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December (Except it’s January) Movie Preview Extravaganza, Baby Edition

As regular readers of this here blog (hi, mom!) have come to know. Hubby and I love going to the movies, and we love talking about movies. In fact, back before we were married, in a brief period during which we lived in different cities, we used to go on long-distance movie dates. We’d pick a movie we wanted to see, go to our respective theaters on the same night and then catch up about it later on the phone. So it should come as no surprise that we have been looking forward to rediscovering our favorite family and children’s movies since before the birth of our little one. I’ve already bought The Secret of NIHM in anticipation and have Princess Bride, The Goonies and Lion King, among others, in my sights.

But alas, movie watching is still several years away for her, and as an almost-three-month-old she hasn’t quite mastered the social etiquette of going to the theater, which means she has put a bit of a crimp on our movie going in recent months. That she was born in late October, rendering us home-bound just as Oscar bait season was getting going, is enough to tell you that she was not a perfectly planned pregnancy. Nevertheless, we did manage to get a few good movies in before she came around. So this year’s December Movie Preview Extravaganza is running late because I’m no longer the master of my schedule. It includes the movies that hubby and I managed to see before little miss made her entrance and the single one we’ve seen since she was born. I’ll point out my favorites and the Oscar favorites, keeping in mind, as always, that the best and the Oscar-winning aren’t always in the same category.

So here, in no particular order, are the Before Baby movies.

Bridesmaids

There is a lot of handwringing, in Hollywood and outside of it, about women and movies. In the grand history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a director who was not a man has won the Oscar for Best Director exactly once. The director was Kathryn Bigelow and her movie was The Hurt Locker. I enjoyed The Hurt Locker immensely and believe it deserved all the accolades it received. It so happens that The Hurt Locker featured a single female character who appeared in maybe ten minutes of the whole movie. Does that matter? Not in the grand scheme of movie things, no. But while Bigelow’s win was a landmark moment for women filmmakers in some respects, it wasn’t an endorsement of femaleness in movies. Truth is that movies by women are rarely given their due because more often than not, they are about women—dare I say for women—and such movies, for whatever reason, are always considered a hard sell even though we are half of all the people out there.

So it was then that when Bridesmaids came out, many of those who wrote about it encouraged audiences to see it by saying a variation of the following patronizing truth: It isn’t a chick flick! Men, you’ll enjoy it, we swear! It was hilarious and hilariously good. That some felt they had to reassure men about that is absurd, of course, but such is the world we live in. Miller Lite and Dr. Pepper 10 commercials routinely tell us that it’s manly to drink light beer and diet cola, never mind the fact that if men need their masculinity affirmed by marketers, that battle is probably already lost. But I digress.

I loved Bridesmaids, and not just because it was a movie by, for and about women. I loved it because it celebrated women and celebrated their differences. Like Mean Girls, way back when Lindsay Lohan had a career, Bridesmaids makes jokes at the expense of the various characters and the various ways women can be cruel to one another, but it does so without tearing any of them down. It wasn’t the most sophisticated comedy in the world, but neither was 40-Year-Old Virgin, and nobody had to be convinced to see that one.

Oscar chances: Seriously? Bridesmaids, you ask? Well, the American Film Institute named it among its top ten films of the year, and why not? It was original, it was entertaining and it was heartfelt. Better than so much of the crap shoveled into theaters this year. And now that the Academy expanded its Best Picture category, there is room for crowd pleasers like this one. Obviously, it’s unlikely to win any golden statues, but for a movie like Bridesmaids (and for comediennes everywhere), the nomination would be the reward.

Ides of March

By coincidence, hubby and I saw this after catching Primary Colors on cable. That one is a fictionalized account of the rise of Bill Clinton, and it rolls in the mud just long enough to remind us that despite its worst tendencies, politics can inspire good people and can be a force of good. Ides of March is Primary Colors’ more sophisticated, more cynical cousin. And if you consider Clinton’s booming 90s, during which people on different sides of the political divide didn’t like each other much but could still have a beer together, to today’s do-nothing Congress, where elected officials can question the birth of a sitting president and make absurd partisan accusations of un-Americanism that would make Joe McCarthy blush, then the darkness of Ides should really come as no surprise. The performances are top-notch, especially from Ryan Gosling, Evan Rachel Wood and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Director George Clooney may have mostly coasted on screen but gets a pass for having directed this tight political thriller.

Oscar chances: You’d think lots, right? From Best Picture to Best Director for Clooney to Best Actor for Gosling to Best Supporting Actress for Wood, but this doesn’t seem to have lingered in the minds of awards show nominators and voters as much as I would have expected. It did make the Producers Guild list of best ten but didn’t get any love from the Screen Actors Guild. There may still be some potential here, but it’s not a sure thing.

Midnight in Paris

There was a documentary about Woody Allen on PBS a while ago, and it took two parts to get through Allen’s long, varied oeuvre. He is nothing if not prolific, and when he is not veering into dark places (Match Point, Crimes and Misdemeanors), there is a common thread of endearing silliness in what I would consider the best of his work (Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters, Bullets Over Broadway). That silliness is present in Midnight in Paris too, about a guy who stumbles upon a portal to 1920s Paris while walking around the city in the middle of the night, a concept as improbable as the mockumentary Zelig, about a guy with the ability to physically transform into the people he is surrounded by. The result, in both, is a lot of fun.

