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Monday, January 28, 2008

Oscar Watch - Catching Up With the Snubs

So I caught Into the Wild and A Mighty Heart last weekend and Charlie Wilson's War last week (to update my Best of Movies 2007 list).

And of course, they got pretty much completely snubbed by the Academy during last weeks Oscar nominations. With the exception of Best Supporting Actor nominations for Hal Holbrook (in Into the Wild) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (in Charlie Wilson's War), and that was pretty much an old-person's nomination they throw out of respect/guilt/awe that they are still alive and a you-were-great-in-the-zillion-movies-you-did-this-year-like-you-do-every-year-so-we-have-to-nominate-you-for-something-especially-since-you-are-now-an-Oscar-winner-now-but-you-won't-win-it nomination respectively.

Did the Academy actually choose correctly by NOT choosing the three films?

Into the Wild (written and directed by Sean Penn based on the novel by John Krakauer) seemed to create the most divisive responses, since I've heard that both sides of the opinion scale and I think it depends on how you see the main character. Christopher McCandless. Is he the heroic journeyman that is able to cut off ties to society as we know it in order to discover the world and himself? Or is he the snotty nosed selfish brat who is in way over his head and way overconfident?

Personally, I was almost jealous as to what he did all while wanting to smack him on the side of the head at the same time. It drew the adventure spirit out of me, the part of me that loves to travel, fight the system and connect to a greater soul that the daily grind seems to dampen. It also made me incredibly angry that McCandless was so selfish as to leave his family behind in a worry (despite all their problems) and for every granola eating hippie zen spouting type of thing he would do when all he should have done was suck it up because life sucks that way and deal with it and try to help out society instead of leaving it behind.

Luckily, Emile Hirsch turns a likable great performance from someone that could have sounded whiny and spoiled. There are some great cameos (including Catherine Keener in her usual spirited performance (though not Oscar worthy), Vince Vaughn actually dialing it down into a respectable performance, and the aforementioned Hal Holbrook as an elderly man that seems taken by McCandless spirited journey but tries to help him avoid his inevitable demise) and Jena Malone (who always annoyed me up until now) made some great narrations, but Emile IS the whole movie and it lays on his shoulders and he almost carries it mostly through the slightly overlong movie.

I can't complain about Sean Penn's direction and in one sense loved it, yet overall, I had to agree that it was slightly overrated that started to seem to drag on in my wait for the inevitable end. I'm a city jerk aren't I?
Into the Wild = B

A Mighty Heart (written by John Orloff, directed by Michael Winterbottom, based on the book by Marianne Pearl) is one of those movies that already is important just in its subject matter, dealing with the kidnapping of Washington Post reporter Daniel Pearl and his subsequent murder and seeing it through the reactions of his wife Marianne. The fact that MOVIE STAR Angelina Jolie transformed herself, with full Cuban/French accent to become Marianne was impressive enough to make me forget about her tabloid fodder, but while I respected director Michael Winterbottom's dizzying treatment of the events during the kidnapping, the movie also felt a bit overlong by the end, especially since again, we knew how it was going to end.

Hmm,,, that's two movies in a row now where it's know the main male will die at the end. Sad and frightening but maybe it's a numbers game but it didn't have the same overbearing haunting emotional wallop as the forgone ending in United 93.

Still, I'm not a fan of Angelina Jolie the actress but I do actually think she seems pretty cool as Angelina Jolie the person, but this was the first movie that I felt an Oscar nomination would actually be warranted. I'm not bothered by the fact that she was snubbed in the end, but I was incredibly impressed, giving the movie, the heart it needed (which I guess explains the title).
A Mighty Heart = B+

Charlie Wilson's War (written by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Mike Nichols, based on the book by George Crile) is the big Hollywood entertainment movie attempting to be important and succeeding at long winded speeches that show how clever Aaron Sorkin is and how much research he (or his assistants) have done. I used to love Aaron Sorkin (Sports Night was GREAT, early The West Wing's made political talk engaging because it made it human) but lately, it seems like Sorkin is trying too hard (Jack & Bobby really felt more like Greg Berlanti's work, while Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip just sounded like a bitter rant from Sorkin, I hear The Farnsworth Invention on Broadway is like a well acted live version of a wikipedia entry) and Charlie Wilson's War isn't bad per se, but it feels like it's trying too hard to be cool to hang with the cool kids (Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, the newly indicted Amy Adams).

Still, I enjoyed the film in that old fashioned big Hollywood budget drama way, that are being made less and less these days as the indie movies are starting to win all the awards. Half the fun was spotting my favorite TV folks, including Shiri Appleby from Roswell, Rachel Nichols from Alias, John Slattery from Mad Men, and Denis O'Hare from Broadway and Brothers & Sisters.

Plus, trying to figure out what the hell Emily Blunt was there for a small useless role?

Still, Hanks, though never forgetting it is TOM HANKS the movie star, was still enjoyable as Charlie Wilson, and Julia Roberts, with bad blonde hair job that perfectly defined her rich Texan socialite role, is still Julia Roberts with her megawatt personality, while Philip Seymour Hoffman continues his strength in CHARACTER acting that seems unreal but is highly entertaining to watch. Only Amy Adams underplays her role making it the most honest and subdued performance in a movie that generally highlights all the major points (think ColesNotes) in bold brushstrokes.

Charlie Wilson's War = B

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