I’m going to be like all the other hacks and take this time to talk with you about the Oscars coming up this weekend. I’m not presumptuous enough to believe that any of you are actually out there waiting around for me to tell you who to pick for your office Oscar pool, but here goes. OK, maybe Weezie is actually waiting for me to tell her, but with my picks she has been undefeated and actually shut down her company Oscar Pool. They got pissed off that she kept winning yet hadn’t seen any of the nominated films so they stopped doing it. Way to go Weezie – work that system!
A little history about me, if you will. I will say it loud and clear: I am a movie lover. New ones, old ones, musicals, foreign, Black and White, documentaries, I love all types. Well OK, I actually detest 3D movies, but come on – Why would I want things flying at my face while I’m watching a movie?
Before we go any further, a little respect needs to be paid. February 27th is not only the 83rd Academy Awards Ceremony, but the birthday of my very first love, Elizabeth Taylor. Cleopatra was the first movie that I ever saw and let me tell you – this little boy was just blown away. I sat there transfixed as I watched her arrival into Rome on that enormous barge (no I am not referring to Richard Burton) and I could tell even then that this feeling was something special. It instilled an insatiable desire that still burns in me to this day. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had experienced the unmistakable power that movies can have over you. To be drawn in and be so completely enraptured is the ultimate experience. Such emotion gets so intertwined into a great movie that you remember that feeling every time you see it again. That’s power.
With Cleopatra, I dove head-first into the movie pile devouring everything that I could get my hands on, and I haven’t been out since. I learned what being cool was from James Dean, what it meant to be a man from Paul Newman, and what funny really was from Cary Grant. I saw in these amazing films other worlds that just sucked me in and, somehow, resonated with me. Who didn’t want their very own Auntie Mame? Whose family doesn’t resemble Claudia Larson’s in Home for the Holidays and who didn’t want a friend like E.T.? I laughed with Arsenic and Old Lace, I was terrified of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, I was enchanted by A Place in the Sun, and I cried like a baby with Life is Beautiful. On the downside, that painted an almost unrealistic picture of what the perfect woman should be for me. I never could have guessed back then that I would somehow manage to find the ideal mix of Vivien Leigh’s feistiness, Audrey Hepburn’s elegance, Rosalind Russell’s sense of humor, and Jayne Mansfield’s rack – but somehow I did. And she loves movies as much as me if that’s even possible!!!
I tell you this to reinforce how personally I take these movies. Just like with a great book, I love that feeling of getting swept up in a story and just transported – there‘s absolutely nothing like that. I am also OCD compulsive and cannot control my need to see every single film nominated for the Oscars. Every single film. My wife was pregnant and tired, but I still dragged her almost two hours each way to see August Rush because it was nominated for Best Song. Suck it up Honey, its Oscar Season!
The actual Academy Awards Ceremony is the icing on the cake. Granted, it’s really good icing, but the reward for me is to see all of these movies that I possible might not have. I had heard of Animal Kingdom, but after seeing Jackie Weaver’s scary-good performance in it – Wow. Javier Bardem in Biutiful – Oh my God, just amazing! Restrepo – I dare you to watch that documentary and not feel something. Exit through the Gift Shop –one of the most fun films about a truly charmed and crazy individual; it’s like reality TV gone wild. Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy – OK, now that one I should have skipped because it was really awful. It reminded me of this one time in college after we ate mushrooms and I couldn’t get off the sidewalk. It was torture, but I physically couldn’t lift myself off the ground so I just stayed there – lying on the ground next to the Post Office for hours. That was Tron: Legacy for me. If you haven’t seen it – it’s basically an ultimate Frisbee game if the Frisbee were glow in the dark. And where was the warning label before that movie. Forget what rating it was, I was afraid I might stroke out right there from all those god damn flashing lights.
While I’m up on my soapbox, let me also say that I don’t agree with ten films being nominated for Best Picture instead of five. It takes some of the cache away from being an “Oscar nominee” when there are now twice as many films. When Beauty and the Beast was nominated for Best Picture it was such an accomplishment for an animated film to make the cut and now for the past two years there have been animated films nominated (Up and Toy Story 3). I’m not saying they weren’t worthy or aren’t very good, but it’s less of an accomplishment in a way. And let’s be honest, neither really had/has a shot at actually winning Best Picture anyway. Best Animated Picture definitely (although I did personally love How to Train Your Dragon – which I was surprised to learn as the movie started – was not a porn film) To me, it just comes across as a way of the Academy trying to skewer younger to be inclusive of movies that they feel younger people want to see and will root for. My message to the Academy: The formula works, stop messing with it!
What I love as much as a great film is when I see a movie that is nominated or gets rave reviews and I hate it. It reminds me that my perceptions and tastes aren’t universal but sometimes it shocks me too. Lord of the Rings – I absolutely despised it and want the movie gods to give me my time back. It’s not that I don’t like the fantasy movie genre, but it just did nothing for me and I just don’t get all the raves for it. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but there is absolutely no ring, or any piece of jewelry for that matter, that’s worth over ten hours of my time!
Another example of critical love/my hatred is True Grit, which I think is just awful and clowny. I know that people love the Coen’s and cozy up to shower praise on the Coen Alter, but once again I just don’t get it. I sat there watching it thinking A) I cannot understand half of what Jeff Bridges is saying and B) who thought that Matt Damon’s moustache and sideburns were a good idea? Don’t read into this and think that I am anti-Jeff Bridges either. He was outstanding in Crazy Heart and deserved to win Best Actor last year and I actually think that The Door in the Floor is the best movie he’s ever been in, but I am really surprised by this nomination. Speaking of last year, I am still offended that A Serious Man was nominated for Best Picture. As I sat there watching it, I really thought that Netflix sent me the wrong disc because it was that bad. It doesn’t come across as quirky, just annoying. How ironic that A Serious Man was such a joke.
