It's been too long! My movie viewing has not slowed, but reviewing sure has. For those of you who haven't yet picked up on this, even in lean times I have been posting short descriptions and ratings of everything I see. Sometimes there is a delay but the all eventually make it onto the blog, so keep checking back. I post the short bits on Facebook as well.
The long silence is officially over! You will be hearing lots from me this month especially, as the Portland International Film Festival is about to begin and I am aiming to see and post short reviews of about 40 films. Also, my list of the best films of 2011 will come out on the day of the Oscars, February 26.
I attended my first PIFF press screening today and saw a good French film, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" (7.5). It's about an idealistic middle-aged couple who have occasion to wonder how well they are living into those ideals. The husband, Michel, is a dock worker high up in his union, a man of principle who foregoes the opportunity to take his own name off the lay-off list and consequently loses his job, as do 19 of his comrades. His wife Marie-Claire is a lovely and supportive nurse's aide who gave up her aspirations to become a nurse to raise the couple's two children. Now grandparents and sharing a nice middle-class life, they wonder how their younger selves would view their current selves. But unlike the typical Hollywood fare, this film really sits with that question and requires the couple and their friends and family to really and honestly struggle with those questions. From several different vantage points, the film deftly conveys how the ethical choices and opinions of even very good people shift when they feel themselves to be aggrieved. Although the film can't resist some manipulative plot twists, mostly it is a worthy effort to wrestle with some issues that I wish more films had the courage to depict and explore. PIFF officially opens on February 9 and you can see this film on February 11, 13, and 16.
And now for the Oscars. As usual, I find the nominations on the whole to be pretty frustrating, more like a high school election for prom queen. (That is, only the "popular" folks are deemed eligible, though occasionally an outsider sneaks into consideration, if only to make the proceedings seem more fair. I can say this because I was a prom queen--I will leave it to you to guess which category I fell into.) There are so many wonderful films and performances that don't have a prayer at a nomination--which is why I always release my own list of the best films on Oscar day as an alternative. But here are some random thoughts for Oscar season.
1. BEST PICTURE NOMINATIONS: I've seen all but one of the of the best picture nominees and, in my opinion, only one of them--"The Tree of Life"--truly deserves to be on the list. Three more--"The Descendents," "Midnight in Paris," and "Moneyball"--are worthy enough; I enjoyed all of them quite a lot and recommend them highly. "The Artist" is somewhat overhyped, in my view--it is notable for recreating the world of silent pictures in a way that really highlights the craft involved and it features a terrific lead performance, but the story is pretty thin and keeps the material from truly soaring. The remainder of the nominees are part of the Hollywood popularity machine. "The Help" is nominated because Hollywood is congratulating itself (as is typical) for making a film about race relations; the film is just okay and represents only the discussion about race that the industry thinks is possible, not the one that is actually possible. I will say that the two African American leads salvage the material and make the film worth watching. "Hugo" is technically fine but the story is pretty dull for a film about the magic of movies; I view the hype as Scorcese worship. "War Horse" also is technically fine, as Spielberg always is, but very manipulative and not remotely subtle. Like Scorcese, Spielberg is too much an icon for his work to get an honest assessment from Hollywood. I haven't seen "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," but the critics don't seem to be too impressed.
2. SCREENPLAY NOMINATIONS: The nominations for best original screenplay are extremely odd. The weakest part of "The Artist" is the screenplay--the story is a total retread and keeps the film from being as interesting as it might have been. "Bridesmaids" is a hoot but I don't think its screenplay is one of the best of the year. Same with "Midnight in Paris"--it's a delightful film but not for its screenplay. "Margin Call" is a decent enough screenplay, though the film wore me out. I haven't seen "A Separation" yet, though I expect to before Oscars. Missing from the list is "Beginners," a sparkling film about a man who learns a whole new set of lessons from his dad when the elder comes out as gay at age 75.
The nominations for best adopted screenplay include two worthy candidates: "The Descendents"--for once, a family drama that is truthful and complicated--and "Moneyball," which tells a pretty amazing story and manages to make baseball statistics riveting. I'm not a fan of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," but most of the critics are and I'm willing to chalk that one up as a matter of taste. One of the last things I would honor "Hugo" for is its screenplay, which is ponderous and uninspired. The same with "The Ides of March," which I found to be a pretty mechanical depiction of soulless politics. Missing from the list: The brilliant adapation of "Jane Eyre" that came out this year, and the luminous French film, "The Hedgehog," which is also one of my favorite films of the year and is based on a novel that I understand is much beloved.
3. ACTING NOMINATIONS: I'm still working on seeing some of the nominated performances, but mostly think the lead actor and actress nominations are deserved. Some of the supporting performances are overrated, however. I was not particularly wowed by Berenice Bejo in "The Artist" and, though I love Jessica Chastain's work, "The Help" gave her only cliches to work with. Nominating Melissa McCarthy for "Bridesmaids" is just silly. I also love Kenneth Branagh's work but wasn't particularly impressed with him in "My Week With Marilyn." I definitely would not give Jonah Hill a nomination for "Moneyball," though I think it is his best work. Christopher Plummer definitely deserves the nomination, and the award. Performances that should have been recognized include Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender in "Jane Eyre," Michael Fassbender in "Shame" (my pick for best lead actor), Carey Mulligan in "Shame" (who should have been a nominee for best supporting actress), Michelle Williams for "Meek's Cutoff," and Brendan Gleeson in "The Guard."
4. BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: This category always frustrates me because I always find out that Hollywood has passed up much better films. As is usual, very few of the eligible films have been released here but I will see most of the five nominees in the next three weeks via PIFF and elsewhere.
5. BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: Two of the nominated films, "Pina" and "If a Tree Falls," are absolutely terrific--in fact, "Pina" is headed for the top of my list of best films of the year and I strongly urge you to see it in the theater in 3D. I saw scores of other wonderful documentaries this year that didn't make the cut, but many will be on my list of the year's best films.
Be sure to check my blog regularly for ratings and short reactions to the films I don't review. Happy movie season!