Monday, January 12, 2009

Approaching the Finish Line

So at some point about a week ago, I decided that rather than give up on the 2008 movie year and decline to see any of the late-December awards hopefuls, instead I would see ALL of them. I think the turning point was Roommate Mark asking me to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which I totally was not going to see under my own power. And I wouldn't need to see Australia (the other 3-hour monkey on my back) because its total bombing made it a movie I wouldn't need to have an opinion on until at least DVD. The other major factor was the glorious influx of DVD screeners I was able to obtain through back-channels, spy networks, and back-alley transactions completely legitimate means, which meant I could knock off a half-dozen awards contenders in little over a weekend. I'm back in the game, folks! Here's what I've seen in the past 10 days and my initial thoughts:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Flawed but enjoyable. But, you know, flawed. I wanted more of an insight into what it would mean to age backward than we got. I don't think we ever learn anything from Benjamin's unusual life other than the fact that it's pretty goddamn sweet to grow up to look like Brad Pitt. I did enjoy the fact that the second half of the movie played like a lyric poem honoring the unbelievable beauty of perfect Brad Pitt. I mean, when you're right, you're right. But anyway, for all that this movie had to say about Benjamin's odd life, he could have been beset with any affliction that made him different. That said, Cate Blanchett gives a great performance of this kind of sad, graceful physicality. Her story affected me. And for a three-hour movie, it never felt that long. Well-paced, even if the framing device (both the contemporary scenes in the midst of Katrina and the voice-overs) was totally superfluous and intrusive. I'm fine with this as an Oscar nominee because it's the kind of grand, romantic movie that the Ocars always nominate, and it's good, but don't expect to see it on my (imaginary, hypothetical) ballot. B

I wasn't a fan. I thought it was superficial, and I was really not impressed with Frank Langella's stagy (understandably so, but still) performance. Michael Sheen was very good, though, and probably saved the movie, for as much as I liked it. And while Rebecca Hall didn't have a single thing of substance to do, I have to say she looked absolutely dynamite in some awesome '70s clothing. Anyway, probably the biggest gap between potential and actual quality of any movie this year. C+

Wendy & Lucy
The kind of movie that I could have easily drifted off into doing other things while it played on the DVD player, but I never once did, to the film' credit. I really liked the lost-in-plain-sight atmosphere, which presented a version of America that isn't some scary and foreboding place but is nevertheless unavailable to some people. Michelle Williams gives a dynamite lead performance (she's done some great work this year) that mutes her natural beauty to great effect. I've never owned a dog in my life, but I hear it's quite the devestating movie for people who have. B+

As overwrought as you were expecting it to be, with some truly regrettable supporting work from actors I generally like (Jeffrey Donovan; Denis O'Hare). The real-life story about not only the counterfit child but the serial murders in California at the time were intriguing, and I kind of wanted to learn more about it, but maybe in some kind of A&E true crime program and not this movie. C

The Reader
I believe I'm not going too far out on a limb when I call this the sexiest Holocaust movie I've ever seen. Which, okay, to be fair this doesn't become a Holocaust movie until the last 45 minutes or so. Kate Winslet is marvelous, even by her high standards, and Stephen Daldry makes a triumphant return to directing (after The Hours) and, if the lingering shots up and down David Kross are any indication, his triumphant return to total gayness. B

Happy Go Lucky
A rather lovely little movie featuring Sally Hawkins giving a rather lovely performance about a truly exasperating woman. The movie's upfront about that, though, and Hawkins is undeniably funny in the role. I did find some of the banter in the film to feel scripted, which is odd given Mike Leigh's reputation for cultivating lived-in ensembles. That said, huge props to Eddie Marsan and Alexis Zegerman in supporting roles, and Karina Fernandez who is a scream as a commanding flamenco teacher. B

Frozen River
Melissa Leo is phenomenal here, stone-hard but she knows just the right moments to let the softness peek through. I'm still letting the movie roll around in my head, but I very much enjoyed it. As far as low-budget stories about bleak and desperate lives of single women in America, I think I was more impressed by Wendy & Lucy, but this is a close second. B+

Slumdog Millionaire

I definitely didn't connect to it the way a lot of people have, but I also didn't resent it the way a lot of other people have. I do wish there had been more Bollywood in it. That dance sequence in the end credits was my favorite part, and I don't think it should have been. Also, I'm kind of weirded out by how cute I thought Dev Patel was, particularly when I looked up how old he is. But seriously: way hotter than he is on "Skins."B-


Linda said...

Dude, I'm so happy you did not care much for Frost/Nixon, because I? Did not care for Frost/Nixon. And I especially did not care for the Langella performance, which is Frank Caliendo, to me. All the "he's not trying too hard to sound like Nixon" stuff is so idiotic, because he's trying LIKE CRAZY to sound like Nixon, and it comes off really fake. If Nixon had been that (1) dumb and (2) self-aware, he wouldn't have been so dangerous. I read "Nixonland" (a great, great, great book) shortly after seeing this movie, and it made me all the more convinced that this portrayal of Nixon is a fantasy of how people wish Nixon had reacted to being cornered, but not anything like the way a guy like Nixon really reacts.

Brooke Cloudbuster said...

Yay! Somebody else like Cate Blanchett in this movie. I am totally surprised to see her not on ballots this year, especially with Pitt's lesser, but charismatic turn, showing up everywhere. I have no doubt that if an unknown actress had done this same performance, she'd have awards coming out of her bajoobas.

Rbelle said...

It's odd, I saw Slumdog with my husband this weekend and I really enjoyed it - enough that I kept thinking about it for a couple of days - but I was kind of disappointed to hear it had won the Globe. It was mostly good, I think, but when it wasn't - it really wasn't.


Pretty much any time adult Jamal and adult Latika spoke to each other was a big clunker in terms of dialogue. At the end I was sort of praying for it to fade to black before either of them could open their mouths. But I did like how the inevitable, saccharine Millionare win was interspersed with scenes of his brother's death. And when the dancing started at the end and my husband got up to leave, I physically pushed him back into his seat - ain't no skipping the random dance numbers where I'm from.

WeepingSponge said...

Completely agree about Slumdog Millionaire, enjoyable but not even close to Best Film. The posters over here are calling it "The feel-good movie of the year," there's a few too many scenes of intense poverty for that. Worth a watch but forgettable.

Julia said...

You've seen Milk, right Joe? I don't remember seeing a write-up about it, although I've been wrong before.