So with the Oscar nominations having been announced about a fortnight ago (see last posting - yeah, I know, I'm a slacker of a blogger. A slogger, if you will) we are full-on into Oscar season now. While the early favorites have clearly established themselves (I'm talking to you Benjamin Button and that slumdog millionaire nipping at your reverse-aging heels) other contenders are starting to lose traction (table for one Mr. Rourke or shall I seat you with the cast of DOUBT?) And then there are the films that never even got invited to the party in the first place. While I could go on all day about THE WRESTLER not being nominated for Best Picture, I'm also puzzled by the cold shoulder-treatment that was afforded to a film that in any other year would seem to be a shoo-in. I'm talking about REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, a searing drama directed by AMERICAN BEAUTY's one-time Oscar golden boy and otherwise-lucky-as-hell Sam "I'm Married To Kate Winslet" Mendes.
On paper, this movie should be up for as many noms as BENJAMIN BOTOX, er, BUTTON: besides the Mendes pedigree, it stars the two leads from a little indie called TITANIC, it's adapted from a well-received, though not necessarily Oprah-approved, book, and it's a period film with an unhappy ending. Basically, it's AMERICAN BEAUTY set in the 1950s and minus the flying plastic bags. So what's the diff, Academy voters? The flick was at least good enough for the Hollywood Foreign Press to bestow nominations for Best Drama, Lead Actor, and Director, as well as a Winslet win for Lead Actress at last month's Golden Globes. Winslet also won a Supporting Actress Globe for her role THE READER which, in the Academy's defense, was correctly placed in the Best Actress category for the Oscars, seeing how she is the female lead in the film. Sadly, though, Winslet's nomination for her sensuous but surprisingly dark turn in that film film cost her a nod for her work in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, a move that I think is shame, not because she has more screen time in RR, which she probably does, but that the Academy favoring a performance that requires her to age, have a foreign dialect, and, yes, have associations with the Holocaust, seems so typical. Winslet's work in RR is anything but.
For those of you who haven't seen the movie (and there apparently are a lot of you because, like Mendes' last effort, ROAD TO PERDITION, the film is currently falling on its ass at the ol' box office) Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio play an unhappily married couple living in 1950's suburbia. He has a job that gives him zero pleasure while she is discovering that raising kids and taking care of the house isn't as fulfilling as her life as an aspiring actress once was. The unhappy couple decide to move to Paris and live a relatively carefree, bohemian, lifestyle, a decision that goes over like a lead balloon with their gossiping neighbors. That's the plot essentially, but this isn't really a movie about plot. Sure, bad things happen later on, but the film is basically a pas de deux between two of our finest young actors playing a symphony of emotional notes. While it's no surprise that Winslet nails her role - though being a Brit gives her somewhat more of a challenge - DiCaprio truly amazes with a part that is the more unlikable of the two. He plays a man steeped in angst who is caught between his desires and his abilities. Honestly, he hasn't been this good in a movie since GILBERT GRAPE.
At the most recent Emmy Awards, the Best Drama prize went to AMC's "Mad Men," a terrific show that also takes place in the 50s, and like "The Sopranos," revolves around an unhappy man trapped under the weight of both his job and his family life. REVOLUTIONARY ROAD mines similar territory, but being a movie and not a TV show, adds a little more realism by featuring nudity and profanity, things that are certainly anathema of 1950s-set stories. My point is this: if "Mad Men" can collect that kind of hardware, where's the love for REVOLUTIONARY ROAD? Are the MM fans fully satiated by their desire for 50s angst, especially now that the show is set in the 60s?
I have heard grumblings from people who think the book is one of the best ever written but that the film just doesn't capture the immediacy of the characters' plights. I've also heard people say that don't want to see it because they've heard the movie is depressing. I've heard the same things directed towards THE READER, which, incidentally, isn't faring so great at the box office either. And keep in mind, the last two Best Picture winners, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and THE DEPARTED also had downbeat endings - that is, unless you tend to root for the bad guys. As I've always said, I'd rather see a depressing movie done well than a "happy" movie done miserably. PAUL BLART: MALL COP making over $70 million at the box office? Now, that's depressing.
Think I have it in for THE READER? Not at all. I thought it was a very good film. Kate Winslet deserves her accolades for her work in it. It's just not a great film, especially compared to REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, which, for the record, scored a 71% "fresh" rating on RottenTomatoes.com, while THE READER scored a 60%. The tomatoes never lie, people!
The Globes win notwithstanding, however, I'm just stunned by the nearly-universal indifference that RR has received by not just audiences but the Academy as well, especially when it seemed as if the movie was being served up mainly as Oscar bait (the supporting nod for Michael Shannon is dead-on, though.) The movie is better than that, and yes, it's even better than AMERICAN BEAUTY. It doesn't need flying paper bags or a shower of rose petals to illuminate it's powerful themes of heartbreak and disillusion. It only needs what it already has: two amazing performances by two amazing actors, neither of whom need any special effects or actor-y tricks to enhance their formidable talents. REVOLUTIONARY ROAD might not be up for Best Picture this year, but it's certainly one of the best ones I saw last year.