2010 Akurtemy Awards

It’s taken me a little while, but I have finally seen all ten Oscar nominated films. Sure, the Oscars happened many months ago, but since I saw most of these movies free on DVD from the library, this took some time.

It is now that I will make the decision as to what the Best Picture was. The decision is mine, NOT the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Sadly, the Meatball Posse short “Secondhand Stiffs” that I appeared in was not eligible for Best Picture, being that it was actually filmed in 2010 after the Oscar ceremonies. The American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can be so strict!

Here we go. I will evaluate them in alphabetical order. I cribbed most of this from my own Facebook movie reviews, by the way.

Avatar – I had the full “Avatar” experience, seeing it with James Rose in an IMAX 3-D theater. At the time, I would have said that “Avatar” was a worthy contender for Best Picture because James Cameron not only created a movie that was a commercial success (something should be said for connecting with people), but also changed theatrical cinema. Because of all the bootlegs and illegal downloads, the only way to get people into theaters is bells and whistles galore. But is this a good thing?

Well, it’s probably a necessary thing. But I’m not thrilled about the abundance of 3-D movies. 3-D used to be a cheesy gimmick, a last resort that sequels turned to when things were getting tired. Remember “Jaws 3-D?” It’s still cheesy to me.

Familiar themes are here. I was reminded of “Aliens,” with the giant robot that you (well, probably not YOU) can sit in and control, as well the military man seen as a grunt by some. And Sigourney is here. “Titanic” shows its influence when we see the giant tree falling (reminiscent of the Titanic sinking), and with the hokey love story. Here the stilted love dialogue isn’t so bad, because it’s amidst animation. It’s not as if they are real people developing a relationship.

“Avatar” has a lot to offer, to say the least, but it’s too long. There really isn’t much to the story when you get down to it, and it kind of drags in places. You can’t avoid going in without sky high expectations, but you should probably treat it as if you were going to a theme park ride as opposed to a movie. A long ride.

The Blind Side – Look, if you leave a piece of vanilla cake with icing on a table, I am going to eat it. Am I hungry or weak? Well, “The Blind Side” successfully showed how weak I am by manipulating me. It reached its broad arm out and pushed every button on me, while the seemingly intelligent facet of my being was saying, “Don’t let them do this to you!!” Would a little kid ACTUALLY be a big part of the negotiations with the college scouts? Oh, sure I ask that question NOW. What a BIG MAN I am now. Not so much when I was watching it and sucking it all up like it was shamrock milkshake. There was even a tear in my eye when Michael asked his new mom for a hug. What must I do? Listen to Karlheinz Stockhausen to cleanse myself of this experience? Or just accept that I can fully enjoy a completely and utterly commercial crowd pleaser? I freakin’ loved this movie. And you know what? The addition of Young MC’s “Bust A Move” only HELPED things “This here’s a tale for all the fellas, Try to do what those ladies tell us…”

I got shot down. I was over zealous.

District 9 – Along with many other people, I was very pleased that this was nominated. And along with those same people, I knew this had no chance of winning. This was a very entertaining and well crafted original movie, and there is the added bonus of getting the chance to imitate the alien language for the rest of the night. Your date will be thrilled to hear that on nonstop replay. This is my #2 movie on this list.

An Education – I would recommend seeing this for Alfred Molina’s performance, as he once again plays a layered, interesting, and nuanced character. I can also appreciate the overall feel of the movie in the art direction, music, etc., to capture a mod 60’s feeling.

My question is what this movie is trying to express about these kinds of relationships. A May-December romance blossoms because an older man is cruising for young chippies by the high school, and he charms her and her parents with his style, which may lack ethics in general. I suppose that they all want to believe that he really is the person who is making himself to be.

There are moments and an outcome where we see that this wasn’t an appropriate relationship, but the movie spends a lot of time showing how great and fun it can all be. Just take a look at the poster or the cover of the DVD – the movie is being sold based on the romance. She is 16, and he is presumably about 35. Why not bring it down three years – have the girl be 13 and the guy 32 and put that picture on the poster. Would that really be any less appropriate? Or am I missing something and these kinds of relationships were actually somewhat healthy in the 60s?

The Hurt Locker – Evangeline Lilly my ass! She’s barely in the movie. In one scene, she appears as a silhouette. Jon Abelack didn’t even know she was in the movie. I told him she was in it, and he asked, “She was?” See! But that’s neither here nor there…

“The Hurt Locker” is actually a very interesting movie, and it was the actual winner of Best Picture. That surprised me, because I didn’t become aware of it until I read the Village Voice critics picks. I wasn’t aware of when this movie had it’s release. How does a movie win that was seen (at the time) by so little people? I think “Avatar” was close to getting it, but James Cameron got on some people’s nerves and out of spite they gave it to his ex-wife. But that’s not to say that this isn’t a movie worth seeing.

“The Hurt Locker” is more of a character study than a story and therefore it has some slow stretches between some exciting battles and bomb defusing scenes. Still, I spent a day or so absorbing what I had seen, and when it all came together for me I found it to be a very fine film, particularly when you think about how everything wraps up and what drives the main character. As the quote in the beginning says, “War is a drug.” A very unique movie experience in that sense.

Inglourious Basterds – This is my pick for Best Picture! Thoroughly entertaining and well-done, as QT delivers an epic movie with everything we could want from him, including a voice cameo from Harvey Keitel. I had no idea where this movie was going to go, and that it was going to go into the direction that it did. A grand time at the movies! Sorry that that’s my whole review, but that is what I wrote after seeing the movie and I think I was going through phase of writing shorter reviews at that time. Still, this was great!

