Tag Archives: oscar grouching 2010

Oscar Grouching ’10: The Aftermath

The Oscars are over. I promise I will shut up about them. After I have my quick say about the show itself. And what better format for that than a bulleted list? So here you are, item by item: My Thoughts on the 83rd Academy Awards (most of which were already pointed out by everyone else yesterday).

  • First off, it’s sad but true: Anne Hathaway tried her darndest, but James Franco was dead weight. His delivery was flat, their repartee went nowhere, and the material wasn’t especially good to begin with. (As many pundits have pointed out, saying “He made out with my co-host… in a movie” about Jake Gyllenhaal isn’t even a joke, let alone a funny one.)
  • One more dig at the hosts’ disappointing suckiness: I love it when people show up in drag, and I enjoyed Hathaway in a tuxedo, but Franco’s Marilyn Monroe costume was so half-assed, and he was only wearing it for one tiny segment. This is the fucking Oscars; they have all the fashion resources in the world at their disposal. If they can only do crossdressing in the laziest, shoddiest of ways, they just shouldn’t try.
  • Oh, and why did three-time Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood have to read her speech off of notecards? It was (probably) the night’s most awkward acceptance.
  • The attempts at incorporating Hollywood history into the ceremony were similarly pointless. All we got were some slideshows to the effect of “There’s a theater!” and “Movies made a transition to sound!” So informative.
  • All the Best Song nominees sucked. Including and especially the eventual winner, Randy Newman’s generic jingle for Toy Story 3. Live performances of forgettable songs is not the right way to light up the evening.
  • Like everyone, I’m glad they took the yucky popularity contest clapping out of the In Memoriam section, but I feel like they missed quite a few recently deceased heavyweights—e.g., where were late, great directors like Éric Rohmer and Satoshi Kon?
  • Seriously, Franco’s bad dress pissed me off. It all just smacks of apathy, when you’re putting on a show for zillions of people!
  • Finally, as others have noted: the Best Picture nominees montage. FAIL: 1) why so many spoiler-heavy moments? and 2) why oh why use the climactic King’s Speech speech as the soundtrack for every single clip? Some questions, no one can answer. Except that little golden man we call Oscar… and he ain’t talking.
  • For all my vented spleen, though, I did like a few parts: Kirk Douglas & Melissa Leo; Javier Bardem & Josh Brolin; and Robert Downey, Jr. & Jude Law, to be specific. All good, entertaining pairings. That was about it, though. What can I say? Like most online commentators, I’m a born malcontent.

As for the awards themselves, the only (mild) surprises appeared very early on, like when Alice in Wonderland—a film roundly condemned for its garish ugliness—got two awards associated with visual beauty. (Which is two more than The Kids Are All Right or Winter’s Bone ended up receiving.) It was also cool when Reznor and Ross deservingly won for The Social Network‘s moody score. Beyond that, all the winners were about as predictable and unimaginative as the nominees. At least I got to play Statler and Waldorf to the Oscars’ Muppet Show; that was fun. And if you haven’t checked out my Oscar-themed “Mix Tape” articles for The Film Experience, there’s still time to go read the ones on The Kids Are All Right, The Social Network, and Inception.

So awards season has arrived at its bitter end, and The King’s Speech has finally taken its rightful place as another totally mediocre Best Picture winner, alongside the distinguished likes of Around the World in 80 Days and Forrest Gump. Thus, we enter a new year of film (that started two months ago), one with new movies by Alexander Payne, David Cronenberg, Pedro Almodóvar, and even Terence Malick. Wow, awesome! GTFO, 2010. Fuck you, lousy Oscars. It’s time to move on.

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Oscar Grouching ’10: Inception and Black Swan

The Oscars are almost almost here, and I’ve promised Ashley that I’ll shut up about them soon. But there’s so much I haven’t been able to talk about! So I’m going to make a last-ditch effort to address some of my lingering nominee-related thoughts.

First of all: Christopher Nolan’s Inception, which I discussed in an initial, wildly enthusiastic review and in my year-end wrap-up. My opinion of it has fluctuated over the past 6-7 months, and I recently revisited it to write a “Mix Tape” article for The Film Experience about the film’s use of Édith Piaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.” A few points stood out to me: first and most frustratingly, the film totally wastes a fantastic ensemble. Ellen Page and JG-L act as Cobb’s glorified assistants (and bounce exposition off of each other), while Cillian Murphy is a quirky, talented actor trapped in a bland nothing role.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s acting, meanwhile, leaves a lot to be desired since he’s supposed to be the film’s lead and emotional linchpin. He has two modes here—pedagogic and brooding—and neither is especially enthralling. Only Cotillard, Watanabe, and Hardy do anything much of interest, and even they are hampered by the film’s structure and dialogue. It’s emphatically not an actor’s movie. However, it is an art design and special effects wet dream, and redeemed by its moments of sheer visual spectacle. It also builds a creative, streamlined world out of old clichés and pieces of cultural detritus. Given this last attribute, I could imagine Inception 2 going in some cool directions.

