I finally caught up with The Artist and Midnight in Paris this past week, bringing my paltry total up to five of the nine Best Picture nominees that I’ve seen. I can’t promise that I’ll see those other four, either before or even after the Oscar is handed out. But I have some rambling thoughts about the five that I have seen.
Martin Scorsese has long been a proponent of preserving older films, of honoring the rich history of cinema. It’s a noble goal and a trait that makes him extremely likable to film nerds like yours truly. His passion for that project shines through in Hugo, which is essentially Scorsese’s love letter to the silent era. It features nods to Safety Last, The General, and the entire catalogue of Georges Méliès. That part of the film absolutely thrills me. And the 3D was completely eye-opening for me. It’s a much-maligned medium, but I’d venture that it’s much-maligned because nobody is using it the way Scorsese did in Hugo. That said, the story falls a tiny bit flat. I’ll always welcome a Best Picture victory for Scorsese because he’s one of the very best directors in film history and I think the world of the man. I’d be pleased if Hugo won… but I’m not convinced that it’s the best film.
As a baseball nerd, Moneyball is seemingly a film right after my heart. It uses Michael Lewis’ book of the same name as source material. It’s an in-depth look at advanced metrics in the game of baseball, and focuses its gaze on the fascinating and divisive (amongst baseball fans) Billy Beane. Unfortunately, it failed to speak to the hard-core baseball fan in me because it took a lot of simple events and turned them into things that would never happen in the game of baseball. It was sloppily constructed, with a family side-story that was utterly meaningless because there wasn’t nearly enough time spent on it. It was a fine film and I enjoyed it, but I think it’s undeserving of a Best Picture nomination.
Midnight in Paris
It’s funny how similar this was, thematically, to Scorsese’s Hugo. A legendary director–this time, Woody Allen–uses his film to pay proper homage to his artistic heroes of the early 20th century. We get to meet Cole Porter, Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dali, get a brief mention of Jean Cocteau, Gertrude Stein, and many others, all come to life in the magical world of Gil Pender (Owen Wilson). In many ways, it’s a blend of the two Woody Allens we’ve come to know and love–the cinephile philosopher, and the neurotic comedian. I enjoyed it tremendously, and the city of Paris looks as aesthetically appealing as ever. My only minor gripe here is that Owen Wilson’s impersonation of Woody Allen wears thin, and I say that as someone who likes Owen Wilson. Much like with Hugo, I’d be thrilled to see Woody Allen’s film win a Best Picture award, but I can’t honestly say that I felt it was the best film. It’d be a worthy winner, but perhaps not the most worthy.
I had only one real issue with The Artist, and it’s a minor one. It was a bit obvious at times–people stepping on a poster featuring the face of George Valentin, Peppy starring in a film called “The Guardian Angel” and the like. Everything else about this movie was phenomenal. It captured the silent era perfectly, while playing with the conventions of the silent era at key moments to bring about deconstruction. The concept was inventive and creative, and was executed almost flawlessly. And since we’re talking so much about homage with this year’s nominees, The Artist tips its cap to Singing in the Rain along with a thousand silent films. The best compliment I can pay to this movie is that I want to live in a world where more directors and studios put as much thought, effort, and creativity into their products as the creators and makers of The Artist did. And of the five Best Picture nominees that I’ve seen, this is the one that I feel is most deserving of the honor.
The Tree of Life
At a recent Oscar roundtable hosted by Newsweek, Christopher Plummer managed to say exactly how I felt about The Tree of Life. “Terry gets terribly involved in poetic shots, which are gorgeous, they are paintings all of them, but he gets lost in that and the stories get diffused”, said Plummer, in reference to Tree of Life director Terrence Malick. I think that’s completely spot-on pertaining to Tree of Life. Twenty minutes of streams and nature and dinosaurs and astronomy might be completely breathtaking–and in this case, they absolutely are–but they do little to advance the story. And while trying to convey such a high concept. like Malick was attempting to do, there’s no room for that type of thing, at least not as indulgent as it was. Even if those portions had been cut in half, I’d be willing to go along with Malick on it. It might even be a tremendous artistic achievement instead of the flawed piece that resulted. I don’t necessarily mind that it received a nomination, but I would most certainly prefer that it not win.
That leaves The Descendants, The Help, War Horse, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close as the missing quartet. Of those, I’m most intrigued by The Descendants. The others, on the surface, seem an awful lot like Oscar Bait. I hate to use that term because it’s so dismissive, and I’m sure all three of them have their charms and reasons for their nominations. And any time you’re talking about a Spielberg film, you can find something to enjoy. I don’t doubt that War Horse would fall in that category. All the same, my interest in the others falls between middling and non-existent.
Which of the Oscar nominees have you seen, and which do you feel should win?