Friday, November 30, 2018

The Shape of Water: 2017

The last one. Well, the last one until the next Academy Awards. That's what The Shape of Water meant to me--the last film to meet my goal of watching all the Best Picture winners.

When the 2018 Oscar nominations came out, I had mainly heard buzz around Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I had heard a little about The Shape of Water, but it seemed like the story about a mother seeking justice for her murdered daughter was more the story of 2018. But then the Oscar went to The Shape of Water. 

Going into the film, I didn't know much about it. I had seen the clips on the Oscars, and I knew the film would have elements of science fiction, or so I thought. It turns out that The Shape of Water is a romance at its core, a romance between a water creature and a mute woman--two unlikely characters to put in a romance. Even as I watched the film, I didn't expect just how romantic it would turn. Initially, it seemed like Elisa (played by Sally Hawkins) and the creature would become friends. The first hour or so seem fairly predictable, but then things turned and their friendship turns to love. That turn made me wonder more about the message of the film and less about the story. What does Guillermo del Toro, the writer and director of the film, want me to understand?

As I've been thinking this question over, I've come to a few conclusions. Perhaps the message is love can be in any form. The "love is love" concept is certainly supported through Elisa's relationship with the creature. Or maybe it's that people should learn to be kind. That's seen in multiple cases in the film, most involving Elisa and how she treats others. What really made me think the most was how Elisa felt, being alone in a speaking world. She seems fine, but really she is so alone. Her isolation is emphasized through del Toro's directing and the cinematography, in particular when she's riding the bus. Even when a few other people on the late or early bus with her, Elisa is often shown separate from others, absorbed in her own world or going to sleep. She's alone, but I didn't realize how lonely she was until later in the film. Maybe that's what I need to understand--how differences create isolation. Someone can seem okay but really they're not.

So that's it. That's the end. My last film (until the 2019 Academy Awards). I thought I'd feel a sense of accomplishment, but I don't have that. I guess the best word to describe how I feel is satisfied, like I know more than I did when I started. And there's something to be said for that.

Until the next winner, I'll keep watching and writing. I'm thinking about revisiting years when I didn't like the winner and watching one of the nominees to see if I like that better. But I'd also like to catch up on current films to be ready for awards season. If you have any suggestions for me, leave a comment.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Spotlight: 2015

Lies, a massive cover-up, and priests--one of those items seems out of place. Or at least it did until I watched Spotlight, the 2016 Academy Awards Best Picture Winner. While I knew the film is about  priests in Boston who sexually abused and raped children, I had no idea how far reaching this scandal was (and still is).

Spotlight begins as a film about journalists, focusing on the investigative reporting team at the Boston Globe known as Spotlight. The team consists of three reporters and one editor, Walter "Robby" Robinson (played by Michael Keaton). When the Globe hires a new editor-in-chief (played by Liev Schreiber), Spotlight is given a new assignment: investigate child abuse in the Catholic Church. Seems simple enough but it's not, given that it's Boston where the church reigns in city politics and culture. Unlike some of the other films I've watched for this project, the setting becomes a character in this film. Robby and his friends don't believe that this new editor understands Boston. He doesn't love Boston like they do. And that's a fault. That means this new editor isn't going to last.

But as the film progresses, it becomes clear that Robby and his friends don't know Boston either because what's happening with the Catholic priests is much bigger than anyone ever expected. They peel back the layers and find rot at the core.

What struck me as most impressive in Spotlight is the acting. The story is certainly compelling and captivating, but that is in part due to being based on a true story. It's the subtlety in the acting, as Keaton plays a man who is coming to realize that the values the church instilled in him growing up are not what the church practices. His performance's strength lies in his facial expressions and body language. Mark Ruffalo, who plays Spotlight reporter Mike Rezendes, also amazes in this film with his passion. At no point did I doubt his dedication to finding the truth and reporting that. The trailer alone showcases the skills of Keaton and Ruffalo in becoming these characters.

