I already wrote about how poorly I think the Oscars have been doing on the best picture choices for the last few years, so I won’t cover that ground again. This year I’ve only seen one of the nominees, but it was a good one — “Descendants”.

As I was watching it, it occurred to me that George Clooney’s character was in a really complicated situation, one so convoluted it seemed that only a good novelist could create it. Well what d’ya know, screenplay adopted from a novel. The characters were beautifully developed and Clooney did a good job letting us read his emotions as he faced one challenging plot turn and difficult confrontation after another. The role of the older daughter was as sympathetic as his, and equally well-acted. Neat to see Kaui’i from a movie maker’s perspective as my wife and I were there in 1990 and recognized much of what we saw on camera.

Saw “YA” a couple of weeks ago and really liked the way Charlize Theron’s character slowly self-destructed. It was apparent that she was headed for a bad confrontation at a suburban barbecue, and it was so well done: cataclysmic without being over the top. Patton Oswald nailed his depiction of a jaded, handicapped former schoolmate and who better to handle dark humor than Oswald? Also, as I’ve just epublished a YA novel (snowmobilewerewolf.com) and  Theron’s role was YA writer, her travails rang true, especially when discussions about dwindling market and appealing to high school students came up.

Got “The Kids Are All Right” on Netflix and was very impressed: if I’d seen it in time last year I’d have wanted it to win best picture. Unlike the previous two films I mentioned, this is more a star-driven vehicle with the three central roles belonging to big names. Particularly liked the plot moving forward by the use of camera shots more than dialogue. When Annette Bening does her detective work the proof is in the picture, and her tightening lips and narrowing eyes show her reaction clearly. I’ve always like Mark Ruffalo as well, so having him on screen a lot was a treat.

Continuing backward in time I saw that Ed Burns had directed a film and watched it on TV. It’s called “Nice Guy Johnny” and the title character is a sports radio host. Burns plays a real cad and does a capable job of it, but it was fun to think that he was telling the camerman what to shoot and counseling the actors between his takes. Clooney directs, Burns directs,  — seems like the cliche about actors might be true: what they really want to do is direct! It’s great to watch films with my wife to get the female perspective. She had a take on this one that was unlike mine but definitely loud and clear: the lead actor was not a leading man type therefore the plot was unbelieveable. I have to admit she had a point. The man in question is probably 5’5″ tall. He’s cute, but cute enough to attract the leading lady? Probably not. For all the short men in the world, though, it’s a dream come true.

I’ve seen two real oldies that I want to mention: “The Mountain Men” (1980) and “El Dorado” (1966). These are both westerns and therefore only slightly beliveable and very stylized, but both had their good points. “The Mountain Men” starred Brian Keith and Charleton Heston and was very entertaining, especially when Keith was on screen. His character was boisterous, funny and profane, and more than once I had to do a double take as to what channel I was on. There was a lot of cussing, a lot of dirty jokes and a lot of sexually suggestive actions by both men and women. It was pretty damn funny and it ended when a Native woman went against her society, so it was a real 70’s film with sexual liberation and women’s empowerment, too. El Dorado was a Howard Hawk’s film, part of a trilogy starring John Wayne (Rio Bravo and Rio Lobo being the other two films). There isn’t a lot to recommend it plot-wise, but I liked seeing Robert Mitchum playing a drunk, and the writing was full of straight lines that each character would set up for the next who would hit it out of the park. The characters all had funny observations to make along the way, and it had a very young James Caan in it as a knife-throwing bad shot and there were some laughs there too.

My brother mentioned that he saw and liked “The Artist” but I haven’t gotten around to seeing it yet, mostly because my wife resists anything in black and white.

So what have you seen lately?

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