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 Best Picture Showcase 2012 -- my yearly recap
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Joe Blevins 
"Don't I look handsome?"

Posted - 19/02/2012 :  04:29:17  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Hello, one and all.

I just survived Day 1 of the Best Picture Showcase, a marathon of the films nominated for the top prize, and once again I've come away with the realization that the "marathon" format is not the ideal way to see a motion picture. (Sort of how an eating contest is not the best way to appreciate food.) A multiplex is a weird, weird place to spend a whole day. There's not much within walking distance of this theater, so you're kind of stuck there for the day unless you feel like driving someplace. (I didn't.) I couldn't help but notice that this theater had the same music on "repeat" in its halls and lobby for the whole day. I heard the "Muppet Show" theme at least eight times, testing my love for even that great song.

But anyway, let's address this year's nominees in the order I saw them.

War Horse - I kind of wish I hadn't seen that viral video about "the Spielberg face" recently because I couldn't help but notice how often it was used in War Horse. It seemed like once every couple of minutes. This one's pretty harmless stuff -- one of those sappy, sentimental horse movies that could have been made any time in the last 60 years -- though very well done for what it is. I'm sure teachers will be showing this one to their students for years to come. I more or less enjoyed it, but it's one I'd never choose for myself on my own. Maybe that's what's good about the Showcase. This is definitely a quality film, even if it is kind of hokey and hoary. The title is doubly, perhaps triply appropriate. GRADE: B

Moneyball - This is much closer to the kind of movie I'd normally see. I guess what kept me away from it was that I'm not such a big baseball fan. I had forgotten that Aaron Sorkin cowrote the screenplay, but his presence was obvious long before his credit appeared at the end. This felt much closer to The Social Network than anything else on the schedule. Good actors doing quick, smart dialogue. Moneyball zips right along. It didn't shake me the way Social Network did, but it's well worth seeing nevertheless. GRADE: B+

The Tree of Life - The only movie on today's schedule I'd already seen. I predicted via Twitter yesterday that this movie would "go over like a lead balloon" with the Showcase audience, and boy did it ever. They heckled and booed it! What can I say? I still like this movie a lot, though I can completely sympathize with the people who hate it. In its defense, I will say that the main function of cinema is to provide audiences with extraordinary things to see and hear. I think The Tree of Life does that better than any other film I saw in 2011. It is slow, often exasperating, and almost stubbornly opaque at times. Had I been Terrence Malick, I might have chickened out and shaved, say, 45 minutes off the running time to make the film more of a crowd pleaser. But he didn't do it, and I admire that. This is the kind of film which suffers the most from being in a marathon setting. If you see The Tree of Life, it should probably be the ONLY movie you see that day... or that week, for that matter. GRADE: A-

The Descendants - Probably my favorite of the day, though it was much heavier than I expected it to be. The ad campaign is all but ignoring the central fact of the plot. Great ensemble cast here, led by George Clooney, who allows himself to be paunchy and overwhelmed. Nice work by Judy Greer, Beau Bridges, Matthew Lilliard, Robert Forster and others. Great work by the younger cast, too. I'm not sure why I avoided this one in theaters, since I liked Alex Payne's previous stuff. If you've seen his other movies, you'll kinda know what to expect here. GRADE: A-

Onward and upward to Day 2... though that's not for another week.

"Double Your Pleasure!"

United States

Posted - 21/02/2012 :  22:38:57  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Hi Joe. I'm doing this again this year as well. Your observations regarding the "marathon" format are well-taken. Still, I love doing the Best Picture showcase each year! Here are my thoughts:

War Horse: I pretty much agree with every word Joe wrote (except I didn't know about the Spielberg Face!). I thought it was too long, overly sentimental and melodramatic. But it was beautifully shot and gorgeous to look at. The whole thing had an old-fashioned "Family Classics" sort of feel. From the sometimes stagey look, to the musical soundtrack, to the comic-relief goose, this really was something I might have seen on Sunday afternoon TV in 1970... and I think that's exactly what Spielberg was going for, so I'll give him credit for that. Crusty old cynic that I am, though, the film just never hit me on an emotional level.

Moneyball: The only one of these four that I'd seen before, and also my favorite of the day. It's one of those great sports movies that isn't really about sports. (Though being a huge baseball fan didn't hurt either.) The film has something to say about how we value people, why we make the choices we do, and what happens when we take a leap of faith. A great script and wonderful understated performances all around.

