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I know a lot of people, many of whom love movies, most of whom share these opinions with the zeal of St. Paul. Mostly, they’re wild bloviations. “Diablo Cody is the best dialogue writer working today.” Wrong. “Spider-Man 3 is better after a few re-watches.” False. For every fifteen to twenty “Tom Hanks has never been better than in The Terminal‘s,” there’s the one “Kirsten Dunst peaked at the age of twelve.” Opinions, like Pepsi products and the music of Neil Young, run the gamut from spot-on to serviceable to downright slipshod.
Yet, weirdly, amidst all this muck of ill-advised assumptions, never once have I heard even a single person so much as infer Up should win Best Picture. Its most ardent supporters seem to be counting its mere nomination as a victory against Academy pretentiousness, while its detractors are malign it with just-a-children’s-movie-deference. Whatever your opinion, odds are it boils down to this: “Up may not have the emotional complexity of Up In The Air or the refreshingly odd sensibilities of A Serious Man, but goddamn if it isn’t sweet to see the Oscars finally put Pixar up for the big prize.”
Well here’s an opinion for you, an unholy hypothesis for the Cinema Blend faithful. I agree. That’s right, I agree. I second the unwashed masses. A tip of the cap to both the movie-going public and the paid critics. Everyone is right. For once, the general consensus has honed in on that one-in-twenty opinion which seems downright sensible. It is awesome that Up got a nomination. I find the whole nomination thing refreshingly spectacular. But amongst the three legitimate contenders (as much as it sucks, Avatar is a legitimate contender) and the seven also-rans, Up is the last horse in the field. It’s the marathon runner with one leg. It’s the South American dreaming of curling gold. It’s the slutty, kinda stupid best friend running away from the killer. Don’t worry; we already have a quorum. Common sense has spoken and Up will lose big on Sunday.
I, along with every single man, woman and child on Earth, was floored by the first fifteen minutes of Up. I laughed as the film reel voiceover narrated a young Carl Frederickson going around the stump. I smiled as the buck-toothed, Amelia-Earhart wannabee Ellie pinned the grape soda badge on her future husband. I balled my eyes out as the fertility doctor delivered the bad news. It’s staggering, really, an entire relationship, a lasting, loving, partnership between two wonderful characters introduced, fleshed out and crescendoed within fifteen minutes. It’s the best Pixar has ever given us. Hell, it’s the best the movies had to offer in 2009. It’s better than the opening credits of Watchmen. It’s better than the snowball fight in Where The Wild Things Are. It’s perfect.
And the next few scenes are pretty damn good too. Carl old man grunting at his mechanical chair, berating construction workers with his old man angst, duping a gullible Boy Scout with his old man wiles. All golden. And when that house breaks loose from its hinges, soaring with the furious, unbridled vengeance and exuberance of a hundred thousand balloons and one promise which will not be left unkept, you can’t help but glow with satisfaction. What else could you possibly want from a movie?
Well, an above-average rest for starters. Let’s stop pulling punches for a minute and just call this one as it is. The second two-thirds of Up is aggressively average. Every bit of life, every iota of passion Up finds in that first half hour rapidly deteriorates behind talking dogs, dragging plotlines and villains which just seem unnecessary. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just not very good. Chocolate-loving birds, partially-functioning voice boxes, one-handed over-the-ledge saves, they’re cute---but they’re gimmicks, fillers more at home in the Hercules’ than the Beauty & The Beasts‘.
If there’s one thing a best picture can’t be, it’s just cute or enjoyable or entertaining. Not that enjoyable isn’t a noble goal, or maybe the whole point of making cinema in the first place, it’s just not an Oscar-appropriate adjective. There’s dozens of cute movies produced every year, usually at least one or two with talking animals. But these movies don’t win best picture because there’s dozens of them. The limbo is a little less impressive when it’s done through the front door. Up is a little less impressive when it swaps deathbed signs of affection for canine aviators. Honestly, can you remember any film so audacious in its early depth, yet so superficial in its late climax? Up begins with a heartbroken husband saying goodbye, and later attempts to peak with a dog getting its head stuck in a cone.
Up stands nominated for best picture, an Academy Award it will surely lose come Sunday. It’s an afterthought, a spectator with VIP perks. And that’s the way it should be. It’s not because it’s animated. It’s not because it’s about flying your house to South America. It’s because the later two-thirds of Up pale in comparison to its epic opening. Do I own it on Blu-Ray? Yes. Is it any match for Up In The Air? Squirrel!
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