Thursday, January 14, 2016

Oscar the grouch

Before we begin surveying the nominees, a tip o' the hat to the late, great Alan Rickman. I first encountered him while he entertainingly chewed the scenery as the Sheriff of Nottingham in the otherwise forgettable Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. This role turned out to be atypical of other work I've seen by Rickman, whom I once called "The Gloomy Gus of the acting profession." He was ideal as the mysteriously brooding Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility, the understandably grumpy "Dr. Lazarus" in Galaxy Quest, the haughty wine dealer in Bottle Shock (a delightful little movie), and the mournful ghost in Truly, Madly, Deeply, and yeah, he was also well-cast as Snape. I never saw Die Hard but I suspect he was good in that too. Let us bury with him some of his poorer movies and his less felicitous roles, such as the time he played Ronald Reagan.

Making a point of going out to the movie theater more often than usual this last year has yielded me a total of 6 Oscar nominees seen, about twice as many as I usually have at this point. Of these, by far the best was Spotlight, which has gotten enough attention that I need say nothing more than to ask, if Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams had supporting roles, did anybody have a leading role? Surely not Michael Keaton, just because he played their boss. This is not the first time I've come to suspect that these categories' definitions are fncked. They don't seem capable of handling a genuine ensemble movie. I'm tempted to see the DVD with a stopwatch, to compare actors' screen times.

Trumbo was also really good, for its historical meticulousness and its unblinking spotlight on both the strengths and weaknesses of the man. And, if you're going to focus a movie so closely on a larger-than-life character, you need a larger-than-life actor to play him, and Bryan Cranston is that man. Wow. Contrast that with Steve Jobs, whose synthetic hothouse plot had the smell of artificiality that Trumbo avoided, and in which Michael Fassbender achieved only narcissism, not the epic self-centeredness of Cranston's character.

I thought The Martian was overall a success, in that if you can make a story essentially about people sitting around and waiting for two years without boring me, you've achieved a good movie. On the other hand, Bridge of Spies, despite its tight, action-filled plot, did succeed in boring me. So did Inside Out, which would have made an absolutely marvelous 30-minute cartoon special, but stretched out to feature length became unbearably rambling and tedious.

The major Oscars (picture, directing, 4 acting, 2 screenplay) were spread around 19 movies this year, more than any year since 2012 (movies of 2011), and, like that year, no single movie dominated the nominations. Of the nominees I haven't seen, the one I most want to is The Big Short, and there's also some movies I intend to avoid, like The Revenant which just looks repellent, and The Danish Girl because the last thing I need is to fill my mind with a lot of misleading crap about transsexuality. About The Force Awakens I don't give a hoot one way or the other.

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