Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cramming for the Oscars

When the Oscars start tonight, I will have seen seven of the 10 movies nominated for Best Picture, thanks to a late push. I saw four of the nominees in the last week.

Tonight, I sat through (most of) Inception with a friend. It manages the not-rare-enough feat of being both utterly incomprehensible and supremely dumb. I didn't like director Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, but that was more in a this-movie-is-silly-and-overrated-but-still-kind-of-a-joyride way. My reaction to Inception was more of a this-is-one-of-the-worst-movies-I've-ever-seen-and-when-can-I-go-to-bed? kind of thing. We watched much of the last hour in fast forward, which provided about as much intellectual stimulation and emotional engagement as watching it the regular way.

To thoroughly dissect the idiocy of Inception would take far more time than I'm willing to devote to it. Days and days more time. Perhaps months. For one thing, I was offended as someone who has had at least five or six vivid dreams every night for as long as I can remember. The movie seems to have no clue — or interest — in what dreams really are, or what they might represent. But I don't mean to say that's the movie's biggest flaw. They all seem equally big.

This afternoon, I saw Black Swan. I expected to either hate it or be surprised by its greatness. Instead, I thought it was well made but too predictable, and a bit sillier, in spots, than even its self-consciously campy approach warranted. The notion of good girl Nina (Natalie Portman) needing to shed her virginal White Swan personality and get in touch with her inner Black Swan is explicitly set up in the beginning on a kindergarten reading level, and then played out with just enough panache and horror-movie touches to keep things interesting. But until the last several minutes, when things get genuinely creepy and suspenseful, there's a too-regular cycle of scenes: Now she's going to have a bad interaction with her mom. Now she's going to rip off one of her finger- or toenails. Now she's going to feel humiliated by her director. Rinse and repeat.

Earlier in the week, I saw True Grit and The Social Network, both of which I expected to enjoy because of what would be called their connections in horse racing. The Coen brothers are just national treasures, plain and simple. I don't think True Grit is their best, but that leaves it an awful lot of room to be damn good, and it is. How they make such beautifully crafted movies in such quick succession is beyond me. I guess it helps, man-hours-wise, that there are two of them. I was a little worried early on, because Jeff Bridges was borrowing more than a little from Carl of Sling Blade for his voice work. But he reined it in a little, and gave a hammy-but-affecting performance.

David Fincher was a brilliant choice to direct The Social Network. In movies like Seven, Fight Club, Panic Room, and Zodiac, he's proven that he can make stylish, creepy movies even if the source material isn't world-beating. And Aaron Sorkin may be removed from the demographic that habitually uses Facebook, but he's great at what he does. Between his snappy dialogue and Fincher's ridiculously fluid movement between two depositions and the past and present, the movie is a glossy gem. Debates about its realism (and the importance or irrelevance of that) aside, it's top-notch moviemaking.

The three movies I haven't seen that are nominated are The Fighter, The King's Speech, and 127 Hours. Of the seven I've seen, I enjoyed five quite a bit, and I would rank them like this:

1. The Social Network
2. True Grit
3. Toy Story 3
4. Winter's Bone
5. The Kids Are All Right
6. Black Swan
379. Inception



Blogger ANCIANT said...

Very glad to hear you hate Inception. I decided I loathed it long ago, based only on hearing comments from people who DID like it about how great it was (and based on who those people were). I still haven't seen it, but that's only because I already know I won't like it. Still, it's good to have it confirmed.

I thought True Grit was really excellent--so much so that I bought the book (and a few other by Portis, who is well worth anyone's time to read). I haven't seen any of the others, though I intend to see both King's Speech and Social Network. The latter I've avoided mostly b/c I have this old person's belief that Facebook is just a big fad that will go away in a few years. Though obviously that has really nothing at all to do with the movie.

Good to see you posting again!

1:57 PM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

You were ahead of me. Once a prolific filmgoer, I have only seen 'Social Network' out of all of those nominated.

7:45 PM  
Anonymous Riles said...

This seems like the perfect time to get the Movie List going again.
And #25 is...

7:44 PM  

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