Helen Mirren | Hugh Jackman | Nathaniel Rogers | Oscars

Movies: 'Hitchcock' (and the Best Actor Race)

Hitchcock-stabby
Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) is a hands on director in "Hitchcock"

BY NATHANIEL ROGERS

YOUR FEATURE PRESENTATION

The first thing HITCHCOCK gets right about Hitchcock is the humor. Director Sacha Gervasi's serio-comic adaptation of the book "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho" starts with a playful dodge, beginning not with a shot of that infamous house on the hill or the Bates Motel or even a Hollywood soundstage but in the rather humble yard of a Wisconsin farm. It's home to Ed Gein, the gruesome 1950s killer who inspired Psycho. The camera pans away from Gein's (fictional) murder to reveal the iconic plump suited figure of The Master of Suspense cooly observing him (Sir Anthony Hopkins in Sir Alfred Hitchcock drag).

Hopkins addresses the camera directly as if he's welcoming you to a very special edition of television's "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" or recording a promo for his latest cinematic thrill ride. He'll break the fourth wall again to bookend this film with an even better visual joke that's absurdly hokey.

The humor is the first thing Hitchcock gets right but whether or not it gets anything else right is another matter. MORE AFTER THE JUMP...

Hitchcock-shower

Scarlett Johannson is clearly glad to be filling Janet Leigh's shoes -- and it's fun to watch her screaming in the shower, fake-driving a car nervously, and flirting openly with the portly director in her meeting to nab the part. But let's face it -- she and Leigh look nothing alike; one all curves, the other all angles. The film barely has a moment for James D'Arcy, a much closer match for Anthony Perkins, but the making of Psycho is not the film's true subject matter despite the name of the book it's based on.

Helen Mirren plays Alma Reville Hitchcock, the auteur's wife and collaborator, with her usual commanding verve and killer line readings. Alma worked continuity on Hitchcock's very first credited feature The Pleasure Garden (1925) and her largely unsung contributions to the editing, continuity and scripts of ALL of his features are, some historians would argue, invaluable. (It would be inaccurate to say that Mirren steals the film as Alma; the film all but flings itself at her feet voluntarily, to argue this very point.)

Hitchcock-edits

The Hitchcocks were married at 27 and remained so until his death at the age of 80. Hitchcock reveals its hand quickly that its true subject is their enduring marriage, which survived endless obsessions with his leading ladies (talked up frequently but not-so well dramatized here) box office hits and the usual ups and downs of Hollywood careers, and Alma as Hitchcock's secret weapon... the wind beneath his wings. Though I would have preferred a picture that was more focused on Psycho than their marriage, it isn't a bad move. Mirren, unencumbered by prosthetics or the need to imitate a familiar persona outshines Hopkins, who has a somewhat slippery grasp on Hitchcock's familiar tics and vocals.

Despite the film's myriad problems, I tend to love the Hollywood-centric subgenre of biopics for their nostalgic recreations of Old Hollywood and their associative joy. As a lifelong Hitchcock fanatic (I freely admit that it was the evil homos of Rope that really hooked me) I had a ton of fun thinking about Vertigo, North by Northwest and The Birds (all directly referenced) as well as Psycho (my personal favorite of his filmography) while watching it. But if you're looking for a deep portrait of one of the cinema's true giants or a you-were-there visit to the set of one of the most influential films ever made, you'll be disappointed.

Hitch-readsHitchcock plays fast and loose with some facts but it's nothing to get worked up about as some cinephiles undoubtedly will. Alfred Hitchcock has been dead for 32 years but Hollywood is always trying to exhume his corpse. There's been an unusual degree of grave robbing lately. A few years ago the award winning out writer Manuel Muñoz used Psycho as the voyeuristic backdrop and thematic skeleton for an excellent novel called "What You See in the Dark" about a murder in a small town that Hitchcock and Janet Leigh passed through during production (I highly recommend it). This year HBO premiered a film about the making of The Birds (1962) called The Girl. Psycho has survived endless ripoffs, parodies, sequels and even that "recreation" Gus Van Sant's Psycho (1998). In 2013 it will survive "The Bates Motel" a serialized television drama about the Bates family before mama was a corpse. Psycho will even survive playing second fiddle to Vertigo now that the latter has been named the greatest film ever made. It will also survive Hitchcock, this lightweight dramedy about the Hitchcock marriage.

