It's Oscars time. Somebody wake the Grouch.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Besting Loose 2015! - The 11th Annual Oscar Best Picture Review

Tomorrow is the night when millions of people from around the world turn on their televisions and celebrate the movie industry. And after the pre-Oscar shows about Hollywood's vast history, we all turn to the other business of tweet-mocking the Oscars show within an inch of its gilded, overwritten life.

There will be many awards given, but none so prized as the award for Best Picture, given to the producers of the best film of the year, instead of the directors, actors, writers, grips, or others who actually made the blasted thing.

Here are my annual capsules of the Best Picture nominees. (As usual, I've not really gotten to see them, so I've done my best to describe them as they ought to be. Seriously, if they're different from this, then I don't know how they got nominated. Take my word for this. I've been doing it for 11 years.)

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American Sniper

Clint Eastwood directs the gripping tale of the first American to ever successfully hunt for and KILL a snipe.

Bradley Cooper plays Phineas Q. Farthingdoodle, a failed easy listening DJ who decides to shake up his life by going on a dude ranch vacation. After being informed that Billy Crystal has mined this territory twice, with mixed results, Phineas chooses the thrill-a-minute, devil-may-care, camouflage-glittered life of a woodlands hunter instead, reasoning correctly that he can live on the food he kills, and, in a pinch, can accidentally shoot some of the longhorns owned by the stuck-up bastards at the nearby dude ranch camp.

After outfitting himself in head-to-toe camouflage - including a very uncomfortable scene involving some Fruit of the Loom product placement and a zoom lens, he purchases several high-powered rifles and a dozen Duck Commander duck calls, the latter of which turn out to be a poor investment, as it is deer season.

Phineas proves to be a terrible deer hunter, partially because he has seen Bambi 100 times (and cried every time), and partially because he has also seen Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter 100 times, and is overcome with the insatiable urge to shoot any fellow hunters who look like Christopher Walken (a more common occurrence that you would expect, even in a Hollywood film).

At his nadir, he is mocked and shamed by many of his fellow hunters (all of whom are inexplicably named Bubba) and the dude ranch douche bags. The former suggest that Phineas go "snipe-hunting," and being completely oblivious to sarcasm, that is exactly what he does. He sets off into the wilderness into a personal odyssey of tracking, shooting, camping, beef jerky devouring, and uncomfortable outdoor constipation. Just when he is about to doubt the existence of snipes (having finally looked up the subject on Wikipedia), he accidentally fires his rifle into the air. Miraculously, it hits a Vought Corsair, forcing its pilot to crash land right on top of the world's only actual, existing snipe.

The snipe is killed instantly. Phineas is credited with the kill, and becomes famous, most of all for being sent to prison for 10 years for destroying an endangered species.

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Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu dares to go where no live-action director has gone before, which is to make a feature length film about the Hanna-Barbera cartoon, Birdman. (The subtitle of the film is the director's plaintive hope that no one remembers this character or his well-known revival on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim.)

Michael Keaton plays Birdman, giving the usually stiff and pedantic hero a lively, sardonic edge, mostly displayed by scratching himself in personal areas, and referring to all members of the opposite sex as "sweetheart" and "doll-face."

Unlike the original cartoon or the Adult Swim reboot, the Birdman of Iñárritu's film is an actor, looking for his big dramatic break. Ironically, it comes when he is awarded the lead role in Batman, directed by Tim Burton (played by Johnny Depp), Birdman gets the role because he already has superpowers and because "his natural wings give the Bat-cape a great flowing look in widescreen."

However, playing a different superhero than the one he already is gives Birdman a serious existential crisis, which he resolves by developing a personality disorder. (He thinks he is Helena Bonham-Carter.) The rest of the film explores how he tries to balance fighting crime with his acting duties, Tim Burton's amorous advances, and being mobbed by Harry Potter fans who are still furious that he killed Dobby.

The crisis all comes to a head when he is stunt flying the Batplane (a modified Vought F4U Corsair). He loses control of the plane and is about to crash when he realizes he is not Queen Lady Jane and can fly under his own power. He flies off joyfully towards the warm rays of the sun, and not understanding basic principles of astronomy, freezes to death in space.

