February 25, 2012

Academy Awards

Not because I plan to watch The Oscars this year, but more because it's been on my mind ever since the movie was released, but I really hope Tree of Life snags the award for best picture on Sunday.

It was the one movie I watched this year -- and I've watched a good many -- that really affected me as a viewer. I'm not claiming to be a worthy film critic. In fact, in the case of this movie by Terrence Malick, I'd have to recuse myself from reviewing based on the emotional response I felt as a result of watching it. Saying I felt connected with the story or characters truly is an understatement. I even hesitate about writing anything here because there's no way I'd do the movie or my own response any justice. But still, some brief notes.

Here's the list of nominees for the award for best picture (bolded are the ones I've seen):

The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, and War Horse

Commence my amateur musings on the following films:

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: I was intrigued with this movie the first time I saw the trailer (ignore the U2 song). The premise behind its message -- which really set on display the wonders of human inter-connection -- seemed akin to my favorite aspects of This American Life, so there was no trouble getting me into the theater. And while I enjoyed the film, the main character blossomed into a rather intolerable subject, ultimately sapping any emotional connection I might have felt for him. The movie is framed around Sept. 11, which is well-positioned for the ultimate emotional response from viewers. I cried. Several times. But at the same time I couldn't help but consider a passage from the review I'd read in The New York Times by Manohla Dargis (who I've grown to appreciate over time):

In truth, "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" isn’t about Sept. 11. It’s about the impulse to drain that day of its specificity and turn it into yet another wellspring of generic emotions: sadness, loneliness, happiness. This is how kitsch works. It exploits familiar images, be they puppies or babies — or, as in the case of this movie, the twin towers — and tries to make us feel good, even virtuous, simply about feeling. And, yes, you may cry, but when tears are milked as they are here, the truer response should be rage.

I didn't trust the movie or the motives behind it, and I didn't really like the main character. It wasn't until the very end, when a fairly revelatory moment passes, that it drew me back into the folds of the story (which was a bit far-fetched to begin with).

Midnight in Paris: I appreciated this film for all the same reasons I feel like I always appreciate Woody Allen's work. And while I walked in expecting a good amount of novelty, it was ultimately lathered on a bit to thick. The idea of time travel, of Paris (in general), and even Owen Wilson as the lead character, didn't click with me. It was a fun film (at best) but kind of, maybe a waste of my time (at worst). I definitely don't regret seeing it, but do I think it should be stacked up against some of the other nominees? Nah. See the trailer here.

Moneyball: It's been awhile since I've seen the movie, so I'm going largely on memory here. Walking away it was an enjoyable film, but one I felt like I'd seen before. Another sports movie with a leading man who tussles against the odds (literally), sticks with what he believes in, wins, gets a big!wonderful job offer (akin to selling out) and chooses to turn down the offer to remain his own man. Eh.

Yes, I realize this is an adaptation of the Michael Lewis book. Yes, I realize it is regarded, among many circles, as a well done adaptation. However, there is an award for that -- and it shouldn't be best picture.

The film was long, and as it meandered along, I couldn't help but keep track of the time as the entire lower half of my body fell asleep. Brad Pitt had a good performance, I'll say that. Good story, decent movie, but stacked against Tree of Life? I just don't see this one meriting the prize. See the trailer.

Tree of Life: I could go on and on about how much this film floored me. I drove an hour to Orlando just to see it at the charming Enzian Theater. I accidentally left my phone at the cinema, and drove back the next day only to see the movie for a second time. Both occasions practically had me on my knees.

On two occasions, the director, Terrence Malick, left me feeling like I might need to step outside to catch my breath. The way he opted to tell this story, abandoning a traditional narrative structure to embrace what I'd consider to be a well organized series of raw imagery, scenes and feelings, left me with a sensation I'm not used to feeling. Scenes that otherwise would have been dulled by dialogue were instead sharp and visceral in silence. There's no doubt, when it comes to showing rather than telling, Malick went to an extreme, but it worked wonders ... and left me rattled.

The film's protagonist, a young boy named Jack (played well by Hunter McCracken), shared a relationship with his siblings that I found to be incredibly realistic, with notes that hearkened back to my own upbringing. His story revealed the relationships between brothers, sons and fathers, and sons and mothers with undertones that reflect a very deep reality.

Malick got the family dynamics down so accurately, I think. All those moments that are so quiet or short or unaccented in real life -- things you feel in the moment, but easily forget within seconds. Malick found those lost moments, and under his microscope, you really get an idea for how raw and meaningful they can be.

