Monday, February 28, 2011

The Morning After

For the first time in quite a long while, I did not watch the Oscar telecast. What can I say? I had rehearsal.

Sounds Like I didn't miss much. It's really not because the show was kinda dull and not exciting, which is pretty much every year in recent memory, but that the ultimate winners were just predictable. Top that off with the sad fact that, where there was an actual horse race, the Academy voters, as usual, swerved right to the safest, most predictable picks.

Which isn't to say I'm unhappy with most of the winners. It's hard to say that Christian Bale hasn't deserved recognition for a good long while. I did finally see The Fighter, and really, really enjoyed it. I'm glad Bale won, he's a really ungodly mix of precise emotional. mental and physical commitment. It's a picture that made me really wish that the Academy would figure out some sort of "Best Ensemble" or "Best Casting" award, because, in my book, The Fighter deserved it. The cast is was just strong across the board.

Which isn't to say amazing. I'm not overjoyed that Melissa Leo won, and that's not just because of the trade ad scandal. That role was an actresses' dream, a wide open window to chew scenery and run with it. While Leo was really good, I can't help thinking about Hailee Steinfeld. By all rights, she should've been in the Best Actress category, she carried True Grit, and truly embodied the character form the novel. It was a phenominal performance.

I'm also not happy, at all, that Amy Adams got a Supporting Actress nomination. I mean, really. It's a part any number of actresses could've played well, and there are several who could've really made it special. Adams is fine in the role, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't anything over the moon. Yet, she benefited from that "ooh...the girl from Enchanted is smoking and getting naked...what a stretch" factor. Putting on a push-up bra alone isn't a great performance.

Best Actor and Actress went exactly where they were expected to go. I truly think Natalie Portman deserved it. I mean, I don't think she's an AMAZING actress, but she was the right person for the right role. You got the real sense that she understood that quest for perfection, and was able to use that in the work. I doubt she'll ever be that good again, but, for the role of a lifetime, I'm happy she got the award.

Moving on to The King's Speech. To make something crystal clear, I really liked this movie. It made my top ten for last year (though, now that I've seen The Fighter, something would have to give), and I found it very enjoyable and compelling.

It is certainly not a bad film.

...But here's the deal, I saw better performances, better direction, and better movies last year. It's not a bad movie, but it is an aggressively safe movie to pick for Best Picture. I mean, if you were making a comedy about Hollywood, and needed a joke Best Picture winner, The King's Speech could fill right in.

Historical drama? Check.

Main character overcomes a disability? Check.

Deals with Royalty, but in a way that makes them seem all too human? Check.

Filmed in a handsome, but rather staid and static manner? Check.

British? Check.

Honestly, for me, I'm honestly A-OK with Colin Firth being Best actor, and the film getting Best Picture. Not the pick I would've made, but whatever. Both have plenty to recommend them as choices...

But Tom Hooper as Best Director?

OK, look, it's a fine, handsome film. Well shot, well acted, and simplicity is somethign I can get behind rewarding. That said, when you have three modern masters producing three films that combine excellent performances, audacious camera work, and technical mastery in a way that manages to only serve the stories being told. Not to mention, one of those three guys didn't even get a nomination. When that happens, and you give it to a guy who managed to shoot a historical drama in exactly the same way every historical drama has been shot for the last 30 years, I get a little disappointed.

Christopher Nolan should've been nominated, and either he, or Darren Aronofsky, or David Fincher should've won. We are living in a time of true new masters. Not the hodge-podge plagiarism of a Tarantino, or the empty sensationalism of Zach Snyder, but honest-to-God craftsmen that place all of their skills into the service of their stories. These men are leading the way to a  place where commerce and art can be hand-in-hand again, and Hollywood is scared of them.

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