Nearly made the decision to forego my self-imposed Oscar ritual this year, when a first look at the nominations revealed I’d seen all but a handful. So, with that, here I am, another year, another Oscar, another two cents!
With no fraught and frenetic schedule to plan and produce in rushing about this town and that to view all the selected nominees as in years past, it was with unusual leisure that I arrived to see the last* film, Biutiful, in completion of the list. A sporadic bout of snow threatened to keep me away, but failed, nonetheless.
I’d love to see Colin Firth, favored for the win, visit the stage to collect his Oscar for Best Actor. In the King’s Speech, as the future King George VI, known as “Bertie” to his loved ones, Firth does well to physically enact the struggles brought on by Bertie’s debilitating stutter. Two moments in particular, clinched it for me. One, Lionel Logue, portrayed by Geoffrey Rush, is an unorthodox therapist for his time, and therefore, in one particular instance, has Bertie sing instead of speak during conversation, only one of numerous exercises. Bertie sings out this horrific tale of past abuse by his nanny in childhood, and the absurdity of his carried tune paired with the words flowing from his mouth was a taste of cinematic perfection. Two, there are moments when Bertie is able to press passed the wall presented by his stutter to speak correctly. These moments are tied to times when his temper rises, when he’s pushed to declare aloud what he feels is the truth. In one such moment, he declares vehemently that he has a voice, and it makes you wanna laugh and cry all at the same time, because, of course, he does! In those words he hits the nail on the head. A voice in every sense, as a human to share his thoughts and impressions, and quite literally, a voice with which to do so, that he, at last, has found. A delicious triumph! Quite simply, as has been praised by others many times over since the film’s debut, Colin Firth helped in bringing humanity to an often removed and aloof section of the population, that of the Royal family, making the to-be king relatable to one and all.
A brief wonderment: Javier Bardem, who did a fine job in his nominated role for Biutiful, was reportedly touted and campaigned as Oscar worthy material by his friend Julia Roberts. She held a dinner to wine and dine those with clout and influence in hopes of earning him a nomination, as she’s done in the past with several others as well. Knowing the Academy’s ways over the years, how they tend to operate within a predictable set of criteria and employ their considerable influence when it comes to voting, I can see why one would take it upon themselves to make an attempt to change it, in turn, by employing their own considerable influence. However, in so doing, and with the passage of time and repetition, at some point does one realize they’re apt to become the very thing they were attempting to fight against?
In The Fighter, Christian Bale plays Dicky Ward, a former boxer hung up on a crack addiction, and older brother to that of Micky Ward, a would-be star boxer if he could only escape the entrenchment of his needy family. Bale lost weight for the role in order to exhibit the wiry frame of the real-life Dicky, and captures his characteristically frenetic and jittery physical qualities for the screen. Offering up a character-driven performance that juxtaposed Mark Wahlberg’s understated one as his brother Micky, his portrayal remains likable despite the bad-guy choices he makes repeatedly. He’ll be my choice for Best Supporting Actor come Oscar night. The film itself provided so much heart and hope and humor, it certainly deserves its Best Picture nomination.
Though Natalie Portman’s a shoe-in to win Best Actress for her role in Black Swan, and I count several of her films among my favorites, I say, nay, nay, for reasons mentioned further on. So, with Portman out of the picture, I would have selected Jennifer Lawrence for Winter’s Bone in which she plays 17-year-old Ree Dolly, a girl caring for her two younger siblings and household due to her mother having mentally checked out while simultaneously attempting to locate her missing meth dealer-of-a-father in a matter of days before losing their home. Set in Southwestern Missouri, the desolate land seemed almost another character to contend with as Ree makes her way back and forth on foot from this place to that in an urgent and persistent search. I was anxious for her and revered her stubborn stance taken for justice in the face of overwhelming family loyalty and tradition. Unfortunately, in watching The Burning Plain in which she also starred recently, I found the performances comparable- both well done, but if one’s worthy of award, why not the other as well?
