Friday, March 05, 2010

In a departure from my usual subject matter, I decided that I would post my unexpurgated opinions of the films that are up for the big Academy Awards this year since, for once, I have actually seen quite a few of them.

Avatar: The emperor has no clothes. I am mystified at the accolades and adoration this film is getting. I should begin by confirming that I have been something of a James Cameron fan in the past. I loved Terminator and The Abyss, enjoyed True Lies a lot, and actually liked Titanic the first time I saw it. Avatar, on the other hand, to me was an overblown, shamelessly derivative, self-indulgent, overly long mess without a single good performance. It has a predictable puerile screenplay filled with actors delivering lines that people simply do not say to one another. I realize that Cameron is fond of the comic book genre and to a degree, that was what he was after in this film but to me it didn't even work at that level.

It badly needed editing. I think Cameron enjoys the visual pyrotechnics of some of his scenes so much that they run on ad nauseum when they would possibly have been more effective running about 1/3 of the time he gives them. The scene in which our hero, the fake Na'avi is compelled to choose his flying mount along with the other "cadets" of his class is a good example. If this had been a brief scene in which the difficulty and eventual success of this process were shown, it might have worked. Instead, it drags on for a seemingly interminable flight scene filled with these colorful pterodactyl like creatures soaring around the idyllic landscape. Yawn. I found myself looking at my watch about 3 minutes into it.

The only really well-known actor in the cast was Sigourney Weaver doing still another version of the same character she does in all her films. She actually looked bored doing this again. Who knows anymore if she is a competent actress. If the only thing she is ever hired to do is the hard-as-nails-bitch-boss-with-a-heart, she isn't going to get to try acting again.

Also stealing the attack scene from Apocalypse Now is bad enough, but to call the operation Valkyrie when that was the music Coppola used is really inexcusable. Also, treating the collapse of the big tree as a reminder of the World Trade Center collapse was unnecessary as well.

My friend Peter and I saw this film together and both found it tedious and too long. I think, if the Academy wants to give Cameron an award for Avatar it should be the Oscar for best financier.

An Education: OK. This one was a bit pretentious but was at least a serious attempt at film. I wouldn't say I thought it was as good as the press it is getting would indicate but the subject matter was interesting and it seemed to be about the right length to tell the story. Alfred Molina was, as usual, superb in his role as was Peter Sarsgaard. The biggest problem I had with the film was that the viewer ends up sympathizing with almost none of the characters. They are selfish, shallow, pretentious, amoral and largely self-absorbed. The actress playing the blonde bimbo actually has the best role and makes the most of it. I found myself having more sympathy for her than any of the others. In general, this failing is more of screenplay than of performance. I think they made the most of the lines they were given.

Precious: This is a film that sometimes is hard to watch and consequently is hard to recommend but is very well made. The performances are, for the most part, stunning. Even Mariah Carey, who isn't mentioned much because of the shockingly strong performances of Gabourey Sidibe and Mo'Nique, is surprisingly competent and believable as the social worker around whom the ultimate confrontation scene is played. I liked this film a lot and thought about it long after I had left the theater.

A Serious Man: This is another film that is very hard to watch and impossible to recommend but hard not to respect. It is an unrelenting downer about the life of the lead character spinning around him like he is being flushed down some Karmic toilet. Performances are outstanding. Even small roles like the white supremacist next door neighbor who when faced with an Asian threatening a Jew subtly shows that his bigotry toward the Asian who looks less like himself than the Jew does, sides with the Jew. I loved the bit about his mowing the lawn past his property line so he could set up building an illegal addition on his own house. Most of us sooner or later have a really bad neighbor that this guy reminded me of. Still, Coen Brothers movies, darkly comic though they usually are, have never been quite this dark. I can't recommend that anyone not ready for suicide see this depressing, albeit brilliant film.

Up: In fairness, it has been awhile since I saw Up. I enjoyed it a lot although it was a little difficult at first. The 3-D in it can't compare to what Cameron pulls off in Avatar but it also cost about 1 millionth as much to make. The moral is kind of simple and the characters are very broadly drawn, but it was fun to watch and has and oddly satisfying end. Still. . .best picture? I don't think so.

Up In The Air: Oh please. Here we go again with a superb actor in a role that can't even come close to work he has done in the past. If they wanted to recognize George Clooney for great work, they should have done it for Michael Clayton, or Oh Brother Where Art Thou, or Burn After Reading, or Syriana, or Intolerable Cruelty, or The Perfect Storm. In fact, most of the films he has ever made were better films and stretched him as a performer more than this piece of entertaining but completely predictable fluff. There was not one event in this film that wasn't so heavily foreshadowed that the audience had a chance to be surprised. The writer and director clubbed us over the head with stuff like the suicide of the black woman who says she will kill herself in her downsizing interview. And if we were supposed to be surprised that Clooney's girlfriend is married and has kids, well try again. There were so many clues on that one, including the street and house where she lived, that no one could have missed it. One only wonders how he did. This is a case of a movie that could have been a decent B entertainment being pumped up by the Hollywood hype machine into something it simply isn't. Serious film. For God's sake recognize George Clooney for one of the brilliant performances he routinely gives and don't insult him or the filmgoing public by giving him an award for this movie.

I haven't seen the other films up for the top award, and maybe one of them was really great. All the industry scuttlebutt seems to indicate that Avatar will run away with a bunch of big awards. I just don't see why.

One film I would recommend in spite of some flaws is A Single Man directed by Tom Ford. This is a beautifully crafted little movie with two standout performances by the always good Colin Firth and the equally consistent Julianne Moore sporting a British accent. Firth is in almost every minute of this sad but oddly uplifting film and is superb. The attention to period visual detail is uncanny and should be recognized by the people who do awards for set design and art direction. I don't know if it is up for those, but I don't remember seeing a better lead performance by any actor this year that Colin Firth's superb portrayal of a man devastated by the loss of his long time love.

So that's my pre-Oscar rant. This is the first year in ages that I have seen this many films and I wanted to post my contrarian opinions before the actual event. This way everyone can say "I told you so" to me after Sunday.