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Medium Dawn Felagund of the Fountain

The 2015 Oscar Post!

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

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"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

The 2015 Oscar Post!

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I started doing this last year, since discovering the Majestic Theater in Gettysburg means that I do actually get the opportunity to see many of the Academy Award nominees each year. (We live just far enough from Baltimore and DC to make it impractical to go there just to see a movie, and our local theaters don't tend to show them. Good movies being one of my great loves in life, this was one of the grievous facts of living in Carroll County.) I actually managed to see all the Best Picture nominees this year except for Whiplash, which is being ridiculously released on DVD/On Demand on Tuesday, two days after the Oscars, and as far as I know, it wasn't even at the Majestic.

I'll go backwards and start with Best Picture since anyone who actually is reading this is probably most interested in this rather than my opinion on, say, the Best Live-Action Short. (Which I do have an opinion on!) This was a really hard choice for me this year. I loved several of the nominated films. I also felt like there were a couple of nominees where I would have rather seen something else nominated. (*ahem* Wild)

It ends up being a toss-up for me between Selma and The Imitation Game. I loved The Imitation Game; after I saw it, I said it was in many ways a perfect movie for me with complicated, compelling characters, a driving plot, brilliant acting, and deep, interesting questions. Yet I find that Selma has had more staying power, and more than a month after I saw both of them in quick succession, I think Selma was the better movie. I thought that Selma did a brilliant job of showing the difference between belief in a philosophy (nonviolent direct action) and actually having to live that philosophy (i.e., send your followers into dangerous situations, telling them they cannot answer force with force, and know that they will likely be arrested, injured, or even killed). It is easy, looking at people like Martin Luther King, to celebrate their courage in standing up to injustice as they did without perceiving the balancing act and the human element that went into and often undermined their service to their movement. It is easy, in retrospect, to applaud leaders like MLK without realizing that, in the moment and with success never a guarantee, it seemed an equal or greater chance that the same choices would be judged as reckless by history.

Boyhood was my third choice. This was also my kind of movie: No real plot! Just following the very believable lives of ordinary people through the kinds of conflicts that seem enormous when you're living them but are the sorts of things that many people endure. It was the kind of movie where you can sit down and forget your own problems while watching other people struggle with theirs. The characters were believable and likable, and the acting was excellent.

Birdman is getting all of the buzz and is a favorite according to some people. I have to be up-front that the conditions under which I watched Birdman were not ideal: Comcast had messed up our Internet, and the movie (which we watched on Amazon Instant Video) stopped every thirty seconds or so. An hour and 45 minutes into the movie, we'd been watching it for two hours and fifteen minutes. I was so angry and irritated, so that may well color my judgment.

There were a lot of things I liked about Birdman. I liked how it felt constantly as though it was on the edge of madness. It was hard to tell what was imagined, what was contrived, and what was real. I liked the pervading theme of trying to bring order and a sense of self-control through imagination. (Yep! Been there!) But it also felt a little too self-congratulatory to me in its theme of "the power of movies" (and not just any movies but the worst of the derivative explosion-riddled popcorn fare that Hollywood has to offer). Likewise, its rather woe-is-us comment on how hard it is to get people's attention in the era of social media and the viral video was a little heavy-handed to me.

And there were three that I was less overwhelmed by. They weren't bad movies; they just wouldn't have made my list of the year's best. The Grand Budapest Hotel is another that I've seen getting a lot of buzz. I was entertained by it and promptly forgot about it. It just didn't click with me in the way it seems to be clicking with a lot of people. I saw it when it first came out, and I don't even remember enough about it to say anything more than this.

I watched The Theory of Everything last night, about Stephen Hawking's romance with and marriage to his wife Jane. Again, it was a good movie but, again, it felt a little too heavy-handed to me. Like, "This is the point where I'm supposed to admire Jane for her attitude of wanting whatever time she can have with the man she loves." And this is the point where I'm supposed to understand that "Taking care of a profoundly disabled husband isn't all fun and games, no matter his charm and eccentricity. It's a real pain in the ass when I'm trying to study medieval poetry and he's riding the kids around in his wheelchair and knocking shit down." And now I'm supposed to admire them both for their forward-looking polyamory, amicable parting, and recognition that other partners better met their needs. Also, there was more than I felt was needed about God and religion, like, "OMG we're making a movie about a likable atheist, so we need to make sure that the audience understands that we're not really endorsing a lack of belief in God by constantly letting believers get in tidy little quips!" I do, however, think it is hard to make a movie about a living person who is as admired as Stephen Hawking is, and the movie did an admirable job under those conditions.

American Sniper, on the other hand, didn't go quite far enough for me. I have seen interesting commentary written about the fact that the movie is a critique of hypermasculine gun culture. I think the fact that so many people come out of it thinking it is an unabashed celebration of an American hero who smoked a lot of terrists speaks to the failure of that message for all but the liberals who were primed to tease that out. I agree with the critique I've seen that the complete lack of context for the War in Iraq (as a war that was predicated upon deception) removes a lot of the nuance from the conflict between the U.S. soldiers and the Iraqi citizens. It becomes too easy to see the enemy as monstrous and U.S. soldiers as enduring sacrifice for the noble cause of eradicating that monstrosity. It also bugged me that his wife was such an annoying, nagging character, and Kyle's own struggle with PTSD miraculously evaporated once he gave himself over to the larger goal of helping fellow veterans by ... teaching them to shoot at the gun range. Psychiatric illness is rarely so tidy, so convenient, and I would have liked to have seen a more honest assessment of that. The great irony that he was killed by one of those fellow veterans at that gun range seems a mere blip after the first two hours of the movie, which don't seem to do enough to challenge Kyle's mindset (which happily corresponds with the mindsets of many who saw the movie). I've seen its message described as difficult; I'd rather go with "chameleon," in that the case can be made that it is a critique of gun culture or yet another tone-deaf war movie.

For Best Actor, I missed Foxcatcher, for which Steve Carrell was nominated, but I saw all of the others and have to go with Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game. I thought he was absolutely brilliant in this role. I kind of roll my eyes at all the fangirling that goes on where he's concerned (mostly because I think he's kind of weird-looking and so don't get the whole Benedict-Cumberbatch-as-sex-symbol thing; I feel like I have to go into hiding for saying that), but I see now that it is not undeserved, at least as far as his talent goes. I still think he's weird-looking. *goes into hiding*

For Best Actress, I missed Still Alice (Julianne Moore) and Two Days, One Night (Marion Cotillard), but of the three remaining, my vote goes to Reese Witherspoon for Wild. I think Wild was robbed. It should have been nominated for Best Picture. It was better than about half the nominees in that category and holds its own with the rest. Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed was brutally honest in that role, depicting a character who is very often unlikable in such a way that she became wholly relatable. Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl would be a close second for me; she was chilling in that role.

Best Supporting Actor ... well, I only saw two of these, but my vote would go to Edward Norton for Birdman. I couldn't help but to think that it must be intimidating to play a character who is a brilliant actor. Norton exuded this sleazy alpha-male charm that made me cringe and that absolutely drove the story in many scenes.

For Best Supporting Actress, my vote goes without a doubt to Patricia Arquette for Boyhood. (I saw all the nominees here except Meryl Streep for Into the Woods.) She was by far the most interesting character in a movie that presented a cast of interesting characters, and Arquette nailed the simultaneous strength and vulnerability required a woman in her situation. A not-so-close second would go to Emma Stone for Birdman.

We missed the animated short films this year because they were at the Majestic the weekend we were in Stowe, but for Live Action Short Film, my vote goes to "The Phone Call," about a woman working in a crisis center who takes a call from a man who has OD'ed on his antidepressants and wants someone to talk to him as he dies. This short was like being punched multiple times from the inside till I just ached. It was very powerful and intense for me. It also illustrates one of the things I love most about short films: the ability to do so much with so little, an apt counterpoint to the message in Birdman.

I thought the whole live action short film category was really strong this year. I enjoyed all the nominees, and it was hard to choose (but something that feels like it has done physical violence to my emotions will win out every time for me). Bobby's vote went to "Boogaloo and Graham," about two little boys living in Northern Ireland and their pet chickens. He said it is rare that something so short can make him laugh so hard, and I agree; it was adorable and hilarious without being cutesy or sentimental. I also really liked "Parveneh," about an Afghani girl living illegally in Switzerland, who seeks the help of a Swiss girl in wiring money home to her family. "The Butter Lamp" was like putting a puzzle together to figure out what was going on, and I loved how the artistic choices just amassed until one was like, "Oooooh! Oh." "Aya" was probably my least favorite; it just didn't click or engage me the way the others did.

So there you go. I am never right about these things, so we'll see if I do any better this year. Anyone who has read this far: What were your choices? What were your favorite movies this year? (Especially those that didn't get nominated!) We're going into the dry season movie-wise, and I'm always looking for something to see me through.



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