Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Bit About the Oscar Nominations

As I said a few weeks ago, I don't plan on even watching the Oscars this year. The whole dog and pony show has worn so thin over the years, and without any interest in the pageantry, I'm just not interested in trade awards. I know what I think are the best films I see, and I don't need that opinion validated by anyone, let alone a body of professionals that think Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a great picture, much less representative of their finest work, even in an uneven year like 2011.

But, of course, I did see all the nominees, even the ones I wouldn't have seen unless they were nominated. I can't break my completist habits on that one, and why even bother? I like watching movies. It's my main hobby. So here are my opinions of the nominees, even though I don't really give a shit what wins and won't be watching the telecast to find out.

Oh, and spoilers, probably.

As far as I'm concerned, the only truly great picture here is The Artist. It's a wonderful movie, and surprisingly reflective of today's breezy, everything-is-a-remix view towards history. I fully expect it to win, too, unless Hugo wins in its place. It'll be either one of them, because Hollywood finds nothing more fascinating than itself. So either it'll be the one about Hollywood (The Artist) or the one about the wonder of filmmaking (Hugo), but either way, something silent film-related is getting it. I think Hugo probably has the edge because it's a Scorsese picture, and probably The Departed wasn't enough to make up for snubbing Raging Bull 30 years ago.

As I said the other day, I found Hugo cold and remote, though pretty to look at.

My second favorite of the nominees is The Descendants, which I found very likable and interesting in a white guy kind of way. I thought George Clooney was very good in it. I still don't understand why he wouldn't sell the land since it's going to be taken away, anyway, but it's Alexander Payne, and I never expect him to wrap up his own point because he's much more interested in quirky characters and obvious, unoriginal points like how wine aging can be a metaphor for a person aging. But I liked Clooney's journey of understanding himself and the people around him, and that always hits with me.

I also liked Midnight in Paris, but Best Picture seems like a massive stretch to me. It's a nice movie, but one that makes an obvious, very simple point that is actually stated something like 5 minutes into the film ("Everyone romanticizes the past when they find the modern world too cold") and then negates its own moral that you have to live in reality and not a daydream by having a young French girl immediately fall in love with Owen Wilson because he also likes Cole Porter. I think this is a minor film for Woody Allen, a director I still love, and though it's certainly enjoyable Jazz Age fan fiction, I don't understand all the accolades it's getting. Weird to see a Woody Allen movie become so overrated... Oh, no, it isn't, actually, because Vicky Cristina Barcelona was terrible and overpraised.

The Tree of Life is problematic... it's so long and dull and pretentious, but it looks beautiful and at least tries to say something (even if it does say it with all of the uncritical self-preoccupation of a teenager describing her first trip to Europe). It certainly deserves a win for its cinematography. But I feel like it's this movie, more than any of the other nominees, that will be completely forgotten.

Everything else is just straight up bad. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is badly acted and badly told (seriously, this is what you honor Max Von Sydow for?), Moneyball is just boring but the Academy are still slaves to Aaron Sorkin (even though he manages to not work in all of the star players who helped give the Oakland A's such a great season), and War Horse is all of Spielberg's worst excesses, but somehow even moreso than usual.

And then there's The Help, which is as insulting as it is terrible. This is the kind of thing the Academy loves to pat itself on the back for, no matter how badly-made and condescending it is, because they like that it makes them look like they care about racism. But even better than that, it's about how great white people are for recognizing that racism is wrong. That's not offensive at all!

This is another one of those icky feel-good years.

Not that anyone's keeping track, but currently I think the 10 best films of 2011 are, in alphabetical order, Another Earth, The Artist, The Descendants, Drive, 50/50, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Muppets, Straw Dogs, Take Shelter, and Tomboy. If you remove Tomboy because it's in French, then I'd replace it with A Better Life.

I honestly care what wins this award less than I do what wins Best Original Song (especially this year, where there are Muppets involved). This is never a merited award, anyway, it just goes to whomever the Academy most wants to honor for a body of work. I'd be surprised if they didn't give it to Martin Scorsese just for Being Best at Being Martin Scorsese.

