So,this edition of Squirrely Sunday isn’t so squirrely. Today is the Oscars, so I thought I would give my rundown of the best picture nominees. A little bit of what I thought of each, my faves, and what I think will win. Since the hubs and I have a tough time coordinating when we can both see movies together, we’ve made the Best Picture Showcase a tradition since it started (except for one year, and we think it was because I was running a half marathon in Florida). It was a little easier when there were just five nominees, and the showcase was one day. However, we still seem to make it work (as Tim Gunn might say) now that there are up to ten nominees. There is a 24 hour marathon option at some locations, but we opt to spread it out over two Saturdays. Before I get to the list, I do have one overall note. As with books, film need good editors. I think what kept a lot of these films from being amazing was the editing. The editing can make or break a film. Some of them were overlong, paced unevenly, or suffered from a wandering narrative, all of which could have been helped by editing. That having been said, here’s my rundown:
Captain Phillips Fortunately, this year, none of the films were terrible. We didn’t have a Tree of Life moment this year, or anything we actively didn’t want to see because of how terrible it was sure to be. However, this was definitely my least favorite. What I said up above about editing? Summed up in this film. It was really uneven, and the chunk of exposition either needed to be cut completely, or needed to be beefier. As it was, there was sort of a meandering expository sequence that didn’t add investment or raise the stakes. The dialogue was fine, the acting was good (I was even pleasantly surprised by Tom Hanks, who often creates caricatures rather than characters), even the effects were well done. However, the pacing was all over the place, and how the time of the film was spent could have been better chosen. Long story short: I didn’t want my time or money back, but I also could have gone on with my life without having seen this one. This was also the only film based on a book that didn’t make me want to read the source material.
The Wolf of Wall Street I know Martin Scorcese is a Hollywood treasure. Just the whisper of his name gets people all aflutter. However, this guy needs to meet a good editor. For serious. Some of his films (*cough*GangsofNewYork*cough*) wind up being hot dirty messes because of a lack of editing. This film could have been amazing had it been put in the hands of the right editor. The story was fascinating. An upstart broker winds up out in the cold in a major market crash. He has to start again, and builds an empire of epic proportions, only to be brought down by the feds. The story is great, the actors are excellent (even Leonardo!), but it needed to be reined in just a bit. Also, some of the details, like a scene taking place in the 1980s being set to music from the 1990s, could have handled more attention. Long story short: Fine, not great. Also, I will probably read the book.
Dallas Buyers Club I knew going in that this low budget feature was not going to be perfect. I think that helped keep my expectations reasonable. The acting was excellent, and I never thought I would say that about Matthew McConaughey. The dialogue was okay, but overall the script was not strong. For instance, the character Eve (played by Jennifer Garner), was an amalgamation of several doctors. Unfortunately, the character was pretty shallow, more of a set of lines than a real character. Jennifer Garner did as much as she possibly could with what she was given, but with a great script she would have been put to far better use. On the other hand, Rayon was also an amalgam of many transgender people that were interviewed, but she was given a lot more depth. Jared Leto was stellar, and I think would be very deserving of a statue tonight. Also, Melanie Deforrest deserves the award for make-up and hair. The total budget for her to work with was $250. What she was able to do with that was mind-blowing, especially considering the time they had to film was so short, Leto and McConaughey were at their slimmest for the whole shoot so she had to make them look heavier when they were healthier, because they didn’t have the time to shoot in sequence and allow for them to lose or gain accordingly. Of course, she also had to do the special effects make-up for the various side effects of HIV/AIDS.
American Hustle Another entry into the good, not great list. Great premise, excellent actors, but the actual storytelling lacked. Given the number of excellent hustler and heist films out there, this one was kind of lackluster. Again, individual bits of dialogue were fine, but the overall story and how it was pieced together lacked the sizzle it needed to make the movie great. Christian Bale delivered, as usual, and Jennifer Lawrence was simultaneously adorable and trashy. Bradley Cooper was fine, but I think his perm outshone him. Amy Adams was also fine, but she has done better work, including in another nominated film. The set design and art direction were excellent. This was another film that could have done with a more capable editor, both in the screenplay and in the final assembly of the flick. While all the actors were nominated, Christian Bale always does excellent work but I think the statue will go elsewhere tonight, and the others were simply not at the top of the game this year. However, there is a lot of JLau love out there, so she might be a surprise winner.
