I love the Academy Awards and last year I realized how few of the “Best Picture” winners I’d actually seen. So I made it a goal to see all 83 winners and blog my thoughts about them along the way.

Why did it win? Should another movie have won instead? Has it become a beloved classic or do many of you not even recognize the title? I invite you, my friends and guests, to comment along with me. Do you agree/disagree? I should be fair and place a SPOLIER ALERT on this blog since I’ll be writing about various parts of the movie. So read at your own risk…

I have often told people that I have movie amnesia… I can see a movie and forget all about it years later. So for that reason, I am re-watching the 27 I’ve seen before. That said, if no one visits or reads my blog and I basically perform the online equivalent of talking to a brick wall, that’s fine; if for nothing else, it’ll be my own reminder. Enjoy!

And the Oscar goes to…


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Million Dollar Baby, 2004









Rated PG-13

This was my second time seeing this tear-jerker. (By the end of the film, I was balling like a baby and even went into the “ugly cry”.) Clint Eastwood (director/lead actor) plays the role of Frankie Dunn, an ex-boxer who owns a boxing training facility. A headstrong waitress named Maggie Fitzgerald comes in and asks to be trained. After much persistence (did I mention she is headstrong?), Frankie reluctantly agrees to train her to be a boxer. She’s talented and a quick learner and once in the ring, makes a name for herself with her wins. She and Frankie develop a father/daughter relationship- replacing the dysfunctional ones they have with their own family members. He has a custom boxing “jacket” made with the name “Mo cuishle” written on the back. When Maggie asks the meaning is of the Gaelic phrase, he says he doesn’t know. During one particular unfair and unlucky fight, Maggie falls and hits her neck on the seat of her overturned stool. She becomes paralyzed from the neck down. Though she’s nothing if not a fighter, this is a way she refuses to live. I was so torn over the ending (thus the ugly cry)- in good moral conscience, I couldn’t root for Frankie to do the illegal, but I also couldn’t bear to see Maggie suffer.


Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman reunite again (from “Unforgiven”) as the duo with a love-hate relationship. But I think their characters in this film were a bit too cliché: the crotchety old man who  finally concedes to “helping” a young woman- a “baby”, and the older and wiser black gentleman who works alongside the crotchety man offering words of advice to trainees. I’m sure feminists and women’s studies classes could have a field day with this film, (in good and bad ways). Other groups have obvious issues with the ending as well. Why does not moving have to equal not living?  I personally try not to dig too deep into either of these issues because 1) I’m not an extremist and 2) I know this is Hollywood.

Boxing is a sport I have NEVER understood. I hate watching it, think it is awful, and can’t believe people pay money and bet on people fighting. There is so much risk for bodily harm (as evidenced in this movie) that I just don’t get it. Why can’t we all just hug each other?

I can FINALLY say that I have the right to fairly critique this film as the winner because for the first time, I have seen ALL the nominees! This film was up against “The Aviator”, “Finding Neverland”, “Ray” and “Sideways”. “The Aviator” was decent (and had an impressive 11 nominations) and “Finding Neverland” wasn’t as good as I expected. “Sideways” is more of a “fluff” movie in my opinion and shouldn’t have been up for Best Picture. But “Ray” offered some decent competition. Another film that I think deserves some respect is “The Passion of the Christ”. I don’t understand why it is so controversial. It is an incredibly powerful movie that I watch every few years on Good Friday as a very personal and emotional way to reflect upon Jesus’ final days. There are scenes that are incredibly hard to watch obviously since it is about the gruesome flogging and crucifixion, but there are artistically poignant scenes as well. It also has beautiful music. I think it was appropriately nominated for Best Original Score, Cinematography, and Make Up. Sadly, it didn’t win any.

“Million Dollar Baby” walked away with four awards from its seven nominations including Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actor (Freeman). This is perhaps my favorite role of Eastwood’s, but he had some tough competition this year with Jamie Foxx as “Ray”. Interestingly, this year had a very low turn-out in the theatres for viewing; NONE of the Best Picture nominees had reached Blockbuster status by the time of the ceremony (reaching $100 million dollars in ticket sales).

FAVORITE SCENE(S):

I was touched by any scene that showed Frankie in the hospital with Maggie. You could tell he is a changed man since meeting her and how much respect they have for each other. I just wanted to hug him when he confesses to Maggie that her boxing name (Mo cuishle) is a term of endearment that can mean “my darling”.

