Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes was released in Canada on December 25, 2009. It features Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Rachel McAdams. Also noteworthy is the directorship of Guy Ritchie.

What does one say about the plot? It's Sherlock Holmes for crying out loud. Holmes and Watson are engaged in the task of bringing to justice a dangerous black magician. It's classic. The same witty banter and not-quite-realistic deductive reasoning. That said, the story is quite sharp and one is not left completely catatonic by the plot in the fashion provoked by The Dark Knight. It's funny and the lines are clever, and it practically ends with an invitation to see the sequel in a couple of years.

This one is not a shoe in for Oscar nominations, but no one will be surprised if the Academy acknowledges the film in several categories. The screenplay is very good. The sets and costumes are also sharp. As for acting, this trio was just great. I don't think RDJ has been better anywhere, and he is looking absolutely delicious. The Academy gave him a nod for the utterly ridiculous Tropic Thunder, so it's not far-fetched to expect him to show up in the Best Actor category. His role here may spare us ever having to hear about The Soloist at the Awards. Jude Law was a wonderful Watson, but a nomination for him is unlikely. Likewise, McAdams was great but not Oscar material. The chemistry between the three is what is notable in this movie.

This is not the kind of film that blows the Academy's mind, but there are some very good qualities that may have their attention. Sherlock Holmes is a very entertaining show if you have 134 minutes to spare.

An Education

An Education was released in Canada on September 27, 2009 at the Edmonton International Film Festival. The cast includes Cary Mulligan, who is quickly making a name for herself, Peter Sarsgaard and Dominic Cooper. These are not exactly well accomplished talents, and the crowd that accompanies them are not household names either. But as a group they have pulled off something very interesting. In fact, the film has received a SAG nomination for Outstanding Performance By A Cast.

The story is set in London in the 1960s. Who doesn't love a good British film? Jenny is a high school girl living with unsophisticated parents whose only goal in life is her admission to Oxford. But Jenny's plans are interrupted by the pursuit of a playboy twice her age, who is very comfortable thinking outside the box of social mores. To say more would qualify as spoiler material.

The SAG nomination is practically irrelevant when considering the film's Oscar potential, since the Academy does not have a category to honor a complete cast... and realistically, An Education won't win the SAG in that category either since the competition is fierce. However, SAG is often a good predictor of what the Academy will do, and the film received just the one nomination. If the film is nominated anywhere, it will be in the Best Actress category based on Mulligan's sharp performance. This year is a tough year to try to break into that group. SAG didn't go there, and it is a long shot indeed that Oscar will.

Last year Happy Go Lucky was the British film that I fell in love with. This year it is An Education. Oscar worthy or not, it's a great movie.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones was released in Canada on January 15, 2010. The cast is strong, featuring Saorise Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Natalie Weisz, Stanley Tucci and Susan Sarandan. The director is Peter Jackson, whom we know best for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but has been writing, producing and directing great films fairly consistently for years.

The film is adapted from the book by the same name, written by Alice Sebold. In The Lovely Bones, we get the story of Susie Salmon, a 12 year old girl who is murdered, and she narrates her own story from heaven. But the story is not a simplistic one. It is the story of an unsolved murder, of a dead little girl trapped in the "in-between" with unfinished business, of a family struggling to cope, of an afterlife perspective. When I first heard the book would be made a film, I seriously doubted it could be done. But the transition from novel to film is a respectable job in this case, and that not being a simple task with this particular book.

Based on that fact, I think adapted screenplay is this film's best chance at an Oscar nomination. Jackson may also get a nod for the directorship, which was also very sharp. The techniques used to try to communicate spiritual concepts were relatively effective, and for the most part escaped the tacky realm. The acting was quite good. We saw Ronan's capacity for brilliance in Atonement, and she does not disappoint. This year Best Actress will be a very competitive field, but she may get a nomination just the same. Both Wahlberg and Weisz were also very good in supporting roles, and Tucci was brilliant. If either of the three are nominated, I'm rooting for Tucci. He nailed creepy serial killer, and when I consider his flexibility in recent years I'm ready for him to be recognized. With ten films in the Best Picture category this year, it may even make the cut of ten. But it would not have made a five-cut, and it will not win Best Picture.

The Lovely Bones is a unique accomplishment, and certainly a movie you'll want to have seen when the Academy opens the envelopes.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Public Enemies

Public Enemies was released in Canada on July 1, 2009. It has a million member cast, but the names worth mentioning are Johnny Depp, Marion Cotillard and Christian Bale. Michael Mann, who has previously been nominated for four Academy Awards, is the Director.

Public Enemies is the true story of John Dillinger, a notorious bank robber who made his name in the early 1930s. Handled by Depp, we watch Johnny et. al. rob banks, kill cops, and escape from jail a time or two. The film is not entirely listless, but it is quite long and near misses several targets. The character development is too weak for the viewer to truly feel conflicted about Dillinger's lifestyle and the impact upon those around him. Without that twisting of the conscience, there is not a lot left. The Directing is sketchy... the throwback effect is a little too contrived. The screenplay is immediately forgettable.

That said, there are a couple of areas in which the movie may get some attention because of the acting. Johnny Depp was good as Dillinger, but will not likely compete in the Best Actor field this year. Cotillard was brilliant again, and may be this movie's best shot at a nomination. That said, the Supporting Actress category will be tight this year, and she may have to compete against herself (Nine) to get a nomination. Otherwise, I'm not sure this film belongs in any Oscar discussion.

This time of year, there are movies I usually wait to confirm as nominations before I bother seeing them. I wish Public Enemies had been one of them.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Blind Side

The Blind Side was released in Canada on November 20, 2009. The names that you will recognize in the cast of this movie are Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw.

The Blind Side is the story of one Michael Oher, vulnerable and homeless when we meet him. He has never known his father, and his mother is an addict with multiple children in the care of the state. For just over two hours the film follows Michael's development into a first-round NFL draft pick because of his relationship with Leigh Anne Tuohy, an affluent and determined young woman who makes Michael her own. God help the empty soul who cannot find a tear for this one. Even if it were not based on a true story, this film would be emotional.

This movie was not initially pegged to be obvious Oscar material, but it has caused a little more stir of late. The Globes rewarded Bullock's performance with a nomination. Now maybe I'm getting a little soft, but I am kind of rooting for this one. Sandra Bullock has been eternally joined with the romantic comedy, and the word Oscar has previously been completely irrelevant to her. But this was the delivery of a lifetime. McGraw was not Oscar material, but he is definitely more than a good voice. Under that cowboy hat is one hot package, and he held his own in a supporting role. Our introduction to Quinton Aaron is very positive, and a nomination for Best Actor would not be misplaced. Acting categories already considered, this may be a candidate for Best Adapted Screenplay... and I may as well say it... with 10 films in the Best Picture category this year, I'm hoping The Blind Side gets a nod.

The Blind Side is the total package. Enjoy.