This passage, again from The New York Times review (by A.O. Scott), really resonated with me:

"There are very few films I can think of that convey the changing interior weather of a child's mind with such fidelity and sensitivity. Nor are there many that penetrate so deeply into the currents of feeling that bind and separate the members of a family. So much is conveyed — about the tension and tenderness within the O'Brien marriage, about the frustrations that dent their happiness, about the volatility of the bonds between siblings — but without any of the usual architecture of dramatic exposition."

The film is hyper-introspective, and I loved that about it.

By the same token, it isn't just that Malick put his characters under a microscope, after all, the film does tackle macro subject matter -- things like God, the beginning of time, and the universe. It sounds silly, and it's true that the viewers watch as major archetypes collide on screen -- and tiny emotional moments weaving into a massive and epic story. But it works, and maybe it's because the film is so rooted into Malick's own past, his own imagination. Sometimes huge and dreamy subject matter -- not always straightforward -- will make sense because the themes dip so deep into a sense of humanity we all share. Malick tapped this area of our imaginations, I think, and pulled out a truly deserving film. I really think it's something special, and it deserves further recognition.

I'll stop gushing. It's the clear winner in my book, at least when placed up against the other films I did see. Some viewers criticized Malick (with much vitriol) and accused him of being self-indulgent. The ones that didn't feel that way seemed to love it without reservation. It was one of those divisive films this year, but I agree, at least halfway, with the last line of New York magazine reviewer David Edelstein's NPR piece: "You might find it ridiculously sublime or sublimely ridiculous — or, like me, both. But it's a hell of a trip."

See the trailer here.

I won't wax on the films I've not seen, that wouldn't be fair, but for the sake of full disclosure (and because it seems to be the favorite), I remain dubious about the kitsch factor of The Artist, with its black and white style and throwback regard to the silent film era. It kept me from seeing it, but that's also a reflection of my own close-mindedness.

Anyone else have any thoughts about this year's contenders?

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Blogger goat said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

March 1, 2012 at 2:47 AM 
Blogger goat said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

March 1, 2012 at 2:48 AM 
Blogger JHitts said...

I liked Moneyball a lot, but I definitely agree with you that it's not best-picture worthy. Ditto for Midnight in Paris. And actually, I felt the same way about The Descendants and The Help. They were all perfectly enjoyable films for what they were. Some great performances, especially from Pitt, Clooney and Viola Davis. And Midnight in Paris has a great script. But I don't think any of them, overall, were anything I would categorize as an overall "great film," much less "best of the year." I still need to watch Tree Of Life and Hugo, I feel like either of those movies, from what I have read about them, would better fit the description of "film of the year."

I also just watched Drive. I feel like it almost got snubbed for best picture. Totally immerse kind of film that sucks you into its world. I feel like overall it's a much better picture than Moneyball — and I really liked Moneyball. But really, to enjoy Moneyball you have to be the kind of person that enjoys baseball. I know it wasn't exactly marketed that way (they tried to make it an "underdog story" or some BS), but it's true.

March 2, 2012 at 5:42 AM 
Blogger Chase said...

I've heard good things about Drive and now I really want to watch it. Also, I think Michael Fassbender got robbed by not getting a nomination for best actor in Shame, which I saw last week. He was incredible in that movie.

March 2, 2012 at 2:45 PM 
Blogger JHitts said...

I gotta see that too. Although I'm sure the reason why it didn't get any nominations is because of the NC-17 rating.

March 2, 2012 at 4:02 PM 
Blogger Daniel Silliman said...

Give The Artist a chance. It's actually quite good.

March 4, 2012 at 12:47 PM 
Anonymous E said...

I watched the Artist today and thoroughly enjoyed it.

March 4, 2012 at 9:22 PM 
Blogger Fr. Mark Perkins said...

The only one I've seen is Tree of Life. I feel pretty much the same, though probably that's because I pieced out much of what I thought in conversation with you (after writing out my initial jumbled thoughts)

I reread that post I just linked to and was amused to find myself referring to "that George Clooney angsty-dad film" from the previews. I wanted to see it then and still do. I'm also strongly interested in seeing Hugo, Moneyball, and the Artist and wouldn't mind seeing the others.

More than any of those, though, I want to see Drive. Chase, you should hold off and possibly watch it with Andrea and me later this year, no?

March 5, 2012 at 8:14 AM 

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