Friday, February 6, 2009

Wrestling with Oscar

I haven't done any sort of pre-Oscar slog entry and I've seen a bunch of the contenders. I wrote about Benjamin Button, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire, Happy Go Lucky, and Revolutionary Road here, but I'm a little behind with the rest. Okay a lot behind, but remember, it's a slog not a blog.

I'm always surprised to find out that everyone hasn't seen the major flicks, hasn't read the reviews and is, in fact, waiting for verymarkmccormick to weigh in. Kidding of course: I sense that people are really apathetic about movies this year. So much real-world drama: Michelle forcing Ty to rename the Mahilia and Sasha dolls (I would NOT want to be on Michelle's Obama's bad side), more sex scandals from Ted Haggard, Michael Phelps getting his wrist slapped for a little bongage (don't get me started), Wells Fargo executives swinging from chandeliers in Las Vegas (not), plus who can see movies when they're obsessed with Facebook (I'm just sayin') and keeping their jobs.

Well here are a few mini-reviews, so you'll know how to vote at your Oscar party.

The Reader

Liked it more than I thought I would though I am generally over Kate Winslett. And tired of hyper art-directed movies about the Holocaust. Still, it's a fairly gripping and complex story with a very open ended question at its core: why doesn't the young man say what he knows about his former lover who is on trial for war crimes, knowing that the truth would both shame her deeply, but free her from a lifetime of imprisonment.

I can't even write about The Reader, more than that, because I am humbled by the New York Times critic Manohla Dargis who said it best (stand and up applaud for this fine paragraph--it's so FUCKING true (Sorry, I feel really strongly about this. Emphasis below is mine):

"Although the commercial imperatives that drive a movie like this one are understandable — the novel was a best seller and an Oprah’s Book Club selection, for starters — you have to wonder who, exactly, wants or perhaps needs to see another movie about the Holocaust that embalms its horrors with artfully spilled tears and asks us to pity a death-camp guard. You could argue that the film isn’t really about the Holocaust, but about the generation that grew up in its shadow, which is what the book insists. But the film is neither about the Holocaust nor about those Germans who grappled with its legacy: it’s about making the audience feel good about a historical catastrophe that grows fainter with each new tasteful interpolation."

Rachel Getting Married

Loved it. Loved Anne Hathaway in this, and even was sympathetic to her character. You probably won't be. But if you grew up in a wildly dysfunctional family, then were at the center of terrible family tragedy, and then you became a drug addict because of the combination of those two situations, you might be a narcisssist too. Wouldn't this make a lovely double feature with Margot at the Wedding? Date night!

Man on Wire

Up for best documentary. At least I've seen one in that category. Every year I say I'll see more. I think this will win. Vote for it. It got tons of press and rave reviews. It's about the guy who strung a line between the World Trade Center towers and walked across, in the 70's.

The Wrestler

Wow. Really didn't expect to like this. Don't like wrestling, don't like Rourke, don't like the director Darren Aronofsky all that much (though he's super cute in a retro way--very 1940's moustache). But this movie moved me and impressed me. The father / daughter dynamic is intense, and I cried. I love to cry at movies. And the filmmaking is just fantastic. I don't like the handheld camera all that much, but Aronofsky just makes you face this guy's face and life and sorrow and predicament head on. You CAN turn away but try not to. I'm sorry, but I had to when he was slicing the meat at the deli--I just knew he was going to cut himself. I have no idea why this was completly unbearable to watch; the wrestling was much more gruesome, but somehow that blood was pure theater, even though it was real--are you with me? Maybe not--I'm still catching up myself. I just saw the movie a few hours ago. I loved the way the movie plays with reality vs. drama, fiction vs. fact in a sort of dizzying meta way. Rourke and Tomei, play a washed up wrestler and dancer, and they are perfectly cast of course, because of their status in Hollywood, and the wrestling is theater, but Hollywood is a real battle, and the erotic dancing is a total fake as is the transitory beauty of actresses. In that way it is no less conceptual than Aronofsky's Pi, but far more entertaining.

So I would see all these movies, but my money and my heart is still on Slumdog Millionaire for best picture.


CP said...

I knew you'd like the Wrestler. The close-ups of his life when he's inside his van... (btw, I totally looked away at the deli slicer scene, too).

Charlie Cano said...

I'm actually surprised on two fronts -- one, that you aren't a fan of Aronofsky (I'm a huge fan), and two, that you found The Wrestler that compelling or emotionally charged.

I think it was his worst film. The acting was great, but I honestly never felt attached to any of the characters or their stories in any real sort of way. The plot, though it had some well executed components, was so transparent and obvious to me, and I didn't really see it go anywhere. The big narrative events were exceptionally unexceptional: dad has medical issue, he stops a bit to reflect on his regrets, tries to reconnect with daughter who is emotionally scarred, only to screw up again by letting her down; the man's only recurring thread and all he knows in life only lets him down; yadda yadda yadda. I guess I just found it sort of... boring.
I loved the filmmaking though, and applaud his ability to make an otherwise unintersting story to me more intersting though style to put you *in* his life. But relative to other films this year, and absolutely to his other films, I just didn't see this as that much of a stand out. Requiem for a Dream is still, by far and wide, the most upsetting and disturbing film I've ever seen, and I don't think I could bear to watch it again -- but it is still one of my favorite films in that it made me feel so strongly (even if that feeling was car-wreck-into-a-train-wreck-into-a-plane-crash). The Fountain was almost a polar opposite, a fable of romantic ache and beautiful in it's lucidity. I dunno, maybe it's just me, but those (and Pi of course) just wholloped a much bigger punch that I found lacking in The Wrestler.

Oh, and Darren is only slightly older than me and making amazing films - that he's cute to boot is unendingly frustrating to me... :)

Very Mark McCormick said...

Always astute, Charlie. The reason I actually liked The Wrestler more than ohter Aronofsky films is because it hooked me emotionally and the others were just too highly stylized to really make me "care" about the characters. They were trickery, youthful exuberance. It's true there was nothing original about the plot of The Wrestler, but it's been said that there are only really 7 plots; it's all variation. I like seeing a film where I learn something about a subculture. I didn't know anything about wrestling, or stripping for that matter, though the latter is a more familiar milieu, due to the fact that old white men finance movies. You didn't say which films this year you liked more than The Wrestler, and believe me I'm not saying it was anywhere close to being the best, just better than I expected. And I like meta-themes: I think it was really a movie about Hollywood. Thanks for writing, Charlie!