The Not-Oscars 2013

not-oscars-2013-best-performances-gosling-lawrenceIt’s the morning of the Oscar nominations, and I’m not upset.

This is weird. All the films I wanted to see nominated for Best Picture are. All the actors I hoped to see receive nominations for this year’s performances were. Compare and contrast to last year’s fatal omission of Kathryn Bigelow as Best Director, or 2011’s Oscar season, in which none of my ten favorite films were nominated for Best Picture — but Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was. This year, on the other hand, five of my own picks for Best Picture overlap with Academy’s. Three of my four favorite performances were recognized. All of the films from the Best Director nominees were in my Top 10.

What the fuck is going on here?

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The Tens: Best Of Film 2013

GRAVITYHollywood is obsessed with money, I say.

Duh, you think in response.

But hear me out.

In 2013, Hollywood was particularly obsessed with money. Not just with making money, but with telling stories about making — and losing — money. In my Top Ten list last year, I named Zero Dark Thirty my favorite film of the year; it’s a movie that serves as a symbol of America’s search for catharsis after 9/11.

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Italian ‘Beauty’: Death, Dancing & Debauchery In Rome

toni_servillo_la_grande_bellezza_GREAT-BEAUTY-topless-breasts-Sabrina-Ferilli-nude-naked-sexyThink of Rome.

All sorts of images may flash into your mind. You might first think of religion, or of the glamor captured in cinema by Fellini in the sixties. Maybe you think of the history, the architecture, the art.

Whatever it is, you’ll likely find it in La Grande Bellezza, the latest film from Italian auteur Paolo Sorrentino. The title translates to The Great Beauty, and it’s true — the film is gorgeous and utterly breathtaking to behold, in part because of the showy cinematography, and in part because Rome itself is so aesthetically beautiful.

But the title is, perhaps, an irony, because The Great Beauty isn’t about beauty at all. There are beautiful things in it, but it’s as much about ugliness and waste and excess, too much of a good thing. The film is drenched in death — the glorious opening scene comes to a halt with the sudden demise of a random Japanese tourist, and several other characters will expire before it’s over. These deaths make little impact. Life just goes on.

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A Divorce: Farhadi Repeats Himself In ‘The Past’

The_Past_berenice-bejo-tahar-rahimA quarreling couple. A troublesome pregnancy. A deceitful employee. A daughter who knows more than she lets on. If this all sounds familiar, you probably saw A Separation, the 2011 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film (a first for Iran).

Or maybe you saw the newly-released The Past, Asghar Farhadi’s follow-up to that Oscar-winning triumph. For a movie that’s all about letting go of what’s behind us, The Past sure has more than a glancing similarity to A Separation, indicating that perhaps it’s Farhadi himself who has yet to move on.

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Big Good ‘Wolf’: Scorsese’s Latest Is Excessive To The Max

wolf-of-wall-street-margot-robbie-leonardo-dicaprioIs Leonardo DiCaprio this generation’s Robert DeNiro?

Yes — at least in the sense that he’s Martin Scorsese’s current muse, and yes in the sense that the movies he stars in tend to have some very hefty running times. From Titanic, the blockbuster that made him an international superstar, to The Aviator, his previous three-hour collaboration with Scorsese (with gargantuan films like Gangs Of New York, Inception, and J. Edgar thrown into the mix), DiCaprio-starring movies are rarely nimble, and the same can be said about the films of Martin Scorsese.

They are, however, usually pretty good.

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Screen Full Of Sugar: Disney’s Accidentally Meta ‘Mr. Banks’

SAVING MR. BANKSWhy is P.L. Travers such a bitch?

That’s the question central to Saving Mr. Banks, and it’s up to Walt Disney, of all people, to solve the mystery. Movies like this one can be challenging, because the whole key to the problem of the movie is, “Just stop being a bitch!” Too often, this journey feels artificial and forced, with an antagonist who is willfully obstinate for the sake of conflict in the movie.

That isn’t exactly the case with Saving Mr. Banks, for at least P.L. Travers’ prickliness feels true to her nature, and she never gets too warm and fuzzy. But it’s a movie about how the warmth, love, and ingenuity of one man can touch the hearts of minds of young and old alike, made by a studio that still pushes that man’s message to the max more than 50 years after his passing. As well-intentioned as much of the movie is, it’s hard not to also view it as a commercial for Disney films, Disney theme parks, Disney toys, and the whole monopolistic Disney mindset. To a skeptic, it may come off a little worrisome, maybe even a little gross.

