Over the past few years – I have made more of an effort to see "Oscar" pictures; as many of the Best Picture Nominees as possible. It is always a bit of a chore for me because honestly, those types of movies really do not interest me. In general, film-festival circuit/Oscar movies always seem to be very intense character-study dramas. There is sometimes the odd musical or ‘comedy’ (the academy’s definition of comedy is very different from mine – one awkwardly mildly humorous scene does not a comedy make). For the most part, the movies are brilliantly made, but depressing to watch. This is usually why the Oscar movies do not have the box office that summer tentpole movies have: while they may be quality, they do not have the mass appeal that whatever giant CGI popcorn fest of the year had. On very few occasions, there is some crossover – Braveheart won best picture in 1995 (back when Mel was privately crazy, but not yet publicly crazy), Gladiator in 2000, and LOTR Return of the King in 2003 (it won 11 Oscars that year).
Of the 9 nominated films for Best Picture last year – I ended up seeing 5 of them…and not liking any of them; well, the Descendants was at least a little watchable. Of the 9 nominated films this year, I have seen 5 with plans to see 1 more. I can tell you with complete honesty that I loved Argo – it was my second favorite movie of last year. While Avengers was easily the best movie I saw all year (and for the last few years), Argo was surprisingly fun, entertaining, and really well made. In slowly working through the remainder of the list, I managed to see Silver Linings Playbook.
David O. Russell, best known for the Fighter in 2010 – another Oscar movie I sort of liked – directs this “comedy” (it’s not a comedy – or, it’s a comedy in the same way The Beginners with Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer was – that is to say, not at all). This is about a man, Pat; just pulled out of a mental institution early by his mother after having been institutionalized for beating man to near death after discovering him in the shower with his wife and being diagnosed as bipolar. He goes back home to live with his parents, a quiet mother and a compulsive father, determined to do what is necessary to reconcile with his ex-wife. Along the way he meets Tiffany, a young widow dealing with issues of her own. The two become friends, do a lot of running, practice for a dance competition, and eventually fall in love. The movie is not funny, but is an intense character-driven drama about Pat and Tiffany connecting and helping each other move on and forward.
It is worth mentioning that the book was written in 2008, and while the movie seems to follow the book closely, there are some differences. The Stevie Wonder song that haunts Pat in the movie was a Kenny G song in the book. The dance contest is the climax of the movie – but seems to happen somewhere in the middle of the book. Pat recognizes that Tiffany wrote the letter in the movie, in the book – there were several letters and Tiffany tells Pat she wrote them. After this, Pat runs in a strange neighborhood, gets mugged and goes to the hospital, visits Nikki – sees she’s happy with her new family, then finally realizes he needs Tiffany. So – I will say the movie sounds more concise and with a quicker, happier ending. But – bear in mind, I still want to complain about the 2 + hour running time.
· Bradley Cooper does a good job with Pat, equal parts determined and confused as he attempts to move towards what he believes to be his goal. This may be the best Cooper has ever been, but the character is so upsetting, it’s almost hard to pull for him. Not entirely his fault though, being pulled out of the hospital early didn’t help, but refusing to take his medication is making it worse. Pat is determined to normalize his life and look for the “silver linings” – there you go, title worked in. He’ll always be Will from Alias to me – but he sure is good in this.
· Jennifer Lawrence is very good – and is a lock for the Best Actress Oscar. Again, I didn’t like the character, but not her fault. She is processing being a widow at a very young age as best she can; which is not well at all. Lawrence pulls off both tough and vunerable, almost at the same time.
· Robert DeNiro plays Pat Sr., and is clearly compulsive – mainly about the Philadelphia Eagles. You can draw your own conclusions as to whether or not mental illness runs in this family. Admittedly, I have never been a fan of DeNiro; for the last few years, he seems to be playing the same character over and over again (Pacino seems to be doing this as well). He is very good in this movie. He wants to help his son, but also can’t get over his own issues and compulsions.
· Jacki Weaver plays the mother; she’s also nominated, but it is a small role. She’s not nearly as big a character as any of the others. She pulls Pat out of the hospital trusting that what he needs to get better is to be at home.
Each of the above four are nominated for the four big awards at the Oscars. However, there are other people in the movie.
· Chris Tucker has his first major film role since 1997 as another patient at the hospital. He keeps leaving the hospital, saying that his treatment is done – then being picked up by staff stating he was not supposed to leave. He does liven up the movie a bit – and it did make me realize I missed seeing him, and no – I’m not surprised he’s in this. Remember how genius he was in The Fifth Element?
· Anupam Kher (the dad from Bend it Like Beckham) plays Pat’s therapist – who he then meets up with at a football game.
· Julia Stiles and John Ortiz play married friends of Pat – and his ex-wife. They host the dinner at which Pat meets Tiffany – so essentially this whole thing is their fault.
· Dash Mihok plays the cop assigned to keep an eye on Pat now that he’s out of the hospital.
I have reached the point in my life where I no longer apologize for not liking these types of movies. In my jaded viewpoint, they sometimes feel like they are made for the purpose of winning awards. I like movies for entertainment – to escape. Something dramatic about the hard, cruel truth of mental illness – despite being really well put together and performed – makes no sense as a movie to me. Now, this is only my opinion – I know there are lots of people out there who enjoy intense character dramas, and other festival-circuit fare. I hated this movie (not as much as I hated the movie Flight), but I can tell you it was well done, and Lawrence for sure deserves the Oscar, and DeNiro too. Personally, I would rather watch whatever nonsense is on SyFy on Saturday night; no thinking, no depressing reality – just total and complete fun craziness.
3 out of 10. Only not getting a 2 because I gave Flight a 2 and I liked it a little better than that. Gained points for Chris Tucker – who gives a really good performance. Lost points for all the running. Seriously, half the movie is running. Lost points for the dance contest . Lost points for the inevitable fight at a football game, not between our characters and fans of the opposing team, but between our characters and a bunch of racist fans of the same team.
Bonus video 1: Bradley Cooper on Alias – remember how good that was? Before J.J. Abrams got distracted by working on Lost? Then Lost was good, but he got distracted by doing Mission Impossible movies and Alcatraz? Then those were awesome but he started doing Star Trek? And now Star Trek is awesome, but suddenly he’s doing Star Wars?
Bonus Video 2: The Fifth Element – one of my absolute favorite movies – Chris Tucker is great in this.
Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews