Cleaning house: A trio of awards contenders

Because I also have a full-time job outside of watching films for a living, I have been remiss in posting several of films rumored to be contenders for awards season.

What are they? I’m glad I asked myself that. Here’s a trifecta for you: 

Since we have covered several of the other films that may be contenders for that golden bald guy this awards season, it’s time to catch up on some of the others that are orbiting the award stratosphere.

Up in the Air: Distinguishing himself as this generations James L. Brooks, director Jason Reitman is proving to have an uncanny ear for dialogue, whether it’s introducing the world to the, ahem, “unique” writing style of former “it” gal Diablo Cody in “Juno,” or his more substantive work in “Thank You for Smoking” and his latest, “Up in the Air,” Reitman knows that it’s the narrative that drives the film. George Clooney fits the role like the comfortable loafers of his character Ryan Bingham. Bingham is essentially a one-man human slaughterhouse. He jets around the country, swinging the ax for corporate bigwigs who don’t want to get their hands dirty.

His life is as compartmentalized as his carry-on bag, leaving little time for family, friends or relationships. During one particular outing, he comes across his female equivalent in Alex Goran (played to precision by Vera Farmiga). Their flirtatious dance – to the tune of frequent flier privileges and credit card status – is one of the film’s highlights. Ryan’s jet-setting is jeopardized when his company deploys Natalie Keener, a newbie who plans to revolutionize the industry by introducing a low-cost (but incredibly impersonal) alternative with online firings.

The film has landed atop many a “best of” list, and while it is savvy, slick and stinging, it’s hard to think that it’s placement has more to do with this year’s slate of films than the film itself. It’s not that the film is weak – the two leads are at their peaks, and Reitman continues to tighten the screws on his product. But while the film’s messages of family and human connection are resonant, the entire endeavor feels as fluffy as the clouds beneath Ryan’s flights.

An Education: Nick Hornby’s words are the fuse and Carey Mulligan’s the flint for this slight-but-shimmering slice of life of a young girl balancing life, love and learning in 1960s Britain. Mulligan is Jenny, who we first meet literally learning how to balance. The books atop her head are a her admission to Oxford, but a glance in the wrong direction and it can all come crashing down. Her head swivel is caused by David (played by Peter Sarsgaard), an older man who Jenny thinks holds the key to life outside educational pursuits.

Of course, all is not what it appears in “An Education,” and David is not quite the worldly gentleman he presents himself to be. But to a young girl from a sheltered environment, his appeal is overpowering. Art, culture, music and travel surround and sweep up young Jenny as she spends more time with David and less chasing scholarly dreams.

Director Lone Scherfig adds narrative flourishes with his choice of song selections, or framing a shot to further the plot. And he has coaxed a number of fine performances out of his seasoned cast. As her worrywart father, Alfred Molina is a splendid as always, and Sarsgaard is in his role as his character is to young Jenny, but this is Mulligan’s show, deftly dancing between awkward innocence and headstrong womanhood, that elevates this intimate tale. It is she who makes this a higher “Education.”

The Lovely Bones: Set to open in wide release next week, “The Lovely Bones”had generated much buzz before it unspooled in limited release for Oscar consideration. The director, Peter Jackson, was to return to his more elemental roots of “Heavenly Creatures” after riding a wave of blockbusters with the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “King Kong.” Also, the film is based on a beloved best-seller by Alice Sebold and starred the Academy Award-nominated young actress Saoirse Ronan as the young murdered girl held in purgatory as her family copes with her loss.

But Jackson does not seem to have broken free of his blockbuster shackles, and layers the simple tale of grieving and loss with scene after scene of visual trickery that look more at home with a laundry detergent ad than a motion picture.

He is not helped much by members of his cast, either. Mark Wahlberg, wearing the same befuddled expression through most of the film as he did in the entirety of 2008’s “The Happening,” was the wrong choice as the father, Young Ronan can’t seem to nail the authenticity of her character, either, delivering each line with the theatrics of a stage play, and Susan Sarandon, as the grandmother, waltzes in as though she is from a different film altogether.

It all adds up to a strange beast that resembles an epic longing to break free of its smaller trappings, and it is not how a personal film of family bereavement and coping should feel.

~ by usesoapfilm on January 13, 2010.

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