Sunday, February 24, 2013

My 3rd-Annual Oscar Preview Post

This year I saw 7 of the 9 movies nominated for Best Picture: Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty. The two I did not see were Django Unchained and Amour. I decided about a week ago to give up on seeing Django, but today was the day I gave up on Amour. I won't go into details, but I'm really disappointed about Amour. I saw a couple of other non-best-picture movies, because of their acting award nominations, including Flight, The Impossible, and The Sessions. The Master was a movie I really wanted to see, but I couldn't. So, again this year, I am unable to weigh in on all the nominated performances, because of my incomplete viewing, but I will make some predictions.

This year I was particularly struck by the depth of the human experience. Many of the films detailed true stories and real events, while still others depicted what my college professor, Dr. Reinhard, would describe as a "truth stories". I'm not sure of the amount of hours I spent crying during this Oscar season, but I know it was many. Throughout, the messages of hope, redemption, and faith (both keeping and experiencing) maintained strong. The pastor at our church preached a sermon series, recently, on the story of Jeremiah. One line that stuck with me from one of these sermons was: "Out of the pit, you will have a powerful story to tell." Powerful stories - indeed!

*Spoiler alert - please do not read if you do not want to know major plot points of all the following movies, and possible spoilers!*

Best Picture Nominees:

Argo tells the story of 6 American near-hostages in Iran at the end of 1979, and their eventual escape under the guise of being a Canadian film crew, leaving from a location-scouting trip. The beginning of the movie shows an Iranian mob storming the American embassy, and the real terror of the people inside, who realize they are on their own. Noone is coming to rescue them. We see a display of human experience in the light of possible panic, which in my opinion, was riveting. Many Americans were taken hostage, but 6 managed to escape and find refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador, Ken Taylor (Victor Garber). Tony Mendez (played by Ben Affleck, who directed the film, among other things) is a CIA agent, who works with some of his Hollywood friends to devise an escape plan for the hostages. I found the film fascinating, and the acting compelling (especially John Goodman, and Ben Affleck with his nerdy-hunky late 70's look), but there were a few things that bothered me. I thought the ending was over-dramatic (and according to what I read on Wikipedia, untrue), and I couldn't help but wonder about the stories of those who were killed or captured in the American embassy. I'm glad six escaped, and their story is worth telling, but what about the others?

Beasts of the Southern Wild follows the story of a 6-year-old girl named, Hushpuppy, who lives in a Louisiana bayou community called "The Bathtub" with her dying father, and a community of other poverty-stricken folks. It's a heart-breaking tale, in which Hushpuppy lives in her own trailer of sorts, where she cooks her own cat food dinners by lighting the burner with a blow torch, while loving her tough-love-giving father and missing her deceased mother. She says things like, "Kids who have no mommas...gots to live in the woods, and eat grass and steal underpants.", and mentions at one point that she can count the times she's been lifted by another (in an embrace) on two fingers. Can you imagine? Quvenzhan√© Wallis, who plays Hushpuppy, is absolutely amazing (and only 5 at the time of filming. The film highlights the community's fierce independence in the face of crippling poverty. I couldn't help but think about how hard it is to really help people, without truly understanding the circumstances, and grasping the people's thoughts and feelings about their own plights. 

Les Miserables is the movie version of the popular musical, with Hugh Jackman (at his best) playing Jean Valjean, a shunned paroled prisoner, who finds refuge in a monastery, and then proceeds to steal from the very bishop who took him in. The Bishop shows much mercy, though, when Valjean is caught by the police and brought back, and Valjean is able to change his life and become a successful business man. Much more story is told. It's almost hardest for me to write about this movie, because I was moved by it so deeply. The performances (all singing) were astonishing, with the filming done in such a way that the audience was drawn in so completely (even seeing the snot dripping from Anne Hathaway's nose) as to experience the emotion of the difficult story in such a significant way!

Life of Pi is the story of a teenager, Pi, who is the only member of his family to survive a shipwreck. In the life boat with him, is a bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The filming is amazing and the story is larger than life, but the themes in the film are universal. A few of my favorite lines from the movie are these, "Faith is a house with many rooms.", "Above all - don't lose hope.", and "What hurts the most is not taking a moment to say good-bye." There is also a point in the movie where Pi, who is stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with a tiger, looks at the sky, after a fish jumps into his boat, and prays aloud, "Thank you for coming in the form of a fish and saving our lives!" Sometimes in the midst of the pit, we must be thankful for the things that allow us to "survive", in order to tell our powerful story!

