Friday, February 17, 2012

Oscar Best Picture Nominees 2012 (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The 2012 Oscar-nominated Films - Best Picture

With this year's group of Oscar nominated films for Best Picture, there is a hunger for nostalgia. It's as if the Earth is spinning too fast on its axis or making too much consumerist noise and we all want to put on the brakes, moving into a slower,  more relaxed, and ultimately, more escapist orbit.

Going retro has never looked so good.

With "The Artist" (now playing at the Tropic ), Michel Hazanavicius has created a completely enclosed world that's as beautifully monochromatic  with sumptuous black and white tones, as "Avatar" is hallucinogenic and  colorful. "The Artist" is a genuine Wonderland of silent film where the only vocabularies used are the Grand Masters of Cinema: Wilder, Hitchcock and F.W. Murnau. However, the best sleight of hand  is that it makes sound irrevelant, a gimmick of the past and not the present. At the film's conclusion, when sound finally does come in, it seems a rude intrusion, signaling the loss of our beloved silence.

In "The Help" we travel back to the 1950's where black maids were treated painfully as second class citizens. The film mainly holds back, packaging the sad toxin of history in a Disney-spun ribbon. Still, the frankness of Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, save this movie from having a permanent  bland revisionist aftertaste. The performances alone will make you want to peer behind the kitchen door.

In "The Decendants", the smug, charming-pussed George Clooney expands his dramatic range and actually emotes something new in his dynamic role as a second-string father who practically begs for help. The charm of the film is in its subtle movement and naturalistic detail. We never doubt the film's simple authenticity and Hawaii herself, as a beautiful chain of collective pearls, is well represented here as a vibrant character.

In "The Tree of Life" the enigmatic Terrence Malick gives us a vision of Earth from The Beginning, and forward to the life of a pent up suburban family. And it keeps going into what I think is the Afterlife. Heavy-handed and heavy-hearted it may be, (and this is debatable) but hear me out. The film treats us to some of the most startlingly beautiful images that I've ever seen. I can only compare it to a PBS Nature special soaked in absinthe and swallowed by John Cheever. Some may find it incomprehensible, but I found its uncompromising imagery to be refreshing. The only aspect I could have dispensed with was its pitchy, literal ending. "The Tree of Life" is best when it is rooted in poetry.

A favorite pick despite its lightness of being would have to be Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris". Although little more in content than a New Yorker cartoon, the film has such joy in its  caricature of famous Parisians from the 1920's that it is impossible to resist. This film is Allen's personal pantheon and the eccentrics are all lovingly drawn with affection and wit. It is a mille-feuille for the eyes and a valentine to the city of Paris.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, so be it.  I must mention "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close", not for its stifling and overbearing melodrama but for the haunting gravity of Max von Sydow. His nomination is well deserved and will most likely be awarded.

"Moneyball", a favorite of statistics lovers far and wide, has the novelty of telling a true story without any mayhem or hijinx. Instead, the drama unfolds organically from within. This baseball story is told without any cinematic whistles and the star-power of Brad Pitt practically vanishes under this very unique story of greed and numbers.

"War Horse" puts the children's tale on the level of high art. Spielberg has been often criticized for bringing the drama of Tv to the movies, but this criticism is now a complement. Never has the quality of anthropomorphism seemed so authentic or convincing. Better still, we see noble and unassuming horses  given as much weight and bearing as humans. Spielberg has deified the horse a bit and this karmic debt has been all too late in being paid. Horses are wonderful not because they are like us, but because they are horses and they contribute to our collective motion. Horses everywhere have finally found their voice in this John Fordesque motion picture that is an anthem to Equus.

Last, but certainly not least, is Scorsese's artistically bold and elegant "Hugo" (also now playing at the Tropic,  in 3D) which is nothing less than splendor on screen. At its core, it is a fairytale to the history of cinema, but that is to enclose it too much inside its clockwork. The film is a love affair in visual perspective and motion. A dessert in pictures of course, but also a meditation on the perishable nature of historic film.

So if we must journey backward to a more vibrant or illustrious time, let us jump back as spacemen to Tinseltown. There are many examples of Bohemian  by-gone beings here, complete with flora and fauna, but please, look but don't touch.

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