Every summer my wife and I like to have theme TV watching. It’s a thing with us and is kind of a fun way to pass the hot nights, hiding away in our air-conditioned living room.
Okay, maybe it makes us sound a little cute. But what can I say? Yes… Yes, we are a cute couple.
Artistic, snobby, witty, literary, but very, very cute.
Last summer was a Doctor Who summer, working our way through all of the recent variations of the good Doctor. The summer before that was our WA summer, which were movies by Wes Anderson and Woody Allen. Then there was our Charles Dickens summer, and on and on.
This year we struggled a little over what we were going to choose. I was arguing a while for a “catch up” summer, which meant we catch up on shows that we never got around to watching (Orange is the New Black, for example). I get that it was an “easy out” choice, but there were just random things I was interested in and linking them was a little difficult.
Finally, we finally settled on an Oscar summer (no, there are no tuxedos and evening gowns involved), which means we are checking out the films we have not had a chance to watch yet. My main focus has been checking out some of the films nominated for Best Screenplay, which is obviously my favorite category.
I thought it would be interesting to keep a running tally of the films we have checked out and some of my thoughts on them. Here are the first five:
American Hustle. Wow, this was a fun film. An easy comparison for it is the classic The Sting, but it doesn’t have the surprises and twists that the other has, only sharing the aspect of the con. It is more playful and much more a character study than that film ever was. The lives and loves of real con artists. It was nominated in 10 different categories at the Oscars this year, but did not win in any of them. I was a little sad after watching it and learning how inaccurate it was to the actual events. That is a little disappointing. I know I expect too much of Hollywood to follow the facts (especially if they involve real people still alive), since it has to be about the story (and films already have to work within limitations- time, perspective, etc.), but I kind of wish the events all went down like in this movie.
Philomena. I don’t know exactly what I expected from this film. I’ve always liked Steve Coogan, and my wife is obsessed with Judi Dench (that is not a joke, she has books, the complete seasons of As Time Goes By, and even an autograph). I knew it was kind of a “buddy” road movie, but the element of adoption and people’s children being stolen by the Catholic church really blindsided me. This doesn’t make the film difficult to watch, just a lot more emotional than you would have expected from the cute posters around the film. From what I can understand this movie is more accurate than American Hustle (which makes a lot of the reveals in it amazing), but one key moment (one great dramatic moment, let me emphasize) was fake and could never have happened. A pure creation. Man, that really disappointed me when I learned that. Would the film still have worked without this powerful scene? Yes, I think so. But I wish it actually happened in our reality.
The Last Station. I keep going up and down about this film. The film follows the last months in the life of Leo Tolstoy. In the film he is struggling between his political beliefs and the love of his wife. He wants to give all of the rights away from his work, while she demands he keeps them in the family, giving some financial security to those he loves. Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren are really great in the film, my issue is with the script. See, we are introduced to an almost religious following around Tolstoy and his writing, however, we never really learn WHY these zealots feel that way about him. What did he say to drive this infatuation? If you are not familiar with Tolstoy’s writing and politics, you can’t help scratching your head. So what does Tolstoy spend most of his time talking about in the film? Sex… Pretty much just sex. He is almost something like a comic relief in every scene he appears (if he is not arguing with someone). That issue with the script makes it hard for me to really put my finger on the film. Nice direction, great acting, but… why?
Silver Linings Playbook. After seeing American Hustle, we wanted to see another film by director David O. Russell. I also had the pleasure of reviewing Matthew Quick’s new book The Good Luck of Right Now a few months ago for WKAR (which you can find and listen to here), and since I liked that book, I thought this would be fun since it is based on an earlier work. The funny thing is I could not stop comparing it to The Good Luck of Right Now. You have eccentric and injured individuals, somewhat comedic, finding peace in a new family. Also, I found the plot a little too predictable, especially around the end where we click into the norms of a romantic-comedy. A nice little film, certainly, but I’m not sure if it really deserved all of the hubbub it got. I will say though I am glad Jennifer Lawrence took home the Oscar for this; it’s too bad Bradley Cooper didn’t win also.
The Grand Budapest Hotel. Okay, I am sneaking this one in. This film is too new to be nominated for anything. BUT if I have my way, it should win next year… well… I want this to win Best Picture, Best Director, Best Costumes, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, EVERYTHING. I am a Wes Anderson fan, and I feel lucky to be around while he is making movies. Before this film it was hard for me to put my finger on what was my favorites of his films (I go back and forth all the time), but I think The Grand Budapest Hotel has just locked in that first place for me. Also, as a writer, I loved the theme of storytelling and how a reader connects to a tale, no matter how much time there is between the stories. Just a beautiful film, and I highly recommend it.
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