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Boyhood


Richard Linklater spent 12 years making this dramatic story of a young boy coming of age in a troubled family. Unfortunately, he recorded every single second of his young actor's life and the film is 12 years long. Academy voters and critics are still watching it, but report that it's started out well He's just starting to crawl and his boom-boom doesn't smell quite so bad since they got him off of the carrots.

Seriously, Linklater does not hold back on the details. Gene Shalit's initial draft review of the film uses the phrase "Linklater is Cuckoo for Ka-ka" 17 times.

Not having all that time to kill, we at DOUI got a copy of the extended trailer (only 4 hours) and can report some additional highlights of this gripping story:

  • Age 3 - He gets his tooth knocked out when he tries to ride his pet Scottie (a monkey, dressed up to look like James Doohan) and falls into an open manhole (his father's beer cooler).
  • Age 7 - He notices for the first time that girls are different when his 12 year-old sister explains how babies are made, using a tuning fork and a can of Cheez Whiz.
  • Age 11 - He decides he wants to be a pilot after visiting an air show (and watching a stunning Vought Corsair flyover) but his dream is quickly shattered when he discovers that he gets airsick from plane noises. He quickly changes his vocational aspirations to "Cheez-Whiz manufacturer."
Great stuff, and we look forward to seeing whether it wins in 2027.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson's latest knockabout romp stars Ralph (pronounced RaaiTHHHH [spittle]) Fiennes as an aging Bavarian Alpine hotel with delusions of grandeur (it thinks it is Helena Bonham-Carter). One lengthy bout of psychotherapy and out-of-control Harry Potter convention later, the hotel is on the road in France, looking for a nice spot to set up shop in, close to Paris, but not too close, "so as not to have to put up with all those smelly Parisian hotels." (The Grand Budapest - pronounced Buda-PESTCHHHH) Hotel is kind of a jerk.)

This voyage (pronounced vo-YASHHHZZZ) of self-discovery is tripped up when French building inspectors catch up with the slow-moving hotel and issue a notice of condemnation, because it lacks the minimum wine cellar (2000 cubic yards) and fromagerie (47 cheese rooms) for French establishments. Highly alarmed by this predictably Gallic turn of events, the hotel escapes into Switzerland, where 24 cheese rooms is the standard, and German-born hotels can get by with 17, if they have compensating schnitzel-ovens (an even dozen).

Things really get crazy when Swiss authorities get a notice of extradition for the hotel on the charge of murder (one of the inspectors was still trying to post the notice of condemnation when the hotel panicked - after being buzzed by a Vought Corsair-  and ran off, crushing the inspector under the Segway it was fleeing on). The charge turns out to be a mistake (it was another, Belgian, hotel) and the hotel gets to spend its autumn years off of a bypass near Thun (pronounced THOR, mostly for the sake of a tie-in with an upcoming Avengers flick).

Yes, the French hotel inspector's name was Clouseau.

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The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch stars in a dark and gritty story about the rough and tumble world of celebrity impressionists. It's a darkly rough, gritty tumble of a film.

Cumberbatch plays Cyrus MacGillicutty, a young comedian starting out on his own in L.A, After struggling with a limited observational stand-up routine (50 minutes on the ins and outs of breakfast cereal getting soggy) he tries to liven up his act with some improv and accidentally discovers he has a gift for doing impressions of celebrities. (A heckler tells him he's boring, but he mishears it as "Turing" and does 15 brilliant minutes on getting his necktie stuck in the gears of an Enigma machine.)

Soon enough, his career is on the rise and he's palling around with other notable impressionists of the times. He's swimming in Rich Little's pool, dining on Frank Gorshin's veranda, and wearing Andy Kaufman's Elvis pants.

The sudden rise to success takes a dark and tumbly turn into gritty roughy when one day he is summoned to a seaport and flown via Vought Corsair (the OS2U Kingfisher model, of course) to a remote island. There, he finds the other great celebrity impressionists of his day and discovers they have all been called to battle to the death. The winner receives a lifetime pass on to the Tonight Show to promote his or her work at any time - even the Catskills stints! The losers will die (because, as I noted before, it's a battle to the death and... sheesh, are you people even reading all of this?!). The twist? All of the fighting must be done while doing impressions.

