Saturday, 26 September 2009

Alison's Oscars

The other day, I was on Wiki looking through lists of people's favourite movies. I found that the lists didn't reflect my taste very well. Steve counselled me not to take any notice because the lists are meaningless. But I thought, damn it, my taste in movies is just as valid as the mainstream. So I decided I would take the plunge and stick up for my movies, for there must be others out there who like the movies I do. I am therefore going to hold my own Oscars and give awards to my favourite movies, just for fun.

As for my taste in movies - in general, I guess I watch 'mainstream' arthouse movies. I do like movies to challenge me. Of the movies I've chosen for awards, most of them tell stories (often true) that are harrowing. I also like movies that a mainstream audience would likely consider too slow, too boring and too long. I don't watch movies that the NZ censor gives an R16 or higher rating to on account of violence. I still live with my mistakes, for I can never erase the horrible images from my mind. For example, I went to the 1999 film version of Shakespeare's Titus. I didn't see the censor's warning that it had graphic violence and horror scenes. It was an excellent movie - probably deserves an Oscar - but I have to pass on movies like that.

All these movies have won an Oscar because they had such an impact on me I never forgot them. They are what I'd call Alison's classics. You'll see that my Oscars involve awards not traditionally given at Oscars. I've left out movies that are already popular, such as "Out of Africa", "Singing in the Rain" and "American Beauty", which I would also award Oscars too.

Without further ado, then, I'll get down to it. Steve, envelopes please ...

The award for Best Depiction of the Feminist principle 'the personal is political' goes to ... (drum roll)
"Sunshine" (1999). I saw this movie ages ago, so I can't remember it in detail, but I remember being completely taken by it. "It follows three generations of a Jewish family... during the changes in Hungary from the beginning of the 20th century to the period after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution." By following the family through the political changes in the country, it shows how the personal and the political are interlinked. And, in this way, it also shows how the 'enemy' - ie, the fascist etc - is inside us and not the other guy. It also has some harrowing footage of life in a concentration camp. Unpredictable.

The award for Best Depiction of the Culture of Downunder goes to ... (drum roll)
"The Castle" (1997). It's an Australian comedy, so it's tongue in cheek - but Steve and I think that it captures the general laid-back attitude of Downunder culture, which includes Australia and New Zealand. Although there are important differences between the two countries, this movie captures the similarities, such as the continual fascination with picking up bargains. One of our favourite lines is where the father says to his son, who points out that a lectern is for sale in the paper: "It doesn't come up often". But it cleverly winds through the humour a serious message about property rights, including indigenous rights. Playful.

The awards for Best Comedy and Best Screenplay go to ... (drum roll)
"Intolerable Cruelty" (2003). Steve and I both think that this is the funniest movie out. It screened on TV here last week, and the TV reviewer said it wasn't funny at all. But it's a complex little number and you can't possibly take in all the layers in one sitting. First time around, you're focused on the tricky plot; after that, you learn to look out for the hilarious dialogue. We've watched it over and over and always double up laughing; for example, "'Let NOMAN put asunder' - the National Organisation for Matrimonial Attorneys Nationwide"! A scream.

The award for Best Foreign Language Movie goes to ... (drum roll)
"The Wind that Shakes the Barley" (2006). The movie opens up with some young men playing soccer on a field in rural Ireland. They're shouting at each other as they kick the ball around, but you haven't a clue what they're saying. In short, you need the subtitles. This is a harrowing movie about the Irish resistance in the 1920s. It depicts the moral decline of the central character, who makes increasingly morally dubious decisions in the war-like situations he finds himself in. You come away with a real appreciation of what it was like to live with the English running around controlling you and your country. Tragic.

The award for Best Classic Movie goes to ... (drum roll)
"Zulu" (1964). I first saw this one on pay TV many years ago, and was riveted. It's an amazing movie and should have got an Oscar for Best Picture. The images of the Zulu warriors appearing on the horizon and the fear on the soldiers' faces is something you never forget. You feel like you really are there and about to die. I like the fact that the producers weren't too scared to use silence. There are long periods of absolute silence and it creates a very intense eerie atmosphere. The film also gives you real insight into the way that the British army worked back then. Unsurpassed.

The award for Movie with the Best Sex Scene goes to ... (drum roll)
"Atonement" (2007). This is one of my all-time favourite movies - and yes, it does have a stunning sex scene. But that's not all, it's just a great movie all round. As the title suggests, the story is about coming to terms with a wrong one has done, which has had terrible repercussions on the lives of those involved. The movie was directed by one of my favourite directors, Joe Wright, who also did "The Soloist" (which came out this year and deserves an Oscar too for its portrayal of the mentally ill and homeless in LA.) Passionate.

