Monday, February 28, 2011

The Oscars: A Follow-Up

I've been slacking when it comes to sitting down at the computer and actually writing about film.  All the guilty parties have been present and accounted for: a steady workload, family, travel, lethargy, exhaustion, torpidity, lack of films to write about.  But I'm forcing myself to sit and write some mini-reviews because the Oscars went down yesterday, and in spite of the parochial perspective focused around 5-10 films (you'd think The King's Speech, Black Swan, The Social Network, True Grit, and a few more were the only worthwhile films released this year) and my indifference towards James Franco (whom I admire) and Anne Hathaway as hosts, I still blocked off time on my calendar to sit down and spend the evening watching the awards.  It's been a tradition ever since I can remember.  Sure, the loved ones I watch the Oscars with have changed (I watched with my wife in California instead of my parents/siblings in Boston) and the hosts were different (I grew up watching Billy Crystal although Steve Martin might be my favorite).  More importantly, my cinematic sensibility has shifted directions.  Until I entered high school, I had never seen most of the films the Oscars honored.  Instead, I used to be a sucker for blood-soaked action flicks; some of my fondest cinematic memories consist of seeing unedited versions of John Woo's Hong Kong blood ballets (Bullet in the Head, A Better Tomorrow 2, Hard Boiled) at the Brattle with my father.  I used to think Arnold Schwarzensger films were the shit and my idea of a great comedy was Dumb and Dumber.  I fell hook, line, and sinker for every arch, twisty crime thriller after I had seen Pulp Fiction seven times in the theater (and I wasn't the only one - just look at the glut of copycats that followed in its wake). At the same time, it was 1994 when I first began to get really invested in the Oscars because I actually began to watch many of the nominees/winners.

Now, well, I would never say my sensibility has evolved.  That word is all wrong and untrue; Dumb and Dumber is still one of my favorite comedies, I still love bathroom humor, and a twisty, violent, disgustingly bloody film with nothing more on its mind than splintered body parts still can work wonders.  But that kind of limited film vocabulary leaves one struggling to articulate a love for cinema, so I've deliberately expanded my choices; I'm a much bigger fan of documentaries these days and my top films for the year don't always feature violent content.  I'm more inclined to try foreign films that don't feature Chow Yun Fat firing away with two pistols in slow motion.  Comedies don't have to feature fart jokes to make me laugh out loud; one reason (it has many) that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World functioned so well at comedy was because its actors delivered performances that sweetly mocked and honored a generation addicted to social networking and gamesmanship better than The Social Network.  All in all, I think I've become better versed in past and present cinematic trends and techniques, and I'm better off for doing so.  

But no matter what, I still come back to the Oscars to watch and absorb.  And truth be told, I saw all ten (ugh!) of the Best Picture nominees in the theater and many of them are worthwhile films (I've offered complete reviews of several of them on this site:  Inception, Winter's Bone, The Kids are All Right, 127 Hours, True Grit).  So I want to offer my brief point of view into the other Best Picture nominees/winners as well as some other issues at hand.  Every day I will post a brief review of a film/performance that was nominated and/or won.  And I welcome any and all dialogue regarding your own opinions about the films/performances mentioned here on Bread Whore.   

Black Swan (D)

Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride:  Best Picture/Best Director/Best Cinematography
Tied the Knot! Oscar and Natalie Portman, Best Actress Winner

I love Darren Aronofsky as a director; the man has a gift for making me visually intoxicated.  He's not simply an empty stylist; his visual theatrics carry weight.  Requiem for a Dream was one of the greatest movie experiences of my life.  In Requiem, he didn't just get a great performance out of Ellen Burstyn, but he coaxed career-defining acts from Jennifer Connelly, Jared Leto, and Marlon Wayans (yes, you read that last name correctly).  So when I say Black Swan is a hysterical piece of hysteria, unfortunately, I don't mean that in a kind way.  Everything about this movie is hideously exaggerated from the camera work to the writing to the performances; Natalie Portman, you did not deserve an Oscar!  To be fair, a lot of the technical aspects of the film (editing, sound design, etc) do well to mirror the psychotic fragmentation going on in the mind of the main character (Portman).  That doesn't make the film good.  Smear lipstick on a pig, it's still a pig.  And no amount of dress-up can compensate for the fact that this tale of a ballerina's mental/physical disintegration is cheap, engineered animal product.  Take away Aronofsky's name and the talented thesps (Portman, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey), and Black Swan goes straight to video.  Instead, those names fooled people into believing they were getting a cut of grade-A, organic, healthy cinema rather than this cinematic mutation that's been pumped so full of artificial hormones it bursts from the pressure of its perversions.  In other words, it's not worth your time, money, or health.  Stay away.           

1 - Let's be honest:  Arnold made some great action films back when Hollywood still made balls-to-the-walls R-rated, visceral epics.  Go back and watch Total Recall, Predator, Terminator 1 and 2, True Lies, Red Heat.

2 - Good "Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery":  Bound, Go, Amores Perros, Early Guy Ritchie - Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch