Thursday, February 19, 2009

Oscars 09- Post 1

I am a big fan of movies, as many of you know. I think to call myself a cinephile might be taking liberties, however. I have taken a few film classes, which I loved, but I don’t feel like I’m well-“viewed” enough to be a cinephile. I do try however. I have seen many classic “classics” and have a ton more on DVD and even VHS waiting to be viewed. I also try to watch new classics as they come out. For the past two years, I’ve taken advantage of AMC’s Oscar movie viewing promotion. You pay a flat fee to see all the movies in a row in one day, and get a large popcorn and large drink to boot. It’s a good opportunity to see all the movies at one time, but no one ever wants to go with me and it’s always crowded with people. Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem seeing a movie by myself. In fact, I’ve done it quite often, especially since I see a lot of weird movies that no one else I know wants to see. But going to see five movies all by yourself in a crowded theater when almost everyone else has at least one companion can make for a long depressing day. And that isn’t even counting how depressing the films can be, though they do always seem to put the most fun, comedic movie last- Little Miss Sunshine year before last, Juno last year.

This year, however, I just couldn’t do it. I do want to see all the movies. That isn’t in question. What is in question is whether or not I can deal with a dozen hours alone in a cramped theater with loud strangers. I’m even more anti-crowd and anti-social these days than normal. I don’t think I can. And I don’t want to waste the money on something I bail on after only one movie. Also, as it is all day on a Saturday, I would be giving up one of the few days that the people I know, most of whom have regular Monday thru Friday day jobs, can hang out. On the other hand, I can catch the movies over a period of time during a weekday, or on a weeknight when I’m not busy. Oh, and, I really don’t think I could sit through all three hours of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button again right now.

But I thought I’d share my thoughts on the movies with Oscar nominations that I’ve seen so far. *******BEWARE: SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!!!********

[Saw this movie over the Christmas holiday while in the suburbs of Slightly Larger Midwestern City, after visiting my grandmother in the hospital, and just after a particularly upsetting (to me) argument with TyRoy. I wasn’t in the best mental state.]

I wish I had written about this movie right after I saw it. It was one of those movies where, once I left, I thought “mmhmmm.” I would like to poll people who have seen this movie to see who they believed.

The movie is basically a war of wills between a very conservative, by the book, headmistress nun at a Catholic school and the liberal priest who serves the congregation, ostensibly over whether the priest had an inappropriate relationship with the schools one African-American student (set in 1960s). As the movie progressed, I found myself flip-flopping on whether I believed anything inappropriate had occurred. Despite the widely-publicized priest pedophilia scandals, I initially wanted to believe that the nun was just an overzealous reactionary who wanted to get the priest to leave, by any means necessary, and who would believe any horrible thing about the priest, because of his liberal views. But, in the end, the priest caves and leaves. Is he really an innocent man who just doesn’t think he will ever be able to overcome the suspicion of this nun, or is he really guilty? While I agreed with many of the points that the priest made, especially “Certainty is an emotion, not a fact,” I still don’t know if what I think really happened. I’m sure that is the point, though.

One of the things that struck me the most was how differently men and women were treated and how women, namely Meryl Streep’s Sister Aloysius, made the most of what little power they had in their situation. Time and again, throughout the movie, Father Flynn’s actions usurp Sister Aloysius’ power, whether he realizes it or not. Actually, in most instances, he doesn’t seem to realize that what he is doing could be viewed that way. His actions are rather heavy handed ways of demonstrating his privilege. The most obvious demonstration of this is how he takes the seat behind Sister Aloysius’ desk when brought in on the pretenses of discussing the Christmas pageant. The seat behind the desk is the seat of power, the seat from which Sister Aloysius reprimands bad students. But once Father Flynn arrives, Sister Aloysius is relegated to a less seat. Also, the priest assumes that she will serve him coffee. Like a woman who waits on a man to open the door for her, the priest waits for the nun to serve him. Though she has served longer and has worked to obtain a high position, it is obvious that she will never be considered as high as Father Flynn, even if he had had an inappropriate relationship with a student. That is not to say that she is not without power, however. A schoolyard of children is silenced just with a word. The nuns demur to her opinion. Parents are at her beck and call. This position does offer her power, just as the teaching positions offer the other nuns’ power and even more purpose. But they are constantly reminded that they only wield that power within a very small sphere.

