I guess we shouldn’t be surprised by the Academy Award nominations, but I wanted to be. I wanted to be surprised to find The Dark Knight Rises had scored a nomination, or that Christopher Nolan had perhaps picked up a Best Director nod. I had a hard time believing that in the ten-film Best Picture field, there couldn’t be room for one of the biggest critical and commercial hits of the year.
I can only be compelled to care but so much about the Oscars, but it was hard not to be at least a little shocked by Nolan’s Batman films being ignored yet again. It was a little hard to not be surprised by Bill Murray being snubbed for Hyde Park on Hudson, but I guess in a showdown of Presidents, Daniel Day Lewis and Lincoln are going to come out on top. The world will probably continue to spin, and Bill Murray probably isn’t going to lose a lot of sleep over it.
Nor will John Goodman, who has turned in great performances in some of the biggest films of 2012. A couple of those films (Flight and Argo) are up for one or more Oscar, and Goodman was excellent in both, but nothing apparently significant enough to warrant a Best Supporting Actor nomination.
Ah, well. Ben Affleck and Quentin Tarantino were ignored for Best Director (both films, however, are up for a slew of other awards), and Moonrise Kingdom was passed over in every category besides Best Original Screenplay. It wouldn’t be an Academy Awards show is there weren’t at least a few petty injustices sprinkled throughout. And in the end, it’s an interesting enough field of young talent, veteran talents, and a couple of picks that are a little baffling.
It’s not going to be an extraordinary show, but when was the last time any of us expected anything more than passable from the Oscars? With Seth MacFarlane hosting, we can at least hope for something that passes an evening in marginally entertaining fashion. That’s the best we can ask for this year. Anything else is as unreasonable as thinking The Dark Knight Rises even had a chance in the first place.
So, yeah, I’m going to watch, I’m going to get annoyed when my picks don’t win (and those will be coming later), and I’m going to act like any of it really matters in the end. It doesn’t. It’s a diversion. All I can do is watch the show on February 24th, and hope it’s a diversion that doesn’t make me feel like I just wasted an evening of my life when it’s over.
And let’s just do each other a favor, and not pretend we give a damn about the Golden Globes. I sure don’t.
We Need to Talk About Kevin (2012): A+
We Need to Talk About Kevin doesn’t bill itself as a horror movie, but I’m hard-pressed to think of any film in 2012 that got under my skin as effectively as this absolutely terrifying adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel did. Lynne Ramsay’s directorial marvel explores several themes throughout, including insanity, whether or not there really is truly such a thing as a “bad seed”, motherhood, family and love. It does so by forcing us to live through every chilling, uncomfortable, and sometimes downright frightening moment that take us from the beginning of the film’s relationship between a mother and son, to an ending we know is going to leave us looking over our shoulder. The beauty of a movie as scary as We Need to Talk About Kevin is that sticks with you long after you’ve finished watching it. A lot of that has to do with Tilda Swinton delivering one of the most powerful, multi-layered and flawlessly believable performances of her career. Some of it also has to do with the excellent casting of Kevin, the possible “bad seed” in question, at the various ages the film depicts. What really gives We Need to Talk About Kevin the ability to stand out is how it never, not even for a second, lets us forget what we are watching. We Need to Talk About Kevin isn’t just a disconcerting account of a detached, destructive relationship between a woman and her son. It’s one of the best films made in recent years to depict from start to finish the inner workings of a mind slowly coming apart. In the case of this movie, we get to watch two minds, linked by genetics, go about the process of slowly coming apart. A lesser movie would just settle for making this entertaining. We Need to Talk About Kevin aims to be a brutal, original thriller of the highest order. It wants to make you extremely uncomfortable in your own skin by the end. While torture porn and endlessly dull, “real-time” haunted house films continue to litter the landscape of horror, We Need to Talk About Kevin stands as one of the most unique thrillers in a decade. It knows how to scare you, and it does so every single time the opportunity arises.
