Monday, February 11, 2008

Oscars 2008

So, yay for the writers' strike coming to an end! Now I hope my friends in the biz stay employed, and that there's somewhere viable for me to go to after this current project mercifully comes to an end... Anyway, the other good result of this is that the Oscars may put on a decent event, and we can perhaps host an Oscar's party. Which leads me to my next point - this is the first year that I can remember in which I've actually seen all 5 best-picture noms, before the laurels. My opinion - a lot of hype & hyperbole, but surprises too. The ones I've heard so much about & were the most interested in seeing were largely disappointing, and the ones I went in unheralded, were the most unexpectedly satisfying. Lemme run down, briefly :

Atonement - by far the most overrated and worst of the lot. I liked the premise, liked the period flavor but this was overly sentimental, and collapsed under its own pretentiousness. Too long where it didn't need to be (and don't preach to me about being 'patient' as a filmgoer - I'm a huge fan of low-paced Malick, Kubrick, Kurosawa - and brother, this movie doesn't get near their level), it pounded the audience over the head with 'slow' where it was really being 'smarter than you'. The scenes were unnecessarily 'clever' and added nothing to the story - around the war effort, the odd flashbacks which took 20 minutes of the movie to get back to. A lot of too-convenient plot twists and characters doing whatever the hell they wanted, too. Not totally without merit - I liked the general plot, liked most of the acting, even liked the Redgrave plot-twist ending. But, hard to believe this actually made the cut (& WON the Golden Globe) for best picture (thankfully, the director's not up for an award).

No Country for Old Men Another one I found overrated. The plot is too simple - & the whole conflict is set up based on Moss going back to give water to the dying man that night & getting caught with his truck. Which is totally unbelievable - OK, yes, we're supposed to know he's having an internal struggle about leaving the man behind, but if he did it in the first place, we know he wouldn't have gone back, especially having gotten away scot-free. One thing that really annoyed me about this film, was that every single person accepted being murdered by Anton, without resistance. Which makes for great drawn-out dialog but eye-rolling disdain for dismissal of human nature. Characters all-around were too flat & 'invincible' - except, maybe, for Tommy Lee Jones' sheriff not being a stereotypical rural Western tough lawman - he has flaws & doubts about himself, his age, his motivation for the job, which I think came across very well. And the Coen brothers set the mood excellently - the chase & fight scenes were very exciting and moved along. But, I think this story was told much more chillingly and realistically a few years back as Sam Raimi's "A Simple Plan", which really was more thoughtful and realistic about human nature.

There Will Be Blood Bears comparisons to "No Country", in that both represent the darkest corners of human nature & have very desperate tone. And both really have little in the way of story, and depth of characters. Which, in "Blood", didn't bother me all that much. I know we're supposed to accept that Daniel Day Lewis' character Daniel Plainview was a real EVIL a-hole, but that's not what I got out of it. He was tough, yes - strict as a father, strong enough to face his own physical pain, hard-nosed and shifty as a businessman, but I never got the sense he was that bad of a person. Driven by his the times, by his own greed, by life-shattering events in his way - we still saw that he loved his son, appreciated his employees, gave back to the townsfolk, opened up to his 'brother' (before killing him, but, again, the Wild West mentality of the time still held sway & Henry was a threat to him). He disowned his son because he felt betrayed, he killed Eli cos he was a crazy old man. The preacher Eli struck me as much more shiftless, crude, selfish, and creepy. There was really not a central conflict - stuff happened, good & bad - which, again, didn't bother me because it played out like a good biography (reminded me a lot of "The Aviator"), a genre which I love. But, it provoked these discussions with people, which I guess is a mark of a good movie.

Michael Clayton This is the one I resisted seeing the most : 'a terse legal drama where the shark lawyer has a change of heart & redeems himself by blowing the whistle' seemed very unoriginal & uninteresting (hey, 'The Insider' and 'Erin Brokovich' were true stories at least). And the beginning was filled with an unneccesary VO & flashback (2 techniques which I find lazy & bug the hell out of me as a writer), and I nodded off for large portions of the 2nd act, but by the end I wanted to see what happened. Great performances from Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton (hey, come to think of it - this character was FAR more scary than Bardem in 'No Country'), well written dialog, moderately nuanced characters, & satisfying if predictable ending. One thing that bothered me was the ease with which the assassins were able to go wherever, and the fact that when Clayton began to suspect the conspiracy & the people chasing him, he should've been far move vigilant about his tail. Minor point. Overall, well done but the plot didn't really grab me, so it was hard to really get into the movie.

Juno That leaves Juno, which I can certainly say I enjoyed the most out the 5 noms. Billed as this year's "Napoleon Dynamite" or "Little Miss Sunshine", it was hard to go into it objectively. Criticism: the dialog was too rapid-fire clever, and out of the league of a high school crowd, but (much like in Superbad), that faded from my annoyance radar 20-minutes or so in, and I really got into the humour of it all. Plot was quite believable throughout, performances were fun all the time, characters actually had some depth (from the Allison Janney mother-in-law to Juno's change of opinion about the adoptive couple), plus I liked the ending. There are conflicts galore, but no 'bad guy' (you expect Garner's character to the mega-bitch, but it turns out the Bateman character is the more hateable), which is like life.

So, I guess what I'm saying is, 'Juno' is the best movie from the list, but since no light-hearted comedies will ever win, I'm sure it will go to 'Atonement' (got the momentum), or 'No Country' (though the Coen Bros have already won). My top 5 for best movies? Hot Fuzz, Into the Wild, Waitress, The Astronaut Farmer, Sweeney Todd. With a shoutout to Juno, The Savages (more comedic than I expected), Superbad (far more depth than 'Knocked Up'), Pirates of the Caribbean 3 in all its surreal plot mess, and 'King of Kong' for the docs.

Also : no-brainers that "Ratatouille" will get Best Animated Feature, and "Pirates 3" will get best VFX.


Friday, February 01, 2008

Bonnie in Newsweek

Kinda late for this post, I sent email to a large list of acquaintances, but now I'm posting here. My partner Bonnie had an essay published in the Newsweek 'My Turn' section - It's her view on institutional marriage at odds with the personal nature of love, as defined in societal and familial contexts.

I'm very proud & excited about it - well, I knew that when she got the news it had been picked up, and again when we went with the photographer, but it's different to see it for real on the printed page. Very thoughtful, and deep, and boldly personal. And, very controversial, apparently, and it's sparked a lot of discussion - between us, between Bonnie & my family, and from a whole host of the general public who have lashed out with vitriol and defensiveness. I won't go into the meat of their beef, but a lot of people get very defensive when you say something like, "I'm choosing to not follow tradition."

It's been popping up a lot of other places, too. There was also a mention of it in a Salon blog, which also sparked a lot of commentary - this batch most still disagreeing, but much more thoughtful. Out family in North Carolina said they heard a preacher on the radio go on, talking about the article for almost 15 minutes. So, we did a search, and there's a lot of people blogging about it (probably the venomous types who left their angry comments).

Anyway, hope those of you who haven't read it, please do, and share your thoughts.