Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Thoughts on the 84th Academy Awards

The 84th Annual Academy Awards have come and gone. The (supposedly) best films of 2011 have received their (supposed) honours and now we have the films of 2012 to look forward to for when, this time next year, we get to do the (supposed) same song and dance again. You know, the one where the Academy mainly recognizes mostly well-made yet unchallenging cookie-cutter Oscar bait while creative and innovative genre films, quirky comedies, and blockbusters usually settle for either the technical categories, becoming cult classics, or ignored altogether... you know, supposedly.

At the risk of coming off as some self-righteous hipster movie geek who thinks of nothing but genre films and indie flicks, the last two Oscar ceremonies have been so underwhelming and forgettable. It's not that I've hated the movies that have won or been nominated. On the contrary, most have been very good films worthy of the nominations (and SOME of the wins, but that's another story). Still, the last few ceremonies have been so dull, predictable, and unambitious that it doesn't make for a very exciting night. I guess they had a few reasonable excuses this year. First off, it wasn't a particularly great year for movies. There were some highlights but overall, most of the year's films were pretty forgettable. Secondly, the Academy were caught with their pants down when producer Brett Ratner dropped out of his producer duties and took original host Eddie Murphy with him. In an effort to quickly salvage the problem, they hired veteran host Billy Crystal to take control for his ninth time all while fixing the mess of Ratner's failed try. So... to the Academy's credit, they were in a tough spot. Nonetheless, here are my thoughts on this year's Oscar ceremonies.

The Host :l
Well, I certainly don't blame the Academy for choosing Billy Crystal as the host. Especially when you consider what I wrote in the above paragraph. Not to mention that last year when they took a chance last year by choosing Anne Hathaway and James Franco... only to see it blow up in their faces. After all, after eight previous Oscar hosting duties, Crystal has become such a natural at the gig that he could host in his sleep. Only problem... it kind of looked like he was hosting in his sleep. To his credit, Crystal had a couple of funny moments, the intro video with him was fun to watch, and he's good enough at this gig to make it look easy. Only thing, it wasn't a particularly memorable hosting bit, and I doubt I'll remember much about it in after a few more days go by. Oh well, at least he did a better job than Franco and Hathaway last year... gotta appreciate the little things.

Hugo Sweeps The Technical Categories :)
Consider how every film buff or Oscar spectator was predicting a Titanic-style victory sweep for The Artist, it was nice to see a few other films, namely Hugo, pick up a most of the awards in the under-appreciated technical categories. Oh sure, it doesn't quite make up for the fact that The Artist reigned supreme in the major categories or how Drive was snubbed out of all but a measly sound editing nomination (but that's a rant for another post). Anywho, it was a pleasant surprise to see Martin Scorsese's new masterpiece take home some well deserved victories in art direction, cinematography, sound design, and visual effects. It was another nice surprise to see The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo get a well-earned statue for editing as well. Like I said before... gotta appreciate the little things.

The Muppets Win Best Song :)
It doesn't quite make up for the fact that The Artist won the Best Score award (but that's yet another rant for later). Nonetheless, this award makes me happy for two reasons. The first reason... because it was great to see a Muppet movie finally win an Oscar. Secondly, it means that Bret Mackenzie (Flight of the Concords) is now an Oscar winner as well. My only bitch about this award... WHY COULDN'T THEY HAVE PERFORMED THE SONGS ON STAGE??? Even if they didn't want to go all out with a huge musical number, couldn't they have at least had someone come out and sing the damn songs??? There were only two songs nominated! While we're on that, why were there only two songs nominated? How about the other Muppet songs or Star Spangled Man for Captain America??? Eeesh... nonetheless, this was still a good choice for the Oscar. Once again I must say... gotta appreciate the little things.

Emma Stone and Ben Stiller :)
Seeing Emma Stone's funny Oscar presentation with Ben Stiller was one of the few legitimately charming and funny moments from this year's ceremony. Namely because Stone's perky and natural comic timing combined with a surprisingly straight turn from Stiller played against expectations and got a few decent laughs. I've always said that Emma Stone was one of the most talented young actresses working today... I still stand by that.

The Best Picture Nominees
I was hoping to have a few more paragraphs about things I liked from the Oscars this year... but I'm having trouble thinking of any. So... let's go straight to my thoughts on the Best Picture nominees.

The Artist
The winning film! I'll cover my thoughts on it after I do the other Best Picture nominees.

The Descendants
Really liked this movie! It was nice to see it take a screenplay Oscar, but it would have been nice to see it take a few more. Even though I did like Jean Dujardin's performance in The Artist, it wasn't on the same level as Clooney's in this. Not to mention how Shailene Woodley was inexplicably snubbed out of a performance for Best Supporting actress. I'll have to write out a full review one of these days for this one.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
I'm just going to come out with this... I HATED THIS MOVIE!!! I can't remember the last time I've been so appalled to see a movie on the Best Picture nominee list. Usually, even if I don't like a film nominated for Best Picture, I can understand or somewhat get behind the logic or reasoning of the nomination, even if I don't particularly agree with it. But Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was one of the most pretentious, nauseating, self pandering examples of worthy subject matter turned into a God-awful mess. Oh sure, the 9/11-inspired story might have some important merits and Max Von Sydow's emotional performance prevents the film from tanking completely. None of that makes up for the main character... an annoying and thoroughly unlikable 11-year-old kid. I'll write a full review one of these days... but yeah, I was not a fan of this film.

