The first half of AMC Theatres' Best Picture showcase took place yesterday, affording die-hard movie fans and those eager to see all of the year's expanded nominees a chance to catch them in two Saturday marathons. I sat in on three yesterday and expect to do so again next week. I've seen three of the remaining four and chose to skip one entirely (call me a less-than-completely-dedicated critic).
Avatar - B+
I saw it in 3D this time, which was actually a pretty cool experience. I was also surprised how rewatchable it was. Still a little slow and occasionally painfully obvious, but it's a beautifully rendered and exciting popcorn cruncher.
Up in the Air - A-
Jason Reitman definitely has a flair for modern, sardonic comedy. Up in the Air may not be as charming as Juno or as dark as Thank You for Smoking but it's filled with wry wit and believable characters. George Clooney is typically rogueish as a corporate "hit man" who skips around the country firing people for a living. He lives a detached life built around airports, hotels and the pursuit of travel "rewards." More importantly, he's perfectly okay with this...until a young go-getter (Anna Kendrick) looking to reinvent his business and a beautiful fellow hard-traveler (Vera Farmiga) throw a few kinks into his perfected world.
Precious - B-
This is the kind of film that will make you despise the human race because you know somewhere it's probably happening. Sixteen year old Precious is abused in every facet of her life...physically and emotionally by her spiteful mother (nominated Mo'Nique) and classmates. She's also suffered sexual abuse by her absent father (a source of her mother's resentment), resulting in two pregnancies. All of this is unveiled in the first ten minutes or so...the rest of the film does give some hope as Precious finds some direction and kinship in an "alternative school," but the horrific circumstances of her world are unrelenting. It's bleak in its honesty and terrifyingly believable.
The Blind Side
In an effort not to be completely exhausted, I skipped the Sandra Bullock feel-gooder. I'm not casting any judgement on the film, but I think I can reasonably say that this movie would not be mentioned in the same sentence with Best Picture were it not for the expanded category.
Inglourious Basterds - B
(From my November 27th review) Quentin Taratino's latest piece of violent fiction is still distinctly his, but the premise and setting, following a troop of cutthroat (scalp?) WWII assassins and various Nazis, is new and helps elevate the film above quirk. In the end, it's a piece of revisionist fantasy, but a funny one filled with several moments of Tarantino's typical talking head dialogue pieces. Brad Pitt turns in another bizarre performance but Christoph Waltz turns in the best performance as a slick Nazi colonel.