'Inherent Vice': One of the more complicated films of the holiday season

Even 'Vice' star Joaquin Phoenix says, 'It's too hard' when asked to summarize the movie. As for the Oscar race, is the movie getting crowded out?

Wilson Webb/Warner Bros. Pictures/AP
'Inherent Vice' stars Joaquin Phoenix.

If you have a hankering to see the movie “Inherent Vice” and ask a friend what it’s about, they might have a tough time telling you (which may come as no surprise to those who know “Vice” is based on a 2009 Thomas Pynchon novel).

The film, which is directed by “The Master” helmer Paul Thomas Anderson, centers on Larry Sportello – nicknamed Doc – (Joaquin Phoenix), who works as an investigator. He becomes involved with the problems of Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), the current paramour of his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston). Mickey’s wife (Serena Scott Thomas) and the wife’s boyfriend (Andrew Simpson) want to kidnap Mickey, and Doc also encounters the police chief “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), among many others. Actors Benicio del Toro, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Jena Malone, Martin Short, and others co-star.

When asked by the Huffington Post how he usually summarizes the plot, Phoenix replied, “I don’t. It’s too hard.” (Huffington Post writer Sasha Bronner noted that in watching the movie, “It would help to have a pencil and notepad in the theater to try to keep track of what everyone is doing and why.”) 

However, Phoenix told the Huffington Post that he was attracted to the character of Doc, calling him a “sweet, thoughtful idealist.”

“Vice,” which was released on Dec. 12, brings Phoenix back with Anderson after Phoenix earned a Best Actor nomination at the Oscars for his role in “Master.” So will we be seeing more about “Inherent Vice” come this Oscar season? It’s tough to tell. The movie missed out on nominations from the Screen Actors Guild and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which gives out the Golden Globes, bestowed a nod on Phoenix but nothing else. Indiewire writer Peter Knegt thinks the film may miss out on a Best Picture nomination, but Knegt called it a “dark horse that could rally,” and Entertainment Weekly writer Nicole Sperling also called the movie a “dark horse.” However, Los Angeles Times critic Betsy Sharkey, for one, doesn’t even have the film on her list of contenders now. Time will tell how “Vice” is treated by the awards race. 

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