[Pickups: February (Oscars)]

The biggest benefit of participating in the Oscars Death Race this year was that it forced me to make the effort to see a few more in the theater that I might otherwise have pushed to DVD.

* Black Swan wasn’t one of those, since I’d seen it in 2010, but it was booked at the Cinerama, and I couldn’t resist going again. Still one of my favorites of last year, it really rewards a second viewing. The first time you see it, you’re trapped in Nina’s point of view, but the second time around you can free yourself from that

* Biutiful. Historically it seems that I have wanted to love Iñárritu films more than I actually have; they are well-crafted, but I failed to fully connect with them. In contrast, Biutiful broke my damn heart. Well-played, sir.

* Oscar Nominated Short Films (Animated) Strong package this year! “Day & Night” is the one everyone saw, as it was this year’s Pixar entry. Also, it is fantastic. “Madagascar, carnet de voyage” was probably my favorite, with its variety of animation styles. I could have watched a much longer version of it. The winner, “The Lost Thing”, was dreamy & original; I’m pleasantly surprised that it won.

* Oscar Nominated Short Films (Live Action) This was probably the most depressing live action package I’ve seen in years. Kids killing people, kids dying, Burundi in 1994… man. The winner was, I guess, the least-depressing in the group, the story of a Brooklyn guy who becomes Cupid. More or less.

* I’m so glad Barney’s Version got a nomination, if only for makeup, because then I made the effort for it in spite of the mixed reviews. I loved it. Loved. And I got a kick out of all the Canadian cameos. Now I need to read the book.

* Another Year was magnificent. At the center of it is that most unusual of things on film: a stable married couple, played beautifully by Jim Broadbent & Ruth Sheen. It’s a perfect small film, a year in the life, and would actually be a pretty great double feature with the sprawling biopic nature of Barney’s Version now that I think of it.

[DVD roundup]

Once the film festival ended, I reactivated my Netflix account. Oh, you lucky people!

* Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Not my favorite of the Apatovian genre, but these two things I much adored: Paul Rudd being decidedly not typical Paul Rudd, and the puppet vampire musical. I swear, if people had told me earlier about the musical, I would have seen the damn thing in the theater. This probably says too much about me.

* Old Joy. Two old friends reunite for a road trip to a hot springs in the Cascades. Humpday totally lifted these character types, making Old Joy the interesting & awkward, reconnecting-masculine-friendship part of Humpday without the angry-making trading on straight privilege in pursuit of ‘art’. I actually got it because it’s from the same director as Wendy & Lucy, which is one of my favorite films so far this year. Old Joy is good, but Wendy & Lucy is better. (No, I am not just saying this because I love Michelle Williams.)

* Gran Torino is a difficult movie to pin down. It was extremely effective storytelling (also, which no one has mentioned, gorgeous cinematography), but I finished it with a lot of complicated feelings about the racial politics of it, a problem regarding which others have spoken better than I could manage in general, let alone in a capsule post.

* The Wrestler. I missed an opportunity to see this for free before it came out, and I am glad I did. I think the fighting scenes in particular would have been too intense, but at home on the TV the impact was lessened to some extent. Still compelling, though.

* Nothing but the Truth. I think this went straight to video, which is unfortunate. It’s a solid film with a stronge ensemble including the always-worth-watching Vera Farmiga, story inspired by the Valerie Plame case. Good stuff.