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December Movie Preview Extravaganza, Part Deux

When the end of the year rolls around and movie critics start releasing their top ten films of the year, a few of them complement that list with another: the ten worst. It’s a reminder that when you are paid to see movies for a living, you have to take the bad with the good. Luckily, here at Words, Searched, we only go see the movies we want to see. No mindless action, no regurgitated meet-cutes, no stupid toilet humor (well, unless, it’s really funny). The downside to being picky, of course, is that every so often we’ll miss something that might have actually been worth the price of admission.

So having written last week about the movies that we have gone to see, here are a few thoughts on ones we missed or haven’t gotten around to see. It’s possible we will still catch one or most of these in the theaters, but when you get to pick what you see, it seems fair to have to explain what you didn’t and why. Here goes.

Love and Other Drugs
Does anyone remember October Sky? Did no one see it but me? Bueller? The movie, adapted from NASA scientist Homer Hickman’s memoir about growing up in West Virginia coal country, was one of Jake Gyllenhaal earliest roles. There’s a scene in which Jake’s Homer is talking to another boy about rockets, an interest his family would just as soon see him grow out off. The boy asks Homer what he wants to know about rockets. Homer replies, in his sweet little Southern twang, “Ever-thang.” In that moment, and in Jake’s performance, there’s a wide-eyed sincerity that made the movie feel real and free of cheap sentimentality and of the subtle Hollywood condescension sometimes found in stories about a dreamer eager to make it out of Smalltown, America. It’s a good movie.

Jake has been in other good ones since, but if you ask me, October Sky remains his best work. I never saw Donnie Darko, Moonlight Mile, Jarhead or Brothers. I did see and enjoyed Lovely and Amazing, Brokeback Mountain, Proof and Zodiac, but Jake didn’t particularly stand out in them. He was good in all, but not especially memorable in any. In Brokeback Mountain in particular, Jake does what he can not to be completely overwhelmed by the rawness and tension of Heath Ledger’s performance. But it’s telling, I think, that his most memorable line (“I wish I knew how to quit you”) became a bit of a punchline. So it is that whenever his name pops up in a movie that sounds interesting—or even one that doesn’t—I’m never sure how to react. I definitely don’t know what to make of Love and Other Drugs, which has been in theaters for a few weeks here in Denver.

Like October Sky, Love and Other Drugs is based on a memoir, this one about a pharmaceutical salesman at the start of the Viagra era. A potential gold mine of material, right? And it has Oliver Platt, who is always enjoyable. It also has Anne Hathaway, who happens to inspire the same kind of non-reaction in me that Jake does. In fact, until I started working on this blog post and thought about Jake in Brokeback Mountain, I’d forgotten that she was in that too, playing his wife. Further, the trailer makes Love and Other Drugs look a bit typical in that jerky-person-is-redeemed-via-love-interest’s-illness sort of way. Still, Dave Karger of Entertainment Weekly and others have suggested there is some Oscar fodder here, so the trailer might only be a studio’s attempt to dumb down a smart movie for the masses. I want it to be good. Until I get around to seeing it, though, I’ll enjoy merely hoping that it is. As I’ve said, anticipation is half the fun.

Will I see it by the end of the year? Hubby and I have had this on our list of movies to see since it came out—and yet we always end up going to something else. It’s possible we’ll get to it while it’s still in theaters, but unless word of mouth ramps up as award season does, this may be one for the Netflix list.

Oscar chances: A few Oscar prognosticators have said Hathaway might sneak in leading actress category. Hard to tell whether that’s a testament to what she does in this movie or the perennial shortage of good roles for women.

127 Hours
In part one of this December Movie Preview series, I said that Christopher Nolan has emerged as a director of consistently good, smart movies. Danny Boyle is another, with a slightly softer edge. A few directors working right now might be capable of finding beauty and hope in a swim in a toilet full of shit. Boyle has done it twice (Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire). This film is his first since his Oscar triumph with Slumdog. An interesting turn from the teeming masses of India’s slums to the solitude of the Western American landscape, specifically Moab, Utah, where Aron Ralston spent 127 hours all by his lonesome, with his arm trapped under a boulder. That he survived by cutting his arm off is a well-known story at this point, so what the movie will show us isn’t just how he survived (though it does that in supposedly rather vivid detail), but what it took for him to do it, to venture out alone with so little regard for the possible consequences. James Franco is not nearly so vanilla as Jake Gyllenhaal, so although he is not always my cup of tea, he is never not interesting. He seems especially suited to this kind of intense performance. All signs seem to point to a strong one.

