Okay, it's late, I know, but I've finally seen most of those Oscar-nominated films and I've got some questions for those judges.
Let's start with Amour, the French film about an octogenarian couple's descent into darkness. It's beautifully done in that it is uber-realistic. At the same time, you're literally stuck in that apartment as Death stalks Anne, the wife (Emmanuelle Riva), and husband George (Jean-Louis Trintignant) tries to resist as long as he can, until he can't anymore. As each still and silent scene dragged on, I sighed and rolled my eyes, longing to get the hell to the next scene and out of the theater. It was a kind of torture watching a woman deteriorate into that dreaded "locked in" zone where you know what's going on but you are totally incapable of responding. I get why the nominations, surely for the performances of the two actors, which were astonishing. But I have mixed feelings about the film, and I'm really mad about one thing. As Anne got sicker and sicker, she would moan and scream day and night: "hurt" "hurt" "hurt"! Hey, this is modern day France. It's the home of socialized medicine. A doctor and a nurse dropped by regularly. Nobody had any morphine?
Onto The Sessions, an American film that takes on a fascinating subject: a hired sex surrogate who comes to rescue a quadriplegic man from his unwanted and unrelenting virginity. It's based on a true story. Helen Hunt plays the sex surrogate and John Hawkes plays the quad. So why does the Oscar nomination go to Helen Hunt? For being willing -- bless her -- to parade about completely naked throughout the film? And why does nothing go to the able-bodied actor who gave an utterly convincing portrayal of a post-polio survivor? Hawkes managed to maintain a contorted, immobile body, a patient, inviting, impish face, an odd, one-note sounding voice, and a totally engaging personality, throughout. He was the heart of the film. I don't know this for sure, but I bet lots of people with disabilities -- seeing some of what they deal with in life on the big screen -- won't be shocked that the actor playing the disabled guy gets nothing, while the kindly, sympathetic woman who rescues him gets the Oscar nod.
I'm stunned about all the Oscar buzz buzzing around Silver Linings Playbook. Really? This is an utterly predictable, average rom com film. It's about a guy with mental illness and a girl with emotional challenges who teaches him to dance. It's Saturday Night Fever for the bipolar set.
That no nominations came for another French film, Rust and Bone, is a shocker to me. This is an amazing film with amazing performances. In a sense it's The Sessions with the genders flipped, and no cash for sex. Stéphanie (actress Marion Cotillard) loses her legs when the platform from which she directs Orca whale performances collapses. She's desperate for a road back to humanity, to life, to a sexual life. Her guide turns out to be Ali (played by Matthias Schoenaerts), a kind of wild man , a bare-fisted boxer she met before her amputations. He's rough and tough and in his amorous moves, no Helen Hunt. This movie is tender and brutal. Its subject is the body, all our bodies, the risks we take with them, the insults they suffer, the challenges to them from the perilous natural world. There's no tiger but this is a far deeper film about survival than let's say, Life of Pi.
I loved Lincoln, though I did think Daniel Day-Lewis's voice could come down a notch or two. I especially loved Tommy Lee Jones as the abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, especially when he gets home and tosses off that ridiculous wig, the way I rip off my bra as soon as I get in the door. What I didn't get was Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln. I learned from Jon Stewart's interview with Field that Steven Spielberg originally had his doubts about this bit of casting. Because Sally wanted the role so much, she was willing to abide by Spielberg's requirement that she audition for it. I know she's won lots of awards and I do think she's great, but this former Flying Nun's perky, cute, funny, kindly, now grandmotherly -- remember Brothers and Sisters? -- persona isn't the one that comes to mind for me when I think of morose, miserable, mad with sorrow Mary Todd Lincoln. I think Spielberg's first instinct was right.
Finally, I have no idea about Zero Dark Thirty. I have no intention of sitting through 45 minutes of episodic depictions of torture. Besides, I know how it ends.
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