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…


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Crash, 2005


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Rated R

Nobody feels comfortable admitting that there are racial stereotypes, but there are. In this film, an ensemble cast of recognizable actors shows us how those stereotypes affect us all and how though we may not know each other, we can still affect one another. Each character in this film is jaded in his/her own way and falls prey to racial profiling. This is not a “politically correct” film and the filmmakers wanted that way. They felt a “PC” film wouldn’t be portraying the truth.

This film takes place in Los Angeles over the course of thirty-six hours. There are six stories that are delicately woven together up to the very end, insinuating that we are all connected. Since their lives cross, it gives you a “small world” feeling. I like ensemble casts (BIG fan of the hit TV show “Friends”) and I especially like stories that intertwine. The downside to ensemble casts, and my husband’s argument, is that because there are no true lead characters, one can’t get truly invested in someone’s plot (or plight) before being whisked off to another scenario. I believe this film does it well. You are concerned for each character and invested in their decisions and actions.

I’ll admit I walked away from my first viewing saying it was okaaaay. I got more out of it this time around and am glad I “had” to watch it for this challenge. I was put off by the racism and violence the first time. Now I realize that’s exactly what the director wanted. In watching the special features on the DVD, I learned that the writer/director wanted to make a film about strangers affecting strangers- how a person can affect another without knowing or even touching them. He knew the views could/would be polarizing but he believes that when people get angry, they start talking, and it’s when they start talking, that issues can start to be resolved. Most importantly, he wanted us to question, “Is this about me?” Sadly, I don’t think we’re anywhere close to getting issues of racism and prejudice resolved. We’ve made progress, yes, but the task ahead is monumental.

Don Cheadle, who plays a detective in the film, told an interviewer “You want to laugh but you ask yourself, ‘should I laugh? Why or why not? A movie that makes you think or question is always good’.” Sandra Bullock, who plays an uptight upper-class housewife in the film, added that “we’re not safe from ourselves and our prejudices”. Don is right on… some of the lines in the film reflect extreme stereotypes and are funny but you war with yourself as to whether laughing is appropriate- for that reason, I’m glad I didn’t see this in a packed theatre.

Rapper Ludacris plays one of the ensemble and his character runs his mouth like he’s got society all figured out. The beauty of this film is that every character walks away having learned something and been impacted. There is no “happy” ending, but knowing that each life is changed appeases that.

The theme of “crashing” is particularly evident in this movie and I wouldn’t really call it symbolic- it’s just obvious. Cheadle’s character even states in the beginning of the film that we are so desperate for human touch that eventually we will just crash into each other.

This incredibly low-budget film was up against “Brokeback Mountain” (highest-grossing film this year), “Capote”, “Good Night, and Good Luck”, and “Munich”. I’ve seen two of those and wasn’t a fan of either. Don’t ask me why “Walk the Line” or “Cinderella Man” weren’t nominated! (Another one of my favorites this year was the winning documentary “March of the Penguins”.) No one film was a top-nominated film and all six top awards were split between six winners (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, and Supporting Actor). “Crash” walked away with three awards from its six nominations, including the deserving Best Original Screenplay. Audiences were a little caught off guard about its major win since it wasn’t even up for nomination at the Golden Globes (which is usually a good predictor of the winners at the Oscars).
 
I think the picture on the movie poster was an interesting pick. It may seem like such a random shot to put up there to advertise your movie, but the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated what it represented. The repercussions of our actions can be serious. Misunderstandings happen all the time. Hopefully, we can be blessed with second chances when we realize our wrongdoings.

FAVORITE SCENES:

One of the characters is in a car crash and a cop, who she unfortunately had an incident with before, is first on the scene to rescue her. She refuses to let him help her, and part of you can’t blame her. But then you see a shift take place in each character, and I think it’s pretty powerful to witness.
 

Michael Pena places the role of a working father and has a couple scenes with his little daughter that just melt your heart… like this one where he takes off his invisible protective cape so that she can wear it and have nothing to be afraid of.
 
 
LESSONS LEARNED:

Exactly what Sandra said: We are not safe from ourselves and our prejudices.

Think before you speak. Your words, though perhaps unintentionally, may hurt someone.

Stand up against racism. Have a no-tolerance policy about speaking ill of a certain race, religion, etc.

Do your part to make this world a more peaceful and accepting place to live.

Every person has their own fears, anxieties, and insecurities. That’s another thing that connects us all as human beings.

