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Dec 06 2014

Screener Adventures From Big Hero to Budapest (Pt. 1)

Herewith a collection of fractured thoughts to along with my fractured toe (a piece of advice: never stub your toe so violently that your toe is swollen and purple by the end of the night and you have trouble walking for a week afterwards).I'd never have time for full articles on any of these so let's race through.

The Homesman
Contrary to popular belief I am more than willing to praise the Swankster when she deserves it.While it's true that I was very hostile ten years ago during theMillion Dollar Babyyear (I struggle with hostility in any category in any year wherein the least of the five seems to have a free ride to gold...even if they've already won!) I supported her first Oscar win and you can't ever takeBoys Don't Cryaway from her.What we have here in  Tommy Lee Jones peculiar feminist western is her second best performance.I found her unflinching stillness whenever menfolk dismissed her as "plain"to be quite moving and she plays the saddest piano of all time,a cloth fascimile she drapes in front of her.That said,though I loved several elements of the film and found the concept and even the difficult structure intriguing,I don't think the film manages to come together well.Its parts are greater than their sum.No spoilers here but I'm a wee bit surprised that Swank has garnered as much Oscar buzz as she has -despite still being a longshot- given that her role is not as large or as fulfilling as you assume it will be in the first act.

The Skeleton Twins
Not quite sure how I missed this one earlier in the year but it was a huge success with my friends when we finally screend it.And that "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now"musical number slays - just perfection.The comedy,though,is surprisingly dark and the tone a mite unstable so it's easy to see why the movie never quite broke out despite gathering some devout fans and a loneGotham Awardnomination.It hesitates at the edge of its drama sequences as if to say 'for your consideration:seriousacting from funny people' and teeters near its comic sequences like 'do we really want to do this?' before caving;you can'tnotlet Wiig and Hader be funny.Still that "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now"musical number just slays.Is anything funnier than slow burn Kristen Wiig silliness?

Big Hero 6
While the adults talked in the other room on Thanksgiving I played this one for my friends's kids to keep them occupied.I was pushing forThe Boxtrollsbut,I don't know if you know this,kids turn out to be kind of stubborn;they like what they like.They were already obsessed with Baymax and rather than watching something new,they wanted the inflatable super-nurse again.I watched a few scenes again but remain only a mild fan of it.It wouldn't be on my final ballot in this competitive Animated Feature year.Nevertheless turns out it's hilarious and endearing to say goodbye to little kids after they've watched this movie.They all want to do a fist bump and will giggle like little maniacs if you play along and do Baymax's robotic jazz finger trill as their parents button them up for the cold outside.

The Babadook
At the risk of turning this blog intoThe Babadook Experience(What?We like it).I'll be brief.This movie is really good.It's one of the very few movies this year that my best friend,who it might surprise you to hear does not much like movies,was willing to see and he loved it.He's been whispering at me randomly in a croaky voice "ba-ba-doooooook"without warning.The movie was just as creepy the second time but way more fun since I wasn't watching it alone.But Thanksgiving was a really really weird and,let's face it,unfortunate time to release it since a) it's probably not Oscar eligible given the Direct TV premiere and b) it could have used October's creepy crawly box office friendly trends.It makes no sense to me at all.It's not like it would have been forgotten for top ten season with a debut that was simply one month earlier?

Grand Budapest Hotel
My friends all wanted to see this one so we rented it from Netflix before I even got the FYC screener.I can't quite figure why I was so stand-offish about it back in March when I named it Wes Anderson's second worst (just slightly better thanThe Life Aquatic).While I still wouldn't call it his best as so many critics did during the initialBudapestlove-in (The Royal Tenenbaumsremains untouchable IMO) it's so much better than I had understood.So I stand corrected,which is not something I'll admit to every day when it comes to the movies -- for example I'm totally right aboutInherent Vice.I don't care how many top ten lists it makes: Blech!.On second viewing ofBudapestthe manic energy no longer grates or feels oppressive but intermittently flavorful and in service to its idiosyncratic comedy.And the pieces which always struck me as glorious: Ralph Fiennes out-of-time elegance and superbly pitched performance (it's a real pity he's not locked up inthat Best Actor race;he should be) and the exquisitely scrumptuous production design and costumes are even better on repeat viewings.

Normally eye candy movies are better on the big screen but this one played much better for me at home.Go figure.

Have you changed your mind about a movie recently or been surprised by one you thought you'd be cooler to?

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Reader Comments (26)

so relieved you came around to the joys ofthe grand budapest hotel- now i only have to deal with the disappointment of ampas underappreciating it

December 6,2014 | Unregistered Commenterpar

SawThe Homesmanlast night and very much enjoyed its weird choices.Nothing happened as expected,and that's something I can rarely say about a movie.The film looks great and is very well acted (haven't been this fond of the work of TLJ or Ms.Swank in awhile).But it's just too off-kilter—in the way that some westerns used to be—for most audiences and the Academy,I think.Swank was at the screening and did a Q&A afterward.She was quite the chatty dork.

