Thursday, December 10, 2015

Late-season mid-level prestige cram session

You know how you vaguely hear about movies earlier in the year that are supposed to come out during awards season because they have vague ambitions toward earning awards, but eventually there become so many of them that sort of fit into that category that a bunch inevitably slip through the cracks?

Yeah, I caught up with two of those on Tuesday night.
Having an open window to see a couple movies but having nothing else that was a must-see, I decided to take care of a couple if-I-have-time-sees in a double feature at Cinema Nova in Carlton.

And they ended up having a lot more in common than just being mid-level prestige late-season releases.

The first was James Vanderbilt's Truth, which I describe as "James Vanderbilt's Truth" even though I have no idea who James Vanderbilt is. The reason not knowing the director surprised me in this case was because this has all the hallmarks of a full-level prestige movie, including starring a recent Oscar winner (Cate Blanchett) and a Hollywood legend (Robert Redford), plus a team of useful supporting players (Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Elisabeth Moss and Stacy Keach). It's of course (why of course? maybe you don't know it) the story of how 60 Minutes screwed up the story about George W. Bush's apparent period of being AWOL in the Texas Air National Guard, a story they aired two months before the 2004 election on the basis of a memorandum that had not been properly validated as legitimate. The scandal ended up taking down no less than Dan Rather (played somewhat indifferently by Redford). It's watchable but fairly artless, and a bit naive.

The second was Stephen Frears' The Program -- and yes, I do know Stephen Frears. This is a story of interest to me in that I have a long history of disliking Lance Armstrong (as discussed here). It is for all intents and purposes a Lance Armstrong biography, as it starts a decade before he was famous and takes us pretty much up to today. It has an excellent central performance from Ben Foster, and Chris O'Dowd as a more sympathetic journalist than any of those in Truth. It's also distinguished by an eye for technical details and visual panache that we might expect from a veteran like Frears. My only problem with The Program had nothing to do with the film itself, but rather, with my exhaustion level at the time I watched it. Through no fault of its own, I was in and out of sleep for around the last 30 minutes, leaving the whole experience as something of a blur (albeit a very positive blur).

Both films are about journalists who are trying to uncover lies and corruption and run the risk of libeling their subjects via unsubstantiated reporting. In the case of O'Dowd's David Walsh, it was more whispers and suggestions than outright accusations, though eventually he's able to support his suspicions with evidence. 60 Minutes goes more fully into attack mode, believing itself to be on solid ground that ultimately isn't. Both showcase moments of highs and lows in the field of journalism, a field in which I was once a full participant.

Neither movie probably gets there on its awards ambitions, though. In a lesser year -- not lesser compared to this year, but lesser in general -- Foster would have an outside shot at a nomination for playing Armstrong. But the film ultimately doesn't feel all that consequential, even though I really liked it.

What both movies do do is add to my running total of 2015 films. And with just more than a month left until I close my list, that's the real thing I'm trying to accomplish at this point of the year.

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