Starring – Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, and Oscar Levant
So I’ll admit it, I have a love affair with all things French. Paris, specifically, is one of my favorite places ever. So much so, that occasionally, I have been known to pull up the Google map of the city and street-view surf around to various places that I either want to go, or remember fondly. Imagine my delight, when I found out that Gene Kelly, the man who was primarily responsible for the best musical ever (Singing in the Rain), was in a movie set in the romantic, free-spirited, and gorgeous streets, and hearts of Paris! Motherfucking, Paris, son! So did it stand up to all that hype and ballyhoo? Almost.
Firstly, lets just get this out of the way. I don’t think any musical is going to quite equal Singing in the Rain. The color, the musical numbers, the athleticism, and the practical use of singing and dancing numbers to naturally advance the plot, is not only remarkable, it’s also just not fair measure upon which to hold the competition. It’s like comparing Total Recall (the Schwarzenegger version, for gods sake) to another Sci-Fi movie. No comparison, everything else loses.
Okay, so discounting the unfair competition, how was An American in Paris? Very good. When preparing for this review, I had a set number of routines in my head that I wanted to talk about, but as I tried to isolate what made each stand out from the others, I’d remember just what elements of the other routines I liked as well. For instance, possibly my favorite dance number was the description/introduction of the many faces of the film’s love interest, Lise (Leslie Caron). In said dance number, an admirer explains to his friend just what this siren is like using different styles of dance to illustrate different facets of her personality. But as I was typing up how that set of mini-routines was so fantastic, I remembered Gene Kelly’s Buster Keaton-esque morning routine putting away his bed, and preparing breakfast. Awesome, and totally worthy of its own mention. Each routine, and each song had something like this that made it worth watching, and as such, the ranking system I originally devised doesn’t work out so well when writing about them.
The dancing and choreography were certainly fun to watch, but there were a few times where I would have liked a bit more storytelling instead of dancing just for dancing’s sake. A prime example would be in the films final dance routine (which, by the way, lasts a full 18 minutes without any dialog of any kind). Though I liked the tour through the famous french paintings, the stretch was a pretty long one where I found my attention wandering a bit. By and large though, I found myself engaged (mostly) throughout. I’m sure I’m not making any real revelation here when I say that Gene Kelly was a pretty competent dancer, so watching him wasn’t really that hard.
When it came to the secondary characters, however, the magic slipped away a little bit faster. Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, and Georges Guetary simply were never quite given enough to do, with the exception of accompanying Gene Kelly. Similarly the plot for those characters seemed a little thin as well…but speaking of plot…
The story goes like this, Gene Kelly plays Jerry Mulligan, a painter. A rather mediocre one, even by his own admission. He and his starving artist friends live hand to mouth in a beautiful building on the left bank of the Seine, each struggling and working hard to sell their art, be it painting, piano, or dance. While out selling his paintings, or trying to, he meets a rather well to do socialite who does all she can to seduce him, and lure him in. While out on the town with her one evening, Mulligan doesn’t recognize their first date for what it is and finds himself captivated by the beauty at another table.
The trouble comes in when we the audience realize that this girl, the object of his affection, is in a relationship with one of his good friends and is about to be swept off to the wedding chapel with him. So now Jerry has to pick, between a woman who is the unavailable ideal, or the woman who is the pines after, but is his clear second choice. Unfortunately this plot weakens toward the end and seems more like a formula conducive to the inclusion of dance numbers than it does a reasonable plot that happens to have dance numbers in it. We never really get a satisfactory resolution for around fifty percent of the stories, they are just left open-ended.
As with the unattainable ideal that is Singing in the Rain, An American in Paris is so vibrant, it nearly causes your brain to explode with colorful seizures. The set pieces are all fun, especially when they rather faithfully re-create some recognizable Parisian landmarks as with the fountain at Place de la Concorde, or the nest of little book-stalls that exist along the both sides of the Seine.
So, An American in Paris is definitely my second favorite musical that I’ve watched for this list, which isn’t very descriptive considering it exists somewhere between Singing in the Rain (which, we’ve established is fantastic), and West Side Story (which is fucking awful). That’s like saying something is between noon and midnight, or someone is between a humanitarian and a murderer. Rest assured that I really enjoyed An American in Paris. I’ll count myself as super lucky if all of the other musicals on the list are this good!
Each year I approach the whole Oscar Award season with more than a little bit of trepidation. Films that truely deserve to win (granted, this is all in my opinion) get overlooked, actors and actresses who deserved to get the award for their best performance in a movie a few years ago get the award this year for something that is generally a little cliched and entirely safe, and most eggregiously, films that are unique or are attempting something new are overshadowed by the size of a competitor’s box office.
This year is a little different. This year I am more than a little optimistic about the selection of films, actors, and crew up for consideration. I haven’t seen all of the options in each category (yet), but in most all of the categories I DO have a strong opinion on who I think should win. Not only do I have very pronounced opinions on this subject, but I imagine that all of you do as well, so I’ve included some surveys in this post to see just what everyone thinks. So please take a moment and let me know what you think…so without further ado, lets get started…
Best actor in a leading role Oscars 2010 nominees
* Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart” (Fox Searchlight)
* George Clooney in “Up in the Air” (Paramount in association with Cold Spring Pictures and DW Studios)
* Colin Firth in “A Single Man” (The Weinstein Company)
* Morgan Freeman in “Invictus” (Warner Bros.)