The part of the movie that shocked me the most, however, was the discussion between Viola Davis’ Mrs. Miller, the mother of the student in question, and Sister Aloysius. When the Sister hints to Mrs. Miller that there might be an inappropriate relationship between Father Flynn and her son, Donald, Mrs. Miller reacts in a quite surprising way. Basically, in her own 1960s way, Mrs. Miller says that she puts her son’s ability to get into a good high school as a result of graduating from a good private elementary school above any other concerns and that she is not sure if a relationship that others might regard as inappropriate is really all that inappropriate. According to her, Father Flynn has been the only person who has shown interest in her son, when he is in an environment that is harsh to him as the first and only black student. She also suspects that her son is gay, so any “inappropriate” relationship might actually be consensual, in her opinion. While Sister Aloysius, the most of the audience, is quite shocked by this reaction, from anyone, much less the parent of the student, I can see where Mrs. Miller is coming from, when I really think about it. If you really wanted your child to get the best education, in the most accepting environment possible, especially knowing that he was facing discrimination on two fronts (being black and, at the very least, less masculine/more sensitive than other boys), do you think you might overlook something suspicious, especially if you felt that bringing that to light would destroy his chances?

I suggest watching it if you want a tense drama that doesn’t give you answers. Though you might not want to watch it with Catholics or Catholic-haters, or someone who was abused as a child.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
[Saw on a ‘date.’ Maybe not a good idea. Kinda killed any thoughts of romance, what with the whole theme of mortality.]

Bring caffeine. This movie is long. Most people that I’ve heard talk about it also talk about falling asleep during the film. Not that it is uninteresting, exactly. Visually, the film is stunning. The aging stuff is amazing, though just not-real enough to be a bit creepy to me, though I know I look way too hard. The scene late in the movie where Brad Pitt is made to look younger than he currently is…amazing. But, narrative-wise, it was a little slow. Also, I just couldn’t suspend my disbelieve enough. I wanted to know why the hell this was happening to him, what the purpose of his life and his backward aging was supposed to be.

Then it made me cry when it probably wasn’t intending to. At the end, when his body is that of a young teenager but his mind is that of an old man, when he can remember how to play the piano but can’t remember who people are, I was heart-broken. It reminded me so much of my grandfather, who, after his stroke, couldn’t remember hardly anything, but could manage to take apart anything you left near him, though he had no clue what it was, what it did, or remember how to put it back together.

Watch it at home, so you can pause for bathroom breaks, if you want to kill three hours on beautiful visuals.

The Reader
[Watched last night. Decided to watch it first since the other movie I was planning on seeing was supposed to be more uplifting.]

First, if Kate Winslet wins an Oscar for this movie, with its Nazi backstory, fans of the HBO show Extras will be laughing their asses off.


WTF? She’s illiterate???? I had read reviews of this film and they all talk about how her lover accidentally finds her again by coming to her trial for crimes committed during WWII while she was a Nazi but that that she hides an even bigger secret. Early in the movie, when she makes him read aloud to her during their affair, I picked up that it was probably because she couldn’t read, but I was really hoping that wasn’t the big secret. It was. Stating that she is illiterate would have gotten her a much lighter conviction, but she is too ashamed to say it, just like her cowardly ex-lover is too afraid to say that he has figured out that she is illiterate and talk about all the things he saw when they were involved because he now knows that she worked for the Nazi’s, though he never knew anything about it when they had the affair. So she spends decades in prison and doesn’t want to live on the outside.

Grrrrrr. I really did like the questions about culpability and justice and rule of law that the movie hints at but it was completely derailed for me by the illiteracy thing. It asks a great many questions about who should really be punished and why are the people that are being punished being punished. In the movie, a mother and daughter are the only survivors out of 300 women who were locked inside a church to sleep overnight during a death march and the six guards, who did not open the church doors after an Allied bomb hit the church and started a fire, are on trial for murder. It is pointed out that the six guards are only on trial because this book has brought publicity to this particular incident, where as the thousands of other guards at the hundreds of other camps who were complicit in deaths have not been brought to trial. In her own defense, Kate Winslet’s character Hannah, frustrated, asks the judges what they would have done in her position: Should she never have taken this better job opportunity as a guard? I think the best thing to come out of this movie for me is that I now want to know more about, perhaps read a couple books on, how Germans, psychologically, as a group, have been effected by the knowledge that Nazi’s committed atrocities, while also knowing that many/most Germans at the time were Nazi’s.

Honestly, skip it.

Slumdog Millionaire
[Second movie tonight.]

I’ve been hearing about this movie for awhile and was torn in how I felt about it. I have liked Danny Boyle’s, the director, previous films. The story seemed interesting. Most of the reviews of the film were very good. On the other hand, there has been some backlash. First of all, ‘slumdog’ is not an Indian phrase used to describe people from slums. It actually doesn’t appear to be a phrase used by anyone anywhere, except in this film. (In fact, many Indians find this made up term quite offensive.) Also, I have heard it criticized as “poverty porn”. (I’ll get to that later.) Also, I’m just a little suspicious of a white Western director making a movie centering on people of a different culture in their culture.

