Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The BAH!scars #7: Getting Some Direction

Time for me to finish off my predictions and ranting. Well, sort of. I have a few more crazy things in store for the BAH!scars before the big night...but before I get to those, time to do my good duty as a blogger and weigh in on the rest of the big categories.

Best Direction
“Avatar” — James Cameron
“The Hurt Locker” — Kathryn Bigelow
“Inglourious Basterds” — Quentin Tarantino
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” — Lee Daniels
“Up in the Air” — Jason Reitman

I'm a tad ambivalent about Lee Daniels's job as director of Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire. I found some of the techniques interesting and effective at conveying what I imagine to be the feel of Sapphire’s prose. I appreciated how the camera really changed its style to fit each scene. However, the whole time, I was being irritatingly reminded that this was all just a trope on a much better director and a much better movie: Darren Aronofsky and his masterpiece, Requiem for a Dream. Lee Daniels does well because he has chosen the right guy to copy. Furthermore, I cannot help but be vexed by the fact that Aronofsky has directed three better films than this (I have to reevaluate Pi), but has not gotten a single nomination. Daniels of course gets it by making a movie that is almost textbook Academic.

About Jason Reitman, I barely have anything to say since I found Up in the Air’s direction unimpressive. As for feel, I’ve reiterated on numerous occasions how he went the completely wrong direction (see: Devin likes screwball comedies). As for camera, with the exception of two scenes, it conveyed the idea that Reitman would be more comfortable just directing a play with an innumerable amount of sets. The two scenes are the opening credits, which were horrendously obnoxious, and first scene of George Clooney making his way to his plane, which might have been a bit too flashy, but was just good enough to work.

James Cameron clearly accomplished what he set out to do in Avatar, but I’m not sure where to draw the line between director and visual effects and I’m pretty sure it veers towards the latter.

The Hurt Locker is a director’s movie. It’s a good, but not great script, that is buoyed by a phenomenal camera and well-done performances. Bigelow perfectly captures the right feel, where you are nervous even after you would be in a typical narrative (like when the bomb is already diffused). She does shaky cam right which nowadays almost seems worthy of some laurels in and of itself.

Finally, there’s Inglourious Basterds. Like I’ve said earlier, I think this might be one of the best films of the decade. As you may have guessed, Tarantino’s direction is definitely responsible for a good chunk of that. But, like Best Picture, this is ultimately a race between Bigelow and Cameron – the gritty vs. the pretty. While Best Picture seems tougher to call, I can say that Bigelow has a more noticeable lead here. Not so much that Cameron taking it from her is unthinkable, but as I see it, either the Academy will split the vote or give director and picture to the same film (okay, that’s a bit of a tautology). If they give it to the same film, it’ll be more on quality and therefore The Hurt Locker will get both. If they split it, they’ll do so to appease more people. They’ll give Avatar the big prize to really appease the masses and give Bigelow the slightly less important Best Director to appease the film geeks.

Who will will: Kathryn Bigelow
Who should win: Quentin Tarantino, though I’m quite fine with Bigelow

Writing (Original Screenplay)
“The Hurt Locker” — Written by Mark Boal
“Inglourious Basterds” — Written by Quentin Tarantino
“The Messenger” — Written by Alessandro Camon & Oren Moverman
“A Serious Man” — Written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
“Up” — Screenplay by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Story by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Tom McCarthy

Aside from A Serious Man, I would not be too upset over any of these choices. The Hurt Locker in my opinion is a bit weaker in the script department than acting or direction, but not so much that I would find its winning a grave injustice. The Messenger is probably in a similar category but I would simply be amused by the oddness of such a small, not-known independent film winning over 4 Best Picture nominations. Up would be a perfectly suitable winner, though the Academy’s anti-animation prejudice is far reaching. Finally, there’s Inglourious Basterds. This movie will probably not take home too many awards in March (aside from Waltz’s), but it has a strong likelihood of winning this award. Despite bouts of extreme violence, this movie is all about dialogues between characters in the way that only Tarantino can deliver it (along with some great mini-monologues). The Academy may tend to lean towards a sweep (as is their habit) and go with Hurt Locker, but they might also try to throw Tarantino his bone. Ultimately, this is probably one of the closest races of the year, and I myself go back and forth on who will win day after day.

