Every February, much to the amusement of my buddies in the indie community, I always get caught up in the Oscar race despite promising myself I won't. In keeping with my own little "armchair quarterback" tradition, here is my quick take on this year's nominees - at least based on what I have seen.
War Horse: I'm starting with this one based purely on the fact that it's the only one on the list I'm not going to get to see before the show airs.I have heard nothing but great things about it and like most am a HUGE Spielberg fan so, I can't wait to see this when the Blu-ray drops. From what I've read, I still don't think it will win but, understand why it's on the list. If you have anything specific to say about it, please leave a comment.
Midnight in Paris & Tree of Life: I'm putting these 2 together because they were the only ones that I honestly didn't enjoy at all. One of the common complaints about the Oscars is that the people shortlisting the films are telling us what we should and shouldn't like and these two are prime examples. I "get" why Woody Allen is an important historical figure in film - same for Terrence Malick. I also know I'll pay for saying this but, to me, their movies are like soccer - I keep trying to watch hoping I'm going to enjoy myself but, I just can't because I'm not a "soccer fan". Lastly, I really hope that Michael Sheen (who I think is an excellent actor) doesn't try an American accent in his next film.
Hugo: This was the one entry that I thought I was going to enjoy the most. Scorsese gets the best out of his actors - especially Sacha Baron Cohen who deserves a lot more credit for his acting talent than he gets. While the story moved well, at times I thought it got bogged down in it's own morality lessons to the point of being "preachy". The use of 3D, however, was among the best that I've seen yet. It's definitely a movie for serious film lovers and collectors.
Moneyball: This was a very well crafted story for those who have a love of baseball. Some of the stats discussions get a little intense and run the risk of alienating much of the audience. The acting, however, is first rate and I applaud the academy for nominating Jonah Hill in the supporting category.
The Descendants: I personally felt that this was the biggest surprise of the bunch – primarily because I’m not usually a fan of George Clooney’s work (O Brother, Where Art Thou and Up in the Air being noteworthy exceptions). Clooney gives what could easily be his best performance yet as a man who is barely able to keep it all together while simultaneously dealing with: the inevitable loss of his wife, his 2 troubled daughters, and a massive professional matter. The Descendants also boasts some of the strongest supporting work I’ve seen in a while from some unlikely sources including Matthew Lillard. In a slightly weaker year (and with fewer films in contention), this easily would have won Best Picture. I do hope that Clooney wins the Best Actor award because he really does deserve it.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: I didn't know much about it going in so, I had no expectations but, am really glad that I did see it. Thomas Horn holds his own and impressively steals some of his scenes from 3 huge stars - Sandra Bullock, Tom Hanks, and Max Von Sydow. Von Sydow, incidentally was the one person I couldn't stop watching. The fact that his character doesn't actually speak makes his performance all the more powerful. This of course leads me to....
The Artist: It's considered by many to be the front runner and it's easy to see why. In essence, it's a simple idea executed flawlessly. Somebody I once interviewed on my show said that great actors speak "the language of truth". I could think of no higher compliment to pay Jean Dujardin. I was also shocked at how strong a performance John Goodman gave and wondered why he was completely overlooked on the awards circuit.
The Help: I saved the one that I enjoyed the most for last. It was one of the best movies I've seen in the last 2 or 3 years and I envy anybody that gets to see this for the first time. Based on the strength of her performances in this and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Viola Davis is now my new favorite actress.