The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

December 24, 2012

Is ‘The Life of Pi’ destined for awards?

By Roger Thomas for the SNAP
The Stanly News & Press

Monday, December 24, 2012 — Ang Lee is an extremely gifted director who has made such diverse films as “Sense and Sensibility;” “The Ice Storm;” “Crouch-ing Tiger, Hidden Dragon;” “Hulk” and “Brokeback Mountain.” One may love or hate any one of those films or all of them, but one cannot accuse Lee of focusing on one genre. And the Academy likes his work as “Sense,” “Tiger” and “Mountain” all received Best Picture nominations, though none won the big prize.  

Lee’s new work, “The Life of Pi,” is also generating a lot of Oscar buzz. One national critic has heralded it as the frontrunner for Best Picture. The Las Vegas Film Critics Society has already named it the best picture of 2012. And “Pi” is finding its way onto many critics’ Top Ten Lists.  

Is all this praise justified? Perhaps, but here is what I think.  

First, it is not the best film I have seen this year. I would not even put it in the top five. That is not a denouncement of the artistry of the film. There are just at least five films that I like more than the “Life of Pi.” And 2012 is almost but not quite over. By the end of this year, “Pi” may not even be on my Top Ten List. But that is a very subjective thing. In the end, for me, it comes down to choosing the films I would most like to see again and share with my friends. Though “Pi” may not make my Top Ten List, I do think it is one of the better films of 2012.

Second, here is what I liked about the film. Like “Cloud Atlas” earlier this year, the film is a wonder to behold. The cinematography, art direction and visual effects create a stunning tapestry which is beautiful, startling, awe-inspiring and sometimes all three at once. The trailer for the film gives away some of the best shots, but there are many more amazing moments in the film that are a feast for the eyes.

The other thing I liked most about film was the back-story of the young hero. The first 30 to 45 minutes of the film are fascinating as we watch this boy develop his understanding of the world and of his personal faith. In fact, this part of the film was so compelling, I was almost disappointed when the film shifted to a story of survival.

Which brings me to my third point, as much as I liked “Life of Pi,” I felt the film dragged a little in the middle. Or perhaps, I grew weary of the sea adventure. Much like I wrote earlier this year of “Skyfall,” for me the first and last half hours of “Pi” are much more appealing than the middle. I especially did not care for the episode on the island. Though at first I welcomed it because it got the hero off the raft and boat.

I should probably confess, I have not read the book. I know people who have and thoroughly enjoyed it. Seeing the movie made me want to read the book, which, as I have said before, I think is high praise of any film.  

And again, I did not dislike “Pi.” I think it will garner many Oscar nominations in the technical categories, for the music and possibly for direction. And with the Academy’s rules allowing up to 10 Best Picture nominees, it will likely make the list.

If it were to win, however, it would be robbing several better films of the big prize on Oscar night.