Thursday, April 28, 2011

2002: Chicago

More than anything else, Roxie Hart wants to be famous.  When Fred Casely promises to get her an act in Vaudeville, she is perfectly willing to have an affair with him...until it turns out that he was lying about his connections.  So she shoots him.  Then she gets successful lawyer Billy Flynn to build up her defense by making her famous.

By far the best aspect of this movie is the way the musical numbers are woven into the story.  So often in musicals - in fact, almost always - people break out into song for no apparent reason whatsoever.  In this movie, most of the songs are in Roxie's imagination.  She is so obsessed with show business that in her mind she turns everything that happens into a big musical number.  Shots of what she imagines are interspersed with shots of what is actually going on, often ironically, such as when Billy Flynn is first introduced.  Roxie pictures him as a man who only cares about love, when clearly all he cares about is money.  The flawless transitions between Roxie's dream world and her reality are what make this movie intriguing and set it apart from other musicals.

Other than that, I really don't care for the message this movie portrays.  It paints a very sad picture of our society, implying that the justice system is all about who can give a better performance, and life is all about who can get ahead.  It's odd how most of the important characters are so unlikable, yet we cheer for them just the same.  Part of this is due to the performances, particularly the spectacular Catherine Zeta-Jones, who won Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Velma Kelly, the once-famous murderess from whom Roxie steals the spotlight.  I also think it's interesting that many of the actors and actresses cast in this musical were not famous for their singing talents, yet I believe they all did their own singing.  Anyway, the only character I really find likeable is poor Amos Hart, Roxie's husband, who just wants to take care of her and love her, and whom she treats despicably.  But he ends up with nothing, while the two murderesses get to be famous and Billy Flynn gets a bunch of money.  It's really a sad story, but it's presented as an upbeat, colorful musical.  Also, the costumes are way too revealing for my taste.

But somehow, overall I like this movie.  I think it's mostly the music and the whole imagination/reality juxtaposition, but there's also some pretty good dialogue, and the story is interesting, albeit far from the crime-never-pays, good-guys-always-win movies of which Hollywood was once so fond.  Of course, those kind of movies don't win Best Picture too often.  I think, for the most part, Chicago deserves to be on this list.

Next is The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and here I have a confession to make.  The reason I've done so little Best Picture watching this month is because I was frantically trying to finish reading The Lord of the Rings before I had to watch the movie.  So I'm planning to watch the first two movies first, and then watch the third one and blog about it.  Bear with me.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

2001: A Beautiful Mind

This film tells the (mostly) true story of John Nash, who is socially awkward but mathematically brilliant.  At first he just wants to discover a mathematical breakthrough that's enough to get him published, but he soon learns that his mind can be put to much greater use.

I went into this movie knowing very little about it, and I think that's the best way to see it.  Very rarely do I get to watch a film without having already formed some kind of opinions about it.  If you haven't seen it yet, and don't know anything about it, my best advice is to stop reading and go watch the movie first, because I don't want to influence you.  It's definitely worth watching, so you won't be wasting your time.

For those who have already seen it, or just decided to ignore my advice from the last paragraph, I'll elaborate.  I think this movie is incredible, from nearly every aspect imaginable.  It's a fascinating story to start with, and it is told with a brilliant sense of reality that is almost ironic.  Everything from the script and soundtrack to the sets and lighting come together perfectly to form a truly remarkable film.  But I think the best aspect of the film is Russell Crowe's performance as Nash.  After having just seen him play a very different character in Gladiator, I can't help but marvel at his versatility as an actor.  He definitely should have won another Best Actor Oscar for this.  At least the Academy recognized Jennifer Connelly for her understated performance as Nash's wife, and Ron Howard for directing this masterpiece, but I don't understand why Crowe didn't win.  I know they probably wanted to give someone else a chance, but, come on, Tom Hanks won two in a row in the '90s!  How could they give Russell Crowe the award for Gladiator and not for A Beautiful Mind?  He was way better in this!  Oh, well.  He won a Golden Globe and several other awards.  The Oscars aren't everything.  Says the person who's watching all the Best Picture Oscar winners.

This is the kind of film that challenges audiences intellectually, and I often don't like those because they're too confusing.  While this movie is a bit confusing, it's still really easy to follow, which is nice.  In a way it's very disturbing, but not compared to many other Best Picture Winners.  Mostly it's about love and math, which I think is pretty awesome.

Next up: Chicago

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

2000: Gladiator

An aging Roman emperor unofficially appoints army general Maximus to turn the government back into a republic after his death.  However, the emperor's son Commodus kills his father in order to become emperor himself.  He then orders the slaughter of Maximus and his family when Maximus refuses to swear allegiance to him.  Maximus manages to escape death and eventually returns to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge on Commodus.

As far as gruesome, epic, disturbing films go, this is one of the better ones.  Maximus is a very sympathetic character, so the audience actually cares what happens to him.  This turns what could have been a bunch of random bloody fighting into powerfully meaningful scenes.  Though I don't like all the violence, it's not too difficult to look past the gore and focus on the characters, especially the contrast between Maximus and Commodus.  One is courageous and fights for the chance to avenge his family's death; the other is a disturbed maniac who craves love and power, which no one wants to give him.  You can't blame Marcus Aurelius for preferring Maximus over Commodus, despite Commodus's insistence that it's his father's fault that he's the way he is.  To a certain extent, Commodus may have a point, but I think he's basically just evil.

While this isn't really my type of movie, I can appreciate that it's well-made.  The soundtrack and special effects are mind-blowing.  The script is very good, although the dialogue is at times difficult to understand.  And, of course, the intense fighting scenes are filmed and choreographed very well.  I personally find it very difficult to get past the fact that it was good entertainment to watch people kill each other, although I guess people still kind of do that today.  Of course, it's usually fake now, but on the screen it looks real.  In ancient Rome they didn't have television, so actually killing people was the next best thing, I guess.  It's all very disconcerting to me, which was probably the point of this film.  I think a lot of people like it because they think the fight scenes are cool, which is sad because it means that we are still entertained by watching people kill each other.  Between the evilness of Commodus and the whole idea behind gladiators, this is one of the most disturbing films I've ever seen.  But in my opinion it is made watchable by the character development, which, as you've probably noticed if you've been following this blog, is something that usually makes or breaks a movie for me.

Stay tuned for: A Beautiful Mind