Sunday, February 6, 2011

30 Days of Oscar: Day 10 - Tender Mercies and Country Strong

Movie: Tender Mercies
Year: 1984
Nominations: Best Actor (Robert Duvall) Original Screenplay, Best Director (Bruce Beresford), Original Song  "Over You", Best Picture
Wins: Duvall won his only Oscar in 6 nominations, and the Screenplay won too.  Terms of Endearment took the other awards, and Flashdance, "What a Feeling" took best Song. 

I was inspired to check this movie out for two reasons.  First, there was a lot of talk about Duvall getting snubbed for his performance in Get Low (which I haven't seen yet) and I really like Duvall, and second, I finally saw Country Strong and wanted to see another "drunk, washed-up, country singer" movie.  A simple film, with great writing, and acting.  Duvall wakes up from a 2-day drunken stupor and can't pay his bill at a rural Texas motel.  He agrees to work to pay it off, and falls for it's widowed proprieter, Tess Harper, and they get married and keep working and raising her son.  However, his old life keeps coming back to haunt him.  His ex-wife, Dixie (Betty Buckley), comes to town to play a concert and he shows up because he's written a song for her to sing and so he can see his grown daughter (Ellen Arkin).  Duvall is trying hard to stay on the straight and narrow and keep his life together.  A bus-load of fans shows up at the motel gushing over him, and his new wife plays one of the songs he wrote for her and they end up recording it.  There's definitely a story of redemption, and loss and finding a new path, but in that great way that 80s dramas can be soft and a bit melodramatic, it works (Crimes of the Heart and Places in the Heart being other good examples of the genre).  There are obvious comparisons to Crazy Heart and since both men won an Oscar for Best Actor, the story works for the men. 4.5 of 5 stars/lambs

Movie: Country Strong
Year: 2011
Nominations: Original Song, "Coming Home"
Wins: Probably not since it's up against 3 proven Oscar winners. 

I think Country Strong was set up as Gwenyth Paltrow's return to Oscar, but when the studios realized that was never going to happen, they just shuffled it around.  They started it with Paltrow playing the title song at the Country Music Awards in October, and making the talk show rounds, and then a late December limited release with a January slow roll-out (it JUST opened here this weekend).  I don't think any of that marketing benefited what just wasn't a great film.  Paltrow plays an alcoholic Grammy-winning country singer, Kelly Cantor (a drunk, younger Reba or older Leann Rimes maybe? famous and beloved is what we get).  However, she had a big accident at a concert a year ago and went into rehab to save her career.  That's when it starts resembling Lindsay Lohan's career a bit too much when she's taken out of rehab by her husband/manager Tim McGraw, to go perform and rebuild her career.  She wants to bring with her a guy she met in rehab (*cough, slept with) who also plays great country music, Beau (Garrett Hedlund), but McGraw wants a new beauty-queen singer Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester) to open (*cough because he wants to sleep with her).  They compromise and both go on tour, in a seriously dysfunctional foursome. 
Beau has talent and wins over the crowd, and helps Chiles learn to perform not just sing.  However, Kelly can't get over the issues that originally sent her to rehab - alcohol, pills, and the fact that she lost a child.  We watch her screw up, win people over, screw around, and get drunk.  Paltrow is trying really hard to steer this ship, but it's not given to her character to lead, but Beau's character who is a TERRIFIC singer, but doesn't really care about Kelly's career or life once he starts sleeping with Chiles. The movie has a ton of great music (if you like country, obviously), but even though they're following a female country star (rather than Jeff Bridges alcoholic in Crazy Heart), they don't find any new ground.  Plus, Leighton Meester is a really terrible actress and is the straw that breaks the back of both Kelly's come-back, and the likeability of the movie.  Oh, and they showed all the best lines and scenes in the trailer (which I guess is what you do when there's only about 5 great minutes of footage).  The music and Hedlund's performance keeps this movie from being awful, but 2.5 of 5 is all it gets.  Here's the song in case you want to hear all the Oscar songs for 2011.


Jack L said...

Most interesting and informative analysis.

I'm not much of a fan of these kind of films, I haven't even seen Crazy Heart yet! But I do enjoy watching Robert Duvall so I might check out Tender Mercies.

Great blog by the way!

Jess said...

Thanks Jack! Duvall is really great in this. I think it's a generational thing. I grew up in the early 80s so these kinds of movies were "forbidden fruit" so I was able to watch them later and remember the time. I can see how they'd be less appealing as a film genre.