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Well this look at the successful performance showcases, the complement to my earlier look at the failed ones, is ridiculously late. But it’s been sitting on my hard drive for a while so why waste it? Plus many of these are now available on DVD so you can go judge them for yourselves. Though you may as well leave the judging to me, right?

Animal Kingdom

There was a good chance that this one was going to land on the “failed” portion of these posts, but happily Jacki Weaver eked out a Supporting Actress nod for this very low profile film. Animal Kingdom is an Australian crime drama centered around a family of bank robbers. The opening credits made me think I was about to see The Town: Down Under with its images of bank heists. Instead, it’s a character-focused drama about the family unraveling as the crooked cops close in.

Weaver plays the family matriarch. She’s outwardly sweet and caring, but in reality is chillingly ruthless. Her daughter dies of a heroin overdose so her estranged grandson comes to live with her. Meanwhile, her son is hiding out from the cops while the Melbourne police become more brutal with their tactics. The cops begin killing off members of the gang, the gang retaliates, and the heretofore innocent grandson gets entangled in it all.

The movie is very good. I think some people may find the grandson character frustrating as he waffles between his family and the police and seems to willfully put himself in danger. But I think the film does a good job establishing the character and his passiveness. Weaver is quite memorable. I think it’s a role ripe for scenery chewing, but she dials it back and it makes her actions even more chilling. Hopefully her nomination will cause more people to seek out the film.

Rabbit Hole

This story of a couple mourning their recently-deceased son works in parts. Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart grieve in their own ways, which drives a wedge into their relationship. Kidman is prone to awkward public outbursts that can be quite uncomfortable to watch. The film is filled with these scenes and it can be hard to take.

But some scenes are just wonderful. Most of the scenes Kidman shares with her mother, played by Dianne Weist, are terrific and insightful. Eckhart has a nice scene in his son’s bedroom with a family looking to buy the house.

The film is a series of mostly successful individual scenes while some overall plot points fall a little short. I found the relationship between Kidman and a young man sort of contrived, but it yielded several nice moments.

I think your mileage may vary in a heavily dramatic movie like this. What rings true or connects emotionally for one will feel wrong to another. And that is fine, considering the film is about people who express their grief differently.

Kidman is very good and she grabbed the film’s one Oscar nomination for Best Actress. I enjoyed Eckhart, and he did land an Independent Spirit nod, though a few of his showcase scenes didn’t work very well for me. How much was him and how much was the writing, I don’t know. Finally, Weist is also very good and it’s too bad awards momentum for her stalled so early.

It’s a good film that I would recommend, but given its weight I’m not sure if there are many people I’d specifically recommend it to.

Biutiful

We all severely despised this movie. Javier Bardem landed a Best Actor nod for his role as a Barcelona black marketeer who is severely down on his luck. His illegal immigrant workers get deported and he has the heart to care about their families. His own ex-wife is unreliable, leaving him to worry for his children’s safety. He is sick. His dreams are full of tiresome artsy fartsy imagery.

The film received some critical malign for being such a downer. I contend that to be a downer a film must make the viewer care enough to feel the depression and Biutiful fails miserably at that. I wasn’t saddened by Bardem’s slog. I was bored. Very, very bored.

It severely drags. I started looking out for the ending, constantly expecting for the finale to be right around the corner and pondering if I liked certain developments as the denouement. In hindsight it turns out I started doing this about 45 minutes in. That is a bad sign.

Blue Valentine

I anticipated this being up my alley but it started losing me pretty quickly. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are a married couple with a young daughter. The film starts with their relationship in trouble and watches as it crumbles. Interspersed are flashbacks showing them meeting and falling in love.

It reminded me a lot of Revolutionary Road from a few years back. It could be a poignant look at the strains that are put on a relationship, but it’s really just about two people that shouldn’t be together. And at least one is a douchebag. It becomes pretty clear that there isn’t a lot of depth to their relationship and I began rooting against the pair because it seemed like they’d both be better off alone. By the end it was just tedious.

Williams got a Best Actress nomination but it’s surprising that Gosling was barely even in the picture. He didn’t even score any recognition from the Independent Spirits. Maybe the field for Best Actor was just more competitive. But I have a hard time imagining someone responding the movie and Williams’s performance but not Gosling’s.

Another Year

This one isn’t a successful performance piece but at least it did get some Oscar attention, receiving an Original Screenplay nod. Lesley Manville really should have been in the mix for Supporting Actress, but at least she was a contender.

My colleagues liked Another Year considerably less than I did and I understand why. It’s slow with a very understated plot. But it’s all in service of its themes. I’m not sure why, but I’m drawn towards films about the passage of time and the transient nature of lives in this permanent world and Another Year has these in spades. Four segments corresponding to each of the seasons follow English married couple Tom and Gerri as they host family and friends at parties and events over the course of a year. They are in love and appear to have a happy life, but the same cannot be said about everyone else in their coterie. Manville stands out as Gerri’s lonely middle aged coworker who drinks too much at the get-togethers and fancies her hosts’ much younger son.

