Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Oscar Bait

I love the Oscars. I always have and I always will. Some years, I have movies and actors I am actively rooting for and other years, I’m just there for the red carpet. I am an active watcher – I am on Facebook, Twitter, and texting. I set up a command center and sit, surrounded by electronics, to enjoy the show. This year, I’m going low-tech and actually inviting a friend to watch with me instead of just texting her from across town. Let’s call her Bubbles. Recently, she invited me to an Oscar Movie Marathon being held at a local theater. All eight best picture nominees were being shown. We see a lot of movies together, so we know each others tastes and candy preferences. Once we cleared it past the husbands (because really, going to one movie is no biggie, but basically abandoning them with their own spawn for an entire freezing cold, indoor-only weekend does require a little finagling), we were off. Upon arrival, we were given our very own laminated pass on a lanyard and were escorted to the smallest theater in the building. We then chose our favorite seats and settled in for two days of the fun. So here they are, in order:

The Theory of Everything

This is the story of Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane. I know very little about Professor Hawking. In fact, I purposely didn’t ask a very dear friend for his book recommendation for my list due to my overwhelming fear that he’d make me read Hawking’s book and I’d be faced with hundreds upon hundreds of pages of physics. (As punishment, he picked Cormac bloody MacCarthy.) Their love story was beautiful and surprising and touching, but what was riveting was Eddie Redmayne as Hawking. I frequently get annoyed with Oscar movies because everyone seems to be trying so hard to act. It is all very showy, very “look at me Ma, no hands!” This one has an accent, that one isn’t wearing makeup, the other guy lost weight. It’s just so obvious. There was nothing obvious about the acting in this movie. The actors WERE the roles. It was really incredible afterward to realize how much emotion, how many thoughts and feelings were being revealed while the actors said very little. This was a master class in inhabiting a role. I will be royally pissed if Redmayne doesn’t win Best Actor because he had to act and emote and show us how he felt without being able to move at all. That being said, I also think Felicity Jones, who played his wife, had just as difficult a role. She had to be human. Not a saint, or a sinner, not just a wife, and not just a woman, but a fully realized three-dimensional character that we the audience could understand. The whole movie is not really about his descent into his illness, but their relationship throughout it.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

This movie was everything I hate about Oscar movies. I will grant that the cinematography and art direction in the film were really exceptional, but the fact that I noticed both things shows I was bored by the plot and character. I am not into Wes Anderson. To me, his movies are an epic eye roll and this was no exception. Does Ralph Fiennes deserve an Oscar for this? Hell to the no. Look, I know comedies aren’t my thing. I am well known for my lack of sense of humor when it comes to slapstick, low-brow, physical humor, and anything with Vince Vaughn or Ted McFarlane. This movie was just dumb. It passed the time, but that’s about it.


This movie was a revelation. It was brilliant. It was stunning. The sum total of what I knew about the movie was “it is about a musician and his teacher.” I was both right and so very, very wrong. First off, I think Miles Teller was robbed. This is a two man show. You need both actors to make it work and rewarding one while ignoring the other is just foolishness. This movie is about talent. Who has it and who doesn’t, how do you measure it, support it, feed it, and demolish it. It is about the complex relationship between teachers and students, between the self and the audience. The actor up for the Oscar plays the teacher and I will spoil nothing in this movie other to say being a character actor is an underrated skill. J.K. Simmons is a Hey, It’s That Guy! You’ve seen him in everything. But you’ve never seen him like this. This movie did it for me. This is the exact type of movie I think deserve Oscars. There were no grand set pieces, action sequences, costumes, lighting, or technical bullshit. There were two actors doing what they do best. Period. It was a small story. It wasn’t historically important, or true to life, or the type of Oscar movie that feels like homework. It was a joy to behold and when the credits rolled, I felt like I had been through an emotional roller coaster and all I wanted to do was get back on and ride it again.

American Sniper

I am not good at being politically correct so I am not going to try. Bubbles and I were so far back in our seats trying to get away from the movie screen, we were practically in the next row. I just barely managed to avoid gouging out her thigh muscles by remembering, at the very last second, that she was not my husband and would not enjoy being mauled during the movie. (She later admitted she almost took off my arm.) This movie was tense. It was violent. It was also bullshit. I wasn’t watching a movie, I was watching war propaganda. Chris Kyle was a Navy Seal with the highest recorded number of sniper kills and I am barely exaggerating when I say that if he was credited with 160 of them, then we watched roughly 159 of those shots in adoring, close up, slow motion detail. Did I need to see a real-time account of a child being tortured to death with a drill? No. Not ever. However, I’ve seen enough war/action movies to recognize talent in directing. The action was clean. You knew where everyone was in relation to one another. Hell, the final battle was so lovingly rendered that I could have recreated it, from memory, using Lego pieces and toy soldiers’ days later. Bradley Cooper was unrecognizable as Kyle and really disappeared into the role – but he also made Kyle relatively one note. Kyle was raised to be sheepdog and protect everyone, so he did, which caused problems at home. Yawn. That part of the story wasn’t original, or exceptionally well told, or anything other than filler to show that this ultra-macho warrior was human. The whole movie felt cheap to me, as if I was being sold patriotism with my popcorn. The Kyle we see onscreen is a whitewashed Hoo-rah version of the real man and while the real man wasn’t perfect, I think he would have been far more interesting than the one we were shown.

The Imitation Game

This was a really good movie, no more and no less. This script had Oscar Bait stamped in gold filigree on the front cover. It was filled with an A-list cast doing A-list acting – but that isn’t enough for an Oscar. It shouldn’t be. That should be the median, the average, and the expected. These people are paid stupid amounts of money to play pretend on screen, so if they want an Oscar, then I better forget they are pretending. This movie didn’t do that. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that while Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightly were very good, I’ve seen them both do better. He is better as the fictional Sherlock Holmes than the real Alan Turing and she was what she always is – a strong, steadfast, beautiful Brit in period clothing. I don’t mean to damn the movie with faint praise – it was excellent and I highly recommend it. But it isn’t Oscar-worthy. It also took a really odd third-act turn away from a standard spy thriller and into a gay rights movie that was not only unexpected, but a little jarring.  


I fucking hated this movie with a passion filled with great vengeance and furious anger. If you take away the central construct – which is that the movie was filmed over 12 consecutive years with the same actors – then what you are left with is the fact that you just wasted three hours watching a movie in which people age. Thrilling. Bubbles kept checking her phone. I kept looking around to see if anyone else was as bored as I was. At first, I was mildly entertained by the Reality Bites Back: The Troy Dyer Years vibe. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s what Ethan Hawke was thinking too because he certainly didn’t make any great strides in character here. I am baffled, nay dumbstruck that Patricia Arquette is being recognized for anything in the way of acting as her “character” seemed to change with her hairstyles. The longer the movie played, the more labored the scenes became.  The actors might have aged 12 years, but watching them do so took decades. We were in the theater so damn long I thought there would be flying cars by the time we finally got out. And remember, this is coming from a woman who spent a full day in the theater previously. In fact, all five of the above movies combined didn’t feel as long as Boyhood. God, I hated this dumb, pretentious little movie. Hated.  

So, that’s where we stand so far. Six movies down, two to go, plus I’m going to try to catch some of the best actress nominees as well. (Riddle me this Batman, why are women most often the only actor singled out for a movie, but male roles are almost always within Best Picture, Director, or Writing nominations?) If I’m really lucky, Bubbles and I will be able to see all the shorts (pictures) as well.  

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