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Andy Wachowski (#110 of 5)

Oscar Prospects: Cloud Atlas

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Oscar Prospects: Cloud Atlas
Oscar Prospects: Cloud Atlas

You won’t find Cloud Atlas on the top rosters of too many Oscar pundits, but at this stage, the alternately thrilling and unwieldy three-hour epic is the season’s closest thing to a wild card. Just as there are enough nasty reviews to ward off on-the-fence filmgoers, there are a whole lot of factors playing into the movie’s major nomination potential. The biggest—and most cited—benefit is the sheer ambition of Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski siblings’ undertaking, which compelled the ever-influential Roger Ebert to call their baby “one of the most ambitious films ever made.” The whole project may be a very mixed bag in terms of artistic success, but most evaluators are at least somewhat united by the awe that it inspires, however fleeting that awe might be. The flaws of Cloud Atlas, which include a lack of profundity and clarity the filmmakers themselves seem unaware of, aren’t so bothersome when watching it, as the experience is a brisk and spectacular diversion. Even in his barely-positive critique, A.O. Scott observed that this “may be the most movie you can get for the price of a single ticket,” and despite a lackluster opening weekend, that virtue shouldn’t be counted out. This sprawling spiritual odyssey, which covers six genres in its translation of David Mitchell’s celebrated novel, should be taken seriously as a Best Picture contender, and not just a magnet for technical nods.

Toronto International Film Festival 2012: Cloud Atlas

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Toronto International Film Festival 2012: <em>Cloud Atlas</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2012: <em>Cloud Atlas</em>

Phoned-in portent and feigned profundity form the basis of each of the seven interlocking narratives that comprise Cloud Atlas, and while they appear superficially distinct (a bit of creaky 1930s manor drama cast against garish near-future sci-fi, etc.), they share the fully consistent qualities of flat acting, shabby editing, and surprisingly uninspired design. That not one of these seven pieces feels like a coherently developed story of its own is perhaps unsurprising (even unfurling over an interminably dull 163 minutes, we simply don’t spend enough time with any particular set of characters for a single emotional arc to properly register), but what’s remarkable is how poorly they fit together as an ostensibly unified whole. The rhythm of this thing—and when you’re composing something this dense, rhythm is everything—just feels entirely wrong, reducing what crumbs of dramatic or kinetic interest are scattered across its running time to dust. This isn’t simply a case of elements of the film working or not working; the entire array of ideas (both aesthetic and thematic) which make up the film are so badly integrated that even the smallest traces and flickers of light are snuffed out altogether. Nothing works because, almost by the very nature of its design, nothing can: It collapses so intensely under the weight of its own inanity and pretension that nothing at all is left standing.