This leads me to a surprising Best Actress choice, as I generally dislike this woman: Michelle Williams for Blue Valentine. This stated dislike has not stopped me from still immensely liking several handfuls of her films over the years. Hooray for objectivity! Really, a desire for her to win is more a want for further recognition of this tragic and beautiful film. It’s poignant and hopeless and helpless in presenting a marriage plagued with the struggles of everyday existence when all inkling of any magic found has long since left and what remains seems nothing more than work, lacking reward enough to make it all seem worth it. What happens when one side of the relationship wants it to continue and the other’s throwing in the towel? It gets messy and no pat answers are contributed to soothe the audience, we get to sit and feel the struggle along with the couple and are left to wonder as they do.
*Rabbit Hole has fallen through that large crack between availability in theatres and release on DVD, and thus would and should be the true last film. C’est la.
Who I’d very much like to see win for Best Supporting Actress would be Hailee Steinfeld, she, along with the cast and crew helped take True Grit nearly straight off the book’s page and up onto the big screen. As Mattie Ross, a girl out to avenge her father’s murder, she employs the help of a U.S. Marshal. The way she punctuated certain words in dialogue, I believed her determination, and her practicality and narrative analysis of when she’d find herself in a particularly trying circumstance often resulted in humor. Am curious to see Steinfeld perform in another role, so as to have something to compare it to. In reading the novel, she’s much more of what I envisioned than the overblown optimism delivered by the young woman in the John Wayne version. True Grit got me back into a Western kick with a stack of great films now waiting out on the coffee table.
Some Other Stuff
In the Animated Feature category, I found The Illusionist to be absolutely delightful- the animation style, the muted color palette, the scenery and wistful storyline. A magician meets a young lady amidst his travels and their relationship then unfolds in a father-and-daughter manner. Like many magicians, this fellow had a white wabbit, an especially ornery one at that. The attention to detail- a miniscule light bulb flickers among many others on the ceiling of a theatre’s outdoor entrance- and the play and use of light and shadow were easy to appreciate throughout. The slow pace could put some off, and at moments the passage of time was unclear, yet all the same, a pleasant surprise were it to take the little golden guy!
In other animation, adored the vintage style of Let’s Pollute in the Animated Short category, and found the thoughtful contemplation required of The Lost Thing to be endearing. Madagascar had such a carefree style about it, it made me believe I could create such an animation, too, and offered inspiration to do so. Shane is slightly ape over The Gruffalo from fond memories of the children’s book in childhood.
Gladly, it also shows how easily people can come back together when the right things are focused upon.
Film festivals of every kind have always been on the one day, someday list, having only gone to Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation several times many years ago now. Spent a night seeing the animation and live action shorts a few weeks back up in Seattle, and happy to have seen a line wrapped around the building filled with others wishing to do the same. So, in Live Action Shorts, The Crush was touching and sweet, featuring a little boy whose crush on his teacher may or may not play out to an ominous end. The boy’s affection possessed precisely the type of passion, intent, and follow through many a woman would like to find herself the object of, having me wonder the writer’s gender. God of Love‘s quirky plot filmed beautifully in black and white tells of a man in love who prays to God for help only to receive a box of darts. Looove darts! A modern day take on Cupid. It’s the first of my two favorites for the win. Second, Na Wewe follows a van full of folks traveling in Burundi during the mid 90’s when it must stop at a militia checkpoint. The militia wants to know who’s Hutu and who’s Tutsi, so as to kill the Tutsi, those “not like them.” The film makes a worthy point about the interrelation of humanity, and shows the foolhardiness of choosing to accentuate our differences as a people in order to cause division. Gladly, it also shows how easily people can come back together when the right things are focused upon.
In Costume Design, the number one thing I took away was from I Am Love, an Italian film, in which Tilda Swinton stars reminding just how very much she looks like David Bowie. Once I get past that, I may have something more thoughtful to yield in the way of this particular category. Possibly even costume related. Enquire within.
