I had been meaning to write this Oscar column, and a companion piece on how I thought movies should be reviewed, for some time now. However, I have not felt all that inspired. Then, last night, I saw the gold standard for movies, Casablanca, and briefly, my blood stirred enough to put pen to paper (well, fingers to plastic, keys, but the other way is more poetic). I do not have predictions; you can listen to the talking heads and get a general feel about what is going to happen. I have seen all five Best Picture Nominees, though, and this is what I thought of them:
Gladiator is certainly the favorite to win the Best Picture Oscar. An epic in the grand style of The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur, the costumes are lavish, the sets are more than real (with computer animated effects, the Roman Coliseum really looks like it is full of 200,000 spectators), and the action is fast paced and furious. Nevertheless, for all these laudable things, there were things missing in this film. Chiefly, they are characters you can care about, a coherent plot, and for lack of a better word, heart. I know I am in the minority here, but I just did not emotionally connect with any of the characters, and that is what turns an epic film into a great film. I did not think the characters gave me much of a reason to care about their fates. The bad guy was almost effeminate. My reading of history shows that there were some heinous Roman Emperors, and I thought a real opportunity was missed here. The good guys were two dimensional and boring. Add that to a convoluted script, and this is the worst of the five nominees.
Chocolat was a huge surprise to me. The previews screamed “Chick Flick”, but I went with two other guys, and rarely have I enjoyed a watching a film more. The story is a simple fairy tale with easy morals, and maybe a touch of magic thrown in. There is not much subtlety here: you cheer the heroes and boo the villains. That is what made Chocolat so much fun; audience participation. Whenever anything chocolate would show up on screen, we would say “Chocolat” in a bad French accent. By the end of the picture, we had the first two rows copying us, and rather than detract it enhanced the experience. I don’t know if this film should have been nominated for Best picture; it owes that more to the publicity campaign of the studio than great reviews. Regardless, Chocolat is a lot of fun to watch and cheer, and that aint bad.
I expected Erin Brockovich to be another typical Julia Roberts comedy. I could not have been more wrong. While there are some very funny moments, this is a drama based on real events, and at times very tense. Often these Biopics come off stilted and flat, but in Brockovich Julia Roberts, along with a fine cast make the movie very watchable and entertaining. There is quite a bit of foul language in this, odd for a Roberts film, but I have a feeling that her female fans will forgive the language to see their heroine, and the men will put up with anything to see Julia in skintight skirts and push up bras. And Amen to that.
Traffic is a real heavyweight contender, and in a normal year might well deserve a win. The subject matter is all too real; our nation’s war on drugs. The director seamlessly mixes three films into one, telling the stories of true to life people, just like you and I. One thing I particularly liked about this film was the lack of absolute judgment. If you think our nation’s war on drugs is a farce, you are probably going to come out of this movie feeling that even more strongly. Conversely, if you think that the drug war has many problems, but is still very worth fighting, you will probably hold on to this view as well. The ensemble acting here is sensational; I wish they had an Oscar category for best cast. Bottom line: this is an important film, one that parents should strongly consider seeing with their children, and a movie that will have everyone who sees it talking. All that while still being highly watchable is well done indeed.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is like no movie you have ever seen before in your life. To describe it in conventional terms is to miss the je ne sais quois of this film. It is in Chinese with subtitles, but trust me, after ten minutes you will not even notice. This is flat-out the most magical picture since at least E.T., and maybe ever. I cannot imagine a segment of the population that would not enjoy this movie. The fight scenes blow away anything Gladiator has to offer. The themes of Honor, Sacrifice, Friendship, and Faith are transcendent, and will appeal to any audience in any age. Women have the two main roles, and they have great appeal without resorting to a Victoria’s Secret catalog. Some films are good in their time, but age poorly. Crouching Tiger is a movie that will be as spectacular thirty years from now as it is today. Whether you like martial arts films or not, you will love Crouching Tiger. Whether you like epics or not, you will love Crouching Tiger. Whether you like romances or not, you will love Crouching Tiger. As my brother put it, the movie is so good it’s ridiculous. Go see this film, I guarandamntee you the time of your life.