Oscar Nominated Movies Review 2011

January 12, 2012


THE FIGHTER

David O Russell has long held the crown for helming quirky, multifaceted movies with stellar casts (I Heart Huckabees, Flirting With Disaster) but he plays it fairly straight with this intriguing biopic about professional boxer “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his older half-brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). Ever since a career high flooring Sugar Ray Leonard, Eklund has become a professional “local hero” and embraced the rewards such a position reaps (crack addiction).

He’s pinned his hopes on a comeback on his younger brother, whom he trains but can’t help but sell out for cash to bouts he can’t possibly win, encouraging him to pass up any opportunity that comes his way in the name of familial loyalty. Melisa Leo is electrifying as their manager mom and an at times hilarious, often ominous brood of sisters butt heads with Wahlbergs “MTV” barmaid girlfriend (a curveball throwing Amy Adams).

Career best performances are drawn by O Russell from all involved, particularly Bale who is all faded charm in a role that could have been overly charismatic. Instead it’s perfectly distressed so as to show glimpses of what was, but is fast ceasing to be.

When Eklund is sent down for his part in a sting aimed at raising funds for his brother, Ward is given the break he needs to establish himself independently. His brother in turn discovers the error of his ways in the most poignant of moments. Funny, furious and utterly involving this is the finest movie of its kind since Raging Bull.

BLACK SWAN

Having quit fellow award chaser The Fighter (which he produced) to direct the aborted Robocop reboot its good to see Darren Aronofsky still in contention with this excellent psychosexual drama that comes on like a mash up of All About Eve and The Red Shoes, all be it shot through the lens of David’s Lynch and Cronenberg.

It features another one of those career best turns, this time from liberal darling Natalie Portman. Often heralded for her ‘deep’ portrayals of middle class neurotics, she is perfect as Nina Sayers the prima ballerina battling her demons and limitations to dance the part of the White and Black Swan Queens. Barbara Hershey as her devoted mother, Winona Ryder as her psychotic predecessor and Mila Kunis as her more liberated understudy ably support her. Vincent Cassel is also here doing his usual pervy, French shtick perfected over years of typecasting. It’s well shot, if a little loose in plotting but the pacing and building of tension easily overcompensates in this beautiful yet brutal film.

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT

…but I’m not. After sitting through this vile lefty propaganda one can only conclude that any movie that prattles a liberal agenda as loudly as this one is going to be welcomed by Hollywood with open legs. It’s aim-to show that same sex parents can raise children as normal and levelheaded as same sex ones- is worthy . But here it is so painfully presented, so overly egged that it looses all meaning.

Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Benning)- aka The Moms- have raised two perfect children. There’s straight A Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and jocular Laser (Josh Hutcherson) who were both sired from the same sperm donor, organic restaurateur Paul (Mark Ruffalo). When Joni and Laser go looking for “Dad” he enters their world with the quick fire acceptance that only exists in Hollywood, turning upside down the marriage of Jules and Nic, whose pegging as the flighty, earth mother and the overbearing shrew shows that they aren’t that different from Adam and Eve.

Jules even does a Shirley Valentine, taking a holiday from homosexuality and her “unappreciative wife”(who put up the g’s to start up her business), embarking on an adulteress affair with Paul, who- guess what? -is great with the kids. He helps Joni develop a backbone and Laser realise that his mate (who likes to piss on stray dogs and skate off of roofs) might not be the best person to be hanging around with. I guess those lesbians just needed a man’s touch all along.

It’s just so trite. If they wanted to do a movie which explored Gore Vidal’s adage, that there are no homo or heterosexual people, just homo or heterosexual acts, then they should have just done that, not dragged the kids into it. And since they did, could they not have looked at the whole experience of growing up in a gay environment or the perils that face those in a long term, monogamous gay relationship? How did their extended families respond to their unusual living arrangement? Their friends? Their colleagues?

Instead they fully shirk the issue and focus on the melodrama. We get the tense dinner table moment, the self-destructive teen moment and the monologue on how “marriage is hard”. Watching this you’d think it was directed by one of those irritating straight women with no straight friends when in fact its directed by a Lesbian who used a sperm donor to have a child with her long term partner. Were it not for the winning cast turning in some nuanced performances this would have been totally unbearable. Poorly written, self indulgent, hackneyed, trash.

THE KINGS SPEACH

The British are coming. And they are flogging the bloody Royals again. With Helen Mirren and Judi Dench nabbing themselves 13 inches of gold for their turns as the two separate Elizabeth’s, Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter are this years contenders in the only movie considered a threat to a Social Network clean sweep.

They play King George VI and his wife, the Queen Mother in a movie that focuses on the formers stammer, a severe impediment in the early days of radio.

With his older brother David (Guy Pearce) wading them into a political minefield over his affair with a married woman, all signs point to George having to step up to the plate and lead his people- or at least inspire them, in his capacity as figurehead. Enter Geoffrey Rush in a subtle, yet scene stealing role, as his speech therapist. Through a series of (then) questionable –and hilarious-exercises he helps the King in Waiting overcome his stammer and prepares him for his inauguration (and much more importantly helps him rally his people upon the outbreak of WWII).

Truth be told this is no greater than any of the other fine British costume dramas that have been churned out over the years. If you were a fan of those, you’ll be a fan of this. What makes it stand out is its astonishing cinematography, which makes many scenes feel like living watercolors. There is terrific support from Michael Gambon, Dereck Jacobi and Timothy Spall and a script that perhaps tries to cover to many of the basis.

The real weakness though is Firth who has blagged his way to leading man status via wet t-shirt contest (Pride & Prejudice) and has been boring us ever since with his toothless, house wife pleasing sex appeal. He doesn’t have the chops to pull of anything more than the most inane rom-coms and this is one of his most asinine performances.

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