Sunday, February 22, 2009

Notes From The AMC Best Picture Showcase

On Saturday, I watched all five Best Picture nominees for this year's Oscars as part of the AMC Best Picture Showcase. The first film started at 10:30am, and the day wrapped up at fifteen to midnight.

The single most interesting thing I observed:

All five nominees feature at least one scene of rear male nudity. Milk and The Reader present this nudity in a sexual context, while Slumdog, Benjamin Button, and Frost/Nixon use it for comic effect. 2008 will be truly be remembered as the Year of Man Butts. This is perhaps the true reason Wall-e and The Dark Knight were not nominated.

More notes and observations on this year's crop of Best Picture noms, after the jump....

SPOILER WARNING: Plot points are discussed.

Male nudity aside, here are some other qualities the Best Picture noms share...

Each film is set in a notably troubled time. It's not just individual characters who are suffering, it's the society they live in at large.

  • Milk: The American Gay Community vs intolerance.
  • The Reader: Post-War Germany vs holocaust guilt.
  • Benjamin Button: New Orleans vs Hurricane Katrina.
  • Slumdog Millionaire: Impoverished youth of India vs Exploitation.
  • Frost/Nixon: America vs The Corruption of Their Political Leaders.

Four films feature prominent references to opera. Frost/Nixon is the only one that doesn't.

Three films feature suicide, and two of those are by hanging.

Two films feature brothels. In Benjamin Button, it is presented cheerfully and positively. In Slumdog, not so much.

Only one film is set in the modern era - Slumdog Millionaire. It's also the only film to feature any cinematic storytelling techniques that have been invented since 1940.

None of of the films feature interesting parts for women. Even Kate Winslet's character in The Reader, which she'll probably get an Oscar for, gives her very few opportunities to express anything internal. She's an illiterate ex-nazi who has awesome sex with a fifteen year old boy, and really, there's not much more we learn about her other than that. We only see her as she relates to her young lover, who is the film's true focus. In Slumdog, Ben Button, and Frost/Nixon, the prominent female characters are the objects of desire for the protagonist, and that's it. There are no women in Milk, except for a lesbian with two lines. Not a great year for ladies in film, is all I'm saying.

Notes On The Experience

I slept through at least 1/3 of Benajmin Button, and missed the part where he gets young and sexy entirely (I woke up when he was a pimply teen). I do not feel I missed out on much.

Everyone who got a full-day pass got a refillable Watchmen popcorn bag. I expected to be dipping in and out of the concession stand all day, but as it turns out one large bag of popcorn is the maximum a human being can consume in a 24-hour period.

Just before the Reader's climactic scene, where Ralph Finnes goes to visit Kate Winslet in jail, the film caught fire and burned a hole in the middle of the frame! It looks EXACTLY like it does when it's done as a special effect - big red burn in the middle of the image that spreads outward until all that's left on screen is a big while hole framed by crinkley black ashes. It was AWESOME. The audience was very good natured about it, A. because it looked so cool, and B. to AMC's credit, they fixed it surprisingly quickly - the break lasted less than five minutes and the film picked up right where we left off. This is why I love AMC - if it had been a Regal Theater, they would have kept us waiting for two hours before they told us to go home. AMC FTW.

Headache set in at the end of Slumdog, but I had prepared by bringing a huge bottle of advil.

I tried to Twitter throughout the showcase using a tmobile daypass for internet access, but it didn't work. Even after calling tech support, nothing. I hate you tmobile. I hate you forever.

With all five films fresh in my mind, I can safey say that only Milk and Slumdog seem even remotely like Best Picture Material.

Frost/Nixon is entertaining, but less a like a great movie than the sort of slightly cheesey and heavily plot based movie that I'd enjoy watching every now and then on TNT while working at home.

Ben Button is boring and souless and does not even feature very impressive special effects. When he's in old-kid makeup, his proportions are always way off. I know this movie cost a billion dollars to make and is a drama, but surely those are not the ONLY qualifications to get a Best Picture nom ?

The Reader at first seems to be a really interesting metaphor for post-war German guilt; Kate Winslett IS the holocaust! The kid IS post-war Germany! But about half way through it turns out it's really just a movie about the dangers of illiteracy in middle class women.

I really liked Milk, and it definitely makes an effective mark as the first Major Hollywood Gay Civil Rights Movie. I'm also really happy to see the gay kid from High School Musical has managed to score a role in which his character can be openly gay. This is progress.

Slumdog is the most entertaining, exciting, and inventive film nominated. There are problems, it's not a masterpiece, but it's the best of the bunch. I'm glad it's going to win.

All that said, Dark Knight was robbed. If the Academy can nominate the boring piece of trash like Lord of the Rings 3 (seriously, what was going on?), they certainly could have nominated Dark Knight, a thoughtful, mesmerizing, and occasionally very artful action movie. Your day will come, Nolan. One day, we'll show them all.


yssi said...

hey, thanks for ur reviews & pointing out the lack of substantive feminine roles and points of view. unrelatedly (i swear), you so missed the hotness of benjamin button at age 42 through 30. just saw it yesterday and was disappointed to see it was part titanic (old woman reminiscing + flashback), forrest gump (momma said stupid is), magnolia (impending catastrophes esp. re weather)

Hunter said...

POLL: How much is AHR's response to Danny Boyle's career trajectory colored by his resemblance to Morrissey?



AHR said...

Hunter: That's not being very Morrissey.

Also, Yssi: I agree with your equation, but minus Magnolia since I really love that movie and don't want it besmirched by having any relation to Benjamin BUSTED.

Bishop said...

You leave RoTK alone!

T Scott said...

I have to strongly disagree with your assessment of Benjamin Button.

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