Reviews: Academy Award Nominees for Best Picture
Hello, darlings. Hope you're surviving this whole human thing. I am, but only barely. It's been a season of depression and anxiety for me and strife in my family. I need to be writing and creating, but I'm not in a place where I can dive into the icy, dicey waters of marriage, sex, mental health, or parenting as I am oft to do, I'm going to stay relatively warm and dry in my happy place- movie watching. Through the course of my life when I've felt lost and lonely, movies have helped me relight my spark, so here I am, trying.
The nominees for best picture this year for the Oscars are really diverse and interesting. It's been since before kids that I've seen all the best pic noms in a given year, but I'm going to try. The Oscars are March 12th, so I have a minute to get through them. Some are still at the theater, some are streaming- I'll note where you can find them as I review.
There's some big budget circuses on there and some really quiet, weird movies that I'm pretty geeked are getting attention. I know awards like these are rife with problems, but that's another worry I'm choosing to set aside for later.
For now- SOME SPOILERS LIE BELOW!
The ones I've seen so far:
Elvis (PG-13, 2 hrs 39 mins, stream on HBO Max) I was excited about this one when I saw the previews. I have a big angel-wing-shaped place in my heart for Baz Luhrmann's 1996 'Romeo + Juliet,' and I also found 'Moulin Rouge' and 'The Great Gatsby' to be entertaining rides with some genuine moments of quirk and emotion. It's easy and fun to get lost in the worlds that he builds. The grandiosity of his style worked so well for all of those films- the blur of noisy colors and loud music- I thought it might be really cool in a biopic of one of this country's biggest showmen....but it was not.
The energy was all off from the very beginning. It started with a montage and just kind of hopscotched from one to another for almost three hours. Really, the principle character of the thing wasn't Elvis (played solidly by Austin Butler), but the underdeveloped caricature of his business manager played by Tom Hanks. Hanks was nominated for his first Razzies this year, for this performance and his turn as Geppetto in the live- action Pinocchio. I haven't seen that one but, boy, he earned it in this one. Nothing about the character made any sense or deserved our attention. He wasn't unlikeable in a comic or interesting way, he didn't have any pathos that made his bland villainy matter, he was just unpleasant. And maybe it's on me that I wasn't prepared for a Judy Garland-type industry abuse story, and I'm in a place where I need my characters to be OK instead of manipulated and hurt by the people OR the storytelling has to be worth the pain it puts me through.
The costumes and music were cool, obvi, but the glumness overshadowed any sparkle. This movie promised a zesty stew and instead was sad like cold oatmeal.
Avatar: The Way of Water (PG-13, HOLY HELL IT'S 3 hrs 12 mins, out in theaters now)- Honestly, as I write this I'm hating it more and more. This movie is so SO bad. Please don't go pay to watch it, don't encourage them. It's epically too long, coming in around 28 episodes of Bluey- stay home and watch those blue critters instead- they're SO much better written and more enjoyable.
I'm among those who didn't like the first Avatar movie and would have been fine living my life only seeing it the one time in the theater in 2009 and having none more of this franchise. (My kids liked it, so here I am). I thought it was an expensive FernGully with one-dimensional nasty colonizing capitalistic warmonger villains and lovely native protagonists just living their lives in sync with nature and each other. BUT there's a slight tiny nuance to the colonizer capitalistic warmongers- some of them are sciency colonizing capitalistic warmonger villains attempting diplomacy instead of straight-up murder to steal the native's land and resources. Zag!
By the end of the first movie, one of these boring-back-story-back-story science guys decides to forfeit his position in American/human society to live forever as a Na'vi, the tall, blue, tailed, native people in the world of Pandora. Because he turns his back on the horrifying cruelty of the people he rode in with, he's the new hero. Everyone loves him.
He's the white-blue savior saving the blue people from the white-white people.
Ok- so now that we've reviewed the first one's plot, you're all caught up on the second one. BECAUSE IT IS THE EXACT SAME. I am almost positive the first hour of the film was lifted completely from the first film, which, you know, good for them, it probably saved them a few bazillion dollars to not have to hire writers. TRULY, the white-blue hero and the white-white bad guy are the same, but now the white-white bad guy is, like, a clone avatar ghost version of his former self?? Still equally boring, though. Seriously, he's like an orc from Lord of the Rings- lack of anything resembling humanity and also no neck. He says lines like, "We are not in Kansas, anymore. We are going to Pandora. Now... I know you're all asking yourselves the same question. Why so blue?" I can't make this stuff up. It's abominable. And the white-blue savior is with a cool local blue lady, so all the stakes are higher because they made a bunch of kids together.
The kids are getting kidnapped and shot at, held hostage, and murdered the whole time- I always hate those kind of real pain points scattered in an otherwise trite action film. It's offensive to me when there's no real emotion and then suddenly there's something super fucking triggering- it feels totally unearned and unfair.
Once the family flees to another tribe of Na'vi to hide out from the boring bad guy, the underwater stuff is kind of cool and there's a neat bit with some whale-type creatures, but none of it is THREE HOURS WORTH OF COOL. Also, the whole thing looks straight-up bad animated to me, so I don't know why Kate Winslet had to almost die or why it cost such an obscene amount to make (something like 250 million). Like I get that technology is pricey and whatnot, but what bang did we get for that buck, exactly? Also, the camera speed changes were disorienting and absurd. It was super noticeable and felt amateur and disjointed to me.
The Banshees of Inisherin (R, 1 hr 54 mins, streaming HBO Max, TURN ON SUBTITLES). I'm not going to give away too many details because you just need to see it and be surprised yourself. I will say this was one of the coolest movies I've seen in a while. I loved it and I will be thinking about it for a long time and I'm eager to read all the takes on it- it's one that will be studied in not just film classes, but possibly lit and psych classes, as well. It's an absolutely unexpected, thought-provoking, and fascinating film, absorbing from the first moment- which is especially interesting as it's such a quiet, simple film compared to the bombasity of the other films above- and SO much more compelling.
A character study and analysis of the human condition, this seems to ask what we do when we feel trapped or when a fundamental truth of our identity is breeched. Each performance is beyond superb (Oscar nominations across the board) and it feels like a play, set in a gorgeous location. The small cast of unique characters are on a small rural island off of Ireland in the 1920s, the kind of place where there would be a one-room school house where all grades attend together and the only entertainment in town is a pub where everyone gathers to drink and play fiddle. It wouldn't be unusual for two men to be best friends even though there's a twenty-year age gap between them- as is the case of Colin Farrell (I always thought he was just kind of a hot action star and not a REAL actor, but shit, I was wrong- he's brilliant in this- heartbreaking and funny all in his eyebrow twitches and way he delivers the word "so") and Brendan Gleeson (Mad-Eye Moody in HP, Paddington Bear 2, absolutely MURDERED when he hosted SNL this season). It's the kind of setting where it wouldn't be unusual for an adult sister and brother to share a one-room farmhouse or where people who have plans to beat the stuffing out of each other at night will be seated in adjoining pews at church in the morning. It's all about community and it's a small community so the rules and roles are deeply entrenched and when violated- catastrophic.
It's described as a 'black tragicomedy,' which I think is apt. It's fecking sad and brutally violent in parts, but more often, sweet and lyrical. When it recks you, it's worth the recking, and you don't mind, because it also made you laugh and taught you things about yourself.
Highly recommend. Go watch it so we can talk about it.