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Oscars ’11 Post Mortem

Before we all forget about last night and dive head-first into 2012, here are my takeaways from the 84th Academy Awards. First I’ll list off a few tidbits that made me smile, then I’ll bitch to my heart’s content. (If you’re curious, I’ve also reviewed 8/9 of the Best Picture nominees.)

Things I Liked

  • It was quick! Fewer “educational” montages and less pre-award banter meant that this year’s ceremony was just nigh interminable instead of actually interminable.
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s win for editing. Not only was it deserved, but it was a rare surprise on a night that had about two of them. I would’ve welcomed more variety like that.
  • Brad Pitt gushing about The War of the Gargantuas. To think: this bedrock of my childhood was also, per Wikipedia, this demigod’s “inspiration to go into acting.” Maybe we’re not so different after all!
  • In fact, all of the “my first movie” interstitials. They were candid and fun—i.e., the polar opposite of a typical Oscar segment. And they showcased folks like Gabourey Sidibe and Werner Herzog, so we all win.
  • The women of Bridesmaids. Maya Rudolph cracking dick jokes! Rose Byrne and Melissa McCarthy playing some weird Scorsese-themed drinking game! Can we get them to group-host next year?
  • Michel Hazanavicius’s last words of the night: “I want to thank Billy Wilder, and I want to thank Billy Wilder, and I want to thank Billy Wilder.” This flood of gratitude closed the show out on the highest note possible.

Things I Didn’t Like

  • Billy Crystal. Maybe I’m just in the wrong demographic. I have no built-in fondness for Crystal and don’t remember his prior hosting gigs. But when his jokes weren’t corny, they were tasteless, and they were all punctuated by a self-satisfied chuckle. Not to mention the blackface. I guess his Sammy Davis, Jr. impression is an old SNL thing, but why bring it back now?
  • That fucking “magic of movies” montage. Bad enough to have a montage with no point beyond “um, movies?”; even worse when the choices are so arbitrary. It had clips from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s (favoring Best Picture winners), plus Twilight and The Hangover, and stretched back no further than 1969’s Midnight Cowboy. The lesson? The Academy’s fine with saluting pre-1970 film history, but only when it’s wrapped up in a cute little pastiche.
  • The Cirque du Soleil, whose performance had something to do with North by Northwest, I guess? Anyway, it ended up being a few more wasted telecast minutes.
  • That goddamn theme from The Artist. I’m already not a huge fan of Ludovic Bource’s Oscar-winning score, but hearing a piece of it repeated—with its implicit message of “Silent movies are kooky!”—every time an Artist team member won became grating. I get it already! They were kooky!
  • Meryl over Viola. I love Meryl. Love her in Death Becomes Her, Adaptation., “Bart’s Girlfriend,” etc. But she’s a one-woman awards dynasty. She isn’t “due” (she already won Best Actress in 1982, for chrissake) and she doesn’t need the career bump. Viola Davis, meanwhile, is a 46-year-old black woman who’s received only a handful of substantial screen parts in her lifetime. Winning would’ve made her the second woman of color to receive the award ever. So basically, fuck the Oscar electorate. Fuck them so hard.

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Link Dump: #58

Isn’t this kitty from Josef von Sternberg’s Underworld just the cutest thing ever? Just look at it! It’s such an adorable kitty! And to complement the kitty’s cuteness, we’ve got some truly spectacular links this week:

We had several amusing, pussy-themed search terms in the past week—”.1 like to wonenand womenate pussy,” for example. (Dear lord what does that mean.) Two others added a strange equine theme as well: “poney likes wife pussy” and “horse-like vomen pussy,” the latter of which you should probably read with a Yakov Smirnoff accent. In Soviet Russia, vomen pussy like you!