Try to go into new situations with an open mind (including watching new films).

Monday, October 29, 2012

Schindler's List, 1993


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Rated R

This is one of those films that everyone needs to see at some point, and preferably more than once. It is a powerful masterpiece that is incredibly eye-opening, moving, and influential. It is a historical dramatization (based on Keneally’s novel from 1982) about the Third Reich’s Holocaust and how Oskar Schindler ended up saving the lives of more than 1,000 Polish Jews (because of his infamous list).

The three hour-long epic recreates the period during World War II when Jews, living in Nazi-occupied Krakow, are taken from their homes, stripped of their possessions, and placed in impoverished ghettos and forced labor camps, only then to be relocated to concentration camps, damned for execution. Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist and war profiteer, becomes an enamelware factory owner and appoints a Jew, Itzhak Stern (played brilliantly by Ben Kingsley), as his accountant and right-hand man. Although he has his faults, one can see the glimmer of a conscience starting to grow. Stern is keen on his somewhat softening heart and when plans of relocating and refitting the factory are made, helps Schindler create a list of “necessary” employees they’ll need. They both know that their employees’ jobs are the only things keeping them from the gas chambers. Schindler starts to add more and more names (with Stern’s advisement) in an effort to save more and more lives from their inevitable fate, all the while either bribing Nazi officials or going behind their backs. In an incredibly powerful scene near the end, after Schindler has lost his fortune and is now a fugitive, he breaks down, wondering how many more he could have saved had he just tried even harder.
 
 
This is all juxtaposed to the character of Amon Goeth, a soul-less and despicable human being (played by the nominated Ralph Fiennes), who exerts his power over the Jews without restraint or remorse. It is sickening to know that there were/are people in this world capable of such unbridled hatred of others.

Most people remember the pop of color in this black & white film... Before the evacuation of the ghettos, Schindler watches as a little girl walks down the street wearing a red coat. Much later, when piles and piles of clothes and shoes are being burned, Schindler catches that same coat in one of the piles. I’m sure this was a deliberate decision to make this more personal to the viewers… you immediately recognize it and frown. It suddenly snaps you back to the reality of it all in case you were starting to go numb from the sheer volume of unnecessary deaths. It’s not just a pile of coats. Each coat represents a real innocent person. The fact that the coat was a child’s makes you ache even more. (It is her arm that is depicted in the movie poster above.) That is one example of the deservingly award-winning cinematography, in addition to its interesting uses of contrasting light and shadows and some cinema verite (hand-held camerawork).
 
 
A random note about the award-winning music… I recognized the song “Gloomy Sunday” being played at times throughout the film so I looked into it a little more to understand its significance. It is a Hungarian “love” song written around 1933. The original instrumental version was titled “End of the World” until a lyricist told a story about suicide and translated the new version to be “Sad Sunday”. It didn’t become famous in America until Billie Holiday sang it (with slightly different lyrics in English) in 1941 (the version I’m familiar with). It is such a pretty song for being so depressing and it is an interesting addition to the film.
Billie’s version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBIqLqUenz0
I think Bjork’s version adds a certain je ne sais quoi: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCEJtUNe90A

“Schindler’s List” won seven of its impressive twelve nominations that night, considering it was the second highest-grossing film this year. This film’s competition was “The Fugitive” (the highest-grossing), “In the Name of the Father”, “The Piano”, and “The Remains of the Day”. Spielberg finally won his first Best Director award; this was his sixth nomination. He also won three technical-advancement awards for another box office hit he produced this year at the opposite end of the spectrum: “Jurassic Park”. A film that I feel got snubbed a nomination is “Philadelphia”- a moving film about a man, diagnosed with AIDS, who is fired from his conservative law firm. Tom Hanks won the Best Actor award for his role in that film, edging out Liam Neeson as well as Anthony Hopkins and Daniel Day-Lewis. Another memorable film that came out this year (and especially meaningful for me since I have a sister with mental retardation) is “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” with one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s finest performances earning him the film’s only nomination (at only 19 years old!).

MOVING SCENE:

It’s wrong to say I have a “favorite” scene in a movie about the Holocaust, so I’ve renamed this section.

