Sunday, June 26, 2011

2010: The King's Speech

Bertie stammers when he speaks.  Unfortunately, he is also the son of King George V of England, which means that not only is he required to speak publicly, he must do so on live radio.  He tries everything to get rid of the stammer, but nothing works until his wife finds Lionel Logue, an unconventional Australian speech therapist.  Although Bertie and Lionel get off to a rough start, they eventually develop a strong friendship.  Slowly but surely, Bertie's speech begins to improve, which becomes even more crucial as his older brother seems determined to abdicate the throne, leaving Bertie to become King George VI.

This was the first Best Picture Winner to be announced after I started this blog, and I was thrilled that it won because I had already seen it and loved it.  I think it's a spectacular story told extraordinarily well with a fabulous cast - what more could one ask of a film?  The characters are so real, so relatable, so human that they always make me cry, not because the film is particularly depressing, but because it's just so moving.  To turn a story about pre-World War II British royalty into something relevant to a modern everyday American like me is no easy task, but the makers of The King's Speech manage it effortlessly.  Every aspect of filmmaking works together to achieve this, especially the cast.  Colin Firth is so utterly convincing as Bertie that I almost forgot that he doesn't actually stammer in real life.  He so thoroughly deserved his Best Actor Oscar that it would have been a crime if he hadn't received it.  And his entire supporting cast - especially Helena Bonham Carter as his wife and Geoffrey Rush as Lionel - all develop their own complex characters while strengthening Firth's portrayal of the main character.  Almost every actor in this film is well-known for several other roles, but that doesn't detract from the strength of this story, nor are their famous names the film's only draw.  Because at its core, The King's Speech isn't just about a speech or a speech defect; it's about friendship and overcoming obstacles, which are two things that everyone can relate to.

So, when it comes to The King's Speech, I love the story, I love the characters, I love the cast, the soundtrack, the lighting, the script, the camera movement and angles, and pretty much everything else.  The one flaw I've found is that although the film takes place over several years, none of the characters really seem to age, which is especially noticeable in the king's young daughters.  But that's quite trivial in the grand scheme of the film, which on the whole is absolutely spectacular.

And on that note, I have completed my watching and blogging of all the winners of the Academy Award for Best Picture!  Well, so far, at least.  I may be back with some analyses of my favorites and least favorites, and I'll possibly continue this with future winners; I haven't really decided yet.  I also have some ideas for other movie blogging projects, which may or may not come to fruition on this account, so stay tuned if you want.  I know this hasn't been the most successful blogging venture ever, since very few of the people I told to check out my blog actually did, but while I greatly appreciate those of you who have been keeping up with it, I mostly did it for fun rather than to obtain followers.  For those of you who are just discovering this after the fact, feel free to look back and leave comments; I'll probably respond.  As of right now I have exactly 1,000 page views, which is not very significant considering how many of those were mine, but I think it's really cool to end on a round number like that.  Overall the project's been really fun and I'm glad I did it.  So thanks for reading, and I'll quite possibly be writing again before too long.

Next Best Picture Winner: only time (and the Academy) will tell

Saturday, June 25, 2011

2009: The Hurt Locker

When the leader of an elite bomb-disarming squad in Iraq is killed in an explosion, he is replaced by Will James, whose new subordinates soon discover that he acts as though he is addicted to putting himself in life-threatening situations.  While Sanborn and Eldridge just want to get the job done and get out as quickly as possible, James takes his time, savoring the adrenaline rush.  War is a drug.

Although this film may seem similar to a lot of other Best Picture Winners (i.e., it's a depressing war movie), it's actually very different.  For one thing, as of when I'm writing this, it's the only Best Picture Winner to have been directed by a woman (Kathryn Bigelow).  It also has a very documentary-ish feel to it, as if someone just came in with a hand-held camera and started filming the bomb squad.  While the shakiness is fairly dizzying and headache-inducing, it definitely contributes to the sense of realism, as well as the portrayal of the chaotic nature of war.  Unlike many war films, which try to show the insignificance of individuals on the battlefield, this film shows the immense importance of three individuals, who quite possibly have the most dangerous job in the world.  This ultimately makes the film a character study of different types of people trying to stay alive against all odds, rather than a series of explosions and violent deaths.  This movie is intense not just because of special effects, but also because we are genuinely concerned that James's recklessness will get them all killed.

