“The Artist” won best picture, though I would have voted for “The Descendants.”
Jean Dujardin won best actor (“The Artist”), though I would have voted for George Clooney (“The Desecendants”).
Meryl Streep won best actress (“The Iron Lady,” haven’t seen it yet), though I would have voted for Viola Davis (“The Help”).
Octavia Spencer won best supporting actress (“The Help”), though I would have voted for Bernice Bejo (“The Artist”) or maybe even Janet McTeer (“Albert Nobbs”).
Christopher Plummer won best supporting actor (“Beginners,” didn’t see it), though I would have voted for Kenneth Branagh (“My Week with Marilyn”).
But I totally called “The Shore” for best live-action short.
Perhaps this is why the Academy doesn’t return my calls.
I’m stunned. I just read today that the Oscar they hand to the winners at the Academy Awards is just a prop the winners then exchange for the real thing backstage.
It’s almost as if the whole thing was just a show.
That is the easy part to forget, that the Oscars – which are Sunday night – are a show, so suspense and what we might call relatability are important. The only suspense might be whether “The Artist” or “The Descendants” wins best picture, but the smart money says “The Artist” has it in the bag. That’s OK. It’s a sweet, funny, touching movie, and the critics loved it, which is usually the kiss of death.
Oh, and no one saw it.
Hollywood math is always dicey, but figures on total receipts for 2011 from www.the-numbers.com outline things reasonably well. Of of the nine best-picture nominees, only “The Help” was a real hit, bringing in $169.5 million, 11th highest of the year. The top three, by the way, were “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II” ($381 million), “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” ($352.4 million) and “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1,” ($276.1 million).
The second-highest grossing best-picture nominee was “Moneyball” at No. 44, with $75 million, though it should be noted that “War Horse” (No. 74, $44.1 million) didn’t open until Christmas Day, is still in theaters and will likely pass “Moneyball.” Dropping back a bit, we come to No. 47 “Midnight in Paris” and No. 66 “Hugo,” both best-picture nominees. Those are in the range of nice but non-hit movies such as No. 42 “Tower Heist” and the gritty, enjoyable but not-much-of-a-hit No. 56 “The Lincoln Lawyer.” We’re well into the zone called “forgettable.”
My favorite for best picture, “The Descendants,” comes in at No. 79, with $40.3 million, though it’s still in theaters, and it’s Oscar love is probably helping some.
Then let’s go to No. 168, with $5 million, which in Hollywood might as well be three books of Green Stamps. That would be “The Artist.” It’s in black and white. It’s silent. People stayed away. Too bad, because they’re missing a fine movie, one of the two or three best in a weak year.
That’s relatibility. Will people tune in Sunday night to see a movie they ignored win for best picture, best director and, plausibly, best actor and best supporting actress? History says no. Again, they’re missing a good show.
How much of a hard-core movie fan are you? Enough to sit through all nine movies up for best picture Sunday night at the Oscars? That is, all nine in 21 and a half hours, and that means no sleep despite sitting in a dark movie theater?
If that’s you, here’s your chance. AMC Theaters is showing all nine, starting with “Hugo” at 11 a.m. Saturday at its downtown Kansas City location. It runs straight through to a showing of “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” that wraps up at about 8:30 Sunday morning. Then go home for a nap. The Academy Awards are on at 6 p.m.
The cost is $60, and for that I would sure hope they validate your parking. And you might want to smuggle in a couple of Starbucks, too. (OK, that was a totally unofficial statement because AMC, of course, does not allow that sort of thing.)
For the slightly less adventurous, AMC in Independence will have five of the nominees on Saturday: “Hugo” at 11 a.m., “The Help” at 1:20, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” at 4, then a one-hour break, followed by “The Artist” at 7:15 and finally “Midnight in Paris” at 9:05. You’ll be home by 11. It’s $40, the parking is fee, and there are restaurants within walking distance.
I love this idea. My only suggestion would be a little bolder: Dedicate a couple of screens throughout the weekend to all the films, getting each one up there two or three times and, in addition to selling passes for the whole festival, allow folks to buy tickets for individual films. “The Help” and “Tree of Life,” for example, haven’t been around for months (and they happen to be the two I haven’t seen). I promise to buy lots of popcorn if the company can make this happen.
