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December Movie Preview Extravaganza, Part I

It seems as if it took extra long to get here this year, but movie awards season is almost upon us. I can’t think of five movies I’ve watched this year that merit a spot on Oscar’s Big Ten, but isn’t that always the case in November? Months of nothing, a morsel or two of goodness during the summer and then before you know it December hits and the floodgates of Oscar-bait open. Suddenly, you’re up to your ears in movie trailers promising you, “This is a tour-de-force performance!” And, “It’s best film of the year!” And, “So and so shines!” Movie previews are such teases. As I’ve stated before, the thrill they offer often tops whatever excitement the movies themselves can muster. So it is with the Oscars. Anticipating the nominations and the big event is more fun than the actual show, which, by the time it airs, feels boring and bloated and a little bit like an afterthought. So in the next few days, I’ll discuss the movies I’ve seen this year, the ones that I wanted to see but missed and the ones still to be released in the hopes of sussing out which among them were the best and my favorite of the year and which might take the golden boys home. Keeping in mind, of course, that the best and the Oscar-winning are not always one and the same.

So here, then, are some of the movies hubby and I made it out to in the first eleven months of the year, in no particular order.

The Social Network
If the Academy gave an Oscar for best trailer, this one would win it in a walk. The choral arrangement of Radiohead’s Creep, played over images from Facebook—the network of the title—and later over scenes of the rise of its founder Mark Zuckerberg, is haunting and also strangely seductive. It makes you want to see the movie but also kind of queasy for wanting to see it. That is precisely the tension that Aaron Sorkin (auteur of the late great West Wing) presents in his script, and it mirrors the tension that people my age, Generation X, the ones who made Facebook the success it has become, first felt when we contemplated whether or not to join. I mean, putting your life on display online and seeing those of others sounded cool, but it also felt a little weird, didn’t it? The Social Network works as a movie not because it seeks to relate the real-life story behind the founders of Facebook, but because it questions their motivations and ours. What IS Facebook exactly, and why do people want to join it? What were these guys trying to do exactly, and why did they do it? Why do we?

Let me back up a bit.

Some time ago I read this essay online about social networking in general and Facebook specifically. Its thesis was that although social networking is said to be a product and a reflection of how Generation Y (for lack of a better term) view the world and how they relate to it and to each other, they are not the reason for Facebook’s runaway success. Generation X is. That is to say people like me, people in their 30s and 40s who grew up in an era without electronic communication, without computers or cell phones or email and who suddenly found a way to reconnect with people they believed long lost. When I first joined Facebook and when my friends started to, that was the thing that everyone said: “I can’t believe I found my best friend from 3rd grade!” Or, “Remember that guy that I used to date in high school? He’s on Facebook, and he’s married now!” Or, “Remember so and so? She already has two kids.” That was the talk of it. All these people that you remembered from a past that was made entirely of paper memories were there for you to reach out to instantly. It was a little bit of a high. An addicting one. The second piece, of course, was that having reconnected with all these old friends, keeping in touch with them was so much easier now. You didn’t have to write a thousand letters. You could just post once. “Hey, I’m pregnant!” “Hey, I got married!” “Hey, I got a new job.” “I have a kid. Want to see some baby pictures?” And once that started, Facebook blew up, because nobody enjoys sharing photos like parents. Or newlyweds. It’s true. If I were to go through all my friends’ photos, those would be the primary subjects. Social networking may be changing the way that people communicate, but the motivations, the things we want to share and brag about haven’t changed. And Zuckerberg, more than any other person in the universe of The Social Network, got that. He wasn’t inventing a platform to put your life online. That already existed. He was inventing a platform to connect you with the life you used to have and with the life you wanted to project. In a visit to The Colbert Report, Sorkin said that he considers what people do on Facebook a kind of public performance. In Sorkin’s interpretation of the real-life events that brought us Facebook, Zuckerberg discovered the need for this kind of shared space by observing the desire of his friends—and himself, of course—to impress girls. Whether or not what happens in the movie is what really happened doesn’t matter.

Didn’t mean to go on for that long, but anyway. Obviously, I liked this movie.

Oscar chances: Excellent. Nominations for the movie itself, director David Fincher and Sorkin seem all but assured. Jesse Eisenberg certainly deserves consideration for his portrayal of the 25-year-old billionaire, but the leading actor category is always stacked. Andrew Garfield and Armie Hammer also deserve kudos in the roles, respectively, of the friend Zuckerberg leaves behind and the twins who think he stole their idea. If I had to pick one I’d go with Hammer, who is positively mesmerizing playing two distinct personalities who are clearly related. Who am I forgetting? Oh, right. Timberlake. I’m not a fan of his, so it is only grudgingly that I admit he was very strong as the slimy Sean Parker. Clearly the most famous person in the cast, he was everywhere when this movie came out and certainly stands a chance at a nomination, but Garfield and Hammer carry more of the movie’s weight without all the flash.

