I didn’t watch the Oscars, and for the first year in many, didn’t even try to watch all of the films that were nominated. At a certain point, I think I just realized that I don’t care what anyone in the establishment thinks about anything. Of course, I have Netflix, and since I still get the discs – four at a time plan – I tend to queue up anything that looks even remotely interesting. And recently, that has meant watching some of the Oscar nominated films that I didn’t get to/want to see in the cinema. I know. I know. I’m a conflicted sort.
The Wolf of Wall Street came out on Tuesday, and, even though the disc was at the top of my queue, Netflix sent me About Time, a time traveling rom-com, instead. (I think it’s going to go unwatched for a while.) Now that Wolf is long wait, I probably won’t be seeing that for a billion years. Despite the fact that I do like Leonardo diCaprio, I wasn’t all that excited about this film when it came out in the cinema. For one, I’m not really a Martin Scorsese fan. Two, I loathe Jonah Hill. And three, I don’t see any reason to make a film that is one minute shy of three hours. At least if I get it at home, I can watch it in installments. And, if I don’t like it, I can shut it off, and send it back without feeling that I’ve wasted my money. This biopic based on the excessive lifestyle of stockbroker Jordan Belfort was nominated for five Oscars, including Motion Picture of the Year, but won nada.
Dallas Buyer’s Club came out a few weeks ago, and it was actually a film that I meant to see in the cinema, but I never got the chance. When it came out through Netflix, I also didn’t time it right, and it went into Very Long Wait mode. That’s where Redbox came to the rescue. Set in the 1985, at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, the biopic centers on electrician/hustler Ron Woodroof’s (Matthew McConaughey) fight to beat his “you have 30 days to live” diagnosis. The film was nominated for six Oscars, and won three; two of the wins were for acting: McConaughey and supporting player Jared Leto, who plays Rayon, someone who is transgender. Both performances deserved their wins, and the film should have earned more nominations. It was certainly far superior to the overhyped Gravity. Dallas Buyer’s Club is at times funny; at other times, very sad. Because I was too young in the mid-1980s to comprehend this new disease called AIDS – I only vaguely knew who Rock Hudson was – the film also proved educational for me. It filled in a lot of the blanks, so to speak. After his turns in Dallas Buyer’s Club, True Detective, Mud, and Killer Joe, McConaughey has become my go-to-man for quality, interesting projects. May he continue on this road for a long, long time. (FYI: He lost so much weight for this role that when you first see him, you will gasp. He looks like a skeleton wearing a wig, sunglasses, and cowboy hat. This was almost as shocking an appearance as Christian Bale’s in The Machinist.) Five out of five stars. This is an absolute must-see.
American Hustle came out last week, and … hmmm. I cannot for the life of me understand the buzz. Or the love. My film-watching companion was equally unimpressed. Not that this 1970s biopic (I’m seeing a trend) doesn’t have great actors in it. It does. In fact, I adore Christian Bale, who plays con man Irving Rosenfeld; Bradley Cooper, who plays an FBI agent; and Jeremy Renner, who plays a New Jersey politician, but no amount of star power could have made this film laudable. At 138 minutes, it felt very LONG; I didn’t think it would ever end. I am not a David O. Russell fan, and I can’t really name one film set during the 1970s that I like, so … I don’t know. It just didn’t work for me. Jennifer Lawrence got an Oscar nod for her supporting role as the mentally unbalanced, very young wife of Rosenfeld, but I felt she was too young for this part. And her performance was just a variation on her character in Silver Lining’s Playbook. I prefer her as Katniss Everdeen. Sorry. I realize that I’m in the minority, but I would give this film a skip. (Interestingly, it was nominated for 10 Oscars, and won none.) Two stars out of Five.