I want to talk about chemistry in the movies. People are annoyed at some of the nomination oversights and snubs this year, but which category has a snub where someone non-deserving took their place? Supporting Actor? I think The Social Network worked because of the dynamics between Andrew Garfield and Jesse Esienberg together, but I wasn’t surprised that Garfield didn’t get a nomination. The played off each other so well and that’s what made the betrayal in the story sting even harder. Garfield gave a great performance and was deserving of a nomination, but he was a victim of a foolish studio trying too hard to get three Supporting Actor nominations. Why would they campaign so hard for Garfield, Justin Timberlake and Armie Hammer? Timberlake had the least showy of the three and was the furthest chance for a nomination by any means and this is a movie that is seen as a writing triumph, not an acting triumph. They should have focused on Garfield and he might have edged out Mark Ruffalo. Don’t get me wrong, Mark Ruffalo is a great actor, but not in this role. He’s really good, but should have been nominated for You Can Count on Me.
The Kids Are All Right is another example of this. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore were so realistic and their relationship made you care about the story and pushed it further. They should have been campaigning for Moore in the supporting category all along, not as a lead. I know she was as much if not more of a lead as Bening was, but her performance got lost due to so many great performances this year. She will win one of these days (as will Bening, but not this year) and we will look back at this as a side note in her illustrious career. I see her in so many performances and have this terrible thought in the back of my mind that she might turn out to be like Lauren Bacall and always be the bridesmaid…I hope I’m wrong about that though.
Blue Valentine is such a powerfully realistic portrayal of a decaying marriage, but truthfully, it’s a bit of a downer. It pulls you in, makes you care about them so much, and then spits you out because your heart just breaks for Ryan Gosling and you want so badly for it to work out between them. Michelle Williams makes you forget all about Dawson’s Creek and the two of them are like magnets drawing each other in and then repelling each other. This is a movie that stays with you long after the credits and Gosling’s snub is a shocking omission because the two performances are brought to another level because of each other. They work as a whole and it is impossible to separate where one begins and the other ends in the equation. I knew in my heart he was going to be left off the nominations list, but he was the one I was hoping might sneak in.
I will make the exact same case for Aaron Eckhart in Rabbit Hole. As I said about Blue Valentine, people have a tendency of shying away from sad stories/downers no matter how good they are and this is one that just breaks your heart. Unimaginable loss drives him and Nicole Kidman and they both just give it their all. I saw this movie by myself and I am not embarrassed to say that I was sitting in the back, clutching my Twizzlers welling up and just thinking “Oh my God” because it was just so powerful. Maybe if I saw this a few years ago when I didn’t have a son it might have hit me a little differently, but wow. When the cell phone video of his son got accidentally deleted, I just lost it. That stayed with me for weeks and hit me like a ton of bricks because of the two of them intertwined into each other. It is not an overall great movie, but the two of them elevate it to a higher level.
I bring up these deeply intertwined relationships to lead you to Natalie Portman. Black Swan (despite what I wrote about it earlier) is at times a psychological thriller and at times a little girl’s fairy tale crossed with a horror film. If Natalie Portman isn’t announced as the winner Sunday night, than the Academy Awards really have stopped being about the performances. Annette Bening is Hollywood royalty and should have won already for Being Julia (my favorite movie she’s been in) but she shouldn’t win for Kids. Sure, she is great and our heart aches along with her, but this is not her strongest performance. Nor is her performance stronger than Kidman’s or William’s and I will just omit Winter’s Bone entirely, because I was taught if you have nothing nice to say – blah blah blah…Bening winning this year would be a triumph for a deserving career, a political statement without saying a word about gay marriage and the recognition for a film that dared us to look at “unconventional” lives and show us what the new “normal” might be, but it would not be about rewarding the best performance. Portman gave her heart, body (literally) and soul and every ounce of it shows on the screen. This was a go-for-broke, give-it-your-all performance that carried the movie to another level. If you removed any of the other performances in the film (Kunis was great and looking good as always) Portman would have still been as effective. She gave an amazing stand-alone performance that was great because of what she brought to it, not what she played off of. I’m all for a good upset, but I will be shocked if another name is called in this category.
The Fighter was absolutely amazing and one of my favorite films. Christian Bale is unrecognizable and surely a lock – unless Geoffrey Rush gets caught up in a sweep for The King’s Speech (which will win Best Picture). The Fighter has the best ensemble performances on screen this year. Mark Wahlberg was overlooked for a nomination, but should take solace in the fact that he is personally responsible for elevating Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams to nominations. His was a more subtle role, all the while driving the other three to go all out, but never over the top. Melissa Leo could have easily become a cartoon character with the big hair and multiple-daughter posse she rode with, but she brought it home like a champ. I think that she might have peaked early and given a little room for Adams to sneak through with the award because this is a movie you see more than once. The first time, Bale and Leo dominate your thoughts and conversation, but you go back for Wahlberg and Adams. Supporting Actress is the only category I allow myself to go against conventional wisdom every year, so I am backing Adams for the win. I will not even mention Melissa Leo running her own “consider me” ads either. Where are her people? She was a lock until she started getting all crazy. Not that one should ever use Monique as an example to follow, but she should have just let the performance speak for itself.
Clearly, I am no expert and I’m not the go-to Oscar prognosticator for Entertainment Weekly like the genius Dave Karger but I hope you take my thoughts into account before you fill out your ballot for Sunday night. At the very least, maybe it will encourage you to see some of these extraordinary films. See you at the concession stand!