Thursday, March 3, 2011

My Reviews of the Best Pic Nominees

I was going to post this before Oscar night. I swear. Really. Anyway, here are my reviews of the 2010 Best Pic Noms I saw.

SPOILERS THERE BE

INCEPTION - I'm an admitted, unabashed, fawning Nolan fanboy, so take my review with a 50 pound bag of rock salt, the kind that could eat a whole through your kitchen floor, poison your dog, and actually destroy Carthage. So with that out of the way, here goes: Inception is the most original film I've seen in years. It's by no means a perfect film, or even Nolan's best film. But enough disclaiming. This movie is a lot of fun. Always entertaining, never dull, and different. Remember the last time the Hollywood machine produced something ORIGINAL? Yeah, I can't either. Inception should have failed at the box office: it's a sci-fi movie, you've got to pay attention or you'll be lost, and it's not based on a comic book, video game, graphic novel, or previous movie. And no, don't tell me it's just like The Matrix, or Solaris, or whatever. Inception is without the pseudo-intellectual philosophy of The Matrix series, and Solaris...my god don't even get me started on that one. If a doctor performed a physical on Solaris, he'd have to declare that film clinically dead because it has no pulse. The same cannot be said for Inception - just the opposite. My main problem with the film is that it cheats a teeny, tiny little bit halfway through by changing its own internal rules, but I'll forgive this misstep because the game-changer ups the ante and imperils the characters in a very real way. And, the rotating hallway fight scene is so good the Academy should have created a category called Best Rotating Hallway Fight Scene because that sequence alone was Oscar worthy.

TRUE GRIT - It's as if Charles Portis, reclusive author extraordinaire, had a crystal ball and gazed some forty years into his future before writing True Grit and his vision fell on the Coen brothers and he decided he could write a book that they would one day read and realize was the answer to all their box office prayers. Like Peter Jackson was put on this earth to direct the Lord of the Rings movies, so too were the Coens put on this earth to direct True Grit. It's a western, it's a religious parable, it's a glorious piece of decidedly American fiction. Call it whatever the hell you want, just don't try and Hooraw it. (If you haven't read the book, you should. Portis is one of the best under-read American authors.) It's a very simple story about justice, revenge, character, and life not so long ago in America. Every year people say the western is dead. This film proves otherwise.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK - David Fincher brings his immense and considerable talents to a film about...Facebook. At first blush, you have to wonder why the man who directed Seven and Zodiac would be interested in the subject matter, but it turned out alright. Aaron Sorkin penned a great screenplay full of snappy dialogue and populated it with unsympathetic, but fascinating characters. Emotionally, the film is a little hollow but that's probably the intention: these characters, with a few exceptions, geniuses they may be, all seem pretty hollow. I thought it was a good movie but not quite Best Picture material.

THE FIGHTER - Story-telling at its best and most basic: raw performances, no sentiment, no bullshit. You know how this one's going to end going in, even if you're unfamiliar with boxer Mickey Ward's story. But that doesn't stop you from cheering Mickey on as he slugs his way to the top. Bale is a force of nature, Wahlberg is understated but effective, and Melissa Leo is the mom you love to hate. You feel every punch, you cringe during every family argument, you feel bruised and battered, but ultimately, triumphant by the end. If Rocky and Raging Bull produced a child, this would be it.

BLACK SWAN - In keeping with the movie's duality, here are my two takes:

White Swan: Lurid, melodramatic, heavy-handed, ham-fisted, non-sensical, pornographic, nauseating, pretentious tripe. Why did they bother spending millions of dollars on a story the show runners of General Hospital would have rejected? When the film's not playing to your baser instincts, it's cheating you. Over and over and over. It keeps on cheating till the climax where it REALLY cheats you. Yes, it's possible for (SPOILER ALERT) Portman to stab herself and yet continue giving the greatest ballet performance anyone has ever seen. (END SPOILER ALERT) This is all things ugly rolled into one film as some sort of twisted attempt by Aronofsky to shock you into submission. I wanted to tap out, UFC style, at about the hour mark. The performances are loud, the music is loud, the story is loud, everything is loud, loud, loud. It's about as subtle as a tsunami. Don't let the critics fool you - this is nothing more than a soft-core horror movie with outstanding production values, tantamount to something you'd find on Cinemax (a.k.a. Skinemax) around 2:30 in the morning. Or so I'm told.