The Tree of Life: We didn't get hecklers at our theater, but nobody was shy about their opinions after the lights came back up, and I didn't hear anything good.
So, where is the line between bold, experimental filmmaking and pretentious crap? Because wherever it is, Malick wandered over it repeatedly, and found his way back one time too few. The thing is, I found the sequences with the family to be highly engaging. This was unconventional storytelling to be sure, with minimal dialogue, artsy cinematography and jumpy editing, but that part of the film really worked for me, enough that I was willing to buy the whole extended creation-of-the-universe sequence leading up to it. But then with about, what, 20 minutes left (I lost track of time), the whole thing just ran off the rails. I really wanted what I did like about it to be able to redeem what I didn't, but in the end it just couldn't. (If anyone's interested, I've expanded on these thoughts in the thread dedicated to this film.)

The Descendants: I really liked this film. It somehow managed to be sweet and funny while dealing with -- literally -- a life-and-death family crisis. The emotions all seemed very real, and the cast did a great job of capturing the helplessness of the situation, and the absurdity of trying to deal with the mundane alongside the monumental. The parallel story regarding the family's land ended rather predictably, but that was necessary to make the point it needed to make. This was a good way to finish the day.

I'm really looking forward to at least 4 of next week's 5 films, and I'll pop back in for a recap... Though I'm sure Joe will beat me to it.

Edited by - Wheelz on 22/02/2012 19:43:41
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"I like to watch."


Posted - 24/02/2012 :  15:01:10  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
As a longtime festivalgoer, I really empathize with you guys. It is so tough to stay sharp, and remember what you've seen, on a 4/day schedule. Nice capsules, though, from both of you. More, please!

P.S. THE TREE OF LIFE was one of my favorite films ever. Go figure.
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Joe Blevins 
"Don't I look handsome?"

Posted - 26/02/2012 :  07:41:04  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
So now I've survived Day 2 and have thus seen all nine nominated pictures. This was an odd line-up of movies, though I have noted some connections between them. Hugo and The Artist, of course, are paeans to the early days of cinema. Hugo and Extremely Loud, meanwhile, follow strikingly similar plot outlines: a young boy tries to reconnect with his dead father by solving a mystery, though the mystery in question actually turns out to be about someone else entirely. Six of the nine films are adaptations this year, and it seems like an inordinate amount of them are dominated by characters with "daddy" issues.

Anyway, I barely made the marathon on time today because for some unknown reason I took a wrong turn within -- literally -- the first two minutes of the trip. I had to defy the laws of both God and Man to make it there, but I did! This was cool, though, because it turned my morning into an action film. Speaking of which, why can't action movies be nominated for BP? Or horror movies? Or comedies? (Sure, there are strong comedic elements in several of these pictures, but none that I would call flat-out comedies.)

But now, my impressions of the five films on the schedule...

Hugo - This was the one film I'd already seen. I liked it then and like it now. A lot of people were grumbling about 3D, and one fellow next to me was even railing against 3D surcharges. To him, I'd say that this was a marathon with one ticket price, so surcharges are not even a factor here. (I don't think AMC even charges extra for glasses anymore.) And to everyone else, I'd say stop complaining so much. Yes, 3D has been an overused and often-unnecessary gimmick, but it's not the scourge people pretend it is. I think Hugo is an example of a director actually using 3D carefully and thoughtfully as part of the storytelling process. I don't know that there's a more meticulously crafted film among the nominees this year. Seemingly the entire look of the film has been based on the color of Hugo's eyes! That exact shade of blue is used as an accent color throughout! Beyond the razzle dazzle (which is in abundance), there are so many moments of charm and humor here. The sweet, weird romance between Sacha Baron Cohen and Emily Mortimer is something I actually wanted to see more of. That said, one viewing is probably sufficient. I may want to see Hugo again in five or ten years. GRADE: A-

The Help - This, on the other hand, was a movie that drained me, that completely sapped my will to go on with the marathon. I wish Tennessee Williams or Flannery O'Connor were still around to write stories about the American South that don't make me want to throw myself into a stump grinder. Yes, there are good performances here from Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, but they're laboring in the service of pure Hollywood hokum with cheap sentiment, cheaper jokes, and false uplift. The audience completely ate this up, which made me feel awful. The infamous "shit pie" is, I think, a sadly apt metaphor for the entire movie. We're being served up a slice of shit and eating it with gusto. GRADE: D-

