Oscar Bait Roudup

I’ve seen a few of this year’s Oscar Bait films. Here’s what I thought of them, from best to worst.

Milk: Yep, I’m always a sucker for a historical epic, especially one set in a time and place that I can remember. Sprawling without ever being boring, and inspiring without getting preachy. I’ve always known that Sean Penn was a great actor; it’s nice to know that he can do “happy” as well as less pleasant emotions. James Franco is also very good as the main man in his life.

The Reader: I have to ask myself: Am I a Kate Winslet fan because she’s a brilliant actor with an excellent taste in scripts, or because she takes her clothes off in almost every film? Probably a combination of both. Here she plays her least sympathetic character, but you still care for her greatly. Questions of guilt, evil, and the corruption of innocence abound. But would the main male character (played by David Kross and Ralph Fiennes at different ages) really be that messed up just because he had an affair at 15?

Frost/Nixon: I didn’t know Richard Nixon composed a piano concerto. That’s not the only thing writer Peter Morgan teaches us in the other Oscar bate movie set in the 1970s. Michael Sheen plays David Frost as insufferably upbeat, which is probably accurate, and Frank Langella creates a complex Nixon who’s almost charming in his willingness to admit his lack of charm. Of course, he admits a lot more before Frost is through with him. Has anyone else noticed that as he ages, Kevin Bacon is starting to look like Clint Eastwood?

Slumdog Millionaire: Am I the only person in the universe who didn’t love this mess? Sure, there are some good scenes and funny moments, but the whole story is so ridiculously contrived I couldn’t suspend disbelief. Not only did this poor kid learn the exact pieces of trivia he would need through his mean street experiences, but he learned them in the order he would later be asked them. I can swallow a lot, but not that.

Still to see: Revolutionary Road and The Wrestler.