Who will win: The Hurt Locker or Inglourious Basterds – too close to call. If forced at gunpoint, I’d choose Basterds, if only because that’s what I want.
Who should win: Inglourious Basterds

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
“District 9” — Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
“An Education” — Screenplay by Nick Hornby
“In the Loop” — Screenplay by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” — Screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher
“Up in the Air” — Screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner

The great irony here is that the surprise nomination (and the one that has not the slightest hope of winning) is clearly the best of the five screenplays. In fact, it may be one of the best of the ten. But sadly, In the Loop is too clever, too rude, and far too problematic to dream of ever taking home a little gold man. After seeing the film, I was even surprised that the Academy deemed to nominate it.

Also, little aside: I keep going back and forth on whether or not this script deserves to be in the Adapted category. While the scenario is based on a television show and one of the characters comes from that show, the story, dialogue, and majority of the characters are original. So yes, while this is not 100% from nothing…how could this be Adapted when Milk last year was under original screenplay?

An Education is the only other film I would be reasonably fine with seeing win this award. The dialogue is great, dramatic (and at times melodramatic) without losing itself (it constantly remains aware that the characters are prone to overreacting) and at other times just hilarious. Nowhere near as good as In the Loop’s, but very few screenplays this year are.

I’ve already gone into depth about my hated of District 9’s script and my warm to lukewarm about Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire. As for Up in the Air, I still do not get the love for this film’s “cleverness” or “wit” or “originality” or what-have-you. I mean, all of that love makes this the clear frontrunner and has guaranteed this film at least one prize…I just don’t see from where the love grows.

Who will win: Up in the Air.
Who should win: In the Loop.

Animated Feature Film
“Fantastic Mr. Fox”
“The Princess and the Frog”
“The Secret of Kells”

Neither The Secret of Kells or Coraline stand a chance. This is a symbolic race, between computer, stop-motion, and cell-animation. The Secret of Kells winning will mean nothing since nobody has seen it (including yours truly) and Coraline is not as emblematic (or good) an entry as Fantastic Mr. Fox when it comes to stop-motion animation. Yeah, I did not really like Coraline all that much. It was…good, but that was about it. I imagine how I felt about its style is akin to how many felt upon watching (and disliking) Juno with all its hipster affections. I love Nightmare Before Christmas, but all the Hot-Topic-Girl’s-Jerk-off Fantasy, semi-Tim-Burton-esque, mainstream-alternative style of Coraline bothered me. It wasn’t quirky or disturbing or whatever the designers were going for, but instead felt like a computer’s reaction if you fed it the past two decades of designs that met that description and asked it to make one itself. It felt artificial and forced and a bit bland and ultimately quite irritating. All of this is also an apt description for the character of Coraline. I’m sorry to all of you who felt that a girl who moves into a new town where she just doesn’t fit in and her parents don’t understand was such a breath of fresh air in the canon of cinema. The second half did a decent job with the final execution…but all that did was make me give it three stars on Netflix instead of a damnable two.

Now for the big three. If The Princess and the Frog wins, it will win purely because the Academy wants to see more 2-D animation. While the story was good and cute, the problem is that the mere evocation of the Disney movies of the late 80s and early 90s (as the trailer did try to summon up) only serve to highlight that while the story was good and cute (and Shadow Man was a fun villain), this movie is nowhere near the caliber of Beauty and the Beast or Aladdin. It’s a standard-good entry into the world of cell animation. In 1991, it would be pretty forgettable. Now, it’s Oscar-nominated.

Finally, it’s Up vs. Fantastic Mr. Fox. Now, we all know my adoration of Up. I think it was the second or third best film of the year. It’s a better movie than Mr. Fox. But, I would be completely fine if Fantastic Mr. Fox won. The fact that of the five nominees, only one is computer animated is refreshing enough. To see such a wonderful showcase of stop-motion animation and all its quirks and differences from real life win would be a lovely boost of energy for animation as a medium. It might even help stop the onslaught of Despicable Me and similarly subpar, mass-produced 3-D animated films. Granted, the chance of that happening is as small as the chance of Mr. Fox winning. Up has the award in the bag like it’s Lock, Shock, and Barrel and the gold statue is Sandy Claws. And if there is any upset, symbolic win, it’ll be The Princess and the Frog.

Who will win: Up
Who should win: Up

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