Disclosure: I have only seen four of the pictures nominated for Best Picture. Having said that, I have an opinion on just about everything connected with the Oscars. And, I’m going to share it with you!
Movies as Extracurricular Education
Going to the movies used be something special and fun. As a kid, I remember dressing up to go downtown (Chicago) and see the premier of Babes in Toyland. I also remember first dates and fumbling with holding hands in dark movie theaters, while watching forgettable flix.
Movies taught me history, sex, and were foundational in honing my preferences for music. Amazingly, this remains true for this year’s crop of nominees. All Quiet on the Western Front offers a glimpse at an earlier time when the world threw itself into chaos and suffering. Women Talking reveals an insular world where sexual violence is conscripted by moral values. Tar puts the audience in a front row seat of the elite universe of classical performance paired with inner soul conflict and madness.
Movies as Escapism
More often, movies were opportunities to escape from suburban living in the 1960’s. Movies like The Music Man, Cleopatra, and Tom Jones offered at least 90 minutes of suspended reality before we had to return to brewing conflict between Khruschev and Kennedy. This year’s crop includes Top Gun: Maverick, where Good and Evil continue to battle it out with Good winning in the end! (I must admit, I enjoyed the film, especially because I knew we were going to triumph!)
I am not a big fan of the gritty realism that took over movie-making in the 1970s. This was the era of The Godfather and Chinatown. And, it was also the advent of the disaster movie, with cameo roles for fading stars while special effects filled the gaps where plots used to be.
Movies as Art
I didn’t appreciate film as an art form until I took a class in college. Having been a stage performer, I had a bias for the immediacy of live theater. I had never understood the underpinnings of framing a shot or the key role that editing plays. The class opened my eyes to the construction of the film itself and just how powerful point of view was in creating an experience that could be so intimate and yet shared so widely.
This year’s nominee, Avatar: The Way of Water, seems to have taken these foundational elements, added amazing special effects, and created not only new worlds, but new ways of presenting film. I have not personally seen Avatar, but I understand it leaves its audience gasping. Perhaps its roots lie in Disney’s Fantasia, albeit augmented by visual effects not yet invented when that groundbreaking movie first premiered.
Movies as Emotional Educators
I readily admit that much of what I learned in terms of how to express emotions (love, hate, revenge, and joy) were first modeled on the silver screen. It wasn’t until much later that I came to appreciate just how skewed those models were!
Steven Spielberg’s, The Fabelmans, is a practicum in how growing up in an emotionally-charged family can produce neurosis and high art. For full-on courses on madness, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Psycho (or any of Hitchcock’s movies!) should be required viewing! Jordan Peele has taken up Hitchcock’s mantel and now creates unbelievably scary psychological thrillers (Get Out and Black Klansman).
Confession: I thought this word was pronounced Bi-op-ics, not bio-pics.
My favorite bio-pic as a kid was Thomas Edison with Spencer Tracy playing Edison. More recently, I’ve really loved movies like Hidden Figures and Coal Miner’s Daughter. I don’t think there was much fact-checking in any of these, but they each sparked my curiosity about the people involved and got me to do some reading about them and the times they lived in.
So, this year it is Elvis. The tragedy of Elvis’s life, and the on-going drama that seems to stalk his family, I think over shadowed the movie itself. I am not an Elvis fan, so there is little likelihood that I will watch this film. I have however, caught brief interviews with Austin Butler who certainly seems to have acquired the Elvis pout.
The Movies Transcend Everything, Everywhere, Always!
During the dark days of the Depression, Busby Berkeley found a way to distract folks from their misery with fancy camera shots and geometric dance numbers. He churned out numbers on stairs, in pools, and used feathers, dimes, and the U.S. Navy as props.
