With the discovery of Netflix several months ago, I've become quite a film buff. Love getting those red envelopes in the mail and watching the DVDs on my home computer with Willie curled up under my desk. I have found treasures on Netflix. Movies both mainstream and independent, that have entertained, educated, and excited me. They ranged from British period drama to World Wars I and II to conflict and culture of the Middle East to complicated interpersonal relationships with family, friends, and lovers.
I also love seeing the first run movies on the big screen. From the above ticket stub collage, it looks like I'm in a pretty good position to pick the Oscar winners at tonight's Academy Awards ceremony. I'll watch the show just to see the spectacle of stars behaving graciously or badly, the fashions, and three hours of Hugh Jackman, the Drover Hottie from Down Under.
I don't have a particular movie, actor or director that I'm hoping will sweep the awards. I appreciated all of these movies for different reasons. However, here's my brief take on this past year at the movies, beginning with the Oscar contenders:
Doubt -- saw both the play and movie and still can't decide if the priest was guilty of child molestation or just buffering the boy from a harsh home life. There was evil on all sides. (Philip Seymour Hoffman delivered a chilling, puzzling performance as Father Flynn. Worthy of Best Supporting Actor.)
Revolutionary Road -- we all know the Wheelers (Kate Winslet and Leonardo Di Caprio) the perfect couple of the 1950s suburbia, living privately desperate and separate lives.
The Wrestler -- the brutality of the ring for has been been wrestlers was hard to watch many times. That brutality was balanced by the Ram's clumsy, but sweet, efforts to find redemption in the love of a woman, his daughter and the ring. (Mickey Rourke delivered a Best Actor performance and Marisa Tomei did the same for Best Supporting Actress. P.S. I am so getting me a hula hoop.)
Slumdog Millionaire -- Original premise. Chaotic glimpse into the life of orphans from the slums of Mumbai and how they survived by looking out for each other. (Danny Boyle deserves Best Director for such a sweeping film.)
Frost-Nixon -- Michael Sheen (Frost) and Frank Langella (Nixon) were the perfect counterpoints in this camera battle. Lightweight TV host takes on brooding, disgraced, but still power hungry, president. Who knew interviews on Vietnam and Watergate could be riveting? (Langella should win Best Actor.)
Milk -- I love Sean Penn for his chameleon-like ability to become someone else--from Huey Long to the grieving father in Mystic River to Harvey Milk, gay activist/San Franscisco city supervisor. In Milk, Penn nails the voice, body language, sadness, anger and humor of a gay man determined to bring about change. (Penn deserves Best Actor nomination, but he probably could care less about winning.)
Rachel Getting Married -- Anne Hathaway played a masterful role as the damaged daughter/sister/addict who gets out of a treatment center to be in her sister's wedding. I now know for certain why I hate parties and drawn out gatherings.
Defiance -- since December I've seen a series of films about WW I and II. This inspiring true story of the Bielski brothers' saving over 1,000 Eastern European Jews from the Germans in the Belarus Woods during WW II, put to rest the mistaken claim that "Jews won't fight." (Deserves Original Score award.)
The Duchess -- Keira Knightley played an 18th century ancestor of Princess Diana with eerily the same marriage and political path. (Ralph Finnes was excellent as the older, distant and cruel husband who only wanted a male heir from his young duchess.)
Australia -- Great sweeping Australian landscapes; Hugh Jackman tanned and riding a horse; Hugh Jackman putting the uppity noblewoman Nicole Kidman in her place and then winning her love; Hugh Jackman respecting and protecting the aboriginal people. Indulgent film making by director Baz Lehrmann? Who cares? (Be fine if wins Best Costume.)
The Reader -- saved the most complicated for last. I'm still thinking about this film. A 15 year Michael Berg is caught up in an intense love affair with Hanna, an older woman. They make love and he reads to her. She disappears. They meet again when, as a young law student, Berg observes her on trial for Nazi war crimes. Berg discovers that in his former lover's eyes there are secrets more shameful than murder of Jews in concentration camps. (Kate Winslet delivers a transformative performance as Hanna and deserves Best Actress. Ralph Finnes, as the adult Berg, played a controlled character, similar to his role in The Duchess, who was incapable of reaching out to his former lover until it was too late.)
Other movies I'm glad to have seen this year:
Gran Torino -- Clint still has it even in his 70s.
Last Chance Harvey -- Sweet. Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson take a chance on love.
Secret Life of Bees -- memorable interpretation of Sue Monk Kidd's novel about a southern sisterhood of strong women helping an abused young girl.
Then She Found Me -- Colin Firth as a bumbling, lovable single dad who loves his son's teacher.
When Did You Last See Father? --Colin Firth being creepy.
Momma Mia -- Abba and Meryl Streep--what fun!
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas -- The son of a Nazi concentration camp commandant and a Jewish boy imprisoned in that camp form a true friendship.
Well, I'm listening to the awards show while typing this and my picks are not doing very well. That's okay, because the great thing about movies is that we're free to interpret and enjoy--or hate--as we like. All for the price of a ticket, bag of popcorn, and box of Junior Mints.