Who needs a mid-winter, fight-the-blahs treat? We all do. Let me suggest a few hours at the Tivoli in Westport, watching the short films nominated for the Oscars.
Several of them are delightful, and I would have a hard time choosing among the five nominees for best live-action short. “Raju,” a German/Indian movie with subtitles, might be the favorite because of its serious and dark theme – a German couple travels to India to adopt a boy, but things get morally complicated – but I found that the story in “The Shore” stuck with me longer. It’s an Irish movie about friendship, homecoming, lost love, what might have been and what turned out to be. Great cast. I have a special weakness for screwball comedies, so “Pentecost” (Ireland) and “Tuba Atlantic” (Norway) were just lots of fun. “Time Freak” (U.S.) is basically one long gag, well done and funny. Not a sour note among these five.
The five nominees for best animated short are not as strong, but a friend and I agreed that “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” was easily the best of the group. The rest have their moments. Animated shorts tend to be really short, so the organizers of these showing usually throw in a few extras. “Skylight” and “Nullabor” are both pretty good.
So here’s the deal: The live-action movies are at 4:45 p.m. each day through Feb. 23. Total running time is one hour, 50 minutes. The animated movies are at 7 p.m. Thursday, then 2:30 and 7:15 this Friday through next Wednesday, then 2:30 on Feb. 23. Running time is an hour and 20 minutes. You can vote for your favorites and the ones you think will actually win; there’s a contest. Have fun.
There’s one more category – short documentaries – but the Tivoli isn’t making it all that easy to see them. They are shown only at 11:45 a.m. this Friday, Saturday and Sunday and then 7:30 p.m. on Thursday of next week, Feb. 23. Running time is 2:10. Haven’t seen them. Wish I could. Won’t be able to with this schedule.
Here’s my theory. Please tell me I’m wrong.
The Hollywood studios that crank out most of the movies that make it to local theaters were already consolidating before the economy hit the skids in 2008-09, shutting down many of the divisions that make the smaller, often quieter, always riskier films that make going to the movies enjoyable. Now times are tough, people are still tight with a dollar, and those studios are in full panic mode – not for the first time in history – as people have lots and lots of non-movie-theater and non-$5-popcorn options, starting with the ubiqitous Netflix.
The result is crap.
OK, let’s at least say a notable fall-off in the overall quality of movies in the last, oh, five years.
I love neat, clean theories, but reality is usually has more shades of gray. I’ll avoid the temptation to list “the best” movies of recent years because that is highly, highly subjective. Let’s try a different measure, also subjective: What recent movies will stand the rest of time? My guess is that among the 2011 crop currently up for various awards, none of them will.
My pick for the year would be “The Descendants” because it has some depth and an almost painful mix of humor and drama, but ultimately it might be as memorable as another fine but light George Clooney from a couple of years ago, “Up in the Air.” “The Artist” is charming, but it seems to be as much of the moment as “Slumdog Millionaire” did three years ago (and it won the Oscar). And “Moneyball” or “War Horse?” Please.
It just seems that each year the pickings get a little slimmer. Let me list 15 movies: “Good Night and Good Luck,” “Capote,” “Munich,” “Crash,”“Brokeback Mountain,” “Babel,” “The Queen,”“Letters from Iwo Jima,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “The Departed,” “Atonement,” “Michael Clayton,” “There Will Be Blood,” “Juno” and “No Country for Old Men.” Those are the best-picture nominees from 2005, 2006 and 2007.
Can we come up with even eight or 10 of that caliber in the four years since then? I’d go with “A Single Man,” “Winter’s Bone,” “The Hurt Locker,” “The King’s Speech,” “True Grit,” “Rachel Getting Married” and, OK, “Slumdog Millionaire.” That’s my subjective seven. Your results may vary.
