cwfilmbuff: (movies)
[personal profile] cwfilmbuff
For the fifth consecutive year I'm attending the Best Picture Showcase. For the second consecutive year I'm going over the course of two Saturdays because AMC thinks Denver is a cow town unworthy of a 24-hour nine-movie marathon, but that's a different rant.

Going in this year I'd only seen two of the nominees, so this is my first exposure to a lot of the movies. I'll have more to say about the Oscars asa whole and other nominees later, but I wanted to get my thoughts down after day one of the showcase.


I realized watching this that while I had heard a lot about his work I hadn't actully seen a Michael Haneke film before. If this is any indication, I need to rectify that. The story itself was amazing - a heartbreaking look at a married couple in their 80s dealing with sickness and death. I realized a few years ago that when it comes to love stories I prefer established couples meeting chalenges together rather than watching people fall in love, and this is exactly what Amour is about. At one point the wife tells her husband she wished she wasn't inflicting this on him. "You inflict nothing in me," is his immediate reply. He's had to rearrange his life around her illness, taking on tremendous responcilibility and added expense, but when he tells her she isn't inflicting a burden on him he means it; he does what he does because she is the woman he loves, because they have built their lives together and not being there to support her never crossed his mind. That devotion gets tested, and things become harder for both of them as the story progresses, but central to everything is the love they've built over a lifetime together.
Adding to the story is the incredible technical aspects of the film. It's shot in a minimmalist, almost Dogme 95 style. There are only a handful of shots outside their home, and no music that isn't coming from a source in the scene. While this kind of thing can sometimes be distracting, here it doesn't call attention to itself, and only serves to heighten the intimacy with the characters. One of those shots outside the home, the first time we really see the two main characters, is a static wide shot of a theater audience. There is no action or camera movement to make them stand out from the people around them; Haneke simply places them on a rule of thirds intersection within the frame where the eye will naturally be drawn to them. It's a smart choice that shows these two characters are, at this point, just two faces in the crowd while knowing the viewer will be able to pick them out.
There was a subtle production design decision that stood out to me as well: On as bookshelf in the couple's sitting room is a set of almanacs with years on the spines, the last two of which were inverted. In most movies I would figure it was just that way when they showed up to shoot, or was done to break things up a little, but in a film as meticulously designed as this my guess is it was done to reenforce the fact that the characters' lives are turned upside down in their final years.
These are just a couple things that stood out to me, but the truth is Amour is the kind of movie I could easily pick apart scene by scene - there is so much going on that enhances and adds to what is already a deeply moving story. This instantly became one of my favorite films of the year, and as depressing as it ultimately is I look forward to revisiting it in the future.

Les Misérables

This was a frustrating watch, because it was just on the edge of being good. A lot of the movie worked incredibly well. The action was well-staged, the production design design was great, and the decision to have the actors perform their songs as actors first and singers second gave a weight to the performances that isn't always there in musicals.
Unfortunately a the problems with the movie were enough to bring it down. Much has been made about Crowe's singing, which I found to be fine. The problem is, when placed alongside the kind of performances Jackman and Hathaway were giving, fine doesn't really hold up, and as a result he stood out as the weak link of the cast.
One of the highlights of the film, and of the stage version, is the song "One Day More." It takes everything that's come before and weaves it together expertly, detailing what the characters (and audience) have been through and are looking forward to. On stage, it's the last song of the first act, so when it ends the audience takes that sense of anticipation with them into the intermission; it's designed to keep people excited to see what comes next. In the movie there's just a straight cut to the next scene, so we aren't given any time to dwell on that anticipation before rushing on to the next day. It's the kind of wasted opertunity that reduces the film to simply the sum of its parts, when it could have used the medium to elevate itself and be something better.
There are strengths too. Jackman and Hathaway are by far the best things about the movie, having both the singing ability and the acting talent to bring to life what I suspect Hooper was aiming for. Carter and Cohen are perfectly cast as innkeepers, and the quick cutting of their introductory scene is a prime example of taking a scene created for the stage and making it cinematic. They even managed to make Gavroche less irritating than he usually is.
But for all its strengths, the failings of the film hold it back from being anything more than just an interesting take on the source material.


Of the first day's selections, this is the one I had previously seen. It's a movie that works incredibly well as a movie, telling an interesting story in an entertaining way without lessening the impact of the events.
I continue to be impressed at how Affleck has come into his own as a director. For everything this movie has going for it, which is a lot, it's the direction that really makes it soar (which makes it that much funnier when a character tells Affleck a monkey could be trained to direct movies). Maybe I'll feel differently after I see the remaining two nominees in that category, but the fact that this movie isn't up for Best Director is baffling to me.
Argo does something impressive: It points out a lot of flaws in both the government agencies involved in the opperation and the film industry, but while acknowledging these problems the film is overwhelmingly a celebration of both. Here are two imperfect systems working together to acomplish something heroic, despite the fact that they're made up of people who aren't always perfect. The result is a film that is smart, fun, and speaks well of its subjects without being preachy.

Django Unchained

Tarantino has definitely found his niche. He's going to make fun, violent movies where almost everyone is a terrible person, and you're cheering for someone who's morals are slightly better than those of anyone else in the movie.
There are times when the actions of the protagonist go a little too far, making the audience wonder if they should really be siding with Django. There's a payoff to those moments that give them purpose in the narrative, but at the time it can be difficult to watch.
For the most part though the movie makes things fairly black and white. Anyone with an ounce of racism is shown to be foolish, evil, or both, letting us know that the people we're following are the best option in the pre-Civil War South.
It goes over the top at times, even for a Tarantino film, but it's far and a way the most pure visceral fun Best Picture nominee I've seen so far this year.


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