Friday, April 04, 2014

Movies that Won't Go to the Oscars

By now, dear reader, you know I love movies. Every year, I wait for the Academy Award nominations, and then my husband and I go on a mad dash to see as many of the "favored" films as we can.  This movie affinity also means I pay attention to which movies top the charts--the primary measurement now being which movie grossed the most in any given week.

Frankly, sometimes it is downright appalling what drivel is foisted on the viewing public AND the public responds enthusiastically.  This past week's top movies:  Noah; Divergent; Muppets Most Wanted; Mr. Peabody and Sherman; and God's Not Dead.

Coming in at Number 6 is The Grand Budapest Hotel--and that's one of the movies we went to see this week.  More on this movie in a minute.

But, first, a digression.  Maybe you are old enough to remember when movies came out, and slowly by word of mouth their reputation spread.  A movie might start slow, but eventually it had time to catch up and become a hit.  Well, not anymore. Clearly, the profit a movie makes drives how long it stays in theaters.  No time for word of mouth, for a slow reputation to build.

Personally, I don't like to go to movies on the first week of their showing in our area--avoid crowds, etc.  But, sometimes, by holding back we can miss a movie's showing in our area.  We also like to patronize some of the independent theaters that still exist--so we sometimes wait for these places to bring in a movie.

So, what movies won't go to the Oscars?  I have noticed--and have also read--that when a movie is released during a year is calculated to make it Oscar-worthy or not.  For example, the earlier in a year a movie is released, the less likely it is to get an Oscar nomination.  Of course, some movies never aim to be nominated, and their release is pegged to holidays--summers, Thanksgiving, Christmas--in order to be the movie that makes a huge profit.

When I learned that a movie based on the book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, I couldn't wait to see it.  We saw Monuments Men last week.  In many ways, it is a good movie.  Oh, the acting isn't the greatest; there are times that the dialogue is somewhat stilted; and the plot greatly simplifies a complex aspect of World War II.  However, the movie does portray a story that few of us know. And one that ALL of us should know.

We may have read about recent discoveries of paintings, stashed in an apartment owned by Cornelius Gurlitt in Munich, most if not all of which had been confiscated--stolen--from Jewish families during the war.  What we might not know is that the Allies made a concerted effort to find, recover and return art works that the Nazis had systematically stolen and stashed.  As the Americans and British Allies are making a mad dash across France and Germany, they are not only racing to keep the Nazis from burning or otherwise destroying great works of art. They are also racing the third party of the Allies: the Russians.  They want to take the art and abscond with it back to Russia.  So many Russian lives were lost, why not take some art as reparations.

The movie centers on a small group of U.S. art experts, led by George Clooney and Matt Damon.  All the character names are fictionalized from the historic figures, which is a bit frustrating.  There is also a wonderful role played by Cate Blanchett, who was a French museum worker who catalogued many of the stolen works of art that came through her museum.  The movie also focuses on two signature pieces of art--the Ghent Altarpiece, and the Bruge Madonna, sculpture by Michelangelo.  While many thousands of work were stolen, the movie (following the book) focuses on a few works, no doubt to help the viewer appreciate the enormity of what they were doing.

All in all--this is a feel good movie.  It is also a cautionary tale.

The other movie we went to see--another early in the year release --was The Grand Budapest Hotel.  Curiously enough, were I doing my pre-Oscar reviews, I might have paired this movie with Monuments Men.  Both movies deal with the effects of World War II.  Both movies revolve, in part, around works of art.  Where they diverge is that The Grand Budapest Hotel is entirely fictional, based on a made-up country, the result of Wes Anderson's incredibly creative mind--he is director, producer, author, and screen play writer.

The movie tells the story of the hotel, now owned by a solitary old man.  The story begins in the late 1960s.  The hotel, once grand, is now practically in ruins, showing all the signs of deterioration seen so many places across eastern Europe after Soviet occupation and domination.  It is set in the country of Zubrowka--don't bother to look for it on maps.  It doesn't exist.  An author is staying in the hotel, and encounters the old man.  He is the one with a tale to tell.

The tale is of the hotel and Gustave H., played with a fine comedic touch by Ralph Fiennes.  Gustave H. is the concierge of the hotel who does everything, make that EVERYTHING to make his clients happy.  The plot follows a mad-cap path through the hey days of the hotel, to the reading of the will of a grand dame who loved to stay at the hotel, to the framing of Gustave H., to a thoroughly dissolute son of the grand dame, to a brass-knuckled enforcer for the son, to prison, to the Alps, to ... Oh, just go see the movie!  

In addition to seeing Ralph Fiennes, look for F. Murray Abraham, Ed Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson--and one or two other fine actors. 

If you like Wes Anderson (and I do) you may find this to be his best movie yet.

I suspect neither of these movies will get a nod at Oscar time--but I still found them hugely enjoyable, and worth a night (or afternoon...which we retired folks can do) out.


troutbirder said...

Two years ago some great movies. Last year a bust. This year so far more "drivel". Your word. I'm really looking forward to undaunted a true story based on a book I absolutely loved. Well I liked the book Seabiscuit as well...

Anvilcloud said...

I hope to remember this, or at least remember to come back here to refresh the titles.

Peruby said...

That is SOME list of celebrities in that movie! Wow!