There is, of course, another category. Oscar also recognizes some great foreign language films, and many of those, I think, do measure up well by the standard of what we’ll look back on year later and still cherish. Maybe they are filling Hollywood’s gap. No. 1 on my list would be “Departures,” a tender and sweet Japanese movie from 2009, followed by “Incendies,” “A Prophet,” “Revanche,” “The Secret in their Eyes” and “The Edge of Heaven” Going back a little further, “The Lives of Others” from 2006 is simply one of the most moving films I’ve seen in years. And Oscar didn’t love it, but “O’Horten” from 2007 was goofy, sweet and enchanting. And it made it to a screen in Kansas City, which I think counts in favor of the folks who run our handful of art houses. Most moviegoers won’t bother with subtitles, so it’s a challenge, but it’s worth it. Every movie I’ve listed in this paragraph is one I would see again, and maybe that’s my best test these days.
Here's how it goes. You see a trailer a good four months before the movie will ever be here. Hmm. Great cast. Looks intense. Looks emotional. Maybe this on has a chance.
By the eighth time you've seen the trailer, not to mention the ads on TV, you're already wearying of a movie you haven't seen. Then the reviews are good, not great. A couple of friends say good, not great. Maybe, you say, I'll just take a pass.
I'm glad I didn't pass on "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," a drama about a boy on an impossible but determined quest after his father dies in the Twin Towers on Sept. 11. It is one of those movies that loses some punch if you've seen the trailers and ads a hundred times -- hard to avoid -- but it's still enjoyable. Its story line is no more improbable than, say, "Forrest Gump," which is deeply and fictionally rooted in real events. Yes, it requires some suspension of disbelief, but then it either works or it doesn't. I thought it was fine.
The young star, Thomas Horn, brings us a character with a strong personality and not a few issues, but his intensity - his need to know the unknowable - drives the story. Max von Sydow has been nominated for best supporting actor (in a role with no lines), and he's very good. I'm no fan usually, but Sandra Bullock does very well in a weepy role. Tom Hanks is fine, as well, but there's not that much of him, Viola Davis -- did I mention that I'm a huge fan? -- and Jeffrey Wright are both quite good in key roles.
This is one of the nine movies nominated for best picture, and although I would vote for two or three others ahead of it, I can understand why it's said to have a small but fervent core of supporters with the Academy. We'll see. Not much seems all that certain at this point. Some winners might surprise us.
As a group, the big-name movies of the Oscar season are a little light this year. Which of these – “The Descendants,” The Artist,” “The Help,” “War Horse,” “Midnight in Paris” – will anyone be talking about five years from now? Not that many, I’d guess.
There are alternatives. A handful of 2011 movies that were pretty good but nowhere near Oscar territory are out on DVD. “The Guard,” with Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle is crude but clever and funny, in the vein of Guy Ritchie’s profane and hilarious “Rock’n’Rolla,” which I have to admit is a favorite of mine. “The Guard” tries to be an anti-buddy movie, but it doesn’t try very hard, and that’s more or less the point. Good times, flying lead, justice.
I cannot think of the first or last movie with Will Ferrell that I ever liked that much, but “Everything Must Go,” was a surprising turn for him. It’s more dark and sad than funny, but its moments of reflection work. Rebecca Hall even shows up, good as always.
The bigger surprise was “The Lincoln Lawyer,” a movie my teenage son dragged me to but that turned out to be less formulaic than you’d expect. It’s one thing to play a sleazy character and another to get the audience to really identify with him, and Matthew McConaughey pulls off the additional feat of mostly making us forget that he’s Matthew McConaughey (also known as the Owen Wilson syndrome). There’s also a fine supporting cast, including Michael Pena, Marissa Tomei, William H. Macy, Ryan Phillippe and – get this – country music singer Trace Adkins as a motorcycle gang leader. Who knew?
If you just want a feel-good movie with some depth and complexity, grab “Win Win,” with Paul Giamatti leading a nice cast in a complicated family drama. Be advised: This might on the surface seem like one for the whole family, but there’s a fair amount of strong language and bit of violence.
One more: “Margin Call” came with a bit of hype and hope about really getting to the story of the financial storm of 2008, but it didn’t quite make it. (Check out “Company Men” for a truer telling of the fallout.) But “Margin Call” has its moments. Stanley Tucci telling the story of building a bridge, in contrast to everything else going on, is poignant. Not bad to rent if you’re spending the evening in.
