On Top of the World

Well behaved women rarely make history.

For Your Consideration

It’s Awards Season and all the pre-Oscar nominations are out, with the Golden Globes set to kick off the awarding this Sunday. I’m gearing up to play Fashion Police but I do also like to discuss the films. And this year I actually have something to say about at least two of the nomination front-runners (yay!). So here we go.

The following contains spoilers for Up in the Air and to a lesser extent Inglorious Basterds.

Yesterday my co-workers and I spent lunch watching Up in the Air and it is a good film. The acting is excellent, from George Clooney (who doesn’t love George Clooney?) down to the random-people-who-are-let-go-throughout. I think Anna Kendrick (Natalie) gives the stand out performance, but Clooney (Ryan), Vera Farmiga (Alex) and Jason Batemen (Craig) are also all wonderful. And with so many great performances, and a clear throughline of story and plot and purpose, I have to say Jason Reitman deserves recognition for directing.

The story is solid, too. It’s topical, it’s meaningful, it’s well-presented. All my co-workers think the story and film are great and can’t stop talking about it. I think the story and film are good. But also predictable. The film is centered on Clooney’s Ryan’s character arc and as a career-driven commitment-phobe who preaches about unpacking everything and everyone who drags you down in the backpack of life — well, of course, where does that character have to go other than toward, as he says himself ‘”deciding what to put back in his backpack”? Now in the heyday of classic Hollywood cinema when movies were meant to be explicitly escapist fantasy, maybe that arc would end with Ryan and Alex happily ever after but today the happy ever after ending would be cheap and silly, but unpredictable, and the scene we get, Alex married with children, is poignant and “realistic” — but predictable.

As are all the little moments in the film, like:
*Ryan walking off the stage during his Vegas Backpack Talk
*The sarcastically suicidal woman actually committing suicide
*Natalie leaving because of that suicide
*The letter of recommendation for Natalie (kinda reminiscent of The Devil Wears Prada)
*Ryan transferring his miles to his sister and her new husband
*Ryan being needed at the wedding
*Ryan meeting his goal of 10 million miles and no longer caring because he has no one to tell
*Ryan staring at the board at the end, considering where he should go with his so many miles, like Natalie told him she would

These are all good moments, and having an inkling they are coming doesn’t take too much away from them, or the film as a whole. It is a good film. But I can’t say it is the best film of the year. Good story, great screenplay, excellent directing and acting. But not Best Picture.

Now let’s talk Basterds. I saw this film in the theaters when it was first out. I’m a real fan of Quentin Tarantino the film-maker and the splashy films he makes. I remember my main thought leaving the theater was that Inglorious Basterds would have made a really amazing HBO or Showtime miniseries. In other words, as a film it’s not long enough to tell the whole story. The Basterds themselves are pretty secondary to the plot — not that I mind. I adore Christophe Waltz’s Nazi-you-love-to-hate, the adorable-why-does-he-have-to-be-evil Daniel Brühl, Melanie Laurent as the little-Jewish-girl-who-grows-up-to-wreak-revenge (the kind of character that seems written for me to fall for), and my girl Diane Kruger as the screen-siren-spy. This is another film with excellent acting, by an ensemble that makes you forget Brad Pitt is in it. And as with Up in the Air, I maintain you don’t get these kind of performances without good direction. Beyond that the film speaks for itself in terms of direction — this film is crafted, and well, Tarantino absolutely deserves recognition for that.

But back to the story/length/focus issue. It’s absolutely there. Scenes seem to be randomly missing and/or randomly included. And while I appreciate the stylization, it comes and goes some, with scenes shifting from classy to pulpy and back again. It is certainly not predictable, at least not the way Up in the Air is, but it is maybe controversial. It’s been suggested to me that revisionist Holocaust history is damaging. I’d call this film a revisionist story of WWII more than the Holocaust and personally, I think it is a problem of our education system and not the film or Tarantino if anyone watching this thinks it’s historically accurate and that that issue should garner more attention but I do say that as not-a-Jew (or any other group persecuted by Nazis) and I don’t mean to be insensitive. Controversy aside, while I think the story behind Inglorious Basterds is by far the more interesting, Up in the Air‘s scripting is much cleaner and better produced. Inglorious Basterds has to depend on its idea, where Up in the Air flies freely.

But as a film overall, I much prefer Inglorious Basterds and between those two, I’m pulling for it. As well as over the rest of the Oscar-nomination contenders, save one, noting, however, that I haven’t seen Avatar (based on hoopla alone, I’m willing to give Cameron directing and picture nominations and I do want to see it, but frankly I don’t know if I can be sold on it as Best Picture winner), The Hurt Locker, District 9, Invictus (this political sports movie also seems written for me, but I have kids and a budget, you know?), Precious…, and others. Of the ones considered to be in the running I have seen: Julie&Julia is adorable and I love Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci in it, but like with Up in the Air good =/= great and Up in the Air is, I think, better; and Up made me cry and deserves to be nominated but it’s no Wall-E (which should have WON last year!!) or even The Incredibles, and it’s not better than Inglorious Basterds, either. That leaves the “save one” I alluded to, what’s been my pick for Best Movie I Saw Last Year all along, and certainly my favorite: Star Trek.

With any luck, I’ll be able to see at least Avatar and The Hurt Locker (out on DVD now) before the Oscars and have opinions that count on many categories. Or I’ll just play Best Dressed because when’s that not fun?


1 Comment»

  Sigrid Ellis wrote @

I didn’t *like* Inglorious Basterds, but I agree completely that it is an audacious film, worthy of an Oscar.

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