Oscar Schmoscar 2012

Last year’s nominees had a few pleasant surprises that I would have regretted missing out on if not for the noms. This year, nothing really compelled me and it’s unfortunate that I didn’t find the Best Picture nominees to be much of a checklist for exploration. Even the critics don’t love them all, since Hugo and The Artist (maybe Moneyball and The Descendants) are probably the only ones with universal acclaim. Of the ones I’ve now seen, I enjoyed Midnight in Paris the most. Let’s see how things go on Oscar night.

The Artist

Nominated for Best picture, Best actor, Best supporting actress, Best director, Best original screenplay, Best cinematography, Best art direction, Best film editing, Best costume design, and Best original score (Phew, that’s a list!)

Wow! So much hype/buzz for this movie! The reviews are incredible, but I gotta say, it didn’t live up for me. It was hard for me to bring myself to watch this movie since it is black and white (not my favourite format) and also a silent movie (even worse in my books). Those two choices clearly fit with the story, since it’s about a silent film star named George Valentin (sounds like a thinly-veiled allusion to matinee idol Rudolph Valentino) who goes from the heights of stardom all the way to self-destructive rock-bottom as talkies come on the scene and take over Hollywood. Parallel to his story is the opposite tale of Peppy Miller, the young ingenue who gets her start from a shared photo-op with Valentin, which leads to a Hollywood rise to the top. Valentin is played by Oscar nominee Jean Dujardin, who is incredibly charming and really knows how to work his mustachioed smile. He does a great job expressing himself in a silent film (I can’t wait to see him in a regular movie). In fact, I think a lot of these nominations were given to this movie for the result that this movie is an amazing recreation of the original silent films of the 1920s. As I was watching, it was very easy for me to forget that this film was made in 2011. The look (a nom for art direction), the style (noms for cinematography, costumes and editing), and the performances (noms for actor and supporting actress) all testify to their success. But unlike the Academy members, that homage (loving and meticulous as it may be) was not enough for me to fully-enjoy this movie. I’m a bit surprised at the screenplay nom because I didn’t really think there was a lot of imagination in this story. Plus, I actually felt these characters were a bit unrealistic (I guess even that was meant to be exaggerated like a silent movie). If someone is interested in films of that era, I’d sooner recommend the actual silent films (not that I’ve seen many) than The Artist. This movie was too much like a self-referential replica (3.5 out of 5)

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Nominated for Best actor, Best adapted screenplay, Best original score

For a spy movie, I found this one almost inscrutable. A far cry from the high-tech hijinks of Tom Cruise and his IM Force, this movie (based on the John LeCarre classic novel) harkens back to the Cold War days when spies were more about secrecy than stunts. The movie starts out with some kind of exchange of secrets that leads to a double-cross and cobblestones red with blood. After that event, so many things became a blur of betrayals and innuendo that I definitely couldn’t keep track. Adding to the challenge was the fact that the movie itself skipped back and forth in time so that the truth about certain events were revealed in bits and pieces. Unfortunately it was not very clear (in other words there weren’t any real visual cues) when a scene was from the past or the present. Gary Oldman, nominated for his role as spymaster Smiley, was suitably subtle and calm most of the film. Perhaps there was some kind of subtext, some kind of tension that I missed which added to the calibre of Oldman’s performance, but frankly I didn’t see it. Much like most of the film, it snuck right by me. (3 out of 5)

