Archive for March 6th, 2010

Oscarpalooza: A Serious Look at A Serious Man

In honor of Oscar weekend, NPI will be rerunning its reviews of the Best Picture nominees. Here, John S champions A Serious Man:

“[The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle] proves that we can’t ever know what’s going on….But even if you can’t figure anything out, you’re still responsible for this on the midterm.”

So Larry Gopnik, the physics professor at the heart of A Serious Man, tells his class about midway through the new film from the Coen brothers, basically summing up the entire movie.

Most of the Coen brothers’ films follow an Everyman caught up in morally questionable dealings, butA Serious Man deals with moral uncertainty more directly than films such as Fargo or even No Country For Old Men. Part of this comes from the fact that Gopnik (played by Michael Stuhlbarg) may be the Coen brothers’ most innocent protagonist—unlike Jerry Lundegaard, Llewelyn Moss, or even the Dude, Gopnick doesn’t do anything (as he repeatedly insists throughout the movie) to bring on an onslaught of crises. Life merely seems to happen to him, and he spends most of the film trying to figure out why. Continue reading

Oscarpalooza: Why is “Up” getting such good reviews?

In honor of Oscar weekend, NPI will be rerunning our reviews of the Best Picture nominees. Here, Josh wonders what all the fuss over Up is about:

I like Pixar movies as much as anyone else, but Up simply isn’t that good. It’s not that witty, the storyline is pretty basic, and the characters are fairly simple. Much of the interaction between characters—especially in the middle of the movie—is dull. Up is a decent adventure movie with very good animation and cute-looking characters. I could see how this is appealing for children, but I don’t understand the logic behind the reviews praising this movie as excellent for people of all ages: It has a 98 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is currently number 16 (of all time!) on IMDB.  (Admittedly, new movies tend to get a boost, but this movie shouldn’t even be in the top 200.)

After the movie, I was a bit confused about what elicited the rave reviews. Stephanie Zacharek of Salon (one of the very few critics who wrote a negative review) helped me understand what sparked them in her claim: Continue reading

Oscarpalooza: The Hurt Locker

A few months ago, when The Hurt Locker was just a small, art-house movie with a limited release, and not an Oscar nominee, A.O. Scott, in his review for The New York Times, said, “If The Hurt Locker is not the best action movie of the summer, I’ll blow up my car.” He did not mean to damn the film with small praise—he was only highlighting how strong the visceral elements of the movie are. A few weeks later, he wondered why the movie—which he called the best feature of the year—was not marketed as an action movie meant for a wide audience.

Of all the films nominated for Best Picture, only An Education has made less money than The Hurt Locker, whose $19 million worldwide gross is over $2.5 billion less than Avatar’s haul. And yet unlike films like An Education, Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire, and A Serious Man, which generally had to be sold on the prestige of its directors/cast or the emotional complexity of its story, I don’t see why The Hurt Locker could not have found a broader audience. Kathryn Bigelow’s movie is certainly one of the most taut, tightly-packed, suspenseful films of the year; it’s the kind of movie that doesn’t take long to make an impact on the audience. Continue reading