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - I'd heard very negative, disturbing things about this movie and was expecting to be appalled and outraged. Long story short, I wasn't. I didn't enjoy this film or find it moving or insightful, but it didn't bother me as much as I thought it would. It's sappy, manipulative, and sentimental, sure, but compared to The Help, it's tasteful and restrained. The film had lots of moviegoers around me sobbing, but I was just a little bored and frustrated by it. It's a very repetitive movie in a lot of ways, and the central character seemed too gimmicky by half. I was mainly just able to shrug this one off. GRADE: C-

The Artist - Maybe it's just because it came after The Help and Extremely Loud, but The Artist was exactly the movie I needed at this point in the day. I'm not gonna lie to you, citizens. I was grinning like an idiot from the beginning of the movie to the very end. For one thing, this was the first movie in the marathon (and I'm talking both days!) to have an opening title sequence. Damn it, Hollywood, bring those back immediately! But beyond that, even though the movie is a completely inconsequential trifle, I think I enjoyed every single scene and each performance, up to and including the dog. There's been some grumbling that not enough happens in the movie or that it's too slow. I don't know how to respond to that. I really don't. I guess people want nonstop chaos and noise for two hours, but to me those movies are the boring ones. As I get older, I tend to love silence or quieter moments in movies, and I resent the fact that so many movies use a constant stream of chatter as a crutch. Shut up already, Hollywood! To me, The Artist was worth a million yakfests like The Help. GRADE: A-

Midnight in Paris - So dig this. Owen Wilson has serious problems, see? He's just an incredibly successful, highly paid screenwriter whose gorgeous fiancee wants to live with him in Malibu. But he'd really rather be a serious novelist living in Paris! The poor dear! Oh, how I sympathize with these problems! Then he starts time traveling back to the 1920s every night and meeting the literary and artistic luminaries of that time, so the aforementioned blonde fiancee thinks he's crazy! What tough luck! Then he only gets to romance a woman (another knockout, BTW) from the 1920s for a little while before he has to settle for yet ANOTHER gorgeous woman -- this one a present-day Parisian antiques dealer -- who seemingly drops into his life from the heavens. You can see how all this could leave a fella feeling disoriented. Okay, okay. Getting serious now. Midnight in Paris is still a highly enjoyable, very watchable movie. It's Woody Allen's swoony valentine to the city of Paris -- which connects it to Hugo in a way, though Owen Wilson doesn't go near any train stations that I can remember. It also has strong echoes of "The Kugelmass Episode," a short story Allen wrote decades ago. One joke -- about failing "freshman English" -- is lifted verbatim. And I guess there are similarities to The Purple Rose of Cairo, too, though all the pain and sadness have been stripped away to make this a comforting, reassuring "feel-good" movie. GRADE: B+

I guess my pick for Best Picture is The Artist. It's not an "important" movie in any real way, but it's a highly enjoyable one. To me, at least.

Edited by - Joe Blevins on 26/02/2012 07:47:07
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"500 Chocolate Delights"


Posted - 27/02/2012 :  08:31:49  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Too bad you didn't put money on that pick, but then again, most people were sure it was going to win anyway so the odd wouldn't have been that good.
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"Double Your Pleasure!"

United States

Posted - 27/02/2012 :  20:25:04  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Thanks, Joe, for leading the way again. This week felt quite more like a "marathon" than last weekend. That fifth film realy does make a difference. My opinions on this week's films are somewhat more divergent from yours this time, though. I hesitate to give out stars or letter grades, however, as the experience of watching a film is so highly subjective. Your opinions aren't wrong; I don't think mine are either. Here we go:

Hugo: The first several minutes of the film consist of a hyper-kinetic tour through Hugo's world of moving parts -- all spinning gears and swinging pendulums and an always-moving camera following an always-moving boy. Soon we are introduced to Sacha Baron Cohen channeling Inspector Clousseau in a leg brace (Ha ha! Physical handicaps are funny!) in the first of what seems like a dozen chase scenes through the crowded train station. All in the magic of motion-sickness-inducing 3D. Ugh.
Fortunately, things calm down a bit after that, as the mystery of the man in the toy booth begins to take shape, the human elements of the story are coaxed out, and the 3D is used not to dazzle but to add richness and beauty to the visuals. Though it took a while, eventually I was drawn in and I let the film charm me. Going in, I was blissfully unaware of where the story was going, and it was both surprising and moving.
My biggest quibble was with Cohen's character (though through no fault of his). The inspector was a real and imminent threat to the protaganist, yet he also served as the comic relief, and that incongruity bugged me a little too much. Overall, a very entertaining, very good film that fell a bit short of the greatness to which it aspired.

