Q Los Angeles 2013
Arts + Entertainment
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Arts + Entertainment
Oscars 2011: Cautionary Tales
From Braveheart to A Beautiful Mind, the Oscar often goes to underdogs who overcome obstacles. So Bertie’s rousing transformation from stutterer to statesman in The King’s Speech has become the favorite to win Best Picture. Colin Firth offers a compelling, Oscar-worthy portrait of King George VI. The unconventional methods of speech therapist Lionel Logue work wonders on the King (and the audience). But while The King’s Speech may win the most awards, the darker, thornier Oscar nominees are more likely to resonate in years to come.
[Watch Gregg Helvey, Oscar-winning filmmaker's Q talk: "The Story of Justice"]
Ambivalence about family drives Winter’s Bone, The Kids Are All Right, and The Fighter. Blood ties can hold us back and even become deadly. Sometimes we must step away in order to survive. So where do we find a support structure to navigate this dark world? These films do not look above, but within. They are about characters finding the wherewithal to carry on.
Winter’s Bone is a rare peek into a rural Ozark community. Jennifer Lawrence is unforgettable as Ree Dolly, a daughter in search of her drug-dealing Dad. She displays such pluck in tracking down her menacing uncle Teardrop. She even teaches her siblings how to skin a squirrel. Our respect for Ree is matched by our revulsion at her bleak family situation. The backwoods of Winter’s Bone are chilling.
Traditional definitions of marriage and family are challenged in The Kids are All Right. Nic and Jules, a committed lesbian couple, each had a child through artificial insemination. Before heading off to college, their daughter decides to track down her biological father. When the sperm donor arrives, their seemingly stable family bond begins to unravel. The Kids are All Right features frank sexuality that may unnerve some audiences. Is it a sign of progress that lesbian couples can fall prey to lust, temptation and adultery, too? Those trying to relate to all kinds of blended families may find The Kids are All Right a surprisingly honest and insightful story about parents and their children.
The Fighter trades upon boxing metaphors like the importance of getting up off the mat. Despite a profound toughness in the ring, “Irish” Micky Ward has never stood up to his mother. Her management decisions have always favored his older, half-brother, Dicky Ecklund. When Dicky’s temper and crack addiction lands him in jail, Micky finally has a chance to shine. The love of a tough bartender named Charlene gives Micky the confidence to break free from his destructive family system.
So do the finest films of 2010 elevate the individual above all? The Social Network, True Grit, Black Swan, 127 Hours, and Inception are cautionary tales, photographed in shadows rather than light. They explore the dark side of the human condition, the downward spiral we often set in motion. Obsession can blind us. We need family and friends to snap us back to reality.
The Social Network suggests that unparalleled financial prosperity can’t cure loneliness or anti-social behavior. Mark Zuckerberg comes across as smart but petty, failing to embrace genuine friendship, resorting to cheap shots and low blows instead. Did revenge fuel the foundation of Facebook? Was the idea stolen from the Winkelvoss twins? Thanks to The Social Network, we may never be able to separate fact from fiction. But Aaron Sorkin’s smart script suggests our relentless search for online connections pales in comparison to sticking with friends who will accompany us in life’s peaks and valleys. Billionaire Zuckerberg comes across as a poor man.
Black Swan depicts our considerable capacity for self-destruction. Nina Sayers wants to be the lead ballerina in Swan Lake. But she is also pushed toward perfection (and madness) by her overbearing mother, Erica and her manipulative director, Thomas. Darren Aronofsky employs all manner of camera tricks to create an air of dread. This is a hysterical horror story, asking how far will we go in pursuit of our goal? And what will it cost us?
Fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross seeks justice at almost any price. She hires legendary U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn to find the man who murdered her father. But Cogburn and a Texas Ranger fail to display as much True Grit as Mattie. The Coen Brothers recapture the Old Testament tones found in Charles Portis’ novel. They open with a quotation from Proverbs and close with a gospel hymn. But what does Mattie learn along the trail? Retribution is costly. No one comes away unscathed. So perhaps we’re better off “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” than taking up arms.
It can be daunting to watch tough, realistic films like 127 Hours. Viewers largely stayed away from this riveting, true-life story. Who wants to see a hiker saw his arm off as entertainment? While 127 Hours affirms the gift of life, it also recreates in graphic detail what Aron Ralston had to do to escape a remote slot canyon in Utah. Independence ends up quite over-rated. Director Danny Boyle reminds us to cherish the gift of life, love, and family.
Inception is a thrilling exploration of the power of dreams. Dom Cobb leads a team of extractors on their most daring mission yet—planting an idea in a corporate titans’ head. Amidst an inventive plot, Inception is about letting go of illusions, not letting false ideas control you. For those fixated on an old flame, Inception provides a jolting wake up call. Don’t ever think suicide is an acceptable way out. Visionary director Christopher Nolan reminds us to love your family and hug your kids each and every waking day.
When the Toy Story series began, Andy was a young boy, playing games with his beloved Buzz Lightyear and Woody. In Toy Story 3, Andy says goodbye to childhood and his cherished toys. Jessie, Ham and Rex deal with issues of abandonment, trying to find a new calling or home. Pixar’s Oscar nominee raises interesting questions of who we’re supposed to serve, even forcing frightened toys to face mortality. For a children’s movie, Toy Story 3 is remarkably mature. Perhaps we are still understanding what it means that “A little child shall them.”