Philomena This one caught me by surprise. I like Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, but this was on my list of films that I could see, but didn’t *need* to see. However, once it was nominated, that meant I would have to see it. I am thrilled it was nominated, because it was excellent. It was charming and simple (I mean that as it was without bells and whistles, not that it was dumbed down in any way). The script was well written, the pacing good, and the acting was excellent. Steve Coogan was perfect as the journalist who wound up telling the story. His dry humor was just right for the cynical character. Judi Dench was absolutely delightful. The two of them together were perfectly balanced, and the script definitely was a part of that. I appreciated that there was a balance to the themes (for instance, the central theme of religion there were both pros and cons represented, and the audience was allowed to come to their own conclusions), and while I am more like Sixsmith, I found myself wishing I could be a little more like Lee. I wouldn’t give this one the statue, but I quite enjoyed it and highly recommend it. I am also adding the book it’s based on to my reading list.
Nebraska Another pleasant surprise. This film was completely under the radar, it seemed. I only discovered it because of its Golden Globe nominations. I thought it looked interesting, and it was on my list of films to see, whether or not it was nominated for an Oscar. Luckily, it got a nomination, because that meant it was easier to see. Unfortunately, we had a wee snafu with our tickets, and missed some of the showing. Fortunately, we can get the film to catch up on what we missed (hopefully today). This film was simple (in the way Philomena was simple), yet different and quirky without trying too hard. I’ve long been a fan of both Will Forte and Bob Odenkirk, and it was wonderful to see them both in roles that carried a little more weight. I find that comedy actors are among the most capable, as comedy is hard, but they aren’t always given a chance to prove it. This film was in black and white, a medium I adore when it is used in a good way as it was here. I give huge kudos to all the actors, even though Dern and Squibb are kind of long shots in their categories. I could see June Squibb getting the statue, if the academy votes for the person they would most like to be their grandmother. (Which wouldn’t be a bad thing, it’s just not likely.) Another film that I highly recommend.
Now we are down to brass tacks. The last three include my favorite, and the two I feel are the major contenders for best picture.
Her This one was my personal favorite. In fact, I already want to see it again because I am thinking about it like crazy. I get that this one might not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, it offered a lot of commentary on technology, how that causes us to interact with people (or not), and how the changes in technology and our society as a result could shape services and industries. The gist is that the main character, Theodore, is in the midst of a divorce. He just can’t bring himself to sign the papers. Then, he sees an ad for a new OS. It’s supposed to be so intuitive and customized that it will be revolutionary. And, it is. So intuitive, that Theodore (among others) develop a relationship with the OS. His is named Samantha. Some of the fascinating points of the film are the company Theodore works for (handwrittenletters.com), and how people react to his revelation that his new girlfriend is an OS. I am generally a fan of Spike Jonze’ work, and this was no exception. This film was smart and elegant, and while you might love it or hate it, it will surely get the gears of your brain turning. The acting was all top notch, including the continually up-and-coming Chris Pratt. Amy Adams was wonderful in this film, in fact I thought she was better in this role than in American Hustle. Even if this one isn’t on your list, I still recommend you give it a go. Just don’t fixate on the high-waisted pants too much.
12 Years a Slave This is one of the two real contenders for best picture. Well written and acted, it was also beautifully done. I knew a bit about the film, in that it was the story of a free man who through some mistake wound up enslaved. I didn’t really know the how of the mistake going in, though. This is probably *technically* a spoiler, but it happens really early in the film, and even knowing this small detail will probably not affect the suspense. However, Solomon Northrup is kidnapped and sold into slavery. The thing is that it seems so ridiculous, and like it should be so far behind us. Yet, it isn’t. People are kidnapped or tricked into slavery, or just sold even today. That is part of what makes this film so effective. While this particular story happened over a century ago, it isn’t all that far removed. I don’t want to give away too much more about the story, because I do think that watching it unfold is important. Some of the details are mind blowing, both in that they happened ever, but also because of how things change and do not change.
