Sunday, February 27, 2011

Wayne Walks You Through the Best Picture Nominees (Part 2)


Well, citizens, I managed to make it through the second and final Saturday of the AMC Theatres Best Picture Showcase, which means that I have now watched all ten of the flicks nominated for the top prize at tonight's Academy Awards. So I figured I would share with you my views on the five remaining nominated films.

Hard to Watch: Based on the Novel Stone Cold Bummer by Manipulate
THE FLICK: A desperately poor Missouri girl named Ree must locate her missing, meth-cooking father -- dead or alive -- in time for a scheduled court date in order to avoid losing the family's modest home. The other members of Ree's rural community want to conceal the father's fate and will go to great lengths, including brutal violence, to prevent Ree from learning the truth.

WAYNE'S TAKE: Every year among the nominees, there should be at least one "be-thankful-for-what-you've-got" film designed to play on viewers' guilt. While we're all snug and cozy in the movie theater, the poor-but-proud characters on screen are barely subsisting in a world that looks like a post-apocalyptic hellhole. Last year, the official guilt-trip movie was Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (which inspired 30 Rock's parody Hard to Watch: Based on the Novel Stone Cold Bummer by Manipulate). This year's model is Winter's Bone. The young heroine, Ree, wouldn't want anyone feeling sorry for her, but somehow that just made me feel worse about what she's going through, not only finding her father but almost single-handedly raising her two younger siblings. (Did I mention that Ree's mother is in a catatonic state? Geez, God, give these folks a break!) Don't worry, though, that this is just a two-hour exercise in tasteful, feel-bad hicksploitation. The plot actually functions as a very intriguing mystery/conspiracy with plenty of shocking and violent incidents along the way. And then there are some truly heartbreaking dialogue scenes, as when Ree meets with an Army recruiter. I don't want to spoil too much about the film, but the scene with that recruiter is probably what will stick in my mind the longest about this movie. GRADE: B

Possibly the Rocky Horror of the new millennium.
THE FLICK: An uptight, high-strung ballerina named Nina enters into a world of madness, pain, and paranoia when she is cast as the lead in a new production of Swan Lake. Is a younger ballerina trying to replace her? Is she merely replacing an older ballerina? And, for the love of God, is Nina actually transforming into a swan the way her character does in the ballet?

WAYNE'S TAKE: Tchaikovsky by way of David Cronenberg (specifically The Fly) with a generous helping of All About Eve (or Showgirls) thrown in, Black Swan straddles a line between high art and high camp. This might well be the most riotous live-action comedy of 2010, a film so far past the point of ridiculousness that sometimes the only reasonable reaction to it is to laugh. Perhaps it will one day be recognized as the Rocky Horror of the new millennium, with fans dressing up as the characters and saying the dialogue in sync with the actors. In Nina, Natalie Portman has finally found a role which suits her stiff, pinched, overly formal delivery. I wonder if she'll ever find a part this perfect for her again. As much in bad taste as Winter's Bone was in good taste, Black Swan is a film for everyone who cherishes the stylistic overload of Stanley Kubrick at his maddest or 1970s/1980s Brian DePalma at his most gleefully gaga. GRADE: A-

A dream inside a dream inside a... you know what? I stopped caring.
THE FLICK: A highly-skilled thief named Cobb, trained in stealing ideas from people's minds, assembles a crew for one last big, risky heist. He and his teammates must actually plant an idea in the mind of a wealthy businessman's heir. Only by successfully completing this task can Cobb ever hope to see the faces of his two children again.

WAYNE'S TAKE: The clear fanboy favorite of 2010, Inception is a film which -- and I realize I may be banished from the Internet for saying this -- failed to impress me during its original theatrical run last summer. In short, I found it to be all gimmickry and no real heart or soul. It seems like it's going to be about exploring the landscape of the mind, but it too soon devolves into shouting, explosions, and shootouts and relies far too heavily on clunky expository dialogue. Plus the whole thing looks like some kind of catalog for sleek, high-end modern furniture. Revisiting the film a half-year later, I realized I had perhaps underestimated Leonardo DiCaprio's performance as Cobb, but I still found the second half of Inception to be a noisy, calamitous, headache-inducing drag. And what should be the central relationship, that of Cobb and his late wife, never felt real or true to me. Do these seem like people who have a shared history with each other? I'm still baffled as to why America embraced Inception so fondly. GRADE: C+

Newsflash! Mark Zuckerberg? Kind of a dick.
THE FLICK: The semi-true, semi-fictional story of the rise of Facebook and its frighteningly ambitious founder, Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard computer whiz who originally creates the infamous social networking site as a way for horny Ivy League students to keep tabs on each other. As Facebook soars in popularity, Zuckerberg makes new friends, betrays old ones, and winds up as the target of several pricey lawsuits.

WAYNE'S TAKE: Every year among the nominees, there is a film which veers so closely to my sense of humor or my sphere of interest that I like to pretend it was made especially for me. Two years ago, it was Frost/Nixon and last year it was A Serious Man. This year, that movie is David Fincher's The Social Network, a whip-smart update on the director's Fight Club. What can I say? This film had a dizzying effect on me, and I mean that as a compliment. I have no idea if the actual birth of Facebook was anywhere near this amusing. Personally, I don't care if it was. For sheer fun, The Social Network is rivaled only by Toy Story 3 among the nominees. GRADE: A

A n-n-n-nice l-l-little hist-st-st-storical dr-dr-dr-drama.
THE FLICK: Another semi-true, semi-fictional story, this film portrays the relationship between King George VI and his long-time speech therapist, Lionel Logue. When his father's death and brother's abdication force him to take the throne at a time when World War II looms, the reluctant King must finally conquer his stammering problem in order to properly execute his duties.

WAYNE'S TAKE: If The Social Network is very much a film about the world we occupy now (and may one day be a time-capsule candidate), The King's Speech is decidedly timeless. It could have been made ten years ago or could be made ten years from now with virtually no changes to the script or filmmaking style. This is a drama which takes historical events and makes them life-sized and relatable by focusing on the very human story occurring behind the scenes. And, oh, such a cast they've assembled for this task. If you're the type who collects "Great British Thespians" trading cards (I'll trade you two Colin Firths for a Derek Jacobi rookie card!), you will very much enjoy this picture. Were it not for The Social Network, this would have been my favorite of the day. GRADE: A-

And that does it for Wayne's Oscar preview. I'm looking forward to the ceremony tonight. My pick for Best Picture is The Social Network. I don't know whether it will win, but I guess we'll see.

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