That said, I don't think I'll be watching this movie again any time soon because, while I thought it was very well done and intriguing, it was way too intense for me.  Unlike James, I do not thrive on adrenaline rushes, and would much rather be able to relax a little during movies.  In this film, you never know when an unexpected explosion or sniper is going to come out of nowhere, so even the scenes when they're not going on a mission are filled with tension and suspense.  This gives a very good idea of what war is really like, which I'm sure was the goal, but it doesn't make it something that can be watched over and over again.

And last (for now, anyway) but certainly not least will be: The King's Speech

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

2008: Slumdog Millionaire

Jamal Malik is doing very well on the Indian version of the quiz show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"  So well, in fact, that officials believe that he must be cheating.  How else could an uneducated 18-year-old from the slums answer such difficult questions?  Through a series of flashbacks, the audience and the police are shown not only how Jamal knows the answers, but also what his life was like and the reason he wanted to go on the show in the first place.

This film is very well done.  Scenes from the present and the past are edited together perfectly.  What the filmmakers decide to show, and when these events are shown, gives a very good idea of what happens in Jamal's life without spoon-feeding it to the audience.  Some things aren't perfectly clear, but you can pretty much always at least infer what's going on.  Life is confusing and messy, and that is certainly portrayed in this film, both by the story itself and by the way it is told.  There are a lot of oblique camera angles, which also add to the feeling of chaos.  Plus, this film has amazing character development.  I would think that it would be very difficult to keep the characters consistent throughout the  movie, especially since the main characters are each played by three different actors, but somehow they manage it.  Jamal is Jamal, whether he's a little kid speaking Hindi, a young teenager speaking broken English, or an 18-year-old answering questions on a TV show.  Jamal is also an extremely likable character, which is another reason I really enjoy this movie.

It might not sound that interesting to watch a film about somebody going on a game show.  But that's not actually what this movie's about.  It's really about what happens to different people when they are put in difficult circumstances.  Jamal and his brother Salim grow up together in the slums, but they turn into extremely different people.  Salim becomes a gangster, while Jamal spends his whole life trying to find a way to live happily ever after with a girl named Latica.  As the film concerns poverty in India, it is inevitably quite depressing, but because Jamal never gives up hope, it's impossible to walk away from this film not smiling.  Although that may have something to do with the Bollywood dance during the credits.

My one major complaint about this movie is that the subtitles when they're speaking Hindi are really difficult to read.  This may seem trivial, but it's very frustrating because a lot of what they say is crucial to understanding the plot.  But all that - and some of the disturbingly depressing subject matter - aside, I think this is definitely one of the better Best Picture Winners.

Following this: The Hurt Locker

Thursday, June 16, 2011

2007: No Country for Old Men

A man happens upon the scene of a drug deal gone wrong, consisting of several dead bodies, a truck full of heroin, and a suitcase full of two million dollars.  He decides to take the cash, but unfortunately, someone wants it back.  And that someone just happens to be a really creepy psychopath armed with a bullet-less but deadly gun.

I'm sorry to have to say it, but I absolutely hate this movie.  It's mostly a string of pointless violence, and I just don't find those kinds of films entertaining.  Javier Bardem does a really good job of being creepy, but his character is so profoundly disturbing that it's difficult to appreciate his talent.  I do have to say that Tommy Lee Jones has a really amazing speaking voice.  During his scenes, I could tune out the disturbing, pointless plot and focus on how awesome his voice sounds.  And yes, this movie is so awful that the only positive aspect is Tommy Lee Jones's voice.

Tempting as it would be to say that I merely dislike the genre - as I said for The Silence of the Lambs - I don't think that's true.  I do enjoy suspense thrillers, most of the time.  But not when they consist of random scenes of a creepy guy killing nice people with an air gun thing.  Those scenes don't make up the entire film, but there are way more of them than necessary.  At least during the scenes with Tommy Lee Jones, who plays a sheriff who's trying to catch Javier Bardem's character, the audience can relax a little because they know no one is going to be brutally murdered.  But even those scenes are depressing because he's basically talking about how the world is going down the drain and we're all doomed.  That part reminds me a lot of Cavalcade (the Best Picture Winner of 1932/33).  Come to think of it, this movie is pretty much a combination of Cavalcade and the end of  The Departed, neither of which, as you may recall, I thought very highly of.  "The world's going to hell, and let's kill a bunch of people randomly."

