Oscar Oscar Oscar

Academy_Awards_Oscar_Statue

Chestnuts are roasting, hot chocolate is steaming, turkey is basting, pumpkin pie is pumping, and stockings are – um – stocking?  Anyway, all that means only one thing.  It’s Oscar season.  This is the home stretch, when the studios roll out their big-ticket films to keep their stars, films, and sugar plums dancing in the heads of the Academy voters.  Let’s start with one that’s already been released and is doing rather well.

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Flight, from Paramount, marks a return of director Oscar-winner Robert Zemeckis to working with humans again instead of animation.  Veteran airline pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) miraculously lands a plunging airliner, averting a sure disaster with one hell of an amazing flying maneuver.  He’s a hero, but not for long.  An investigation shows that he was not even just drunk at the time but beyond that.  Still, he saved people.

It’s a sympathy trip for sure, but it’s not a sappy one.  Washington doesn’t go over the top as a functioning abuser.  He instead plays it rather conservative and introspective.  He’s not necessarily in denial of what he’s using, but he is in denial of perspective.  Luckily, it’s not part of the Tom Cruise-formula.  That’s when someone seems to have great talent, has a bad moment, loses all confidence, and then slowly recovers with the help of a beautiful psychologist or assistant like Kelly McGillis Elizabeth Shue, or Nicole Kidman.  Nope.  Instead, the beautiful assistant is played by John Goodman, and how much he’s helping or hurting is another matter.

It opened strong ($25 million) and is still going strong.

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Lincoln, from Dreamworks, was originally set to be released the weekend before the 2012 Presidential election, but Steven Spielberg delayed it a week to avoid any possible Republican cries of propaganda.  What they’d have cried about is unclear, but what is clear is that the delay did not help the box office receipts.  The intake was disappointing (an opening weekend just under $1 million) but the reviews are terrific.

Daniel Day-Lewis takes the slaughter axes from Gangs of New York and turns them on breaking the chains of slavery.  Unfortunately, it’s going to take more than axes to break the fighting inside Washington between the politicians both for and against the inhuman bondage that had divided a nation.  The Congress is composed of a bevy of stars, including Tommy Lee Jones, Hal Holbrook, David Strathairn, James Spader, and rising star Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  Many familiar faces in unfamiliar places.  The film mainly focuses on those things in addition to the slavery issue:  1. That Lincoln was a self-educated, axe-swinging, down-to-earth, cabin-raised, deep-hearted guy, and 2. He was just as much a wheeler-dealer as the more city-folk kind of politicians.  He knew how to be a caring man, and he also knew how to play the game, and only someone who had a great grasp of both sides of the coin knew exactly how to spend it in order to put a stamp on the 13th Amendment.

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anna

You know that every year there’s a period piece that reaches back to the Victorian, Elizabethan, Renaissance, or another “era” of time.  Anna Karenina is one of two “era” pieces from Working Title Films this year.  Directed by Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice, Atonement) retells the story of aristocrats with too much time on their hands and too much money in their pockets.  Since they have little else to do except throw outstanding parties that involve a great deal of ballroom dancing and darkly-lit marble halls.  Unless you love reading Leo Tolstoy, you will likely spend more time looking at your watch and smartphone instead of the screen.

Jude Law is Jude Law.  It’s almost impossible not to like him, regardless of what role he’s playing.  However, his role as government minister Karenin requires him to be a boring-as-hell husband who was not giving his wife (Kiera Knightley) the attention she desired, thus “causing” her to seek attention and desire elsewhere.  It’s not an uncommon story, and I’d rather see the same story told through regular, suburban characters with whom I can identify rather than lavishly-costumed sticks in the mud who ride in golden carriages.

Speaking of costumes, it’s likely to win an Oscar for costume design, set design, and musical score, and that will be enough for Wright to be given another chance to not bore me to tears when he directed Knightley in Atonement.  As for Anna Karenina, it’s been filmed about a dozen times, which might beg the question, how good is the story if Hollywood has to keep trying over and over again?

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Period piece Two is the multi award-winning musical epic Les Misérables, starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway and directed by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech).  Someone at Working Title Films had a lot of faith in Hooper to turn over $61 million to someone who had only directed only two other feature films.  This project actually began in the planning stages back in 1988, almost 25 years ago, with a cavalcade of stars who were on-again off-again in various roles.  Those who didn’t make it on the boat include Lea Michele (Glee), Taylor Swift, Scarlett Johannson, Helena Bonham-Carter (who left but returned), Paul Bettany, Evan Rachel Wood, and more.

Jean Valjean (Jackman) is released from prison but runs away from parole in order to live away from the repressive atmosphere of aristocratic France leading up to the Revolution.  Valjean befriends Fantine, a working woman (Anne Hathaway) who resorts to prostitution to feed and clothe her child.  Valjean protects Fantine from the blight leading up to the revolution as well as the brutal Inspector Javert.  Also appearing is Sacha Baron Cohen, another comedian going the ways of serious acting in the path of Tom Hanks, Jim Carrey, and someone else to be named in the next film to be discussed.

It will gain many artistic awards and should compete for best picture, which automatically means a nomination for best director as well.  It’s a Christmas Day release, which usually raises an eyebrow as being calculated but is never clearly positive or negative.

