Reviews of RAY, MILLION DOLLAR BABY, SIDEWAYS
00575 – RAY
RAY was not a movie I had high on my list to see. Biopics in general are rarely that good, and it just looked kind of hokey. Then the praise started rolling in for Jamie Foxx’s performance. It seemed like overnight Foxx became the odds-on favorite for Best Actor in the Oscars. I still wasn’t convinced until I saw COLLATERAL, which readers of this column will remember I was quite impressed with; not just the movie, but with Foxx.
Then RAY went and got six (count ‘em six!) Oscar Nominations, including Best Picture, surprising most observers. That meant I HAD to see it. So, last Tuesday evening, on the first day of video availability, I did.
RAY is worth the hype.
The movie is about Ray Charles’s life. You should know that Ray Charles was instrumental in getting this project off the ground, and was behind it all the way until his death last year. (I mention this because some of you not familiar with Charles’s struggles may be shocked at what’s portrayed on screen, but be assured it had his endorsement.)
You should see RAY for the following reasons:
1) To see the life of an American icon.
Whether you’re into his music or not, it’s pretty cool to see this poor black boy from the South (who’s blind by age seven, and that’s not the worst part of his childhood) make it in a often still segregated world. Understand: this is not some A&E flattery Bio, with all the warts and darkness pushed to the last segment. You see Ray Charles as a fallible human being; one who uses people and then discards them when their value is gone, one who serially cheats on his wife, and a man who struggles with the demons of drug abuse (and if you think I’m giving away plot points, you really don’t know anything about Ray Charles). And yet, despite all of that, we also get a picture of one determined SOB, refusing to back down from anyone. In many ways, Ray Charles was a trail-blazer. Not only the blind thing, and the black thing, but the music thing and the business thing. At several times in his life Charles switched musical genres, over the objections of everyone in the music industry, because he simply liked other styles of music and refused to be stuck the in “black R&B” mold. Ray Charles is also one of if not the very first artist to get control of his Masters (the original recordings), which is landmark in the music industry.
What you get with RAY is a pretty complete picture of a man with talent unreal, who did it his own way.
2) The African-American Experience
In an era before segregation really ended and before the debacle of The Great Society, black Americans made huge strides. They actually halved their own poverty rate in the generation before Johnson and his cynical mismanagement of social policy. This is something that doesn’t get discussed enough in history and Poly-Sci classes (but, SIGH, another time).
Anyway, it was gratifying for me to see black American life. Yes, there was tremendous hardship, but RAY doesn’t focus on that. Instead, it focuses on the communities that Ray Charles grew up and came of age in. We see black people making a life for themselves, without any help from the White Man, thank you very much. This is an all-too little appreciated part of the American experience, and worth watching RAY just for that.
3) The Music, baby, the Music
I don’t care if your idea of musical genius involves members of O-Town, there is simply no way anyone can watch RAY and not be powerfully affected by the music. It’s awesome. Not just Ray Charles, whose wonderful voice and piano play throughout, but the back-up singers, the saxes, the trumpets; all of it comes together to make a wonderful listening experience. I felt my spirit moved.
4) Jamie “Where have you been all my life?” Foxx
I’ve seen three of the Best Actor performances (plus one that should have been nominated; more later), and will soon get the other two. But I’m proclaiming now that Jaimie Foxx will win Best Actor, and deservedly so. Foxx doesn’t just imitate Ray Charles’s trademark mannerisms; he becomes the legend. This was a risky role for Foxx, since everyone knows what Ray Charles looked and acted like. Again and again Foxx is up to the challenge.
Wisely, the filmmakers use Ray Charles’s actual voice for the songs. After all, there was only one of him. However, in the many piano scenes, that’s actually Foxx playing. You will come not only to appreciate his fine thespian skills, but marvel at his musical talent as well. And, if you’re still unconvinced, consider this: Jamie Foxx does all of RAY, this wonderful human performance of a man with all the talent in the world—and the demons to match—with his eyes closed. That’s worth an Oscar right there.
Over all, RAY isn’t the best of the Best Picture nominees. At almost two hours and forty minutes, it probably tries to stuff too much into the film, while only getting to 1964 or so chronologically. The flashbacks are not handled as smoothly as they might have been with a better director, and there is a little too much obvious indulging of Ray Charles (it’s quite obvious no one wanted to tell him they had to cut things).
That written, I thoroughly enjoyed RAY, much more than I thought I would. I was moved by the music, by the performances, and by the life of a man I feel lucky to know more about. RAY is worth your time
Hyperion’s Rating System (Based on #121,in case you forgot)
Suspension of Disbelief Index (0-10): 0. This is supposed to be the real deal. The only thing you could even quibble on was a 1955 car in a scene dating 1954 (I get this from my dad, since obviously it’s all I can do to tell the color from that era).
