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« Best Actor Battles and Hugh Jackman's Oscar Obstacle | Main | P.T. Anderson on "The Master" & An Errant Oscar Thought »
Saturday
Nov242012

The Perks of Being Anna Karenina's Guardian

By the end of each and every November I am buried in piles and piles of screeners in addition to screening invites each night (I'm not complaining) that all arrive within the same two week period (I am complaining). To give each film a fair shake you'd have to do nothing but watch movies for two weeks before ballots are due -- I'm terrified at how quickly my Critics Choice voting begins! In order to see all the films you want and rescreen those you have foggy memories of you'd have to a) give up Oscar parties, networking and campaign luncheons, b) turn down filmmaker interviews c) decline visits from family and friends and choose not to attend any holiday parties with them d) abandon your blog, your writing, and any work for clients and consulting jobs and thus all your money and e) refuse to sleep.

As I am unwilling and/or unable to give up any of those things, I admit to a certain distressing ohgodImafailure feeling each November. This is a longwinded way of saying that I'm super far behind and overwhelmed and I hope you'll all be patient though I know your first instinct is probably sympathy-free; "Bitch, you already saw Les Miz. Shut it!"

BRIEF THOUGHTS ON THREE MOVIES I HAVEN'T TALKED ABOUT

Rise of the Guardians
Santa isn't the main character but he's the character I kept thinking about while trying to organize my thoughts. Santa has "naughty" and "nice" tattoos and the movie is that way, too. In every respect it's a mixed bag, no matter how many gifts it has stuffed inside. Despite confusing character design (why are tooth fairy and easter bunny so scary looking?) and steady but strange characterizations (Santa laughs a lot but there's no vocalization whatsover that might be interpreted as a "ho ho ho"), the characters were sort of endearing. I really enjoyed Sandman, who doesn't speak but communications through shape-making, and Jack Frost who is visualized here as a teenbeat icy hipster twink. The film is often gorgeous but it's also so over-designed as to be instantly forgettable as it leaps from busy lair to busy lair of these iconic characters. The story is both overly familiar and alien (what's with that 'listen to the man on the moon' messaging?) and nonsensical. Most of it all it just smells weird; that's the aroma of frenzied "ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?" flop sweat. C-
Oscar? There is still plenty of debate as to which toon will win the Best Animated Feature this year, but given the strength of the field, Guardian's chaotic overkill doesn't bode well for its chances.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Logan Lerman is Charlie, an introverted troubled high school freshmen (hence the title) who finds solace in writing and literature and renewed energy for life when a group of "misfit" seniors take him under their wing. The best moments of this adaptation of the beloved best-seller resonate with tender universality but the screenplay (and I assume source material) are problematic. High school is traumatic enough without actual trauma as ever present backstory. Why all the gilding of such a delicate lily? B+/B
Oscar? Traction would be a stretch in any category given that youth oriented films, no matter how heartfelt and soulfully performed, are rarely recognized. Still... this is a significant leap forward for all three of its principles: Logan Lerman does his best work yet anchoring the film; Ezra Miller proves he has a much wider range than After School and We Need To Talk About Kevin suggested; and yes even Emma Watson -- who longtime readers will know I've been ice cold on -- impresses.

Anna Karenina
Brief Thoughts: If Joe Wright's brazenly theatrical take on this oft adapted classic about a respectable Russian wife who loses her place in society to her obsessive affair with a young soldier isn't the year's strangest film (The Master and Holy Motors fight for that honor), it's still one of the most compelling high wire acts. The stylization, which mostly turns on an ever shifting stage set and constant art and film history referencing, isn't always consistent and the film feels like an almost-musical so often it borders on torture (for musical aficionados at least). But there's something about all the eye-popping scenic changes, grand acting gestures, mobile camera, and plot riffing rather than storytelling that give the film a propulsive self-absorbed energy that dovetails perfectly with the stubborn sexual obsessiveness of Anna herself.  B+
Oscar? The film will undoubtedly prove too divisive for major prize-gathering -- hell, I'm the target audience and even I am of two minds about it -- but it still has a fighting shot at the eye candy categories or, as we like to call them, the Moulin Rouge! prizes (a film it often recalls). If the actor's branch is feeling daring, they might want to take a closer look at Keira Knightley's huge star turn. She's getting braver and more adept at stylization all the time. She's the ideal model for Joe Wright's picture-making. Knightley will never be everyone's favorite actress but there's much to admire in this gutsy editorial posing performance.

Recent Reviews / Discussions
Les Misérables (first screening)
Lincoln (on the podcast)
Skyfall (review)
The Master (with a little Holy Motors thrown in) 
Silver Linings Playbook (Beau's review) 

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Reader Comments (10)

I just saw Anna Karenina and my favorite performance caught me by surprise...it was Ruth Wilson as Princess Betsy. Although she looked like Effie from The Hunger Games, I really thought she stole every scene was in with a very unexpected performance. It was my first introduction to this actress and she really rocked it. I also loved Alicia Vikander and Matthew MacFayden--she was the heart and he was the humor.

My my favorite scene was the fevered dance between Vronsky, Kitty and Anna at the start. That was intense!

November 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBia

Keira Knhighley suck's WATHEVER she does!

November 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterstjeans

So glad you were able to see Perks! It was one of my favorites this year. I was completely surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

November 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" is still one of the best of the year, and the screenplay and Ezra Miller absolutely deserve awards recognition. Such a beautiful and tender film, with an amazing ensemble that has some of the most natural chemistry between actors I've seen in years.

November 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge

Absolutely loved Perks - much more than I was expecting. And I thought the "actual trauma" was key in differentiating it from a number of other lonely teen films. I know Actor categories are too filmed for Lerman to get attention (though I think he's marvelous), but I really wish Miller would got some nods in award season. As you say, he's terrific, and it's such a notable change from his work in We Need to Talk About Kevin.

November 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterScottC

Oh gosh. I love Perks so so much. I'm sure I annoyed the entire audience when I cried through the last 20 mins. My bad.
Also, I'm so excited to see Anna. Jealous that it doesn't come to my town until the 30th! Damn limited release.

November 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTaylorRansom

I envy your problem with screeners. :) Feel free to ask me to help you watch all of them. :D

November 25, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdinasztie

I never liked the visual design for "Rise of the Guardians"- it's like those creepy owls from that other animated movie "Legend of the Guardians"- but I did see "Wreck-it Ralph" which is a lot of fun.

November 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Oh my gosh, Luther's Ruth Wilson is in AK? Now I MUST SEE IT.

November 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDevil Shark

Perks of Being a Wallflower is definitely in my Top 5 of the year so far. I will say that in the novel, the "actual trauma" colors the plot and characterization much more so than in the movie, even though it is still under the surface for the majority of the time. I don't think the film could have been cast any better, and the whole thing was so deeply felt that any problems it may have had were just lost to me.

I find it interesting that Joe Wright is slowly but surely turning into Baz Luhrmann. With Baz working far too infrequently, hopefully Joe can keep on in this vein and feed my hunger for delirious, shaky, gorgeously outfitted romance.

November 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

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