It’s time for some more crude reviews from Pure Sophistry! We’re going to tell you whether ANY of the current (2012) Oscar best picture nominees are worth your precious 2 hours of time.

OUR RATING SYSTEM:
5 Stars: Midnight Opening
4 Stars: Opening Weekend
3 Stars: A Few Weeks Later on Half-Priced Tuesdays
2 Stars: Torrent it to Procrastinate
1 Star: Verbally Abuse Anyone Who Recommends this Trash

 

 

THE ARTIST (Dir. Michel Hazanavicius)

Verdict: 1 StarVerbally Abuse Anyone Who Recommends this Trash

Don’t we all love movies born out of awful, pretentious concepts that lead to an utterly lacking experience of cinematic nonsense? Of course we do, which is why The Artist is at the top of this list. Even conceptually, why revert to silent film at all? Beyond nostalgia – which none of us can actually have since silent movies are way too far back in the past – there seems no reason in making a silent movie when we have the ability to record dialogue and sound. Why remove something so crucial to telling stories through film? Nothing seems to be added by making this a silent movie at all. Certain scenes in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life seem to work only with music, but that’s because the images of the universe being born possess the proper amount of wonder to make us forget (but not forget long enough) the utter lack of sound or dialogue.

This style also promotes the most annoying sort of acting: the exaggerated, unnatural, theater-esque, hyperbolic style that characterized early films. Yes, I understand this is the style of this particular sort of film, but that doesn’t make it a good style – saying it’s crap because it’s supposed to be crap is a poor excuse. No matter the motivation, this movie is thus extremely aggravating, and it’s even more annoying that this movie has received such acclaim.

I understand the certain aesthetic that goes along with silent films (that’s why we have sepia-tone options on our digital cameras, right?), but I dreaded seeing this movie right away when I learned that I would not be hearing (almost) any dialogue. One of the key aspects of a movie is its script, dialogue being the fundamental way characters interact and how actors act. I’d rather watch Ryan Gosling stare out a window for 10 minutes in color than see a woman from the 1930′s dance with a dog in black and white. I don’t even care enough to give you a synopsis of what this movie is actually about – there’s no way you should be seeing this unless your date promises to let you get to at LEAST third base…and even then…(who am I kidding? I’d sit through the 9-hour Shoah for a quick handy j).

This movie kept me from enjoying my MexiCasa nachos, which is literally unprecedented. THANKS MR. HAZANAVICIUS FOR RUINING MY FIRST LOVE!

Movies that do it better: anything. Literally, your little cousin’s attempt at Tony Scott-style cinematography at his 5th birthday party is vastly superior.

EDIT: The Artist won the Best Picture Oscar for 2012. No…seriously…

 

 

THE DESCENDANTS (Dir. Alexander Payne)

Verdict: 4 starsOpening Weekend

Love George Clooney? Love little movies with nice, believable stories that make characters interact in touching and hilarious ways? Then this movie is for you. It’s a story about a Hawaiian man Matt King (George Clooney) whose family owns an obscene amount of land – oh, and his wife suffered a boating accident and is in the hospital with a coma. The movie begins with her hospitalized, so there’s no emotional manipulation or cheaply-manufactured connection to the character herself, yet we are able to watch her husband have to deal with the crisis.

This movie is funny enough to make you chuckle, moving enough to make you care without feeling manipulated, and its story and main character move along effortlessly to provide a satisfying and uplifting experience at the movies. Think a slightly less funny and emotional Little Miss Sunshine.

My criticism is that it doesn’t seem there was enough made out of the story’s material. I felt that more work could have been done showing Matt’s interaction with his daughters and money-grubbing family members, as the climatic scenes were a little underwhelming and there wasn’t quite enough resolution to make me fully comfortable by the time it ended.

But I’m just nitpicking, the movie made me laugh, tear up a little and enjoy being in the company of this fictional family – a well-crafted, smaller drama that is rewarding to watch.

