Saturday, February 11, 2017

A Real Completist

It's all happening! Someone at one movie theater chain finally figured out that showing all the Best Picture nominees over a single weekend was pure insanity.

This year Regal thought of a better idea, although AMC will still stick with their tradition of cramming the nominees into two short days. Regal theaters will be showing all the nominees over the ENTIRE week leading up to The Academy Awards. For $35 (plus tax, of course) you can buy a Festival Pass, which grants you access to a showing of each of the nominees. Well, I guess you could go see Hacksaw Ridge nine times, but why would you? So, it is a tremendously fun event AND a great deal! How often does that happen? (Check here to see if your local theater is participating. Hopefully it is.)

This genius move makes a lot more sense. Not even I, a religious movie devotee, would want to see nine movies in one weekend. This event  will also finally let me accomplish a goal I have never reached before - seeing all the Best picture nominees before the Academy Awards. Wahoo!

Having already seen four of the nominees (Moonlight, La La Land - twice, Manchester By The Sea, and Hell Or High Water), I might only end up using the pass to see five movies. Although, with the almighty Festival Pass in hand I will probably go for a couple repeat viewings just because I can. The heart wrenching story in Manchester By The Sea will likely stick with me the longest out of any of the nominees (basically unforgettable), but I am still deciding if I can sit through all those emotions for a second time.

Venturing out to see the Oscar nominated movies is not new for me. It is a tradition that goes back to fourth grade when I obsessed over Titanic winning 10 Academy Awards and that time my friends and I were, not surprisingly, the only 15-year-olds at a showing of The Hours on a Friday night in 2002. I am not sure why the fascination started, but it has followed me my whole life and led to me watching every movie that has ever won Best Picture.

If I learned anything from watching all the past winners in that category, it was this: throughout time, the Academy Awards end up representing more than just a frivolous salute to the rich and famous. Often the movies that walk away with golden statues showcase the feeling of our country during a certain time. These stories become a record of what people found entertaining, but also capture a snap shot of the culture's emotions.

When fears and uncertainty about WWII were high, people found their power supporting a triumphant tale where one woman ended up taking on a Nazi in her back yard (Mrs. Miniver). American pride was high in 1976 during the bicentennial, which could have been part of the reason that a tale of a down on his luck, turned champion boxer (Rocky), was the biggest movie at the box office and also won Best Picture. Last year's winner, Spotlight, a movie about the importance of hardworking journalism, came at a time when trust of the media was (and still is) waning, but it struck a chord by reminding us all why America thrives with our ideals about the freedom of the press.

What movie could possibly represent the present state of our culture? There is absolutely nothing of importance going on currently...

In the words of a gal from Beverley Hills, "As if!" 

Years from now people will look back on the Best Picture winner of 2017 and either wonder, "Wow! They needed a fun escape!" or "Wow! They wanted to rally behind a movie that celebrated the diversity of America!"

Those movies being the two - La La Land and Moonlight - that are most widely considered the front runners to be this year's winner.

Much of the reporting on this topic is already proclaiming that a win for La La Land will only be because Hollywood is obsessed with itself. However, its appeal to many (including the movie fan typing these words) is the lighthearted story that blasts your mind out of the madness of reality and into a place where people dance and sing atop cars on jam packed freeway off ramps. As a person currently riddled with anxiety over the state of the world, please, someone, take me to that place!

Although, it is not just the escapism that makes it a terrific movie. There is beautiful staging of performance scenes - set overlooking L.A. hills at sunset, down on the boardwalk at twilight, or in brightly colored sound-stages on the Warner Brothers lot. Combine that with a bunch of memorable songs that are instantly sing-a-long worthy and it is clear that it took a bunch of talented folks to pull off. It is dazzling to watch all the literal moving parts come together. The sheer creativity behind crafting a big successful modern musical is worth praise all on its own. I have seen it twice and, to be honest, I can predict it will become one I watch on a regular rotation for years to come.

Of course things always get tricky when each of the Best Picture nominees are tremendous. Moonlight is also an extraordinary film watching experience, but for different reasons than those directed towards La La Land.

The unique form, that sets up Moonlight as virtually three mini movies, is really striking in capturing the evolution of one character in his difficult struggles from childhood to becoming an adult. Each of the three actors (of wide age ranges) that play the different phases of the main character, light up the screen with emotionally raw performances. At several points I was brought to tears just getting lost in the wide, sorrow filled eyes of the youngest actor, Alex R. Hibbert. It is difficult to get across the plight of a character without words, just facial expressions, so those quiet moments with actors expressing a lot through very little is a real accomplishment in Moonlight. The themes of the story are also further elevated by gorgeous cinematography. Some scenes pop with bright colors and others will capture the beauty of a brightly shining moon sparkling on a dark ocean. 

While it may not be as fun to watch as La La Land, Moonlight is a quintessential modern American tale. The story highlights day to day experiences that are not always shown in movies, even though the events of the plot will look familiar to many people in our current culture. This is one important element of filmmaking - taking a look at our society and reflecting it back for us to contemplate. That alone is the main argument for why Moonlight should win Best Picture. Especially for those that find the best movie watching experiences are driven by powerful stories that are true to life.

Ultimately, judging La La Land against Moonlight is like comparing a cantaloupe and a raspberry - both are very tasty and beautiful fruit, but otherwise do not have much in common. This reason alone makes the task of choosing a winner basically impossible. That leads the way for the often annoying sounding, yet true statement, "It's just an honor to be nominated."

Once the day of the Academy Awards rolls around (February 26th), who knows, we could all be wrong! Maybe the nominee that has currently made the most money (Hidden Figures) will come out victorious. If that became the winner, our current culture would be declaring, "In 207 they cared about movies starring women!" Or maybe Manchester By The Sea will win, which would declare to future generations that, "They really needed to learn something from a person facing tragedies!"

It may seem like just another awards show, but whatever wins Best Picture is leaving behind a single clue in this wide and mysterious world that ties into who we are and who we were.

If you need me starting on February 17th you know where to find me - the movie theater. I will check back in with all of my Oscar marathon related experiences.

Until next time.

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