For the last few years some friends have thrown an Oscar party. I enjoy attending, but I have rarely seen the movies up for best picture. Income is limited and I can’t watch as many movies as I would like. This year, with the Oscars airing on Sunday, I decided to engage in a Nightmarathon, where I would attempt to see as many Oscar-nominated films as possible, barring those I had already watched. Thus, Toy Story 3, True Grit, and Inception are removed from the list. Of the ten films nominated for best picture, that leaves seven. I want to include as many of the other films as possible, including those for animation, documentary, short films, etc. But I know I won’t succeed. So, Friday night I kicked off the Nightmarathon with The King’s Speech.
The King’s Speech – This is the film I’m rooting for. First, it is British. Second, it is inspiring. The movie takes place in the 1930s as Hitler is beginning to move in Gemany. Colin Firth plays The Duke of York, a man who has a severe stutter. With radio becoming a more prominent media, the royal family has found need to give speeches not only in person, but on the radio. This is not a fun proposition. After a few unsuccessful attempts with doctors, the duchess urges the Duke to try working with a man named Lionel Logue, who has had breakthrough with unorthodox methods that focus less on the mechanics and more on the psychological reasons why the stutter exists in the first place. He attempts to empower The Duke. Lionel is played wonderfully by Geoffrey Rusch. The Duke’s life grows more complicated when The King dies and The Duke’s brother takes the throne, a position he never takes seriously. With possible war looming, England needs a strong monarch to speak for the people. The new King can speak, but is more interested in his mistress and parties. The Duke is a strong man, but cannot speak clearly. This is a wonderful film, beautifully shot and performed. Colin Firth brings a great deal of subtlety and sympathy to The Duke. While the central conflict of a speech impediment seems less epic than some other struggles, I believe it is quite relatable and very human. You leave this film feeling good about life and empowered to raise above any difficulties you face.
The Social Network – A movie about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook? Seriously? Well, it is actually quite good. The story follows Zuckerberg as he arrives at the concept of Facebook and follows him through to its success. There is a framing device for the narrative. Zuckerberg is being sued by two parties, one is his best friend and co-founder of Facebook and the other are three Harvard grads who say he stole the idea from them. It is an interesting way of exploring the events of the film and I think it works quite well. Zuckerberg is not portrayed as completely sympathetic, but neither is he portrayed as villainous. There is some ambiguity over certain events and the reasons why they happened. However, my primary complaint over the movie is that, while the creation of Facebook has some great drama to it, Zuckerberg is quite young and events that were set in motion over the course of this film may not be resolved yet. The movie, by necessity needs to have some type of resolution, and director David Fincher and the screenwriters have done a good job of providing a type of resolution, but a movie about the creation of Facebook is inextricably tied to Zuckerberg as a man, and his life is ongoing and any growth he may have as an individual is most-certainly incomplete. But the creation of a Facebook movie while the founder is still alive is certainly understandable because, as the movie recognizes, internet trends revolve around a certain amount of urgency while they are cool. So far, Facebook has not proven to be a flash-in-the pan, but the general trend of the internet is for the old thing to be killed by the next-great-thing. Thus, for a movie about Facebook to be received with any success, it must be released while Facebook is still popular and in the news. When Zuckerberg is in his 50s and his life may show more resolution (not a guarantee, but it is possible), no one may care about Facebook anymore. A movie about a fad that existed 50 years ago? Probably not.
For the above restrictions, The Social Network is a success, but I don’t know if it has longevity or if it can really speak to your life. It certainly surpasses mere entertainment, it humanizes individuals behind a social trend, but I don’t know if I walk away from it a better person. That said, it deserves the nomination.
Winter’s Bone – My favorite thing about this movie was that I recognized Laura Palmer. Small-town murder victim turned Ozarkian WT.
Dread permeates this film. I’ve been studying the works of H.P. Lovecraft recently, and while this film has no similarities to his work, it reminded me of him. The horror is all human and circumstantial, and I think that’s because on some level I recognize this film thoroughly. I grew up near (in) places similar to this, but if the darkness that permeates this film existed in my childhood, then I was either unaware of it or my parents sheltered me from it. Aspects of this film were incredibly familiar, from visuals to mentalities, but the tribal nature of the people seemed much darker than I remembered. And yet, I suspect circumstances like this are entirely plausible. But back to Lovecraft. One recurring element in his fiction was that of cursed family lines. I couldn’t help but adopt this lens when hearing about “blood” in this movie. One large part of “country folk” is the idea of kin, of blood. Family is important for help, but it can also be a curse. Poverty is almost hereditary in instances like this due to the failures of one generation setting up the next for failure. In this case, a family that cooked meth cursing the next generation to have to survive without a father. And while family offers aid, it likewise doesn’t tolerate intrusion. Ree’s father became a snitch, which hurt the family and ticked off a local “crime syndicate”, which is a bit of a misnomer, but the only word I can describe for it.
