This weekend, we managed to watch not one, not two, but THREE of the movies currently in contention this award season. Impressive, no? Much thanks to Netflix and MLK day (parents off + daycare open=MATINEE).
The movies themselves were equally impressive. In fact, I am going to call it; right here, right now. One of these films is going to win Best Picture at the Oscars. Which one? You’ve already got a hint, but read on …
I like good movies, and my husband likes baseball, so this film was an obvious choice. I am not a rabid Brad Pitt fan, per se, but I do think that he is consistently under-rated as an actor, and his performance in Moneyball certainly deserves the attention it’s receiving. As Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland As, Pitt conveys a convincing “every man” quality that I think can sometimes be difficult for big movie stars, particularly ones who really look like movie stars. He also gives us the motivation and baggage behind the man who puts everything on the line to change how the business of baseball works. Equally impressive (and more surprising) is Jonah Hill as Beane’s numbers man, Peter Brand. Hill is the extremely smart guy thrown in among a bunch of baseball types, and his awkwardness and attempts to fit in are very realistically portrayed. Overall, Moneyball brings some heart and inside knowledge to the back-end workings of America’s pastime; it’s a little slow in places, which is disappointing given Aaron Sorkin’s crisp work on The Social Network in 2010. Still, it’s a movie that should certainly be part of the conversation, and while I don’t think it’s Brad Pitt’s year, his performance here ought to at least remind audiences that he is more than just a pretty face.
Midnight in Paris (2011)
I’m not really much for Woody Allen, although I’ve definitely enjoyed some of his newer films. I attribute this to two facts: 1. good casting, and 2. the fact that Allen himself is not in the movies. See, while he generally has someone acting as his stand-in (check out this video for the proof), they are somehow less annoying than he is, and even manage, in some cases, to be sort of charming. Owen Wilson’s frustrated writer, Gil, in Midnight in Paris is such a one, although you shouldn’t really watch the film for him. The original story, the views of Paris, and the stunning supporting cast are what make this film a contender. In addition to being Allen’s stand-in, Gil is mainly the medium through which we enjoy the journey back in time to the Paris of Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), and the Fitzgeralds (Tom Hiddleston, yay! and Alison Pill). I feel the need to mention Marion Cotillard and Rachel McAdams (surprisingly unlikable) as well, and out of all these great little performances, Adrien Brody (in one scene, as Salvador Dali) is the highlight. In the end, it’s the story that makes this film an excellent one; for despite a lack of explanation, Gil’s experiences and their ultimate outcome are surprisingly realistic and insightful.Take away the time travel and the literary superstars, and you’ve got a simple, well-told story about two people who are realizing that they’re not as happy as they think they are, and we all know that the simple stories are always the best.
The Artist (2011)
Ordinarily, I don’t like hype. Sometimes, though, something comes along that’s worthy of all the buzz, and this year, that something is The Artist. It’s not an original idea, and in fact there are multiple references to my favorite movie, Singin’ in the Rain, but the finished product is something truly original and unique. Writer/director Michel Hazanavicius deserves every ounce of acclaim that he’s raking in for this picture, and yes, I do believe he will walk away with the biggest prizes of them all next month. Performers Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo should be no less celebrated for their great performances. The movie is not perfect (it drags a bit in the middle), but it’s an impressive piece of work, an excellent blend of nostalgia and modern story-telling. While it adopts the style of “old” movie-making (in case you didn’t already know, it’s a black and white silent film!), it carries the dramatic weight of a current-day story as it follows silent movie star George Valentin (Dujardin)’s fall, his struggles against pride and progress, and his final redemption and acceptance of change. While I can imagine some audiences are deterred by the nature of the film, I’d like to believe that anyone would to find The Artist enjoyable, and I think that it stands alone this year in terms of its vision, originality, execution, and overall, entertainment value. If it’s still playing near you, go see it. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
This-coming weekend, we’ll be going a little older with The Music Man (the 2003 version with Matthew Broderick. Yeah, I’m also skeptical.) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Liz Taylor! Paul Newman! Need more be said?). What’re your viewing plans? If you’re looking for something to see, well, you’ve just had three pretty glowing recommendations, so what’re you waiting for? Get to it!