Capsule Reviews Oscars 2011

I’m done.  I’ve seen most of the films nominated for the award categories I wanted to pick.  The only two I’m missing are Margin Call, which is sitting on my mantle ready to be viewed and A Separation, which probably won’t come to Durham for months.  But I don’t need to make screenwriting picks.  So I’m ready to start thinking about the other categories.  I’ll try to get that out next week.

In the meantime, here are some short reviews of the films I’ve seen recently:

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

If there is a theme uniting these mini-reviews it’s that a lot of these films are better than I expected.  Extremely Loud is a prime example of that.  It’s about a kid, Oskar Schell, played by Thomas Horn, who was tested for Asperger’s syndrome and the results in his words “were inconclusive.”   He’s dealing with the death of his father, played by Tom Hanks, during 9/11.  The film is saved from over sentimentality by the fact that Oskar is not an adorable kid.  In fact he’s difficult to deal with and because of his condition incapable of expressing much emotion.  Also the mother, played by Sandra Bullock is emotionally cold as well.  The film is a little long and has too many loose ends but it’s enjoyable.

The Help

This is shameless Oscar bait, but they pull it off, mainly in its depiction of the two worlds in 1960’s Jackson, MS.  In the white world of privilege where these young debutantes and newly married matrons hold teas and do charity work, the racism ranges from the casual remark stemming from ignorant assumptions to real vindictive hatred.  And then there is the black world where these women live in poverty and where the fear of getting fired for only minor transgressions is very real.  It’s a stark contrast that sends a powerful message.  With Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Emma Stone this is the best acted film in the bunch.

Midnight in Paris

Like all Woody Allen films this is a little bit wordy and comes from a different cultural place than your average movie.  You don’t have to be steeped in the art and literature of the lost generation of 1920’s Paris to enjoy this film, but it helps.

The Tree of Life

This is a typical Terrance Malick film, slow pompous and not nearly as profound as it thinks it is.  Its one major achievement is that is makes dinosaurs boring.  I never thought it could be done.

Warrior

This is a really good movie that could have been great with a little judicious editing.  Tom Hardy is a force of nature in this.  When it came to the climatic fight between the two brothers I had no idea what was going to happen, which is an incredible achievement for a sports movie.

Albert Nobbs

Glenn Close plays the title role of woman in turn of the century Dublin getting by passing as a man and working in a posh hotel as a waiter.  She saves her tips and dreams of a better life, evoking some sympathy, and yet she’s too unemotional to completely root for.  This is another film that I liked more than I thought I would, but it is deeply flawed.

A Cat in Paris

This is a French ink and paint animated feature.  It looks nice and the story is somewhat entertaining, but in the end it’s nothing special.

Chico & Rita

With its story of star crossed love, and cameos from bebop era jazz heroes, Chico & Rita is pleasant enough.  But I can’t help thinking that if it had been a live action film, instead of an animated feature, the plot would have been dismissed as pedestrian melodrama.  And it really doesn’t use the animated format in an imaginative way.

Kung-Fu Panda 2

This is an enjoyable enough sequel, but hardly anything special.

Puss in Boots

A spin off from the Shrek movies, Puss in Boots lacks a certain amount of whimsy.  It’s not bad but it never really takes off.

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