OSCARS 2012


It’s getting to be that time of the year, so I’m going to start my annual blogs on the Oscars.  I know, I know.  It’s the one baited breath thing you’ve been waiting all year to hear about.  Well, you can finally stop thinking about the election and really grapple with something important now.  No need to thank me.  It’s just what I do. 

These entries will be quick and off the top of my head, so my thoughts will change as time goes on.  This entry will deal with best picture.

By now, I usually know what’s going to win top dog.  But this year, I was really stymied for a long time and even now I’m not totally sure.  I’m not certain why things are so up in the air this year.  Maybe it’s because it’s been one of the worst years for movies in the U.S. and it’s been hard for anything to really galvanize people.   But it does look like things are starting to gel. 

Argo:   The Mitt Romney of the noms.  As of right now, this is the lead to win best picture (though I think the Presidential election will come out differently).  It has all the right qualifications.  It’s perfectly middle brow, i.e., it makes the audience think it’s edgy, takes chances, is very serious, really grapples with important subject matter, when in reality, it’s a safe, above average action/thriller.  Very retro, but gets the job done.  It also is a box office hit, but not such a hit that people think it’s a studio time waster like The Avengers or The Amazing Spider-Man.  It also has some nice selling points from a marketing standpoint.  First, it’s based on a true story and a true story that most people are unaware of; and it’s a great story, one of those, if it hadn’t really happened, no one would ever believe it had (even if it didn’t really, exactly happen the way it happened in the movie).  Second, Ben Affleck’s acting career had seriously stalled, then he became a director, and is now finally getting new respect, so it’s something of a come back story.  Third, it’s topical—well, topical for a Hollywood story; it takes place in the Middle East, though as was mentioned above, it doesn’t really tell us that much or give us any serious insight into what’s going on over there.  The writer and director are having too good a time entertaining us to do something like that.

Beasts of the Southern Wild:  The Barack Obama of the noms (though, again, I personally think the election will go a different way than the Oscars).  The indie darling of the year.  It probably should win best picture, but will have to settle for a best picture, actress (the youngest ever), screenplay and maybe supporting actor and director nom.  This is the movie that does something and takes the art of filmmaking forward, unlike Argo that is very old school, very George Bush.   It has a great grass roots organization behind it; after all this time, it’s like the Energizer Bunny: it just keeps going and going and going.  It came from nowhere and worked its way up to the top on sheer quality alone.

The Master: a tough call.  The critics love it, but not many others seem to, and it’s the others that vote for the nominations.  In a year of only five noms, I would say this wouldn’t have a chance, but it’s the sort of love it or hate it that the new rules of possibly up to ten noms is made for and it may slip in.  Whether it will get a directing nod is much more difficult to say.  Should get a best actor nom no matter what (Joachim Phoenix) and possibly supporting actor and actress (Hoffman and Adams).

Les Miserables: There is a certain set of films that is impossible to make a guess on until they open.  These are movies that are so big, have such high expectations, have so much “talent” associated with them, that everyone thinks they are a sure thing until they open when most of them crash and burn.  This is especially true of musicals.  I refuse to make any sort of guess until people who have seen it (regular people, not critics) start reacting to it.  Remember Nine?  I’m not making that mistake again.

Lincoln:  See above for Les Miserables.  The previews make it look ponderous, overstuff and self-important.  But it’s Steven Spielberg, so who knows, it might also be entertaining.  It’s suppose to win a best actor for Daniel Day Lewis (beginning to look like one of the few sure things right now), and some possible supporting noms.  Expect to see it in the top ten even if it’s awful simply because it’s Spielberg.

Django Unchained:  In a year of five, probably no way, but in a year of up to ten?  Maybe.  The problem is that it’s by Tarantino.  Tarantino is one of our greatest filmmakers, but he’s a very serious filmmaker who doesn’t makes serious films.  They do nothing, but do it absolutely brilliantly.  This, I think, makes it difficult for the Academy to actually nominate him.  The exceptions were Inglorious Basterds which was about the heavy subject of WWII, Nazism and the Holocaust, and Pulp Fiction which was something people hadn’t really seen before and made people see movies in a different way (and was a film noir, which helped).  Django is basically a Spaghetti Western, so there you have it.  Also, people seem a little uneasy right now whether it’s going to work.

Silver Linings Playbook: It’s been getting a lot of good buzz, but the previews make it look incredibly formulaic and sentimental, so until it opens, it’s an unknown quantity.

Arbitrage:  Not on anybody’s radar right now, but don’t count it out.  It’s the sort of well made, unambitious, entertaining movie that wins voters over.  It’s just fun and there’s often a movie on the list that is just fun.

