Tuesday, March 01, 2011

3 films in 3 days and then... The Oscars

One good thing about coming back to San Diego this spring is that I got to watch the Academy Awards live yesterday with my family - both my mom and my sister like movies, and were happy to spend the 3+ hours watching what turned out to be a rather boring and predictable awards show.

In preparation for the Oscar telecast on Sunday evening, I decided I would go see three of the films with multiple nominations, including Best Picture: True Grit, Black Swan, and the eventual winner, The King's Speech.

Luckily, my folks live within 10 minutes of two decent mega cinemas here in the San Marcos area, so all three films were still playing with multiple screening times to choose from.

I flew in to LAX on Thursday, and spent most of Thursday night and Friday getting over jet lag, but was awake enough on Friday night to see True Grit at 10pm.

True Grit is a somewhat laconic and stilted Western made by the ever-intriguing Coen Brothers; a remake of a John Wayne movie from 1969 (the year I was born) with Jeff Bridges in the Wayne role of Rooster Cogburn, a US Marshall/bounty hunter with questionable tactics and morals.
What made the movie sing for me was the performance of 14-year-old Haille Steinfeld as the young Mattie Ross, a girl in the post Civil War south who learns her father was murdered in cold blood and yet no one seems to be doing anything about it. The dialogue the Coens give Mattie and the way Steinfeld delivers this dialog is superb and earned her a nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She lost to Melissa Leo for The Fighter (a film I have yet to see), and the film True Grit lost in all the other 9 categories it was nominated for.
If you like the Coen Bros style (The Big Lebowski, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Raising Arizona) then I think you'll appreciate their take on the Western genre, and I enjoyed the film despite the rampant nihilism on display.

I followed True Grit with The King's Speech on Saturday at 10pm. I had a free ticket for this one, so didn't have to shell out the $11.25 for a ticket I did the night before. Having had a big lunch and almost no dinner on Saturday, I thought I would treat myself to a medium popcorn and medium cola at the concession stand. When the clerk informed me that the combo would be $12.25, I chuckled to myself and instead settled for a small Mr. Pibb (ahh, Mr, Pibb, how I've missed you) for $4.75, which was still in a bigger cup than a "large" size cola in Japan.

The King's Speech is a well-made, well-acted and ultimately uplifting story centering around the Duke of York, who would eventually become King George the VI of England and reign during the dark days of World War II.
For all that the movie is, it is not, in my opinion, a "Best Picture of the Year" type film. Like I said, it's well-made and I enjoyed it, but I doubt I would buy it on DVD or tell friends, "You MUST see this movie." It was a safe choice for the Academy in a year when they could have made a much bolder and interesting choice for Best Picture.
I won't argue with Colin Firth getting the Oscar for Best Actor for this portrayal of The Duke or York, who was Queen Elizabeth II's father. He is magnificent in the role, and makes the cantankerous King, who suffers from a stuttering speech impediment, into a very sympathetic character. The film is really a duet between Firth and Geoffrey Rush, who plays his speech therapist. Rush got justly rewarded with a nomination for Best Supporting Actor, but lost to Christian Bale for The Fighter. It's the first time two British actors have won Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor since the 1950s. The King's Speech won 4 Oscars in total, but the film feels like "The Queen" did a few years ago. That movie too had a fantastic performance at its core (Helen Mirren's portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II, for which she also won an Oscar), but it didn't win Best Picture. Both movies are well-made and interesting to watch, but both feel like Masterpiece Theater movies writ large with better sets and direction than a TV budget would allow.

The King's Speech has natural appeal to the largely older Oscar voting branch of the Academy, and I can see why it won, but in my opinion, The Social Network or Inception are better choices for Best Picture of 2010.
Those movies mesmerized audiences with their stunning visuals or razor-sharp dialog and both films took complex subjects and made entertaining movies out of the concepts by the sheer artistry of the their directors. Both The Social Network and Inception will reward repeat viewings, while the King's Speech will become just another Oscar footnote.

I was very happy that The Social Network won for Best Screenplay (adapted) for Aaron Sorkin, the man who created two of my favorite TV shows - The West Wing and Sports Night, and for Best Original Score, since I thought the music in the film set the perfect tone and was such a big part of why the Social Network is such a stunning film.
Inception had to settle for mostly technical awards (it won 3 and the award for Best Cinematography), but the true travesty was that truly unique director Christopher Nolan was not even nominated for Best Director and the film also failed to win a nomination for Best Editing, even tho it is a master class in editing.
I would have been consoled had David Fincher, another amazing director responsible for films such as Fight Club, Seven, and Panic Room, had won for Best Director for his inspired direction of The Social Network, but instead the Academy went with Tom Hooper, a TV director making the transition to feature films with The King's Speech.

The last film I saw in my 3-day marathon was Black Swan, a psychological thriller set in the world of a professional ballet company.
I went to an 11am showing on Sunday, and this was the most well-attended of the 3 screenings I went to, with about 30 other people joining me at this last attempt to see the film before the Oscars that evening.
Natalie Portman, an actress I've been watching and enjoying since she debuted at the age of 11 in Luc Besson's Leon - The Professional in 1994, won the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance as Nina, the troubled ballerina who wants to be perfect but doesn't have the soul to infuse her performances with greatness.
She is fantastic in this role, which required her to train for a year to become a good enough ballet dancer for the demanding performance scenes, and she also had to embody the split personality the character becomes.
Black Swan is directed by the visionary Darren Aronofsky, who made the truly incredible film Requiem for a Dream and 2008's The Wrestler. He does some spooky and twisted things in this movie and I was hooked in from the very beginning all the way to the tragic end.

So it was a good 3 days spent at my house of worship - the local movie theater. None of these films has even opened in Japan yet, and I currently live at least a 2 hour drive from a decent movie theater, so I plan to see even more movies while I'm home in March.

Coming up I want to see:
The Adjustment Bureau with Matt Damon (March 4th)
Battle: Los Angeles with Aaron Eckhart (March 11th)
Limitless and Paul (March 18th)
Sucker Punch (from the director of Watchmen and 300) which I'll only have a few days to see since it opens on March 25th and I fly back to Japan on the 27th.


1 comment:

stormko said...

What is perplexing to me is that Haille Steinfeld is the actor with the most time on screen and plays the main character in "True Grit", yet she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress?

It's amazing people still give the Oscars any validity.