After killing two Humphrey Bogarts, a spot-on Kate Hepburn, and a fair to middling Jimmy Stewart, MacGillicutty comes face to face with a young impressionist doing a magnificent Alan Turing (obsessively counting bicycle pedal revolutions). Reminded of his own good fortune, he cannot bring himself to kill his opponent. This turns out to be fortuitous, as the opponent is in fact his younger self, transported by a time wormhole to this moment in the future. Together, they defeat the remaining impressionists, except for Rich Little, who had escaped earlier by virtue of his convincing Johnny Carson impression. They leave the island on a jet ski, destined for an unknown future as Jimmy Cagney.

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Selma

Selma is the story of the famous and important civil rights march in Alabama, and thus is much too serious a film to risk parodying here. However, I do take objection to the few revisions that the filmmakers made in the film:

  • In the scene with President Johnson, his tie is tied in a Double Windsor knot. Everyone knows Johnson favored a Half-Windsor.
  • George Wallace did not travel via Vought Corsair to Tuscaloosa to block the doors of the University of Alabama. He made the trip in Bull Connor's Klanmobile.
  • In scene 47, Martin Luther King Jr.'s mustache is clearly upside down.
  • The "Tusks are looser" University of Alabama/Elephant joke did not originate with Hosea Williams. He borrowed it from Groucho Marx, who borrowed it from an early iteration of a Bazooka bubble gum wrapper, written by S.J. Perelman.
Other than that, great film! I hope to see it and the other nominees someday soon.

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The Theory of Everything

The inspiring story of how Stephen Hawking overcame the debilitating weakness caused by his battle with ALS to make great advances in the world of physics. However, the story goes a little awry when the screenwriter takes the idea of a Universal Theory of Everything a little too literally, and elaborates on several details of the theory in a long monologue by the physicist, including:

  • The intricate relationship between dark matter and the way you can never quite get Marmite to spread evenly on toast.
  • How the tenuous nature of the event horizon of a black hole explains Jim Carrey's erratic film career.
  • Why the legroom on airplane flights would improve greatly if airlines would just apply the General Theory of Relativity and curved space to copies of SkyMall magazine. (Bad timing on this one, perhaps!)
  • How quantum gravity is directly responsible for the appalling quality of writing at televised awards shows. (Edgy! But is it too close to home for Oscar voters?!)
The film reverts back into a traditional narrative when Hawking is flown in a Vought Corsair to the CERN supercollider, where he is told by a technician that it has been bought by Disney and is to be converted into the world's longest underground roller coaster. Hawking's wits are still sharp though, and he quickly spots that the technician is in fact actor Jim Parsons of TV's The Big Bang Theory. Hawking responds with an electronically synthesized "Bazinga!" and the film ends in a jovial freeze-frame of everyone's mirthful reaction.

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Whiplash

Marvel storms the Oscars with this dazzling spin-off featuring the villain from Iron Man 2. Mickey Rourke returns to the screen as Ivan Vanko, the Russian genius physicist/bird fancier, with a taste for whips that would make the cast of 50 Shades of Grey blush (if such a thing were possible).

The film opens with Vanko being treated for very severe burns, and includes a lengthy recuperating/training montage reminiscent of the Rocky films (in that it uses the same music and 15 minutes of the montage consist of Vanko chasing a chicken - dude loves birds). After fully recovering, except for a slight speech impediment (ironically, the inability to pronounce Russian words correctly), Vanko begins to plan his revenge against Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., in full Sherlock Holmes mode, for some reason). 

Unfortunately, Iron Man is doing a Guardians of the Galaxy tie in and is somewhere in deep space at the time. So, instead, Vanko decides to revenge himself on Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) by wiping out the band Coldplay, a process he describes as "consciously uncoupling" them from life. After learning that Potts has heavily invested in a magazine named "Goop," he decides nothing could be worse than that and turns his attentions to revenging himself on  Lt. Col James "Rhodey" Rhodes. 

Alas, he is a bit confused by casting issues, and instead of going after the Don Cheadle version, he takes his vengeance upon the Terence Howard version during a shoot of the new TV series Empire. Thoroughly confused by the fact that "Rhodey" Rhodes is spending most of his time in a music studio, trying to get a "hook that is off the hook," Vanko gives up dreams of revenge and makes the lonely journey home to Russia (in a Vought LTV A-7 Corsair II) where he becomes regionally famous as an inventor of electrified S&M paraphernalia.

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