I still haven't seen An Education or The Hurt Locker yet, but with Precious opening this weekend, this year, this is when the real movie award season begins. So far, I would hope Up, (500) Days of Summer and District 9 will be Oscar Best Picture contenders but we know each of those three (an animated movie, a romantic comedy, a sci-fi action flick) still have a lot to overcome, even now with 10 slots open in the Best Picture race.
Precious: Based On The Novel "Push" By Sapphire = A-
Written by Geoffrey Fletcher, Based on the novel by Sapphire, Directed by Lee Daniels
Opens Nov. 6th 2009 in limited release
You can read my original review from TIFF for my full thoughts about this harrowing film but as I said before, while it's a flawed and imperfect movie, and despite having the backing of Oprah and Tyler Perry, this difficult movie is going to be a hard sell, but it's a great film.
The cast is simply superb with Gabourey Sidibe (below) and Mo'Nique giving unrelenting performances, and Mariah Carey, Paula Patton amongst a supporting cast that is flawless.
Lee Daniels' direction is haunting, but his mixture of fantasy sequences amongst the most horrific acts of domestic violence in urban low income life gives the film a cinematic blend that only enhances the themes that at some points, do beat down upon the viewers.
As with last year's Slumdog Millionaire, Precious is being compared as the underdog Oscar contender that will slowly sweep all the awards, but unlike Slumdog, there's little hope in the movie (there is, but nowhere near as much as last years Oscar winner) and people just might find the movie too depressing, and inevitably, there will be a backlash, and there will be critics that do not get it (as Michael outlines, sometimes becoming just plain racist).
The Blind Side = B+
Written and Directed by John Lee Hancock, Based on the book by Michael Lewis
Opens Nov. 20th 2009
If Precious is the dark indie movie looking at a poor young black in the hood, then The Blind Side is the glossy Hollywood inspirational feelgood sclocky version and if you've seen the tearjerking trailer, you may feel that the whole film is already condensed into those well edited 2 and a half minutes.
And in theory, I should hate this movie that relies on white guilt, blunting the edges, and highlighting and praising a world full of conservative and "Christian" beliefs. In theory.
But while The Blind Side is like (my favorite show) Friday Night Lights made as a Lifetime TV movie, it's made as a really GOOD Lifetime TV movie with a solid cast and some solid direction that maneuvers around what could have been a cheesy "true life" story.
Sandra Bullock headlines as a wealthy Memphis lady who lunches and manages her two kids with her stoic husband (country star Tim McGraw) and who end up taking in a young black boy after seeing him walking cold in the street. Again, the trailer tells the whole story, but surprisingly, and unexpectedly (since I thought the trailer would be the best parts), the film effectively fills in the gaps with a mix of humour and realism (or at least as much realism one can get from a Hollywood inspirational movie) and manages to smartly milk every tear jerking moment in the real life story of Michael Oher, who in real life, gets drafter for the NFL (this year in fact, so it's a very recent story).
Quinton Aaron (above with Bullock) automatically elicits empathy as Michael Oher without even saying a word. Knowing what kind of movie this was trying to be, let myself be taken with this whole NICE story, and really, what's wrong with that? And yes, I cried a little at the end (during the closing credits no less).
The movie runs slightly longer than expected, as the story stretches out a few more turns than the cliched plotline would lead you to believe, but I enjoyed that it sidetracked to deal with all of the issues the hipsters may have with this film (albeit sometimes brief acknowledgments to the "white guilt").
While the movie will never win any awards just simply due to the type of film this is, Sandra Bullock gives one of her best performances that somehow manages to go beyond the caricature the trailer alludes to. It's probably my favorite performance of hers since Speed (though did enjoy her in Miss Congeniality and The Proposal).
Gentlemen Broncos = D
Written by Jared Hess & Jarusha Hess, Directed by Jared Hess
Opened Oct. 30th 2009 in LA and NY.