* Jeremy Renner in “The Hurt Locker” (Summit Entertainment)
In the best actor race, I’ve seen two of the performances thus far, George Clooney in Up In the Air, and Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker. Let me preface this by saying that I am generally a fan of everything that George Clooney does. He is slick, cool under pressure, a nice looking man, and he most certainly can act. That being said, he deserved it for Michael Clayton, not this. Up In The Air was a good movie, but it wasn’t what I would call a great one. Jeremy Renner’s war addicted soldier was a far more interesting character study in my opinion. Renner played a man who was electric and magnetic, so the audience couldn’t keep their eyes off of him, but at the same time he left room for his co-stars to shine as well.
Not having seen any of the others yet I can’t speak to the quality of any of their performances…in terms of each as actors though, all are more than qualified to be in this race. I have a feeling that this might be Jeff Bridges’ award to lose, however. Bridges is a continually strong actor who gives his all to each role, making each movie he has a role in, more than a little bit better for having him.
Best actor in a supporting role Oscars 2010 nominees
* Matt Damon in “Invictus” (Warner Bros.)
* Woody Harrelson in “The Messenger” (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
* Christopher Plummer in “The Last Station” (Sony Pictures Classics)
* Stanley Tucci in “The Lovely Bones” (DreamWorks in association with Film4, Distributed by Paramount)
* Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds” (The Weinstein Company)
Big respect to Mr. Damon, Harrelson, Plummer, and Tucci, but this award should…no, MUST go to the outstanding performance by Christoph Waltz, as Col. Hans Landa, in Ingourious Basterds. Never have I gone into a movie more apprehensive, and come out more exuberent than I did with Basterds, thanks mostly to Waltz’s performance. Not only was this character a force of nature, it was a multi-lingual, full frontal assault on the viewer. The bar has been set, and it’s going to take nothing less than divine intervention to get to the next level.
Luckily, I think my passion for Waltz’s performance is shared by many in the film world, so I predict the Oscar for best actor in a supporting role will find it’s way to him.
Best actress in a leading role Oscars 2010 nominees
* Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side” (Warner Bros.)
* Helen Mirren in “The Last Station” (Sony Pictures Classics)
* Carey Mulligan in “An Education” (Sony Pictures Classics)
* Gabourey Sidibe in “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” (Lionsgate)
* Meryl Streep in “Julie & Julia” (Sony Pictures Releasing)
This catagory, this year, is my Kriptonite. I have seen none of these performances. I’ve heard Precious is great. Heart-breaking, but great. Helen Mirren is always fantastic and deserving of attention, but she won recently for The Queen. Meryl Streep, who has a permanent seat awaiting her each year in the the front row of the Oscars Ceremony, is receiving rave reviews for her rendition of Julia Child, but she too has gotten a lot of recognition from her peers. That leaves us with Carey Mulligan from An Education, or Sandra Bullock from The Blind Side. One plays a young girl navigating her way through the strange and sometimes predatory world of the fifties and sixties. The other plays a brassy, proud Texas MILF who helps a disadvantaged young man by showing him what family is. I have great interest in one of these and the other I still roll my eyes at, I’ll let you decide which.
Deep down I hope that Gabourey Sidibe or Carey Mulligan take this one, but I am afraid that Mirren, Streep and Bullock stand a better chance, Bullock in particular.
Best actress in a supporting role Oscars 2010 nominees
* Penélope Cruz in “Nine” (The Weinstein Company)
* Vera Farmiga in “Up in the Air” (Paramount in association with Cold Spring Pictures and DW Studios)
* Maggie Gyllenhaal in “Crazy Heart” (Fox Searchlight)
* Anna Kendrick in “Up in the Air” (Paramount in association with Cold Spring Pictures and DW Studios)
* Mo’Nique in “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” (Lionsgate)
I am bummed out that neither Melanie Laurent, or Diane Kruger were nominated for Oscars (Laurent for leading role, and Kruger for supporting). Both turned in incredible performances in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. As it stands I’ve only seen Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick, both in Up In The Air, which I thought was pretty good, but not really what I’d call Oscar worthy. From the reviews I’ve heard, it looks like they should only read one name this year, for this catagory. Mo’Nique. As the predatory, dangerous, and ultimately believable mother to the main character in Precious, Mo’Nique, like Jeff Bridges in the actor race, has this all but sewn up.
Best animated feature film of the year Oscars 2010 nominees:
*“Coraline” (Focus Features) Henry Selick
*“Fantastic Mr. Fox” (20th Century Fox) Wes Anderson
*“The Princess and the Frog” (Walt Disney) John Musker and Ron Clements
*“The Secret of Kells” (GKIDS) Tomm Moore
*“Up” (Walt Disney) Pete Docter
This is hard. Usually even if other animated films are good, Pixar comes along and almost arbitrarily wins. This time around the director of the much ballyhooed and beloved Nightmare Before Christmas gives us Coraline; The ever-popular, auteur director Wes Anderson puts an animated spin into one of his films with The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Disney rediscovered the formula that made them successful in the first place with The Princess and The Frog, and the fifth entry is filled with a film that I’ve never heard of, most likely to maintain a certain indie cred on the part of the Oscars, despite the fact that it will never win.
