‘Life Aquatic,’ ‘Kinsey’ & ‘Sideways’

There is an unwritten law in Hollywood stating that movies with aspirations to awards, especially Academy Awards, need to be released late in the year. The closer the release date is to the nominations being made, it is reasoned, the more likely it is that a film will be remembered and honored. So it is that December is usually a wonderful time of year for the filmgoer, and this year is no exception.
Many late releases garnered a lot of attention in 2004, but three of them stand out. ‘The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou,’ ‘Kinsey’ and ‘Sideways’ have all been praised in the press, and the latter two have received Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture, and other awards by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Each of these movies have generated a lot of hype, but do they live up to it?
‘The Life Aquatic’ not only meets the buzz it has generated, it exceeds it. As a comedy, it works better than one might expect from a movie draped loosely around the story of ‘Moby Dick.’ And ‘loosely’ is the operative word, for while the overall arc of the plot deals with Steve Zissou’s (Bill Murray) quest to avenge the death of his friend and filmmaking partner by the elusive jaguar shark, there are many diversions along the way. Zissou must deal with pirates, his long-lost son Ned (Owen Wilson), a pesky yet attractive reporter (Cate Blanchett), his mysteriously effeminate archrival (an underused Jeff Goldblum) and a veritable whirlwind of other characters and distractions before he can reach his goal.
There is standout work on display by Murray and Wilson, both of whom are frequent collaborators with writer-director Wes Anderson, as well as troupe newcomer Willem Dafoe. Part of what makes all of the character work so great is the fact that none of it ever feels artificial. From Klaus Daimler (Dafoe), the overzealous man-child, to Pel