Now that everyone has forgotten about the Oscars, I guess it’s time for me to share my thoughts… despite our best intentions, we didn’t see all of the long list of films nominated for Best Picture, so I’ll have to hold off on reviewing “The King’s Speech” and “Winter’s Bone” until such time as I get to see them. But here are some quick thoughts about a few of the other films:
“The Social Network“: Remember how “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was the song that “defined a generation”? Maybe not my generation, as I only discovered Nirvana after Kurt Cobain had died (I was in Grade Eight). Well, “the Facebook movie” is supposed to similarly define a young, technologically isolated generation, through not only its timely story of Mark Zuckerberg’s rise to the top of a digital empire but its slick editing, cool Trent Reznor soundtrack and unique visual style. My assessment is that it does this and more, finding the human element in the impersonal world of mediated social interaction and along the way diagnosing many of the shortcomings of character which plague postmodern youth. A song about deodorant couldn’t do all that.
“The Town“: Jeremy Renner (who won last year for “The Hurt Locker”) was nominated for Best Supporting Actor but (understandably) lost to Christian Bale… however, I thought he was great in “The Town,” a film about a city full of bank robbers that turns into a fairly convincing love story. Ben Affleck‘s career has definitely been on the way up recently, catapulting from the horrifying depths of the unwatched, perhaps unwatchable “Gigli” to the starry heights of Hollywood acclamation for his directorial work in “Gone Baby Gone.” I know I only seem to do positive film reviews, but I will happily join the chorus of voices who find “The Town” to be another notch in his belt and not just another throwaway action film.
“127 Hours“: No matter what you thought about James Franco‘s near-comatose performance as Oscar host, he is well worth watching here for the intensity he brings to this story of survival against all odds. A film that could well have been a cheesy “inspirational” melodrama (Andrea’s comment) instead imprisons us in the canyon along with hiker Aron Ralston as his body begins to fail and he is overtaken by hallucinations which force him to confront his life and mortality. And there is nothing “uplifting” in a trite, MOW sense about watching someone get covered in their own blood and gore as they hack their arm off. The MTV-style editing and use of multiple video formats is worth noting. But I would also like to draw attention to, in relation to the directorial work of Danny Boyle, the profound meaning associated with sunlight in the film. Here, the few minutes of sun Ralston gets each day deep in the canyon are what restore him to some sense of life, joy and the ebb and flow of humanity on the surface; in Boyle’s underappreciated “Sunshine,” the Sun is a preternatural, sublime force of that evokes wonder and dread and pushes the human experience to the supersaturated limit. (Also, the zombies in “28 Days Later” only come out at night.) Perhaps Boyle’s films have as a common thread the mythic role of the Sun as a primal source of life… I’d better re-watch “Slumdog Millionaire” before writing a paper on this.
“The Kids Are All Right“: I just was not that wild about this movie. I think Annette Bening and Julianne Moore were fairly convincing as a longtime married couple, and sure, I will suspend my disbelief in this supposedly comedic film for the unexpected arrival on the scene of a good-looking sperm donor who is also a handsome restaurateur. But the affair between the characters played by Moore and Mark Ruffalo seemed to me narratively unconvincing, it was about 40 minutes too long and in general the movie is not funny enough to be a comedy and not believable enough to be what it really wants to be: the heartwarming story of the travails of a quirky, modern American family that goes through a series of difficulties but comes together in the end. I will concede that the ending where they drop their daughter off at college was a step in the right direction, although by that point I was hoping it would end soon so we could get back to our usual TV schedule.
“Country Strong“: I liked it, but of course I love musicals in whatever form they come. The songs were great, and Gwyneth Paltrow and Tim McGraw made a convincing country music superduo: she as the fragile, worn-down country star trying to make one last comeback (a drug-addicted amalgam of Faith, Shania and Amy Grant), he the wounded but driven husband/manager who pushes her as far as she can go. I thought the film was going to be hopelessly sentimental (and the tiny bird which symbolizes the lead star’s fragile soul is a bit heavy-handed) but quite frankly, the moment Gwyneth’s character opened the box (spoiler alert!) with the severed doll’s head in it the film took on a much darker tone, showing its willingness to delve into the ugly underside of country music. It was worth it all just to see Gwyneth Paltrow become a country diva, belting out ballads in front of a giant American flag. Even what’s-her-name from “Gossip Girl” wasn’t bad.
Oscar-nominated films from last year I am still dying to see:
“The King’s Speech,” “True Grit,” “Animal Kingdom” (go Australian cinema!), “The Tempest” (Helen Mirren as Prospera! Inspired!), “The Fighter,” “Incendies” (the Canadian coproduction) plus “Inside Job” and “Waste Land” (doc nominees)
The ones I think I’ll pass on:
“Iron Man 2,” “Tron: Legacy,” “Unstoppable,” “The Wolfman.” Yes, they were all nominated for one thing or another.