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Oscar Contenders Round-up

Oscar nominations drop in less than a week. Yes, awards season is heavy upon us, with all its implicit fun and horror! I’ve already reviewed three big Oscar players—The Tree of Life (love), The Help (hate), and Midnight in Paris (eh)—but have yet to touch on the season’s other talked-about titles. The following is my attempt to rectify that:

The Artist. I was delighted by the cuteness and chemistry of Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, who give a spry pair of performances attuned to the film’s silence. And writer/director Michel Hazanavicius has an eye for visual gags, which dot the film: the dancing legs, the take-after-take courtship, the ascension of Peppy’s name, etc., etc. But The Artist never really coheres, coming across more as a set-piece variety hour than a fleshed-out feature film. Its tragedies, when they arrive, don’t stick—Dujardin’s alcoholism and depression always seem to have a wry smile lurking beneath them, and a climactic suicide attempt is punctuated by a joke. The film’s story is all but an afterthought, schematically stitching Singin’ in the Rain onto A Star Is Born.

Guillaume Schiffman’s gleaming photography gorgeously invokes the memory of “classical Hollywood,” but to what end? The film never really gets beyond the shock of its own retro-novelty, preferring to be vaguely about the idea of “silent movies” rather than any historically real silent cinema.* (This meta-silence explains its “Dream Factory” Hollywood setting, which could’ve been constructed from issues of Photoplay.) When it does make concrete allusions (to Citizen Kane and, infamously, Vertigo), they’re hollow and don’t fit their contexts. The Artist suggests the gist of silent movies (i.e., “they didn’t talk”) but doesn’t follow through; it’s very limited in outlook and execution. Kudos, certainly, to Hazanavicius and company for merely making a functional latter-day silent movie. I just wish they’d made more than a broad pastiche that teeters toward “They don’t make ’em like they used to!” pandering. Well, at least the dog’s cute.

*Hazanavicius himself seems strangely misinformed about 1920s filmmaking. In one interview, he claimed that under the Hays Code, “People don’t kiss, there isn’t any kissing in my movie, the dancing scenes are the love scenes.” I’m really curious where he got the impression that no kissing signifies “an American way to tell a story.”

Next: Hugo, The Descendants, War Horse, and Moneyball.

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You Cannes Always Get What You Want

By Andreas

Now that Cannes 2011 has wrapped, here’s a short list of my most-anticipated films from the festival. With any luck, most or all of them will be headed to an arthouse theater near me soon!

  • Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. The lackluster trailer and Woody’s recent track record weren’t exactly getting my hopes up, but once I learned that Kathy Bates and Scott Pilgrim‘s Alison Pill play Gertrude Stein and Zelda Fitzgerald respectively, I knew I’d have to see it. Will Owen Wilson make a suitable Woody surrogate? Will it be so cutely erudite that I’ll throw up? I can’t wait to find out!
  • Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. I already wrote about how intensely I want to see this, and that intensity continues to grow. An Oscar-caliber Tilda Swinton performance! John C. Reilly! Stream-of-consciousness narrative! YEAH.
  • Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist. I’m excited by both The Artist‘s plot—it’s a silent comedy/melodrama about Hollywood’s transition to sound—and its loose resemblance to Guy Maddin’s movies. It sounds like the best kind of cinephile junk food.
  • Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene. I can’t wait to see Durkin’s debut feature, a harrowing cult-themed drama (which, like Midnight in Paris, played out of the main competition). The fact that it co-stars John Hawkes from Winter’s Bone is icing on the cake.
  • Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Although sometimes put off by his ponderousness, I adore Malick’s childlike wonderment at the world. (And just try not to be blown away by the house-burning sequence in Badlands.) I’m a sucker for cosmic spectacle, so Malick’s long-awaited Palme d’Or-winner might just do the trick for me.
  • Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. Speaking of cosmic spectacle, the trailer for Melancholia really impressed me, and the casting of John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling as an old married couple would get my ass in the theater to see Transformers 3. When mixed with Von Trier and the end of the world? Ohhh yes.
  • Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In. I’m just crazy about face transplant movies like Face Behind the Mask, Eyes Without a Face, and The Face of Another. If I can get that with Almodóvar’s uniquely dark, sensual sensibility, I will be a happy moviegoer.
  • Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive. This is tied with Kevin, Melancholia, and MMMM for “most most-anticipated.” Ryan Gosling in an existential action movie? Yes please, and thank you.

What Cannes-tastic new movies are you excited to see?

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