Friday, June 18, 2010

2002 - The Hours

This may be the last entry for a short while. It may not be, but I thought I'd better lower your expectations just in case. Next week, I leave New York to spend the summer at the Allenberry Playhouse performing for Pennsylvanians ... and anyone else who cares to stop by. Hopefully, my rehearsal and performance schedule won't cause too much of a disruption to normal proceedings here at Matt vs. the Academy, but if you don't hear from me in a while, you'll know why.

By the way, the poll for the next year of review is still taking votes, so make your voice heard. Just glance over to the right.

Today, I watched another nominee from the Best Picture slate of 2002...

The Hours
Stephen Daldry
David Hare
(based on the novel by Michael Cunningham)
Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep, Stephen Dillane, Miranda Richardson, John C. Reilly, Toni Collette, Ed Harris, Allison Janney, Claire Danes, Jeff Daniels
Academy Awards:
9 nominations
1 win, for Best Actress (Kidman)

If you're in the mood for a pick-me-up, probably best to steer clear of The Hours. It follows one day in the lives of three rather unhappy women. Well, three days, actually - one day for each woman. Virginia Woolf (Kidman) is in England in 1923, depressed as she writes Mrs. Dalloway. Laura Brown (Moore) is in Los Angeles in 1951, depressed as she reads Mrs. Dalloway. Clarissa Vaughan (Streep) is in New York City in 2001, depressed as she behaves like Mrs Dalloway.

Virginia, coping with mental illness, is bored with her suburban existence in Richmond and dreams of moving back to London, but her husband, Leonard (Dillane), won't hear of it, fearful of another suicide attempt. Laura, also unhappy with her marriage to reliable but boring Dan (Reilly), spends the day looking after her young son and trying to quell her suicidal thoughts. Clarissa, preparing for a party for longtime friend Richard (Harris), slowly unravels throughout the day as she begins to question why she bothers doing anything.

The unique narrative technique of The Hours is easily its most conspicuous element and the three stories intertwine with a great deal of thematic parallels - lesbianism, existentialism, eggs. Yes, eggs. You see, not only are the three plots similar - each of the women is desperately unhappy with her mundane duty-bound life - but often, there are complementary images and actions just to drive the point home. We cut from Laura lying on her side to Virginia lying on her side, or from Virginia sighing to Clarissa sighing. And at some point in each story, eggs are cracked into a bowl. While this narrative device could easily come across as spoon-feeding, it is just subtle enough to merely enhance the cohesion of the film.

Undoubtedly, it is easiest to relate to Clarissa's story, possibly because of its contemporary setting. Unlike Virginia and Laura, she has the benefit of living in an era (and a city) where she can be openly gay. Plus, the disillusionment that she shares with the other women is somehow milder in its manifestation, if only due to the fact that she seems not to contemplate suicide as much as they do. And, in a way, Clarissa's lessons are learnt through the struggles and contemplations of the older women.

Any way you look at it, though, The Hours is an emotionally draining picture, a sentiment that would seem to be confirmed by the haunting score, and in lines like, "If it's a choice between Richmond and death, I choose death." Not a glowing advertisement for Richmond.

With such a noteworthy cast, it is unsurprising that there are such noteworthy performances. Of the three female leads, Meryl Streep is the standout. Interestingly, however, she was the only one to miss out as both Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman received Oscar nominations. Kidman and her prosthetic nose (pictured) took away the Best Actress prize. Ed Harris also garnered a citation for his supporting role as the AIDS sufferer exhausted with living. Miranda Richardson and Claire Danes also shine in their roles, as does English actor Stephen Dillane, who delivers an intensely stirring performance as the frustrated Mr. Woolf. And this marks the third 2002 Best Picture nominee for John C. Reilly - quite an achievement. It is also the third time he has inhabited a character who nobody seems to respect. Poor guy.


  1. I loved this movie. Julianne Moore is IT. And so many good performances -- Reilly, Dillane, Harris, Daniles and my God, the kid who plays Julianne Moore's son! All besides Meryl, who really is wonderful.

  2. This is a great film -- really despressing -- but a finely crafted one.

    Moore gives one of my favorite performances ever, and she is the standout here - no question. So emotionally compelling your stomech drops from watching her.

    Kidman at times comes off as just false, never true like Moore is. Did you know, Moore has more screentime than Kidman yet she was put in supporting?!

  3. Yes, the categorisation of actors is often quite odd. Rather than deciding it based on the actual film (in this case, I would put all three actresses in the lead category), the studios try to figure out the best way to get their cast an Oscar. Sneaky.

  4. Actually in 2002 the categorization for The Hours made sense. Nicole Kidman's character was the one from which the others stemmed and it was logical for her to compete in the lead actress category. Julianne Moore was a shoo-in for lead actress for Far From Heaven, so why not push for Supporting Actress for The Hours. Meryl Streep was actually vying for Best Actress in The Hours, since her supporting role in Adaptation was likely to be nominated. I predicted her lead nomination for The Hours over Salma Hayek, but was wrong. I thought Renee Zellweger and Diane Lane had spots sewn up.

  5. Well, I guess that was my point. The studio's decision was based on the fact that Moore would probably get a Best Actress nod for Far From Heaven, so if they wanted her to get nominated for The Hours, they had to campaign for her in the Supporting category. But if they were to simply look at the film with no outside influence or ulterior motives, I think Kidman, Moore and Streep would all be considered leads.

    Still, I understand why the studios do it (and I wouldn't necessarily say that I disagree with it) but it is a bit self-serving.

    The solution, of course, is for the Academy to allow multiple nominations for the same category (as is the case for all the non-acting categories). I see no real reason to discount two separate performances from the same actor (as long as they're in different films). I mean, if he or she is that good that they have two great performances in one year, I say let the voters have the chance to honour them both.

  6. Most great movies grab your attention right from the get go. The Hours didn't just grab me, it snared me hook, line and sinker and reeled me in. The first ten minutes were mesmerizing. Once again Matt, you describe the inter-cutting time lines and connectivity among the three principle characters superbly.

    This film seemed to divide some critics. I found it totally absorbing. It's themes of depression notwithstanding, it just seemed so alive. Technically, the period detail was impeccable, the editing easily the best of the year. The score has been a bone of contention as well. I can understand this, yet once again it worked perfectly to my ear. Of course, I've been a fan of minimalist music for a long time.

    As for the acting, just wonderful, down to the smallest part. I felt Meryl Streep deserved a nomination; but then again she does with most of her roles. Nicole Kidman did her best screen work here. The scene at the train station was especially strong. I won't quibble that Julianne Moore's part was a co-lead. It was, but calling it support isn't too far off the mark. Her role was the most internal and she was fantastic.

    Director Stephen Daldry has made three feature films and has been nominated for Best Director for each of them. Quite an accomplishment. In my opinion The Hours is unquestionably his best effort.