Movies that do it better: Little Miss Sunshine, Little Children, In the Bedroom, Sideways, Juno, Gran Torino

 

 

 

EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLE CLOSE (Dir. Stephen Daldry)

Verdict: 2 starsTorrent it to Procrastinate

This is a movie about a son who finds a key left behind by his scavenger hunt-loving dad. The father (Tom Hanks) died in the 9/11 attacks (spoiler alert!). This movie is directed by Stephen Daldry, who did the well-received but awfully slow The Hours and The Reader. This movie is worse than both of those.

Watching it, you can see how this could have been an excellent film – it’s Tom Hanks! And Sandra Bullock! And that lady-servant from The Help! But what this movie ends up being is an extremely manipulative movie that is as boring as Daldry’s other films, but without any real payoff. Any movie that has papa Tom dying in the first 15 minutes is trying to manipulate an audience into feeling something instead of subtly weaving itself through a thoughtful story and letting the audience develop their own feelings towards it and its characters.

The entire story is far too overwrought: 9/11 is used to enact some trauma in this child’s life, and his father (a flawless character whose death is blatantly used to make us sad and empathetic for his family) leaves behind a puzzle that prompts Oskar to travel around New York meeting strangers and briefly becoming a part of their lives.The whole time I was angry at the fact that the movie so shamelessly advocated that I feel a certain, overly sentimental way towards it. The Descendants avoided this by having moments of humor and irony, with very little to no sentimentality throughout.

Over acted, underwritten, and completely disingenuous. Torrent it if you’re bored and want to hate something.

Movies that do it better: 7 Pounds, My Sister’s Keeper, Crash, Precious, Rabbit Hole, Hugo

 

 

 

THE HELP (Dir. Tate Taylor)

Verdict: 4 stars - Opening Weekend

Most of you have probably already watched, and cried over, this movie about a writer who chooses to write about the stories of the black maids in the racist 1960′s American south. This movie does a lot of things right: it stars Viola Davis, whose face can make me emotionally react with the slightest twitch, contains good amounts of humor and isn’t that emotionally exploitative.

However, this movie’s narrative and characters are very predictable: there are villains who have no redeeming value whatsoever, people who are virtuous and decent through-and-through, and characters who tell a sad tale before unjustly suffering at the hands of the establishment. The characters were simplistic enough that they almost seemed like caricatures of people from the Southern states. For instance, the black maids have untimely wisdom and unquestionable strength and integrity, the good crackers are troubled by their privileged positions, and the bad whities see their dominance as god-given. There could be a little more nuance and line-blurring…actually if they put any nuance in the movie it would be wonderful. But sometimes we can enjoy seeing what we expect in a predictable but moving tale about fictional characters. Wait…fictional?

This is what undermined the movie most of all: this story wasn’t based in any actuality at all. I happened to learn this after the fact, which made me reflect on the film much less favorably. Movies about racial segregation don’t have to be based in truth, but the history of institutionalized racism seems to be so rich with stories that to make up a fictional one, that all the while seems as if it’s based on someone’s concrete writings, feels a little disingenuous and makes me wonder whether I should bother caring about the plight of these characters. Having this story based on a novel instead of a memoir foregrounds the predictable, caricatured elements that I might have otherwise forgiven if it was constrained by some sort of true story. There’s no solace of saying “these maid characters seem like stereotypes but are modeled around actual people.” You’re just sort of left with this movie’s uncomfortable characterizations.

So overall, you know what you’re getting with this one: disenfranchised, oppressed black women who make you laugh and cry as they struggle against Southerners descended from slave-masters, BUT aren’t based in any characters from actual history. It’s a well-done family-friendly movie that will please almost everyone. Quite a bit better than Invictus.

Movies that do it better: Glory, Remember the Titans (anything with Denzel Washington in it, of course), A Time To Kill, American History X, Antwone Fisher

 

 

 

HUGO (Dir. Martin Scorsese)

Verdict: 5 starsMidnight Opening

This is a fantastic, well-made children’s movie that has palpable wonder and appreciation for movie magic. It makes you feel like a kid at the movies and takes away that buildup of cynicism that comes from watching movies like The Artist. AND it’s directed by Martin Scorsese, so it needs to be seen. I hate 3D movies, but Scorsese uses it well and I didn’t feel like it was 3D just so I had to pay 3 extra dollars and forgo my concession stand candy.