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Saffire – I had to emotionally and mentally prepare myself for this one, since I knew it was going to have some heavy subject matter. Having said that, I think a big part of this movie at this point is the hype and press surrounding it. Usually I think you should just look at a movie for what it is, but I think in this case, it’s a fair point. It would have been a different experience if I had known nothing about Gabourey Sidibe before watching it, or if I was not expecting a great – and it was INDEED great – performance by Mo’Nique. Also the trailer I had seen of “Precious” basically gives away the entire movie. I don’t know what I would have thought if I had seen this at Sundance and had not known what to expect beforehand, but I’m sure it would have been a much different for me.

There are some interesting and strong choices in this film that, to me, made it a bit uneven. Much of the beginning of the film – arguably the strongest parts – takes place at home with Precious and her mother, with surprisingly tricky camera work – almost as if it were a music video – and lighting and cinematography that gives it the feeling of a place in hell. As a person watching the film, it’s horrible to be there. You feel it. That’s a brilliant thing to pull off in any art form. Later in the film, when Precious returns home, it’s an awful feeling to watch her slowly return to that miserable place, where you know things aren’t going to go well. Your discomfort builds as you see her making the trek upstairs, scared for her and scared for her baby.

In contrast, the scenes with Precious in the alternative school seem to be from a different movie. All the tricky camera work is gone, and it tries to be a bit of an ensemble piece with Precious and her classmates. That could have been an entirely different movie, as those characters did seem interesting, but we didn’t really have the chance to get to know much about them, aside from a classroom introduction they gave. This was the only part of the movie that came as much of a surprise to me because it wasn’t used in any of the marketing I saw.

I also thought that the fantasy scenes wore out their welcome at a certain point. Once again, this is a case of the press of the film actually hurting how you watch it now. When you see Precious all dolled up and attending a movie premiere, you are reminded that Gabourey Sidibie looked very beautiful attending very similar glamourous events! Therefore, the power of that image has gone away.

The fantasy scenes, for me, became somewhat repetitive after a while and also inconsistent, mixing complete balls-out fantasy scenes with a mixture of fantasy and reality. I do fully understand that the classroom and fantasy scenes were a relief from the Precious-at-home scenes. I don’t know if anyone could watch a full movie of that.

From a filmmaking and acting perspective, there is some great individual work here. I give credit to the incredible level of commitment and willingness to go to dangerous and risky places. That doesn’t necessarily make for a great movie, but it’s to be admired.

Up – I think my favorite part in this movie was the fleeting shot of the dogs playing poker. What a great touch!

Overall, this is a whimsical movie about adventure, loss, love, and new beginnings. What a beautiful image it is to see a house floating through the air, carried by multi-colored balloons. I liked this much more than “Wall-E,” which was beautiful to look at, but very slow moving. “Up” moves very well, with elements of action and wonderful progressions of characters. Bravo, I say!

I watched “Up” as a double DVD feature with “Sid and Nancy.” That’s neither here nor there.

Up In The Air – Here is a movie about detachment. It’s very similar to “The Hurt Locker” in the sense that it centers on a character who eschews relationships and having a stable home to instead live the life that he loves, despite how unhealthy and lonely it may seem from the outside looking in.

I don’t know if Clooney is the most exciting actor out there, but the guy is just plain very good at what he does. He’s a comfortable performer and isn’t afraid to show the flaws of his character. He’s perfect for this role, of someone who travels without any baggage, has no desire for a family of his own, and makes his living firing people – because the companies they work for don’t want to do it themselves.

The question that comes from this movie is how much can someone be isolated and detached? Clooney’s character realizes at one point that he doesn’t want his chosen lifestyle anymore, only to realize that the appeal in the relationship he was getting into actually had much to do with his detached existence.

I think anyone who sees this movie is going to be bringing their own personal baggage to it, and it will affect people in different ways. For me, the most telling moment in the movie is when Clooney’s future brother-in-law has cold feet before the wedding, and Clooney reminds him that your best memories involve other people. The cold feet moments his future brother-in-law had came from when he was in a lonely hotel room by himself.

“Bust A Move” makes an appearance in this film as well, with Young MC actually appearing in it! If you want your movie to be nominated for Best Picture, a Young MC inclusion is crucial.

A Serious Man – I find the Coens’ work to be hot and cold, depending on the film, but I can see the genius of them. It’s in their vision. The production design, the colors, the costumes, the acting/directing style, and the camera composition are so precise and so in line with a singular vision that it is indeed amazing. Nothing – in terms of style – is extraneous. It’s rare to see this in contemporary film. Now their actual storytelling on the other hand…

Some of the Coens’ films are amazing, but there have been some that didn’t work for me. “A Serious Man” is kind of a throwaway movie that I did enjoy. It’s got some funny lines, like when a character says that doing nothing is “de facto.” It works, but it’s more or less a one-note story and gives off the vibe of a side pet project.

The Coens enjoy putting scenes in their films that have nothing to do with the rest of the movie (this is where they get extraneous), and they do that here with an elaborate opening (they admit to this in a DVD extra, saying it was the short before the feature). And there is an ending that is blatantly ambiguous that probably also wasn’t necessary, although I liked the image of the storm. I suppose after seeing enough Coen Brothers movies – I’ve seen all but four – I shouldn’t find any of this surprising.

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