Well, there's just not a lot out there that I'm at all excited in seeing right now. The big Oscar bait is flooding the theatres and I just couldn’t care less about a lot of them. Here are some thoughts about films I've seen and films I haven't seen.
DOUBT and FROST/NIXON -- sorry, just plain not interested. I saw both as plays on Broadway, and was extremely unimpressed with DOUBT and liked the fine performance of Frank Langella as Nixon. There's nothing about either film that really makes me want to shell out NYC movie ticket prices for them. They can wait for HBO, and even then I doubt I'll bother with DOUBT, because I just couldn't care less about it. Didn't like the play, am not interested in La Streep's take on the role, and I'm positively allergic to that Philip Seymour Hoffman person.
HAPPY-GO-LUCKY -- a tasty surprise from Mike Leigh. Sally Hawkins has been winning a good number of critics' awards for her performance as Poppy, an almost unquenchably positive woman living in London. Just because she's relentlessly upbeat doesn't mean she doesn't sometimes get pissed off, however. The film hasn't much of a plot, but I'm sure that repeat viewings will reveal a lot more going on than meets the eye. The film mainly consists of Poppy's interactions with assorted people: her roommate, her students, one young student who seems to be the victim of abuse at home, assorted members of her family, and most memorably a driving instructor named Scott. People have differing reactions to Poppy's surface breeziness, mistaking it for a lack of good sense or even a rebuke to their own ways of looking at the world. A fascinating group of character studies, not a dull moment in it. I'd love to see it again.
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE -- One of the best received movies of the year. Probable Oscar nominee, and almost certain winner of Best Adapted Screenplay. Saw it over the weekend. Annoyed the living daylights out of me. A mostly simple rags to riches story of a young man who rises from the slums to India to the final round of the Indian version of I WANT TO BE A MILLIONAIRE. There's a novel narrative gimmick. Having risen to the finals of MILLIONAIRE, the hero has been arrested on allegations of cheating, and the film consists mainly of his flashbacks as he recounts the story of his life to explain to the police how he has acquired such arcane information, before he can go on to the final round. Okay, cool. Neat idea, I'm down with that. The film is certainly well made, and the acting is beyond reproach.
It isn't a bad movie by any means. I just got really really really tired of the non-stop emotional manipulation at work. Director Danny Boyle loads on the MTV Editing (executed with a skill that has eluded certain other practitioners, by the way) and the loud music and fancy hand held camerawork and basically every possible device in his arsenal to Ramp Up The Emotion full blast. I'll admit that I had certain feelings while watching the film, but I wasn't having them because I was getting involved in the story or getting interested in the characters or having my own responses. I was having feelings because my Emotion Buttons were being pushed, and pushed, and pushed again. And then pushed again. Exactly when they started using a jackhammer on those buttons remains unclear to me, but it was about the time that I started to develop a bad headache. Only MAMMA MIA has worked harder recently to push each and every emotional button, over and over and over again, to the point where it ceases to mean anything.
It got simply exhausting, and I've seldom been so glad to see credits roll in my life. Again -- not a bad movie. Its heart is definitely in the right place. It is just pushy to the point of being irritating.
MILK -- I'd been avoiding it, afraid that I was in for a lot of Preaching to the Choir. I'm so glad to have been proven wrong. An all around excellent film, I thought, the kind of thing that makes me wonder why more movies aren't as generally good as this one. A good solid piece of movie, that proves that Message Movies needn't be insults to the intelligence, that emotional responses can be elicited without resorting to drastic SLUMDOG-type measures. The acting is across the board excellent. Sean Penn finally delivers a performance of real grace and humor along with the expected power and intensity: this is what happens when he finally plays a human being, I guess. And Josh Brolin's Dan White is splendid, a sad dumb clueless straight guy who just can't seem to understand why things don't go exactly the way he wants them to. You can just see him Not Getting It. I know there have been some complaints that the film rather sanitizes the story, but it didn't feel sanitized to me. The ugly little subplot with Milk's overly dependent boyfriend was sufficiently messy, it kept me from thinking that Milk was a just plaster Gay Saint.