Bridesmaids

Nominated for Best supporting actress, Best original screenplay

I don’t really understand Oscar nominations for comedies. It’s hard to see them competing against the dramas which always appear more substantial. There’s been a lot of hype already about the infamous bridal shop bathroom scene, but can that really rival a tense emotional stand-off, a dramatic piece of speechifying, or a heart-rending moment of tragedy? How can it? I know lots of people love this movie (box office receipts confirm it) but I didn’t even like it. It seemed too much like a regular Judd Apatow (also a producer on this one) movie where the protagonist is and becomes a loser in every way possible until at the end he saved by the love of friends and/or love interest. The only difference this time around is that it’s all “shes”. Yes, we get the point, women can be as crude, insecure, hot-headed, immature, vulgar, childish, horny, bizarre, callous, and unromantic as any man. Once I’ve conceded that point, it’s like torture to watch star Kristen Wiig as situation after situation goes to town with Murphy’s Law and takes her life down to rock-bottom. These situations are so ridiculously over-the-top that they almost absolve the character from our judgment since it’s clearly not her fault for being jealous of her best friend’s new best friend that all these insane things occur. I don’t really get how those quiet naturalistic scenes where one friend speaks frankly and honestly with another can exist alongside a scene that has the bride taking a dump in the middle of traffic wearing an expensive designer wedding gown. As for Melissa McCarthy’s performance, I’ve always found her quite enjoyable on TV, and whether this odd role of the brazen, raunchy sister-in-law-to-be is worthy of the Oscar is hard to say. She does successfully blend the crazy with the sensitive to turn her character into someone who actually goes from repulsive to lovable over the course of the movie. That’s got to be worth something. (2.5 out of 5)

The Help

Nominated for Best picture, Best actress, Best supporting actress (x2)

This movie is kind of the flip-side of Bridesmaids, also featuring a cast dominated by women (men are barely seen) but despite its humourous moments, it touches on much more serious subject matter. Ostensibly this is the story of two strong-willed maids, played by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer (they’re the ones with those Oscar noms) who struggle against the oppression of their employers (led by a villainous queen bee(hive) played with civilized, lipsticked hatred by Bryce Dallas Howard). That being said, it’s not really as subversive as it pretends to be. Is this our first time learning that white employers in the 1960s American South did not treat their black maids with much respect? However, I guess this is a story of one of those little revolutions all over the US that led to the Civil Rights movement. Keep in mind this is a fictional story, so it’s got that nice no-wax Hollywood shine — complete with liberal-convert character, played by the wonderful Emma Stone. She’s the would-be journalist who helps the ladies get their story published. I’m guessing the reality for these women was probably a lot messier. In any case, I thought this movie was dramatic, enjoyable, and definitely made me think. If that was its goals, then it deserves its 4 out of 5.

The Adventures of Tin Tin

Nominated for Best original score

The lack of a nomination for Best animated feature for this movie is a bit of a surprise. True enough, the story was not the most coherent. Most of the time we just follow along with young reporter Tin Tin as he chases after clues that only he can put together. However, it’s enough that the addition of magnificent CGI visuals would be enough to make the movie worth a nom. Anyway, the gist of this story is that Tin Tin and his buddy, Captain Haddock are trying to find out the plans of villainous Mr. Sakarhine and how they relate to a model ship that Tin Tin acquired which represents an old sailing vessel known as The Unicorn (which was captained by Haddock’s ancestor). There’s treasure involved as well as all kinds of swashbuckling adventures as the gang (which includes an adorable canine sidekick called Snowy) hop around the world in pursuit of answers. While it was still very clear that Tin Tin was an animated character, the design was a perfect blend of the original two-dimensional version with a motion-captured, fully-rendered three dimensional figure. As you might expect, the landscapes and backdrops were also masterfully animated. From the deserts of Morocco, to several European ports, the scenes always felt very deep and immersive. The superiority of the CGI camera is always that it can fly around the artificial location much easier than an actual camera might. Director Steven Spielberg is usually quite a hit-maker, so it’s sad to see that this movie wasn’t as well-received given its potential to be a fresh and lucrative franchise. Voice performances from Jamie Bell as Tin Tin, and (an unrecognized by me) Daniel Craig as the villain, were pretty good. Motion capture maestro Andy Serkis also appears in this film as the voice of Captain Haddock, along with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as the twin inspectors Thomson and Thompson. Sadly, I don’t actually recall the Oscar-nominated score (so I doubt that it’s going to win). All in all this is a fun-hearted movie that had all the right pieces, but just couldn’t get that extra something to put it into the winners’ circle. (3.5 out of 5)

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