Will I see it by the end of the year? Maybe. This is another one that hubby and I have gone back and forth on. We both love Boyle and are intrigued by Franco. We’ve experienced the solitude of the Western terrain (though not nearly so powerfully as Mr. Ralston), so we understand its allure and its potential as a setting. But we’ve also heard the stories of people fainting and puking when “the scene” arrives. We’re not sure if we can stomach it, not on the big screen anyway, so we’ve decided DVD is the way to go. I do very much want to see this movie, but I would like to have the pause button at the ready.

Oscar chances: Franco seems a sure bet for a leading actor nomination. Boyle might score one too, for creating a narrative out of rather limited parameters: a guy trapped under a rock for days. I don’t think the movie itself will make the best picture list, but when there’s room for ten, there is room for surprises.

Waiting for Superman
There is nothing—and I mean nothing—more depressing that the thought that the American education system, the foundation for our country’s middle class, is a dead end for many of the kids who enter into it. I consider myself lucky to have had some wonderful teachers on my journey, which included both public and private schooling. Not all of my teachers were good, though, and as an adult I can see how the ones that I could never connect with affected the direction of my education and some of the choices I made about what to study in college. In this movie, documentarian Davis Guggenheim tries to do with public education what he did with climate change in An Inconvenient Truth. Namely, light a fire under people’s asses so that they realize that our schools are failing our kids, especially in the poorest areas of the country, and not doing something about it is morally wrong.

This isn’t an easy subject. If fixing the things that are wrong in public education was easy, it would have been done already. Unfortunately, humans are in charge, and whenever humans are in charge of anything, there is conflict. Need an example? See: The history of everything. The current framework for the debate over how to fix education—rather lazy if you ask me—pits school reformers against teachers unions. I’d like to think that it isn’t as simple as that, but given how firmly these lines have been drawn, it’s hard to say what if anything this film will add or what effect it might have. If nothing else, with An Inconvenient Truth, Guggenheim made a name for himself as an activist filmmaker. If he can redirect this endless debate in a positive way? That would be worth more than just an Oscar.

Will I see it by the end of the year? Again, maybe. We’ve talked about going to see this several times, but we know it’sgoing to be a tearjerker. It’s the kind of story you have to prepare yourself to see. You have to be ready to do something when you come out at the end, not merely feel hopeless about the future.

Oscar chances: Very good. It’s on the Academy’s short list for feature-length documentaries, and voters have already shown they like Guggenheim’s style. I’d be surprised is anything beats it at this point, considering all the press it has gotten and the wide distribution.

The Kids Are All Right
This is one of those rare movies that comes along way before Oscar time but rides strong critical reception and word of mouth all the way to the big show. I don’t even remember when it came out, but it was the only movie getting positive buzz for what seemed like months. It’s about a lesbian couple who start a family thanks to a sperm donor. The kids, now teenagers, end up tracking him down. It features three actors I love (Julianne Moore, Annette Benning and Mark Ruffalo), and still I never got around to seeing it. I think it was because hubby never seemed all that interested and I never had time to see it on my own. In any case, the fact that the buss has lingered this long is telling.

Will I see it by the end of the year? Not sure. It’s already out on DVD and on the Netflix list, but we may not get to it until next year, unless we move it to the top to prepare for the annual family Oscar pool.

Oscar chances: Benning and Moore, I believe are both in consideration for leading actress awards, though I guess it’s possible that one of them might go in the supporting category to give both of them a better chance at a nomination. Both are great in everything else, so it doesn’t surprise that they are in this.

Well, that’s all for today. With three weeks left in December, there are still plenty of movies that were still waiting for. If I have a chance this weekend, I’ll bring out the anticipation meter and talk about how much (or how little) I want to see those.

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