The award for Best Movie that Proves Tom Cruise isn't just a Top Gun goes to ... (drum roll)
"Born on the 4th of July" (1989). I'll admit it - I was one of those who thought Tom Cruise had nothing in him but a top gun, until I saw this movie. I was amazed to see him carry off a moving portrayal of the Vietnam War veteran who was paralysed from fighting in the war. I always knew the veteran hospitals were bad, but nothing could have prepared me for what the movie shows. It's a scandal: sell them the patriot religion and then leave them to rot. Perhaps the thing that moved me most was the symbolism of it all: there was Tom Cruise, one of the real success stories of the American Dream, portraying a man who is mostly a loser in that dream (despite his sacrifices for it, and the charade of hailing him a hero). Intensely human.

The award for Best Movie Depicting Muslim North Africa goes to ... (drum roll)
"The Sheltering Sky" (1990). If you see it, you'll never forget it. Roger Ebert summed it up: it's about "American intellectuals confronted by an immensity of experience they cannot read or understand." The cinematography is extraordinary. Tiny villages of mud houses, initially indistinguishable, appear gradually out of the dust as the camera zooms in. The movie loses you in this vast, North African moonscape, with one of the main characters who finds herself alone and disorientated in the middle of it after her husband dies of typhoid. She winds up in a harem, locked up in a little hut! Out of this world.

The award for Best Romance goes to ... (drum roll)
"Brokeback Mountain" (2005). It was a scandal that this movie didn't win Best Picture at the Oscars, ahead of Crash. What on earth got into those judges? Do I need to tell anyone how wonderful this movie is? New Zealand is a farming country and I felt some affinity to the culture that was depicted. I used to go to rodeos with my family when I was a child, amazingly. The culture is a prison in that it has narrow socially constructed gender roles, for women as well as men, and offers no more than an empty existence. A serious problem for anyone with genuine feeling or depth. A real love story.

The award for Best Movie Depicting Spiritual Themes goes to ... (drum roll)
"As it is in Heaven" (2005). A Swedish movie with English subtitles. In the movie, a conductor teaches a local choir how to sing together. He begins by teaching them that singing is all about listening; that is, listening to the music that already exists and then drawing it down. This process of drawing down the music is like the one we need to focus on in order to enrich our spiritual lives. Uplifting.

The award for Best Holocaust Movie goes to ... (drum roll)
"The Pianist" (2002). This movie shows you what it was like to be Jewish and living in Warsaw when the Nazis took over. You feel the humiliation of having to wear arm bands, and having to walk in gutters because you're not allowed on the footpath. You wonder what they'll do next. Then the Nazis force all the Jews to live in one area, which they separate off with high brick walls (reminiscent of the wall the Israelis use to keep the Palestinians in) and the people can't get out. They starve. The movie is the miraculous tale of survival of the Polish pianist, Władysław Szpilman. The climax is when the German officer, right at the end, goes out of his way to bring him food and gives him his coat to keep him warm. Providential.

The award for Fabulous Arthouse Movie Mistakenly put out by Warner Brothers goes to ... (drum roll)
"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" (2007). Here we go again - I didn't go to this movie because I couldn't decide if it was just another Western. And the title! What was a girl to make of that? But I was aware that critics seemed to like it, although some said it was too long. I bought the DVD and was astounded. It's an intimate psychological analysis of the Jesse James gang set in an Andrew Wyeth painting. A literary masterpiece.

Finally, the prestigious award for Best Picture goes to ... (drum roll)
"Fateless" (2005). This is the standout movie, in my view. It's head and shoulders above them all. It's the true story of a young Hungarian boy who was sent to concentration camps at Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and Zeitz. If you ever really wanted to know what it was like to be in a concentration camp, then this is the movie for you. This movie rearranges your head. You'll never see simple things like carrot soup in the same way again, and you'll never ever think you know what it means to be cold, or what it means to be tired. The only reason I saw it was because it happened to screen here on Maori Television, which is like a public broadcaster and shows movies you don't see on the mainstream channels. I wasn't going to watch it, thinking 'yet another depressing holocaust movie', but I'm really glad I did. I sat the whole time with my teeth clenched. You know, I never understood why people made horror movies - I hate them. If you want to see a horror movie, watch this one. Overwhelming.

Special award

The special award for Best Movie Critic goes to ... (drum roll)
New Zealand movie reviewer, Simon Morris. He does a weekly 30-minute slot called "At the Movies" on Radio New Zealand National. Once a programme has aired, it goes up as a podcast on the web site. So you can listen to Simon as well. I like him because he often sees things the way I do, such as this on Quentin Tarentino: "Quentin Tarentino may be a smart postmodern pop artist with an encyclopedic knowledge of every rotten film ever made, but at heart he remains the emotionally stunted adolescent he's always been." This is found in Simon's programme dated 26 August 2009, in which he reviews Tarentino's "Inglourious Basterds". Go Simon!

No comments: