Oscar-contending films raising questions
Commentary: Forget awards; what were filmmakers thinking?For just a moment, stop obsessing about which 10 movies the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who are now in the middle of marking their ballots, will nominate for best picture. Amid the year-end rush of new releases and blizzard of screeners, we've all been on a movie binge, so let's take a second to sort through some of those titles before they blur together. Because there are plenty of other questions to obsess over as the awards races move into high gear. Such as:
1. What's News Corp. got against trees? Rupert Murdoch's media empire, built on the back of his print business, certainly has turned many a tree into wood pulp, but now, in what could be read as an act of reparation, its Fox Filmed Entertainment unit has launched two movies that tree-huggers can embrace. First, in "Fantastic Mr. Fox," farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean, an agro-business in the making, team to destroy the mighty oak that houses Mr. Fox and his family. Then, in "Avatar," futuristic military-industrial complex guns take aim at the Na'vi's monumental Hometree before turning its big weapons on the Tree of Life. Both movies side with forest creatures and indigenous people, which, if nothing else, should burnish News Corp.'s green credentials.
2. Why apologize for making musicals? "Nine" director Rob Marshall might have just filmed a movie musical, but he seems uncomfortable with the genre, telling TheWrap.com, for example, that characters breaking into song on film can trigger "a cringe moment." His solution, in both "Chicago" and "Nine," is to turn the musical numbers into stylized fantasies. But audiences don't automatically recoil at every musical moment onscreen. Certainly, one of the year's most elating film scenes was Joseph Gordon-Levitt's loose-limbed, morning-after dance to the tune of Hall and Oates' "You Make My Dreams" in "(500) Days of Summer." (True, the actor himself didn't sing, but with the world around him giving him a high-five, who would have blamed him if he did?) Even though most of the country tunes in "Crazy Heart" are presented as part of staged performances, they too function as heartfelt musical confessions for Jeff Bridges' character Bad Blake. And, yes, it is animated, but Randy Newman's New Orleans in "The Princess and the Frog" is a place where inhabitants naturally break into song -- no questions asked.
3. What do women want? Part 1: Apparently, a bigger kitchen. In "Julie & Julia," Amy Adams' character understandably struggles to master the art of French cooking in her cramped New York walk-up apartment. In "It's Complicated," Meryl Streep's Santa Barbara-based pastry chef already has a prettily outfitted kitchen, but she wants an even bigger space as part of the addition Steve Martin's architect is hired to build. Contrast that with Streep's Julia Child, who seemingly needed only a sharp knife and mixing bowl when she set out to conquer the food world. When her husband does build her a kitchen in Cambridge, Mass., it's an entirely utilitarian affair, right down to its famous pegboard, which eventually ended up in the Smithsonian. Child's example might not have influenced kitchen design, but her cookbook did acquire iconic status. Witness the fact that it shows up in the beside stack of books that Rachel Weisz's character has amassed near the start of "The Lovely Bones."
4. What do women want? Part 2 (caution -- contains major spoilers): Apparently, not to be burdened by their kids. "Up in the Air" has been justifiably hailed as one of the best screen adaptations of the year, but Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner's screenplay throws a major curveball late in the third act when it reveals the secrets behind Vera Farmiga's Alex. She is introduced as the female equivalent of George Clooney's no-strings-attached road warrior. But even though when queried about the qualities she looks for in a man, she says he has to be good with kids, the movie barely hints at the actual woman behind the one-night stands -- and when it does, it throws her character somewhat out-of-whack. Similarly, the filmmakers behind "Bones" don't offer much explanation when that film's mother, played by Weisz, disappears from the film. Certainly, the death of a child, especially the sort of horrific death depicted in "Bones," is traumatic and can break up a family. But Weisz's mom simply seems to abandon her two surviving children. Not the film's most convincing plot choice.
5. Who's body is that anyway? This year, it was the men who resorted to body doubles. Although Alec Baldwin shows a fair amount of skin in "It's Complicated," he made one thing clear while promoting the movie: That isn't his derriere on film. A body double was recruited. (Baldwin has gone on to boast that his own backside is a lot more photogenic than the one that appears onscreen.) Young actor Nicholas Hoult, whose character of Kenny comes on to Colin Firth's professor in "A Single Man," looks like he's got nothing to worry about in the physique department. But that film's end credits also make mention that a body double stood in for Kenny. In fact, one of the few actors who let it all hang out was "The Hangover's" Ken Jeong, who bravely displayed his shortcomings, all for the sake of a laugh.