January 29, 2008

3 Oscar Reviews


The age of the sweeping Ivory-Merchant period film has come and gone. But that doesn't stop other directors from trying. Witness the attempt made by Atonement.

We've got the rich cinematography, impressive costumes and emotional acting. Unfortunately the plot falls short. In fact, by the time we got to the "twist ending" I was scratching my head and saying, "Really? That's it?"

Still, it was pleasing enough to keep my interest to the end. Keira Knightley and James McAvoy give admirable performances although their passion for each other is a tad muted. Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan is certainly precocious, but I wasn't blown away. I was far more impressed by Romola Garai as the older Briony, and Vanessa Redgrave as the eldest.

Trivia tidbit - Oscar-nominated writer/director Anthony Minghella plays the man interviewing Redgrave!

Michael Clayton

Thanks to all its nominations, this film is back in theaters and I'm really glad I saw it. Let me figure out how to explain the movie.

OK - remember Erin Brokovich? Small legal firm takes on evil corporation that's been poisoning innocents, eventually winning the day? Michael Clayton is pretty much the opposite. Tilda Swinton heads the evil corporation, and Tom Wilkinson is the head litigator that's been keeping the case in legal limbo for 6 years. When he cracks and grows a conscience, George Clooney the "fixer" for the firm is sent to clean up the debacle.

The film starts at the end, and then we go back to see how we got there. While some may not like that device, it worked for me, keeping me guessing as to how we'd get there. And unlike most movies I've seen recently, our group was buzzing and debating about it well after the end. It's the kind of complex film that sits well on the Oscar platform, and I'd be happy to see it win Best Picture.

The acting nods are all well-deserved. Clooney artfully balances cleaning up his work messes while his own life is a real mess. (And can we get a round of applause for that fine ass of his?) Swinton is actually quite funny particularly as she practices her interview answers. But the best performance comes from Wilkinson, sitting on the precarious edge between sanity and the truth.

La Vie En Rose

This was a Netflix rental, but considering it's up for 3 Oscars, it merits a more thorough review than my usual 25 words.

This biography of the premier French chanteuse Edith Piaf plays with a dual timeline narrative, showing us Edith's growth to becoming a star, while we alternately witness her final days before she succumbed to liver cancer. The script is a bit lacking, yet we get a solid understanding of the woman behind the song.

Despite any shortcomings in writing or direction, the movie is owned, INHABITED by Marion Cotillard. She commands the stage at one moment, is drunk and broken the next, and later bitterly remorseful. Her whole performance can be read in her big saucer-like eyes. Although I knew she wasn't doing the singing, at times it was hard to imagine I wasn't witnessing the real thing.

Although Julie Christie will be tough competition, I'd be thrilled to see the "little sparrow" take home that Best Actress award - incredibly well-deserved. (And while we're at it, let me throw my hat in for the remarkable make-up. Good luck, Didier Lavergne and Jan Archibald!)


Stef said...

I'm so glad you liked Michael Clayton! I really did too. I thought the story was really taut and interesting, the direction was seamless, and the performances were really good. George is gorgeous, of course, and I was amazed to finally discover Tilda Swinton as I'd never seen her in anything before. But the real showcase here was Tom Wilkinson, and I think he could be Javier Bardem's toughest competition come Oscar night.

As a Best Picture contender, I think this one's got legs... If the two big, bleak Westerns cancel each other out, Michael Clayton could be this year's Departed - a tight genre film that's elevated by a strong ensemble and helmed by a well-respected artist, in this case an acclaimed screenwriter (of your beloved Bourne movies) getting his first big shot at the director's chair. That sounds like an Oscar story to me, and I'd be very happy with it.

ScottE. said...

Marion Cottilard is my front runner for best actress. As you said Julie Christie is giving them all a run for her money, but my wishes lie with the French right now.

The best thing Atonement had going for it was Mr. Blue eyes. I'm surprised the little girl was nominated. We'll see what kind of cheeky romantic comedies she is in in 5 years.

Michael Clayton-Great. Engaging.

joyous said...

I liked Atonement! I liked it better than the book. The book made me crazy. The scene in the library was H.O.T.