I thought Jared Hess' Napoleon Dynamite was an overrated piece of crock so I'm glad EW's Lisa Schwarzbaum called him out for his "emperor's-new-clothes moment" because seriously, Gentlemen Broncos was one of the most self-geek-indulgent where the joke is on us for sitting through this "comedy".
Michael Angarano (Snow Angels, Will & Grace) plays a geeky teen who writes sci-fi and gets his story stolen by his hero, a well established writer of cult status (Jemaine Clement, Flight of the Concords), meanwhile, Angarano's mom is a flighty mopey Jennifer Coolidge (who can usually save a film but even she can only do so much) and his "friends" take advantage of him in the most cruel ways. This is interlaced with scenes of the stolen sci-fi story come to life (with Sam Rockwell playing the lead) and it's just all to weird and unfunny to bear.
In fact, I don't ever believe in walking out of films, but if I wasn't the ride for the group of friends with me, I would have walked out for the first time here. I'm glad I didn't, only because the movie redeems itself (and the characters) in the last 15 minutes of the painfully torturous movie with the only tolerable thing about the film was its casting of Clement as the creepy sci-fi idol and Angarano in the lead role (another actor who automatically exudes empathy just by being there).
Apparently FoxSearchlight agreed because apparently its release has been pulled with no further notice of its future.
Amelia = C
Written by Ronald Bass & Anna Hamilton Phelan, Directed by Mira Nair
Opened Oct. 23rd 2009
Okay, so there were predictions that this might make it Hilary Swank, 3 times Oscar winner, but then the movie came out and as I had feared, the old-time-Hollywood-bland script was even more bland than I feared, and Mira Nair was unable to breathe any life into the film.
The script by Ron Bass (Rain Man) (and doctored by Anna Hamilton Phelan) takes a glossy, almost angelic look at Amelia Earhart's life, but there is little actual drama to a very dramatic life, one of a female pioneer in aviation, in fame and publicity, and with a somewhat messy lovelife. But the production is so afraid to put any blemishes on Amelia, that like Ray and Walking the Line which sanitizes gritty stories, Amelia ends up being one well shot bore of a history lesson. But damn, doesn't it look great? (*)
Okay, now that the movie is definitely out of the running for Best Picture, let's get back to it's best chance for an Oscar, current two-timer Oscar winning actress Hilary Swank. She gets the speech and cadence right, and her performance seems mannered and reserved for that time period, but it lacks any showy emotional scenes. While her relationship to Richard Gere's George Putnam seems almost convenient even in real life, the lack of chemistry between them (even if on purpose), doesn't sell well, and her scenes with Ewan McGregor's Gene Vidal are too few and far between. There's a great scene with Cherry Jones' Eleanor Roosevelt but it too is only a moment within a film that unfolds with little spark, and... ahem... it never takes off.
Michael Jackson's This Is It = B
Directed by Kenny Ortega
Opened Oct. 28th 2009
Seeing MJ sing and dance and still be in great form was nice to see, but the most fascinating parts of the films were the revealing moments behind-the-scenes while watching MJ work and seeing how he creates and operates. However, the film is still a concert film and there are far too behind-the-scenes moments (and I've heard a lot of it is being saved for the DVD). While the choreography and watching the dancers be in awe with working with MJ, the performance footage are still simply rehearsals, without the full shebang of the staging he so meticulously created.
While I wouldn't say I'm a HUGE MJ fan, I do like his stuff and grew up with MJ as a staple in my pop world life, so I found myself sometimes bored in his performances of the songs I liked less, but then wonderfully awoken in the more iconic songs, particularly "Thriller" and its truly iconic dance sequence.
There's talk about a Best Picture nomination but I'd feel it was more in honour of MJ's death and not the movie itself, and that would be diminish MJ's integrity (I won't even get into the child molestation stuff at this point, but I'll quickly say that I actually don't think he did it based on the info I know but that's a whole other discussion). The film is fascinating and Ortega edited and pulled together what he could (and was expected to deliver) but one can only do so much from rehearsal footage from two cameras that only gives a glimpse of the dazzling concert that was never-to-be.
*Shameless Promotion for a Best Art Direction Oscar nomination please!
Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com