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The Oscar nominations come out in one week, so I think it’s time to start my Oscar blogging. I’ve been slowly trying to see all the movies that critics speculate will be nominated for major awards (Best Picture, Best Actor/Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Director), and I think I’ve done a fairly good job. Here’s my confession: I really did not like Avatar.  Yes, it was visually stunning. Yes, it represented great strides in film technology. But was it a good film? No.  The script was pathetic. Every character felt that they needed to tell the audience exactly what they were thinking and doing, even when it was obvious.  The (extremely thin) plot was cliché and tried to incorporate so much symbolism and represent so many different political causes, that it ended up seeming confused and meaningless.  I understand why people would enjoy this film for it’s entertainment value – just as people enjoyed films like Iron Man or Transformers (did anyone actually enjoy Transformers?), but to throw awards at Avatar just because it looks cool seems completely misguided.  Give it all the technical awards that you want, but I don’t think that this film even deserves to be in the Best Picture category alongside movies like Crazy Heart, The Hurt Locker, and Precious. (I’m going to hold off on commenting on Precious, but definitely check out these critiques, both positive and negative). And if we’re going to start recognizing more action/fantasy films, why isn’t District 9 getting more buzz, which in my opinion is way more interesting and original than Avatar.

I saw The Hurt Locker over the weekend. I was blown away by this film. This was the first film about Iraq, where I really felt like I was getting an inside look at what it is like to actually be there. The script was not ridden with cheesy plot devices and unnecessary love stories (a  la Stop-Loss or The Lucky Ones).  This movie was both terrifying and poignant, and by the end of the film I felt like I really knew the characters. The suspense and fear was palpable in every scene where the soldiers had to de-activate a bomb.  And, of course, I cannot discuss this film without mentioning that it was directed by a woman, Kathryn Bigelow, who happens to be James Cameron’s ex-wife. As Manohla Dargis (NY Times film critic) stated in an interview, this film is so amazing because it shows that women can direct good action films and receive both critical and popular acclaim.  If Bigelow wins the award for Best Director (and I am definitely rooting for her), she would be the FIRST woman to win this award, and I think it would teach Hollywood a lesson about hiring women to direct films other than romantic comedies. But honestly, I think she deserves this award regardless of the fact that she is a woman. This film was brilliantly directed and truly brought the audience into the nitty-gritty aspects of the war. I think she Bigelow deserves all the accolades out there.

I think this has been a pretty disappointing film season. There really haven’t been many films that I have walked out of the theater feeling truly impressed.  Crazy Heart, however, truly impressed me. This is a beautiful film that tells a very simple story but with incredible taste and emotion. Jeff Bridges, as an aging country music star, gives an amazingly nuanced performance, and Maggie Gyllenhaal as the woman he falls in love with, is also outstanding.  This film has everything – the love story is completely unexpected, the performances are memorable, and the original music is fantastic.  I loved this movie because it did not have to resort to any of the usual tricks. It works because it is so simple, and it is not trying to be some incredibly intellectual film. I don’t see why this type of filmmaking should not be recognized, especially when it is combined with an original script and an original score – this is not just another by-the-book musical biopic.  Unfortunately Crazy Heart will not win Best Picture (it’s just not crowd pleasing enough, and (gasp!) there are no special effects!), and it may not even be nominated. I do hope that Jeff Bridges wins Best Actor though, so that this film gets a fraction of the recognition it deserves.

I know that the Academy Awards are, in the end, a popularity contest and rife with Hollywood politics, but I do think that these awards mean something not only to the public, who may see a movie because it won an award, but also to producers and studio execs who are choosing which types of movies to make and who should make them. I hope the Academy gets it right this year – I’ll be watching.

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