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The Year My Cinema-Going Life Changed For The Not Terrible

This is the first year I have seen all the Best Picture nominees in the theater. In addition, it's the first year I have seen all the Best Picture nominees before the Oscars actually happen. It is also one of only three other past sets of Best Picture nominees where I have seen all five period. Finally, and probably most notably considering my past hatred/obsession with the Academy, I have seen all five Best Picture nominees and didn't hate any of them. Not a one. In fact, I also didn't hate any of 2007's Best Picture nominees - the closest being Atonement, but even that was too pretty to despise (disjointedness galore, yes, but not loathe-worthy). Unfortunately this year no film is as awesome as No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood, or Michael Clayton. Actually, only one of the five films would be in my personal Top 10, and still, it would be toward the bottom of the list. Regardless, I am happy to have achieved the feat I had half-assedly attempted to in years past. So as the red carpet unrolls this Sunday evening on ABC, with the terribly bland choice of Hugh Jackman hamming up the first non-comedic attempt at presenting awards for the best in film, I hope that I can impart on y'allz the nuanced suckiness and amazingness (and all five films have both) of the five main films nominated. Ranked from best to worst in this blogger's humble opinion, the nominees are...

Slumdog Millionaire: Qualler's riff on this movie yesterday, condemning it to City Of God-wannabe status, may have been fair, but I couldn't help but be sucked in by the fantasy like the plebian masses have been exponentially since its release. I have had reservations ever since about just how offensive it is to exoticize the poverty of a country that has had issues since day one, but ultimately the final sequence, which screamed "hey, we're just trying to tell you a heartwarming story," won me over. It made me feel warm and fuzzy, and kept my eyes watering for the next swiftly edited and uniquely framed shot, which is more than what most movies do. Ultimately, it's the ideal escape movie - but unfortunately it's nothing more. Why It Will Probably Win: Director Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, Trainspotting) is brilliant at keeping you on the edge of your seat, and finally he's picked a script that appeals to more than a niche market, though with its setting and cast, he probably thought otherwise when he chose it. Why It Has A Small Shot At Losing: Like I said, at the end of the day, it's just an escapist love story. Classism rattles throughout the bones of the movie, but never hits the flesh, and maybe Academy voters will realize that.

Milk: This is the first of four movies that all try really really hard at being something other than just an insanely entertaining movie, which is what essentially sets Slumdog apart from the rest. The difference between Milk and the others below though is that it's the only one whose societal/historical subject matter actually hits the mark. And ironically I don't think it's because its subject matter is the most timely in America. Despite the initial backlash against Prop 8, it still seems like only a small minority is trying to have discourse about gay rights. The economy Gitmo blah blah you see. No, it's not that Milk came out at the right time; it's that its performers and director (in the final act anyway) charge up the screen with such ferocious and yet mature intensity that it turns a story about one man into a story about several, a story about a time period, a story about a movement that deserves to be known. Why It Just Might Win: Reasons just mentioned - essentially, its parts add up to a whole that matters in the world of not just movies but also a history that has such a small voice. Why It Probably Won't Win Though: The movie's first act, frankly, blows. Milk's ascent into politics is handled with such little grace and with so much hurry that it feels incredibly dissastisfying in comparison to the eloquent finale.

The Reader: As I mentioned in a comment on OHD's review of the book version of this film, I really was expecting that watching this movie would have been a chore. It wasn't at all. And while Kate Winslet's stone cold knockout of a performance is certainly deserving of all its acclaim (though Hathaway deserves the acting win, when put side by side), I really think the script deserves more brownie points. It jostles between the 50s, 60s, and 90s with such ease that it weaves the romantic, courtroom suspense, and historical dramatics all together without missing a beat. Of course, none of it is relevatory, but it's fascinating and when the main character finally starts asking "why?" and "what next?" toward the film's second half, all the emotions and themes kind of get put into a blender and sprayed out onto the theater walls for the viewer to decide what matters most to them. Why It Might Pull Off An Upset: Hello, WWII movie! And not just that, but it talks about Nazis and the Holocaust without showing anything, much less sensationalizing it. Plus, Winslet gets naked a lot. And I know the Academy's a bunch of horndogs at heart. Why It Almost Certainly Will Not Win Though: It was the most surprising inclusion in the nominees list. It's yet another WWII movie.

Frost/Nixon: Yet another movie that I thought, aside from a few powerful scenes, would have been a complete bore. I admit, I felt a little bit of "so this is it?" every once in a while, but I blame that almost solely on the idiotic brain of director Ron Howard, who is a master of making mountains out of mole hills. A more quiet and meek helmer would have brought out more of the best parts of this movie's performances and script. Yet both those aspects certainly held their own, even with Opie behind the lens - Langella is only bombastic a couple times as Nixon, Sheen is only a little more aloof than needed to sympathize with him, but really it's the supporting cast that makes this film worth watching. Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt, and Kevin Bacon are all magnetic as the sidekicks to their respective leaders. But of course the best lines go to Langella, where the script shows it's smarter than just a regurgitation of history. Two lines in particular (one about a dachsund, the other about an Italian shoe) absolutely slayed me. Why In An Alternate Universe It May Pull Off An Upset: Because despite Howard's flashy flourishes, it's mostly stately and thought-provoking without being self-important. Why It Will Never Under Any Circumstances Actually Win Best Picture: It's a movie about two guys talking about how they're going to talk to each other in chairs, and then they talk to each other in chairs.
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button: Oh David Fincher. You poor bastard. I stuck up for you when my students started bad-mouthing Alien3. I even stuck up for you when my friends told me I only liked Panic Room because it starred Jodie Foster in a tank top (they were right; I did). But now here you come actually getting accolades for your signature hyper-stylized direction and your visual dreamscapes are the only truly respectable thing about this 3-hour mess of a movie. Don't get me wrong; I still didn't hate it. In fact, I nervously went back and forth between saying "I liked it" and "(confused eye roll)" after I had sat through it and let that gorgeous final montage manipulate me into shedding a G-D tear. And the (lamest spoiler alert ever) crashing waves of Hurricane Katrina SWEEPING AWAY a clock that moves backwards? Have you no shame? And Brad Pitt? The man who either makes or ruins a movie? You might as well have had an underwear model who can stare and smark simultaneously. You're lucky that every single shot in the movie was breathtaking, otherwise yes, I would have officially hated your movie. Why It May Prove There Is No God And Win Best Picture: It's the highest-grossing movie of the bunch, and Forrest Gump won the honor in 1994, and this is basically Forrest Gump except pretty. Why It Won't Win Though If There Actually Is A God: People have all but admitted it's a bloated sentimental glob of a movie that just got nominated because it's nice and safe. Kinda like Frost/Nixon except Brad Pitt's sexier than Frank Langella.

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  1. Blogger qualler | 8:57 AM |  

    Whoa, Kate Winslet's naked?! Niiiice. Brigitte, we gotta see this movie, stat!

  2. Blogger qualler | 8:58 AM |  

    p.s. I didn't really hate Slumdog, I liked it quite a bit for all the same reasons. Still, I gotta make a snarky comment, cuz according to SNL, that's all bloggers do. "Bitch pleaze!"

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