The Oscar Post!
First of all, I want to say that this is the first year I can remember where I have not seen any of the animated feature films. However, I have seen all of the animated short films (thank you, Majestic!) so let's start there.
Short films are one of my favorite genres. I often seek them out and watch them online under the pretense of "using them for lessons." (Actually, I do use them for lessons, especially with my ninth graders, but I watch a great many more than I need to for this purpose.) I liked all of the nominees this year, but my absolute favorite was "Room on the Broom," about a good-natured witch who can't stop saying no to animals who want to hitch a ride on her broom. The story was adorable but what impressed me the most was how masterfully the characters' facial expressions and mannerisms were used to characterize. I loved the style of "Feral" (about a feral boy brought to civilization) and how it made the familiar seem strange and the feral seem familiar, and I loved the detail in "Mr. Hublot" (about a recluse who adopts a robotic dog that quickly grows beyond the confines of his small and obsessively kept home), but "Room on the Broom" was most satisfying all around.
Live-action shorts were the hardest category for me this year. Like the animated shorts, I saw them all at once at the Majestic. They were all amazing, and each was so different from the others. It was almost impossible to pick and I still do so with misgivings because I want them all to win! But, okay, that's not how it works. "Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)." There's my pick. It's a French film about a woman who is trying to escape with her kids from an abusive marriage. It is one of those stories that completely lacks exposition, so you are left with a vague feeling of wrongness and trying to figure out what is going on as you are dropped into the film. The clues come out slowly and without a lot of fanfare, but then there is the whole horror of what this woman is trying to escape, having crept upon you without you even knowing it. It was also incredibly suspenseful; when the woman and her two children walk through the busy department where she works on her way to meet her sister and finally escape, knowing that her husband is somewhere in the store ... gah. I found myself picking through every detail in that crowded scene, looking out for him, looking out for peril.
"Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn't Me)" is a close second. Funded in part by Amnesty International, this film follows three Spanish aid workers trying to liberate child soldiers in Africa. Like "Avant Que De Tout Perdre" it is very tense and also extremely hard to watch, but I thought it did a good job of showing the humanity of the characters--both Spanish and African--and the heartbreaking difficulty of an issue of which most people remain blissfully unaware. In the story, a woman watches her husband murdered by a child soldier as part of an initiation and is then raped by his general while he watches and later risks her life to rescue him. What I didn't particularly care for was the frame story, showing the characters several years later, speaking at a school, which I thought made the story a little too pat for my taste. I would have rather those ends be left loose and for the viewer to imagine the myriad outcomes from such a situation.
Best Documentary Feature ... Bobby tells me we saw The Act of Killing. Okay, why don't I remember it except very, very vaguely? Lots of respected reviewers describe it using adjectives like "timeless" and "audacious," which makes me think I could have devoted a couple of neurons to remembering it. In any case, Netflix streamed most of the documentary nominees this year, so I missed the two that they didn't have ("Cutie and the Boxer" and "Twenty Feet from Stardom"). My pick, hands down, goes to The Square. What a powerful film. It manages to be inspiring and depressing at once. But even more than that, it shows the complexity and humanity behind the Egyptian revolution in a way that you find yourself identifying bad guys even as you find yourself able to understand why certain of the people made the choices they did.
Best Actor ... I agree with the many people who think that Tom Hanks was snubbed for Captain Phillips. He carried that movie for me. I didn't get to see American Hustle or Dallas Buyers Club (both of which have nominees in this category), but I'd go with Chiwetel Ejiofor from 12 Years a Slave on this one. I liked Bruce Dern in Nebraska a lot too, but I feel like Ejiofor carried an immensely more difficult role. I only saw two of the nominees for Best Actress, so I'll skip that one.
Best Supporting Actor, again keeping in mind that I haven't seen two of the movies with nominees, I'd go with Jonah Hill from Wolf of Wall Street. OMG he was fucking creepy in this movie. I guess I'd sum him up by saying that he plays perfectly a dysfunctional person who becomes functional in a dysfunctional environment. Even perhaps better than Leonardo DiCaprio, his role shows the deep dysfunction of the culture of Wall Street. Best Supporting Actress, I've only seen two of the movies, but with that in mind, I'd give a nod to June Squibb from Nebraska because, as the movie started, I found myself disappointed with how well that film painted complex characters and her relative lack of complexity. But as the movie went on, she became more complex to where I don't think I'd want to hang out with her but she becomes empathetic nonetheless. I have much admiration for the ability to make unlikable characters sympathetic.
And that leaves Best Picture. As noted above, I didn't see American Hustle (out while we were in England), The Dallas Buyers Club (totally missed), or Her (hasn't come to the Majestic yet). My pick goes to Wolf of Wall Street. (I keep typing my family name to make it "Walls Street," which is appropriate, considering that my grandfather did indeed make his fortune playing on Wall Street and engaged in some of the skeevy behaviors of the film's characters in his younger years.) This movie exhausted me to watch. The characters are pathologically extroverted. But it created the the excitement, the daring, the dysfunction around Wall Street culture in such a way that felt mind-spinningly real. It shows how pathology can be employed in service of the American dream to create a lifestyle that many, many people in my life openly desire. I walked out of the theater grateful to be one Walls who was born nonmaterialistic and an introvert.
This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!