Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Fishing for Oscars

Review: Atonement

Anyone who has paid more than a passing glace at the history of the Academy Awards, especially in the past couple decades, can’t help but notice a few key elements that, when applied to a film in the correct proportions, almost guarantee a slew of nominations and the mixed blessing label of “Oscar Bait”. For your ease and convenience, I will present a list of those characteristics that you can apply to any film you might be watching to ascertain its chances of Oscar gold, along with a few examples to prove the rule.

Foreign Accents (especially British) __

War (especially WWII) __

Disability (Mental or bodily-- Either does the trick, both and you write a thank you speech) __

Physical adaptations (neck twitch, big nose, gain weight, lose weight, cross-dress, etc.) __

Aging over several decades (makeup preferred, but good recasting is acceptable) __

Death of a main character __

Based on a novel or true story (double bonus if based on popular biography) __

Adding a strong romantic element to any of the above characteristics will result in multiplying the total by a factor of 1.1 for the presence of each of the following that exists between parties: socioeconomic disparity, physical distance, and/or all around star crossed ill-fated-ness.

Judging by this exacting and scientific system, recent BAFTA champ and Oscar hopeful Atonement scores a hefty 6.5 out of 9.1 theoretical Bait Points possible (all time Bait Point leader The English Patient scores a 7.8, in case you were wondering). Anything over 4, and you’re probably watching a film headed for at least that many nominations. But all this begs the question: are such bait-tacular flicks worth watching? The answer is the ever frustrating “it depends”.

Atonement is an undeniably classy and well produced tale of love, war, and the majority of other stuff on the list. It feels a bit too “been there, awarded that” at times, but a few elements help it stand out above many comparable films. 13 year old Saoirse Ronan brings surprising depth and subtlety to her performance as a girl whose selfish and childlike understanding of the world fatefully clashes with new feelings of jealousy and romance, and a six minute single take tracking shot of a battle’s aftermath is one of the most visually stunning and technically astounding acts of filmmaking in years. But the ending is kinda up its own ass, and regardless of Atonement’s merits, I think the vast majority of the public have had their fill of class struggle, sprawling manor houses, and their hyper-British ilk.

Grades -- Saoirse: A, tracking shot: A+, Atonement: B-


Kakashi said...

You're turning into a more demanding version of Rick Bentley from the Fresno Bee. He would give B's to everything. That's two Oscar heavy nominees you've given B-'s to. Not that it's a bad thing. Just observing.

paulthezag said...

The tricky thing about being a reviewer on a casually blogging basis is that I can consciously avoid movies that suck, and it takes something really special for a movie to earn an A, thus a conspicious number of B earners. Would you really wish a fate such as Fools Gold upon me just so I could write a D or F? If I happen to see Jumper (doubtful) you'd probably get to observe the mediocre glory of a C review.

tasik said...

...for what doth it profit a movie should it gain the whole world and lose the Oscars...

The loss of the whole world, thus doubly screwed.

Resonating enumeration of Oscarworthy traits. I agree that if one thinks about it, it's not too hard to pick up on the commonality possessed by these movies. Good review!

Kakashi said...

I would not wish Fools Gold or Jumper on you. Is your analysis that the major critics give such orgasmic scores only because they have to put up with crap for most of the year?

Kakashi said...

Although, once we get out of the late winter dumping ground, I'm sure you'll be suckered into a few mediocre summer flicks. So I can look forward to those. Remember what Dave Barry said, there's nothing more enjoyable than a good movie critic teeing off on a really bad movie.