My pen hovers over "The Help" and "The Tree of Life" on my fake Oscar ballot. I can't decide what bubbles to shade in under Best Picture, Best Director or Best Actress, because I haven't seen these emotionally charged movies. I shun them. My movie picks these days are less "True Grit" and more "Throw Momma from the Train."
I used to be Oscar knowledgeable. I'd sit and watch motionless, mouth agape, as movies like "The Pianist" and "Capote" captivated and moved me. I'd feel different, changed in some breathless way after seeing them.
Now I seek the opposite: quickly-forgotten comedies with silly, bubble font titles -- preferably in multiple colors -- spewed across the movie poster or DVD box. Since my ovarian cancer diagnosis several years ago, I have sought movies that quell my nerves, deliver a few lowbrow laughs and keep the tissues in the box. Mindless movies aimed at emptying my head, not my heart.
My change in movie taste started the day Father Murphy stopped by for a cup of tea after my first chemo session. While I sat, dazed, across from him in the living room, we drank out of the good cups. We talked warmly about everything but cancer -- horse races, presidents, the superiority of the chocolate digestive biscuit.
Relaxing back into a floral-printed cushion, I thought of how kind this disconcertingly handsome priest was to make a social call. Father Murphy inched closer to me. He couldn't be more than 44, I thought, and How did The Thorn Birds start, again? Then he raised his thumb to my forehead and made the sign of the cross over a few freckles. Speaking softly, he began, "Through this holy anointing ..." The sacrament of the sick. I froze, mouth dry, mind darting.
A few hours later, silently reeling from Father Murphy's visit, it was my turn to pick the DVD. I scanned a few but saw only one: "White Chicks." Two male, African-American FBI agents posed as Real Housewives-looking white women on the cover. In one scene, these two cool men try to sing the saccharine "A Thousand Miles," belting out, "If I could fall into the sky, do you think time would pass us by?" I laughed hysterically, hunching over.
Since "White Chicks," I've seen lots of movies that have eased the burden of a bad day. When making my movie pick, this is what I've learned:
Beware the dramedy. By creating a movie charged with meaning, but then innocuously labeling it "In Her Shoes" and casting a star like Cameron Diaz (Cameron Diaz!) in the leading role, Hollywood tricked me into crying over my remote. If I had checked the genre beforehand, I would have known that "In Her Shoes" is a dramedy. Defined as a mix of drama and comedy, dramadies are cry fests wrapped in funny/cute/whimsical titles and previews.
Slapsticks and one-dimensional comedies reign. At best, the "I'm- having-a-bad-day" genre is slapstick, laugh-out-loud funny, slightly sweet and shallow. At worst, it's one-dimensional, clichéd and mediocre. Some of my favorites include "Airplane!" "Talladega Nights," "Best in Show" and "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story."
Underdog, against all odds-type movies deplete me. Played out on basketball courts, baseball diamonds and stormy Scottish beaches, these movies about reaching for seemingly unattainable dreams are emotional roller coasters. By the end of movies like "Hoop Dreams," "Friday Night Lights" and "Chariots of Fire," I am spent.
Check the back-of-the-box descriptions. Before I watch or rent, I read how the movie describes itself. For me, these watch words spell don't see it:
• "stays with you"
• "critically acclaimed"
• "ruthlessly truthful"
• "coming-of-age tale"
• "solemn in its subject matter"
• "chillingly convincing"
• "first-rate storytelling"
• "based on a true story"
• "raises the human spirit"
• "addresses the human condition"
• "chock-full of humanity"
• "superb acting"
• "a triumph over adversity"
• "impressively realized"
• "ultimately uplifting"
Of course, when I need a good cathartic cry or scream, I know what to do.