THIS is how movies should be made regarding the history and wonder of cinema (it has color, sound, and 3D, so it’s already ‘streets ahead’ of The Artist). Scorsese uses the latest in cinematic technology to evoke the awe that originally drew people to movie theaters, without trying to recreate those early films themselves.

I shouldn’t need to say more. A big-budget children’s epic that produces not just a lovable story and cast, but an actual experience at the movies – so it probably most deserves the best picture Oscar. Leave your slit-eyed criticism at the door, bulk up on popcorn and have some fun with your kid, or the kid next to you in the theater (I wouldn’t recommend you going alone if you’re a single, adult male).

Oh, what’s it about? Some magical story about a kid whose dad died, so he lives in the walls of a train station while trying to repair some sort of robot. You’re everyday children’s movie, right? It doesn’t matter, it’s Scorsese in 3D! Oh, and that little cussing superhero girl that Mark Strong punched in the face in Kick Ass is in it too.

Movies that do it better: this movie is the epitome of the children’s adventure genre. Comparable experience to watching most Pixar movies and the best of the Harry Potter‘s. Super 8  is comparable in that it deals with kids and movie-making, but Scorsese does it far better.

 

 

 

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (Dir. Woody Allen)

Verdict: 3 starsA Few Weeks Later on Half-Priced Tuesdays

Everyone knows Woody Allen hasn’t made a great film for a long while, but Midnight in Paris is actually not bad, and worth watching at some point. The movie has a great sense of irony about itself and its subject matter: the main character Gil (Owen Wilson) is a Hollywood writer who is in Paris with his fiance (Rachel McAdams) and is disgruntled with his work while trying to write a great novel. He magically travels backwards in time periodically to the expatriate age of Paris (1930′s) and interacts with famous artists such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Picasso, etc.

So if you love expatriate literature and art (and wear a scarf indoors), you’ll enjoy a large part of this movie. I also liked how Woody Allen chose to portray them as caricatures of themselves, to the point that Hemingway’s rants about bravery when lion hunting and Dali’s incomprehensible musings on the Rhinoceros were quite funny and went beyond the typical revered portrayal of these people. Thus the movie has a great atmosphere that is upbeat and compelling, and keeps you wanting to see Owen Wilson interact more with these literary icons.

However, Allen’s wit isn’t that strong: the professor figure (the person who comes closest to being Wilson’s antagonist) is overtly pretentious and stuffy, and while entertaining on some level, is overtly ridiculous and meant for our hate. The jokes in this case could have been more clever, as it’s too easy to make a disliked know-it-all. The same goes for Gil’s wealthy Republican in-laws. Yes, we get it, the American upper class accuses everyone of communism while making homeless people fight each other for their spare change. We also don’t get quite enough of the cool characters Gil interacts with, which means that the relationship he develops with Marion Cotillard’s character is underdeveloped and doesn’t seem to be of much consequence. The revelation at the end that no age is the golden age is also a little forced and obvious – the movie has a good sense of irony right up until it deals with its central moral.

So this movie is enjoyable, simple and fun to watch, and somehow Owen Wilson and his face/voice combination isn’t incredibly annoying. A nice movie to watch when you don’t have to pay as much for the ticket.

Movies that do it better: Finding Forrester, Manhattan, Annie Hall, Good Will Hunting, Stranger Than Fiction, Wonder Boys, Before Night Falls

 

 

 

MONEYBALL (Dir. Bennett Miller)

Verdict: 3 stars - A Few Weeks Later on Half-Priced Tuesdays

Here we have another sports movie, except instead of being about the players, its about the Oakland A’s GM (Brad Pitt) using a revolutionary technique to assemble an all-star team from players who no one in the league wants. On that level, the movie is interesting and isn’t predictable to the point of assuming that they win the last game (they don’t…oops!) and take home the gold, or Stanley Cup, or the 2-for-1 rub-and-tug coupons I assume they give out for baseball.

Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill (the newly hired Ivy League graduate who develops the evaluation system) have fantastic chemistry and do their jobs well. I do not care about baseball in the least, but I was intrigued by Brad Pitt’s character and was interested in seeing what happened to a more complex, flawed character and the team he assembled. The movie could have used more scenes between Pitt’s character and his daughter, but again it didn’t overtly try to make the character sympathetic, which was a nice change considering that Tom Hanks gets run over by a jet airplane in another movie on this list in an attempt to get me misty-eyed (too soon?).

While the very few characters given enough time to be interesting appear to be complex, actual individuals, the story is a little inconsequential. Maybe if I was even aware about the basics about how baseball is played this movie would have mattered more to me, but I didn’t really see what the big deal was in terms of the story’s main focus – namely, this new way to pick players, which isn’t even really explained. So…my Microsoft Excel can help me assemble my ultimate fantasy team? Explain it to me a little better, Superbad.

This movie had some funny and mildly emotional moments, but overall was underwhelming. A well-made movie about something that doesn’t really seem to matter, especially when I can see a movie about a whole race of people being mistreated or a movie about a boy who lives in the walls of a train station! I mean, yeah it’s based on a true story, but not a very good one. I’d take Viola Davis’ fake crying over Jonah Hill’s actual math skills.

The movie handles what it does put up on the screen quite well, but there isn’t nearly enough of it. If you spend more than 4 bucks to see it you’ll feel it was a waste…like I did when I paid for not one but TWO 12-dollar tickets. Women, right?

Movies that do it better: Remember the Titans, Cinderella Man, Rocky, Raging Bull (all those classic sports movies), The Wrestler

 

 

 

THE TREE OF LIFE (Dir. Terrence Malick)

Verdict: 2 starsTorrent it to Procrastinate

I’m not one of those guys who really understands Terrence Malick movies, so if you’re a fan of his you’ve probably seen this movie already and intellectually masturbated all over it like a 12-year old with a Sears swimsuit catalog. There is very little dialogue in this movie, which doesn’t make it as frustrating as The Artist since that space is filled by some incredible music from Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner and some visually-admirable scenes depicting the birth and progression of the universe. I believe a documentary is in the works using this footage, and it should be: seeing stars born is mega-cool no matter the context.

The problem comes when Malick tries to pair that to the life of Sean Penn’s childhood with his demanding and semi-abusive father (Brad Pitt) and his loving mother (Jessica Chastain). There are some well done scenes of Sean Penn’s character with his siblings while growing up, but again, there’s not nearly enough dialogue or context to make these scenes really matter. They’re also done in a way that you’re left feeling confused and that you must be an idiot for being confused. As I’ve heard said, the only thing this kid should overtly be upset about is that his father looked like Brad Pitt but he ended up looking like Sean Penn.

Then there’s the ending where Sean Penn break-dances around the figures of his past for a good hour. What I mean is that he slowly danced his way through a crowd of characters for twenty minutes. A dinosaur steps on the head of another dinosaur. Oh look – a pretty waterfall! But…why? OH I get it, the whole point of the movie was make me ask the very question: why? Yes, why didn’t I get high before trying to sit through two hours of this? Lesson learned.

So if you’re into manufactured experiences of profundity, this movie is for you. If you like seeing movies that make you rationalize for them so you don’t feel inartistic and stupid for saying they’re shit, then by all means enjoy this one. Beyond some great music and visuals (in some parts), the surrounding narrative was presented very well visually, but its substance was far too over-ambitious, pretentious, and ultimately ineffectual…and long. I really tried to love this one too, because…well…I HAVE DEEP THOUGHTS TOO, TERRENCE!

So torrent it for free so you can see a star being born and fast forward through Brad Pitt throwing his kid through a window for talking back. What can we laugh at, if not child abuse – am I right?

