Sunday, February 25, 2007

I'm Still Undecided!

I've seen four of the five nominees for best picture, and of these four, I still can't figure out which one is my favorite... Or which, at least, I think is the best picture of the year.

I did not see Letters from Iwo Jima. I really can't stomach a war picture right now, I'll catch it on DVD someday. I'm sure it is quite good, as Clint has not steered us in the wrong direction in many many years, if ever. I'm also intruiged by the idea of a film from the perspective of the American enemy, as it harkens directly back to tongue lashings I got from my Irish friends after Saving Private Ryan came out in Dublin: "All American war movies are the same." "WWII movies never show that the Germans had families and people who mourned them." Well, friends from neutral-in-WWII Ireland, you got your picture.

As for the other nominees:

Little Miss Sunshine
I didn't like this all that much. It was cute, and quirky, and the story moved well enough. But there was something incredibly missing for me. It is as if between the quirk and character development of each individual (and overbearingly 'unique') character was done in a vacuum, and it was hard to see why he was married to her, why he would be the son of her, or why she is so goddamned cute in the face of the rest of her family, or why in gods name a 10 year old girl in 2006 would be dressed like that, seriously. That said, there were a couple of relationships I did buy: The Uncle and The Son, for instance. Grandfather and Olive, I suppose as well. And while I appreciate the message at the bottom of it all, be yourself and while you're at it, be quirky and unique, the climatic 'pervy' dance by Olive in the pageant (hilariously disgusting the pageant mothers who goad their children into equally, or perhaps moreso, 'pervy' hairdos and evening gowns, so much so as to lure pedophiles in the audience), somhow missed the mark. Would Olive, in being her own unique self, chosen such a sensual dance had she not been equally goaded into it by her grandfather? All I'm saying, this movie was so filled with quirk, it was slightly hard for me to believe there were real relationships in there, and ultimately, the kind of quirks that you and I and all of us unique beings in this world really have. Plus, it had the 'move the dead body around' motif that makes me really uncomfortable.

Before I say anything about, say, the convoluted plot lines or the confusing continuity of this film, let me state that it was one of the most beautifully shot movies I've seen come out of Hollywood in a long time. Sure, Brokeback Mountain was lovely, with its helocopter shots of its titular mountain, and it's drab depiction of small town Wyoming life, but this movie... It pulsated. It popped out of the screen, and each scene, each setting, was lovingly filmed. But I come back to the convolution. In a way, it was the only way the movie could be made, and the ultimate theme of the film, that we ultimately misunderstand each other either through will, pride, discrimination or isolation, was proved in the way that as a viewer, I felt disconnected from the goings on on the screen. Since that was the point of the movie, that we are all suffering from a imposed-by-God disconnect, I must assume that the way it made me feel meant that the movie acheived its aim.

The Departed
The story is the thing in The Departed. It boasts a strong, tight script, instantly engaging and superbly acted. I'm not the biggest fan of shoot-em-up action flicks, but I make a big and generally wholesale exception for a good gangster movie, and for me, The Departed sits in the ranks of the best of its peers in the genre. I love that this movie is nominated for best picture, it is so untypically "Oscar." The steely gray streets of Boston and dirty green and brown of its seedy gangster bars don't reflect a thing of beauty, but the cinematography is controled and on a perfect pitch with the mood of the film. The tight control of the subject matter and every other aspect of the film (soundtrack, editing, etc) is what makes The Departed so exemplary. Even the characters follow these rules of constraint: each character in this film stands on his own, an island unto himself. Self preservation is a high priority for each character here. Unlike other films in this genre, there is no interplay between family and familia, like that of Goodfellas or The Godfather. Each character is disconnected, but unlike in Babel, it engaged me. As a film, it reminded me more of Munich than other, more gangster-ish films in its theme: What is the cost on a man to be a mole, even if it is for a cause in which he believes? The answer isn't pretty, and either is this film, but it is certainly watchable, exciting, and just simply well done. This may not be Raging Bull, but it is definitely Scorcese's return to true, murderous form.

The Queen
I just saw this last night, and I'm still chewing on it. I understand so little about the purpose of the English monarchy, but I think that part of the aim of this movie is to give perspective to their role. I also think that the movie aimed its sights on a larger theme, of the price on dignity in the face media savvy. Diana was a darling of the media, and I loved her, and felt for her, having pushed upon her all of the suppression of emotion that appears to be expected among the royal family. She was represented as a too free spirit in a role and a family that wouldn't allow her to be herself. Queen Elizabeth II is the antithesis of Diana's struggle. She speaks to restraint, tradition and dignity while as a family, the royals circle their wagons in what she considered a private period of grief, while Prime Minister "Call me Tony" Blair laughs with his staffers about their robotic non-response and strange traditions, envoys and basic non-media friendly manners. The queen has some catching up to do with the state of the media frenzy, and by the time she does, she understands enough to take Mr. Blair down a few notches by the end of the film: in the end, she knows in 1997, as Tony does not, that he will have his turn for media scorn, perhaps prophesizing his recent troubles holding office amidst strong Britain's disapproval of his handling of Iraq and his relationship with President Bush. The film is, however, all about her. The queen does grieve Diana's death, and the pieces of the monarchy that she took with her to the grave, but she does so with stoicism and refinery that fit her position. She proves that restraint does not necessarily belie a true emotional 'self,' but that in her restraint, she gets the much larger picture, always. And yes, I'll say it, Helen Mirren is perfectly and absolutely the queen.

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