Wednesday, February 26, 2014

When My Eye Stops Watering I'll Be Happy

FYI I'm Watching The Incredible Hulk Right Now

Well I'm slowly starting to feel better. Meanwhile my loved one that had taken ill, well, there have been complications so to speak. I'm being vague because they wouldn't want me airing family health details in a public forum. But, that said, all signs are positive, but just the same, the chances of me having to go back home again to help in any way I can are very high. I would be there now, except I'm sick as a dog, which makes me unable to fly. So I'm basically sitting on my couch these days with tissues up my nose unable to do anything and trying not to make myself go mad with wondering. That turned kinda dark, but it's true. I hate feeling powerless like this, and it's made even worse because I'm sick as hell. Probably best to focus on movies for now, because it's what I can do.

Pushing forward with my little Oscars Best Picture run, I'll be picking things up with the Alexander Payne directed film Nebraska.

If you're at all familiar with Payne's work, you know that he tells stories about ordinary families in slightly less than extraordinary situations, but are no less than extraordinary for them. Nebraska follows the elderly and slightly senile Woody played by the always awesome Bruce Dern, as he sets his sights on heading to Lincoln Nebraska from Billings Montana to claim his million dollar winnings that he was sent in the mail. Along for the ride is his amiable son David, played by an understated Will Forte who works in an electronics shop. David's brother Ross, a fantastic Bob Odenkirk, and his mother Kate played by Alexander Payne regular June Squibb all know that Woody's winning are nothing more than a mail in scam to get people to sign up for magazine subscriptions. But knowing this isn't going to stop Woody from reaching Nebraska.

David, in order to help Woody get over the obsession agrees to take him to Lincoln in the hopes that he'll forget about the whole thing and he can take him right back home. Only Woody doesn't forget. He's tenacious and driven, and no one can understand why. When pressed about what he would do with the money, very simply he tells them all he wants is a new truck and a new air compressor. That's it. Hardly anything one would need a million dollars for. As a man with a history of drinking and screwing people over, everyone wonders what Woody's motives really are, but he's not saying much.

During their journey south, David and Woody get waylaid in Woody's home town where once word gets out of Woody's "winnings" the vultures start swarming all looking for their cut. Did I forget to mention this movie is a comedy? That's probably because it's such deadpan humor that the joke can easily get lost in the translation. In addition to being incredibly funny, it's also wonderfully charming. The performances from Bruce Dern and Will Forte as his son are fantastic, there is a genuine father/son chemistry that gives this film the emotional weight it needs. Truly wonderful. Also out now on DVD/Blu-ray it's an easy recommend. I'll be watching it again I'm sure.

Is it a Best Picture contender? You bet? Will it win? Sadly, given this year's competition, not a snow ball's chance in hell. Thems the breaks. This movie, as fantastic as it is, just doesn't hold up to the rest of the competition. And then when you factor in that the Academy genuinely doesn't award comedies the highest honor all that often, the chances of this one winning Best Picture becomes less and less likely. Would I be happy if it snuck out a surprise upset and actually won? You bet!

Next on the list - 12 Years A Slave. Alright, before I get going on this one, I have to admit to being a little reluctant to taking this one on. Not because of the subject manner of slavery, nor it's frank depiction, but because of it's director - Steve McQueen (no relation to the actor). After Shame and Hunger, this guy has built a reputation for directing some pretty soul retching material. Thankfully, if these things can actually be measured,  12 Years A Slave, wasn't as horrifying as I expected. To be perfectly blunt, I honestly expected Passion of the Christ 2: Slavery Boogaloo. Alright I know that title is a little tasteless but it's no less apt. I was expecting to be immersed in the horrors, but instead, the film finds every way it can to be brutally frank and still rise above being only about the torture. That isn't to say it pulls its punches either, because it doesn't. It shows the horrible, it just doesn't revel in the horrible. The film works really hard to maintain a soul by finding the individual moments of goodness in the tiny gestures of kindness in an extraordinary few people.

Based on the real life memoirs of Solomon Northup played incredibly by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Solomon was a born free black man from New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery illegally. Believe me, it's difficult to write "illegally" about something so atrocious but in the context of the era and when the story takes place in the 1840's through the 1850's - it was against the law - but apparently still a common practice.

What ensues is Solomon being stripped of his identity and humanity. Renamed Platt, he must hide his true nature, education, and abilities lest he be beaten for insolence. It is hard to write about the sights of the film in a clinical, critic manner when this is a movie that shouldn't be simply seen, but be experienced. If I were to detail what happens to what characters when, it simply diminishes the impact and importance of the moment, and ultimately the act itself. The imagery is amazing, lensed by Sean Bobbitt, the film's beauty is breath taking as it revels in the natural wonder of the scenery while not shying away from the horrors that fill it. Also incredible is the score by Hans Zimmer delivering pieces that are equally haunting and frightening at the same time.

I would be doing this movie a serious wrong if I didn't speak of the performances. The commitment of the actors and actresses is astounding. This is truly a "whose who" featuring appearances from many of the great up and coming and established actors of this generation.  Ejiofor is well deserving and a strong contender of his Best Actor nomination as is Michael Fassbender as the slave owner Edwin Epps. Nominated for Best Actor In A Supporting Role, Fassbender's portrayal of a man in conflict with his own soul is equally impressive. If there is any Oscars justice, Ejiofor will win Actor while Fassbender will win Supporting. It's that cut and dry. Their performances are so intertwined that there can't be success for one without equal success for the other. Also no less incredible is Lupia Nyong'o as Patsey in her first movie role; she is a talent I look forward to seeing more from and she deserves all the accolades she has coming her way for years to come.

So, is this a real Best Picture contender? Uh, yeah. I know I tipped my hat to Gravity already, but that's based entirely on the fact that movie was extremely entertaining. 12 Years A Slave is important. As of now in the rankings of the Best Picture movies, this is the clear winner so far for me. But that could change tomorrow.

Next up on the list, I'll be taking a look at Dallas Buyer's Club and Philomena. Be good until then and remember to give your loved ones a hug whenever you can. It's when you're not going to be able to that you're going to want to the most.

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