The Grandmaster, Wong Kar Wai’s biopic on the Ip Man (Tony Leung), known best for being Bruce Lee’s shifu, also came out this week, and because I had heard mixed reactions to it, wasn’t sure if I wanted to watch it or not. But I did. Today. And it deserved the mixed reactions. It’s a gorgeous film; very stylish, but then you know that’s Wong Kar Wai’s M.O., but it’s also kind of all over the place. I wouldn’t say the story was very memorable. It begins in the 1930s, and contains a lot of narration. The Ip Man came from a wealthy family, so he spent his first four decades learning martial arts, getting married, and building his family. Then the Japanese invade China and take over his home. Because he won’t capitulate to their rulership, he loses everything, including two daughters. In the 1950s, he moves to Hong Kong to earn a living. When China closes its borders, he finds that he can never go back and see his family. This is when he encounters, again, Gong Er (Ziyi Zhang), the daughter of a powerful, Northern, martial arts family, and he sort of rekindles his feelings for her. As I said, the story is all over the place. It’s sort of about his martial arts training, then it’s kind of about the Japanese Occupation, and it’s also kind of an unrequited love story. In the end, you see him training a young Bruce Lee. On the plus side, the costumes are gorgeous; the soundtrack, beautiful; and the cinematography, noteworthy. But Wong Kar Wai is sort of someone you love or you don’t. He creates sumptuous films; but I feel that he often seems as if he’s trying too hard. It’s style over substance. A weak Three Stars out of Five. (The Mandarin language film was nominated for two Oscars.)
Captain Phillips came out on DVD awhile ago – probably about a month or so – and it was another one of those films that I wasn’t all that keen on seeing. The subject matter didn’t interest me much, plus I had already endured a Somali pirates-taking-over-a-ship film. How many Somali pirate films can a person watch? The other film is the Danish made A Hijacking, which is also about a cargo ship that is boarded by Somali pirates, only in this case, the crew is held captive for months. I say endure, because what that crew encounters is unimaginable. They are holed up in a fetid room with toilets that don’t flush, and when the ship runs out of food, they must watch, and help, as the pirates drag live goats across the ship so that they can slaughter them! I was as traumatized by the experience as was the ship’s cook, played by Pilou Asbaek. Anyway, I watched Captain Phillips, and I found myself increasingly annoyed by the actions of the characters. By the end, I was shouting at the screen. Many people complained when Tom Hanks didn’t earn an Oscar nomination for his role as the ship’s captain, but I didn’t think his performance was all that noteworthy. I’ll go one step further and say that Captain Phillips wasn’t that exceptional or memorable a film. If you need to watch one Somali pirates film make it A Highjacking, although you should be ready to seek counseling afterward. Two Stars out of Five.
Nebraska is another recent DVD release. (It’s currently Long Wait on Netflix.) I actually saw this in the cinema – only because a friend had free tickets – and I thought it was OK – better than I thought it would be – but nothing to add to my DVD collection. With the exception of Sideways, I really haven’t liked any of Alexander Payne’s films, and I don’t understand why everyone thinks he’s the greatest gift to cinema. The best thing about Nebraska was the sweet, and very surprising, performance by Will Forte. He plays the younger, compassionate son who humors his father (Bruce Dern) in the belief that he’s won money in a sweepstakes. Dern plays his alcoholic/neglectful character as crotchety, curmudgeony … not likable in the slightest. But then Payne never really creates characters that I can stand. I find them difficult to endure. June Squibb is funny as the sassy mom, but I felt that some of her monologues were written more for shock value than authenticity. Despite the fact that Payne’s mom told him that this had to be shot in black-and-white, it did not. Two-and-One-Half Stars out of Five.
Blue Jasmine came out on DVD a while ago, and because its release coincided with the rape allegations against writer/director Woody Allen by his daughter, I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to see the film. I sat on it for awhile, and then one weekend, watched it. Worst decision ever. Cate Blanchett won Best Actress for her performance in the film, and I like Blanchett, but her character is insufferable. She’s a pretentious, pampered, Xanax popping alcoholic who, after her corrupt husband (Alec Baldwin) kills himself, is forced to move in with her lowbrow sister (Sally Hawkins), who has horrible taste in men. Watching the women’s trainwreck lives and loves wore me out. By the end, I didn’t care what happened to anyone in this film. I don’t think I would watch this again even if my life were threatened. One Star out of Five.
As far as some other Oscar nominated films are concerned, here’s the lowdown on their release dates: 12 Years a Slave comes out April 1. August: Osage County comes out April 8. Philomena, which I am anxious to see, comes out April 15, as does The Invisible Woman and Saving Mr. Banks. Inside Llewyn Davis is already available for rental, but I’ll probably wait until this summer to get it. It didn’t appeal to me at all. Gravity, which I saw in the cinema and hated, is already out on DVD. Her still doesn’t have a release date on Netflix, but then neither does The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, one of the few films that I saw in the cinema and loved. I do know that it comes out for purchase on April 8, and I’ll be buying it on Blu-ray!