I always watch the Oscars. I don’t quite know why, because very often I haven’t seen most of the movies and I have a low opinion of the Academy’s taste, but I always watch. All the dresses, and the celebrities, and the Hollywood magic…it’s like a fairy tale. And I’m particularly looking forward to this year’s ceremony, coming up on Sunday, because for a rarity I’ve actually seen most of the Best Picture nominees!
Usually, I don’t watch the movies the Academy nominates, and they don’t nominate the movies I watch. Somehow, this year things came together a bit more than usual. Since I’m enjoying this rare position of having an opinion on the Best Picture nominees, naturally I thought I’d share that opinion with you!
In alphabetical order…
The Artist – A silent movie about the end of silent movies, this was amazing. I love old movies (though usually talkies) and from the opening frame it was such a hearkening back to old Hollywood. Aside from a few brief moments, the movie is entirely silent (with music) and only a minimum of captioning, yet I felt everything was conveyed–the characters were well-drawn, the plot was clear, the emotions were strong…and the dog was adorable!
The Descendants – This one I missed. A family drama with George Clooney, I’d be willing to watch it and will probably get it on DVD later. But it’s out of theaters and not on DVD yet, so we’re in no-man’s land and it can’t be got right now.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – This focuses on a boy dealing with the aftermath of September 11th, when his father was killed in the World Trade Towers. It was wrenching, heart-breaking and so well-done that I don’t want to see it again. Excellent to watch once, but too painful to come back. I’ve heard it’s been accused of being over-the-top, but frankly, considering the subject matter, I don’t know how it could not be as dramatic as it is. Thomas Horn was incredible as the boy, and it also featured Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, looking astonishingly like real people, not celebrities.
The Help – Another truly heart-wrenching movie, a fictional account of the lives of black servants in Jackson, Mississippi during the fifties. It focuses especially on the black women who care for white children, and on the bond that forms across the cultural boundaries. It’s a movie about racial and social prejudice, and it did well tackling a sweeping issue while focusing in-depth on a few lives. It’s the relationships that drive this movie, relationships that give hope and ones that will ultimately break your heart.
Hugo – Like Extremely Loud, this story is also about a boy who lost his father; Hugo lives in a train station in Paris, where he keeps the clocks wound. He slowly begins to investigate a mystery about the toy-seller at the train station, and bonds with the toy-seller’s goddaughter. This movie has a whimsical, surreal atmosphere to it that makes me feel like it should be a British fantasy, even though it’s in France, and isn’t a fantasy. I enjoyed the development of the characters, and the way lots of little bits and pieces came together in the end. It has a beautiful message about doing what you’re meant to do, and the tragedy of losing sight of that purpose. This movie also has the advantage of endless recognizable faces in the cast, and one of the most effective uses of 3D I’ve ever seen–and I usually don’t like the effect of 3D movies.
Midnight in Paris – I never thought I’d love an Owen Wilson movie this much. It’s probably because it’s not really an Owen Wilson movie; it’s a Woody Allen movie, and Wilson is channeling Allen throughout. Wilson’s character is a dreamy, nostalgic writer who’s in Paris with his overbearing fiancee and her family. He dreams of the 1920s, when all the great artists were in Paris. Out walking the streets at midnight, he finds himself hailed by an old-fashioned car that whisks him back to the 1920s, to meet all the writers he loves. The writers were the best part of this movie. They all talk the way they write and it’s SO entertaining. Fitzgerald calls people “old sport,” and Hemingway makes solemn pronouncements about life and death and charging lions. I doubt it’s realistic but it’s enormous fun, as is watching Owen Wilson play Woody Allen.
Moneyball – I’m not much of one for sports movies or Brad Pitt. Missed this one.
Tree of Life – I saw most of this one, and I am so glad it was on DVD and didn’t involve spending money. This is described as a metoraphorical story about a family in the 1950s, about a man (Sean Penn) coming to terms with his father (Brad Pitt), and also about creation. Let me tell you, it is a dense metaphor. It’s another movie with very little dialogue, but it made a lot less sense to me than The Artist. It’s all quick cuts from family scenes in the ’50s, Sean Penn in the present day, and scenes of the creation of the universe–at least, the first hour and a half is. It reminded me of 2001, but with less plot, and more incomprehensible (which is saying something!) Everyone seems to madly love this or completely hate it. I don’t think I hated it–it didn’t stir anything that significant. I didn’t watch the last hour because I just didn’t care. It may be a deep, profound piece of art, but it’s not at all accessible and I didn’t find it entertaining either.
War Horse – I’m really not one for violent war movies. I briefly considered seeing this one (it’s about a boy and his horse!) but then I saw a few too many comments comparing it to Saving Private Ryan, and changed my mind. I’ll pass on this one.
I find trends fascinating. Of the nine here, we have two movies set in Paris, three movies about boys and their fathers, three movies set (at least partially) in roughly the 1920s, two in the fifties, two making homages to silent movies, and just for good measure, two movies starring Brad Pitt. Eight out of nine are set at least ten years in the past (six farther back); eight out of nine have male leads. Now what does all that say about Hollywood?
Oscar commentaries like to wind up by saying who they think should win, and who they think will win. If it was up to me, I would choose for Best Picture either The Artist or Extremely Loud. I enjoyed Midnight in Paris the most, but the other two feel more landmark, like they’re doing something really noteworthy or groundbreaking.
As to who I think will win, I’ve heard good press for The Artist, so that’s encouraging. However, I have far too often seen the Academy’s tendency to choose violent movies or bizarre, artsy movies, so I wouldn’t be at all shocked to see it go to War Horse or Tree of Life.
I guess we’ll find out when they open the envelopes on Sunday! Who will you be rooting for?