Thursday, January 05, 2006

2005 at the Movies

(left: Martin Scorsese directing Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator).

Around this time last year, My son Jesse and I decided we were going to see all of the Academy Award nominated films and took ourselves off to Tuesday cheap nights until we had seen them all. These were made in 2004 and are all now available on DVD, but we didn't get to see them till early 2005. It was a mixed bag. Okay, we all know that Academy Award-nominated films are not necessarily the best films of the year (Shawshank Redemption lost out to Forrest Gump in 1994.) Not every actor who wins an Oscar necessarily deserves one either (Gwyneth Paltrow and Halle Berry both have one). Still, it's a fun guessing game on the night and we'd sat through too many awards ceremonies thinking, "never heard of it," to do that again. Well, its history now, but Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby took the honours. It was a worthy follow up to Mystic River which for sheer drama was a superior piece of work. All the leads, including Clint himself looking positively skeletal in his old age, Morgan Freeman, and Hilary Swank, put in fine performances. The euthanasia ending was contrived and unnecessary and also departed from the real story that F.X. Toole's short story was based on. The real life character went on living - a more heroic option.

Ray was an entertaining biopic that covered the darker side of Ray Charles with his drug addiction and marital infidelities. The best parts of the film were the musical segments and Jamie Foxx's eerily realistic portayal of Ray. I had the joy of seeing Ray Charles perform live a few years ago here in Melbourne at the International Blues and Music festival shortly before he died (yes, we had music and blues!), and I knew I was seeing a legendary performer.

Finding Neverland was an interesting portait of the playwrite J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan. Johnny Depp puts in an unusually subtle and subdued performance as Barrie and Kate Winslett played the mother of the children he befriends with her usual ability. It was refreshing to see a film about a relationship between a man and boys that was genuinely "nothing 'sus." Freddie Highmore (along with Dakota Fanning), is the best child actor working today and when his eyes fill with tears at the end of this one it's hard not to be affected.

The film we liked least was Sideways. Morally reprehensible characters are hard to like, especially if they have no redeeming features. Paul Giammatti (who plays Miles) is a good actor and his character is a little more sympathetic but Thomas Hayden Church's "Jack" is a complete loser who decides he's going to "enjoy" one last dirty weekend by having sex with strangers before he gets married. The dialogue is crude and Jack's behaviour adolescent. It's like National Lampoon for "grownups" which believe me is anything but grown up. Miles is the film's conscience with his disapproval of Jack's stupid behaviour and his hangdog demeanour throughout the film does bring forth some sympathy. It was well scripted and had its reflective moments. I just don't think it was an Oscar-worthy film.

Our personal favourite was Scorsese's The Aviator and it was a bit of surprise to see it fail to take out either the coveted Best Picture or Best Director awards, as it's the sort of film the Academy tends to favour (big scale flms about the American myth), and the much dissappointed Marty was due for at least a sympathy vote. Leonardo DiCaprio suffers from being thought of as a bit of a matinee teen idol, but in fact I think he is an underrated actor who has put in some fine cinematic performances, and this is one of them (perhaps his best). His depiction of Howard Hughes' descent from boisterous and boyish enthusiasm into madness is brilliantly accomplished. Cate Blanchett also shines as Kate Hepburn. Jesse and I always enjoy movies about movies and a considerable amount of The Aviator deals with Hughes' forays into film making. (He made the WWI fighter plane movie Hell's Angels, the steamy western The Outlaw and the original Scarface.) The aerial sequences are brillantly shot and the entire set design recaptures the early twentieth century ambience well.

Hotel Rwanda was not nominated for Best Picture but was the "worthiest" film of the year, in the sense that it had the keenest social conscience and was a slap in the face to the U.S., the U. N. and the rest of the world as they stood by and did nothing during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Christian references appear throughout the film (Paul Rusesabagina's wife, played by Sophie Okenedo, conspicuously wears a cross, a priest and nuns are seen refusing to leave their Rwandan friends when the evacuation of all whites gets underway.) But the person acting in the most Christian way is Rusesabagina himself (Don Cheadle), who performs a series of self sacrificial acts in order to protect the lives of the innocent. Lt. General (ret.) Romeo Dallaire (the character played by Nick Nolte) has written a book about his experiences called Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. You can read an interview with him about his experiences at the website of the Carnegie Council of Ethics and International Affairs.

Jesse will still be in the US for this year's Academy Awards so it won't be as much fun this year. Other films we liked in 2005 - The Proposition and King Kong (both reviewed elsewhere on this blog), Batman Begins, the best depiction of the Dark Knight yet (including Tim Burton's), and War of the Worlds, another great addition to Spielberg's canon of work (and a much-needed recovery after The Terminal). Films I didn't like - Wolf Creek. It' s just too sick in its violence. We didn't walk out of the cinema but I can understand why a lot of people did. Jesse's comment afterwards about John Jarratt's serial killer - "I just don't feel comfortable living under the same sky as a person like that." Sin City I actually did like because of its ground breaking comic book style and its film noir ambience but again it was the sicko violence that didn't appeal to me and the totally gratuitous nudity that added nothing to the story. George Romero's Land of the Dead was boring, unimaginative and cliched, especially for someone who's supposed to be a zombie movie master (both Shaun of the Dead and the low-budget Aussie flick The Undead, made for half the cost, were superior). The best Aussie fright flick was Lost Things which managed to make the beach in broad daylight seem like a scary place. One to watch for - Jesse O'Brien's movie about a mother and toddler's fight to survive against zombies on a suburban Melbourne train. So far it's only an idea - are there any investors out there?

PS For interesting theological reflections on the horror genre see Bryan Stone, "The Sanctification of Fear: Images of the Religious in Horror Films," Journal of Religion and Film Vol. 5, No. 2 October 2001 and Brian Godawa's "A Theology of Horror Movies."

No comments:


Share |