I will be watching the Oscars tonight — alone, in my jammies, under a cozy blanket, with a delicious dinner. I can’t wait.
I love the movies. By that, I mean to say I love my internal experiences produced by the movies. Yes, movies are an escape. But movies are also a way to exercise emotions by proxy, by temporarily immersing ourselves in imagined situations and personalities. While it’s certainly not the same thing as first-hand experience our own emotions are a shade of approximation for what we witness on screen.
Through movies, we get to feel and remember thwarted, marital, parental, familial, lustful, and romantic love; we ride the virtual roller coasters of fear, anxiety, suspense, and uncertainty in safety; we examine and analyze the solutions our movie characters try, fail or succeed at, and wonder if they would work or fail for us; we see and experience lives and worlds that are out of our realm of experience. The movies are a gift, and the makers of movies broaden our view of, and increase our compassion for, humanity every year. That’s what I will celebrate tonight.
Here are a few movies and performances looked at through the lens of emotional impact:
Watching “The Impossible,” it is impossible not to feel the shock, horror, fright, aloneness, and chaos the protagonists feels after getting hit by the masterfully simulated and absolutely terrifying tsunami. It is equally impossible not to feel the generosity of the people who came together to help one another, the chills when young Lucas witnesses improbable and joyous reunions of families rent apart by catastrophe, and the intensity of the love of this family for one another. I trembled through a range of intense emotions throughout this film. Of course, my emotions were not the same as the real people upon whom the movie was based. But my emotions were very real.
Another movie that made me very emotional, but in a very different and unwelcome way, was “Django Unchained.” “We staggered out of the theater,” extolled a friend, who is, incidentally, a huge Tarantino fan. I respect this friend, who knows my aversion to upsetting violence. That made seeing “Django” a green light and an imperative at once. It was an “important” cultural event and I never want to miss those. And I deeply regret it. I was sickened and remain dirtily haunted by the wanton, gratuitous blood and guts of the shoot-’em-up revenge scenes at the end. I already knew, from Pulp Fiction and other Tarantino outings, that the scenes of surprise violence that the director engineers to make us ignominiously burst out laughing at someone getting their head blown off, is not for me. This meretricious look into the heretofore unrepresented brutalities of slavery canceled its aspirations with comic-book violence. “Like a junkie needing a fix, Tarantino is addicted to cinematic violence.” Not me.
“In Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds and now Django Unchained, he has latched on to the “justified revenge” motif (the fictionalised retaliation of beaten women, Nazi-era Jews and black slaves against their oppressors) as a means of supplying violence in large quantities while sheltering himself from criticism. The desire to get to what he needs warps his judgment, bending narratives out of shape.”
Amen, and end of lecture.
For breathtaking authenticity and an eye-popping peek into an indigenous culture right here in the United States, this picaresque movie “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and its actors may give us more “real” than anyone else on parade tonight. You might have missed this best picture, director, and actress nominee, but don’t overlook it. Rent and watch it today so you can revel in prodigy Quvenzhané (“k-VEN-zhuh-nay”) Wallis. None of the actors were professionals, and the movie has been given that raw, documentary feel through the convention-free eye of best-director nominee Benh Zeitlin. It is a true tour de force, wholly original, fresh, and hugely human.
Although less emotionally charged, Lincoln had a kind of intellectual emotional palette, giving a deep appreciation for the delicate moment in our history where it might have gone either way, of the importance of that great man in history without whom an alternate future of slavery and of our country is unimaginable. The Spielberg light shone in deep reverence upon the smoke-diffused scenes.
The Master was, I thought, misunderstood by some critics and audiences alike. But you should never miss an opportunity to see the estimable Philip Seymour Hoffman. Amy Adams was a picture of coiled restraint in her role as wife of the puppet master. And Joaquin Phoenix‘s total transfiguration as Freddie Quell, including a physical distortion of his wasted body and twisted face, haunts me still — in quite a different way than Tarantino’s violent wantonness.
One last mention, for Amour. I’m sad to have missed Rust and Bone, which I missed for similar reasons, though, as made me hesitant to go see this movie. I’d spent many years of my life caring for and living in the shadows of the end-of-life elderly and terminally ill loved ones. While it was certainly more uplifting and life-giving in the end than it was depressing and sad, it was, nonetheless, depressing and sad. In overcoming my aversion, however, I was treated to a most intimate portrayal of marital devotion and love. The claustrophobia of the old Parisian apartment setting and attenuated pace were almost, but not quite, unbearable. Fortunately, the lingering sentiments lasted longer and shone brighter than most this year’s nominees. I expect “Rust and Bone” will leave the same patina when I do finally see it.