The Help
This is the other nomination I didn't particularly care for. I wrote a full review for it a few months back if you're looking for a more detailed critique of the film's merits. Ultimately, the movie had a few pros, including some promising ideas, an excellent cast, and relevant subject matter. Unfortunately, the said execution of promising ideas was done in the rough context of the overdone "white saviour" story-arc. Any of The Help's eye-opening portrayals of racism and prejudice are downplayed to provide more development to Emma Stone's character Skeeter, an educated white woman in her early 20s, writing a book that inspires the black maids to stand up against their racist employers. Add in some generic one-note characters and glanced over depictions of important historical events, and it doesn't really work. At least The Help can fall back on the excellent performances of its cast... all of whom really are great.

This was on my Top 10 films of the year, ranking at #3. Even though Midnight In Paris (another Best Picture nominee) ranked higher on my list, I would have actually really liked to see this one take the award. It was nice to see it sweep most of the technical awards, but that still didn't change the fact that this got snubbed out of Best Picture for a much lesser film. More than that, it's the fact that both Hugo and The Artist were intriguing homages to classic and silent-era films. Only difference, Hugo was not only more creative, but far more intriguing tribute to the respective era of filmmaking. How so? I'll have to write a review for this one soon.

Midnight In Paris
This was another one of my favorite movies of 2011, placing at #3. It had been a while since we last saw a Woody Allen film, but he came back in glorious form, writing and directing one of the most creative and entertaining romantic comedies in years. It's Woody Allen at his best, with enjoyable performances, a creative concept, witty dialogue, and intriguing insight into our nostalgia-driven society. If either this or Hugo won Best Picture, I would have been a happy film goer. At least it won an Oscar for its screenplay.

I have a feeling that Moneyball is forever going to be remembered as the film that received Jonah Hill an Oscar nomination. I mean no offense to Hill, I mean after all, seeing him make some great dramatic strides in his acting ability is going to help out his career immensely, and hopefully he'll keep picking out some good roles. Still, there's way more to Moneyball than just Jonah Hill's good performance. Its an interesting story based on a real event, Brad Pitt is at his best, and the technical elements are all solid. It's too bad this didn't win any of it's Oscars. Not my personal pick for Best Picture, but I could have lived with it winning if it took the prize.

The Tree Of Life
If you like your films artsy and experimental, this one is for you! For everyone else... good luck. While The Tree of Life can't help but come off as more than a bit pretentious, especially since it's message isn't quite as amazing as it likes to think it is, it's nonetheless a very interesting film. Described as a modern-day 2001, Terrance Malick's experimental portrayal of life, death, and time is certainly different... and I mean that mostly in a good way. By no means a masterpiece like Kubrick's 2001, it's nonetheless a film I recommend simply because it tries something creative and different, even if a bit slow and tedious at times. That and you get some great performances from Jessica Chastain and Brad Pitt. Take that as you will.

War Horse
2011 might just be the year of nostalgia-themed movies. The Best Picture winner was a silent film recreated, Hugo was a whimsical fantasy movie about the power of film, Midnight In Paris was a movie about our nostalgic mindsets, and War Horse is a lovingly recreated homage to cinematic epics of the 1940s... much like the movies of filmmaker John Ford. It's by no means Spielberg's best, but the top notch cinematography and technical execution, along with some solid acting, was enough for me. Check it out.

The Best Picture Winner - The Artist :l
Ugh... I never thought I would be so bummed about a film that I genuinely liked winning Best Picture. And again, let me make that clear.... I DID LIKE THE ARTIST. It's a fun and pleasant homage to a classic era of filmmaking... but that's about it. Overall, the film reeks of being good but not great (at least not that great). Oh sure, last year's winner The King's Speech wasn't my pick either, but at least that one could fall back on Colin Firth's top-notch performance. The Artist had one stand out scene where the film broke from being a simple recreation into something truly creative, but otherwise played it safe and took few chances. Is that all it takes to win Best Picture? To recreate a movie? Why haven't we given any Best Picture awards to Quentin Tarantino yet? That guy basically does the same thing... only difference is that he adds some of his own personal flair to give his recreations more artist merit. I mean, War Horse wasn't much more than a recreation of a John Ford movie, why not give that Best Picture. Again, The Artist is a good movie, but like other forgettable Best Picture winners like Shakespeare In Love, How Green Was My Valley, Chicago, or Dances With Wolves... the only thing it's going to be remembered for is being one of the Academy's weaker picks.

Ugh... I really hope the Oscars get better again soon, because they haven't been really doing it the last couple years. Mediocre picks, forgettable shows, and few surprises. Crossing my fingers for next year.

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