Moonrise Kingdom:  The, “Oh, yeah, right, I remember that movie, I loved it, but whatever happened to it” film of the year.  People have even forgotten it opened this year and it’s been overshadowed by Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Amour:  A shoe-in for awhile, but it’s also the Austrian entry in the Foreign Language Film category so that may cut against it.  I still think it might have a chance since we have up to ten movies to nom.  It’s very different from Haneke’s other films, so the voters may feel safe in voting for it.  It also may get a best actor and actress nom, as well as screenplay.

Life of Pi, Flight, Zero Dark Thirty, The Hobbit are all too unknown quantities right now.

ARBITRAGE



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Shortly into the movie Arbitrage, the new 1% thriller written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki, I began to wonder whether I stumbled into the wrong theater.  According to the previews; reports from friends; reviews; etc., I was expecting a story about a semi-sociopathic financier, a Bernie Madoff type, who would do anything and betray anyone to survive (including his virtuous and untainted daughter), and who was about to pull off a deal that would destroy everyone but himself, but who is temporarily derailed when he causes a Ted Kennedy Chappaquiddick type accident that results in the death of his mistress via manslaughter.  He is then pursued by two righteous police officers and a D.A. who are tired of the wealthy getting away with murder.
That is not the movie I saw.
Instead, I saw a film about a financier noble in heart, though weak in action, who desperately, and by, yes, illegal methods, is trying to save his company before it goes belly up, costing him not just everything he has, but also the savings and money of all his investors and the jobs of all those who work for him (including his daughter).  After a horrifying accident not caused by manslaughter (unless I’m simply unaware of the intricate parsings of said term—and I very well might be), but by the character falling asleep at the wheel, his greatest crime is leaving the scene of an accident.  He is then pursued by a sociopathic officer who seems to have some sort of personal vendetta against the wealthy man (though none is every revealed), to such an extent that he willfully manufactures evidence and gets the DA to lie to a grand jury in order to convict the financier for something he didn’t to (our taxpayer dollars at work, I guess).
Okay, po-tay-to, po-tah-to.  But you can see where I’m coming from.
In the end, though, even looking at the movie from my point of view, Arbitrage is not much more than an entertaining enough thriller that gets the job done.  It’s not quite a roller coaster ride, but it’s not boring.  Just a bit of a let down.
The cast is headed by Richard Gere as Robert Miller, the non Bernie Madoff/non-Ted Kennedy, Bernie Madoff/Ted Kennedy role.  Gere’s charming, though I think he’s been better in recent years.  But he has one great scene where his character finally traps the illusive Mayfield, the businessman who keeps putting of buying Miller’s business, and Miller shows the brass balls that made him what he is.  He out bluffs said Mayfield and finally gets a deal that saves anyone and everyone. 
There are some nice faces in the supporting roles, like Stuart Margolis as Syd Felder, Miller’s lawyer who gives Miller (what seems to be to me) questionable legal advice; and Chris Eigeman as Miller’s almost Zen like business manager.  Both are welcome sights.  
As for the rest, Tim Roth plays his “righteous” officer role rather broadly, in the way that actors often do if they don’t find their characters inherently interesting (probably a good choice here since his role isn’t particularly interesting).  Susan Sarandon is around to pick up a paycheck.   And the extras are filled out with some of the tallest Amazonian secretaries I’ve ever seen, which may suggest something about Jarecki and/or the casting director that I’d rather not know.
Perhaps the two characters that are written the most puzzling are Brooke, Miller’s daughter (played by Brit Marling) and his surprisingly dowdy mistress Reina (played by Monica Raymund).  Both are just a bit too incredibly naïve for me to have any empathy for.
Brooke is suppose to be this alpha female financier, but in all the years she’s been in the business, has yet to grasp the concept of imperfection in her parents.  She’s shocked, shocked (in the best Captain Renault manner) that her father is involved in some shady dealings.  Really? I mean…Really?  When Sarandon talks about it, she acts like Brooke just lost her virginity when her daughter’s at least thirty years old, for God’s sake.  (It reminded me of the reaction from all these men about what happened between Monica Lewinsky and Clinton—an “how dare you with my daughter” type response that only made me think: “you do realize she is over twenty one, right?  Just how long were you planning on protecting her virginity, anyway?”)
Reina, meanwhile, spends most of her time pouting because she’s not the center of her patron’s universe and is just now realizing that her lover is not going to leave his wife.  Again, really?  I mean…Really?  She also seems incredibly ungrateful that Miller pays for her luxurious apartment that no artist could ever hope to afford in New York; arranges shows for her; and buys her paintings.  At one point, Miller tells his daughter, “You’re not my partner, you’re my employee.”  I felt that this line would be much more appropriately delivered to Reina.