Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Up in the Air About "Up In The Air"

Most of the movies that I actually take time to watch, and in some cases to drive an hour and a half away to catch in a theater that mostly shows only cult and independent film, are good movies. They have already generated a significant buzz by the time I get to them. Also, while these movies might not necessarily be among my favorite movies of all time, there is almost always something to recommend them, some unique way of looking at the world.

This sort of ambivalence is how I felt about George Clooney in Up In The Air. I chose to watch this particular movie because of the Oscar buzz accompanying it. After all, it has been nominated for six Oscars, including Best Director, Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Writing, and TWO Best Supporting Actress nominations.

While the movie was a decent movie, it isn't one that I am going to wake up in thirty years, in a cold sweat, needing to watch right away, a sensation I recently experienced over  Red Dawn. Up good movie, just not a very memorable one. (Upcoming blog post: why Red Dawn is one of the greatest movies of all time.)

 So far, my favorite for Best Actor is still Colin Firth in A Single Man. Clooney is good in this, but not good enough for the Oscar. Although he does have more emotional depth than he did in, say, Ocean's Thirteen.

Vera Farmiga is stellar as Alex, a business woman who meets Clooney's Ryan Bingham in an airport. Both she and co-star Anna Kendrick received well-deserved Supporting Actress Oscar nods for their roles. As Natalie Keener, Kendrick plays a young idealistic foil to Farmiga's cynicism. If for no other reason, watch this movie for these two performances.

As far as the story goes, it does take some unpredictable twists, departing from the usual Hollywood formula, which is another good reason to watch the movie. Positive. But Up in the Air nevertheless falls short of its own attempted poignancy. I found myself yawning during the most profound parts.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Single Man Shines

A couple days ago, I caught a showing of the excellent A Single Man, which has earned Colin Firth a well-deserved Best Actor Oscar nomination. Firth plays George, an English Prof, moping through a single day of his life, which he intends to end with suicide. Spurning his depression is the loss of his long-time lover in a violent car accident.

The film doesn't waste its time making you feel sorry for its main character; Firth's George valiantly and smoothly moves through his final preparations without the melodrama one might anticipate. Accurately addressed is the claustrophobia of a gay man living in a 1960's Los Angeles suburban hell, forbidden by the family of his lover to even attend the funeral. That the story can tackle such difficult issues without preachiness or tear-jerking is a triumph.

Also triumphant is Julianne Moore playing Charley, Firth's aging fag-hag friend, who spends most of her time in the movie drinking, lying in bed, and/or slathering on thick eye makeup. Moore hits the mark as an aging Hollywood starlet, very much alone in the world, struggling against her body's betrayal as she grows older. The dynamics of her friendship with George provide a robust counter-balance to George pining over his life that once was.

Rounding out the cast are Ginnifer Goodwin, from one of my favorite t.v. shows of all time, Big Love and Nicholas Hoult, the title character of 2002's About A Boy. Hoult plays a potential love interest who barges his way into George's life on the very day of his planned suicide. The fresh youth of both Goodwin and Hoult's characters make the aging of Moore and Firth's characters all the more harder to watch.

The film's themes of youth vs. aging and longing vs. fulfillment were gorgeously captured and highlighted in varied hues of subdued and bright colors by cinematographer Eduard Grau and Director Tom Ford. Which makes seeing this film at home a much less desirable option than catching it on the big screen, if at all possible.