OSCAR BUZZ OUTRO
Alfred Hitchcock famously never won the Best Director Oscar (Hitchcock even takes snarky jabs at his Oscar losses) so it would be odd to see Anthony Hopkins nominated for playing him. Though I wasn't particularly taken with Hopkins' performance, I'm not blind to the facts: prosthetics and biopic mimicry go a long long looooooong way with Oscar's acting branch. In point of fact, they often go all the way with them. But this year's BEST ACTOR RACE is enormously competitive.

Daniel Day-Lewis is virtually the only lock at this writing for Lincoln. It's tough to think of any of the other main contenders as certain nominees when only four spots remain and there are six men with significant prospects still: John Hawkes as a charismatic paraplegic in The Sessions (Oscar loves disabilities); Joaquin Phoenix who is phenomenal as the alcoholic id of The Master (Oscar loves a drunk); Denzel Washington has another hit with Flight (Oscar loves a drunk and Oscar loves Denzel); Bradley Cooper as a man struggling with mental illness in the crowd pleasing Silver Linings Playbook (Oscar loves mental illness); Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock (Oscar loves biopic mimicry); and then there's Hugh Jackman who is, I am wildly happy to report, an absolute sensation in Les Misérables (Oscar loves men in musicals -- oh sh*t, they don't!!!)

...if Hugh Jackman isn't nominated I'll be Misérable myself and forced to build my own revolutionary barricade outside the Kodak Theater in February ♪ Will you join in my crusade? ♫ Who will be strong and stand with me?

Lesmiz-hughhaunted

Nathaniel Rogers would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.

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Comments

  1. Kodak? What's that? It's the Dolby Theatre now.

    I'm glad Alma is finally getting some attention. Most of the reviews I've read of this movie have focused on Alfred's misogyny but don't delve into her role in it. I haven't seen either biopic or read the book but his relation to women has sometimes overshadowed his other personality traits. Like many great artists his personal ethics were sometimes questionable, but there's no doubt that he adored his wife and daughter. I think that as the sexual revolution dawned he found the opportunity to reveal more than he should have. To me Frenzy was a career mistake of overt sexual violence without the skills he brought to Psycho to intellectualize it, and it casts a shadow over his whole career. But I can watch any of his other sound films in complete awe, even the lesser ones.

    Posted by: stranded | Nov 25, 2012 6:02:06 PM


  2. I've been hearing great things about Hugh Jackman's performance in Les Mis from a few folk that were lucky enough to attend one of the Lincoln Center screenings. I will join your crusade, but I suspect Daniel Day-Lewis has a lock on this. He was absolutely magnificent in Lincoln.

    Posted by: Jimbo | Nov 25, 2012 6:07:03 PM


  3. DDL already has 2 Oscars. That'll count against him. Jackman did a fantastic job hosting the Oscars. That'll count for him. But I think they'll cancel each other out and Phoenix'll get it, because he also did a phenomenal job with Johnny Cash, even singing the man's songs just right, and lost. Dark horse is Bradley Cooper, but he was Sexiest Man Alive, last year, and that'll count against his cred.

    Posted by: Kyle M. Sullivan | Nov 25, 2012 11:59:05 PM


  4. I just came back from Hitchcock. Its a lighthearted, witty, moment-in-time, enduring love pic but it didnt quite soar in any area. What I found the most annoying thing about it was the Ed Gein parts, they felt really forced and tried desperately relate some kindredness to Hitchcock and the killer.

    Posted by: Toto | Nov 26, 2012 12:42:50 AM


  5. I guess Hitchcock isn't for everyone. I unabashedly loved it.

    Posted by: Zlick | Nov 26, 2012 1:25:47 PM


  6. What about Suraj Sharma in the Life of Pi ? The Academy loves newcomers.

    Posted by: Robert | Nov 26, 2012 6:05:22 PM


  7. Bradley Cooper was outstanding in "Silver Linings Playbook". I don't see him getting nominated at the Oscars but I do see him getting nominated and winning for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes.

    Posted by: JAMES | Nov 26, 2012 8:06:09 PM


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