RDN on the 2011 Oscar crop

Posted by RDN under On movies on 7 March 2011

I saw great movies in 2010 and some of them were given minor awards at the Oscars. But the big winners probably weren't all that wonderful….

The best movies I've seen recently were probably The Way Back and Of Gods and Men. They bore some resemblance to each other, in being about the moral choices made by a group of men thrown on their own resources. The Way Back strongly reminded me of Defiance (2008), which by chance I recently saw on TV. All three had the knack of conveying texture (even tedium) with sudden punctuations of action. (And of course Defiance evoked Inglourious Basterds – the best nearly-sick movie for years – though the latter had a much cruder account of the rights of Jews to exact revenge.)

The King's Speech was obviously a fine film, in its way, which was smallish in ambition and scale. Surely: 0ne Kleenex and three stars, top whack?  It was streaks ahead of Calendar Girls or (filmically at least ) The Queen.

Colin Firth did well, but I doubt his performace was as skilled and insightful as his outing in A Single Man or even Genova(2008). My bigger beef is that the movie would have been a nobler event if it had been truer to the psychology and sociololgy of the real story. Oddly, The Queen – which had its own prejudices – was much braver in over-throwing conventional nonsenses. It struck out for the idea that Tony Blair abandoned republican emotionalism in his preference for mildly monarchical reticence. TKS, on the other hand, pandered to antipodean, perky irreverence, blah blah.

The problem with Black Swan is that it  was useless, unlike its coeval The Wrestler (which was cliche ridden, for sure, but framed one of the greatest central characters I have ever seen). I like a creepy movie and think Peeping Tom is a great film. But BS was a clunker and even managed to make lesbian sex uninteresting (but not actually cringey, see The Kids Are Alright, below). Natalie Portman presumably got the Oscar for slimming. Also at points her emoting was very nearly like that of a trained actress.

The trouble with True Grit was that it very uneven. It had lovely writing: the cod-Victorianism of its archaic speech and legalistic tropes was highly engaging. The tough young woman was beautifully conceived and performed. But Jeff Bridges was a notch or three too mumbly even for a professional mumbler. And too laid-back, too. He pushed that as far as I want it to go in Crazy Heart (2009) which moved me much more. To top it all, the blood-and-thunder back end of the movie seemed almost perfunctory.

I sort of liked Blue Valentine but it was too wilfully subtle. It left it until way too late to expose its male lead as a waste of space. So we had the proposition that the wife was deeply fed up, as wives will be. But the husband was nice to the child (and yes we know that's often cover for being bored with the mother, or an insurance against her wrath) and quite a good egg in general. By the time we're shown his drinking and violence, we're a little disposed to think she had it coming. He may have been manipulative, but why shouldn't he keep his creativity for his private life, as a hobby?  An old boy reeled out of the cinema behind me and asked his wife: "What was supposed to be wrong with the man? Seemed alright to me". I rather agreed.

In The Kids Are Alright  a biological father lobs up as an under-achiever who's achieved a lot. He's together and relaxed. Lordy. There was a lot to like: the ensemble playing was better than in plenty of movies and the middle-aged women didn't shriek their joy or misery as much as they do in most nowadays. Actually, the  take-home effect was not perhaps as intended:  is it fair for lesbian and gay couples to impose their conception (oops) of family life on their kids? Well maybe the question was as intended, but the answer from many in the audience probably wasn't. By which I mean that the movie seemed to show two profoundly selfish women, one of whom was infantile. So if this was intended to be a public-service film in aid of getting prejudices out of the way, well it didn't shift mine.

As to Oscars for The Kids Are Alright? As a fan of the movies I'd give Oscars to Annette Bening and Julianne Moore and then ask what film they were in.

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