Lincoln was my favorite movie, and my friends know that I now have a very strong crush on Abraham Lincoln! I was so completely captivated by his compassionate intelligence! The movie chronicles the time during which Lincoln (and others) worked to get the 13th Amendment passed, which would formally abolish slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation was passed earlier, but Lincoln feared that because he had invoked his wartime powers, that it would either be reversed during peace time, or that peace would be reached with the South by allowing them to keep their slaves. Therefore, an amendment to the Constitution, was the only way to guarantee the abolishment of slavery, once the war was over. My favorite part in the movie involved an informal speech by Lincoln (of which there were many), in which he refers to a math textbook, written by Euclid, that he read as a self-taught child. 
Lincoln states, "Euclid's first common notion is this, things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other. That's a rule of mathematical reasoning. It's true because it works. Has done and always will do. In his book, Euclid says this is 'self-evident.' You see there it is, even in that 2,000-year-old book of mechanical law. It is a self-evident truth that things that are equal to the same thing are equal to each other." Thus says the Declaration of Independence, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...", and Lincoln read the same concept, as a boy, and was driven to ensure the destruction of slavery based on this truth! I haven't explained this very well, but I think you may be able to see why I have a small thing for Abraham Lincoln! And Daniel Day-Lewis did a bang-up job of portraying him! Wow!

Silver Linings Playbook was a "dramedy" about Pat (Bradley Cooper) who was recently released from a mental hospital, and his relationships with his family and beautifully quirky neighbor, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). The acting was fantastic, especially (I think) the performances by Robert De Niro and Jackie Weaver, as Pat's parents, but also including the performances of the leads. I think a person may need to see Jennifer Lawrence's other major performances (Winter's Bone and Hunger Games), to truly appreciate her creation of the character in this film. I didn't like the movie that much, though, mostly I think, because I wasn't really drawn into the story. I kind of didn't buy it. I know many people loved the film, though, so I'll just leave it at that.

Zero Dark Thirty told the story of the manhunt and murder of Osama Bin Laden. Jessica Chastain played Maya, whose life's work, thus far, had involved the search for Bin Laden. She was semi-obsessed, and was smart and resilient enough to continue on until the work was done. There were parts of this movie that were incredibly hard to watch, but the story was compelling and well-told. Jessica Chastain shines in this role (and I would say that if you saw her in The Help, you would probably further appreciate her range - similar to Jennifer Lawrence). This movie depicted the human experience on so many levels!

Non-Best Picture (acting award nominees):

In Flight, Denzel Washington plays an alcoholic pilot (with tons of baggage, haha!!) named Whip, who miraculously lands a failing plane while drunk and high! His skill at landing the plane is undeniable, but a blood test taken at the hospital reveals his secret. The story which unfolds takes Whip deep into the pit, in order to find redemption. 

The Impossible tells the true story of an Australian family who gets caught in the Tsunami in Thailand in 2004. I think I cried in this movie from beginning to end. I really don't want to say to much, because it is easy to give things majorly away for this movie. The relationship, though, between the mother and her oldest son was particularly poignant for me, because it reminded me so much of my own relationship with my 11-year-old son. This movie is painful to watch, but a valuable look at the human experience in the face of tragedy.

I've run out of time to discuss The Sessions (and kind of don't want to discuss it anyway), but I found it to be an incredibly touching story (no pun intended, haha again!!). Helen Hunt's performance was beautifully sensitive and nuanced. 

My predictions: 
Best Picture - Lincoln
Leading Actor - Daniel Day-Lewis
Leading Actress - Jessica Chastain
Supporting Actor - Robert De Niro
Supporting Actress - Helen Hunt
Directing - Steven Spielberg

I waited until the eleventh hour this year to write and post my Oscar thoughts, but let me know what you think (either before or after the awards show). I always love to discuss!! 

**as a disclaimer, I will say that I wrote this whole thing in one sitting, today, and ran out of time for much editing. I know, for example, that some paragraphs are written in the present tense and others in the past, but I don't have time to make them all consistent. Please forgive me. I think next year I will write about the movies as I see them (and not wait until I've seen them all - or most). Please remind me that I said that, if you see me next year during Oscar time!