Kwana said...

Hi Maureen,

Yes, you should see the Reader. I'd love to know which Kate performance you like better. I think this one. I did not read the book? Did you?

You know what got me with Leo was the early and RR? The early scene in the car where he said something about not playing the role of uncaring suburban husband that she was setting him up for. (I'm paraphrasing) That got me. Maybe too close to married life. I was able to look at his differently at that point and he could take the performance where ever and I was ready to go. It was a good line.

I saw Doubt. I thought it was really good too. Loved Meryl. I'm glad she won a sag. She was totally and old principal of mine who was an ex-nun. I was scared of her. I'm torn over the two agains each other for best supporng actress. Viola and Amy. Amy did a fine job in a large role but Viola did a really great job in a smaller role. Tough.

Nadine said...

Benjamin Button is sooooo over-hyped. I kept getting the feeling as I was watching it that it was a lesser version of Forrest Gump. Guess what? It was written by the same guy (and not in a good way... only in the that he used the exact same story structure techniques and teh same themes - just a different, unplausible ailment).

It's not to say that it wasn't an entertaining movie - it was, and I do recommend it, but it's not Oscar material. I'd honsestly rather give an Oscar to RD Jr for either Tropic Thunder or even Ironman - I loved those movies only because of his acting (and possibly Tom Cruise's acting in TT as well... hilarious).

Slumdog Millionaire on the other hand was a complete breath of fresh air. You go in thinking it's about one thing and at the end you realize it was about something else altogether. I also need to wat it again - didn't realize I'd love it so much.

I saw the Wrestler on your advice - I can't believe how naked Marisa Tomei was in that movie!!! The acting was great though - so subtle and yet soooo depressing...

Maureen McGowan said...

Kwana,

I have read THE READER and thought it was amazing at the time... I think it came out in the mid-nineties?

I heard a reviewer on the radio today who said if you've read the book, don't see the movie, because you'll be disappointed. I still might see it, but it's not high on my priority list.

I think Viola did an amazing job in Doubt. Hers was the most interesting character, too. The others' reactions/actions were all kind of predictable, I thought... but hers was very interesting. The only character/performance who made me think, "What would I do in her shoes?" Especially since her reaction was so not what you'd expect.

I was kinda bummed with Meryl won the SAG last night. Sure, she was good... but I really think Anne Hathaway deserved to win.

Nadine,

I saw Benjamin Button on Sat night and still think it was over-hyped. And I really don't get the nominations for Brad Pitt. I found his accent/performance so inconsistent -- no continuity. I get that it's hard to show that you're growing younger physically and older mentally, but I thought he did a crappy job of it. You mentioning Forrest Gump made me laugh. i think I'll post a review of Benjamin Button when I get my thoughts together, and your Gump reference will help me with that. :-)

Marilyn... I think last year was possibly my last festival year for a while. Not sure I'll be able to afford the time this year... or the price. Plus some things the festival did last year really annoyed me and so I don't want to give them my money anymore. :-(
But I have enjoyed seeing so many films before everyone else... and with the stars in the room... The atmosphere is so fun.

L.A. Mitchell said...

I keep wanting to see BB, the time travel thing and all, but I keep hearing mixed things. As always, I love to hear your take on the movies.

Kathy Holmes said...

Rachel Getting Married sounds intriguing. I love films with great conversations like "Before Sunrise." I rarely see movies before the Oscars because I wait for the DVD. Thanks for the tip.

Kwana said...

Thanks Maureen. I have not seen Rachel Getting Married yet so I can't speak to Anne. I will agree on Viola.

MariaGeraci said...

I really hate that most of the nominated films come out at the same time- the week after Christmas! (at least in my neck of the woods) Slum Dog is already slated for DVD in February, and is on my Netflix list;)

Pam said...

Maureen--found you from LA Mitchell's blog, and I'm glad I did. It was nice to hear somebody else say "Meh" about the Oscar noms--they just felt like they were missing something. (Aside from Brangelina, that is.)

Thanks for the great thoughts!

Maureen McGowan said...

Pam,
Thanks for stopping by!

L.A.,

Now, if there'd actually been time travel, that might have been interesting. That's not fair... the concept/idea was interesting. ;-)

Maureen McGowan said...

Maria,
You'll love Slumdog.

One interesting thing about the DVD release... is it's original distributors were planning on releasing it straight to DVD! Someone else picked it up, and I'm sure they're glad they did!

Annette Gallant said...

We just watched Slumdog Millionaire and LOVED it. It was tense and funny and sad and uplifting. Definitely one of the best movies I've seen in a long time.

We also saw Milk and thought it was great. Sean Penn is fabulous -- an acting genius.

Still on our list: The Wrestler, Frost/Nixon, Benjamin Button, and maybe, The Reader.

And I want to see Defiance, but that's because I'm a sucker for WW2 movies and Daniel Craig. :-)

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