I don't think Brad Pitt's particularly great in Moneyball. Then again, Clooney doesn't do anything totally different in The Descendants, either, and I loved him in it. I almost always love Clooney, though. Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a good performance in a fatally dull movie. I thought Demian Bichir was excellent in A Better Life and I'm happy that the Academy even manged to notice it. It deserves notice.

Jean Dujardin was just so darn likable and handsome in The Artist. It would be surprising for him not to win. He's so good! And boy, can he dance! And buckle swash! And he's just handsome as hell, let's be clear about that. Not that he should win for being handsome, but goddammit, that's one sexy cat.

I think Ryan Gosling getting zero nominations is kind of crazy after the year he had. Michael Shannon's performance in Take Shelter is touching and subtle, but probably too subtle for Oscar. He's one of the best actors working today.

I liked Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs, but only up to a point. She veered towards the cartoonish a little too often; she (and the film, honestly) wasn't entirely convincing. Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady is excellent in a film that doesn't support her; like Julie & Julia, it's another case of Meryl Streep being so good in a bad movie that you almost think it's better than it is. Rooney Mara was very good in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, injecting pieces of humanity into a role that's the kind of fantasy character a middle-aged pedophile creates (the invincible bisexual ninja super-hacker who nevertheless needs to be emotionally protected; see the entire works of Luc Besson). And Michelle Williams was spot-on in My Week with Marilyn, playing the fantasy version of Marilyn Monroe, which seems genuinely complex to me; everyone projects their own pet version of Marilyn onto movies and TV shows about Marilyn, and the movie is in part about how various people perceive her and assume their own perception is the correct one (even the film itself). Michelle Williams is an actress of surprising and genuine talent.

But come on, Viola Davis is going to win for playing Oprah Winfrey in The Color Purple, complete with sharecropper accent to hammer home the point that her character is a noble stereotype, because giving Viola Davis an Oscar solves racism, dammit! Again. Or something. At least Davis winning will offer hope to a younger generation of African-American actresses that one day they too can be acclaimed for playing a housemaid or other domestic servant.

I think it's too bad the Academy overlooked Kirsten Dunst's performance in Melancholia (too cold? that was the point...) and Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin (no flashy "give her the shot" moment), but no one will ever accuse the Academy of being too interested in subtlety, which basically explains American filmmaking. Brit Marling was also excellent in Another Earth, but the Academy didn't notice that movie. And after all the talk of her, I'm surprised they didn't nominate Elizabeth Olsen.

I figure the winner will be Christopher Plummer in Beginners, a very likable (and good) performance in a very likable (and good) movie. I find Jonah Hill's nomination inexplicable, Max Von Sydow's disappointing, and I didn't even see Warrior so I don't know how Nick Nolte is in it. Notorious overactor Kenneth Branagh plays notorious overactor Laurence Olivier a little too perfectly in My Week with Marilyn, which makes it weird that he got nominated, because he would be so easy to overlook. Come on, Albert Brooks deserved a nomination for Drive.

I imagine this year's winner will be Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids, because it's okay for overweight women to win in the supporting category (it makes the Academy feel like they're less superficial) and, in typical Best Supporting Actress Oscar fashion, she had the sassiest and funniest dialogue of the nominees. Why else did Renee Zellweger win this award for playing Granny Clampett in Cold Mountain? Which could, I guess, mean Jessica Chastain could win for her shrill, over the top, naive-almost-to-the-point-of-retarded character in The Help. She's nominated for the wrong movie; she was so much better (but too subtle!) in Take Shelter.

Berenice Bejo was alright in The Artist, but Jean Dujardin was magical. Janet McTeer was better in Albert Nobbs than Glenn Close was, in my opinion. Flashier, anyways (no pun intended). And Octavia Spencer plays the same pidgin servant that Viola Davis does in The Help, but with less noble suffering and more sass, but she won't win because Davis will.

I don't think anyone got overlooked, this is yet another shitty year for supporting actress roles.