Movies that do it better: Big Fish, Adaptation, The Fountain (barely), Dreams, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Koyaanisqatsi, Into the Wild

 

 

 

WAR HORSE (Dir. Steven Spielberg)

Verdict: 2 starsTorrent it to Procrastinate

Steven Spielberg defined my childhood nightmares with movies involving dinosaurs and sharks, and captivated me with his movies about charming aliens. However, War Horse doesn’t have much going for it other than being a Spielberg movie – which means great visuals, but a very two dimensional story and some overt emotional manipulation.

You know what you’re getting with this one: a story about a horse and his boy (wait, Narnia?) who endure World War One and are later reunited. I don’t really understand movies with animals as central characters, so I never really cared about the horse seeing as there are millions of people dying in trenches, but fine, Spielberg, I’ll go along.

It’s very well-wrought technically (as Spielberg basically invented the camera), and seeing the First World War so thoroughly centered on a horse is interesting at first, but I soon stopped caring and wish I went to re-watch Hugo. Spielberg tries to convey some sense of cinematic wonder and magic, but the subject matter seems too ridiculous for that and Scorsese did it far better anyways, with characters who can actually communicate.

Most people would probably think this is worth seeing at the end of its theater run, but honestly, just torrent it for when you’re catching up on your Oscar movies and you’ve been wondering what Spielberg has been up to. Unless it deals with the Holocaust or weird, thrilling creatures, Spielberg’s movies are usually too sentimental no matter how amazing his shots of running horses are. Anyways I heard the play they made out of this novel was really well done, but who sees plays anymore?

You’re not missing anything by staying home for this one. We already have heart-wrenching emotional dramas about war…like Tropic Thunder.

Movies that do it better: Saving Private Ryan, All Quiet on the Western Front, Empire of the Sun, Braveheart (Mel Gibson killed a shit-load of English horses in that one), Rescue Dawn, Atonement

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OVERALL VERDICT: The best-picture movies this year either seemed to be overly sentimental and emotionally manipulative, or of little to no consequence. Remember when best-picture nominees used to be big, cinematic events, or really powerful dramas about things that actually mattered (or were true)? WHY is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close up there, but Bridesmaids and 50/50 (probably my favorite of the year) got nothing? When the Academy expanded the best-picture category to have five more slots, those slots SHOULD HAVE BEEN DESIGNATED FOR COMEDIES! A world that nominates The Artist over Bridesmaids is not a world I want to live in.

In fact, I’m doing a review of 50/50, because I thought it was the best of the year.

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50/50 (Dir. Jonathan Levine)

Verdict: 5+ starsMidnight Opening in the posh AVX seats

That’s right, this movie is beyond 5 stars. Hilarious enough that it made my balls tingle, and emotional enough that it made my balls tingle, this movie checks every box. It’s superbly written, with excellent jokes, and with characters that are developed to the point that I’m pretty sure Seth Rogen is that best friend I live with. It also has incredibly profound scenes of people dealing with death, which made me feel more than Terrence Malick flying in space ever did.

The story is about two best friends who work in radio, one of whom (Gordon Joseph-Levitt, right?) develops cancer and has a fifty percent chance of dying. He then gets high with old people, dumps his vacuous bitch of a girlfriend, and experiences the ups and downs with his friend, family and sexy therapist as he experiences the disease. Seeing this movie with a close friend is an incredible experience, and if you aren’t hugging each other and making promises about what you’ll do when the other one inevitably gets cancer from eating too much MexiCasa, you have no heart.

This movie also wasn’t trying so obviously hard to be acclaimed – it took its subject matter seriously and with a profoundly touching sense of humor and focused on telling the story between these two realistic, developed, and complex characters.

If you don’t like this movie, we can’t be friends.

Movies that do it better: this is the best of the best, but a lot of the Judd Apatow R-rated comedies are really funny and also heartwarming (Knocked Up, Funny People, etc.), and Bridesmaids is actually very comparable and could be said to be this movie with more females and less tumors