It isn't just the acting that made me feel like I was watching a documentary. The set design and costumes did as well. Despite the fact that well-known actors like Keaton, Ruffalo, Schreiber, and Rachel McAdams starred in Spotlight, the costumes and set make them seem like regular people. In one scene where the reporters meet with the editor to determine how to move forward, the costumes are plain business casual and the set is clearly a boring newsroom. Nothing fancy but that makes it all the more real.

Again, I find myself grateful for this blog. If I hadn't set my goal of watching these films, I would have never picked up Spotlight. While the plot is emotionally difficult to experience, the film is outstanding with the acting, set, and more. It's a must-watch for sure.

Monday, November 12, 2018

12 Years a Slave: 2013

As of this past weekend, I had three films left to watch to complete my goal of watching all Academy Award Best Picture winners. And now I'm down to two.

When 12 Years a Slave came out in 2013, my life consisted of being a teacher and a mom, and the small amount of time left after that was not spent following movies (or even television for that matter). At most I'd watch a rerun of some sitcom while folding laundry with my husband. I had heard about 12 Years a Slave from people at work, but only in the years after the film came out. I knew it would be difficult to watch, especially as a white person who knows that slavery built this country and is the foundation of the systemic racism that privileges me today. But for those reasons, I knew I needed to watch it.

Intellectually, I knew I would see pure hatred in this film from the white characters, but nothing could have prepared for me how vicious they were. Slavery is something my country hasn't dealt with. I learned about it in school, but it's such a watered down telling with an emphasis on "It's over now!" when really, it's not because of how slavery impacts our society today through systemic racism. So to see what slavery was like and living the world that I live in today, this film was particularly challenging to watch.

Adding to that was some amazing acting from Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays Solomon Northrup, the free black man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery where he survives for 12 years until he is freed. Ejiofor captures the pain and suffering so well that I wanted to cry multiple times seeing his anguish over his loss of his family and his freedom. His persistence, though, is remarkable. And knowing this is a true story made his acting all the more powerful in thinking about this really happened. Solomon was real, and he lived to tell his story. Knowing that also built the suspense. I kept thinking that at any moment, Solomon would be beaten or caught when he attempts to find freedom.

12 Years a Slave is a tough but essential film to watch. This is one of those times where I'm glad I'm doing this project because I don't know if I would have watched 12 Years a Slave if I wasn't watching all the Best Picture winners. Now that I've watched, I'm really glad that I did.


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Beasts of the Southern Wild: 2012

Since I had already seen 2013's winner Argo (which I enjoyed), I decided to watch one of the nominees from that year that I missed. Beasts of the Southern Wild was my pick because I remembered seeing an interview with the young actress Quvenzhan√© Wallis, who plays Hushpuppy and garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for her work. While I saw the interview six years ago, Wallis' mature demeanor and vibrant energy stuck with me, and I've always been meaning to see Beasts of the Southern Wild; I've even checked it out from the library and brought it home for a week only to have the film go unwatched as work piles up and time runs out.

This film is definitely one that requires closer watching. I guess I would categorize it as magical realism, as there are beasts in the film that return to life after Antarctic ice melts and releases them into the sea. The beasts travel north to the Bathtub, which is in southern Louisiana. If the beasts weren't in the film, I would say the film is a family drama, centered around Hushpuppy and her daddy Wink (played by Dwight Henry). They have an unusual relationship where Hushpuppy has a lot of independence at a young age because Wink wants her to survive on her own. His love can be difficult to see because he's so hard on her, but the end of the film, I saw it. And wow, that scene brought me to tears. I can't find it online, so you'll just have to watch the film to see it.

While the beasts may sound strange (and they are), they provide an interesting metaphor, one I'm still trying to work out. I'm thinking that Beasts of the Southern Wild is a film that requires multiple viewings, but with only three away from my goal of watching all the Best Picture winners, a rewatching is going to have to wait.