A Very Strong Contender

Let me get this out of the way up top: this movie is not a sequel to Amelie!!!!

It’s more English Patient than City of Lost Children. Yes, it is directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and stars the winsome Audrey Tatou and features quirky characters and wide-angle lenses and new French New Wave style story-telling. But it is a serious story about war, about love — and there’s a murder mystery to boot.

I really loved this movie, and 6/6 people I saw it with liked it. But none of the six liked it as much as me. Part of that I blame on the expectations game created by the re-teaming of Jeunet et Tatou. But part of that is simply that we are not conditioned to be told an epic war/love story via elaborate flashbacks in a pictorial, cartoonish (or, graphic novel-ish) manner.

This one’s really a toss-up Oscarwise. As you can see from the print ad above, it is not eligible for Best Foreign but is for Best Picture. The anti-war message is subtle enough to make it attractive to all political stripes. The deficit it has is that it is more of a director’s movie, not an actor’s movie and the Academy is majority actors. I think it has a shot. The question will be whether the Academy will be as into the mannerist storytelling as I was.

Other categories are even stronger. Tatou is good if you ignore the ghost of Amelie. Jodie Foster (yes, speaking French) has a memorable cameo. The tech credits, especially the cinematography, are great. Jeunet manages to remake old Paris and the miserable trenches in sweeping detail. Angelo Badalamenti’s score is appropriately epic. This is a big, brassy achievement in filmmaking that will be difficult to ignore, even if it has subtitles.


Men Are from England, Women Are from the States

I can’t see Closer in the running for anything but actor awards — and then probably just Clive Owen. Review of movie Closer finds Portman and Owen in good shape for OscarHe’s been getting a lot of heat for his performance as a jealous lover and he is very good. But none of these characters are redeeming as human beings, which is a big factor in Academy voting. Up against an inspiring performance like Jamie Foxx’s in Ray, he has little chance.

Someone who I think comes out very well is Natalie Portman, who several reviews have said is out of her league in this movie. I thought she held her own with an underwritten, engimatic sex-child part that turns out to be the ‘Kaiser Soze’ linchpin, keystone of the ensemble. Her stock is certainly on the rise. Julia Roberts’ is probably on the way down — she needs to prove there’s still a great depth beneath her Mona Lisa smile, something she hasn’t done since Erin Brockovich.

The script, by Brit playwright Patrick Marber from his play, is witty but empty. Nichols fails to unearth any humanity in this cold, bitter look as sex and jealousy. I haven’t seen Carnal Knowledge, but this movie doesn’t add anything to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which as least has courtesy to offer catharsis after several hours of verbal abuse.

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