For now, though, all we’ve got is Inception 1, which is occasionally awesome and fun, but nonetheless has plot holes big enough to drive a train through in the middle of its raison d’etre, the über-complicated shared dreaming technology. But I’m still excited for The Dark Knight Rises and whatever else Nolan wants to make; maybe we’ll get another Ledger-as-Joker-caliber performance out of his movies again. In the meantime, Inception certainly deserves a technical award or two. We’ll find out tonight!

It’s hard to separate the good and bad of Black Swan (see my initial review), and I think that’s just how Darren Aronofsky likes it. Is it gorgeous, intense, and sensual, unlike almost every other Best Picture nominee? Hell yes. Is it adolescent, prurient, trashy, and obsessed with Natalie Portman’s oh-so-romantic masochism for her art? Also hell yes. It’s an icky, atmospheric horror movie that would make a great double feature with Perfect Blue; it’s also comparatively simple-minded about sex and female performance, steeped as it is in hoary melodramatic tropes. (After all, it is an unofficial remake of everything from 42nd Street to Showgirls.)

To be frank, though, I love all the women in this. Portman (this year’s almost-certain Best Actress) is the film’s center which cannot hold, the diva around whom Ryder, Kunis, and Hershey orbit, and each one of them still gets a few juicy moments in the limelight. In the end, though, it’s all about Nina’s manic, transformative dance to the death. In that final scene, you either applaud Aronofsky’s gall, you ask “What the fuck is going on?!”, or both. To conclude, I’ve got a few fascinating and informative Black Swan-related links:

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The Power of Words!

In case you didn’t see it, USA Today recently published a total non-article by Susan Wloszczyna about screenwriting that actually includes this sentence: “A handful of other titles nominated for best picture—such as True Grit, The Social Network and The Kids Are All Right—are also putting their money where their mouth is with dialogue that amuses, touches or inspires.” Yes, that’s right: a professional writer actually wrote a full 1,500 words or so and her only point was that “many movies have screenplays, which feature writing.” YEAH.

In honor of this amusing piece of anti-journalism, I’m putting forth a fun little quote mix-and-match game! Celebrate “the power of words” with me by identifying the Best Picture nominees that contain these snippets of dialogue I love. (Of course, all of them can easily be googled, but it’s even better if you can guess them off the top of your head. Besides, just use the process of elimination!)

1. “What are we ever gonna do with you, baby girl?”

2. “Screw it. Let’s gut the friggin’ nerd.”

3. “No owners means no heartbreak!”

4. “I need your observations like I need a dick up my ass!”

5. “Was I good?”

6. “Wait a minute… are we trading again?”

7. “Stop calling me an MTV girl, whatever that means.”

8. “I bought the airline. It seemed neater.”

9. “I’m a thistle sifter…”

10. “You see, I’m something of a, uh, well, a big fucking hard hero.”

Comment below with your answers! [I’ll moderate comments initially so they’re not all spoiled.]

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Oscar Grouching ’10: The Kids Are All Right

Yeah, folks, it’s Oscar season. Not duck season, not wabbit season, but Oscar season. It’s that time of year when my love/hate relationship with the mainstream film industry rears its ugly head, and I have weird internal conversations that go like this: “But the Oscars are so meaningless! It’s all industry politics!” “Well, yeah, but industry politics still means something. And the right movies get awarded, sometimes. You liked No Country for Old Men, right?” “That’s not the point! It’s all masturbatory self-congratulation. It’s a fluke if awards go to quality films, and they don’t even recognize the Honorary Award winners during the ceremony.” “But they have montages, and banter, and pretty dresses…”

This conversation goes on for a while, and it never gets resolved. I end up regarding the Oscars like any other highly flawed but still significant method of judging films: with a grain of salt. Or should I say a pillar of salt. (A whole salt mine?) In short, I treat it like the dog-and-pony-and-James-Franco show it so clearly is. The ceremony is really an accurate if broad mediation of Hollywood culture, after all. It’s shallow, glamorous, expensive, ratings-obsessed, but all in all fairly entertaining. Beyond that, the awards represent a loose consensus. All the acting, writing, director, and picture nominees are contained within a pool of just 16 films and these, for better or worse, are what the American film community recognizes as 2010’s best. Take from that what you will.

