Guest Review by Brendan
I was surprised to realize I’d seen almost have of the films nominated for Oscar’s Best Picture this year. Following are my brief thoughts on them…
I think it’s interesting that The Artist beat out Midnight in Paris for Best Picture, since the latter film illustrated the idiocy of nostalgia. The only reason to consider The Artist the best film of last year is because it supposedly harkens back to a simpler time. I enjoyed the film while it lasted, but there’s no substance to it – it doesn’t stick with you. The other four films I saw in this category do. For me, the SNL homage sketch is more memorable than the film.
(Editorial note: I (Vic) loved the overall concept and the first jubilant hour of The Artist, but the novelty wore off in the somber second half and I otherwise agree with Brendan’s take)
Midnight in Paris
[cue James Lipton voice] Delightful! You probably know the plot of this one, but I’m not going to reveal it just in case. I’m so glad the trailer was vague, so I didn’t know what would happen at midnight in Paris. Owen Wilson has rarely been so tolerable. Woody Allen writes nagging women really well. Michael Sheen is a chameleon. The post-midnight goings on are wonderful, with some memorable guest appearances. And the soundtrack! That Sidney Bechet track you hear in the trailer makes me swoon every time – “Si tu vois ma mère.” I didn’t understand the acclaim surrounding Vicky Christina Barcelona – it was bland and forgettable. For me, Midnight in Paris joins Sweet and Lowdown and Match Point as Woody’s best work of the past fifteen years.
(Editorial note: see my brief but enthusiastic review here. We recently re-watched the film on DVD and it’s just as mesmeric on the small screen. Midnight in Paris should have won Best Picture.)
I was glad Octavia Spencer was recognized for her touching and hilarious role in this film. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would, and I don’t understand the backlash. Critic Elvis Mitchell described it as a “whitewash,” but this is no Driving Miss Daisy. At the screening we attended, an elderly African-American woman sitting infront of us said the movie was faithful to her truth. Medgar Evers’ wife endorses the film. As far as I’m concerned, any film that brings the name Medgar Evers to people who aren’t familiar with his story is to be applauded. Very few films manage the task of revealing painful truths without disheartening the viewer. The Help accomplishes this task. I am also impressed with the story behind the film – the creators knew this was their cast, and they accepted less studio money so they could maintain control of their film. It’s an impressive achievement.
(Editorial note: I neglected to review it at the time, but I thought The Help was a great, emotional, extremely well acted film. So happy for Octavia, but Viola was totally robbed. For that matter, so was Bryce Dallas Howard, who superbly portrayed one of the most despicable and repulsive fictional characters ever.)
I don’t understand baseball, but I loved this film. There was a Friday Night Lights vibe about it, some amazingly suspenseful moments, striking cinematography, and surprisingly good performances.
(Editorial note: One of the few times the Muruch household has been divided on a film. Unlike Brendan, I do understand baseball but did not see the charm in this boring, seemingly endless movie. I also thought it failed (though obviously tried) to mimic Friday Night Lights)
The Tree of Life
Parts of this movie were excruciatingly slow, but there were enough great scenes to make it my favorite on the list. Just the brief scenes shown during the Oscar broadcast filled me with awe. No one but Malick would attempt to uncover life, the universe and everything in one film. Of course it’s a failure, but it’s a glorious failure, and one I look forward to experiencing again.
(Editorial note: Agreed. Ultimately unsuccessful, yet still impressive and artistic in its ambition)
Finally, the best original score of last year wasn’t even nominated. It’s Dario Marianelli’s composition for Jane Eyre, an exquisite suite of music accented by the rich violin sound of Jack Liebeck. It’s not only the best score of the year, but the best classical album I’ve heard in years.
(Editorial note: Brendan does not exaggerate, this score is a beautiful, haunting and truly classical work. Buy it @ Amazon)