Oscar Resistance 2013

As you know if you followed my blog last year around this time, I have a love-hate relationship with the Academy Awards.  I love discussing them, watching them with friends in a party-like atmosphere, and competing with my family to see who can predict them the most accurately.  This year, I have a new activity to love: watching as many Oscar-nominated movies as possible in one weekend with my friend and fellow blogger Allison (allisonscoles.wordpress.com) and some other friends.  Here’s what I hate: the Academy’s narrow and outdated ideas of what a nomination-worthy film looks like.  I also bear a pointless hatred toward the practical constraints of an awards show; I wish every good movie that came out in the past year could get a nod.  Yes, the ceremony would be really long, but I would watch it!

Over the past week, I have gone to the local second-run theater to see three movies that will not be winning any Oscars this year because they weren’t nominated.  Even though I didn’t plan this “Oscar Resistance,” as I’m now calling it because it sounds AWESOME (cue that song by Muse), it will serve as a nice counterpoint to the above-mentioned event, Allison’s “Moviepalooza.”  And now I’m going to tell you about the movies I saw.

1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  I saw this on strong recommendation from my two siblings and my mother, none of whom are teenagers.  So I figured it wouldn’t be just a cliched teen angst movie, and I was right.  All of the main characters are in high school, but the problems they face–and this is a movie, like most good movies, about people with problems–aren’t unique to teenagers; they’re human problems.  As you can probably guess from the title, one of those problems involves finding a few people you can feel comfortable with, so that you can be okay with not “fitting in,” whatever that means.  If you’ve never faced this problem, you are one of a very few fortunate people, and you probably won’t get this movie.  If you have faced this problem, whatever your age, this movie will probably make you cry.  The carefully chosen songs on the soundtrack are a large part of that; so is the excellent acting.  Logan Lerman broke my heart (I mean that in a good way).  And if, like me, you’re a Harry Potter fan wondering how Emma Watson will fare playing an American Muggle, have no fear; she’s great.  But I do have to admit that when her character, Sam, admitted to completely bombing her SATs, my first thought was that Hermione would never do that.

2. Here Comes the Boom.  Okay, look.  I know this movie doesn’t deserve a single Oscar nomination.  But neither was it a complete waste of my time.  There is an in-between, you know.  Some movies don’t want to win Oscars, and that’s fine.  I do have a slight beef with the way Here Comes the Boom was advertised; it was made out to look like a zany comedy, and it was actually more of an inspirational teacher movie plus an inspirational sports movie, with some zany comedy thrown in.  As with most films from the above-named genres, I was asked to accept a few improbabilities, but Kevin James as a mixed martial arts fighter was actually not one of them; the guy has muscles.  Who knew?  The other notable cast member was Henry Winkler as a somewhat pathetic but lovable and very funny baggy sweater-wearing music teacher.  Between the teachers in this movie and Paul Rudd’s character in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I was just full of inspiration for my first week of spring classes.

3. Hitchcock.  Now here’s a movie that may have been trying for a few Oscar nominations.  In fact, Helen Mirren was deservedly nominated for a Golden Globe for her role as Alfred Hitchcock’s talented and long-suffering wife, Alma Reville.  Probably the reason why this film ended up flying under the Academy radar is that it isn’t a DRAMA.  There were no tears, no screaming (except when one character was getting stabbed…in a shower)–it was actually a pretty conventional love story between two people who share thirty years of marriage.  The context in which the love story takes place, however, is rather unconventional: it’s the making of Psycho, complete with quirky actors, cantankerous censors, and some trippy magical-realist scenes in which Hitchcock (you can call him Hitch; everyone in the movie does) voyeuristically observes and converses with Ed Gein, the real-life, significantly less sympathetic (mainly because he isn’t cute) version of Norman Bates.  I believe my own familiarity with Psycho helped my enjoyment of Hitchcock, but my aunt and cousin with whom I saw Hitchcock had never seen Psycho and still had a good time.  (Oh, if you’re worried about spoilers, you may want to avert your eyes frequently.  But seriously, Psycho has been out for 53 years; you have no excuse.)  As the title character, Anthony Hopkins does an excellent job, as always.  Even putting his acting aside, he deserves some props for gaining an alarming amount of weight for this role.  (I thought the Academy liked that kind of stuff, altering your appearance and all that?  But maybe they didn’t want to be seen to condone obesity.  Heaven forbid.)

