Monday, February 16, 2015

2015 in Movies, 16-20

"The Theory of Everything."
(Lookie: another fireworks spectacular!)

16. Elizabeth I (2005, dir. Tom Hooper)

Helen Mirren having a blast playing royalty--what else is new?

17. The Theory of Everything (dir. James Marsh)

Hell in the form of the 87th Academy Awards would be this and "The Imitation Game" playing over and over again. At least "Theory" has self-respect enough to turn the self-importance a notch lower. But again: This is a Best Picture candidate?! Hell, can someone please explain to me what Felicity Jones is doing in the Best Actress lineup? I guess not.

18. Into the Woods (dir. Rob Marshall)

It's funny how most of the people who aren't happy with this adaptation of a Sondheim classic are from the theater, all of them talking about how the storytelling was this and that, and such and such elements were absent, and--my favorite of all--the dark musical has been Disney-fied (the gall of that mouse!). Meanwhile, non-theater worshipers like my mom and my sister's friends and people in school all said they enjoyed this movie--and I totally agree with them. Do I think this is a classic? Not in a million years. But praise be given where it is due: This is a respectable translation of Sondheim, with not a bad singing actor in the cast (I'm looking at you, Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett). And while we're on the topic, I wish Chris Pine had received more recognition. 

19. American Sniper (dir. Clint Eastwood)

"American Sniper" is "Zero Dark Thirty" for dummies. Oh wait--it doesn't even deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as ZDT. It is handsomely made, no denying that. Too handsome, actually; you can feel the camera thinking and calculating and prodding the viewer to summon his inner patriot (unfortunately enough, a lost sentiment among non-Americans with the tendency to mix up the words "White" and "imperialist"). This is an important scene, the camera says, and it zooms in on Sienna Miller's crying face. These are important men! and the camera swoops in on the SEALs bursting out the door. Look at that poor Iraqi child and how he will definitely become a savage militant someday: The solution is to kill him, duh. Now cry, feel bad, feel terrible, this is what we have become! 

There is a fine lead performance by Bradley Cooper doing a variation of the role he does best: the man-child. Here, the battlefield is his playground, and shooting people is apparently his daily dose of endorphins. He even gets a villain to fight against (and good for him!). Eastwood directs with a smooth, if too-obvious hand, and his finished product is not a bad movie at all. Just unexceptional.  It is well-choreographed shootouts and furious editing and killers venerated stateside as heroes. We've seen it all, though, haven't we? The first thirty minutes of "Saving Private Ryan" is better than any fight scene in "Sniper," and the (requisite) climactic brouhaha in the sandstorm (a fucking sandstorm!) is obviously meant to parallel the culminating hunt for Bin Laden in "ZDT" (done in stylish night vision, no less). In short, "Sniper" is just mediocre--alright, a teensy bit above mediocre--where great war thrillers are concerned. It is hoarily written and feels like the work of rowdy fourth graders hungry for some schoolyard action. And whatever it's doing in the Best Picture conversation--well, there's something to pound our brains over for quite a while.

20. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu)

Right now, the question is: Would I be okay with this winning Picture over "Boyhood?" And why weren't Naomi Watts and Zach Galifianakis handed any nominations by those dime-a-dozen critics groups? And how does Lubezki do it? And in which universe is Iñárritu winning Director over Linklater the right choice? I only have the answer for the first one, which is an uncertain yes(?).

TV Series: Orange Is the New Black, Season 1

Holy shit, the mind-blowing brilliant stuff going on in television these days! Jenji Kohan deserves a Pulitzer for Black Comedy or whatever.

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