Friday, March 28, 2014

The Old Curmudgeon meets the Oscar Movies

Since I rarely venture out to see current movies in theaters anymore, I wait for them to show up on DVD/cable/streaming, which means that, since the "serious" Oscar-bait movies don't get released theatrically until November or December, and therefore don't become available to us shut-ins for at least 90 days, I don't see many of the movies up for major Oscars until after the awards have been won or lost. When the nominees were announced in January, I had seen only one nominee, The Great Gatsby, and that was up for the relatively lowly awards of costume and production design. By now, I've caught up with most of the ones I plan on seeing so a quick report follows, minus the usual plot summaries since I assume most everyone knows the basics.

Gravity: Yes, I should have seen this in a 3D theater, because on a flat 2D TV screen, even a widescreen plasma TV screen, this movie falls flat because of the cardboard characters, cheap sentimentality, and the pinball-like bopping and banging of Bullock and Clooney against the space vehicles which gets tedious after ten minutes. I like the two actors, but they failed to hold me spellbound, and the 3D effects are pretty much lost in 2D.

Inside Llewyn Davis: I tend to go one of three ways with the Coen Brothers: they have their 5-star films (Blood Simple, Fargo, Intolerable Cruelty, Miller's Crossing), their 4-star films (The Hudsucker Proxy, O Brother Where Art Thou, Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowksi, The Ladykillers), and their 0-star films (Barton Fink, The Man Who Wasn't There, True Grit, though I give Fink points for John Goodman alone). This film is maybe a star and a half. The central performance by Oscar Isaac, above, is very good, but he plays a lukewarm character whom we never either accept nor completely reject, a 60s folksinger who is adrift after the death of his singing partner. Goodman (again) provides one of the few bright spots, but his role is basically a cameo. Loved the cats, was bored with the rest.

Blue Jasmine: Cate Blanchett deserved the Oscar for her unpleasant but riveting central character, apparently inspired by the wife of Bernie Madoff, but the rest of the movie doesn't quite live up to her. It's not as immediately recognizable as a Woody Allen film as most of his are, but Allen never quite finds the style (or wit) to make the movie as a whole memorable. It's a perfectly respectable film, much better than most of Allen's 21st century failures (Anything Else, Whatever Works), but it's not up there with the pleasures of Midnight in Paris or To Rome With Love.

Frozen: Lovely fun Disney musical. I'm not a fan of current-day animated features, but this is much more like the Disney classic Beauty and the Beast than like anything else that's come out lately from Pixar or DreamWorks or Fox or even Disney. The songs are almost on a par with Beast's, the characters are charming, and the villain isn't the Snow Queen (the influence of Wicked, I would say).

Nebraska:  Slow and meandering with a fairly unsatisfying payoff. Bruce Dern's performance is OK, but much of it consists of him sitting and staring into space. Will Forte is good as the son, but June Squibb steals the show as Dern's outspoken wife.

American Hustle: I think people like this fantasia on the Abscam scandal for the same reason they liked Argo: the 70s vibe, presented both authentically and a hint of irony. Argo had a nice light touch, which this movie could have used, but instead it feels like Scorsese lite, like the director was trying for a Goodfellas style. Though it has its moments, mostly thanks again to the actors (especially Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner and a nicely understated Christian Bale), this never takes off.

The Wolf of Wall Street: This is Scorsese lite from the source himself, and my favorite of the nominees for Best Picture. There have been complaints about the foul language and the glamorizing of the lead character, a dishonest stockbroker played quite well by Leonardo DiCaprio (above). Scorsese glamorizing bad behavior? Really?... I'm shocked. Perhaps because these are Wall Street guys and not gangsters, the cursing (and general atmosphere) is not as threatening as in, for example, Goodfellas, which this movie reminded me of. At 3 hours, it is too long, and almost every scene could have been shortened, but there is an energy here that I found lacking in most of the other films.

I may eventually see 12 Years a Slave, Her, and Philomena. Probably won't see Dallas Buyers Club or Captain Phillips. If they ever bring Gravity back to 3D theaters, I might give it a shot. And as far as Gatsby, I liked it, didn't love it. It's certainly better than the Redford and Alan Ladd versions, which is probably faint praise.