Saturday, March 11, 2017

Post Oscars...and, no, I didn't hope La La Land would win!

Usually, I write my second (or in some cases third) post on prepping for the upcoming Oscars. This year, obviously, not.
But we did redouble our efforts and saw three more of the nominated movie.

Here are ALL the nominees (small print--we didn't see; all caps--we did):

Arrival
FENCE
HACKSAW RIDGE
HELL OR HIGH WATER
HIDDEN FIGURES
LA LA LAND
LION
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
MOONLIGHT

OK, so we only missed one. And maybe I will yet see it--thought, I don't know, sci-fi futuristic time-bending movies are not my cup-of-tea.

The movies in red text above were the second round of what we saw. First, a quick run-down on each.

HACKSAW RIDGE--a riveting TRUE story, a sound and visual effects triumph, a Mel Gibson project. To the true story I say KUDOS. To the sound and visual effects triumph I say OK, but movies need more than that to be great. To Mel Gibson, I say--meh, although the directing was fine.  
I truly enjoyed the story--my own family background in a denomination which was strongly pacifist deepened my understanding for the Desmond Doss story. However, lengthy portions portray the inconceivable violence that is true of any and all battles, but particularly so in the Pacific front of World War II.  The protracted battle for  Okinawa was VIOLENT, squared. It was for me eye-averting violent...hand in front of my face, peeping through my fingers occasionally.



HELL OR HIGH WATER was a surprise--a very pleasant surprise. My pre-viewing take was "oh, great, another modern Western."  Well, yes, it was BUT very good. First, any movie with Jeff Bridges  has to be good, if only to watch him at his acting craft. He is the quintessential Texas Ranger who wants one more triumph to cap his career. He gets that opportunity when a rash of small time robberies occur in  banks in west Texas. 
Through his long experience he has a finely honed sense of what the robbers are like. The movie goes back and forth between the two robbers--brothers with a particular goal in mind for their robbing, and the Texas Rangers on a trail to catch the robbers. No more plot--you can watch it for yourself.  But the acting is superb, the scenery spare and somewhat depressing portraying the impact of economic downturn on a part of the U.S., and the plot is compelling.  
Having seen it, I thought this movie would have been every bit deserving of winning any Oscar nomination it received--including best picture, which--of course--it didn't.

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA--well, what to say? Sad--oh yes, unquestionably. Moving--indeed. Depressing--sure, it has to be.  But the best actor award Casey Affleck received was most deserved. He portrays a loner--Lee Chandler--who works as a handyman in Boston.  He snaps at the people who call him to fix whatever needs fixing. In turn they are nasty to him. He is cut off from any positive human contact. 
But one day, he gets a call that his older brother, Joe--who lives in their hometown of Manchester by the Sea, has had a heart attack, and dies.  Lee goes to tell Joe's son Patrick that his father has died. When Joe's will is read, it turns out he named Lee as guardian for Patrick, as well as executor. While in Manchester, Lee sees his ex-wife. The reason between the division between them becomes revealed--and I won't divulge it--but it is enough to say that Lee is a bundle of inchoate grief. Cut off in every way--human interaction, emotion, love. 
The dual tug of caring for his nephew and dealing with his painful past that involves his ex-wife--that is the engine for the plot at the movie unfolds.

So, now, reordering my original pick for top movie, after seeing the three described above (in order of which one I liked the best):

Hell or High Water
Fences
Manchester by the Sea
Hidden Figures
Lion

Hacksaw Ridge
Moonlight
La La Land

I don't want to suggest there is any correlation between what I enjoy, and what wins best picture, because many times I have been out of step with the Academy.  Some years, more spectacularly than others.  But that's another blog...





Monday, February 20, 2017

Mini Prep for the Oscars

If you are a long time reader, you know I love the movies. And you know each year my husband and I try to see at least some of the nominees for Best Picture of the Year.  Since the Academy has expanded the number of movies which could be nominated--from 5 to up to 10--that has gotten more difficult.

First, we don't go to THAT many movies. Second, some movies, even though nominated, are just not my "cup of tea."

So, here's what we saw this year--in order of seeing them.

Fences, Lion, Moonlight, Hidden Figures, La La Land


Yes, I know that means we missed Manchester by the Sea, but that will just have to do.

Our favorite among these--in order of enjoyed the most to the least.

Hidden Figures
Lion
Fences
La La Land
Moonlight

...although between the last two, it's a toss up.

And now why.
We loved the story of Hidden Figures--an aptly named movie about African-American women who were highly talented, and eventually able to work on the early U.S. space program. A revelation to me, having never heard of any of these women.  Hidden indeed.  Their jobs--well, mathematical computation and computing. In fact, there was a whole room full of "computers"--not machines, but people, working on mathematical computation using figure. And they were all "colored" in the jargon of the day.  When the one woman who was from her childhood a math wizard gets an opportunity to move into the main mission control room, she is understandably elated and incredibly challenged. Not by the scope of the work--that she can do--but by the arrangements. While she works side by side with white co-workers, when she needs to go to the bathroom, she is told "there are no colored bathrooms in this building."  So she has to run across the sprawling complex (a half a mile, we learn later) to use the "colored bathroom" in her old work space.

When another one of the heroines, Dorothy Vaughn, seizes an opportunity to do programming on the gigantic computer (think a whole room that is the computer)--she is mistaken for a janitor and is told where the trash is. She has learned how to program on her own by reading instructional books on programming in Fortran. And a third heroine, Mary Jackson, has to go to court to get permission to attend night classes at an all-white high school in town, just so she can meet the entry requirements for the job.

These women fill me with wonder, awe, gratitude and anger. While never the point of the movie, I can't help but think of our country's regression to a time like the early 1960s, before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965.  Racism is never far below the surface in our country. And this movie is a reminder of what we lose when we make outcast a whole group of people--whether women, people of color, people of different ethnicity or religion.

This post will get entirely too long if I tell you how I felt about the other movies--
Lion, a triumph of incredible perseverance for an orphan from India who is adopted by a family in Australia to find his birth home through use of Google Earth (!).
Fences--a masterpiece of American literature by the late playwright August Wilson, which explores the triumphs and defeats of an African-American family in Pittsburgh in the 1950s. The movie is a show case for Oscar worthy performances by Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.
La La Land--a popular favorite and presumptive winner about the dreams of a young couple who want to make it big in Hollywood. Their dreams are realized and dashed in equal portions. Oh, and it's also a musical, presumably an homage to big Hollywood musical productions with a plot overlay of modern disappointment.
Moonlight--a story of one African-American young man from his childhood where he contends with being bullied, having a derelict drug-abusing mother, and a stand-in father figure who turns out to be a drug dealer to his maturing and regrets which have brought him to a lonely existence. As if that weren't enough, he also works through coming to an understanding of his sexuality as a gay man.

There you have it.
We'll be watching on Sunday night.