The film does sacrifice plot for theme. In fact, it would be hard to claim there’s much of a plot at all as the action is all conversation. We do see the characters’ progression throughout the year though much of the action occurs between the seasonal meetings. Mary’s excitement to buy a car and subsequent troubles with said car later in the year is one more light-hearted example.

The slowness did get to me a little as some of the scenes aren’t the best at advancing the themes. I’m happy to accept subtlety when warranted, but sitting through some of the scenes that seemed pointless to me was harder to stomach. With a little tightening it could be more entertaining and packed a heftier punch.

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We’re taking a look at Oscar categories in advance of tonight’s show. Now we’re on Supporting Actress. The nominees:

  • Amy Adams, The Fighter
  • Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech
  • Melissa Leo, The Fighter
  • Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
  • Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Jared

I don't see the big deal, this FYC ad seems kinda classy...

The supporting categories are always tough for me because it is hard to figure out how, exactly, to weight screen time.  Should I favor being fantastic in five minutes over a solid performance in forty-five minutes?  Perhaps appropriately, I just flipped on the radio and The Zombies’s “She’s Not There” started playing.  I’m a big Amy Adams fan and loved that she got to play a little against type in The Fighter.  But she didn’t have enough to work with to make an impression on me.  She had a few memorable scenes, sure.  But I’m still not entirely certain how she nabbed a nomination over, say, Mila Kunis.

When the actress receiving a nomination is genuinely confused about it, you know Hollywood silly groupthink has reared its head again.  Like a movie?  Then vote for every single aspect of it!  Helena Bonham Carter does a perfectly fine job, but one of the five best performances of the year?  It is really odd how Hollywood can’t distinguish between different aspects of a movie they loved.

So, I fell asleep during Animal Kingdom.  Apparently I was out cold.  But don’t worry, after waking up I went back and caught what I missed.  The whole time (at least when I was awake) I was wondering how on earth Weaver managed a nomination here.  For me, it isn’t even the role being confused for the performance, but the idea of the role.  The thing is, I can totally see a film where she’d be worthy of a nomination.  One that wasn’t the most boring crime film of all time.  And one where her role gets fleshed out a little more. I really hope, though, some casting director has taken notice and casts her as the villain in some better production, because I really do think she can pull it off admirably.

I’m a little lower on Hailee Steinfeld than others.  Maybe part of it is because there’s absolutely no way to defend calling her performance supporting.  None at all.  Whoever first pitched the idea of doing so has balls the size of golden globes.  John has mentioned how much he liked Dakota Fanning in The Runaways.  Obviously the roles aren’t really comparable, but I’d tend to agree that I’m not entirely comfortable seeing Steinfeld recognized but not Fanning.  I think Steinfeld has a very bright future and hope that she soon gets new roles to be her calling card.

I don’t think this category is as strong as other this year, which perhaps is one of the reasons prognosticators are finding it a little difficult to predict.  Hilariously, Melissa Leo, probably the front-runner, shot herself in the foot by running For Your Consideration ads on her own dime.  Doesn’t she know how to play the game?  You aren’t allowed to actually say you want to win!  In any case, she’s my pick here, overcoming an awful script to create a memorable presence.  And really doing everything you’d want from a supporting actress, I think.  She always looms large, but never takes over the movie.

John

This is a tough category to pick. Whereas so many of the other categories are embarrassments of riches, I find this one to be slim pickings.

Let’s start with the women from The Fighter. Adams simply failed to make an impression on me. So many others were impressed with her work that I concede I may need another viewing. To me, she’s being swept up in an acting nomination wave for the film. I enjoyed Leo much more, but she also has a more colorful role and I can’t deny that she does seem to be Acting Very Hard.

Everyone loved Steinfeld but she actually drove me a little nuts. I don’t think it’s her fault. For one, the lack of contractions in the dialogue sounded bizarre to me from all characters. And the inflectionless way she often delivers her lines was probably directed out of her. So I think these are stylistic choices that happened to not work for me and therefore reflect poorly on Steinfeld.

Carter is a totally blah nomination. She’s good in The King’s Speech, of course, but she doesn’t get to display much of her considerable skills. It’s just such a straight-forward role. And that leaves Weaver, who you might think therefore wins by default. She plays a ruthless matriarch of a crime family in Animal Kingdom. What makes her so successfully chilling is how sweet she is while doing awful things. I think the tendency would be for the actress to really sell the fact that the sweetness is a charade, but Weaver plays it pretty straight. So she’s just acting sweet. It’s a great choice for the film, but does that make a great performance? The same performance with different words and she’s just a normal doting mother. Or am I missing some nuance?

Oh, honey.

Therefore I have concerns over them all. I’m going to choose Melissa Leo with Jacki Weaver not too far behind. I also just want Leo to win, partly because I like her and partly because I’d feel bad for her if she won all these precursors and lost. People would be blaming it on that photo spread and it would be awful.

Snubs: I’d nominate and give the Oscar to Lesley Manville for Another Year. My off-the-wall choice is Marisa Tomei in Cyrus. (Note: I may be in the bag for Marisa Tomei.)

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