One of the most powerful scenes for me was the very very end. I was crying so hard I could barely see the screen. The camera (in full color now) focuses on Schindler’s grave and slowly pans out to show a moving line of people coming to pay their respects by placing a rock on his gravestone. These people are known as the “Schindler Jews”- those whose generations were saved by this man simply marking their name down on a piece of paper. It wasn’t until about halfway through the line, when I started recognizing actors, that I realized each survivor (or descendant) was being escorted to the grave by the actor who portrayed them in the film. It was incredibly moving and respectful and an appropriate ending to the film.


Spielberg paid homage to the millions of victims of this atrocity by making a movie in their honor… the least we can do is watch it.

LESSON LEARNED:

Truly, one man can make a difference.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dances with Wolves, 1990









Rated PG-13

I’ve seen this award-winning film three times now and I know I’ll see it again. It’s a long one, but it’s worth it; I consider it a classic. The film tells the saga of Civil War Union soldier Lt. John Dunbar (Kevin Costner) who becomes disillusioned with war and in an attempt at suicide, inadvertently helps the Union soldiers win the battle. Now a promoted hero, he requests to be repositioned out west. The commanding officer (intoxicated and crazy) sends him to a post in the middle of nowhere. Dunbar eventually realizes it has been abandoned, but learns to take care of and live off of the land making the frontier his new peaceful home. We can tell he prefers the solitary life as he is a pensive man, taking notes in his journal daily, but he does make a friend in the hesitant but devoted neighborhood wolf. He also encounters members of the nearby Sioux tribe and after a slow introduction due to their language barrier and preconceived prejudices, he becomes a trusted friend of theirs. Romance is perfectly intertwined with the drama in this film when he falls in love with the only white woman in their tribe (a woman they’ve taken care of since she was an orphaned child played by Mary McDonnell who I recognize as the First Lady in “Independence Day”). Dunbar is accepted into their community and given his new appropriate name: Dances with Wolves.

Kevin Costner, co-producer/director/lead actor, could not have been more perfect for this role. Unfortunately, he lost the Best Actor award to Jeremy Irons in “Reversal of Fortune”, and to be fair… I didn’t see that movie, but I thought Costner was fantastic. One can tell this must’ve been a passion project for him; the attention to detail is impressive. I enjoyed watching the “making of” special feature on the DVD almost as much as the film itself. I learned that Costner did a majority of his own stunts, specifically during the scenes of the buffalo migration. It made me appreciate the filming of that scene even more; the cinematography had already impressed me.

I was first shown this film in fifth grade at my Catholic school… the last time I checked, fifth graders weren’t thirteen. Although I remembered a few scenes, I can guarantee you that most fifth-graders aren’t capable of understanding and appreciating this film at that age regardless if they learn about the Civil War in their history curriculum. For example, three things stuck out in my mind: a Sioux man scalping a white man (I covered my eyes then… turns out they didn’t show it); a fast-forwarded sex scene; and the line “Put that in your book” (the man taking Dunbar to his new post is annoyed that he is always writing in a journal, so when he loudly passes gas one evening, he says that hysterical line).

Two questions: What’s up with Stands with a Fist’s hair? Every woman in the tribe’s hair is nicely braided and hers is out of control. I’m sure the messiness was intentional… an unbridled sexiness of sorts, but I just wanted to yell, “Girlfriend needs a comb, y’all!”
 
 
And why is that picture of Costner on the movie poster? This poster quite possibly wins the “worst movie poster ever” award for its irrelevance. It’s a lame close-up and he doesn’t even look like that in the film! When you buy the DVD now, here’s what it looks like:
 

The genre this film was placed in is Western (although some disagree) which makes it only the second Western to win Best Picture in Oscar history (after “Cimarron” sixty years earlier). Its competitors included “Awakenings” (didn’t see), “Ghost” (good), “GoodFellas” (eh), and “The Godfather, Part III” (awful). It won seven awards from its astounding twelve nominations even though it was not the highest-grossing film that year… “Ghost” was. Another popular movie that came out this year was another one of my faves and a permanent resident of pop-culture, “Pretty Woman”.

FAVORITE SCENE:

Nobody can dislike the scene when Dunbar is trying to find the word for “buffalo” in order to communicate to Kicking Bird… it’s a fabulous game of charades. TATANKA!
 

LESSONS LEARNED:

You should try to learn from and accept people who are different from you.

Travel to what’s left of the frontier and marvel in the beauty God made.

We all need time away (from people, schedules, and technology) to “regroup” and/or reflect about the persons we are and who we want to be. Take time to take a deep cleansing breath.