That I didn’t love Midnight in Paris quite as much as his other adventure on the continent, Vicky Christina Barcelona, has less to do with the movie itself and more to do with the fact that I find Owen Wilson kind of irritating. He annoyed me less than usual, perhaps because I was so charmed by the hilariously smarmy Michael Sheen, Alison Pill, the always lovely Rachel McAdams and especially Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway. You just know Allen enjoyed writing his lines. Like most of Woody’s work, it doesn’t make a big splash, but it lingers, like a good joke that makes you giggle every time you remember it.

Oscar chances: The Golden Globes, which doubles its pleasure by separating comedies and dramas into two categories, gave this one some love, and several top ten lists have included it. Wouldn’t be a huge shocker if it made Oscar’s Best Picture list. Comedies don’t get a whole lot of love from the Academy, but no reason to think they won’t acknowledge that Woody’s still got it.

Moneyball

How do you make a movie about baseball statistics? You make it about the people behind the statistics, right? Sure, except that sounds awfully clichéd, doesn’t it? And won’t the baseball nerds go crazy if you play loose with the stats and manipulate the numbers to fit the story? Well, of course, except that isn’t the statistical approach to scouting (known as sabermetrics) still kind of controversial in baseball? Sort of, so what are we left with? A movie about the dueling forces of information and emotions in baseball and life, carried by Brad Pitt’s strongest showing as an actor, maybe ever. The baseball nerd that I’m married to loved it. So did I. And I’m not kidding about that Brad Pitt thing. He is so good looking that it is often hard to look past the pretty face to the character he’s supposed to be playing. That was true in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Babel, two recent attempts at Oscar bait. He’s strongest in roles in which his looks are at least part of the point, like Thelma and Louise, Fight Club and A River Runs Through It. (Remember the fishing scene? At the end, when he’s holding up the fish? Possibly the best any actor has ever looked in any movie. Thank you, Mr. Redford.)

In the role of Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane, perhaps for the first time, Pitt was playing a regular guy, a recovering baseball player and one that—as the movie subtly tells us—got where he got in baseball because he looked the part. He brings to life Beane’s earnestness and frustration without descending into the can-do, leading man shtick that he coasts on in the Ocean films and the likes of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. And his rapport with Jonah Hill’s Peter Brand gives us a taste of the buddy dynamic of so many of the best sports movies. It’s a great baseball movie, a great sports movie, and a transporting performance for our time—neither bolstered by the fame of the character’s real-life counterpart, nor augmented by makeup or period costume.

Oscar chances: Good for a nomination for Pitt and even one for Hill. A screenplay nomination possibly, but maybe not for Best Picture, though I would surely list it among my favorite of the year. I would think this is Pitt’s best chance at a Best Actor statue, and he’s in a race with buddy George Clooney, who gives an affecting performance in The Descendants (more on that below), but not quite as good as Pitt here, if you ask me.

Here’s our one After Baby movie, with, we hope, more to come.

The Descendants

Oh to live in Hawai’i. Not the all-beach-all-the-time party, you’d think, according to Matt King, the head of a nuclear family and an extended family each at a cross roads and played with his usual heart-on-the-sleeve gusto by George Clooney. Matt has just learned that his wife, who broke her neck in a skiing accident will not wake up from her coma and will be removed from life support, per her wishes. He is also in the middle of the sale of a huge tract of family land held in a trust that he controls, but that affects dozens of relatives. He and his daughters (and his cousins) are the descendants of the title, heirs to a Hawaiian princess and her white husband and the riches their joint holdings have produced over the years. The land, we should note, is one of the largest pieces of undeveloped real estate in the island of Kaua’i, which hubby and I got to visit once, and boy, is that place beautiful.

The story of the sale hangs in the background for most of the movie, while Matt wrangles his daughters and prepares them, himself and his wife’s family for her looming death, all the while dealing with the discovery (via his teenage daughter, a strong Shalaine Woodley) that his wife has been unfaithful. It’s a interesting journey for a man who thought his life was one thing, only to find, very suddenly and jarringly, that all along it was something else. Alexander Payne, who wrote and directed Election, About Schmidt and the wonderful Sideways, does his usual top-notch work here, subtly guiding his actors into moving performances in service to a surprising story. As well-acted as it is, though, The Descendants doesn’t quite resonate or linger in the heart the way Sideways did for me. There is an emotional devastation to Paul Giamatti’s performance in that film that isn’t present here. Maybe because, ultimately, these are all rich people problems. We can safely assume the family is going to be fine. Other than maybe a year or two of therapy for the girls, there isn’t a whole lot at stake. It’s a good movie, sure, but I wouldn’t say a great one.

Oscar chances: Alexander Payne has already been nominated by the Director’s Guild for his work, and Clooney seems a lock for a nomination in the Best Actor category. Woodley, who was touted by some as this year’s Anna Kendrick (not quite, if you ask me), is still a bit of a long shot at this point in the supporting actress category. But at least she has something on her reel that isn’t that awful ABC Family show (The Secret Life of the American Teenager). That’s something.


One thought on “December (Except it’s January) Movie Preview Extravaganza, Baby Edition

  1. Betsy Sterk

    14 Jan on 2012 at 8:28 pm

    Thank you for the reviews, I missed them. I now want to see all these movies so I headed to Netflix (still a subscriber). I did see the Ides of March.

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