Is that all there is?
People have been asking my opinion of the Oscar-contending movies lately, and I find myself falling back on a few standard lines. The field, it seems, is full of films that are strong and solid and accomplished.
And while there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s starting to make me want to add another adjective to describe the race: boring.
I mean, where’s the craziness? Where’s operatic excess of “There Will Be Blood” to go up against the well-crafted “Michael Clayton,” or the ridiculousness of “Inglourious Basterds” to contend with the finely-calibrated “Up in the Air”?
Understand, I have nothing against “The King’s Speech” and “The Social Network” and “The Kids Are All Right” and the other films that sit atop most prognosticators’ charts. Come February I’ll have a hard time complaining if any one of them wins.
But at this stage of the race, I also want unruly wild cards, movies that make you wonder how they ever got made, exhilarating experiences that you just know are going to baffle or upset a good chunk of the audience.
“Inception” certainly has its crazy moments, though I think it may be a bit cold to really click. “127 Hours” gets points for the fact that one guy fainted at a screening that director Danny Boyle attended – and when he regained consciousness and saw Boyle, he immediately told the director how good the movie was.
But so far, the only truly unhinged Oscar contender I’ve seen is Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” (right), an over-the-top extravaganza by turns ludicrous and thrilling. If it’s my favorite movie of the year so far, that’s because it’s the one that left me walking out of the theater on a chilly Toronto morning thinking, What the hell was that?
That's what the race needs more of.
To be fair, many of the top contenders do have it to some degree. “The King’s Speech” is a historical drama that includes the king of England overcoming a speech impediment by unleashing a blistering torrent of profanity. “The Social Network” is an expert piece of work driven by a Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross score that sails right past unconventional into maniacal. “Toy Story 3” is a cartoon that makes grown men cry.
But where's the stuff that’ll shake people up?
I want the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit” to be more than just a darker, moodier version of the original with cooler music – I want the full Coen perversity to imbue every frame. (And I might well get it, though the evidence is inconclusive in the two trailers they’ve released so far.)
And it’s not asking too much to give Jacki Weaver a Supporting Actress nomination for playing the deliciously creepy mom in “Animal Kingdom,” right? And how about John Hawkes’ skeletal, scary mountain man from “Winter’s Bone” in the Supporting Actor race?
Or hell, how about Chris Morris’ “Four Lions” for Best Original Screenplay? Sure, the British comedy is offensive and tasteless in its depiction of a radical Muslim gang of bumbling would-be suicide bombers in London, but it’s also damn funny, and it’d be a worthy if riskier successor to last year’s nominee, “In the Loop.”
And hey, actors branch: Remember how Robert De Niro gained 60 pounds for “Raging Bull,” and you gave him an Oscar? And how Daniel Day Lewis hardly ever left his wheelchair while making “My Left Foot,” and you did the same?
Well, Joaquin Phoenix acted like a complete imbecile in public for a full year while making the fake doc “I’m Still Here,” sacrificing his dignity and his marketability in the service of a movie that bombed.
That’s dedication. And now that we know it was acting rather than addiction that caused all that tomfoolery, doesn’t he deserve some kind of reward?
I know these modest proposals range from possibilities (Weaver) to longshots (Hawkes) to never-in-a-million-years inconceivables (Phoenix), but I’m just saying this:
The race is getting boring. Somebody needs to open a big can of crazy.