The sociology of this film is what most intrigues me. Part mafia, part tribal mentality, the people in this film defer to established leaders, represented in this film by Thump. The scene where Ree Dolly, after appealing to Thump for information on her father (appealing to the king and being refused) returns to demand the withheld information. She is beaten into unconsciousness. Upon waking, she is surrounded by women and men, part of Thump’s “tribe”. Thump appears, dressed in leather vest with patches and medals, cowboy had and silver chains and stands over Ree like a judge, ready to pass verdict. In the end, Teardrop appears and demands Thump hand Ree over to him. He vouches for her and takes responsibility for her. The mechanics behind the sociology in this scene fascinate me. They also horrify me.
Are there no happy poor people? Those in poverty are never portrayed as happy. Don’t get me wrong, parts of the Ozarks are like this, yet you never seem to see happy poor Ozarkians. Maybe this isn’t good drama, but I can’t help but wonder if this is the only way Hollywood sees us. If you are poor and live in the backwoods, you are obviously struggling through life, unhappy, tough, drug or alcohol-addicted, and regularly engaging in criminal behavior. Again, parts of this ring true. You keep to yourself, not getting involved in other peoples’ business. You don’t bring others into your business. You don’t ask for help and you are very particular about the help you accept. You get on with life and you get by. But to the best of my knowledge, I didn’t grow up around backwoods criminal conspiracies.
On further reflection, however, I may have been close to it. I may have been pulled out of such circumstances at a young age. I can’t help but wonder. And I can’t help but notice that watching The Social Network and Winter’s Bone back to back was quite the surreal experience. Yet, both involve very different social networks and methods of gathering and disseminating information.
Films Already Seen
Regular movie-viewing can be an expensive undertaking. As such, my wife and I typically watch movies if the trailers make them look interesting to us. I realize that trailers are marketing tools designed to make movies look better than they may be, thus a trailer is merely an impression, not a guarantee, but if the trailer fails to snag us (perhaps we are the wrong audience or just not interested in the subject), then we will skip the movie. The three following movies did appeal to us, however, and the Academy was gracious enough to nominate them for an Oscar. Thus, going in to Oscar season, we came out more ahead than usual.
Toy Story 3 – Pixar is rarely a bad choice. I had small misgivings going in to this movie. Toy Story 2 dealt a bit with the idea of Andy growing up and the worrying about what was next for the toys. Is this retreading the same ground? Thankfully, no. While this theme is certainly present, the film views growing up as a way to pass things on. In truth, this is one purpose of growing and becoming an adult, to impact the next generation with your experiences, and if that involves passing on cool toys, so be it. Hording is rarely a positive option.
This movie had me in tears, I’ll admit it. And it won’t win best picture. See, it is nominated in two categories: Best Picture and Best Animated Film. The very fact it is nominated in both categories makes it unlikely to win the big one. It will get its due and this will allow another film a chance at the big award.
Inception – One of the more over-rated sci-fi films of the year, but also good in its own right. This movie just didn’t gel for me. Yes, it is good. Yes, I understand it. It is well-crafted, but it isn’t a tight story and it isn’t a perfect film. The secondary characters are largely unmemorable and underdeveloped. It really seems that characters were inserted into slots as dictated by the concept, not any necessity for them existing in the story. Thus, we have the guy who provides the kick, the girl who does the architect stuff, the kid from Third Rock from the Sun, and so on. Possibly the character with the most depth (for me) was Cillian Murphy’s character. Also, this movie used a cheat on the ending. It is like director Christopher Nolan is saying “He is home with his family. Or is he!!?! Mwahahaha! I’m clever!”
True Grit – First thing’s first, I’ve never seen the original. That shouldn’t matter, however, as this is an evaluation of the 2010 version. I loved it. It is funny, the direction and cinematography are great (Westerns can live or die on the latter). Hailee Steinfeld makes this movie a joy. I was expecting something dark and moody, but it was fun and humorous. This really shows my ignorance, I know. In the end, True Grit was a lot of fun and, closing song aside, nearly flawless in its execution. I don’t really have much more to say about it than that.