Well, this post is entirely too long.  I apologize.  I invite you to join the Oscar Resistance by watching some recent films that didn’t get the blessing of the Academy.  And remember, you can be part of the resistance and still go see the nominees–I’m going to see Les Miserables next week.

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There and back again

No, this is not a review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, although I will take this opportunity to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, enough to see it twice.  Look, if the ambivalent hype has made you skittish about seeing it, just remember that you’ll be in the capable hands of Peter Jackson.  Has he ever let you down before (at least when it comes to Tolkien material)?  And if you start getting cold feet during the lengthy prologue, just stick it out a bit longer, and you’ll spend the rest of the movie in the charming company of the absolutely delightful Martin Freeman.  And that’s all I have to say about that.

Actually, the title of this post is a reference to a post called “Returning” that I wrote nearly a year ago.  It was mostly about the themes of restoration and homecoming as they appear in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  I didn’t know it then, of course, but those themes in general, along with the story of the prodigal son, ended up being prominent in my mental and spiritual landscape throughout 2012.

For example, there was the David Crowder Band’s epic two-disc farewell album, Give Us Rest or (a requiem mass in c [the happiest of all keys]).  In a year that saw the release of some great albums, this was one of my favorites, not only because I love a good requiem (Mozart’s is wonderful), but also because so many of the songs are on that theme of returning, which is one way of looking at the death of a saint.  In fact, one of the songs is called “A Return,” and it mainly consists of the repeated lyric “the son has come home/we’re rejoicing.”  I usually just call it “the prodigal son song.”

Then I read Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend.  (FYI: I’ve read all of his novels now except for Barnaby Rudge, which I plan to read soon.  Perhaps a Dickens mega-review when I’m finished?)  Of the many memorable characters in that novel, the one who haunted me the longest after I finished reading was Charlie Hexam, a prodigal son who never returns.  Dickens characters usually get some sort of closure; they may come to a good end or a bad end, but the point is that they come to an end.  Charlie doesn’t.  After he formally renounces his family, he disappears into the bureaucratic machine of the Victorian educational system, and we never hear from him again.  It may be a minor plot line, but I read it as a frightening cautionary tale.

After I had been thinking about these themes for a while, I got the opportunity to teach a month of lessons in the 5th-6th grade girls’ Awana club I was volunteering in at the time.  One night, I decided to tell the story of the prodigal son and focus on the older son, who’s just as lost as his little pig-slopping brother.  Lo and behold, the issue of Christianity Today that I received that very day included a reflection on that very topic, and I was able to incorporate the author’s thoughts into my lesson.

These things may not seem like a big deal, but they provided something like mental background music for me all year.  I even wrote a little poem in October about the different types of prodigal sons.  It would be nice if I could provide examples of the way that this theme affected my life in visible ways, but I’m not sure if that happened.  Or maybe I won’t be able to see that it happened until I get some distance from 2012.

There’s a Bible verse that keeps popping into my mind because it has the word “returning” in it, but it also has four other major nouns. The verse is Isaiah 30:15, in which God, “the Holy One of Israel,” says to his people, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength.”  It’s too early to say, but maybe one of those other nouns will become my theme for 2013.  I know that rest and confidence, in particular, are things I want more of, and nobody’s keeping them from me but me.

This post has been more self-reflective (you might say navel-gazing) than I usually like to be on this blog.  So let’s make this a conversation–do you ever choose or discover a theme for a given period of time in your life?  I would love to hear some of them (and possibly borrow one from you).