I used to make a point of seeing every movie nominated for an Oscar© in order to make the horse race of the show more fun.
It's not the list of nominated films, because that hasn't happened yet, but Ebert's "best of" list usually contains a lot of those nominated, so I consider it kind of a "first look."
This year, I just can't seem to get up the gumption to care. I don't know if this is a function of age (something I wonder about a lot these days) or the fact that what movies tend to be about lately just doesn't get me all that excited.
Allow me to respond to Ebert's list re why I'm awash with inertia on each. (The brief description after each is Ebert's; my response follows. Captain Obvious reminds you that I have not seen any of these.)
1. "Crash": Much of the world's misery is caused by conflicts of race and religion. Paul Haggis' film, written with Robert Moresco, uses interlocking stories to show we are in the same boat, that prejudice flows freely from one ethnic group to another.
I think a lot of us have empathy fatigue on this one. Most of us try and succeed at not being racist, so a navel-gazing exploration of encounters between racists just doesn't strike me as a reason to wade through the crowds with my $10 bucket of popcorn, or even stand in line at the video rental store. Besides, I consider a lot of Hollywood types WAY out of touch with average America, so when they attempt projects like these, they usually have nothing to do with the planet I'm on.
2. "Syriana": Stephen Gaghan's film doesn't reveal the plot, but surrounds us with it. Interlocking stories again: There is less oil than the world requires, and that will make some rich and others dead, unless we all die first.
I'll probably see this on DVD, but only after the library gets it (and they will because it's a serious film, donchaknow) and when I have time to watch it by myself. Normally I wouldn't have trouble getting my lovely wife to watch George Clooney in anything, but she's already goes "pffffft" when she sees market hoo-ha on this one. Everything I've read says this centers on the corruption and blood involved in the oil market; which strikes me the same way a movie centered around the fact that plutonium is radioactive would.
3. "Munich": Stephen Spielberg's film may be the bravest of the year, and it plays like a flowing together of the currents in "Crash" and "Syriana," showing an ethnic and religious conflict that floats atop a fundamental struggle over land and oil.
Oooo, another serious issue movie with culture clashes and doom everywhere. Gosh, sigh me up. Not. And even though they usually contain something worth seeing (the taking of Normandy Beach, chained slaves being dumped from slave ships, the causal killing of concentration camp victims), Spielberg's serious flicks are like everyone else's serious flicks: Tedious from being too serious and ultimately a consummate bummer.
4. "Junebug": At last, a movie about ordinary people. Or put it this way: Phil Morrison's "Junebug" was the best non-geopolitical film of the year. In simply human terms, there was no other film like it. It understands, profoundly and with love and sadness, the world of small towns; it captures ways of talking and living I remember from my childhood, and has the complexity and precision of great fiction.
Ebert's always been kind of a sucker for these quiet-observation-of-small-events-in-people's-lives movies. I'm more of a fan of actual quiet observation, and movies of it tend to bore me past apathy and right into annoyance.
5. "Brokeback Mountain": Two cowboys in Wyoming discover to their surprise that they love each other. [My correction: "that they like to fuck each other." There is a difference between sex and love, mon amour.] They have no way to deal with that fact.
China called recently and complained about a pounding noise, so I have desisted.
6. "Me and You and Everyone We Know": The previous films have waded fearlessly into troubled waters. Miranda July's walks on them. It's a comedy about falling in love with someone who speaks your rare emotional language of playfulness and daring, of playful mind games and bold challenges. July writes, directs, and stars.
This is the only film in this group I'm pumped to see because everyone who's seen it talks about what a wonderful oddball experience it is. I loved Amelie and Primer, which also got the same sort of reaction, so I'm enthused.
7. "Nine Lives": Rodrigo Garcia's film involves nine stories told in a total of nine shots. The best story involves Robin Wright Penn and Jason Isaacs as two former lovers, now married to others (she pregnant), who meet by chance in a supermarket and during a casual conversation, realize that although their lives are content, they made the mistakes of their lifetimes by not marrying each other.
(Or, if you've seen the original Bedazzled: "Bpbpbpbt!")
(And am I the only one tired of seeing the luminous Robin Wright Penn play haunted, done-wrong romance victims over and over again? Is she trying to get a point across to Sean, perhaps?)
8. "King Kong": A stupendous cliffhanger, a glorious adventure, a shameless celebration of every single resource of the blockbuster, told in a film of visual beauty and surprising emotional impact.
Until the reviews came out screaming WOW!, I had all intention of catching this on DVD. I'm still not all that thrilled, having seen the original and its first remake several times. (I worked a theatre that was contractually obligated to show the remake for over a month in a small town, long after people completely stopped coming to see it. So I sat in an empty theater over and over again watching Jessica Lang's dress being pushed down by a big robot gorilla hand while Jeff Bridge's beard made a stab for "best supporting actor.") But MPC1 wants to see it, and I'm not opposed, so I've applied for financing for popcorn and a coke.
9. "Yes": An elegant Irish-American woman, living with a rich and distant British politician, makes eye contact with a waiter. He was a surgeon in Lebanon. Sally Potter tells their story in iambic pentameter, the rhythm of Shakespeare.
I suspect this is like many entrants on the list: It exists primarily because the romance or plot engine has to do with interactions between European-descent straight people and (pick one) a "minority" (how I dislike that word)/gay/foreign/anything-but-a-European-descent-straight person. Please just stop already. Gad, half to a third of the people on my block fit this "odd couple" definition. Same for where I work. Same for my city. And I live in the west/Midwest and not a larger melting pot like the coasts or huge city centers, where it's even more common. These days, I more surprised by myself when I register someone's race or ethnicity at all. (Though a thick Irish or Scottish accent still tickles me. They're sexy as hell.) Will Hollywood ever get the memo that the rest of us have pretty much moved on here?
And even if that's not the case, to quote "Hades" in Disney's Hercules: "Oy. Verse. Oy."
10. "Millions": The best family film of the year is by the unlikely team of director Danny Boyle and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce. Nine-year-old Anthony Cunningham and his 7-year-old brother, Damian (Lewis McGibbon and Alex Etel) find a bag containing loot that bounced off a train and is currently stuffed under their bed. With limitless imagination and joy, the film follows the brothers as they deal with their windfall.
This will be another library procurement when I suspect the MPC1 and I can sit down and watch this together. But, 'til then...
So, they're just not doing it for me. How about you?
In other news, Ebert had this great bon-mot in his review of a movie I do want to see very much: Ellie Parker.
"We understand why Hollywood is such a hotbed of self-improvement beliefs, disciplines, formulas and cults. I walked into the Bodhi Tree psychic bookstore one day, and saw a big star rummaging through the shelves. What was she looking for? Didn't she know those books were written to help people get to the point she was already at? Maybe the star was trying to reverse the process. Maybe self-help bookstores should have a section named "Uninstall."
I'm stealing that one for my next party.