_ Okay, so I was technically on vacation for the last 2 days and there were really no big surprises or shocks about the 85th Annual Academy Awards ceremony, so I didn’t feel the need to chime in right away. However, I did want to say something about the final night of the year in film, as well as follow-up on my predictions, which worked out pretty well for me. So let's get that that after you click below:
_ As I said before, I have followed the Oscar race for many years now, and I can’t remember one quite like this. With the Oscar nominations voting deadline before the major guilds announced their nominees, the academy was left to their own devices. While many of the expected faces were still nominated, there were many surprises, and with more time between nominations and the ceremony itself, the race has seemed more fluid than usual in phase 2. Yes, the guild wins cemented a frontrunner in picture, but in doing so they also made the directing race much more interesting. In truth, there are only about 13-15 categories that I am relatively sure about. This will make the ceremony much more interesting come Sunday, and I for one, would love it if this uncertainty became the new normal.
Without an obvious frontrunner in many of these categories, I ended up allowing personal feelings for certain films and performances to play into my predictions (which usually means assuming my favorite will lose), so I may get some extra categories wrong in the process. In the end though, none of this really matters. Will I care if I get half of these wrong? Not much. Does a win mean anything beyond confirmation of strong name recognition, an effective marketing strategy, and at least a competent film? Not in the long run. Finally, will anything about this ceremony change the great slate of films that came out in 2012 (both nominated & not)? Nope. Remember that in the end, it’s all politics. So with that said, lets get to the fun of predictions.
Note: This review is mostly spoiler free, and I will clearly designate when spoilers will begin.
House Of Cards represents what could be a huge turning point for the history of television. This will likely be remembered as the first ‘event’ show that was exclusively distributed by an online outlet, and it mostly lives up to the promise of the people involved. However, I do not think it would be revolutionary if it was distributed any other way. House of Cards is an impeccably acted, directed, and at times written show, and it will no doubt get a fair share of Emmy nominations that will solidify Netflix in the original programming game. But at least in the first season, it doesn't rise to the top of the list of great dramas.
_ Side Effects is a good movie that is definitely worth your money and time, especially considering what else has been released in the past 6 weeks. It was the first movie this year that I had even a remote interest in seeing, as it had director Steven Soderbergh reuniting with screenwriter Scott Z. Burns after both The Informant! and Contagion, and the trailer was sufficiently puzzling to keep me intrigued (although looking back it does spoil quite a bit). That said, I’d avoid knowing much about the plot before going in. I will be as careful as possible, but if you are already convinced to see this movie, do it and then come back to read the review.
The first thing I will say about Side Effects is that it was not what I expected going in. The beginning half hour is about what I expected, but then it takes a very interesting turn that revealed what type of film this really is. After that, the pace picked up and the overall scope was broadened, including a huge shot at the pharmaceutical-driven culture that is modern medicine. I think it contains an interesting view on the field, as it makes it clear that it can help, but it can also lead to attempted easy fixes for difficult problems, and an ability to ignore complicated issues by sticking someone in a (metaphorical) box and simply throwing different combinations of pills at them based on a few general symptoms and an initial impression. It is very difficult to describe where the plot goes without spoiling anything, but it is a very engaging medical drama/thriller that takes a lot of twists and turns.
Every member of the cast was good, but most of them didn’t get a ton to do. Jude Law was my favorite, but I will admit that his role here was very similar to what he played in Contagion; it is steeped in paranoia and a media-driven narrative but places him in a different context (and a much smaller ensemble) that allowed more layers of his character to be revealed. Rooney Mara was perfectly complacent, which is what the role called for. Mostly she was out-of-it, but also got a few scenes to stretch and explode, even if one of them is a case of extreme exposition. Her role here is a night & day difference from that of Lisbeth Salander that shows an incredible range. Between seeing Rooney here, and her sister Kate in House of Cards recently, it is weird how close the two parts are: the sisters play them very differently, but there is a certain coldness and practicality to the way these characters function that allows their similarities to come out (all of this is a compliment to both just in case that wasn’t clear). No one else gets much to do, but Channing Tatum continued his hot streak of great choices with a solid supporting performance in the little he was given.
My biggest problem with Side Effects is just a common trope in movies that it is best not to pay much mind to: occasionally the characters were too smart to be believable, or made too random a connection out of seemingly nowhere. There are not many (if any) plot holes, but there are some stretches that must be made, even if they are acknowledged by semi-plausible reasoning. However, a bunch of pieces came together at the end in a very compelling and unexpected way, which is all that really matters when all is said and done. When that happens and I can’t find much to immediately complain about, I consider is a success.
Overall, I really enjoyed Side Effects as an early year treat, and I think it is a satisfactory place for Steven Soderbergh to (supposedly) retire. If he never makes another film (which I have my doubts about), he will have gone out with a solid end run in several genres, including The Informant!, Contagion, Haywire, Magic Mike, and now Side Effects. It is a shame that Scott Burns will not be working with Soderbergh anymore, but given the way he has held down procedural-style stories, I am very much looking forward to what he does with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.