In two previous posts (here and here) I have given my initial reactions to the 9 films which are nominated for best picture.  Here are some themes and trends I found curious.

1.  The similarity in plot between Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Hugo is uncanny.  Absent father tragically killed.  Check.  Mysterious object needing a key.  Check.  Spooky/mysterious older man who is the ‘key’ to helping the boy move on.  Check.  Both of these films are someone’s Freudian PhD project.  Not to mention both of them have supporting actors from James Bond movies.  Creepy.

2.  The French Connection is so thick I can almost smell Jacques Pepin cooking something up to eat.  Let’s see, Hugo is set in a Paris train station, Midnight in Paris is, well, in Paris, War Horse reaches climax in France, The Artist is a French film with a French star and his accent as a major plot device.  Oddly, it was The Tree of Life which inexplicably won the Cannes Palm d’Or.  Go figure?

3.  Kids rule the day.  War Horse, Extremely, Hugo, The Descendants, Moneyball, and The Tree of Life all have significant roles for children.  Three films entire plot solely depends upon children.  These children are not happy children, though.  They all have grief issues:  Dead mothers, dead brothers, dead parents, and dead fathers.  The easiest childhood is the divorced child of Billy Bean (Brad Pitt) in Moneyball.  They all need a pastor.

4.  This year it is a battle of the superstar directors.  War Horse is a Spielberg production.  Scorsese was the genius behind Hugo.  Woody Allen is the  brilliance behind Midnight in Paris.  How’d you like to be the other six in the race?

5.  Eight of the nine films are period pieces.  Moneyball and Extremely are both recent, but still historical in that they are from a previous decade.  As I watched Extremely I remember thinking, “I used to have an answering machine just like that.”  My 12 year old would not know what an answering machine is.  Only The Descendants is perfectly contemporary.  However, and this might just be me reading too much in to make my point, the portrayal of life on Hawaii feels temporally distant (temporally distant seems like a Star Trek term).  Midnight in Paris is set now, but not the important parts.  All this nostalgia is fascinating.

6.  This used to be easier when only 5 films were nominated.  9 Movies represents a significant investment of time and money and a lot of popcorn.

7.  One last theme–the idea of the artist/writer/creative innovator is found in at least six of these films.  The Artist is about an actor, Extremely has the creative father, Hugo has the movie maker, Moneyball is the innovator who bases it all on a book written long ago, The Help is actually about the writing of a book, and Midnight in Paris is about a writer (a bunch of writers?).  This feels like blowback against an increasingly technological and scientific world.

WHO WILL WIN?  The only film that would make me angry if it won would be The Tree of Life.  Have I told you that I hate that movie?  I could see The Help winning and I could see Moneyball winning.  I don’t think they will, but I could see it.  War Horse has an outside shot.  It is a really good film.  The Descendants might win just because of the visceral reality of it and if the Academy had a tough year emotionally.  I don’t think Extremely can win.  It shouldn’t, and I don’t think it can.  For me, it boils down to The Artist, Hugo, and Midnight in Paris.  If any one of these three films won I would be happy.  My wife is pulling for Hugo.  I am pulling for Midnight In Paris because of the Hemingway connection and Owen Wilson is the greatest living actor of our time.  But I actually believe The Artist will win.  Hollywood loves itself more than anything else, and a movie about the tragic lives of actors in Hollywood will have the inside track.  But what do I know.  I just love movies.




This is the second of three posts I’ve planned on the Oscar nominees for best picture.  It has taken a while to watch all nine.  We finally finished last night with a showing of “The Artist.”  It is such an obscurely released film that we had to drive almost 45 minutes just to find a theater that was showing it.  Right now I am giving initial reactions to the last four films.  You can read my summary of the other five at my post WATCHING BEST PICTURE NOMINEES.  Sometime next week, probably Monday, I am going to post my third collection of observations in which I pick a winner and speak about the group as a whole.

The Artist–This is the film most people think will win.  I can see why.  Not only is it creative, but the plot, acting, and editing are delightful.  By creative I am referring to the radical employment of being both a nearly silent movie and in black and white.  The beautiful part of the movie going experience is that once this film drags you in, you forget both that the rainbow is absent and that there is little sound.  The theater we saw it in showed it in 35 MM.  Now, as I watched the film, I could hear the reel in the background.  It is a sound I haven’t heard in a while and I wondered, and still wonder, was that the actual reel in the theater or was that a sound effect because, it made the watching experience so much richer.
Hugo–This is my wife’s pick to win and my youngest daughter had read the book in the school library.  Hugo is a great film for families and the cast is, from top to bottom, stellar.  The two children, particularly Asa Butterfield as Hugo, carry their weight well opposite such titans as Ben Kingsley and Christopher “Count Dooku” Lee.  Even Sacha Baron Cohen, whom I normally detest, did great.  The movie was disciplined in its storytelling and measured in its movements.  Bravo Martin Scorsese. 
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close–Again, this is another great film, but It is not in the same category as the above two.  I’ll give more details in my next post, but for now, it is just not there.  The boy, Thomas Horn, is really good but he gets lost in the bigness of the story.  A movie that has this many moving parts needs to convince me that I am in a dream world (like Hugo does) or convince me that somehow this whole situation, as absurd as it seems, is plausible (As War Horse does).  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close do neither.  It is a good film, but not good enough.
The Descendants–Let me go positive before I go negative.  On the positive; the people portrayed in the film remind me so much of real people.  The George Clooney character, I’ve met that guy.  His marriage is a disaster and his kids are out of control and if something were to go terribly wrong, he’d have no idea of where to even start–emotionally, physically, or spiritually.  That teenage daughter of his and her pothead boyfriend are people I often see at church.  That is the positive side of The Descendants–it touches reality.  The negatives of the film are that the editing is lose and stringy and the plot is plodding.  This film somehow makes a devastating boat crash, marital infidelity, terminal illness, wayward children, and rich real estate developers boring.