Wednesday, February 16, 2005

This year's adventure in movies

Each year, my wife and I try to see as many of the five movies nominated for Best Picture before the Academy Awards. Often this means seeing as many of them as we can in a very short time period. In 1993, we saw three movies, including Schindler's List, in a single day/night. It can be exhausting, but usually is quite rewarding.

This year, partially due to the generosity of gift cards for movie and dinner from my daughter, we were able to see four of the five movies in a single weekend. We saw the fifth the evening before the Oscars. What follows are some brief thoughts on each film, all of which I enjoyed to some degree. Because I don't like ranking works of art, I'll remark about the movies in the order we watched them.

The first film we saw on Friday evening was Sideways. Of the four, I think this is my favorite movie. Perhaps this is an emotional reaction since I was quite surprised to like it. The commercials make the movie look, well, stupid. It is far from that. The performances are good and the writing sharp. After the "Why I Like Wine" scene, I thought that I'd just seen a very good example of how something becomes valuable to the point of near obsession even when one is not "doing it for a living." I don't know if that makes sense to someone who hasn't seen the movie. If not, then go see it and find out what I mean.

We left the comfortable seats of the Legacy in Plano and rushed over to the "dollar" movie in the same city to see Ray. (Can't tell you how disappointed I was to see the same five commercials I saw before the previous movie and only have one preview -- I do love those trailers!) Anyway, I thought this was a fine movie, very interesting, and certainly better than most bioflicks. Ray Charles does not come across as superman or as a twisted soul, but it seems we get an honest look at his struggle with addiction and his real genius as a musician and songwriter. The music, as one might expect, was great. That in itself might be worth the price of admission.

The following morning we returned the Legacy to see The Aviator. I am drawn to stories about tortured geniuses, and this film certainly fits. The movie was a bit long, but it covered a lot of ground. Hughes' famous phobia of germs was well documented, but I think my favorite scene in the movie was after Hughes spends considerable time locked away and is testifying before Congress. Alan Alda is nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for this movie, and though he is marvelous, I don't think he was in enough of the movie to warrant the award.

Then we rushed to the movie theater in McKinney to see Million Dollar Baby. This is Clint Eastwood's opus. I did enjoy the movie quite a bit. The performances by Eastwood, Freeman, and Swank are all good. I guess I was surprised by the reaction. I was probably the only person who didn't cry rivers at the end. I don't agree with what Eastwood's character did, but I will say that the storytelling certainly earns that ending no matter what I think. (My philosophical objection, in other words, did not damage my view of the film as a piece of art.) When I most wanted to cry was when Swank's character is getting chewed out for buying her mother a house. Good movie. Not my favorite (or even my favorite Eastwood flicks), but a fine experience.

We did not see Finding Neverland until the day before the Academy Awards. I wish I had more to say about it. We took the kids thinking they would enjoy it because of the connection to Peter Pan, which my children love. They seemed to like it okay, but didn't get so excited. I enjoyed what I saw. I had to get up five different times during the movie to take kids to the bathroom or get some sort of snack. The movie is good, and I look forward to watching it again on video. I am glad, though I'm sure the kids didn't understand it, that the film does not shy away from the material about Barrie's marriage and his relationship with the children that inspired his play. I will add that my wife told me this was her favorite.

Well that's about it movie fans. Five good movies and I'm back in my cell. Maybe I'll get out during Spring Break and a couple times in the summer, but this is probably the highlight of my movie going time during the year. Ironically, I don't care for award shows, so I avoided watching them (that's more my wife's sort of thing). After Easter, I'll probably get back to my dish and see what's worth watching on video. Until then, happy viewing!