I will never understand why this movie won 4 Academy Awards, is in the top 250 on imdb, or has been lauded as the Coen brothers' best film.  This is the second time I've seen it, and I hope that I will never have to sit through it again.

Next: Slumdog Millionaire

Thursday, June 9, 2011

2006: The Departed

New cop Billy Costigan goes undercover to try to catch notorious mob boss Frank Costello, but Costello has spies of his own in the police department.

Most of this movie is pretty good.  The dramatic camera angles and lighting perfectly enhance the suspense of an already intriguing story.  The performances are brilliant, which is only to be expected with such talented actors as Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, and Leonardo DiCaprio (even though he still kind of looks like he's 14).  The characters are so real that one can't help feeling for them, even the bad guys.  The dialogue has way too much profanity, but it kind of adds to the character development (although using the f-word a quarter of the number of times they did would have been too many).  And as soon as the characters are established, the audience is hooked.  Who's going to be found out first?  What's going to happen next?  It's so intense in parts that it's almost unwatchable, but never quite crosses that line until the end.

I'm just going to be blatantly honest: I think the end of this movie is stupid.  I'm sure there's a very good reason why it ends the way it does, but it seems to me like the filmmakers couldn't think of a good ending, so they just decided to kill everyone.  After two and a half hours of buildup, we're left with, "And pretty much everybody gets shot, the end."  Seriously?  I guess the point is that you shouldn't get involved with the mob, and I understand that it makes sense for people to die in this situation, but it kind of happens out of the blue.  Since the story is so perfectly orchestrated up to that point, it's incredibly disappointing to be left with the feeling that no one could come up with a good way to end it.

So if I had made this movie, I would have held back on the profanity and put more effort into the ending.  But I didn't.  And the vast majority of this film is extraordinarily well-done, and I'm sure that modern action-thriller fans love it.  But it's not going on my list of favorite movies of all time.

Coming up: No Country for Old Men

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

2005: Crash

A bunch of random people in Los Angeles have different interactions throughout the course of a couple of days, during which time they all confront their own personal issues with racism.

The idea behind this movie is fascinating.  It shows racism from multiple perspectives without condemning any particular person or group of people; everyone is equally to blame.  This idea transfers to film quite well; it's easy to switch back and forth between people facing very different, yet ultimately quite similar, situations.  As a whole, it's a really depressing movie, as the implication is that we'll never be able to work out our differences and overcome the terrible problems that are caused by blind hatred and prejudice.  But this film does a really good job of showing that all people are more complex than they seem, even if they appear to be just fulfilling stereotypes.  So maybe films like this one will eventually motivate people to change things.  I don't know, but I hope so.

The thing that I like the most about Crash is that all the characters are very realistic.  They all have multiple layers, and each is unique.  Some learn more from their experiences than others.  By the end of the film, some of their problems are resolved, but not all of them.  These characters have their own complete lives; audiences get the feeling that they're only seeing brief snapshots.  So often, movie characters' lives seem to begin and end with what we see on screen, but that's definitely not the case here.  It's also interesting how most of the characters aren't particularly likeable, but one can't help sympathizing with them all because their flaws are what make them seem so human.

There were other aspects of this movie that I didn't like as well.  There's way too much profanity for my taste (although I guess that, too, contributes to the sense of reality).  And as necessary as it is to discuss racism's continued presence in our society, this gets a little old after a while.  It's as if the filmmakers are trying to say "Racism is bad and it's still around" in as many different ways as possible in two hours.  The whole thing is just a little too preachy.  It's not very hopeful, either, because it presents racism as a problem that has no solution.  Overall, I think it's a well-made film with good character development and an important message, but, like Million Dollar Baby, it's not a movie that I want to watch over and over again.

Next up: The Departed