Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Curious Case of Oscar Bait

Each year I make it a point to see all 5 nominees for Best Picture in the lead-up to the Academy Awards.  Last night I saw The Curious Case of Benjamin Button which was brilliantly directed by David Fincher.  At a run-time of over two and a half hours, I was worried that I would be looking at my phone checking what time it is and constantly thinking about the movie's pacing.  Boy was I wrong and I have to give Fincher and screenwriter Eric Roth credit for putting together the quickest two hours and fourty-six minutes in cinematic history.  This is an astonishing film that seems to be tailor-made for Oscar in February.

NOTE:  Spoilers are listed throughout the next few paragraphs so if you haven't seen this film yet, don't read below until you have.  You have been WARNED!

For the first half of the movie I kept thinking about how it seems to mirror the tone and plot of Forrest Gump.  The story arc was very similar throughout and it was a little hard for me to distinguish this movie on its own.  That all seemed to go out the window when Benjamin (Brad Pitt in a unique role that has him aging in reverse) started becoming younger than Cate Blanchett.  The plot almost reverses itself at this point and the ultimate demise of Benjamin is what makes this film most powerful.  I honestly have not felt as emotionally drawn into a movie since Return of the King (my favorite movie of all-time) in 2003.

To be honest, the performances were not outstanding overall.  Pitt was very good, Blanchett was OK and the supporting cast did a good enough job.  The real stars of the film (outside of the brilliant Taraji P. Henson who played Benjamin's adopted mother) were the visual effects and the directing.  The makeup and aging effects are done so seemlessly that you really believe Brad Pitt is a short little old man for the first third of the movie.  The narrative decision by Fincher to move back and forth between the present-day and flashbacks worked extremely well in moving the story along.  The pauses to focus back in on present-day Daisy (Blanchett) in a New Orleans hospital let the viewer take a breath from the wide arc of Benjamin's life and help ease the transition for the aging of the main characters (which is the absolute emotional core of this firm).  I think about aging in my own life a lot and this film really spoke to me in that regard.

I do think that the eerie similarities to Forrest Gump may actually hurt this movie come Oscar time.  You can draw so many parallels:  Henson's Queenie to Sally Field's role, Brad Pitt to Tom Hanks,  Cate Blanchett to Robin Wright-Penn.  Even the tugboat captain seems awfuly reminicent of Gary Sinise's Lieutenant Dan.  I can imagine many voters may not want to award a film that has so many thematical comparisons to the 1994 Best Picture winner.  I do hope that the voters can look past that and recognize the incredible visual effects and cinematography that paces this movie perfectly.  Fincher deserves his first ever Oscar for Best Director and he's completely made up for the mess that was Alien 3.  We'll see the first steps towards Oscar for the movie when the Golden Globes are announced tonight.

The one really glaring mistake I though that Roth and Fincher made with this film was to incorporate the Hurrican Katrina subplot.  It didn't really fit in at all and seemed to draw unneccesary attention away from the overall plot.  Bottom lin ethough, everyone NEEDS to see this movie.  It may be too Gump-like for your tastes but if nothing else you'll witness a masterpiece in technical achievement. A perfect 5 out of 5 JRs!

1 comment:

Mommy, Esq. said...

I bet Pitt wanted Hurricane Katrina in there since he is so vested in New Orleans (although now he and Angie are living in France). He has some tattoos of levies on his stomach.