I have to include this because it's me. And I haven't actually seen Kung Fu Panda 2 (because it looks like typical animated DreamWorks tripe) or Puss in Boots (because it looks like typical animated DreamWorks tripe that takes place in that goddamned Shrek universe). But I have seen the other three nominated films, and I think the so-so, thinks-it's-more-clever-than-it-is Rango is probably going to win because it not being DreamWorks or Disney is different enough, but not so different that too many people would have to sit through the subtitles in the two far superior nominees, A Cat in Paris and Chico & Rita, both of which are works of art, and will take their place alongside other works of art such as The Secret of Kells and The Illusionist and The Triplets of Belleville and Persepolis in losing to lesser films.

Anyway, throwing in my two bits like everyone else online this weekend. I'll find out the next day who won. Or that second if I'm on Tumblr and everyone's bitching about who wins. Either way.

Friday, February 24, 2012

I Feel Terrible

Last night, I had a fit of rage. All sparked off by a mistake I made while vacuuming the apartment and a situation where I needed a screwdriver and couldn't find one. I was home alone for the worst of it, which is a small blessing, because I hate subjecting Becca to whatever my chemical imbalance is. I just became totally enraged. I wanted to take it out on something, but I'm trying so hard not to go back to my old ways from years ago when I used to throw things around and punch holes in the walls. I'm ashamed of those reactions, and I'm ashamed of last night. I screamed at the top of my lungs. I sobbed deeply at my inability to keep a small inconvenience from derailing me totally, and, needing to punch something hard, I punched myself in the side of the head and hurt myself pretty bad. It still hurts right now, just under 24 hours later.

I barely slept because of a bad snowstorm which had me weirdly terrified for Becca, who had to go out and drive for work, and since I'm afraid of driving in the snow it transferred to me worrying about her. I finally gave up on sleeping about 4 this morning. The result, of course, is that I've had a splitting headache all day and have been drifting in and out of sleep. I know, rationally, that Becca is a careful driver and can take care of herself. Not that it helps. I'll still worry.

I have a bad pain in my eye, which usually happens when I've strained my emotions like this.

I'm pretty obviously bipolar. I don't want to be on the medicine again.

I fucking hate this. This is a bad couple of days. Some of the worst since I was forced off of the Lexapro in the first place, and especially some of the worst since I became conscious that I was going through withdrawal. Every time I think it's over, another tremor occurs and my head pounds. And the worst part is, it's now becoming incredibly obvious what's just the withdrawal and what problems are actually something that's wrong with me and how I'm wired. I know remember quite painfully why I went on Lexapro in the first place.

Right now it feels like my choices are the dependence on prescription drugs, or being Bruce Banner again and just suddenly turning into the Hulk with little warning.

Ugh, I hate it.

I know I'm probably just whining. No one else is required to help me through my recovery, which is what this is. I just need to vent sometimes. All I can do is try to spend my energy, rationally process my emotions instead of just reacting, and keep trying to lose weight to minimize my blood pressure.

But fuck is it hard.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

When Did Archie Comics Get So With It?

So, here, via Bleeding Cool, is Jill Thompson's cover art for the upcoming "Occupy Riverdale" story in Archie Comics:

I believe this makes Archie, what, the only comic book character who knows there's an Occupy movement going on across America?

I don't expect comic books, particularly today, to be relevant to anything going on in the world, so Archie has been a fascinating departure for the past few years. Seriously, I like Archie just fine, but I never would have accused it of being with the times. Now they've introduced a gay character, Kevin Keller, who isn't a one-dimensional stereotype, and through him Archie has been able to explore the issues surrounding marriage equality and gays openly serving in the military. That's a lot of sensitive storytelling for a comic book series that's garnered a reputation as toothless and saccharine. The company is turning that reputation around.

Meanwhile, this is what a gay person looks like in the DC Universe:

I don't know. Maybe Bunker, the openly gay member of the Titans, isn't a stereotype. Most of the DCnU books are so impenetrable that I haven't even read the thing. Since DC decided to go with a Murderer's Row of the most forgettable comics creators of the 1990s, they've been putting out a lot of crap books with ugly art and the worst Dark Age of Comics storytelling. I figured Bunker was DC's response to Marvel's new Ultimate Spider-Man, who is half-black and half-Latino. They decided to up the ante with a flamboyant homosexual Latino. I can't say for sure that his main character trait is being gay, but since Batwoman's main character trait is being a lipstick lesbian, who knows?