But I have to say that I liked the movie. It was both dark and gritty and a feel-good romance, rise up out of poverty story. It is a fairy tale in the older sense, that there is tragedy, terror, and loss for our hero on his journey, but that it mostly works out well. I personally liked how the story was told, with flashbacks explaining how the main character, Jamal, gained the answers to the questions through his hard-knock life experiences. I also think that it might behoove more subtitle-ists to look at how the subtitles on this movie are not just placed at the bottom of the screen and highlighted so that they stand out. It would help make some movies more readable. But I came out feeling pretty happy.

But, of course, there are flaws. I just didn’t get how everyone started speaking English all of the sudden. I think the audience is supposed to assume that Jamal and his brother learn it from the English-speaking tourists, but I just don’t buy that they learn to speak perfect British English from tourists, nor do I buy that they would speak English amongst themselves, other Hindi speakers, and on Indian television. Also, the movie makes me want to ask someone who has lived in India if it is plausible that the final question on a game show of intelligence would be about a French book. Finally, though I know this is supposed to be a fairy tale, with a happily ever after, I find it hard to believe that the main character’s love interest, Latika, will be able to just live happily ever after, after she’s (presumably) been raped by Jamal’s brother as a young teenager and then given to a crime boss who abused her.

As for some of the criticism I’ve read online, especially on blogs about race, well, I’m still thinking about it. Of course, the one blog that had several posts discussing it is down right now, so I can’t look back at what others have written, now that I have the experience of seeing the movie for context. Generally, I’m not sure how I feel about the issue of “poverty porn”. It seems to me that, since silent films, there have been films about people living in poverty. Extremes are inherently dramatic, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that there are many movies about poor people and many movies about rich people, and fewer about the people in between. I think that “poverty porn” is viewed as bad is because it is PRIVILEGED people getting ENJOYMENT out of other people’s, already marginalized people’s, supposed misery and, especially in making it from a “far off” country, eroticizing that misery. I have to acknowledge that I’m still trying to understand this particular concept and do not know how I feel about it.

I would mostly suggest going to see it, if you don’t mind a couple subtitles.

Ok, kids, that’s it for now. I’m supposed to go see the Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films today and I’ll probably catch a couple more before the big show. Let me know if you’ve seen any films that have nominations and what you thought. Thanks.

1 comment:

TyRoy Washington said...

In the slightly less interesting but highly controversial category of life, I know for a fact that our reluctant reviewer has seen Heath Ledger’s performance in the Dark Knight as well. But that is individual category and our reluctant reviewer has obviously started with the movies as a whole. Not to mention, I am just giving her a hard time either way. Good job on the reviews so far.

And since we know that the Oscar doesn’t always go to the winner or the best performance, we want Oscar picks. Let me rephrase, I want Oscar picks. Both who you think should win and you do you think the voters with give the Oscars to. Put your rep on the line.

It would be near impossible to even see all the Oscar candidates for individual awards. Even if you were interested in them all. So we will assume you haven’t seen them all and just wing it. For instance, I doubt you would see The Wrestler on your own, just me knowing you. But you probably have an opinion form clips and commentary. So we want answers.

So here are all the good categories:

Best Picture
And the nominees are...

Top of Form

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

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Best Director
And the nominees are...

Top of Form

Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire
Stephen Daldry - The Reader
David Fincher - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard - Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant - Milk

Bottom of Form

Best Actor

And the nominees are...

Top of Form

Richard Jenkins - The Visitor
Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn - Milk
Brad Pitt - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler

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Best Actress
And the nominees are...

Top of Form

Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie - Changeling
Melissa Leo - Frozen River
Meryl Streep - Doubt
Kate Winslet - The Reader

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Best Actor in a Supporting Role
And the nominees are...

Top of Form

Josh Brolin - Milk
Robert Downey Jr. - Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt
Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon - Revolutionary Road

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Best Actress in a Supporting Role
And the nominees are...

Top of Form

Amy Adams, Doubt
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis, Doubt
Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler

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Original Screenplay
And the nominees are...

Top of Form

Dustin Lance Black, Milk
Courtney Hunt, Frozen River
Mike Leigh, Happy-Go-Lucky
Martin McDonagh, In Bruges
Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon, WALL-E

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Adapted Screenplay
And the nominees are...

Top of Form

Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
David Hare, The Reader
Peter Morgan, Frost/Nixon
Eric Roth and Robin Swicord, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
John Patrick Shanley, Doubt

Bottom of Form

You out there in digital interweb land can vote too at:

TyRoy Washington: Original