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In a year when a lot of people didn’t see as many movies as they might’ve wanted to, the Oscar nominations don’t surprise, but as always, disappoint.   Pete Wassell’s on our team in Burbank.  Here’s his overview of some of this year’s 9 Best Picture nominees.

Lincoln:  Excellent.  The best thing Steven Spielberg has done since Saving Private Ryan, and that’s saying a lot because I really like Catch Me If You Can.   Daniel Day-Lewis plays the 16th president both as a giant of a man, but also as a human being, with all the tics, anxieties, flaws, and frustrations that beset each of us at every turn.  The casting is flawless with Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader, and Hal Holbrook only bolstering Day-Lewis’s sterling performance.  With a tight script and sharp direction that manages to tell the story of the Civil War, the battle to end slavery, as well as introduce us to Abraham Lincoln the man, all while maintaining a coherent thread and steadfast pacing–all that makes Lincoln, I feel, almost a lock to sweep the golden statues.

Silver Linings Playbook:  Solid.  David O. Russell is one of those directors whose movies I will never miss.   I’ve seen all his work from Spanking the Monkey and Flirting with Disaster to Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees.  Bradley Cooper turns in a very good performance as Pat, a man just released from a mental hospital under the supervision of his parents, who suffers from delusions of getting back together with an ex-wife whose lover he nearly beat to death.  That sounds like a dark story, but like all David O. Russell movies, this one has a biting wit that carries through the entire picture, making it much easier to swallow as we watch this character traverse the mine field that is his home and his own head.  Robert De Niro gives his best performance in years as Pat’s father and would-be bookmaker Pat Sr.   Jacki Weaver plays Pat’s Mother Dolores, and Jennifer Lawrence plays Pat’s standoffish, attractive, and equally dysfunctional quasi love interest Tiffany.  The film is very well represented at the Oscars with Cooper being nominated for Best Actor, Lawrence for Best Actress, both De Niro and Weaver for Best Supporting, as well as Best Picture and Best Director.  Just writing that made me tired.  However, like all David O. Russell movies, SLPB falls short.  He doesn’t really tie these scenes together.  Instead, the whole isn’t equal to the sum of its parts.  A strong opening leads to a lull in pacing, and certain scenes, while trying to be funny, seem flat and awkward.  Then, towards the end, Russell seems to want to wrap things up, and so he does, with a bow on top, and without any real explanation or a finish to Pat’s journey.  Silver Linings is a good movie, and you should check it out, but Best Picture? Best Director?  You decide.

Les Miserables:  You should be able to enjoy this film even if you don’t know the musical.  However!  If you don’t like musicals, don’t waste your time!  When I walked out of Les Mis, I said two things to myself:  If that doesn’t win Production Design and Costume Design, the Academy has finally lost their minds, and I never thought Russell Crowe could be so overshadowed.  Crowe has always struck me as an actor and a person who wants to be in the forefront and who works harder than anyone to be the man riding on top of the boat, but even with that force of personality he is achingly small as Javert, and the film suffers because of it.  The surprise is Anne Hathaway as Fantine.  When she sings I Dreamed a Dream, knowing that her voice was recorded live, and in one take…!  There’s your Oscar nomination.  It’s like when you first watch Forrest Gump, and at the end, when Forrest meets his son, and you watch all the emotions that Tom Hanks puts Forrest through, you immediately forgive him any sappiness, and any overacting, because that moment breaks your heart, and unless you’re a monster, your eyes swell and you almost can’t watch, feeling strangely voyeuristic.  But I digress.  Les Miserables is long, but epic, and it does drag in the middle after Fantine exits and before the young students start their revolution–with all due respect to the lively and raucous rendition of Master of the House performed by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as Thénardier and Madame Thénardier.  Once we get to the students and their revolution, the pace picks back up and follows through all the way to the end, but Russell Crowe does the end a disservice by almost mailing in his performance as Javert and cheating the audience out of what should be a profound and moving scene.  Les Miserables has some real pacing issues, and Russell Crowe sinks one of the great characters.  And though Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman shine, they can’t quite get it over the (spoiler alert!) barricade.

Whew!  Nine Best Picture nominees, and I’m not even halfway through.  Nine is ludicrous.

Pete will be back in a few days with more of his overview on the Oscars. 



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  • mabe

    i can only speak to your reviews of lincoln and les mis–spot on. lincoln is a towering achievement. let’s not overlook the perfectly-crafted screenplay by tony kushner. and i couldn’t agree more with your assessment of russell crowe in les mis. can’t wait to read more!