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hyde_park_on_hudson

Hyde Park on the Hudson will have one of the most talked-about performances of the year, but will it be greatly liked or disliked?  Bill Murray playing FDR?  Really?  Yes, really.  Back in 1939, before America had joined World War II, the King and Queen of England spent a weekend in upstate New York to convince FDR to bring American forces to Europe.  During the course of that weekend occurs and semi-true, semi-not affair between Roosevelt and his distant cousin Margaret Stuckley (Laura Linney).

Whoever dreamed of making this film should have his or her head examined, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad film.  Although it was not greatly regarded when originally released in England over a month ago, Daybreak Pictures and director Roger Michel (Notting Hill, Morning Glory) have had a chance to go back and edit for an American audience.  There is a sex scene less than 10 minutes into the British release (no pun intended), and it’s a good bet that won’t change as American’s do like skin, but appealing to a general audience and Academy voters is not necessarily the same thing.

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For anyone less interested in what appeals to Oscar voters as opposed to just a good popcorn-munching good time – buy a ticket to Skyfall and you will NOT be disappointed.

43 thoughts on “Oscar Oscar Oscar

  1. Actually Lincoln opened well since their $1000000 first week was on only 11 screens. For the first week of wide release (around 1700 screens) they took in almost twice as much as had been projected by the experts; then by the third week the film had grossed nearly $75 million dollars.

  2. I have the feeling that those who like Leo Tolstoy have already read the book, and won’t be too interested in still another movie. As for Lincoln, I was worried that your review would tempt me to see it, because I have been steadily disappointed by Spielberg films… but now I can ignore it without anxiety.

    • i’m in no rush to see it either. Thanks for reading. Things settling down over there? The American news seems to have moved on to other stories, so either relations are improving or American attention spans are not. Or both.

      • Thank you very much for asking. Things are getting better… but unfortunately, we are often under attack… physical murderous attacks… I won’t go into it, because it does get boring to those not involved. My attitude is to make the most of life as long as I can.

  3. I still haven’t seen Skyfall or Flight. Those two are on my list for sure. Les Mis is a must see during my holiday break. I’m a sucker for Hugh Jackman and the story of Jean Valjean. Anne Hathaway takes my breath away with her beauty and acting chops. Two of my favorite songs are in this spectacular musical. On my Own and I Dreamed a Dream. A person with even the hardest heart will listen to the lyrics and they will break. Thanks for the great reviews.

    • thanks for reading, and i’m sure i’ll be a mess in Les Miz. these aren’t really reviews as much as “pre”views to let people know what’s coming. actually, someone i know is starting up a website for film, tv, and other kinds of reviews, and i wrote this for his page but also posted it here.

    • thanks very much. one of my idols is roger ebert. been watching him since high school, reading his website about six or seven years, and attending his yearly film festival out in illinois. last year was my first trip, but i’m all set for this year’s fest in april. i am a frequent contributor to his journal/blog. by “contributor,” i really mean i leave a lot of comments and get into debates with others often. too often. but on top of that i have another personal connection. about three years ago he wrote a blog entry called “the blogs of my blog” or something like that, in which he detailed five or six blogs from the various blogs he had found in various places around the world. i was amazed to find that mine was one of them. at that point, i had zero followers and maybe had one “view” a day, very often none. so i guess any of the views i was getting were all from him. i think that was what caused me to take this all more seriously. here’s the link to what he wrote.

      http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2009/09/the_blogs_of_my_blog.html

  4. I really enjoyed Skyfall as it takes Bond into a whole new era, away from a stale, old fashioned formula. Be interesting to see where the next Bond film will be headed, presumably without Daniel Craig. It seemed like an “in-betweenie” film, where we are allowed to say goodbye to various cast members before embracing the idea of a new lot of actors coming in for the follow up film. It also allowed bond to more of a rounded person rather than a card-board cut out hero.

    Enjoyed reading your mini “reviews”. Wont’ be watching any of the other films as none appeal to me.

    • i hope craig stays around for a while. he’s a great bond, and that’s from someone is old enough to remember watching sean connery as bond too. his debut in “casino royale” was fabulous. loved how it showed his evolution, his toughening up after having his heart stomped on, which was necessary for him to become willing to run into the face of death.

      • I’d love to see Craig around another Bond movie, but in Hollywood/movieland terms he is already too old for the role, given he is supposed to be action man performing many of the stunts himself to make them more believable…and yes, there’s that eye candy factor, too. An actor with bags under his eyes and crows feet around them will inevitably be less attractive to young female audience.

      • i haven’t looked closely enough to notice that. aww. that’s sad. hell, roger moore played bond into a semi-advanced age, and i kind of liked him. he wasn’t a good physical bond, but he was smooooth.

      • yes, Craig gets to do that a bit in Skyfall, I noticed…moving away from the “I must hump everything that’s even vaguely female” type to a more introspective person reviewing his life to date – and he’s rather smooth with it, especially when he tells the villain “how do you know I haven’t tried it with men?” I loved that, it was so funny.

  5. I’m dying to see Les Mis, Lincoln, and Anna Karenina, but the chances of us seeing three movies BEFORE the Oscars? Low. Probably will settle for one or two movies and reading Anna Karenina. Hate to ruin a classic book anyway… (I’ve never seen any of the other versions.)

    Did you like Little Children a few years back?

  6. I think this year is going to be pretty varied, I don’t there will be one film that will sweep all the awards. Lincoln and Argo seem like the strongest contenders for awards, but I haven’t seen either so I can’t say for sure.

    • I hope there is a collection of various winners. If 1 film dominates most categories, it could mean that one film is great, or it could mean that everything else just sucked.

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