Are there any films you wish had been included in this list of flicks that are "likely to resonate in years to come?" Which pictures do you think will snatch up some Oscars this year? Which ones
but probably won't?
I would say that more often than not, the Oscars don't necessarily celebrate underdogs who overcome obstacles, but celebrates painful situations because the popular consensus is that "art" is equal to pain. My thinking has been shaped a lot by this David Denby article:
, where he says that "...[Revolutionary Road] may suffer, as only an awards-season movie can, from the illusion that pain and art are the same thing."
I am constantly annoyed by the academy's selection of nominees along these lines, especially for "Best Director". They seem to all revolve around mopey movies in which the actors show a lot of emotion or go crazy - many times both. People think "oh, that actor is really showing a lot of emotion, that means it's "art" and good direction," and at the same time innovations in story structure, camera use, editing, tone, color palate, art direction, and music use go unnoticed. I was extremely disappointed that Danny Boyle and Chris Nolan were not nominated for Best Direction - in my opinion, their work this year tops anything and is more innovative than what was done by all the nominees save Fincher.
Great comments, Ryan. One thing I admire about the Coen Brothers' TRUE GRIT is that it doesn't reek of self importance. They aren't trying to win awards. They're trying to tell the best story, the smartest western possible. It is a great genre picture.
Social Network was definitely striving for importance and might show a bit too much sweat in the process. True Grit feels much more effortless and natural.
Boyle's problem is that he won so recently. Why the Academy hasn't recognized and awarded an Oscar yet is a great mystery. Maybe because his pictures don't fit neatly into the drama category. They combine genres a bit--sci fi/fantasy/film noir. And all three of those genres are really taken seriously....
But he is obviously the most consistent and important director of his generation.
Yeah, I loved True Grit for that reason as well! Such a great genre picture with wonderful people who you just can't take your eyes off of.
I assume you're talking about Nolan in the second half of the post? I have no idea why the academy can't see that he's so brilliant. I feel that this really is the "art bias" that I was talking about earlier - no one wants to admit that the "best picture" might be the one that all the audiences thought was the best picture or was based on a comic book. Someone should do a study coorilating the number of explosions in a movie with the inverse chances of an oscar nom.
It's very clear that it's Nolan that has the chops behind the films, and the films are not just riding on subject matter. I feel this is true with Boyle as well, after seeing 127 hours and seeing the creative ways he handled the material. Having that adventurous, Colorado spirit myself I really resonated with Aaron's character and was taken on a wonderful ride through that picture.
Ryan: I hear ya about the "art = pain" thing, but on the other hand, there's an old idiom that says, "No one ever wrote the epic of peace." Painful stuff tends to ask deeper questions, making them (as Craig says) "more likely to resonate in years to come." Sometimes the "good without pain" can come through by contrast. Case in point: In the Coens' old
, Marge & Norm's relationship was the shining light of simple beauty that I took away from a huge and ugly mess.
Thanks, Craig, for bringing out the value in the deeper questions these films explore.
The King's Speech
would certainly with the People's Choice Oscar, were there one, but I find deeper exploration of life in some of the others.
Were I Oscar, the one I'd favor for 2011 is
. Although it is dark and tough to watch, the darkness sparks a contrast that makes Ree's heart a beauty in the shadows. I come away wanting to have the depth of heart and strength (okay, and true grit) that Ree has. I find
to be among the best, as well.
More thoughts over at
" target="online_refs">my take on the 2011 Best Picture nominations.
Great to affirm beauty amidst the horror, Randy. Isn't that what grace looks and feels like...
Winter's Bone is a tough, gritty film. Had the privilege of seeing it just moments after it won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. We were all stunned by the wonder of Ree amidst a house of pain. This 'small' film will live on for a loooong time.
Your faves all have remarkable performances and sequences. Hard to tell which ones will endure. The grandeur and creativity of the deception in Inception is likely to resonate for awhile. My tribute and analysis is here:
The King's Speech is a feel-good movie about the triumph of human courage and transformation born of love, but more particularly it is a story about men. I suspect its' success is in no small part fueled by the anxiety of white males in this time and place--and by white women who want to be reassured that the male will overcome his weakness to take care of things and right the world.
Barak Obama is, arguably, the most powerful man in the world today; on a visceral level I think that scares a lot of white men. But beyond that, as the US ecomony changes, I have seen it harder and harder for the regular guy to find a way of making a living that holds respect and generates income to support--or contribute signifcantly--to the support of his family. This is emasculating--and nobody likes that. Where are the new archtypes, metaphors, models and ways of being through which men can flourish? For the good of all?
The King's Speech offers a story of hope, a way out of isoloation through acknowledgement of vulnerability, hard work, and friendship. It is a powerful and transforming story for men. Director Tom Hooper, in his acceptance speech last night, talked about the "triangle of man love" between himself, Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth. Firth said he hoped this moment would never end. Isn't that kind of intimacy that generates creativity and new life what we all long for--and what men have been warned against? I hope the movies lasts for that reason.
Interesting take, Melissa.
Certainly, The Fighter is loaded with a lots of man love (and an Oedipus complex).
How would you view The Social Network? It is a pretty woman hating, man's world and yet, the Zuckerburg character never really connects with men either.
Winter's Bone is fueled by some brave and brutal women. The Kids are All Right is fueled by a man invading a seemingly stable women's world.
True Grit presents a young woman who invades the frontier world of men without apology or hesitation. Mattie sees a bit more brutality than she expects, but manages to make it out alive.
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