Then again, the whole point of Saving Mr. Banks — and Mary Poppins, for that matter — is for old grouches to stop being so grouchy, so we skeptics have been put in our place before we even walk into the theater. How about that?

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Away From ‘Her’: The Ultimate Long-Distance Relationship

her-joaquin-phoenix-computer Her is a rather unusual film, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s seen Spike Jonze’s other movies (or his music videos). He’s collaborated with Charlie Kaufman a couple of times, first on the brilliantly bizarre Being John Malkovich, which put them both on the cinematic map. Jonze’s adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are was one of the more oddly original movies of 2009 (or, honestly, any year) — a children’s movie that wasn’t really made for children. It was a melancholy rumination on youthful fantasies made for the inner children of adults, and therefore wasn’t terribly successful at the box office. Jonze i’s the rare artist who’s been allowed to make films that are anything but safe and conventional. It’s almost guaranteed that people who only like “normal” movies won’t enjoy them, because he willfully defies audience expectations.

These films tend to break the rules set by mainstream Hollywood fare. They are not like other movies you’ve seen before — they don’t follow those predictable beats and tropes. On paper, most of Jonze’s films seem easily classifiable — Adaptation is a comedy, Where The Wild Things Are is a fantasy for families, Being John Malkovich is a comedic fantasy for adults, and Her is a love story. But they’re not really. There’s an undercurrent of sadness in all of Jonze’s work; his characters tend to be quite lonely. Her follows suit, and in many ways seems like his most defining work to date — it has a vision, and executes it flawlessly. (It is also his first attempt at authoring a screenplay on his own.)

Does that make it a great movie? I’m still wrestling with it, so at least Her has managed to be thought-provoking. Because Jonze’s work tends to stray from the beaten path, it may take some time, or even multiple viewings, to settle on a reaction. Certainly a degree of contemplation is involved — so let’s dive in.

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Catching Heat: The Warmest Women Of 2013

(Films discussed in this post: Blue Is The Warmest Color, The Heat, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Drinking Buddies, Enough Said, The Invisible Woman.)catching-heat-hot-women-2013-sandra-bullock-jennifer-lawrenceWomen are so hot right now.

Again.

Or… still.

No matter how many female-driven movies make a splash at the box office, Hollywood never seems to learn its lesson. Sure, the top-grossing movie of the year, for now, is Iron Man 3, and Man Of Steel is also in the top five. (That’s two with “man” in the title.) Then again, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire could very well end up trumping Iron Man 3 as 2013’s ultimate financial victor, and that movie is nothing without its heroine, Katniss Everdeen, and the equally formidable actress who plays her. (And let’s take a moment to remember that even Iron Man 3 gave Pepper Potts a fiery kick-ass moment near the end.)

And then there’s Gravity, one of the year’s other biggest success stories, which is carried almost entirely by one woman — Sandra Bullock, in a role that, like Lawrence’s, is very physical. Both Bullock and Lawrence are likely to see themselves back in the Oscar lineup this year (Lawrence for American Hustle rather than Catching Fire), but unfortunately, both Actress races are relatively thin this year, with only two or three solid, surefire contenders in each. Compare that to Best Actor, a category which could easily have ten or more deserving nominees this year, all quite deserving. (Best Supporting Actor, however, is this year’s weakest race of all.)

It’s still a rather male-dominated year at the movies, with lots of fairly masculine films out there, per usual — including so many of the awards contenders (12 Years A Slave, Captain Phillips, All Is Lost, Dallas Buyers Club, Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis). It’s still a man’s world, as far as Hollywood goes — but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been a number of bright spots for the ladies in 2013.

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Russell Does The ‘Hustle’: An All-American Ode To Bullshit

american-hustle-jennifer-lawrence-nails-best-supporting-actress Hey, Academy, are you paying attention?

But of course you are! Here’s a movie featuring a whole bunch of last year’s Oscar nominees, including several past Oscar winners, made by a guy who’s made two Oscar favorites in the last three years. (And now one more.) Basically, there was no way in hell American Hustle wouldn’t be a part of the Oscar conversation this year. And it is.

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