The Oscars: The Playoffs of Movies

The Academy Awards are coming up February 22, 2009. Recently, while chatting about current movies, someone told me: “I didn’t know you were such a movie fan.” I am a movie fan. I’m a fan of good movies that make you think. I’m a fan of movies that tell a story that would otherwise never be thought of. Tell me about people that most would never give the time of day or who are so off the wall or obscure that they would otherwise be ignored. Tell me a story about heroes and underdogs; the quiet and the hidden; those taking a stand and those being heard.

Recently, I’ve seen the following films:

The Reader
The Wrestler
Frost/Nixon
Revolutionary Road
Burn After Reading
Defiance

Each was a terrific film in its own way and each was nominated for an award by at least one of the three mentioned award organizers. Of the six, the two best films were The Reader and The Wrestler.

reader_ver2The Reader, starring Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes and David Kross tells the story of Michael Berg (Kross in his teen years; Fiennes as an adult) and Hanna Schmitz (Winslet) who have an affair that lasts one summer when Berg is sixteen and Schmitz is in her mid-thirties. During their time together, Schmitz loved having Berg read to her. The affair ends abruptly with Schmitz moving away and not telling Berg. Years later, when Berg is in law school, he visits a courtroom with his class to observe a trial; a trial in which Schmitz is a defendant. Berg soon realizes that Schmitz is illiterate and has gone through her life covering up that fact. She is eventually sentenced to life in prison. Years later, Berg comes across some books that he read to Schmitz during their time together. He then reads the books aloud and records them on cassettes, which he sends with a tape recorder to Schmitz in prison. She recognizes one of the books, “The Lady with the Little Dog,” which she borrows from the prison library and uses with the tapes to begin to learn to read. Eventually, she writes to Berg, and although he doesn’t write back or visit, he continues to send the tapes. Eventually, Berg receives a call from the warden informing him that Schmitz is scheduled for release and since she has nobody outside, he his asked to help her. He finds her a place to live and a job, and finally visits her to tell her. I won’t spoil the ending; it has to be seen to be appreciated.

Kate Winslet won the Golden Globe and the Screen Actors Guild award for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture for her performance in The Reader. Curiously, she is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for the same role.

the_wrestler_posterThe Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei is also a tremendous film. I posted earlier about The Wrestler. It’s one of those movies that tells the story of an obscure character that nobody would otherwise know or care about. Mickey Rourke certainly deserved The Golden Globe he won for Best Actor in a Drama, and although he didn’t win a Screen Actors Guild award, he is nominated for an Oscar (his first Oscar nomination). Marisa Tomei is also nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. The Wrestler also won a Golden Globe for Best Song in a Motion Picture for “The Wrestler” performed by Bruce Springsteen.

Have you ever seen a one trick pony in the field so happy and free?
If you’ve ever seen a one trick pony then you’ve seen me
Have you ever seen a one-legged dog making its way down the street?
If you’ve ever seen a one-legged dog then you’ve seen me

Then you’ve seen me, I come and stand at every door
Then you’ve seen me, I always leave with less than I had before
Then you’ve seen me, bet I can make you smile when the blood, it hits the floor
Tell me, friend, can you ask for anything more?
Tell me can you ask for anything more?

Have you ever seen a scarecrow filled with nothing but dust and wheat?
If you’ve ever seen that scarecrow then you’ve seen me
Have you ever seen a one-armed man punching at nothing but the breeze?
If you’ve ever seen a one-armed man then you’ve seen me

Then you’ve seen me, I come and stand at every door
Then you’ve seen me, I always leave with less than I had before
Then you’ve seen me, bet I can make you smile when the blood, it hits the floor
Tell me, friend, can you ask for anything more?
Tell me can you ask for anything more?

These things that have comforted me, I drive away
This place that is my home I cannot stay
My only faith’s in the broken bones and bruises I display

Have you ever seen a one-legged man trying to dance his way free?
If you’ve ever seen a one-legged man then you’ve seen me

It’s a great song; I have no idea how it wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award.

The other four movies were also very good.

frost_nixonFrost/Nixon, starring Frank Langella as Richard Nixon and Michael Sheen as David Frost, is an historical drama based upon a play depicting the 1977 televised interviews between Frost and Nixon. The film was very interesting and the characters well played. Also starring Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell, the film was nominated for five Golden Globes and two SAG Awards. It is also nominated for five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (Langella), Best Adapted Screenplay (Frost/Nixon, Peter Morgan), Best Director (Ron Howard) and Best Editing.

revolutionary_roadRevolutionary Road tells the story of a housewife, April Wheeler (Kate Winslet) and her husband, Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio) in 1955 suburban Connecticut. Frank hates his job at Knox Business Machines and April is an aspiring actress unsatisfied with her life. April eventually decides that they and their two children should move to Paris to start a new, more exciting life. They tell all their friends and colleagues, only to have real life destroy their plans. While Winslet and Dicaprio are both excellent in their roles, John Givings (Michael Shannon) is brilliant as the son of the Wheelers’ real estate agent (Kathy Bates), whom they have befriended. Givings, a mental patient, is the only one who is honest with the Wheelers, much to everyone’s consternation.

Kate Winslet won a Golden Globe for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama, while DiCaprio was nominated for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama, the film Best Motion Picture Drama and Sam Mendes, Best Director – Motion Picture. Winslet was also nominated for a SAG award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture. The film is also nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actor (Michael Shannon).

burn_after_readingBurn After Reading is a black comedy written, produced and directed by the Coen brothers. If you liked their other work, including Fargo and No Country For Old Men, you’ll love this movie. Starring John Malkovich, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand, the film tells the often hysterical story of a CIA agent (Malkovich) who writes a memoir after being fired, only to lose the disc upon which it is stored. It is then discovered by two gym employees (Pitt and McDormand) who try to sell it. Round and round the movie goes in a series of mistakes, assumptions and affairs. It was nominated for two Golden Globes: Best Comedy or Musical and for Best Lead Actress in a Comedy or Musical (McDormand).

agle Eye 1-shtDefiance, based upon the true story of the Bielski partisans, tells the story of four Jewish brothers from Poland who escape the Nazis and encounter other refugees in the forests of Eastern Poland (now Belarus) in 1941. The four brothers, Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber), Asael (Jamie Bell), Aron (George MacKay), shelter and protect the refugees, moving their camp through the forests as they are detected. This goes on for several years, ultimately providing refuge for 1,200 people. A very good World War II movie, it was nominated for both an Academy Award a Golden Globe for Best Original Score.

Addition movies I hope to see and mention here include: The Curious Case of Benajmin Button, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire, Doubt and The Visitor.

2 comments to The Oscars: The Playoffs of Movies

  • suefrost

    Scott: if the first question was, “Are you a movie fan?” then the next question is obviously “Are you a music fan?” And what do you think of Bruce’s Working on a Dream (other than the Wrestler song)? Curious. Thanks for the blog.

  • I’m a big music fan. My favorite band overall is probably Pink Floyd. Current bands I follow include Carbon Leaf, The Saw Doctors, Great Big Sea and Black 47. Not exactly mainstream.
    I loved Springsteen’s Working on a Dream; it’s brilliant. Outlaw Pete is an awesome song that tells a great story. At eight minutes long, it isn’t getting any radio playtime, but it’s a terrific song. Queen of the Supermarket is great. I worked in a supermarket for fifteen years; I smiled through the whole song. The end of the song also guarantees no airtime. I don’t think Bruce cares. I like musicians who write songs for music’s sake, not to chase trends and airtime.
    I think Working on a Dream and What Love Can Do will be hits.

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