For the second year in a row, Piper and I attended the AMC Theaters Best Picture Showcase (a 24-hour marathon of all the movies nominated for Best Picture). Last year it was 10 films; this year it was nine. And just like last year ("Oscar roundup" - Feb. 28, 2011) here's my impressions on these highly regarded films.
Hugo (in 3D) - This was, hands down, the most entertaining of all the movies, and it's a shame that the presentation was marred by so many technical glitches (it took them two starts to get the sound right, and then the house lights came on due to a fuse breaker in the middle, which required them to tinker to get the film back to where it left off). It was like a combination of two great foreign films, Amelie and Cinema Paradiso, but done with the American pacing of Martin Scorsese. The 3D effect struck a nice balance of subtle and flashy and, once you get used to it, it does enhance the story.
The Tree of Life - This was probably my least favorite of this year's bunch. Although I do admire director Terrence Malik's style at times ("The New World" - Dec. 5, 2010) this movie was a little too convoluted and cerebral for me. It also brought up a lot of unwelcome memories of my previous life because it was set in Houston and suburban scenes were shot in Smithville, a rural Texas town that resembles the neighborhood where my house burned down. For this kind of movie, I much prefer Darren Aronofsky's overlooked 2006 movie The Fountain, starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz ("The Fountain" - Dec. 4, 2007).
The Help - Puck and Piper were telling me about the controversy about the movie being racist and flaunting white privilege, but I didn't really see it that way. The other controversy about ownership of the rights to the story happens all the time in Hollywood (see Alan Moore's battle over Watchmen) and while I'm always on the side of the original creator, I try to treat each work on its own merits, rather than getting caught up in who "owns" it. I liked the acting in this movie better as a whole than any other nominated movie this year.
The Artist - Naturally, as the front-running going into the awards tonight, I was eager to see this acclaimed movie. With such high expectations, I was a little let down. It was such a redo of A Star is Born mixed with Singin' in the Rain that I felt like it wasn't an original story at all. The only gimmick was that it was done as a silent movie. But first and foremost for a movie that is titled "The Artist," I was expecting it to be more creative.
The Descendants - This was probably the surprise movie of the night for me, in that I had no idea what this was about, and I was pleasantly surprised about how good this movie is. George Clooney gives a great starring performance that should net him his second acting Oscar (first was for Syriana) and it was interesting having the movie set in Hawaii. This was 2011's The Kids Are Alright, but the story was actually quite original and engaging.
Midnight in Paris - I have to say that, the more I think about it, I think this movie deserves the Best Picture nomination more than any other nominee. It is quintessential Woody Allen, but at the top of his game. Sure, you could compare it to several of his earlier, lesser works, but this is the one where he brings it all together to create film that crackles with wit, insight, humor, passion and heartache. This was the surprise success story of 2011.
War Horse - I had such high hopes for this film. Steven Spielberg pedigree. A hugely successful Tony Award-winning show on Broadway. And while it was certainly a good movie, it missed the mark in making the best emotional connection with me. Some of the earlier scenes could have been cut because it dragged a bit in the beginning. Some of the best scenes at the end felt a little rushed. Just like in The King's Speech last year, I knew what the director was trying to go for, and I feel that he just fell short of getting there.
Moneyball - I enjoyed this movie and there's a lot to admire here. If you're a big fan of baseball statistics, this is your wet dream of a film. I just felt that the main character's work and family life were not well integrated in the plot. It was almost like they added on the stuff with his daughter as an afterthought to humanize him - it didn't really have anything to do with what was going on at work. Plus, being so grounded in reality with actual Major League Baseball players and teams made it a little difficult to enjoy the story on its own merits.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - I almost have to give a pass on this movie for two reasons. One, I was watching it between 6 to 8:30 a.m. after being up all night, so there were a lot of long blinks while watching it. Second, it was also a bit of a trigger for me because the main character is a developmentally challenged child, like the one I helped to raise in my previous life. At least the events of 9/11 aren't any more of a trigger than they are to most people in this country or else I would have probably skipped it altogether. All that said, I felt like this movie and Hugo had a lot of similarities (young boys in knee-length shorts trying to solve a mystery to bring closure to the loss of their fathers) except I enjoyed Hugo a lot heck of a lot more.
I'm just gonna say too that while this year's field of nominees is probably the weakest I can remember, I'm proud of myself that I was able to make it through the entire marathon for the first time.