December 6,2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

I would be pleased to come around on "Budapest"- I was similarly unenthused by it,but was still interested enough to wonder what I missed.It just felt awfully cold,even sterile - especially compared to his early films where character was very much a driving force."Budapest"seems far more intent on design and racing through plot.It also feels like Saorise Ronan's entire storyline got cut,to the point where I almost wonder if Anderson was trying for "faux adaptation"verisimilitude by including the same kind of weird gaps that actual book-to-film adaptations often indulge in/fall victim to.

December 6,2014 | Unregistered CommenterDave S

I very much appreciated how completely unpredictable The Homesman ended up being,and man are you not kidding about Swank's character's trajectory.She is excellent,as is Jones.It's not quite the sum of its best parts,but its best parts are really something else.Jones is a really interesting director.I hope it's not another 9 years between movies for him.

Glad you warmed to Budapest.Now you should give The Life Aquatic another try so you can come around on it too :)

December 6,2014 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

While I understand your reasoning,I still don't begrudge Swank her second Oscar.It is a good performance in a movie that emerged as a frontrunner very late in the season to everyone's surprise.What I still can't understand is how Annette Bening became her closest competition.Bening was good (hardly a surprise) but she wasn't quite as remarkable as the other three ladies either.In a toss up between Swank and Bening,I can live with Swank winning even though I love the Bening.

That year was a rarity in that it gave us Best Actress nominees from four universally acclaimed movies that actually centered around the women instead of filling the roster with good performances in middling movies.Ironically,Swank's closest competition and the source of much of disdain thrown Swank's way fits that bill.In retrospect,MDB doesn't hold up to the other three but,within that moment,critics loved Swank's performance.She might be the weakest in her year in purely relative terms but she gives a performance that is better than some of the other recent winners.

I was more frustrated when Lawrence,Bullock,Witherspoon,to name a few,won.In Witherspoon's case becasue AMPAS failed to nominate Joan Allen for her incredible performance.

December 7,2014 | Unregistered Commenterdela

One friend of mine who watched The Homesman told me Swank could have been campaigned as supporting.Is he crazy?

December 7,2014 | Unregistered CommenterMirko

Mirko,that's a good question.The movie has a weird structure in which she drives the film...until suddenly,she doesn't.So,I see why they're campaigning her as Lead,though in this case Supporting may not have been as far-fetched (thenagain,Nathaniel's the one leading the anti-category fraud crusade around here,so let's see what he has to say)...

December 7,2014 | Unregistered CommenterRichter Scale

That is *not* a supporting role by any stretch.Unusual structure and arc,sure,but she's the lead.They both are,she and Tommy Lee.

December 7,2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

i'm with Paul.It's very adamantly a two lead movie.A baton pass from one lead to the next doesn't make either of them supporting players.though a different structure or an earlier or later baton pass might have.

even weirder to me than the unexpected arcs were that the insane women start feeling lik eplot devices rather than The Plot as it were.

December 7,2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I loved Swank in it,but why oh why people always take Tommy Lee Jones for granted.

He is one of the best actors around,but he is always in that box of grumpy.There's so much nuance in his silence,always.

He should have won the Oscar for Lincoln,but he's been great in In The Valley of Elah (he's PERFECT),No Country For Old Men,his own Cannes winner performance in Three Burials and now in this The Homesman.

Love him.

(About being corrected,you need to see The Immigrant again :) )

December 7,2014 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Is Janet Leigh leading in Psycho?I think so.

December 7,2014 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I love how i asked y'all what you've been corrected on and all the comments are "nathaniel,here's what else you should be corrected on.haha.NO,I SHOWED YOU MINE.YOU SHOW ME YOUR PAST ERRORS IN JUDGEMENT

December 7,2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

well,i've never been wrong...

December 7,2014 | Unregistered Commenterpar

I think like you Nat the roles trajectory hampers her chances but I say if a big film star comes out in praise of her then one of the last 2 spots is hers.

December 7,2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

I f this is the 2nd best what performances complete the top 5.

December 7,2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

I had a similar reaction to Grand Budapest Hotel.While I liked it when I first saw it,it seemed much more cohesive on a second viewing.And yes,how on Earth is Fiennes not a lock for a nomination?His work in it is marvelous (though of course Jake G is marvelous too - and it's not helping him either).Maybe some Anderson movies just need multiple viewings.I didn't like The Life Aquatic when I first watched it,but over time it's become one of my favorites of his.

