Wednesday, March 16, 2005

It’s been 3 weeks and I’m still fuming.

Every year I swear I'm never going to watch the Oscars again and every year I come back like the dribbling movie geek I am...This year was no exception.
When the nominations come out, I dutifully go to AMC Burbank or Universal to see what have been deemed the Best Pictures of the year. I go to all of them because I don't think it's fair to comment on something you haven't seen. These are only my opinions, and my please no fisticuffs...

First off all of these movies are so different in scale , scope and subject matter how do you say what's best? I guess you have to decide for yourself if the move accomplished its goal or at least came close.

I didn't think "Million Dollar Baby" was all that great a movie. Don't get me wrong, It was good...I gasped along with everyone else at the "big turn", but in the end I thought it gimmicky and manipulative.Morgan Freeman was Morgan Freeman, essentially the same as he was in Shawshank and Unforgiven. Hilary Swank (which still sounds like a porn stars name if you ask me, and you didn't)was very good and certainly deserved her award..As for Clint, I’ve often thought he was a better director than an actor. In MDB his direction is good, his acting isn’t. Think of a better looking, taller Burgess Meredith in Rocky and you have Eastwood’s characterization. So, no, I didn’t think "Million Dollar Baby " was the best picture of the year.


The Aviator is a BIG movie...Everything about it screams epic. But when it works, its not concentrating on the big issues. It's when it focuses in in Hughes trying to cope with increasing effects of OCD that it gets under your skin. And DiCaprio surprisingly (to me anyway...I thought he was dead wrong for the part) pulls it off...His strongest moments are near the end. There are som questionable casting choices. Gwen Stefani has 3 lines as Jean Harlow and blows them all. Kate Beckinsale is a lovely woman, but hardly even close to Ava Gardner. Cate Blanchett's Hepburn is credible, but I kept getting the feeling I was watching an extended impression rather than a performance...Martin Short could have done it...Okay, maybe not. Look, Martin Scorsese is a great director, and has forgotten more about film history than than most cinema professors will ever know. But "The Aviator" was a mixed bag. When it worked it was totally engrossing and when it didn't, I found myself asking "What's Data doing in this?".

If someone understands why "Finding Neverland" was nominated will they please let me know, cause I sure couldn't figure it out. Last year Johnny Depp(who I actually like in the right part)did his impersonation of Dudley Moore as Arthur doing Keith Richards and gets nominated for best actor for a movies based on a Disneyland Ride. This year he's doing Mike Myers as Shrek doing Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire and he gets yet another nomination. James Barrie meets a widow with children who inspire him to write Peter Pan. That J.M. Barrie may well have been a pedophile is dismissed lest the audience think about it too much. The rest is predictable as soon as Kate Winslet coughs.(And yes I know it’s supposed to be a true story, but there are ways of making things not so freaking obvious) From there it gets all treacly and weepy and enough to give you type 2 diabetes.

There’s a trend in Movie Bio Pics and it bugs the hell out of me. First you find the perfect person to play the subject. And then you stop worrying about things like...oh...the script...the actual events in the person’s life...the direction...Little things like that. There are dozens of examples...Donald O’ Connor who while he didn’t especially look like Buster Keaton could handle the physical demands. The Producers even went so far as to hire Keaton as a technical advisor, then proceeded to rewrite his life story in front of him... Gary Busey as Buddy Holly. Great Perfomance, Awful Movie. Robert Downey Jr.was born to play Charles Chaplin but Richard Attenborough, having previously botched another perfect casting with Gandhi (I know it won Best Picture but I dare you to go and watch it again)botched it again with “Chaplin”. Jim Carrey loses himself to Andy Kaufman and the movies loses itself in a cliche biopic format about a man who was the ultimate anti-cliche. Charlize Theron transforms herself into Aileen Wuornos for Monster and she’s incredible but the movie is knowingly inaccurate and badly written and nothing else in it matches her performance(See Nick Broomfield’s 2 Documentaries instead, or for comparison ). Which brings us to “Ray”...Jamie Foxx simply is Ray Charles. He looks, walks, moves, sounds like him(he could have done his own singing[ Hell, he could have done his own playing] , but they opted to have him lip sync). Still he sneaks a couple of his own vocals in during the early scenes, and you can’t tell the difference. It’s much like Val Kilmer ( Another Example of the Trend) who does a lot of his own singing during the live sequences in The Doors, where they cut from Morrison to Kilmer and it’s hard to tell where one vocal ends and the other begins. When show business biopics really work they look at what led to the subjects fame. The Work and what was behind it. “Ray” does have a lot of that in it which puts it a notch above most in this genre. But then we get into this seemingly endless repetition of “ Ray, you’re a heroin addict, you better quit...No I can quit when I want to and I don’t want to...Ray really you’re a HEROIN ADDICT...You need to QUIT!!...No I’m fine, I can handle it...RAY!! Please quit HEROIN!!!” the point where by the time he actually does QUIT HEROIN, it’s anticlimactic, despite the fact that it’s supposed to be the climax. The other mixed message you get is that he apparently did most of his best work while he was on Heroin, because apparently the years after his addiction weren’t deemed worthy enough to be covered in the movie, and all the music we remember Ray Charles for was done pre-kicking...And the trend shows no sign of abating. Soon we’ll have Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line (along with Reese Witherspoon as June Carter)and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote coming soon to the new separate Best Actor in a lousy Biopic category next year.

I think the best pictures are the ones that work on all levels and, for me anyway, only 2 movies fell into that category this year: "Sideways" and "The Incredibles". And they never stood a chance in hell.

"The Incredibles" was doomed for being animated and a comedy. The Academy has managed to ensure that no animated movie will ever win Best Picture by introducing the “Best Animated Feature”(which it easily won). Comedies rarely win Best Picture. Comedies are the late Rodney Dangerfield of the film. They are perceived as lightweight, which is dumb because they’re much harder to get right.

"Sideways" gets it right. It’s Smart and funny. The characters are complex, not black and white. They’re real. You know these people, or people like them. It’s a brilliantly written and directed. The Actors are perfectly cast and (in another sign of the Academy disrespect for Comedy)Paul Giamatti’s performance being ignored (he wasn’t even nominated) was one of the more outrageous snubs in Oscar history (and there have been some doozies). As far as I’m concerned "Sideways" was the Best Picture...The Academy got it wrong.
But what do I care? I’m never watching the damn show again...

See you next February...