So, somehow Riverdale is not only more progressive than the higher-profile but creatively bankrupt DC Comics, it's more progressive than America actually is. About the only thing disappointing about Kevin Keller thus far is that he didn't turn out to actually be the "It Gets Better," post-makeover version of Little Ambrose. That would have been fun.

So, yeah. Riverdale is having a debate over the uneven distribution of wealth in the country, and Superman, the biggest superhero in the world... fighting a leatherboy called The Masochist.


Well, maybe one day DC will catch up with the clear storytelling and progressive humanism of Archie.

Might Be Time for a Simpsons Rewatch

Almost a month ago, MC mentioned that Fox was going to have a marathon of The Simpsons, every episode of the series, in preparation for the (then upcoming) 500th episode. He asked the question: "do you think that if someone watched The Simpsons that way, that they would notice the exact moment where the show started to go downhill?" I thought about that for a long time, wondering when exactly the moment was that I started to feel the show was less than essential. I know the moment I gave up on the thing (the episode where Homer was a grunge rocker), but when did the cracks start for me?

I thought about that for a while. I was thinking of writing a post about it--not that bitching about how The Simpsons isn't good anymore is in any way original, but I talk about TV a lot--but now I'm wondering, if I could get the DVDs from the library, if I might just do a rewatch of the show and blog it here, similar to my other TV posts. I think that would be fun; the local reruns here tend to be stuck in more recent seasons, and there are a lot of classics I haven't seen in far too long.

(On a related note, I am actually still watching Enterprise, but there have been a lot of breaks because of exasperation with some real dumbass episodes...)

Happy 18th, Dakota

It's almost hard to believe that I've been watching Dakota Fanning in movies since 2001... then again, I'm constantly surprised that 2001 wasn't just, like, a few days ago. Time is just a blur. I hope Dakota keeps acting and never stops, and I hope she only hones her talent in the coming years. She never fell into that teen movie trap, so I hope she doesn't fall into the romantic comedy trap, either. Weird to say you've been a fan of an actor since the were 7 and you were 20, but that's certainly the case here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

Much better than I thought it would be, but still not, you know, good... There's a lot of potential here for either a decent skiffy action flick or a thoughtful picture about experimentation and animal rights, but the film tries to do both and in the end accomplishes neither. I prefer the scenes in the beginning, where it's sort of a family drama about James Franco and his Alzheimer's-suffering father (John Lithgow) and the super-intelligent ape he's raising as a son (and Andy Serkis and the effects animators do a good job, again, with the expressiveness of the CGI character, though here they don't manage to create the sense of weight and gravity that would have really made things believable; instead, you're always aware you're watching a special effect and don't get lost in it, because it doesn't blend just right and there is no sense that the character is affected by the physical world around him, nor is the physical world affected by him). Lots of ham for a picture that doesn't actually star the late Charlton Heston, but it does get in a lot of the cheesiness that makes most of the Apes pictures so enjoyable. It feels like a franchise reboot, so if we get to a third version of Planet of the Apes, I hope it's not as mind-numbingly awful as that fucking Tim Burton movie. This is basically a CGI remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, something the filmmakers never copped to, for some reason. **1/2. If you're looking for a silly action flick to waste a Friday night with (exactly what I did), you could do a hell of a lot worse. Or you could just watch Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which is better and has Ricardo Montalban.

Finally got around to sitting and watching Todd Haynes' short film, which we're not supposed to be able to do, telling the story of Karen Carpenter with Barbie dolls. I've heard about it a lot over the years, but was surprised by how deeply it examines the psychological and emotional causes and ramifications of anorexia. I think this actually still stands as Todd Haynes' best work. Probably because it's one of the few that Harvey Weinstein didn't fuck with... Heartfelt but not worshipful portrait of Karen Carpenter, and the soundtrack has all the Carpenters songs I like. ****

The first film from Celine Sciamma, the director of last year's excellent Tomboy. Like that film, this one deals with gender identification in teenage girls. It focuses on three girls: childhood friends Marie and Anne (who is desperate for a sexual awakening), and the popular and beautiful Floriane, whom everyone assumes is a slut and whom Marie is in love with. I think a good part of the reason I find movies like this so interesting (and French women especially make these well) is that the experience of a girl growing up is so different and foreign to me. In this film, we're watching the socialization process from a feminine viewpoint. Nicely minimalist, dealing with its characters and not with pop culture bullshit. And on a less analytical note, it's a beautiful little movie, easy to get wrapped up in. ****. I would like more from Sciamma.

