Friday Movie Roundup: Awards Season Mania

Dec 18, 2009 at 5:17 pm

The movie awards season kicked into overdrive Dec. 15 with the announcement of the 67th annual Golden Globe Awards nominations. I’m typically the first one to criticize the Globes’ often banal, stars-and-studio-influenced nominations, but this year’s crop seems more discerning than usual. —-

A quick glance at the list reveals that Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air — which opens here this week — is getting lots of foreign press love. (Read my interview with the director here.) The timely tale of “career transition consultant” Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) garnered six nominations, including Best Motion Picture — Drama and Best Director, as well as nods for its central trio of actors: Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick.

Other Best Picture — Drama nominees include James Cameron’s Avatar (which also opens this week), Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds and Lee Daniels’ Precious. I’ve yet to catch Cameron’s much-hyped, half-billion-dollar 3-D extravaganza, but based on Scott Renshaw’s mixed review below, it seems to be the only one of the Best Picture group that might be questionable (unless you’re one of the stuffy peeps who were critical of Basterds’ historical liberties and arch tone, or one of the viewers who labeled Precious “poverty porn”).

While Avatar has been getting a lot of attention for its so-called “game-changing” technical qualities, I have to admit that I’m having a really hard time mustering any enthusiasm for its arrival. I’ll take the hand-made craftiness of Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox over the sterile, digitized world of Avatar and its ilk every day of the week.

Opening films: 

AVATAR — For all his gee-whizzery, James Cameron’s really an old-school melodramatist at heart, so it’s no surprise that he’d crib from something as sweeping as Dances With Wolves. It’s a bit more perplexing to realize that whatever monetary sum he spent on Avatar, he’s using it to re-jigger the plot of FernGully. (Read full-length review here.) (Opens wide today.) — Scott Renshaw (Rated PG-13.) Grade: C

DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS? — The well-worn fish-out-of-water trope gets another go round in this comedy about a pair of miserable New Yorkers (Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker) who, after witnessing a murder, are shipped by the F.B.I to rural Wyoming to hideout until the trial. Marc Lawrence, screenwriter of Two Weeks Notice and Miss Congeniality, writes and directs. The cast also includes Sam Elliott, Mary Steenburgen and Mad Men’s Elizabeth Moss. (Opens wide today.) — Jason Gargano (Rated PG-13.) Review coming soon

ME AND ORSON WELLES — Richard Linklater’s lighthearted rendering of an imagined relationship between Orson Welles and a young would-be actor during Welles' famed 1937 New York production of Julius Caesar soars whenever Christian McKay takes the screen (as the great maestro). But the film backslides whenever McKay is absent, largely due to a severe case of miscasting (namely the presence of Zac Efron). (Read full review here.) (Opens Friday at Esquire Theatre.) — Cole Smithey (Rated PG-13.) Grade: C

THE ROAD — Director John Hillcoat (The Proposition), much like Coen brothers did with No Country for Old Men, has adapted Cormac McCarthy’s bleak vision without sacrificing any of his own sensibilities. Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit McPhee star as the father and son at the center of the apocalyptic story. (Read full-length review here.) (Opens Friday at Esquire Theatre.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated R.) Grade: B

UP IN THE AIR — When Juno took the indie-film world by storm two years ago, the chatter was all about Diablo Cody’s quotable screenplay and the breakout performance of Ellen Page. But this Jason Reitman guy knows what he’s doing behind a camera, and even when the narrative loses it’s footing in the third act, Up in the Air remains charming in a way that far too few contemporary films manage to be. (Read full-length review here.) (Opens Friday at AMC and Showcase Cinemas Milford.) — SR (Rated R.) Grade: A-