Black Swan: Unrelenting, unremitting, tour-de-force, roller-coaster of a ride that knocks you on your ass and keeps kicking you while you're down. This movie is supposed to be a ballet: it doesn't have to make literal sense because it's going to bypass that snooty, rational part of your brain and tap right in to that collective unconscious and make you feel something. Remember the last time you just FELT a movie? You'll be uncomfortable, grossed-out, frustrated, and, if you let it, the film will devastate you the way it should. Why does everyone pine for gritty realism in movies and art? If you want realism, go watch an effing documentary (but not a Michael Moore one, we're talking realism here). Art is supposed to shock. It's supposed to be challenging. If you want something transformative, sublime, and visceral, watch this movie. And yes, it IS a horror movie. Of course it is, you prude, White Swan. It's a damned good - maybe even a great - horror movie, and how often do those come along?

THE KING'S SPEECH - I find the UK's fascination with and rationalizations of the continued financial support of the royal family baffling. I find America's fascination with the royal family even more puzzling. I have trouble sympathizing with a bunch of wealthy, pampered people who are treated like celebrities because of their birthright. Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying they're bad people, in fact, some of them have done some great things. I'm just saying I don't get it. Non-royal philanthropists aren't treated the same way, which means that yes, birthright has something to do with it. And yes, The King's Speech is stereotypical Oscar bait: literate British period piece about the royal family combined with a story of one man's perseverance in overcoming a handicap. And yet...it's simply brilliant. Firth and Rush are excellent, Firth especially, the camerawork is interesting, the dialogue is smart but never cute, and the underdog story IS compelling. You'll be on the edge of your seat during the climax of the movie, which is nothing more than a man giving a speech. Yes, the story-telling's that good. The English are often accused unfairly of being shut-off and bottled up emotionally, but that trope is used here to great effect, resulting in a very poignant moment of personal triumph.

6 comments:

seana said...

You may have been out for awhile, Brian, but you come back with all guns blazing. Great critiques. I have to admit that I had to skim some of them because of the spoiler effect, but I loved the Black Swan/White Swan review and I loved the reversal on The King's Speech, and agree with you heartily.

No Winter's Bone?

Anonymous said...

Seana -

I'm dying to see Winter's Bone. I've got it in the Netflix queue. Have you seen it? If so, what did you think?

I also wanted to check out The Kids Are Alright because I like all the principal actors in that one.

-Brian O

Nathanael Green said...

I'm a little bummed that True Grit didn't pick up anything. I thought it was great, but I'm not a good judge, since the only other nominee I saw was The Fighter which was, indeed, as good as you said, Brian.

I'm also sad that Clash of the Titans didn't even get a single nomination. It's all political.

seana said...

I find it odd that you are posting in as anonymous, Brian.

Yes, I did see it, on Netflix myself, and it's a really really good movie. The lead is perfectly cast. I mean, they all are, but she has to carry it.

Anonymous said...

Seana -

The internet gods have not favored me of late. My hotmail account was hacked and it's causing all sorts of problems with blogger. BTW, if anybody ever needs to send me a private message, here's my new email address:

orock42@gmail.com

Looks like I'm moving Winter's Bone up in the queue then...

seana said...

Oh, that's too bad. My cousin had her account hacked too, although I think maybe it was gmail? Anyway, a bunch of us got a plea from her saying she was stranded in Europe, having been robbed, etc. and could we wire her money. It was almost plausible but not quite.

Thanks for the new email. And yes, watch Winter's Bone--I think the small screen is fine for it.