Sunday, December 27, 2009

Road, trips, and buzz

This week I've seen two movies based on books, The Road and Up in the Air. They are quite different but each in its own way makes you think about what is important in life. I actually saw someone online comment that Up in the Air was "depressing." Now, granted, I rarely agree with that word when it's applied to any film (I'm told it was odd that I found The Hours inspiring and uplifting), but Up in the Air? Shite, man, if that's what depresses you, I imagine you'd best stay far, far away from most things I like, both cinematic and literary.

The book The Road was one of the best of the past decade, in my opinion. Like many others, I was late to the Cormac McCarthy party, and have only read these last two of his, The Road and No Country for Old Men, inspired to do so prior to seeing the film adaptations. The great thing about The Road is that it sneaks up on you. When I read it, it went fairly quickly, and I was floating along, mesmerized, by his eerie apocalyptic vision, and then all of a sudden the awesomeness crashed down and I realized I was reading a masterpiece. My take on Up in the Air, on the other hand, is that it reads very light and frothy while being deceptively clever and deep.

Up in the Air is getting way more Oscar buzz. It has already won a bunch of critics' awards and is contending in almost all the big categories: best pic, director, adapted screenplay, actor for George Clooney, and also not one but two supporting actress possibilities, Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga. I personally don't know which of the two actresses I'd prefer to get the nomination - I'm thinking Kendrick. I am still mulling over my Oscar choices. But George Clooney was great.

It's funny that I like the screenplay, because Jason Reitman (who also directed) and Sheldon Turner completely and totally changed the book. I have major issues with that when it's unfaithful to the story. My take is, go write your own screenplay, then, if that's what you want to do, instead of buying the film rights for some book and then messing it all up. But there are a few times - including The Hours and Dolores Claiborne, two of my favorite films of all time - where I am OK with what is changed for the flick, and this may be one of those cases. Reitman updates the story, adds a character, gets rid of others, leaves out a whole bunch of stuff, and alters the ending, but somehow remains true to what the book got across. I really, really liked this movie.

The Road, on the other hand, remained incredibly faithful to the book throughout almost the entire thing. I enjoyed it and I recommend that people watch it, although I kind of understand the criticism of it that it doesn't do anything surprising. But the story itself is so compelling, and it's well-acted, too. If you thought Up in the Air was depressing though - whoever you are - you might die if you go see The Road. That's what bums me out - that people are avoiding The Road because all they know about it is that it is dreary and dark. When really, it's about "carrying the fire." I would love to see Viggo Mortensen and/or Kodi Smit-McPhee get Oscar nominations. I would love to see The Road stun the naysayers and get a Best Picture nomination.

The Lovely Bones buzz is all but gone, but I'll weigh in once I see it (speaking of fabulous books adapted into film!) The Hurt Locker has received so many critics' awards that I'm sure it will get a best picture nomination; the main question is whether Kathryn Bigelow will get a directing nomination and/or Jeremy Renner will be nominated for Best Actor. I liked The Hurt Locker, but don't think it was the best film of the year. I heard it called "the Iraq war movie for people who don't like Iraq war movies." But that's not me - so then maybe it's not meant to be my movie.

What do I think are the best films of the year? So far - and please understand that I'm still compiling and editing my list - I am thinking: Inglorious Basterds, In the Loop, The Men Who Stare at Goats, Food Inc., and now, maybe, Up in the Air.

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