I’m nearly always disappointed in the selections for Original Song, though, Original Scores are quite another story. The Social Network. It’s due to my general beef with Facebook, because it often reflects parts of what I despise about humanity in gross terms- their tendency to go the way of sheep, to be filled with apathy and be perfectly all right with that- that I only relented and dragged myself to The Social Network at long last because of its Oscar nominations. In the opening credits, Trent Reznor’s name rolled by for film score and I leaned to Bean proclaiming “sellout” under my breath. Never happier to eat that word! A hefty portion in, I noted that the intensity that had built was largely from the way the score punctuated various moments, segued one scene to the next, and the music being distinctively Reznor is what gave the film its driving edge. Enjoyed the movie thoroughly and could see it taking Best Picture for mostly right reasons.
I’d say with age comes evolution, and therefore, allow an artist to develop new ways of growing
Lastly, for Documentary Feature, Exit through the Gift Shop, please! A documentary, a satire, a self-reflective bit of work about street art, and artists, Banksy, Mr. Brainwash- just go watch it- it all touches on points close to home concerning being true to one’s art versus selling out, and which is what, and by whose definition. Applying what’s at topic in this bit of filmage to that of Reznor-as-sellout above, I’d say with age comes evolution, and therefore, allow an artist to develop new ways of growing and producing their work, realizing that where there’s notoriety, there’s the public, and where there’s the public, the one of note can’t please all of the public all of the time.
So, my dad calls up asking if I’d like to see a movie, a relatively rare thing as he’s quite straight-laced in what he chooses to view. A voracity for portions of history- Hitler, Mexico, and the Royals among them- had him eager to see the King’s Speech. With a full house, the trailers began, one being for Blue Valentine. As the trailer wraps up, Ryan Gosling croons You Always Hurt the One You Love and in the silence after his utterance of the final lyric “It’s because I love you most of all”, my dad loudly exclaims, “Gee, I hope not”. Never know just when he’ll strike, though, galleries and museums that verge on the edge of taking themselves a bit too seriously often fall prey. Enjoyed the first portion of the film tremendously as the trust and rapport was built between Bertie and Lionel. The angles chosen to frame the characters added visual interest as did the use of blues and greens. A history lesson with humanity, albeit an altered lesson, I’m rooting for its win!
Give Original Screenplay to Inception, and as for Best Picture, let’s swap out Black Swan or The Kids Are Alright for The Town. Black Swan, I tell you, had I not known this particular film was from the likes of Darren Aronofsky, I wouldn’t have guessed it. Rather, thought it was in keeping with the likes of this year’s The Roommate, and not much more. Concerning Portman’s time dedicated to intensive ballet training in preparation of the part, bravo! Props to any and all actors and actresses who take the time to immerse themselves in their character’s world. Present them with an Oscar for it? No. If coupled with a phenomenal acting job, sure. She gave a relatively fine performance, though, I’ve seen her better- a scene comes to mind from Closer more award worthy than Black Swan, in fact. Though there was meant to be a transformation from the innocence of the white swan to the sensuality of the black, Portman gave no gradual hint of any such transformation, instead playing the part as a near quivering, fearful mouse-of-a-girl straight on through. Any transformation to have taken place is seen only in external devices- the red swan eyes and bits of a sprouting feather that tell us there’s something changing, but nothing much internally from Portman herself. Oddly enough, for all that training, she’s most often shot from the torso on up. Some have raved on that the film’s not about a young dancer at all, but instead the struggle of art within, the want and need to express it perfectly, and have deemed the piece a visual feast. I know well the desire and outright need of artistic expression and appreciate work that attempts to relay that to a public that may not always understand, putting them in an artist’s shoes, pointe shoes, in this case. Just didn’t find it as gratifying as others may have, and a visual feast, not in the least.
Tomorrow holds tickets to a downtown Oscar party in ritzy duds. Till then, I’ll soon be checking in on the Spirit Awards hosted by Joel McHale! Seattle pride bursting here. As a teenager, saw McHale perform many times at Pike Place Market’s Theatresports and loved the way he had with timing. Ah, timing, posting my thoughts the early morning of, now that’s some timing. ♦
Further work by Alex Eylar can be found on Flickr and at mocpages.