My Life as a Dog (1985): B-
Sentiment does indeed exist in Lasse Hallström’s My Life as a Dog, the story of a troubled 12-year-old boy being sent to live with relatives. It’s just that it’s the kind of sentiment that exists in a film for us to take it or leave it. It exists without being so obvious about it that the viewer is left feeling pandered to. My Life as a Dog doesn’t pander. It instead allows us to care about Ingemar, the young protagonist of the film, simply by allowing actor Anton Glanzelius to give a natural, sincere performance as a child trying to juggle two huge tasks simultaneously. He is trying to make sense of the aspects of his life that are changing, but he’s also trying to understanding a growing realization that he’s about to enter another facet of his life. My Life as a Dog is filled with strange characters (my personal favorite is Mr. Arviddsson, played by Didrick Gustavasson) and a coming-of-age story that is both sweet and unfortunate. These things are handled nicely, and they keep the movie rolling along, but the true highlight of the film is in allowing Glanzelius to act as though there isn’t a camera around for miles. A story about childhood such as this is going to live or die based on how well we receive the childhood that is being presented to us. My Life as a Dog might have more than a couple of quirks in its characters and story, but it also has a realistic center that makes it a beautiful, sad, and funny depiction of a child trying to make sense of everything going on around him. Of all the good things My Life as a Dog has going for it, it’s Glanzelius’ performance that does the most to make this honest depiction possible.
Looper (2012): B+
A good time travel story is hard to come by in film these days. The storytelling pitfalls are many, and in the end, most of them wind up being long on ambition, but unfortunately short on execution. That is perhaps why Rian Johnson’s Looper is so extraordinary. It is indeed an ambitious time traveling story, and it is indeed handled well by Johnson’s direction and screenplay. Looper is clever and stylish, a great story of a man in the present colliding with his future self, but it doesn’t rest on these things. Perhaps one of the reasons why Looper is being considered one of the best science fiction thrillers in recent memory is because it leaves space for stars Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt (not to mention a small, but memorable performance by Paul Dano) to give the characters in Johnson’s screenplay something both human and engaging to the end. The great acting work from everyone involved is what truly keeps all the time travel-fueled plot twists moving along. And yet Looper doesn’t pretend it wants to abandon its science-fiction backdrop for something supposedly nobler (and that’s a very, very good thing). It just doesn’t expect everything in the movie to rest on its ingenious spin on time travel. The film endeavors to cover every base possible in terms of story, visual appeal, performances, pacing, and much more. More often than not, it covers these bases.
Charley Varrick (1973): A-
Don Siegel, best known for his work with Clint Eastwood (including directing him in Dirty Harry) doesn’t really break any ground with Walter Matthau and Charley Varrick. It’s a heist-gone-wrong movie with tons of 70’s touches, including a pace that at times could stand to pick up a little. But it’s impossible to dismiss Charley Varrick, which also features character actor staples of the era like Andy Robinson, Joe Don Baker, John Vernon, Norman Fell and others, as simply a fun piece of vintage cinema. Charley Varrick remains after all these years a genuinely tense, fun story of bank robbers who realize too late that the hick bank they just robbed is actually a front for the mob. Matthau delivers one of the more underrated performances of his long career. He’s the biggest reason why the movie remains so enjoyable throughout, but with an impressive cast and a story that remains quite fresh after forty years working for it, Charley Varrick is one of the best crime dramas of the 1970’s.
My Little Chickadee (1940): B-
My Little Chickadee stars Mae West and W.C. Fields (they also wrote the screenplay) may not have been able to stand each other during the production of this film, but that only seemed to help the banter between them. It’s the verbal give-and-take between these two that still makes My Little Chickadee essential film comedy after 70 years. The story, of a card player and a “disgraced” southern belle pretending to get married for entirely selfish reasons, doesn’t really matter at this point. Nothing about My Little Chickadee is really as important as the wonderful back-and-forth between two of the sharpest, most unapologetic wits in film history. If anything is timeless about this movie, it’s the comedic energy these two share over a plot that was probably flimsy even in its heyday. It’s a comedic energy that might seem creaky to some, and if you are inclined to feel that way, without having even seen the film, then that’s too bad. My Little Chickadee has cynicism and humorous timing that work as well now as they did in 1940. Fields and West could play as well off each other now as they did in their one and only pairing. Great comedy, the kind that doesn’t discriminate according to decade, just works like that.