Pre-Oscar’s Nominee Round Up

4 03 2010

As part of my pre-Oscar night flurry of watching as many movies as possible, I’ve managed to fit in quite a few films that I don’t have the mental stamina to write full-reviews for. And so, to make sure I have all my facts straight come tomorrow when I put together my list of “will win/should win” based upon the movies that I’ve actually had a chance to see. Most of these movies are also relatively old, or have been talked about left and right in the press so this reduces the risk of sounding repetitive. That being said, here we go!

UP

Directors: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson
Starring: Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai
Release Date: May 29, 2009

One of the two 3-D movies I’ve seen in the past year, UP delivers as a feel-good children’s movie that both adults and kids can enjoy together. If I were 15 years younger, I would have enjoyed the story of an old man who tries to escape from the busyness on interruptions of city living by attaching a ton of balloons to his house and floating away with it not realizing he has a stowaway, Russel. The two travel the skies as they try to make their way to Angel Falls, where Carl, the old man, always wanted to travel with his darling wife as they sought to be like their role model, the adventurer Charles Muntz. The physical hijinks Russel and Carl encounter would have been laugh-inducing and the character of Dug, the dog, would have been lovable. Seeing it as a 23 year old (or rather, I was 22 at the time), I loved it even more. Not only did the comedy and hijinks appeal to me, but I was able to enjoy the deeper undertones of love and loss as well. The first five minutes of the film are a magical look at how love blossoms, grows, and endures and are well worth the price of admission. And exploring the visually stunning world Docter and Peterson created around the Angel Falls was a treat alongside the friendship Carl and Russel strike up. Final Verdict: Good

2010 Academy Award Nominations – Writing (Original Screenplay), Music (Original Score), Sound Editing, Animated Feature Film, Best Picture

Inglourious Basterds

Director: Quentin Tarentino
Starring: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent, Diane Kruger
Release Date: Aug. 21, 2009

Tarentino is known for his violent, uncomfortable and all-around WTF plotlines and his latest film, Inglourious Basterds, is no exception. The first scene featuring Christoph Waltz as a deliciously devilish Nazi officer conniving his way to getting what he wants during WWII set the stage for a fast-paced thriller that actually makes you think. And then, all too soon, that compelling tale dries up into the pulp medium Tarentino seems most comfortable in. The Basterds, a team of Jewish-Americans bent on raising hell in the Nazi regime, is introduced in a confused sort of way that leads viewers to ask “well, wait, who are they?” And just as they start to figure out just what it is the Basterds do as a group, Tarentino once again shifts the action to only include 5 of them. There are moments in the movie that are delectable, most notably Diane Kruger’s entrance as an actress holding her own among a group of Nazi soldiers as a few Basterds try to infiltrate the ranks as Nazi officers, and any scene with Waltz, but for the most part the movie falls flat. Had Tarentino not attempted to rewrite a huge part of history – namely, Hitler’s death – the movie would have been a darkly comical look at WWII. As it is, Pitt and co. are entertaining – and at times disturbing, as when he shoves his finger into a bullet hole to torture Kruger – but it is Waltz that carries the movie and saves it from being an abysmal failure. His supporting actor nod is well-deserved (if not head-scratching worthy – who did the academy decide was the primary actor? Pitt?), but the Best Picture nomination is sorely lacking and may be a case of the Academy needing to fill out their inflated 10 spots. Final Verdict: Mediocre

2010 Academy Award Nominations – Best Supporting Actor, Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Director, Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Best Original Screenplay

Avatar

Director: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Joel Moore
Release Date: Dec. 18, 2009

Coming in at the tail-end of the Avatar madness there’s no way I was ever going to see the movie without a preconceived notion of what I was walking into. It’s like Pocahontas in Space! It’s Fern Gully on crack!Hell, James Cameron even admitted that it’s Dances with Wolves in space! That said, there’s no way that I could have not seen it prior to the Oscars. And I had to see it in 3-D to get the full effect. Avatar is visually stunning. There is no doubt about that. The world which James Cameron created holds intrigue and wonder and I was constantly looking forward to what creature we would be introduced to next. From the six-legged horses to the scary panther who chases Jake’s Avatar and leads him to the Na’vi to the flying ikran’s and toruk the introduction of each new species was a pleasure to behold and kept things interesting in an otherwise dull story. The scenery was also spectacular. The floating mountains, the home tree, the tree of voices and the tree of souls are gorgeous and each sweeping panorama is almost as breathtaking as the next as Jake and Neytiri run through the forest at night. The plot, though, causes the film to fall a little flat. We get it, humans are bad for destroying Earth, Cameron disagrees with the war in Iraq, humans are too caught up in materialism. Yes, we had a fantastic little movie called Wall-E which reminded us of this all two years ago. Still, the love story, while predictable, was entertaining, and it was pleasant to watch Jake’s interactions with the Na’vi move from ethnocentric to familial. Final Verdict: Mediocre plot, Good Visuals

But the big question is: Did it need to be in 3-D? To an extent, the 3-D helped to capture the immensity and wonder of Pandora, but the entire movie did not need to be in 3-D. While the landscapes and battle scenes were visually compelling, the scenes in the RDA colony containing only human beings were awkward and slightly jarring. I don’t think I’d see it in 3-D again, but it might be interesting to see it in 2-D so as not to be distracted by the extra dimension.

2010 Academy Award Nominations: Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects (honestly…this is a category? Just hand the award to Avatar now (up against District 9 and Star Trek)…there’s no point in even taking the time to announce it at the show) and Best Picture

Julie & Julia

Director: Nora Ephron
Starring: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina
Release Date: Aug. 7, 2009

A light-hearted romp through time, Julie & Julia is probably the fluffiest of the films on this list – and that’s not saying much when you remember this list includes an animated movie. The film, based on a true story, follows Julie Powell (Amy Adams) as she works her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking and blogging about the experience. At the same time, we’re treated to a secondary plot following Ms. Julia Child herself (Meryl Streep) as she moves to France with her husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci), and tries to find something to keep her occupied during their stay. She settles on cooking and shortly becomes one of the best cooks in her class regardless of the fact that she was supposed to fail, according to the woman running the cooking school. The two stories touch on highlights of the women’s lives as they parallel each other as Julia tries to write her book, and Julie tries to cook her way through it. Sounds like a fail-proof plot, and yet, it fails. The Julie side of the story is unbecoming of Adams, who has proven herself to be versatile as both a princess (Enchanted) and a lower class woman trying to make ends meet in a gruesome way (Sunshine Cleaning). She’s shrill, she’s whiney and she’s at times downright obnoxious which causes her husband to leave her for a few days. While this may be an excellent character study by Adams, it’s detrimental due to the fact that her character isn’t compelling at all. Who cares if Julie makes it through the cook book? Not I. And certainly not Julia Child, who had a dismissive attitude towards the Julie/Julia blog. The directors should have taken a cue from the master herself. If Julia doesn’t care, the viewer won’t either. Instead, we should have been treated to an all Julia, all the time movie. The glimpses of France are beautiful and the in-depth look at just how a cook book is produced is interesting. But it is the character interactions between Julia and Paul that truly shine. Streep falls in the role of Julia wonderfully. She perfectly captures her mannerisms and her character, and Tucci is the perfect compliment as he offsets Julia’s eccentricities with his loving, yet solid demeanor. And the food looks so appetizing. Julie Child could definitely cook and she (and Streep) proved that much better than Julie Powell ever could. Final verdict: Mediocre

2010 Academy Award Nominations: Best Actress in a Leading Role

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