The Help: I'd heard all the criticisms -- That the film trivializes the civil rights movement and doesn't accurately depict the real brutality of racism in the South at the time, that it's all about white guilt, and I admit I was ready to pile on. Courageous rich white girl wins the civil rights movement! Hooray!
But here's what I realized: That wasn't the story they were trying to tell. This is not supposed to be a film about lynchings and civil rights leaders and bus boycotts and sit-ins. It's a much smaller story, about individuals from different backgrounds and points of view reacting to a changing world. On that level, I think it worked, and worked very well. Maybe a little bit chick-flicky for my usual tastes, but what can I say, Joe, I swallowed the shit-pie, and was actually thrilled that Octavia Spencer got a statue for helping to bake it.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: Boy, did I have the walls up for this one. I was expecting a sappy, maudlin weep-fest wallowing in 9/11 for the purpose of shameless sentimental manipulation. My defenses started to come down as I gradually realized quite the contrary. This film is all about the universality of loss, whether it's through a national tragedy, or cancer, or divorce; and that we can't continue to wallow in it, whatever our personal loss may be. In the end it's about moving on in spite of it. I liked that not every question got answered and not every mystery got solved (that's life!). Maybe it's because I lost my own father relatively recently, but for whatever reason, this got to me. It's not an easy film to watch, and there's no way I would have chosen to see if it hadn't been part of the Best Picture Showcase, which is actually one of the reasons I do this every year.

The Artist: Perfectly deserving of the win. Even though I personally enjoyed both Moneyball and Midnight in Paris more, I have no complaints. It may seem like a mere trifle, and indeed it's quite fun to watch (just what I needed after the last two), but it went quite a bit deeper and darker than I expected, had some real things to say about the nature of success and the need to adapt, and is proving to have staying power in my head. I was intrigued by watching a somewhat familiar story told in a way I'm not used to, and was utterly charmed throughout it all. Well done.

Midnight in Paris: The only repeat viewing of the day for me. I put this up with Purple Rose of Cairo as my two favorite Woody Allen films. They both center around impossible and fantastical occurrences which, for the sake of moving the story along, the characters quickly accept without questioning the how or the why too deeply. The audience, then, has no choice but to follow suit, which lets us simply relax and enjoy the ride. I absolutely loved the historically-based characters, and shared a bit of Gil's wonder at meeting them. His conversation with Dali and Man Ray was outstanding. "You guys are surrealists, of course it would make sense to you."
Some of the seams showed a little bit the second time around. The supporting characters in the present day are a little weak, and (SPOILER ALERT!) I kind of wish the gift shop girl hadn't popped up at the end. Gil alone and ready to begin his new life would have made for a stronger ending. But these are minor quibbles to what I thought was an absolutely wonderful film. I'm glad Woody got recognized for his screenplay despite his status within the Academy.

If I'd had a vote, it would have gone to Moneyball, for no deeper reason than I enjoyed it the most out of the nine. But it had no chance of winning, of course, and as I said before I have no problem with The Artist taking the prize. Lots of deserving winners last night.

Oh and, by the way, despite the negative reaction (including my own) to The Tree of Life, it was unquestionably the most-discussed film from the previous week among our little group. For that I'll give it credit -- it does stick with you.

I also enjoyed the "6 degrees of Kevin Bacon" thing that seemed to be happening among a bunch of the nominated films. We saw Moneyball with Brad Pitt, who was in The Tree of Life with Jessica Chastain, who was in The Help with Viola Davis, who was in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close with John Goodman, who was in The Artist. If Only Kevin Bacon had been in that too! Yeah, it was a long day...

Edited by - Wheelz on 27/02/2012 21:03:59
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United Kingdom

Posted - 28/02/2012 :  02:02:19  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Bravo gentlemen - great summaries both. Thank you.
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"I like to watch."


Posted - 29/02/2012 :  21:54:00  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I agree with Demmy, boys: great stuff! Thanks!

I saw MIDNIGHT IN PARIS in New York [Woodman turf] at a preview screening of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. After these screenings, everybody files out of the theater and into a reception room for finger food, wine, and chitchat. I must have heard twenty people saying, essentially, this is the best Woody in 30 years, and I felt that way/said so myself. Remember that it hadn't opened yet -- we were just all rocked back by a really good one, days before any critics had the chance to tell us how we should feel. So I'm happy for Woody's screenwriting Oscar [it's the notion that lights the fire, then the casting and directing make the concept sing] but agree it wasn't the year's best pic.

As you now know, 5/day is at least one too many. I know you didn't have any choice, but imagine us poor indiefestivalgoers when a third of 'em are subtitled!

Good job -- I loved reading your reactions!
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