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Chasing the Oscar Buzz: Part 1

by Borderstan.com January 13, 2011 at 7:45 pm 0

Mary Burgan Borderstan Movie Fan

Mary Burgan is the Borderstan Movie Fan.

Mary the Borderstan Movie Fan’s column on movies runs every two weeks. Mary Burgan is a retired professor of English and association executive. Her previous reviews are listed at the end of this post. You can contact Mary by email.

Since I spent most of my holiday movie time with grandchildren, I had very little time to begin watching the Oscar-worthy movies that tend to flood the theaters at the very end of the year. True, there is some buzz about two of last summer’s releases, Toy Story 3 and The Kids Are Alright.

I have already revealed on this blog that the third Toy Story made me cry, which is not a criterion for the Oscar. Nevertheless, I’m glad it’s got some Oscar buzz because it is such a knowing film about growing up and leaving toys behind. Oscar could do worse.

The Kids Are Alright has Oscar buzz mainly because of Annette Bening’s portrayal of the tightly strung and controlling Nic, co-mother to the “kids” in the film. It’s right to think of Bening as a candidate for best actress, but since she gives a comic performance, I doubt Bening will prevail over Natalie Portman in The Black Swan.

That ballet movie is one of the Oscar-bound films that I did get to see over the holidays. As the ballerina Nina Sayers in The Black Swan, Portman is my current favorite for an Oscar as best actress. She commands the screen with a piercing beauty that seems always on the verge of hysteria. That presence makes The Black Swan the scariest movie of the year. I would not recommend it for the faint of heart, for as its tale of driven ambition proceeds, there is a build-up of suspense, gore, and madness.

And don’t expect to glimpse the joys of classic ballet in The Black Swan. Although Portman’s dance moves are fully believable, there is not much of Swan Lake dancing or Tchaikovsky’s music on display. But then if more of the ballet had been performed in this excellent film, I might never want to watch the “normal” white swan go through her paces ever again.

I have now set about to chase Oscars methodically. For starters, I have now seen 127 Hours. It’s still available at a couple of theaters in town, and it’s worth a look. I will follow the other Oscar buzzed films in the next several weeks. They should linger at Washington theaters for a good, long time.

127 Hours is a relatively straight-forward film that manages to start with a high of suspense because its story of the guy who cut off his own arm to free himself from a boulder is well known. But how can a whole movie be made from such a story of intense but isolated crisis, especially since everyone in the audience will be waiting for the ghastly deed, and then hiding their eyes when it actually happens?

For me the suspense came immediately when the camera follows the young Aron Ralston packing up for a camping trip in a totally haphazard way – leaving his cell phone behind, for example. And then it increases when he careens through the desert on his bike, meets up with a couple of girl hikers (no real romance here), and gets them to join him in dropping into a black hole in the canyon floor to land in an unexpected pool of beautiful water.

After they leave, Ralston goes on his headlong way. His accident happens in an instant, almost incidentally. He is a speck in a beautifully photographed universe of desert hills and sky.

The rest of the 127 Hours goes by in 94 minutes of James Franco’s much praised performance, in which he portrays Aron’s variety of moods during his captivity both by nature and his own rashness. I have to confess that I was not fully engaged by Franco’s acting, but I think he deserves a nomination for sheer virtuosity in keeping the audience’s attention throughout the film.

Finally, though, the whole thing eventually became for me, a bit boring. I was glad that the film didn’t preach about being more careful when you go exploring canyon caves, but I wished for little more point to the whole thing. But then, maybe I just didn’t get the point. My bad.

Next week: The Fighter.

Previous Reviews by Mary Burgan

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