As Oscar Rush Time Approaches...
Here's where I stand right now in terms of movies that I've seen, want to see, and may want to see:
Movie most recently seen: RED CLIFF, or rather the condensed 2 1/2 hr version, cut for release in Western theaters, of John Woo's original 2-part extravaganza.
I'm not going to review it, mainly because my opinion has been heavily influenced by the opinions of others who tell me, on good authority, that it makes hash of both the history and literature on which it's based. "Red Cliff" purports to adapt the tale of a famous battle that took place during the 3rd-century Three Kingdoms period in China and is recounted in the even more famous Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The latter, for those of you who don't already know, is a classic work of Chinese literature that's basically the Asian equivalent of Homer's and Virgil's epics rolled into one. Having seen the film, all I'll say here is that it's great for visual spectacle - there are some truly fantastic action sequences - and the cast, which includes Takeshi Kaneshiro and the incomparable Tony Leung, bring plenty of star quality and sex appeal. But for accuracy...well, "Red Cliff" is about as faithful to its source material as "Troy" was to The Iliad. If that doesn't trouble you, then by all means go see it. Just don't assume that anything you see bears any resemblance to the original story.
If you want a more incisive and well-informed critique of "Red Cliff," check out my friend Jeff's review of the original uncut version. He comes down hard on the movie, but he knows what he's talking about - and I know others, well versed in The Three Kingdoms, who agree.
Movies currently out that I want to see:
FANTASTIC MR. FOX: Apparently the Wes Anderson film for people who hate Wes Anderson. As one of the latter (actually, I don't hate him, I just find him annoyingly twee - though I did like "Rushmore"), I'm curious.
ME & ORSON WELLES (not yet released in D.C.): Unlikely to be a serious Oscar contender in any category; nonetheless, I still want to see it, if only for the performance of the kid who plays young Orson Welles...No, not Zac Efron (though he's in it and I like him, too).
UNCERTAINTY (not yet released in D.C.): Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lynn Collins play a young couple in parallel storylines, both set in New York. That description is a lot less interesting than some of the reviews I've read. Check out Salon and the NY Times.
BROKEN EMBRACES (not yet released in D.C.): Pedro Almodóvar's latest has not been garnering the rapturous praise that's usually showered on his work, but I'm intrigued by how much this movie seems to be a beautiful love letter to movies in general. Also, Penelope Cruz really shines in Almodóvar films.
BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS: Nicolas Cage crazy put to good use. Werner Herzog at the helm. Hallucinated iguanas. Sounds profoundly weird but potentially fascinating.
THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG (not yet released in D.C.): I still can't figure out what exactly the plot of this movie is or why the heroine is dressed up as a princess when from what I understand she's a cook in 1920's New Orleans...but glowing early reviews and nostalgia, despite my better judgment, for the Disney princesses of my youth may bring me to this one. Awaiting more reviews.
Movies I'm trying to muster up the will to see:
PRECIOUS: Searing drama that puts a human face on an invisible underclass, or exploitative poverty porn that feeds off white liberal guilt? I'd like to judge for myself, but I'm not sure I have the stomach to watch the nonstop abuse that gets inflicted on the main character.
THE ROAD: Though the generally tepid reviews have probably doomed its Oscar chances (except maybe for acting), I'm curious to see how it measures up to the book. Also, I'm a Viggo Mortensen fan. But oy, the book was brutal, and the movie by all accounts no less so.
Upcoming movies I want to see:
UP IN THE AIR: I haven't been too excited by the trailers, but George Clooney's been on a roll lately, and the buzz coming out of the Toronto Int'l Film Festival for this film was very strong.
NINE: Early reports have been promising for "Chicago" director Rob Marshall's second movie musical, and the cast - Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Sophia Loren - speaks for itself.
A SINGLE MAN: Tiny arthouse picture about the day in the life of a grieving gay man (based on a book by Christopher Isherwood that I read in college but don't remember all that well) has been picking up huge Oscar buzz for star Colin Firth. Rest of cast, which includes Julianne Moore and others I'm forgetting, is also promising.
INVICTUS: Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Co-starring Matt Damon. Based on an inspiring true story. Um, unless Clint totally misfired on this one, there's no way it isn't going to be an Oscar frontrunner. But we'll see what the critics say.
Waiting for reviews:
AVATAR: I'm not prejudiced against fantasy, at all, or against James Cameron (despite "Titanic" and the big head he grew after it), but those blue people look kinda...silly.
THE LOVELY BONES: Good cast + great director + acclaimed novel = no sure recipe for success. Besides, the premise of the novel (spirit of girl who was raped and murdered guides her family to find her killer?) always sounded simultaneously treacly and creepy to me. I'll keep an open mind.
THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS: Terry Gilliam is a weird dude. Sometimes that pays off. Sometimes it doesn't.
Probably forgetting some movies, and others will probably crop up in due course that aren't currently on my radar. Stay tuned...