Having said my piece, I now jump into my abbreviated, last-minute Oscar nominee coverage. Between now and Sunday, I’ll rush to discuss as many of this year’s Big Ten as I have time for. (Click here to read my thoughts from last year.) So let’s begin! Last summer I was delighted that my local multiplex was offering up Lisa Cholodenko’s Sundance favorite The Kids Are All Right. It’s such a summery movie, too, full of warm California locations and fertile greenery. “Fertility” is a major watchword in this movie, too, since it’s all premised on two births via artificial insemination that led over time to the growth of a beautiful, functional family… even if it does have a few issues to work out.

Mia Wasikowski is Joni, one of these two kids, and she’s more than all right. She’s only a few months older than me (I feel like I say that all the time now about burgeoning movie stars!) and she looks very delicate and pale, which makes her Biff Loman-style disillusionment toward the film’s end even more heartbreaking. Joni is cerebral and well-behaved, but wants to start asserting her independence now that she’s college-bound. Her half-brother Laser can be something of an asshole, but he’s got a good heart. He doesn’t want to tear his family apartment; he’s just curious about how it got started.

It’s perfectly understandable—just as it is when their brittle, authoritative mom Nic bristles at sperm donor Paul’s intrusion into their family unit. Annette Bening’s Nic may overreact to minor incidents and overdo it on the red wine, but she still feels so cool. She’s outspoken, she’s competent, and she’s passionate (about her work, her family, Joni Mitchell). She might not be that tactful, but neither is she a bitch. She feels like someone it would be fun to sit down to dinner with. For that matter, so does Julianne Moore as Nic’s wife Jules. Even if she’s a little flaky and flighty at times, she’s still fucking Julianne Moore.

Mark Ruffalo as Paul completes the triangle. He’s not a bad guy, although he does become a homewrecker, The Kids Are All Right‘s equivalent of the classical Hollywood melodrama’s “other woman.” I already wrote a piece over at The Film Experience about Paul’s introduction through a David Bowie-scored sex scene, and I’m still impressed by Ruffalo’s (deservingly Oscar-nominated) performance and how well it slides into the textures of the overall film. Out of all this year’s Best Picture nominees, The Kids Are All Right is one of only two that you could really call “sexy.” In scene after scene, Ruffalo’s nonchalant but intense sexuality is almost palpable through the screen.

This is what I really love about The Kids Are All Right: how the performances and writing collide to forge deep, powerful characterizations. It’s a consistently funny movie, but it’s also extremely moving, because it makes you invest so heavily in this family and the love it’s grounded in. Nic and Jules may not be perfect wives, but they don’t have to be. They visibly love each other, and so to see all the damage that Jules’s affair has wrought on their relationship is devastating. These two mothers and two kids are just so right for each other that it’d be a cinematic injustice to wrench them apart. In scope and style, it’s a small, light movie, but at its core is the highest of all stakes: two people are in love, and that love is threatened.

Granted, it’s not exactly visually stunning. It’s modest and attractive, privileging the performers within each frame. It also has some uncomfortable implications, both in Jules’s never-addressed, subtly racist treatment of Luis, the Mexican gardener she employs, and in her willingness to sleep with Paul at the first available moment, which some critics have seen as endorsing the old “deep down all lesbians really want a man” fallacy. I confess the film has some issues to work out, and it occasionally compromises its own progressive virtues, but I think that’s too simplistic a reading of her behavior. “Human sexuality,” as she tells her son, “is complicated.”

This is the film’s approach, to not just human sexuality but also marriage (which Jules says is “fucking hard”), parenting, working, socializing, saying hello, and saying goodbye. It’s a very humanistic film, assuming good intentions in all of its characters and not judging them too harshly when (inevitably) they fuck up. It’s also flawlessly calibrated to adjust my emotions like a faucet, and I do not begrudge it that.

Within deceptively unimposing, even generic packaging, The Kids Are All Right conceals five great performances that work together like the gears in a watch, bound together by the strength of the warm, witty screenplay. Family can be painful, as we’ll see with many of this year’s Best Picture nominees. At least this time, the ordeal ends with our two torn-apart lovers holding hands once again.

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