Saturday, November 19, 2016

Loving the Arrival of Strange Trolls

The first half of November is well in the books, and brought with it were a handful of releases that could figure into the Oscar race, albeit in limited ways.

Loving was a mainstay on many prediction lists for most of the year, even after the soft though respectable impression it left at Cannes. But having now been seen by a greater number of domestic press and audiences, it's looking more like a fringe contender. Jeff Nichols' telling of the story of interracial couple Richard and Mildred Loving -- who fought and won a groundbreaking Supreme Court case to have their marriage recognized in Virginia in the 1960s -- eschews the obvious Oscar-bait hooks of its premise and takes a far more low-key look at their shy personal lives.
It's probably the most decent movie this year that'll have you checking your watch throughout. Nichols' direction is understated and ultrafine to a fault. Such a whispered approach works best when building to moments of dramatic impact, which this film lacks. But it does give rise to a pair of quietly expressive performances from Joel Edgerton and (especially) Ruth Negga, likely the film's best shot at Oscar attention.

Negga joins an already crowded Best Actress field, which includes Amy Adams in one of her two November unveilings, Arrival. Modern mood master Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners) has finally landed a thinking person's script -- superbly adapted by Eric Heisserer from a Ted Chiang short story -- that's more cerebral and lingering than the pulp he's been elevating lately. Adams plays a preeminent linguist, depressed over the loss of her daughter, enlisted by the military to forge communications with a mysterious race of aiens who have landed their curvy monolithic ships all over the world. It's a role that requires a lot of internalized thinking and emoting on Adams' part, but she plays it brilliantly.
As always, Villeneuve's attention to tone is impeccable. Desaturated colours, shadowy interiors, ominous sound design and another inventive score from Johann Johannsson all keep our sense of wonder rapt, whilst our brains process the intricacies of the story. Multiple nominations are probably in store, but as to whether it'll play in the so-called major categories is anyone's guess. I'll confess that while fascinated throughout, the emotional element did not register with me as profoundly as it seems to have intended.

More lighthearted fare graced the marketplace as well, angling for a Best Visual Effects nomination and possibly the win. Marvel's Doctor Strange is undoubtedly at its best when treating us to its trippy, kaleidoscopic spatial manipulations; Dizzying in 2D and possibly too much in 3D, but whatever format, it's impressive work from ILM. But that said, I honestly zoned out more than once during this rote origin story. Not that there isn't any fun to be had (Cumberbatch is having fun and Tilda Swinton is never not magnetic on screen), but all that mystical multiverse exposition: Zzzzzzz....

If you want an equally trippy but less long-winded diversion, it's kinda hard not to enjoy the unchecked, vibrant lunacy of Dreamorks' Trolls. Let's not pretend that it's a great movie; You wouldn't be wrong to dismiss it as kiddie flick that leans on childish mania and pop music covers, but people sorta like childish mania and pop music covers. The key is in how committed it is to its own colourful weirdness.
I can't imagine it stands a chance in a crowded Best Animated Feature contest this year, but there's an outside chance that Justin Timberlake's dance party earworm "Can't Stop the Feeling" could make a case for itself in Best Original Song.
Also opening these last two weeks were a pair of anti-war movies in Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge and Ang Lee's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. The former's noble 'conscientious objector' message is undercut by not only Gibson's glamorization of trench warfare violence (capably executed though it may be), but more so by the hokey paint-by-numbers script that feels stuck in the 90s.
As for the latter, it had its Oscar hopes deflated when critics glommed onto the failed experiment of its 120fps frame rate. It'll probably need a miracle from the guilds to salvage even below-the-line nominations, although stranger things have happened.

1 comment:

  1. It's almost ironic that people aren't LOVING Loving. They are more liking it. Oh well, I am still looking forward to seeing it.