This was the final movie I had to see in order to adequately create a top 10 list for the year.
Sadly, I waited for a movie that won’t even reach the top 20.
Up in the Air is the story of Ryan Bingham, who is an island of a man hoping to reach the 10 million frequent flyer mile mark. While on the road he meets Vera Farmiga’s character, Alex, who he begins to have a semi-serious relationship with.
Ryan’s home is in the air. He states that numerous times. But the problem is that, back at his company’s home base in Omaha, they’re trying to ground all the people who travel out to fire people and get them to, instead, fire via webcams thus saving tons of money on travel expenses for the 20 plus people they have on the road over 200 days out of the year. If Ryan loses his lifestyle, he loses his life. He loses his contentment. He loses everything he’s had.
The girl trying to destroy his lifestyle is played by Anna Kendrick, the girl who I remembered only for being high-schooler-Kristen-Wiig in Twilight (“Movie night with Bella!”) and New Moon. Here, she proves that she can actually act in spite of something so flat. This is something that will probably launch her career. I was more impressed with her than with George Clooney–we all know that that old cooze can act. Her? She was a gamble and it seems to have paid dividends.
The story attempts to eschew the three-act structure so popular in mainstream cinema in favor of an episodic storyline that plays much like an airplane’s flight. It departs, it carries, it lands–plot point A completed. Plot point B moves along in much the same fashion until we reach plot point E or F or whatever and the film is over. Though I can see why it was done, the moments that occur because of each plot point feel vacuous and hollow as a result of Bingham’s unchanging character. Granted, he does have a change of heart towards the end of the film but it only circles in various ways. The film lands and departs, again and again, until its credits.
This structure was used to greater effect in the Darjeeling Limited in which each plot point was a station on the train. But the train itself was a character and the occurrences on said train were important to the overall film. Here, the airplane is merely a vessel that we, as viewers, are never made to understand why it feels like home to him. What is homely about an airplane? What does he see in the monotony that makes him feel secure? What is it about being 32,000 feet above the ground that makes him feel alive? Instead, the airplane becomes merely a center for bridges between plot points in which funny things happen.
This is a film that is rich in its blandness. It attempts to show that Bingham lives in hotels that all look the same–that all feel the same–and, as a result, the movie runs together in a series of moments that never quite adhere. There are too many parts in which something major would happen (like, say, a wedding or finding out that an entire lifestyle is slipping out from beneath) and then they are damn near forgotten about while something else happens.
The one thing I feel I got was that I was able to understand why it’s in contention for so many awards come Oscar-season. It is an oscar-bait film to the endth. The AV Club, the mostly serious Entertainment section of the Onion, laid out their criteria for an Oscar-worthy film in a set of questions: ”  Is it a literary adaptation?  Is it topical without being too controversial? Risky without actually being provocative?  Does it feature a star who lost weight, gained weight, or made some sort of radical Method transformation?  Does it have a middlebrow sense of grandeur?  And most importantly, will Academy members feel good about themselves when voting for it?”
1) Yes. It’s based on the novel by Walter Kim which, by reading the plot summary on Wikipedia, enough of its controversy andor subplots was stripped to make it feel more like an extended airline flight.
2) We are in or perhaps coming out of a huge recession so, obviously, yes. It’s a movie about a guy who fires people. How could that not be topical these days? But does it offer a solution? No. Does it really hit any buttons other than “recession-based film?” No, not really.
3) No, but George Clooney looked a wee-bit slimmer. And Anna Kendrick’s transformation from Bella Swann’s friend who acts like Kristen Wiig in the first two Twilight films into a serious actress is notable.
4) I would say so…. It’s about the common man trying to achieve something uncommon. And feeling lonely.
5) Yes. They are voting for a movie that is all the above things. They will feel good about being socially conscious without being too oppressive or depressing.
This movie will probably win best picture and thusly enter the echelon of Slumdog Millionaire and Crash–which is the echelon of shitty films that won Best Picture.