McGinnis: Best Picture nominees, Pt. 1Written by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s always been my goal to see all the films nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards before the Oscar ceremony. Of course, this was a little less complicated back in the days of only five nominees (ah, those nostalgic times of three years ago). Now, as fans are tasked with seeing up to 10 films, those who can say they’ve seen them all have become rare; rarer still if you hadn’t had the chance to catch any of them in their initial theatrical runs — like, say, me. Yeah, I’ve been busy. Sigh.
So, in an effort to catch up, I have made it my business to see all nine of this year’s nominees in the space of about two weeks. (For those who are as crazy as me and are also interested in doing so, five of the films are still showing in theaters in the Toledo area and the other four are available on DVD.) Here are my reactions to the first four I’ve screened — the last five are coming next week!
“The Descendants.” Alexander Payne’s film about a man (George Clooney) whose wife has slipped into a coma, and the life he’s trying to piece together in her wake, starts out a little awkwardly, with a bit too much narration and exposition. But as it progresses, taking viewers down new paths and building its tale of a father reconnecting with his daughters, the film finds its footing and becomes very compelling.
Clooney’s performance as a man whose life wasn’t all he thought it was is subtle and involving, and though the film doesn’t really build to a grand emotional climax, it doesn’t have to — we get the sense that life will go on, and for these characters, who we’ve grown to like and care about, that’s enough. It’s not quite the equal of Payne’s great film “Sideways,” but it’s a fine piece of work in its own right. (Now showing at Rave Franklin Park 16 and Rave Levis Commons 12.)
“The Tree of Life.” Many find Terrence Malick’s film so obtuse it’s practically unwatchable. Admittedly, any film with a scope so broad it includes the dawn of creation and the end of life is a little out there. But what I saw was a movie that uses the whole of existence to underscore the power and importance of just a few lives — a family in the mid-20th century. It tells a striking narrative in an unusual way, with a key performance by Brad Pitt.
The end result is not conventional, to be sure, but it’s mysterious and involving. It’s arranged not like a film, really, but like a musical composition — when I caught onto the flow of the film’s construction, I realized I was witnessing a symphony of existence, filtered through one tale of adolescence. It may be unique and somewhat odd, but it’s also very beautiful. (Now on DVD.)
“Hugo.” Only Martin Scorsese could have made a family film like this, yet it’s nothing like you’d expect a family film by Scorsese to be. A lyrical and enchanting tale set in a place that’s part Paris and part fantasy, this tale of a young boy who lives in the walls of a train station is a valentine to art of all kinds, filled with stirring images and moments. It is the sort of movie to savor every detail.
As a film outside of Scorsese’s usual demographic, it most likely will appeal more to the adults in the audience than the kids, but it’s filled with enough delights — both visual and storytelling — to enthrall children as well. And through remarkable effects, an artist of Scorsese’s talent is almost able to make 3-D seem viable again. Almost.
The best of the nominated films I’ve seen so far. (Now showing at Rave Franklin Park 16 and Rave Fallen Timbers 14.)
“The Help.” At one point about halfway through Tate Taylor’s film about African-American maids in the 1960s South, Octavia Spencer’s feisty Minny turns to Emma Stone’s Skeeter and asks something like, “Why do you think we need your help to tell our story?” By that point, I was thinking the same thing.
For all the movie wants to believe it’s telling a progressive tale of hardship and redemption, when you get to its core, here’s yet another movie where the problems of an oppressed minority are fought for mostly by the hero, an attractive white person.
There are indeed some powerful moments here, all provided by Spencer and Viola Davis, whose performance generates true emotion. But these high points are diluted by useless side plots, broadly written moments of comic “payback” and a cartoonish villainess, Hilly, played by Bryce Dallas Howard.
Real racism in this era was far more subtle and institutionalized than Hilly makes it seem, and as a result, much more complicated and evil than a “feel-good” movie like this can depict. The end result is a film that doesn’t come close to doing justice to the subjects it tries to cover. (Now on DVD.)
Email Toledo Free Press Star Pop Culture Editor Jeff McGinnis at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.
Tags: Academy Awards, Alexander Payne, Brad Pitt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Emma Stone, George Clooney, hugo, Jeff McGinnis, Martin Scorsese, Octavia Spencer, Oscars, Pop Goes the Culture, Tate Taylor, Terrence Malick, The Descendants, the help, The Tree of Life, Viola Davis