Now, post-COVID, we have Everything Everywhere All at Once. Just as normalcy was suspended during the pandemic, this film upends and rearranges our linear perception of what is supposed to happen, offering instead a triumphant Only-One-Person-Can-Save-Humanity ending. For those who want to stay mired in hopelessness, there is The Banshees of Inisherin. Both intense and challenging to watch, these films suspend reality and replace it with more than fantasy. I have seen trailers for both and, at sometime in the future, I will watch them in their entirety.
Returning to Movie Theaters
I have begun to see movies in the theater again. I admit, it is hard for me to break out of the pattern of staying at home. I prefer the old days of standing in line to pay somebody for a ticket, then picking up the pop corn and the soda, finding a fold down seat and waiting for the previews to come on.
Nowadays, you buy your ticket on line, the popcorn and soda comes in sizes beyond anything a normal human being should consume, the seats are luxury recliners, and the previews are WAY TOO LOUD and go on for way too long.
I find movie theater etiquette has changed also. In spite of entreaties from Maria Menunos and others, people continue to engage with their mobile phones, talk too loudly, and insist on kicking the back of my chair. That is when there are people filling the seats. It saddens me that the theatres remain so empty.
Hosting the Oscars
I can remember just how excited I was around Oscar time, knowing that Bob Hope would be hosting. The men in the tuxedos and the women in their glittering gowns. Hollywood royalty! It was never thigh-slapping comedy or over-the-top drama, but it was entertaining.
Not quite sure how things are going to go this year, what with the new standard of hand-to-hand combat apparently being required to be host. I do remember being very entertained by Billy Crystal and Whoopee Goldberg when they hosted. But I keep coming back to Bob Hope and Johnny Carson – white bread, middle of the road, don’t rock the boat comedians, who had superb timing and understood their role was to move the production along, not outshine the glitterati.
Red Carpet Interviews
Oscar fashion has become an industry onto itself. I do love the gowns, but I am not really a fan of the current trend in men’s fashions. Just me — I know I should be more open minded, but I am claiming being a traditionalist here.
The best Red Carpet interviews were conducted by Joan Rivers. The current bunch of fawning faces from Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood only seem to want to know “Who are you wearing?” which is a bit confusing linguistically . . . I basically just leave the closed-captioning on and come up with my own comments.
If You Want to Get a Hold of Me . . .
I will be watching tonight. I have high hopes for Jimmy Kimmel and his opening. I also hope that my favorites win and that everybody has a good time. If you want to play along, here is a ballot.
3 responses to “And the Oscar Goes To . . .”
Mary, as always your roving, observant eye and mind take in and reflect so much, at so many fun levels! I enjoy how your mind cannot but help to weave together multiple aspects of all of our generations’ growing up, that done in a radically different, previous “era.” (Not saying “then” was “better,” just radically different).
Regarding today’s “Movie Theater Experience,” we simply no longer EVER partake. Instead, lucky / techy us . . . we have an amazing high-def video projector (today those cost FAR less than ginormous [room-dominating] flat-screen TVs), a 10-foot diagonal roll-down screen ($100 on ebay!), with those connected up to/through our audiophile sound system (also NOT crazily expensive, because audio-geek me put it together from superb / yet not crazily-costly components.) [A/V multi-sound “receiver/amp,” left & right “tower” speakers, center speaker and powered subwoofer — chosen for their musicality, not “flash” or “status.” All that totaled UNDER $2,000. So to be sure, one cannot at home view the “top run” movies right away, but most of THOSE shortly WILL end up putting airline passengers to sleep!
Also, us being Euro-philes, we subscribe to a terrific USA streaming service, “mhzchoice.com” ($8 a month!), which brings in WONDERFUL (mostly cozy whodunits, but also lots of other stuff) — flics AND series — from ALL the countries of Europe, complete with excellent English subtitles. The difference in subtlety, ACTING, nuance and writing — between most Hollywood drek (shallow, violent, CGI-drenched, etc.) versus what we enjoy from the EU astonishes us. So “Aloha,” movie theaters, including not subjecting ourselves to boorish public behavior!!
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