December 7,2014 | Unregistered CommenterScottC

I think you should've trusted your first impulse about "Budapest."It's overwrought and merely antic when it should be witty.(If you're literary at all,the whole business about Stefan Zweig is off,too.) As for mistakes,I recently saw two movies that I haven't seen in years and revised my original feelings about them."Deliverance"is still an exciting movie,but I can't believe how amateurish Burt Reynolds's acting is and how banal and confused its attitudes are towards the environment and the lower-class backwoods people."Nashville"I didn't get when I saw it on TV as a teenager;I certainly didn't see how prescient it was about pop culture in American life.I actually remember hating it,probably because I've always associated country music with red-state politics.I still think Henry Gibson was miscast and Geraldine Chaplin was more irritating than satirical,but I was extremely moved by "Nashville"on this viewing,especially by Ronee Blakley's performance.I'm surprised you haven't championed her more;she's never had a great follow-up role,but she deserves adulation from actressexuals.Some actresses,like her and Falconetti,should be placed in the pantheon with just one role.(Idea for an article?) One of the great musicals of all time,in my opinion.

December 7,2014 | Unregistered CommenterOwen Walter

I'm totally right about Inherent Vice.I don't care how many top ten lists it makes: Blech!

INHERENT VICE is a comedy.Comedy is personal and subjective.Of course the absurd tone of the piece is naturally alienating for most.And the lack of a completely comprehensible plot will also frustrate.The chaos on display is meant to be embraced as cinematic jazz.

December 7,2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

I would've liked Grand Budapest Hotel more if there hadn't been that really over-the-top chase sequence in the mountains.It reminded me that I also couldn't stand the part of Moonrise Kingdom where all the characters started running around like in a Benny Hill sketch that ended with the boy getting hit by lightning.The manic silliness undermines the poignancy in Wes Anderson's films.I hope he'll do another stop-motion animation at some point,because I loved Fantastic Mr.Fox and his style works better in that medium.

December 7,2014 | Unregistered CommenterJan

Oof.If anything was going to worry me more than "Inherent Vice"getting compared to "Lebowski",it's hearing it compared to jazz.Really sounding like it's not my cuppa.

December 7,2014 | Unregistered CommenterDave S

These are the movies I rewatched this year for whatever reason:
Up,eXistenZ,Lost Highway,Hysterical Blindness,The cook,the thief,his wife and her lover,Henry - Portrait of a serial killer,Tarnation,Mean Girls,Year of the Dog,Capote,Inland Empire,City of God,Julia (77),The Exterminating Angel,Looking for Mr.Goodbar,Maps to the Stars and Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I would say the one I changed my opinion on was Capote,mainly because now that I had read In Cold Blood and also watched Richard Brooks's film version,the whole behind-the-scenes thing was very interesting to me.But,boy,does Miller's screenwriter Futterman have a way with climaxes: they happen to close to the end (one of the many problems with Foxcatcher).Another script problem for me is that the most interesting aspects of the story (the relationship between Capote and Lee and Capote's feelings for Perry in Capote,the relationship between DuPont and his mother) are hardly given any focus.It's an annoyance to me.

Also,I loved the performances even more in Hysterial Blindness (Thurman,Lewis and Rowlands - just kill me right now!!!)

Tarnation seemed a little dated now in its editing style,not to say it isn't one of it's strengths.It does remain impactful,though.

December 7,2014 | Unregistered CommenterMr.Goodbar

"I love how i asked y'all what you've been corrected on ..."

..or "been surprised by one you thought you'd be cooler to?"Well,I did expect to be cooler towardsThe Homesman.;-)

@cal roth: I would say Janet Leigh is supporting inPsycho,and Hitchcock's protagonist shift seems more "clever"than "organic"to me,if that makes any sense.

December 7,2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Your kids made the right decision.Big Hero 6 is a much better animated film than The Boxtrolls.

December 7,2014 | Unregistered CommenterTrevor

I got my parents to watch Blue Ruin and Snowpiercer with me over Thanksgiving (my second viewing for each) and they HATED them both.(My countryfolk parents do not take well to people who don't know how to operate guns,it turns out.) Now,I'm all self-conscious about my enjoyment of them.

Also,I expected to hate The Imitation Game but turns out that I'm a bigger fan than anyone on TFE's recent podcast about it.I don't get the hate that people have just because it didn't belabor the part of Turing's life that they wanted to hear about.One still got the gist and isn't a lack of subtlety precisely the thing one would worry about from a Weinstein biopic?

December 7,2014 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Nat - "even weirder to me than the unexpected arcs were that the insane women start feeling lik eplot devices rather than The Plot as it were."

RIght!What happened there?For a "feminist"Western those 3 weren't very developed at all.Although I did like a few scenes between Swank and the individual women that alluded to how the line between "sane"and "insane"is blurrier than we'd like to imagine (like that brief scene with Swank talking about missing trees and then popping the food in the woman's mouth).

Also,if no one ever questions whether Nicole Kidman is a lead in "The Hours,"and let's remember she technically was only in a third of the movie,then no one should doubt leads like Swank.

December 7,2014 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

I have stood by Wes Anderson when several of my film fanatic friends have made fun of me.And I have to say I think Grand Budapest is one of his best films despite the varied accents of the actors.My personal favorites are Rushmore,The Darjeeling Limited and Fantastic Mr.Fox.I need to watch The Royal Tenenbaums again,I haven't seen it in years.

December 8,2014 | Unregistered CommenterDaveylow

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