HUGO (2011)
Terminally whimsical, oppressively magical early cinema fan fiction that at least gets most of the details about one of my favorite filmmakers right (although the cause of Georges Melies' career downfall is simplified into "all the magic going out of the world" or some such bullshit, as opposed to changing audience tastes, terrible business decisions, and Thomas Edison's monopolization of the film industry and pirating of Melies' films). Asa Butterfield is way too intense as Hugo Cabret, a character whose every problem could be solved with just a couple of well-placed explanations; he doesn't even have to volunteer them, he just has to answer some questions put to him by other characters. Sacha Baron Cohen essentially plays Roberto Benigni in one of a number of totally unnecessary subplots which seem only to exist to make yet another fairy tale version of Paris seem more precious. I can't believe a Martin Scorsese movie that runs just 90 minutes needs padding, but here it is. Looks good--CGI Paris looks great, even despite the apparently only four colors Scorsese is allowed to use--but I just didn't connect with it emotionally on any level at all. Good production design, but totally cold. **1/2

Somehow, this is the one Joe Johnston movie I've totally missed over the years. Johnston manages to avoid a lot of (but not all) of the obvious cliches in a movie about a boy in a coalmine town in the 1950s (Jake Gyllenhaal) inspired by the launch of Sputnik to build rockets, and his foreman dad (Chris Cooper), who doesn't know how to handle the distance between them. It's a nice movie, touching in places, emotionally sincere, and with an interesting true story at its center about a young man who became a NASA engineer. Oh, for the days when we used to be optimistic about space travel... something that died in my lifetime. ***1/2

Hilarious, tongue-in-cheek women-in-prison movie about a couple of revolutionaries (Sid Haig and Pam Grier, both having a lot of fun) infiltrating a Filipino prison camp for women. Violent, funny, and with lots of casual nudity, it's entertaining as hell. I especially dug Vic Diaz as one of the gay prison guards; just the way he looks at things sometimes is hilarious, without overplaying it. ***

Lifetime movie that we watched mainly because Becca still isn't over Shannon Elizabeth. Remember Shannon Elizabeth? I wonder if less and less people do... Anyway, in this one she's being stalked by a guy who kills himself and still keeps stalking her. Not as hilarious as that should sound. *

Lifetime movie we watched mainly because I'm still not over Charisma Carpenter. Here Chrissy Lee makes the cardinal Lifetime movie mistake of dating a cop and then leaving him, so things get all violently stalkery. *1/2. The extra half is for Chrissyliciousness.

Fantastic production design. Haunting stories rarely work for me, but this one did, in large part because of the atmosphere and the production design, and I quite liked Daniel Radcliffe's performance as a young widower sent to a remote village to ready an estate for resale. I think there are some modern touches I could have done without (the Woman in Black's ghostly presence is creepy enough without the Japanese horror flick shrieking we're subjected to), but ultimately the atmosphere wins. A classy and memorable production from the new Hammer Films. ****

In a year when so many of the most acclaimed movies have felt either forced or totally detached, it's nice to see something entertaining and charming getting recognition as well. Smart, too; it has some fun with its form (black and white, silent) because it knows that a modern audience is less likely to lose itself in something that seems so novel now. A love letter to cinema, with an impressive lead performance by French actor Jean Dujardin, who is immensely likable. I love some of the things it does with sound in this movie, impressionistic and stylized, just as it uses the black and white to create a landscape of heightened emotions rather than a detailed reality. I've always liked the universality of silence and black and white, and as an ode to such things, this is an excellent, beautifully-made lyric. ****

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Song of the Week: "Nobody Loves the Hulk"

The Traits, in 1969. Not a successful band, but I dig the garage sound. These guys had the rights from Marvel, which is pretty cool. Never heard it until recently, but now I'm sorry it's not on any of my Rhino science fiction music collections.