2012 Oscar Checklist – Part 9: All Made Up With Nowhere to Go

Here now are reviews of movies featuring Best Actress Nominees. I’ve already had my say about My Week With Marilyn and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and I’m sad to say the rest fall into the same category of good acting, bad movie.

The Help – Nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress x2 

A young white woman, Skeeter (Emma Stone), dreams of being a writer in Mississippi at the dawn of the civil rights movement. So she begins writing a book all about the maids and in the process solves racism. Okay, maybe it wasn’t that easy, but this film certainly does its fair share of whitewashing. I wouldn’t mind so much if the film were any good, but to be poorly made and tone deaf, well that’s simply unforgivable.

Viola Davis is most likely going to win Best Actress, playing the dignified Aibileen, and she is very good. I don’t think the film gives her enough to do, but she does her best with the terrible writing. Octavia Spencer might win Best Supporting Actress as well, playing the jive talking Minny, and she does a fine job too. I think her character only plays 2-notes and says “Mmmhmm” too much, but she gets to make pies out of her own shit, so let’s award her already. Seriously, a good chunk of this film’s plot surrounds a shit pie. Apparently, shit pies are meant to be the funniest thing ever thought of by man, so the joke is wrung out to its fullest.

Most of the film is presented in a very bright and pop friendly fashion. Only when it needs to does the film “get real” and co-opt history for its own 2nd grade level lesson. The film doesn’t need to be gritty or even truthful to be about civil rights. But this movie tries way too hard to have its shit pie and eat it too. Hehe, shit pie, that’s funny.

Skeeter’s arc is not that interesting and it’s her movie. They waste time with her romantic adventures and giving back story on why she wants to help the help. I was about to fall asleep when Jessica Chastain showed up and stole the whole movie. She is a breath of fresh air as the naïve and infantile Celia. Chastain made a splash this year starring in 58 movies, including fellow Best Picture nominee The Tree of Life. And would you believe that she gives her best performance in this piece of trash. She’s funny and sad, but she never judges Celia. It’s a total performance and the only reason to ever watch this movie again.

The film tries really hard to make you cry at the end, because for some reason I’m meant to care about the child Aibileen has been practically raising. It’s another case of the filmmakers not building to the moment but just jumping to it and playing on our sympathies and hoping it works. Well, it doesn’t. 

Grade: D

The Iron Lady – Nominated for Best Actress, Best Makeup

This is another biography about a famous world leader who wasn’t all that beloved, told via flashbacks like J. Edgar. And like that film, this one is dull and torturous and it’s sole purpose for existing is to give its star a showcase role. Meryl Streep is former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The movie flashes back and forth between Thatcher’s greatest hits and withered, old Thatcher struggling with dementia. So, Streep is given ample opportunity to show off her chops.

Streep is good and most impressive playing old Thatcher. A lot of actors can’t pull off age, but Streep isn’t a lot of actors. The makeup work is also well done, and not just the old age stuff for Streep. Olivia Colman (Tyrannosaur) plays Thatcher’s daughter and I didn’t even recognize her. There are many subtle uses of prosthetics that are almost undetectable and used to great effect.

The film is completely unimaginative. There is nothing dynamic about the whole picture. It endlessly cuts from one section of Thatcher’s history to the next without any context or insight. The film seems to acknowledge the existence of politics but refuses to engage in them. I guess that would be too interesting. Instead, the picture holds firm to gender inequalities, as if her sex was the only thing of interest about Thatcher. There’s also a lot of garbage about Thatcher having imagined conversations with her late husband (Jim Broadbent) and the climax is all about Thatcher finally letting him go.

Thatcher led a unique life, and there sure is an interesting story to be told about her. However, the filmmakers have decided to focus on the most humdrum bits and skip over the more difficult and thematically rich sections. If only that other movie was made, and still starred the astonishing Meryl Streep.

Grade: D-

Albert Nobbs – Nominated for Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Make-Up

This might be the worst film nominated this year, depending on how high your patience is for robots invading Chicago for no reason whatsoever. Then again, I don’t have much tolerance for watching a busted Glenn Close stand around and do nothing for 2 hours. This film is pointless, plotless, uninteresting and worst of all boring.

Glenn Close stars as Albert Nobbs, a woman pretending to be a man in 19th century Ireland. She works as a waiter at an upscale hotel and does her best not to be noticed. Some stuff happens involving Aaron Johnson and Mia Wasikowska, and some other stuff happens with Janet McTeer, who is also pretending to be a man. And at some point Close tells her story, but it must have been dumb cause I don’t remember any of it and it certainly didn’t explain why she would dress up like a man for 30 years.

In fact, not a whole lot makes sense in this movie. I didn’t like any of the characters and I didn’t believe anything they did. Wasikowska gives a pretty bad performance (which is a shame cause she was so good in Jane Eyre). Close and McTeer are okay, I guess. But I can’t quite understand the Best Makeup nod when neither of them ever looked convincing as dudes.

My takeaway from the film is that people in Ireland must have been really dumb not to notice girls dressed as dudes and that girls who dress up like dudes have serious issues that can’t be solved by dressing up as dudes. Oh, and watching this film will put you to sleep.

Grade: F


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