The acting in this film is incredible. I think Chiwetel Ejiofor will nab the statue for best actor. I think Michael Fassbender will give Jared Leto a run for his money for supporting actor, though his character is so, so evil, it might be hard for the academy to give him the votes. I also think Lupita Nyong’O will get the best supporting award. She is positively stunning, so seeing her filthy and scarred and shamed was even more jarring. Because of the rules about nominations, it must have been hard to narrow down who in this film was submitted. Everyone was excellent. I do highly recommend seeing this, but with the caveat that it is very graphic. I am not squeamish or prudish by any stretch of the imagination, but there was one scene that made me so nauseated I honestly thought I was going to throw up in the theater. I didn’t, but only narrowly. If you are properly steeled for it, you should be okay. I also have to give a proper shout-out to Patricia Norris for her costumes. They were gorgeous. Also, this is another book that is on my list to read.
Gravity This is the other contender for best picture. It really comes down to what kind of film the academy votes for. Given that they are using a ranked choice system for voting, a tie is nearly impossible. Both 12 Years a Slave and Gravity are excellent, they are just very, very different.
Gravity is an excellent example of how messed up the system of creating trailers and campaigns for films is. The thing is that marketing companies are hired to promote a film. They are given some plot information and some raw footage. At that point, the film is usually unfinished. Even if it is “finished” any number of changes can happen as films go through test audiences or try to hit a target run time. So, the marketing company looks at what footage they have that they think will appeal to the target demographic, and maybe will hit some major plot points, if they know any. Hence, you see movies that have little resemblance to the trailers, or things in trailers that never show up in the final film. Or, films that look great in trailers but turn out to be crap, or vice versa.
Gravity was the latter. The trailers looked terrible. Like the film was absolute tripe. So over the top, like a total cheesefest. Not to mention the hint of acting we saw, especially out of context, was the hammiest of hamming. Then, I found out Alfonso Cuaron was the director. That made it a bit of a head scratcher. I mean, the man is immensely talented. He understands editing like the art that it is. How could something that looked so terrible possibly come from such a brilliant filmmaker? Then, some early reviews hit. Folks who were able to see it at festivals raved about it. By all accounts, it was supposed to be mind-blowing. So, I added it to my viewing list, but with a grain of salt. I didn’t want to set my expectations too high, only to have them crushed. The film didn’t disappoint. The moment shown in the trailers, however, was about as maddening in the film. I really wanted to grab Ryan Stone (played by Sandra Bullock) by the shoulders, give her a shake, and a, “Good lord, woman, get a hold of yourself!!!! Overall, though, the film was well done. It was truly an ambitious undertaking on the behalf of Mr. Cuaron, the type that doesn’t happen as often as it should. The type that can fall short, but managed not to here. The run time is surprisingly short for a feature these days, at about 90 minutes, but it was well paced, and with minimal padding (something filmmakers these days really need to embrace). It is one of the very few films that I think 3D enhanced. The 3D was subtle, but used to great effect. The tension was so well placed, and the possibility of either a good or bad outcome was equal right to the very end. I highly recommend this one, especially in a theater. I am betting on Sandra Bullock for best actress. She is America’s sweetheart, and this was a challenging role.
I think that I would give a slight edge to Gravity for best picture, because of the innovation. It really speaks to all the points of what filmmaking is about, in terms of creativity and challenging oneself and the audience. I suspect Alfonso Cuaron will land best director. I thought the nominees were just over half deserving, and just under half were WTF. Spike Jonez was noticeably absent, and given the ambition of his film, I thought that was disappointing. I don’t know that he would have a shot of winning, however he was deserving of the nomination.
Whew! There is my main rundown! I could go on. And on. But, it is late, I have a massage scheduled in the morning to work out the kinks of sitting in a theater all day, and some rest to get so I can tweet about the telecast! Follow me via facebook or twitter, starting around 6pm CST.