Marathoning the Best Picture Nominees: Thoughts on a Second Viewing

Marathoning the Best Picture Nominees: Thoughts on a Second Viewing

Now that The Artist has officially won Best Picture, we can all agree that the best film won, right?  Wrong.

On Saturday, Jules and I made our way downtown to the AMC River East theater for the annual Best Picture Showcase.  This was our first year at the event, and though AMC typically splits the screening of all best picture nominees to two Saturdays (when there are more than 5 nominated films), River East was the only theater in town to offer a marathon screening of all 9 of this year's Best Picture nominees.  We got to the theater about an hour early to grab our seats, and waited for the first film (Hugo 3D) to start at 11 a.m.  Try as we might, we didn't make it through all 9, leaving after the sixth film ended at about 1:00 a.m.  Though to be honest, I wasn't sad to miss seeing Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close again.  Seriously, where the frak are Harry Potter and Drive on the short list of Best Pics?  But I digress.

I had already seen all of this year's nominees prior to going to the marathon.  I was looking forward to seeing them again, and seeing which movies got better on second viewing and which of them fell from grace.  I was surprised by the results.  Going in to the marathon, here's how I would have ranked the 9 nominated films on a quality scale:

1. Moneyball

2. The Artist

3. War Horse

4. The Descendants

5. The Help

6. The Tree of Life

7. Hugo

8. Midnight in Paris

9. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

However, a second viewing can do a lot for a movie.  Some are meant to be viewed more than once.  Others aren't.  Here's my new ranking.  After the list, I'll break down what I said before for each movie, what I'm saying now, and why the difference.

1. Moneyball

2. The Descendants

3. Hugo

4. Midnight in Paris

5. War Horse

6. The Help

7. The Tree of Life

8. The Artist

9. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Let's start with:

MONEYBALL

What I said then: "Moneyball should prove to be a mighty threat at this year's Oscars.  Nominations for Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay are all but guaranteed.  Yes, it is that damn good."  ***** stars.

What I say now: Still my favorite of the 9 nominees, though Drive may have usurped it as my favorite film of last year.  The long-ass awards season diluted the threat of Moneyball, allowing upstarts like Hugo and The Artist to claim last-minute frontrunner status and keep running with it.  I love the script for Moneyball though (my pick for best of the year, and the one award Moneyball objectively deserved to win) and Brad Pitt's relaxed, confident performance as Billy Beane.  Even if you don't give a lick about baseball, the core story of two outsiders trying to challenge the establishment is an immediate hook.  A superbly entertaining studio drama.  ***** stars.

Why the difference: No difference.

THE DESCENDANTS

What I said then: "a smart and finely tuned movie that's worth seeing."  ***1/2 stars.

What I say now: Navigates the tricky balance of comedy and drama with aplomb and has a lot to say about the human condition, without ever coming across as preachy or obvious.  Alexander Payne strikes the perfect tone, and the whole movie is carried on George Clooney's hugely talented shoulders.  He truly deserved the Oscar for Best Actor - his role here is such a dynamic one.  He nails every scene and runs the gamut of emotions.  Shailene Woodley wuz robbed of a best supporting actress nomination - she is fantastic as the older daughter.  **** stars.

Why the difference: The Descendants is the kind of modest character drama that benefits from repeat viewings, and doesn't necessarily need to be seen on a big screen in order to enjoy it.  I was really impressed with Clooney's performance the second time.  I had just kind of taken it for granted on the first go-round.

HUGO

What I said then: "the weird tonal shift from Oliver Twist-style orphan shenanigans in a subway to film class lecture on the history of cinema did not really jive, or even make much sense. "  **1/2 stars.

What I say now: An epic big screen adventure, told by a master filmmaker with the best production team in the world helping make his vision come to life.  The 3D is phenomenal - the best since Avatar.  Scorsese may not have brought out all of the comedy inherent in many of the subway station bits, but his love of movies always shines through.  The story makes complete sense and though the movie doesn't end up where you think it will, that doesn't take away from its enjoyment.  **** stars.

