Oscar Death Race Update – Some Quick Reviews

This weekend, I once again didn’t have much on my agenda. Usually I can look to Sunday as my saving grace as I go out every weekend to watch football with the guys, but with no real football on (I don’t count the Pro Bowl as “real”) I didn’t even have that to fall back on. Thankfully I have a jam packed few weekends coming up or I would be worried that I was losing my touch.

However, a free weekend that was also bitterly cold gave me a chance to do some damage to what remains outstanding on my Oscar list. As I’ve mentioned, I’m trying to see everything that is nominated – not just the major awards, but literally everything that received an Oscar nom. I’ve accepted that I’m probably not going to do it this year as some of the foreign films have proved difficult to locate, but I still want to see how close I can get to 100% completion. In between watching episodes of Deadwood (I’m almost done with season one), I managed to knock three more movies off the list. I don’t know that I have enough to say about them individually to warrant their own posting, so I rolled them all into one.

The Impossible

This film’s nomination for Naomi Watts (Best Lead Actress) was a bit of a surprise as I didn’t even realized that this film had been released to be eligible for consideration. I had only just begun to see previews for it, so I thought it would be in the race for next year’s Oscar nominations. I’ll admit, I was a little bummed that this film did receive a nomination; it wasn’t that I didn’t want to watch the film, but just seeing the trailer made my eyes well up with tears. I was hoping to have the opportunity to watch the film on DVD, where I could bawl my eyes out in the privacy of my own home.  There’s nothing more embarrassing then silently weeping in a room full of strangers.

The Impossible is based on the real life story of a family that was separated in the 2004 Tsunami in Thailand and their struggles to survive and find each other amongst the chaos and destruction. The family is on holiday and at the pool of the resort when the Tsunami suddenly hits. The father (Ewan McGregor) and the two youngest sons are swept in one direction while the mother (Naomi Watts) and oldest son Lucas are thrown in a different one.  The special effects were absolutely astounding; you felt like you were right in the middle of the Tsunami as it was happening and you had a taste of just how terrifying that experience was. It was impressive.

Naomi Watts really was quite fantastic in the film; the mother is severely injured during the Tsunami and Watts is so convincing that you have to remind yourself that she isn’t actually hurt. The pure panic and terror that she has when she realizes that her family is missing is probably very recognizable to any parent. It’s an emotionally and physically demanding role and Watts is able to handle both parts beautifully. Kudos to the make-up team that aided the transformation throughout the film.

The acting in The Impossible is universally very good, but I think that Tom Holland, who plays oldest son Lucas, should also be singled out. The role of Lucas also required a lot of emotion and Holland handled the range artfully. Though he starred in the musical production of Billy Elliot in London, The Impossible was his feature film debut, though you wouldn’t know that from the way he carried himself in the movie. He really was a pleasure to watch.

I managed to hold it together for most of the movie; I may have teared up a few times, but I was able to refrain from outright crying in the theater. That’s something to be proud of.

Searching for Sugar Man

This is the type of documentary that I am especially drawn to. While many of the other films that are competing for Best Documentary focus on big topics (Israeli/Palestine conflict, the formation of ACT Up in response to the AIDS epidemic, sexual assault in the U.S. Military), Searching for Sugar Man is a much smaller story. This is not to diminish the importance of the other documentaries, but I’m always more impressed when a filmmaker can make something compelling when there are much smaller stakes. Searching for Sugar Man absolutely achieves this; I’m not sure if it will win come Oscar time, but it may be my favorite documentary of the year.

The film focuses on the elusive musical artist Rodriguez, an American singer who became tremendously successful in South Africa in the 1970s. Though a commercial flop stateside, his music became the soundtrack for the revolution against apartheid and he obtained something of a cult following. Rodriguez was rumored to have killed himself on stage during a show in America, though the method of his demise was debated (some said he lit himself on fire, while others said he shot himself in the head). Rodriguez never played a show in South Africa and his mythology continued to grow over time. Two fans of his music decided to embark on a journey to find out whatever they could about him and they were astonished at what they discovered.