 

LESSONS LEARNED:

Although I don’t understand the appeal of boxing, I applaud any woman who truly wants to make it in “a man’s world”. Breaking down gender barriers is difficult. Maggie’s persistence proved she was serious and worth taking a chance on.

When writing something in another language that will remain forever, make sure it’s spelled correctly. Mo cuishle is actually supposed to be Mo chuisle according to irish-sayings.com. Oops.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Deer Hunter, 1978






Rated R


The story of the winning film of 1978 starts a decade earlier in Pennsylvania where three friends leave their fellow hunting buddies and jobs of steel-working to fight in the Vietnam War. The story ends not long after the war ends in 1975. One of the main characters, played by Robert De Niro, is a superb deer hunter and is known for killing deer “with one shot only”. I’ll be completely honest and admit that I didn’t quite catch the symbolism of deer hunting in this film. The hunted vs. the hunter? I don’t know… I don’t mean for this to sound sexist, but the only thing I can think of is that hunting is a manly sport; it’s one to brag about. Juxtapose that to the cruelty and gruesomeness of the war where pride goes out the window.


This film was/is(?) considered controversial but I think that’s because the war itself was controversial and divided our country. I wasn’t even born until six years after the war ended, so I obviously can’t relate to how people were feeling at the time, but I didn’t see anything specifically controversial in this documentary-styled film. Obviously, there were a few disturbing scenes regarding the treatment of the soldiers, but I think it was/is the politics behind it all that hit a chord with audiences (and I don’t think that the issue of politics is delved in too deeply in the film).


As evidenced in its movie poster, this film features the unlucky game of Russian Roulette. There are two unsettling scenes where the Vietcong gamble on and force American soldiers to play this game of chance. Perhaps this was a point of controversy as apparently there are no historical reports of this “game” being played with POWs, however, it does seem to be an appropriate symbol of the war with its deliberate but random violence.


This war is sadly responsible for many of its soldiers being later diagnosed as having Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The top criteria (according to DSM-IV) include: exposure to a traumatic event, persistent re-experiencing, and persistent avoidance and emotional numbing. It’s easy to see from this film how the mind games played could subsequently manifest into mental disorders. In addition to the mind games and horrific images plaguing the soldiers during the war, many of them (in real life) were disrespected and treated poorly upon their return home. I can’t begin to imagine how torn and confused they must have felt while fighting- there they were laying their life on the line and people back home are protesting. Add to all this a possibility of “survivor’s guilt”, which we see De Niro’s character suffer from, and we can understand how these characters and the soldiers in real life came home irrevocably changed.


Clocking in at just over three hours, this film’s a bit too long for me. I understand we need to see the times before/during/after the war, but the first part was pretty boring and uneventful for me. I know we need time to get to know the characters, but still, it dragged a bit. I don’t agree with it being on AFI’s 100 Greatest Movies of All Time, but to each, his own.


The character Chistopher Walken plays (buddy of De Niro’s character) is entirely different than anything I’ve seen him portray; it is quite the opposite of his roles in “Hairspray”, “Wedding Crashers”, and on Saturday Night Live. I was very impressed with his dramatic acting abilities as his character goes through emotional and physical hell; it earned him the Best Supporting Actor award. This is one of Meryl Streep’s early films and the very first of her fifteen unsuccessful wins… can you believe she’s been up seventeen times and only won three??


“The Deer Hunter” had an impressive nine nominations and walked away with five awards. It was up against “Heaven Can Wait”, “An Unmarried Woman”, “Midnight Express”, and “Coming Home”, none of which I’ve seen. Interestingly though, “Coming Home” is another anti-war film about Vietnam that happened to capture the Best Actor and Actress awards.


FAVORITE SCENE:


I’m finding more and more that this is section is not always easy to write. As expected in a film about the Vietnam War, I don’t have a “favorite” scene. But I will say that the solidarity these buddies showed each other before, during, and after the war (as hard as it was) was moving to see.




LESSONS LEARNED:


No matter what our individual views are on war(s), it is important to support our troops. They are the ones laying their lives on the life to defend and protect our country. They deserve our respect not judgment.


I may need to learn a little more about deer hunting in order to fully appreciate or understand the metaphor in this film.