Monday, January 26, 2009

Movies: Frost/Nixon, Benjamin Button, and The Wrestler

It’s the time of the year when all would-be Oscar pundits have to try and catch up with the end-of-the-year glut of prestige pics, and I’m no different. I’ve even sacrificed seeing The Unborn, which is normally the kind of cheesy horror flick I’d be all over, in order to get Oscar prepped. I’m excited to finally be in on the awards loop. When I was in college, I kept up with television because I could watch it at 3 a.m. while working on papers, and I kept up with literature because that was my major, but I fell behind in movies because taking three or four hours off to go see something in the theatre just wasn’t an option. Last year when I watched the Oscars, for example, the only nominated movies I’d seen were Enchanted and Juno. Of course, it would be easier to get caught up if most of the nominated films hadn’t been released in the past month, but the NYT’s David Carr addresses that better than I ever could. At any rate, here’s my take on a few of the newly-anointed Must Sees.

Of the two Broadway-to-film adaptations of the year, Frost/Nixon is my clear favorite. In fact, it’s one of my favorite films of 2008, hands down. Anyone who has read All the President’s Men already knows that the journalistic digging of Woodward and Bernstein was the most interesting facet of the whole Watergate case, and Frost/Nixon now provides an excellent companion piece for any aspiring journo. Frank Langella and Michael Sheen are perfect as Richard Nixon and David Frost, their rat-a-tat back and forths provide some of the most exciting on-screen scenes I’ve seen in years, and they’re surrounded by a talented supporting cast that provide a few moments of levity. This is a sharp, smart movie, and I truly hope it gets some kind of reward on Oscar night.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
This movie, on the other hand, disappointed greatly. It’s shot beautifully, has many warm and wonderful moments, and is mostly well acted, but there are two glaring problems that kept it from fully gelling for me. First is the framing technique of a present day narrative with Cate Blanchett’s character on her deathbed in the midst of Hurricane Katrina, reflecting on Benjamin’s life story, which serves as the bulk of the movie proper. The present day narrative does nothing to add to the main story, and in fact served only to pull me out of the story every time I started to get sucked in. The other problem is the title character. If you take away the fact that he’s aging in reverse, Benjamin Button is really dull as hell. He’s reactive, not proactive, mostly bouncing around wherever life takes him. He has no truly shining moments where he does something spectacular or interesting, aside from aging backwards. Brad Pitt’s performance is pretty lackluster, too, a little deadpan and a lot dead-around-the-eyes. Every other character and actor/actress in the movie dazzles, there are fine performances all around, but without anything to really play off of with such a dull central character, the whole thing falls flat.

The Wrestler
Mickey Rourke gives a great performance in what is a really good movie. The best movie of the year, no, but better than The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Milk, both of which got nods for picture of the year. Director Darren Aronofsky would have done well to tighten the first act up a bit, but by act two it really starts rolling and culminates in a surprising, moving third act. I really like that the movie doesn’t go for the typical schmaltz that comeback/underdog films usually go for – this is a movie that will stay with you for a while after the credits roll. Although I do feel compelled to say that I grew up in the town next to the town where most of this movie was set and shot, and believe me, that area of New Jersey is nowhere near as depressing as The Wrestler makes it out to be. Seriously.


Sex Mahoney for President said...

I watched all the best picture movies last year, and it was the most boring day of my life. There needs to be more hardcore pornography in the best picture category.

That's why The Wrestler should win, because Marisa Tomei gets naked.

If only I didn't hate Darren Aronofsky so much.


smd said...

The Wrestler is better than any Darren Aronofsky picture has a right to be. Besides, we've got the town-next-to-our-hometown pride to think about!

Sex Mahoney for President said...

I just watched The Wrestler and you're absolutely right. It was better than it should have been. Go Rahway.

smd said...

Isn't that crazy? I was like, jeez, Aronofsky, way to prove me wrong. (No worries, I'm sure his next film will be back to sucking.)