Every year, we make a mad dash to get ready to watch the Academy Awards. As long as the NFL has games on Saturdays and Sundays, we tend not to go to the movies. So, we miss out on the movies that are being released in the second half of the year. These are the movies that usually garner the Oscar nominations.
We started this mad dash by going to see Milk. This movie tells the story of the political radicalization of Harvey Milk, in San Francisco in the 1970s, culminating with his death in 1978 (along with Mayor Moscone) at the hands of disgruntled former City Councilman Dan White, played by Josh Brolin. Sean Penn is simply stunning in his morphing into the personna of Harvey Milk. The story is well-told, alternately humorous, touching, and deeply saddening.
We next saw Slumdog Millionnaire. This is clearly the feel good movie of the season. The story covers about two decades of the life of a young Muslim boy in Mumbai, India. He is a desperately poor boy who gets a chance to go on the show "Who Wants to Be a Millionnaire." As he successfully answers each question, the movie shows in flashback how he came to know information that one would not expect a "slumdog" to know. There is no deep meaning to the movie--but in the uncertain economic times in which we live, it will have deep appeal to many viewers.
More recently, we saw Doubt--the vehicle for tour de force performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep. They play, respectively, a friendly Irish priest, and a stern, tight-lipped nun named Sister Aloysius. A young nun, played sweetly by Amy Adams, sees something potentially comprising that the priest does. She eventually reports it to Sister Aloysius who is the principal of a Catholic school. Sister Aloysius begins a campaign to oust the priest, based on her firm conviction that he is a child molester. The two are locked in battle that dominates the movie--but at the end of the story, the viewer is still in doubt as to the truth.
Today, we saw The Reader. Kate Winslett plays a former Nazi SS prison guard named Hannah Schmitz. There is no question here as to why someone good would become involved in the Nazi madness in Germany during World War II. The movie really revolves around another mystery. Saying much more about the movie would give away some of the essential plot elements, but I will say that the inability of one character to read functions as a metaphor for the inability of some people to come to terms with the horror of the slaughter of millions of Jews during the Holocaust. This message alone is timely, given the current controversy of the Pope's having reinstated Bishop Williamson, who persists in denying the Holocaust.
I am not sure if we will be seeing The Wrestler. While I understand this is Mickey Rourke's comeback role, I have heard that the movie is particularly violent, and that's not my favorite topic. How ironic--since last year's top 2 movies in contention for best picture were No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood.
And the Oscar goes to. . .