[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.

[Alejandro González Iñárritu]

So, Babel was coming out, but I felt that I should watch Iñárritu’s previous feature two films. Possibly because I am a crazy person. First up was Amores Perros, which is a gritty and violent film about love, told in 3 interrelated stories (a hallmark of Iñárritu).

Next came 21 Grams, which I think is my favorite of the bunch. From my impression of the marketing I had expected it to be a much more spiritual/religious film than it really was. It’s much twistier than the other two, but certainly compelling, so I had no trouble following it.

Finally, Babel was an intense and devastating film, one of those pieces that makes you wonder why anyone attempts to communicate at all, since it is so clearly doomed to failure.

(In looking up Iñárritu, by the way, I also discovered that he directed one of the most memorable segments of 11’09″01, a collection of shorts very much worth watching.)