Monday, March 03, 2014

2014 Oscar roundup

This week has been all about preparing for the Oscar Party on Sunday. My off-nights on Wednesday and Friday I cleaned the apartment, washing my tablecloth, bath towels and rugs, taking out all my paper recycling, cleaning up the entry hall and moving my hot water dispenser next to the stove to make room on the table. I brewed my Gravi-Tea (the Starry Night black tea I got at Wicked Faire with coconut rasps and almond slivers, because what has more gravity than stars, right?) and bought all the ingredients for my "12 Spears You Crave" and "Crackers Phillips" dishes. The pickled asparagus was a little hard to find, but the nice people at Wegmanns in Princeton were able to track it down for me.

Saturday morning I woke up early for the AMC Best Picture marathon that I’ve done for the past three years. This year Piper and Josh both came with me, so it was fun to do it as a group. I grabbed some good seats in the back of the center section, so there wouldn’t be any issue with people sitting directly behind us. This had the added benefit of allowing us to get in and out by climbing over the back of the seats to the walkway behind us, instead of shuffling past other seated people.

As I do every year, here are my impressions of each of the Best Picture nominees.

Philomena – This was a pleasant surprise for the kickoff movie. Last year’s lead movie, Amour, was a tough swallow at 10 in the morning, butPhilomena was delightful and poignant in equal measure. Judi Dench was wonderful, but we’ve come to expect that from her. And even though the subject matter of a woman being forced to give up her son hit uncomfortably home for me, the director Stephen Frears struck just the right tone to keep it from being bogged down in melancholy. I would have liked to see this win an award, but it didn’t quite muster enough momentum to break through.

Her – I was really looking forward to seeing this one, and it didn’t disappoint. It was funny and sexy and thought-provoking, and Amy Adams has an unexpectedly touching supporting role. Plus, the lead character writes love letters for a living, which dovetails nicely with my annual art project each October. Also, it made me think back to the 2004-2005 timeframe of my life, when I fell in love with Tara online, with just her words on the screen, without ever hearing her voice or seeing her face. So for me, the idea of falling in love with someone’s mind is not at all that far-fetched, especially in my current asexual identity. This is probably the first movie from the showcase that I would buy on Blu Ray when it comes out.

12 Years a Slave – This was the tear-jerker movie of the showcase, as Puck warned me it would be. Very difficult to watch, with many cringe-worthy scenes. Equally hard was to disassociate Benedict Cumberbatch and Brad Pitt from their roles in the movie, but somehow I managed to watch Best Actor nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor without thinking of Serenity or Kinky Boots. At the end, when I was crying my eyes out, I told Piper the movie made me think of all the people in the world who are still trapped in their own versions of slavery who are still waiting to be set free, waiting for society to evolve and treat all people justly and compassionately – and how many will never have that bittersweet ending in the movie.

The Wolf of Wall Street – To me, this was probably the most disappointing movie of the showcase, because I love Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. While I appreciated the technical artistry of the film, the plot seemed derivative to me, a mashup of GoodFellas (Scorsese’s best work),Boiler Room (which is derivative of Oliver Stone’s Wall Street) and Scarface(with the drugs, minus the guns). The kid who comes from nowhere rising up to the pinnacle of power, and the inevitable downfall. Leo did the same thing for Steven Spielberg in Catch Me if You Can. Plus yeah, there were a lot of f-bombs and misogyny throughout.

American Hustle – The first of the two movies I’d seen previously, this one improved on second viewing in the theater. The plot is so complex that I missed a lot of it watching at Liz’s place on her small screen with people talking throughout. It probably didn’t deserve as many nominations as it got, as evidenced by the fact it didn’t win anything. I felt it was the same tone as David Russell’s last work, Silver Linings Playbook, but not done quite as well. Jennifer Lawrence steals the show yet again and proves why she is Hollywood’s biggest female star – she lights up the screen like no one else in her generation. It was picking her for Best Supporting Actress (instead of winner Lupita Nyong’o) that cost me a tie with Piper for the Oscar Night contest.

Gravity – I actually skipped the first two-thirds of this because 1) I hate watching 3D movies, 2) I saw it once already, and 3) I needed to buy some blank CDs to make prizes for the party. Josh also left in the middle because he just didn’t have the stamina to make it any further in the marathon (it was about 2 am at this point). To me, Gravity is a movie like Titanic – technically ambitious and popular in its time, but it will not be remembered as a great movie in the annals of Best Picture winners.

Dallas Buyers Club – Obviously, as this point in the marathon, things are starting to get a little hazy, and impressions have to be taken with a grain of salt. I really appreciated Matthew McConaughey’s performance, maybe even a touch more than Jared Leto’s. I appreciated the film’s message about people suffering from HIV and AIDS. But overall, I found the movie a little boring and one-note and I didn’t really feel engaged with the plot (again, probably because of the late placement in the lineup).

Nebraska – This was hard to stay awake through at 5 am, but I liked the story. It’s hard to watch Will Forte and not think of Saturday Night Live, though. There were many funny moments that would be rewarding on future viewings, but it seemed like quite a longshot to win Best Picture. If the rationale of the Academy was to expand the list of nominees to include popular movies to boost ratings, this seems like an odd choice to do it.

Captain Phillips – This was probably my least favorite of all the nominees, mainly because I detest Paul Greengrass’ “shaky-cam” aesthetic that ruined the Jason Bourne franchise for me after the first movie. There’s less of that in Captain Phillips, but it’s still just not my kind of movie. The Wolf of Wall Street was disappointing because I expect better from Martin Scorsese, but this movie was just not my cup of tea because in a lineup of “based on a true story” movies, this was the least interesting story to me.