One little game I like to play to pass the time is called “If I Was . . .” For instance, I might ask myself “If I was a contestant on American Idol and it was country music week, what would be my song choice?” and then ponder the answer (it’s currently a tie between Gillian Welch’s “Barroom Girls” and Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.”)
Today I’m going to play, “If I was a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which ten movies would I want nominated for Best Picture?” Here are my picks:
(500) Days Of Summer: Much to the chagrin of “Star Wars” fans, “Annie Hall” took home the Oscar for Best Picture of 1977. Perhaps a kinder and slightly less neurotic version of this movie could win the award this year. I think I may have enjoyed "(500) Days Of Summer" more than any other film this year. It masterfully combined whimsy (French film spoofs, a dance number set to Hall and Oates’ “You Make My Dreams”, a clever time shifting script, a glorious blue wardrobe for Zooey Deschanel) and reality (trips to Ikea, unrequited love, bonding over 80’s TV shows, thinking someone is your soul mate because you share random common interests.) For all its silliness and style, I thought it captured single life in your late 20’s more accurately and thoughtfully than any movie I’ve seen recently. Brilliant.
Adam: Romantic movies are tough. For every “When Harry Met Sally”, there are hundreds like “Message In A Bottle”, “The Mirror Has Two Faces”, and “Love Happens.” That’s why I was so pleased at the amount of solid romantic movies released this year and “Adam” is right at the top of the list. A New York love story between a preschool teacher and a man with Asperger's syndrome could have very easily slipped into Lifetime territory. Instead, this beautiful little film showed the actual process of developing a meaningful relationship through empathy and patience (something we rarely get to see in romances.) I sobbed all the way out of the theater.
Bright Star: Ladies, do you prefer your moody, heartbreaking, and slightly obsessive romances with less vampires and more doomed 19th century poets? May I suggest Jane Campion’s lovely “Bright Star”? It’s a gorgeous and slow building tale of the ill-fated love between John Keats and Fanny Brawne. And if you haven’t spent all your tears on “Adam”, I guarantee that you will weep. A lot. The movie is masterfully shot, the acting is superb, and it convinced me that there are few things men can do that are more attractive than gathering together to sing a cappella. Seriously guys, go out and join your local a cappella group.
The September Issue: This could have been a very dishy doc. After all, the subject was Vogue editor Anna Wintour (the alleged inspiration for ice queen Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada.”) However, the movie wisely stays away from gossip and focuses instead on the remarkable process of producing Vogue’s famed September issue. It was a celebration of creativity and introduced me to the fantastic work of creative director Grace Coddington.
Every Little Step: A swell documentary about casting the Broadway revival of “A Chorus Line.” It’s 100 times better than the actual musical and one of my personal favorites of the year. I’ve seen it three times and would watch it right now if I could.
La Danse: This one might be a bit of a hard sell. It’s three hours long. And features almost nothing but dancing from the Paris Opera Ballet. And is almost entirely in French. But it was spellbinding. I thought I hated ballet until I saw this documentary. There was no background story, no exposition - just incredible dancers performing incredibly choreographed pieces. And it was super to see an established ballet company fully embracing modern dance. I was shocked at how much I enjoyed this film.
Fantastic Mr. Fox: I’m a big DIY fan and my home is littered with craft projects, the latest being a color wheel wreath made out of embroidery floss. Slick, computer animated children’s movies always feel a bit sterile to me, which is why I loved Wes Anderson’s latest endeavor (the only Wes Anderson film I’ve loved.) “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is an arts and crafts fantasy – it’s like a diorama come to life, complete with miniature corduroy suits and explosions made of cotton balls. The dialogue was snappy, the soundtrack was outstanding (when was the last time you heard “The Ballad Of Davy Crockett?”) and I hope this movie (along with the excellent handmade “Coraline”) starts a trend in kids’ films.
Where The Wild Things Are: I feel that I was perhaps the only member of my generation not excited about this movie. First, I hated the book as a child. The fact that the plot centered on a disobedient boy whose mischief is rewarded with a grand adventure did not sit well with my very rule abiding six year old self. Second, it seemed too hip for its own good. Spike Jonze, Dave Eggers, and Karen O. collaborating on a Generation X classic? With Lauren Ambrose and Paul Dano providing the voices? Would any second grader even want to see it? But it was outstanding. One of the most honest representations I’ve ever seen of what it’s like to be a kid, especially the maddening and terrifying lack of control. I don’t think I’ll be able to watch it again soon. But I’m glad I saw it.
Up In The Air: It appears that Jason Reitman can do no wrong. “Thank You For Smoking” and “Juno” were excellent, but “Up In The Air” is in a league all by itself. It manages to be both timely and classic, addressing the current American struggle with unemployment and the constant American struggle with individualism. And it’s convicting as anything. I mean, I’ve changed behavior in the past week based on conviction from seeing this movie.
The Informant!: Matt Damon is getting a lot of supporting actor buzz for his role in “Invictus”, but I hope that the Academy awards him for his super work in Steven Soderbergh’s dark comedy. And if Melanie Lynskey doesn’t get a nod for her performance in this film, maybe she can snag one for “Up In The Air” or “Away We Go.” Where hasn’t she been great? Anyway, the movie is hilarious, a little disturbing and makes you think. And Marvin Hamlisch’s score is perfect.
Honorable Mention: "Star Trek", "An Education", "It Might Get Loud", "The Soloist", "The Brothers Bloom", and "Anvil! The Story Of Anvil."
So those are my ten. What are your picks for Best Picture of the Year?