We do have a treat coming up next weekend. The Tivoli in Westport next weekend plans to show the short films – animated and live-action – nominated for the Oscars. Assuming they stick with the usual pattern, you buy one ticket per category, and you can usually watch them in less time than a feature-length movie. Always good stuff.
OK, let’s get one thing straight: I’m a big chicken, and being in a large dark room doesn’t help. I love the movies, but I don’t do blood and gore, and I don’t like things to jump out at me from the screen and rattle my popcorn. I can handle the snakes in “True Grit,” but there are different rules for westerns. Everyone knows that.
So I had some trepidation about “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Imagine my surprise. It was more mystery and action thriller than it was a gory mess, for which I was grateful. Overall, it was all right, but it was more violent than it needed to be, and it had far more sex than was needed. There are lots of ways to get the point across, but subtlety isn’t a high priority here.
Rooney Mara works very hard for her Oscar nomination, playing a woman who has appointed herself judge, jury, executioner and one-woman CSI unit. Oh, and she’s seriously messed up. It’s a powerful combination. Daniel Craig is solid as always, playing opposite Mara, and Christopher Plummer and Stellan Skarsgard have a lot of fun in an otherwise intense drama. It all works, though even I – known for being a little dense about these things – guessed where it was going fairly early on.
I mention violence, and I mention sex, so I must mention this, too: I share the concern raised by others of a rape being shown so explicitly onscreen. Is this really necessary? I am no prude, but I have to underline the basic point: Unless it’s moving the story along, it’s just gratuitous. There are a hundred less graphic ways to get the idea across. I think this one crosses that line a couple of times. Needless to say, if you go, leave the kids at home.
Not a lot of huge surprises in today’s Oscar nominations, but there are enough wrinkles to keep things interesting. It’s been a down year with no dominant movie or even three or four that clearly set themselves apart from the field.
If you want a movie of pure joy in tough times (my theory about why “Slumdog Millionaire” won best picture three years ago), go with “The Artist,” which many will say is the favorite to win among the nine nominees for best picture. If you want more depth and complexity, turn to “The Descendants.” If you want a pure emotional saga, there’s “War Horse,” which seems like a long-shot anyway. And if you want the movie that might be most emblematic of the year – sweet and smart, well-crafted, somewhat memorable but less than four stars – go with “Midnight in Paris.”
It’s a little surprising that “J. Edgar” got overlooked, including lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio. He, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt are all actors of such skill and ubiquity that they are easy to take for granted. DeCaprio has been nominated for three Oscars, most recently as lead actor in the underrated “Blood Diamond,” but has not won. Maybe it’s a Clint Eastwood thing. Since “Letters from Iwo Jima” and “Flags of our Fathers” five years ago, he has directed several movies (“Changeling,” “Gran Torino,” “Hereafter” and “J. Edgar”) that are fine movies that just don’t quite get there at Oscar time. Still, DiCaprio was stronger by a mile as J. Edgar Hoover than Gary Oldman is in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”
Some will find it surprising that Kirsten Dunst was overlooked for a best actress nominee for “Melancholia,” but that movie was so leaden and overwrought that no nominations came out of it. On the other hand, anyone who saw Viola Davis in “Doubt” in 2008, for which she was nominated for best supporting actress, has probably been a fan ever since, and it’s good to see her nominated for best actress in “The Help.” And those of us who sat through “Blue Valentine” and “Wendy and Lucy” have been glad to see Michelle Williams in a role in which she actually gets to smile and bring joy to the screen – and get an Oscar nomination for best actress in “My Week with Marilyn.”
Another of those good-not-great movies doing well here is “Moneyball,” which is up for best picture (hardly), best actor (Pitt, probably not) and best supporting actor (Jonah Hill – hey, it might happen because his deadpanning is hilarious). But my favorite comedian, Patton Oswalt, was pretty darn good in the disappointing “Young Adult,” another not-so-much film (Charlize Theron in the lead, script by Cody Diablo, directed by Jason Reitman – all very promising, but still ...) Oswalt, Theron and company were shut out today.