My Own Personal Oscar Buzz

I’m in full blown Oscar mode anticipating both the nominations that will come out next week and the party that will follow co-hosted by Sara Cobb. Granted, I have not seen nearly as many movies as those who actually vote on these things (still on my list to see in the next couple weeks: The Ides of March, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Artist, and Young Adult).

Having given that disclaimer, here are the films that I did see this year and that I hope do well at the Oscars in a few weeks:

1. The Descendants – I loved this movie because of how human it was. Like the film 50/50, I was amazed at how much I laughed during a film about a woman dying. The characters were complicated and interesting. Sid, for example, at first seems like a buffoon but ends up being not nearly as simple minded as he seems. There are complicated moral dilemmas in the film and because you care about the characters, you care about the decisions they make. George Clooney is brilliant and made the whole story line believable.

2. Moneyball – This was my favorite film of the year. Yes, it is about baseball (to quote Billy Bean, “How can you not get romantic about baseball?”) but it is really about life. It is a story about finding our place in the world, about succeeding while feeling like you belong on, “an Island of misfit toys”, about how money is not everything, about defining what success is, about the fleeting moments of life, about what it means to be a parent, about risking everything on what you believe in, about finishing well (“winning the last game of the season”), about what we use to ascribe value to human beings, about perseverance, and about how some things you just can’t measure.

At the end of the film when Billy Bean interviews for the general manager job for the Red Sox, John Henry tells him, “I know you are taking it in the teeth, but the first guy through the wall... he always gets bloody... always. This is threatening not just a way of doing business... but in their minds, it's threatening the game. Really what it's threatening is their livelihood, their jobs. It's threatening the way they do things... and every time that happens, whether it's the government, a way of doing business, whatever, the people who are holding the reins - they have their hands on the switch - they go ____crazy.” -- I love that life view. Pioneers get shot it but they also change the world.

The closing scene of the movie was probably my favorite movie scene of the year. As Billy Bean wrestles with whether or not to take the Red Sox job, he places a CD in his car stereo that his daughter recorded. And Billy Bean has an epiphany that brings to closure all of the issues of this movie.

3. 50/50 – I was surprised that this film did not get more Oscar buzz. The film is inspired by a true story of a 27 year old’s struggle with cancer and the news that his chances of survival are 50/50. (As Seth Rogan’s character says, “It’s not that bad. It’s better than I thought…If you were a casino game, you would have the best odds.”)

Like The Descendants, I felt guilty for laughing so much at a movie that was about cancer. But overall, the film was warm, genuine, and human. There is something about looking the reality of death in the eye that is both sobering and reflective. It brings out the best and worst in people. Some, like the surgeon and medical professionals in the film, are detached. Some, like Adam’s girlfriend and coworkers, are self-centered and insensitive. While others, like Katherine the therapist and Adam’s mother, are a bit enmeshed and not sure how to deal with the weight of Adam’s reality.

Joseph Gordan-Levitt was amazing in this movie as Adam, “That's what everyone has been telling me since the beginning. ‘Oh, you're gonna be okay,’ and ‘Oh, everything's fine,’ and like, it's not... It makes it worse... that no one will just come out and say it. Like, ‘hey man, you're gonna die.’”

As the film hits its climax, Adam goes in to surgery and delivers what I think is an amazing Oscar moment. Adam’s father has Alzheimer’s and is clueless to what is going on around him (a great metaphor of how many people deal with difficult situations) and Adam’s mother is compassionate but doesn’t know how to nurture her adult son. But somehow the weight of Adam’s odds (50/50) break through, his fear comes out, and they have an authentic moment.

It is a story about friendship, about loving people through difficult situations, and facing reality no matter how frightening it is.

4. Midnight in Paris – I thought this was good film but was surprised it got as much Oscar buzz as it did. Having been to Paris for the first time this last year, I was able to understand what Adrianna meant when she said, “That Paris exists and anyone could choose to live anywhere else in the world will always be a mystery to me.” Like most Woody Allen films, it was full of irony and a little pretentious (it is an American Literature Major’s dream). But the film was fun and playful – like this exchange between the protagonist Gil and Ernest Hemingway:

Gil: I would like you to read my novel and get your opinion.
Ernest Hemingway: I hate it.
Gil: You haven't even read it yet.
Ernest Hemingway: If it's bad, I'll hate it. If it's good, then I'll be envious and hate it even more. You don't want the opinion of another writer.

5. Hugo – this was a beautiful movie that I don’t imagine made a lot of money but it is a must see. Hugo lives in 1930’s Paris which makes it all the more fun. The best line of the film was delivered by Hugo Cabret, “[I] imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured, if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn't be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason.”

It’s a story about the power of hope, second chances, courage, the lure of a great adventure, and the power of a story well told (in and out of the movie theater).

Dana Hicks