Fair Game
Another true story. This one about the White House leak that lead to the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame could have been a whole lot worse, but it also might have been better. Naomi Watts and Sean Penn do their usual great work in the shoes of the couple whose lives fell apart because Dick Cheney is, well, Dick Cheney. The movie delves into how the Bush administration’s thinly veiled attempts at manipulation of CIA evidence in the run-up to the war in Iraq, the couples separate roles in the CIA’s search for intelligence and the slow disintegration of their marriage when Scooter Libby decided they’d done enough. How the maelstrom they found themselves in affected their personal lives is interesting enough, but what I wanted from this story was the journalism. Judith Miller and The New York Times, for instance; how any reporters or editors justified protecting Libby; when it became clear to them that they were being manipulated, etc., etc. What we got was good and in lesser hands would have been worse, but not as good as it might have been.

Oscar chances: Unlikely, I think. Watts and Penn always turn heads, but I’m not sure there was enough here.

Inception
Does the top stop spinning!?! Who knows, and honestly who cares. It’s been so long since Hollywood had a filmmaker who made consistently entertaining movies that a lot of people wanted to see. Christopher Nolan’s movies are always well shot, well acted and, well, fun. The success of Batman Begins might have been attributable to the comic’s following. But The Dark Knight did it one better. Inception felt even bigger than that, if only because it was an original concept. Leo has turned himself into one of his generation’s strongest leading men and though he didn’t carry this movie completely on his own, he anchored it, and few other actors of his age have the umph to pull that off. Joseph Gordon Leavitt is not bad either, and Tom Hardy is sexy personified—can’t wait to see what he does next. Ellen Page didn’t have much to do, but I enjoyed her nonetheless (hubby was less impressed). In any case, there’s little reason to pick the plot of the movie apart too much because the whole is better than the sum of the parts.

Oscar chances: This was definitely one of my favorite movies of the year, but not having seen most of what is likely to dominate the nominations, it’s hard to say whether the Academy will give it a spot among its ten best. Most likely, its nominations will come in the special effects categories, as well as sound editing and sound design (where the action movies always land).

Never Let Me Go
Another one with Andrew Garfield. He really is quite lovely. This one is based on a book by Kazuo Ishiguro, who also wrote The Remains of the Day. It’s a quietly wrenching book about an imagined future in which advances in medicine have landed the three main characters in a boarding school in the English countryside. To say more would reveal what the book itself does very slowly and artfully. The same, alas, is true of the movie. Namely, though, it’s about the relationships between these three childhood friends as adulthood unfurls before them, trapping them emotionally and physically in the roles that this imagined society has prescribed for them. Starring the lovely Carey Mulligan and the always sharp Kiera Knightley, along with Garfield, all of them delivering moving performances, Never Let Me Go is a quiet movie but a strong one nonetheless. It resonated with me more than it did with hubby, I think, because I read the book first. It didn’t seem to leave much of an impression on audiences of critics. Still, I can think of a lot more movies that shoot for what this one does and fail.

Oscar chances: It seemed primed for awards but, as I mentioned, didn’t really make a lot of noise when it came out. It’s possible that Carey Mulligan could score a nomination for best leading actress—hers is beautiful work—but she’s likely the only one. Knightly’s role is a smallish one (for a full third of the movie, the characters are children), and Garfield will get his kudos via The Social Network (though I believe this performance will bolster his chances as a reminder of his range).

Toy Story 3
Best movie of the year! Well, my favorite, at least. So far. There’s been lots of good ones, but in all honesty, Pixar continues to stand up against with pretty much anything that the rest of Hollywood throws its way. The Social Network may stand out as a thesis on human communication and relationships, but Toy Story 3 is a love letter to the imagination and to childhood, to the things that we treasure as children, that nurture us as we grow but that we cannot—no matter how much we may want it—bring with us into adulthood. Andy’s toys, for those familiar with the series, are saddened by their owner’s departure for college and scared of what a future in the attic might bring. They end up being donated to a local daycare, where hilarity and thrills ensue. No action movie that I’ve seen this year commanded as much of a physical reaction from me as the final sequence of this one did. It’s not the work of art that Wall-E was. But it’s still storytelling of the highest order.

Oscar chances: Best Animated Movie and then some. Will it get a spot of the top ten? It certainly should.

The Town
Click here to see my what I wrote on this solid little heist picture when I first saw it. You’ll have to endure a short history of my love for Ben Affleck. So glad it’s ok to like him again.

Oscar chances: I’d be very surprised to find the movie, Ben’s direction of the script on any of Oscar’s short lists, but Jeremy Renner’s sparkplug of a character seems a fair bet. Jon Hamm is a bit more of a longshot, but maybe the Academy will be seduced by the idea of seeing Mr. Don Draper rock the red carpet.

OK, that’s what I’ve seen. In a few days, I’ll be back to talk about the movies that I missed.


One thought on “December Movie Preview Extravaganza, Part I

  1. George Awsumb

    02 Dec on 2010 at 9:44 am

    Alex, what fun. I really enjoyed your blog and agree with a lot of your ideas. As you know, we don’t get “art” films in Rome, GA, so it will be netflix for the smaller films. Take care.

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