If I had my druthers, Coraline would take it. I think, however, that despite the leveled playing field, Up will still float away with the prize.
Best in cinematography Oscars 2010 nominees:
*“Avatar” (20th Century Fox) Mauro Fiore
*“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” (Warner Bros.) Bruno Delbonnel
*“The Hurt Locker” (Summit Entertainment) Barry Ackroyd
*“Inglourious Basterds” (The Weinstein Company) Robert Richardson
*“The White Ribbon” (Sony Pictures Classics) Christian Berger
This award will probably easily go to Avatar, thanks mainly to the ground breaking technology that gave birth to the cinematography contained therein. I would like to see it go, instead, to The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, or The White Ribbon. Each of these films, Hurt Locker, Basterds, and White Ribbon has stuck with me exponentially more than Avatar, making each location more breathtaking than an ironically named place with glow-in-the-dark plants, floating mountains, and giant blue Native Americans. The care and precision in the depiction of an eerie, ominous German village from the early 1900s, the stylized and lovingly rendered portrait of France in the grip of the Nazis, and the cruel and harsh desert climate, filled with bad blood and explosives, in my mind, are all more precious than unobtainium.
Avatar will probably win, but Inglourious Basterds, The Hurt Locker, and The White Ribbon deserve to. Specifically Inglourious Basterds.
*“Inglourious Basterds” (The Weinstein Company) Quentin Tarantino
*“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” (Lionsgate) Lee Daniels
*“Up in the Air” (Paramount in association with Cold Spring Pictures and DW Studios) Jason Reitman
In case you haven’t read any of my thoughts in the other catagories, I am a huge supporter of Inglourious Basterds. Tarantino has finally manage to return to the kind of breathtaking, engaging, and self assured filmmaking not seen from him since Pulp Fiction. Despite the misguided popularity of the Kill Bill series (Vol. 1 was all reference and flash, and though Vol. 2 redeemed it slightly, it wasn’t enough to fully salvage the series) , and the strange love for the just plain awful Death Proof, Tarantino has fully returned to form with his epic WWII film. A close second in this category would have to be for Kathryn Bigelow’s direction of The Hurt Locker. I’ve been a big fan of Bigelow since back in the days of Point Break, and Near Dark, so I’m glad to see she’s still around making compelling and entertaining films. Bigelow has managed, almost single-handedly, to trash the assumption that women directors can only direct romantic comedies.
The one potential upset in this race comes in on the wings of a great neon dragon-like creature, James Cameron. My choice: Quentin Tarantino.
Best motion picture of the year Oscars 2010 Nominees:
*“Avatar” (20th Century Fox) A Lightstorm Entertainment Production James Cameron and Jon Landau, Producers
*“The Blind Side” (Warner Bros.) An Alcon Entertainment Production Nominees to be determined
*“District 9″ (Sony Pictures Releasing) A Block/Hanson Production Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham, Producers
*“An Education” (Sony Pictures Classics) A Finola Dwyer/Wildgaze Films Production Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey, Producers
*“The Hurt Locker” (Summit Entertainment) A Voltage Pictures Production Nominees to be determined
*“Inglourious Basterds” (The Weinstein Company) A Weinstein Company/Universal Pictures/A Band Apart/Zehnte Babelsberg Production Lawrence Bender, Producer
*“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” (Lionsgate) A Lee Daniels Entertainment/Smokewood Entertainment Production Lee Daniels, Sarah Siegel-Magness and Gary Magness, Producers
*“A Serious Man” (Focus Features) A Working Title Films Production Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, Producers
*“Up” (Walt Disney)A Pixar Production Jonas Rivera, Producer
*“Up in the Air” (Paramount in association with Cold Spring Pictures and DW Studios) A Montecito Picture Company Production Daniel Dubiecki, Ivan Reitman and Jason Reitman, Producer
Now we come to the big daddy. Who will win the big enchilada? The Oscar for best motion picture of the year? This year, as a means of driving up interest in viewers, the standard set-up of choosing from 5 nominees has been doubled to 10. I’ve seen six of the ten films, and my overall tone isn’t changing. Inglourious Basterds is still my first choice. The inclusion of more options, however, does change my second choice. Despite the fact that it will be hugely overshadowed by “the other” effects heavy, science fiction film, District 9 has excelled at doing a lot with a little. Made for barely a fraction of the cost of Avatar (30 million as compared to upwards of 300 million), District 9 remains a fully realized world that seems more realistic than Avatar ever was. Avatar and The Hurt Locker definitely stand a good chance of winning, but neither affected me quite as much as Basterds or District 9 did this year.
There are quite a few other awards to be debated and pined over, but I feel that these are the ones I’m most interested in. If you should like to see a complete list of the nominations, check it out here… http://oscar.go.com/media/2010/html/print10.html.