Genre Grade: Obviously a Biopic. This isn’t quite the tour de force of THE AVIATOR, but it’s a far sight better than most recent offerings. B+/A-.
Pantheon Percentile (% of movies this is better than, with 50 being an average movie): RAY will age beautifully, since the past doesn’t change, and I can see watching this over time. Quite a good effort. 86.
00576 – MILLION DOLLAR BABY
I’ve written three drafts of this, and I have finally decided I can’t do it. I simply refuse to discuss this movie.
At least I can talk about the previews I saw….No, I can’t even do that. I refuse to discuss anything having to do with MILLION DOLLAR BABY. And don’t write me, because I won’t discuss it with you one-on-one either.
00577 – SIDEWAYS
If you were a reader last year, you know that I have long been a founding member of the Paul Giamatti fan club (for a list of his movies, go to http://imdb.com/name/nm0316079/). Moreover, I believe I can prove that he’s a good actor even if you haven’t seen his movies: he’s ugly.
Hear me out.
In Hollywood, they go for the beautiful people. Ugly people (well, Hollywood ugly; you know what I mean) can get work, but always as the quirky side-characters.
Paul Giamatti has done many of those roles, and quite well at it. (Maybe you saw him in THE NEGOTIATOR?)
However, the last two years, Giamatti has been in starring roles, and with his mug, he simply HAS to be a great actor.
I loved last year’s AMERICAN SPLENDOR, and told everyone who would listen Giamatti should have been nominated (and won). This year my vote goes to Jamie Foxx in RAY, but it’s still an absolute disgrace that Giamatti was passed over for an Oscar nomination after nabbing a Golden Globe spot.
But somehow I’ll get over my pain. Somewhat easing it is the fact that SIDEWAYS received 5 Oscar nominations, almost unheard of for an Independent comedy. They are: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress.
Where to start? I love this movie so much, I could write six thousand words on it. However, I refuse to tell you anything at all about the plot, because I want you to discover it for yourself. So, let’s talk about those nominations.
Of course, Hyperion’s Movie Rule #4 says that a movie’s success owes itself mostly to the writing and directing. For SIDEWAYS, we have Alexander Payne to thank. Some of his previous movies that you might be familiar with are ELECTION and ABOUT SCHMIDT. In SIDEWAYS, Payne has taken the extreme humor of ELECTION but with the quiet gentleness—and at time sadness—of ABOUT SCHMIDT.
SIDEWAYS is not a movie that makes you laugh 100% of the time. In my opinion, though, this makes the funny moments, and there are many, all that funnier. There’s a scene involving a hill (I ache to share it with you, but I will show superhuman restraint and not do so) in SIDEWAYS. It would be funny no matter what movie it was in. However, because of the twenty minutes previous to the hill scene, the humor goes deeper and resonates on a fuller level. You’ll see what I mean.
The performances are all so wonderful here. Thomas Hayden Church is nominated as Best Supporting Actor. Some of you might remember him from the sitcom WINGS or the short-lived NED AND STACEY. He’s fantastic here, playing a guy who’s quite a prick and yet makes you love him anyway. Virginia Madsen has spent most of her career bearing her breasts in B-movies. Here, though, she gives an amazingly nuanced performance so much so that I wouldn’t be upset if she won over Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of Katherine Hepburn, and if you know me, that’s saying something.
Both of these nominations go to show (much like with Charlize Theron last year) that there are many terrific actors out there, that we just don’t know about because they’ve never gotten the chance. Here’s hoping Hollywood learns to spread it around a little more, eh?
And then there’s Paul Giamatti. I just don’t have the words. He gives hope to ugly guys everywhere .
I need to quit writing about SIDEWAYS, or I’ll be here all night. I urge you to go see yet. But before that, you should know if you’re one of the people who won’t like it.
There will be a few, and this is because of two reasons. For one, SIDEWAYS is an R-Rated comedy. There is some sex, some nudity (though sadly, only the male kind), some language and some adult subject matter. There are some who will be turned off by this no matter how great the film is. Secondly, the main characters are not choir boys. We like them, but they’re really not good guys. And, while they certainly have their share of comeuppance, the movie itself never judges them or their bad behavior. To some, this will be an amoral travesty.
But for the rest of you, this is a wonderful comedy. In the theatre I was in, women and men alike laughed loud and long. It made me want to write again. It made me want to be a wine snob—and I don’t even drink. It made glad there is passion in the world.
Suspension of Disbelief Index: 2. This is pretty true to life
Genre Grade: It’s hard to label SIDEWAYS. In some ways it’s a buddy-road movie, in same ways a dramedy, and in some ways a turning-point-of-life kind of thing. I guess I’ll call it a sophisticated comedy and give it an A+.
Pantheon Percentile: You could watch this movie a hundred times, I bet. 98.
February 4, 2005
Thanks to Kimbo
Thanks to Starling
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