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, July 26, 2015

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), 2014

Rated R

The title. I mean, seriously… Are you asking me to pick which title I like best? Because, neither. The title(s), and the movie, for that matter, are pretty ridiculous. I was floored when this movie won the Academy’s most coveted award. I hadn’t even seen it yet, but based on all the movies’ previews alone, I knew it shouldn’t have even been in the running.

I’m being harsh. It was mildly entertaining, but certainly not up to the caliber I’ve come to expect from my Best Picture winners. The film follows Riggan Thomson (played by comeback kid Michael Keaton), a washed up actor known as the superhero “Birdman”, who is trying to hack it on Broadway by finally directing, funding, and starring in his first play. But… the thing is, his alter-ego “Birdman” talks to him in his head, berating him for being a nobody, and insisting he be great again. But it’s not just that internal battle with his ego… Riggan has powers.  He can move things across the room with his mind. He can levitate. (But apparently, no one can see this.) Here are my problems: There is no explanation of the supernatural; for a film that has everything else based in the nitty-gritty of reality, I don’t get how he can turn into Birdman for a couple of minutes and no one sees anything. Also, what was Birdman’s super power?? He looks like a completely narcissistic, oddly-costumed bird that does nothing for society. Why was he even popular?

Seriously?

I was more intrigued by the play that Riggan wrote and was starring in and his quest for the right actor (entertainingly played by Edward Norton). Emma Stone, who plays his daughter, on the other hand, drove me bonkers. So. Much. Overacting. (Oscar nomination? Really?)

Throughout the movie, Riggan is internally fighting for his self-worth, a better relationship with his grown-up daughter, and some sort of closure (?) with his ex-wife. He basically wants what everyone wants: to feel validated and be heard. He wants to leave his mark on the world and he’s feeling rushed to do so.

The music in the film kept throwing me off. It was endless jazz drum solos, varying in intensity and volume. I didn’t like the end of the film either, but I guess it matched the rest of the movie: just silly and a bit ridiculous. Overall, I was not a fan of this film, nor would I recommend it, but I do however, know that I do not speak for everyone, as many people online tout this film as being a psychological and philosophical masterpiece. To each his own.

This film was up against “American Sniper”, “Boyhood”, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “The Imitation Game”, “Selma”, “The Theory of Everything”, and “Whiplash”….. ALL which I thought would’ve won over “Birdman”. (I would’ve liked to see Angelina Jolie’s film “Unbroken” in that list as well.) It had a whopping nine nominations with four wins including: Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Screenplay. I’m sure it was awarded Best Cinematography because it was entirely filmed with a hand-held camera. While this style of film can be interesting and effective, sometimes it can be plain irritating. In this film, I often got unattractive shots far too close to an actor’s face during dialogue, and got a little nauseous following Riggan backstage through endless corridors and around countless corners to get to his dressing room. I did notice and was intrigued that because of this style, the film was made to look like one long, never-ending scene. From beginning to end, we were one with Riggan.

FAVORITE SCENE:
I’m a fan of Norton as an actor, so I enjoyed this scene where he plays a highly-sought-after, albeit often intoxicated, actor who agrees to perform in Riggan’s debut play. He ends up coaching his director in the parts and it’s comical.
 
 
LESSONS LEARNED:

We are our own worst critics. We’re hard on ourselves, demanding the best. While it’s good to strive for greatness, accept your faults and failures and don’t be too tough on yourself. Chances are, nobody else saw what you saw.

Don’t be too consumed with the admiration of others, that you fail to see the love of people who truly matter. Riggan’s relationship with his daughter was a bit strained and almost non-existent since he was so preoccupied with being everybody else’s idol.  
 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

12 Years a Slave, 2013





Rated R
                                                                                                                   
Tightness. Anxiety. Heart in my throat. Pit in my stomach. That’s how I started watching this movie, based on what I had read and heard from others regarding the harrowing scenes that this film depicts about the brutal honesty of slavery. This is not an easy film to watch. It has what seems like one unimaginable scene after another. Yet, I will admit, it is a poignant film; one that is fully deserving of this year’s Best Picture award.

Chiwetel Ejiofor BRILLIANTLY portrays Solomon Northup, a Northern-born musician and free man who when traveling away from his wife and two children for a gig, gets drugged, kidnapped, and awakened in shackles. His nightmare (or anyone’s really) is now a reality: he is sold into slavery and brought to the Antebellum South. Nobody believes he is free, and why should they? It was far too easy for absolutely everything to be taken away from him. An educated and respectful man, he eventually succumbs to keeping his head down and mouth shut in order to survive the following years after he’s sold yet again, to a ruthless, despicable slave-owner, played villainously by Michael Fassbender.

It’s impossible for me to imagine how Solomon had the will to survive TWELVE years of back-breaking and spirit-crushing work knowing his freedom papers and his family were safe on another side of the country. It is also impossible for me to envision that there was such hatred, discrimination, and brutality towards fellow human beings. The tension that mounts between Solomon, Master Epps, and even the young female slave, Patsy (who is the object of both Epps’ lust and beatings), is enough to make you shake with fury. One such outburst leads to one of the film’s most disturbing scenes; it is burned into my memory. But Solomon’s steadfast devotion to his family, his quiet pride, and his honest work ethic are all admirable.

Sadly, slavery didn't end with the Civil War or the Emancipation Proclamation. It was outlawed, but it has not ended. Human trafficking is one example of the modern-day slave trade. Stereotypes and attitudes that surrounded slavery then still permeate our society today. The same racism that fueled the slave trade can be seen around the country on a daily basis, and the media have field days shoving the resulting violence in our faces, often blowing some instances out of proportion thus instigating new aggression.

“12 Years a Slave” was nominated alongside some other award-worthy (and -winning) contenders: “Dallas Buyers Club”, “Gravity” (the film with the most wins this year), “Her”, “Philomena”, “American Hustle”, “Captain Phillips”, “Nebraska”, and “The Wolf of Wall Street”. Interestingly, six of these nine films were based upon true stories with real people and events. This film received only three wins from its nine nominations, including Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress. Ejiofor was nominated for Best Actor, but lost to Matthew McConaughey for “Dallas Buyers Club”. Oh, how I wish Ejiofor had won… I’m not sure I’ve seen a more deserving actor, considering his role. His facial expressions conveyed what no uttered words could. The man barely had to change the look in his eyes, and we were right there with him feeling his struggles. My hat is off to you Mr. Ejiofor.

FAVORITE SCENE:

It is difficult to pick a “favorite” scene when the film is riddled with heart-wrenching ones, but my spirits were raised when Solomon confides in Samuel (Brad Pitt) and a glimmer of hope is sparked. Samuel admonishes slavery. There’s a chance he’s willing to risk his life to retrieve Solomon’s freedom papers.
 

The very last scene is one I will never forget. I literally stood up from sitting on the couch with tears streaming down my face, surprised at the ending (and upon learning that this film was based on Solomon’s own autobiography).
 

LESSONS LEARNED:

The Bible was and still is deliberately used to manipulate and control the gullible or unsuspicious. Its context is constantly misconstrued in order to satisfy the person doing the preaching.

“Is everything right because the law allows it?” This loaded question was posed during a fantastic dialogue between Samuel Bass and Master Epps. Our country was founded on certain principles, mandated a set of laws, and even amended those in years that followed. I pray that as we continue to fight today for what’s “right”, we are showered in and guided by God’s grace and mercy.