I was completely fascinated with this story as it continued to unfold and it introduced me to Rodriguez’s beautiful music in the process. As soon as the film was over, I downloaded the soundtrack. I’m always interested when an artist or performer becomes particularly popular in one particular foreign nation – it boggles my mind that David Hasselhoff was an extremely popular recording artist in Germany, while at home he’s just known for Knight Rider, Baywatch and being cheesily awesome and drinking too much. In some ways, Searching for Sugar Man could be a sad story because Rodriguez was unaware of his popularity in South Africa and seemingly was not financially rewarded for his success. My only complaint with the film was I wish that they had pressed the record company harder to see what they did with the residual money that was sent from the record companies in South Africa. It is possible that there was a lot of bootlegging, but still – where did the money go?

 

SPOILER ALERT

 

However, Searching for Sugar Man isn’t a sad story because they discover that Rodriguez is alive and well in Detroit, completely unaware of the fame that he has in a foreign land. He doesn’t seem to trouble himself with what could have been; though he lives a simple life and is not materially rich, he seems content. Even when he makes his first trip to South Africa and plays six sold out shows, he gives most of the money away to family and friends. He’s seemingly content with his meager life and is totally at peace when on stage. He’s kind of remarkable and magical.

END SPOILER ALERT

 

An excellent documentary that I recommend checking out; making a smaller story seem so big is really a testament to the filmmakers involved. I’m glad that people appear to be watching the film, as Rodriguez’s only two albums, as well as the soundtrack, currently appear on Amazon’s list of bestselling albums (all three are in the top 15).

 

Mirror, Mirror

Even after watching Mirror, Mirror, I’m still a little confused as to why it was nominated for Best Costume Design. Nothing  in the film really struck me as all that innovative or creative; in fact, I had to look up why exactly I was watching this movie to begin with as I couldn’t remember what category it was actually nominated for.

This film came out around the same time as Snow White and the Huntsman and I really had no interest in ever watching it; it seemed too silly compared to the much darker Kristen Stewart/Charlize Theron vehicle. Julia Roberts as the wicked queen held potential, but after a series of poor movie selections on her part, I no longer trust her instincts in what she signs on for.

That being said, after I dutifully sat down to watch Mirror, Mirror, it was not nearly as terrible as I thought it was going to be. It’s not great cinema, but it was entertaining enough and if taken with a grain of salt, entertaining. Full disclosure: I watched this film at one in the morning, so my expectations were already lowered and I may have been easier to charm at that late hour. It was silly, but it was also fairly funny. The cast isn’t taking themselves too seriously and I appreciated that unlike the other Snow White adaption, this film used actual little people actors rather than using technology to shrink down full sized actors. I mean really – with what I’m assuming is somewhat of a dearth of roles for little people, it seems kind of obnoxious to not cast them in one of the few roles that actually calls for little people.

Julia Roberts seemed to be having a lot of fun as the Wicked Queen and I thought that Armie Hammer was particularly good as Prince Alcott (though his name is kind of ridiculous). Hammer was best known to me as playing both of the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network, but in Mirror, Mirror he was better able to showcase his comedic chops and he was fairly charming. He’s up next co-starring with Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger this summer (as the title role) and I think he’ll be very good, based on this performance.

 

Three very different films, but all enjoyable in their own way.  I’m not sure that Mirror, Mirror really belongs in the Academy Award discussion, but I don’t think it really has much of a chance to win regardless.  This may not have been the weekend that I envisioned, but I can think of worse ways to spend my time than watching a bunch of movies and inching closer to my goal.

The Impossible is in theaters now; Searching for Sugar Man and Mirror, Mirror are available on DVD. Mirror, Mirror is also currently available on Netflix streaming.

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