Why the difference: Probably a good idea not to watch any movie of substance on Thanksgiving evening after eating a ton of turkey.  You're tired, restless, and your stomach is full.  It made a huge difference to start off the day seeing Hugo, fully rested and open to allowing the movie's considerable charms to work on you.

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS

What I said then: "Though he's had plenty of practice, releasing a film a year for the last three decades or so, Allen stubbornly refuses to make a movie with anything resembling modern sensibilities.  Some may appreciate the retro, low-key charms that Midnight in Paris has to offer.  I'm not one of them."  ** stars.

What I say now: Owen Wilson is the best actor to play a Woody surrogate character since...wow, I don't know.  Wilson is perfect here.  The cinematography by Darius Khondji is gorgeous.  Paris looks awesome.  The music is memorable.  The comedy can still be a little pretentious, but the actors playing Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Dali have a lot of fun with their roles.  Rachel McAdams is a giant bitch in it.  Woody makes a great case for moving to Paris and walking in the rain.  ***1/2 stars.

Why the difference: I've seen Midnight in Paris three times now, and I like it more each time.  There was a time when I was into Woody Allen - right after graduating from college.  He's made so much shit since then (Match Point aside) that I think I was just resistant to the movie's charms the first time.  Midnight is a Woody film through and through, and it just took me a while to remember why I used to like those.

THE TREE OF LIFE

What I said then: "Within the first minute ofThe Tree of Life, you know that you're in the hands of a world-class filmmaker working at the top of his game.  I have no doubt that the movie I saw is exactly the movie that Malick set out to make.  I just wish it had some entertainment value.  Hell, any entertainment value."  **1/2 stars.

What I say now: I loved seeing The Tree of Life again on a big screen.  The imagery is so powerful and transfixing.  As an arty mood piece, The Tree of Life succeeds.  Demands to be seen by serious moviegoers.  But it still doesn't work as a piece of entertainment.  It's more of an endurance test.  **1/2 stars.

Why the difference: No real difference.  Still love the visuals.  Still don't love the movie itself.

THE HELP

What I said then: "The acting is stellar (look for Viola Davis' name come Oscar time), but the story is rather shapeless.  It never goes anywhere or builds to anything.  It just sort of rambles on, looking like it could go for 10 hours...."  *** stars.

What I say now: The Help is a crowd-pleasing drama, boasted by fine performances all around by its mostly female cast.  Great to see so many fine actresses get to chew into meaty parts, with the focus always on them.  The filmmaking (by Tate Taylor) is rather pedestrian and nothing special though.  I know I should resist such an obviously mainstream, racially feel-good movie like this, but I couldn't do it.  I like The Help - more for the performances than anything else.  Viola Davis really is great in it.  Our moms will love it.  ***1/2 stars.

Why the difference: I first saw The Help at 11pm where there was only one other person in the theater.  The second time the house was packed and I could see the movie work like gangbusters on its intended audience.

THE ARTIST

What I said then: "The actors and tone aim to please audiences, and the charm quotient is high.  Grows a bit thematically repetitive by the end.   The Artist is a cute novelty."  **** stars.

What I say now: Cute for about 45 minutes and then it wears out its welcome.  Would have been an amazing 20-minute short film.  Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo are both fantastic.  Clever and likeable, but slight.  Nothing groundbreaking here.  Not the Best Picture of 2011, no matter what the Academy might say.  *** stars.

Why the difference: If you've seen it once, you've seen all it has to offer.  There really isn't enough going on here to reward repeat viewings.

 

And then there are the movies that we didn't stay for.  There are only two that I haven't seen more than once.  I do plan on seeing War Horse again, but sorry Extremely Loud - it's one and done for you.

WAR HORSE

What I said then: "A little corny, sure, but Spielberg's keen eye, spectacular cinematography by longtime collaborator Janusz Kaminski, and John Williams' epic score make this a solid entry in the Best Picture race."  **** stars.

EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE

What I said then: "the most emotionally false "feel-good" studio drama I've seen since Pay It Forward."  *1/2 stars.

Filed under: Movies, Reviews

Tags: AMC, Best Picture, film, movies, Oscars, reviews

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