Black Swan

Alternate Title: Sexual Abuse in Three Acts
2010 Nominee

This is a movie where at the end, you turn to the person next to you and demand, “What the fuck did I just see?” Spoiler Alert: They won’t have any idea either. If you watch it alone, you’re going to call three of your friends and coerce them to watch it so that someone can maybe explain to you what was happening.

Black Swan starts with a ballerina who’s already screwed because she’s a ballerina. They operate in a culture of starvation and competition until they inevitably retire early and don’t know what else to do. It’s not really living, but constant work, the way a lot of high caliber artists function. It’s stressful and has dire consequences for Nina Sayers (Portman).

Nina’s mother (Barbara Hershey, playing a total creep) is a former ballerina who is suspiciously close with her grown daughter. By that I mean she sexually abused her and if you don’t believe me, Google search it and you’ll realize that’s part of what’s going on in this total acid trip of a motion picture.

Anyway, Nina gets the lead in Swan Lake, a story about a white swan who falls in love with a prince, but then this evil swan (the black one) tricks the prince and the white swan is grief-stricken and commits suicide. Forgive me if I have the details wrong, but the only description I’ve gotten of Swan Lake is from this movie and after what I discovered about Nina’s mom, I’m terrified to Google anything else related to it.

Nina’s director (Vincent Cassel) tries to extract her “black swan” by basically molesting her during rehearsal and giving her masturbatory “homework assignments.” His justification is that he only sees the docile white swan when he watches her dance and none of the seductress of the black swan.
As if this whole thing wasn’t creepy enough.

Meanwhile, Nina is freaking out because a fellow dancer, Lily (Kunis) appears to have the sexual prowess of the black swan down pact. She worries that Lily is trying to steal her place in the performance, especially after Lily drugs Nina’s drink in an effort to get her to relax. The drug of choice? Ecstasy.

As everyone and her mom tries to fuck her (literally), Nina slowly loses her grip on reality. This coalesces with Nina believing that she’s turning into a swan. The film is twisted in its storytelling, with you as the viewer wondering – just like Nina – whether the events are real or just an extremely vivid waking nightmare.

Black Swan is an foreboding look at the world of dancing and the trauma that comes from abusive relationships. It’s a great conversation piece for anyone who’s confused about this absolutely confusing movie.

Now it’s Your Turn…
Black Swan was nominated for Best Picture in 2010, but did the Academy get it right?

Midnight in Paris

Alternate Title: All in Good Time
2011 Nominee

I love this movie. My first time viewing it was on behalf of this blog and if I have any regrets at all about the past (I try to have none), it’s that I didn’t see this sooner!

Anyway, Gil (Owen Wilson) is in Paris with his fiancee (Rachel McAdams). Right off the bat, it’s obvious their future marriage is fucked. She keeps rolling her eyes at him and sarcastically making fun of his attempt to write a novel in front of a guy she had a crush on in college (Michael Sheen), who just so happens to also be in Paris with his girlfriend.

Gil is trying to write a book as a turn from writing movie scripts. He’s having a hard time with self-confidence and finds himself wandering off, a little drunk, one night after dinner with his fiancee and her equally unremarkable parents. Gil gets into a car and is whisked to a party, where he makes an introduction with Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald – the writer of The Great Gatsby and his emotionally volatile wife. Before long, Gil gets the impression he’s taken a wrong turn and entered a different time period.

Of course, the following day, Gil recollects his adventure to the almost Mrs. Freeze and she dismisses his rambling as idle chitchat. Then she takes him to look at wedding crap with her mom, a decorator, whose favorite phrase is, “Cheap is cheap.”
Seriously though, who wouldn’t want to marry this girl already?

Gil soon discovers that every night at midnight, a car picks him up and takes him back to the past (which is why he never manages to meet Marty McFly). He does however meet Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, a woman who makes him experience love more than the one that starred in Mean Girls, and a whole host of other well-known figments of history. It’s hard for Gil to stay focused on his fiance duties and listen to Paul’s prattling when he looks most forward to midnight in Paris.

As a writer, I do enjoy watching another writer’s idea of other writers. You see, only a writer could write a sentence that doesn’t at all sound right, right? Right. What I mean is that Woody Allen never met the writers in the film, or the other artists, but his imagination serves as the canvas for who they really were, and who the actors believe they really were, so the movie as a whole speaks to the wonderful imagination of a creative person…right?

The film is beautiful to look at and the story, while a little complicated, is still easy to follow. Perhaps that’s because the pace is a little fuzzy and deliberate, like you’ve just had one extra glass of really nice, French wine.

Now it’s Your Turn…
Midnight in Paris was nominated for Best Picture in 2011, but did the Academy get it right?

Silver Linings Playbook

Alternate Title: Swipe Right for Lunacy
2012 Nominee

A lot of the movie involves football, so I barely understood a word of that part. Basically, it’s about a dude getting treatment for bipolar disorder who leaves treatment and then tries to seek out his technically-still-wife, but also does a dance thing with this other woman who’s dealing with her own pile of mess and then they fall in love. It’s irrational’s response to the rom com.

Pat (Bradley Cooper) gets out of a mental institution after beating up a guy that he caught in the shower with his wife. Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who’s hardcore grieving because her husband died in a freak accident. They bond over conversations about which meds they’ve taken and conversations about their own erratic behavior. Tiffany convinces Pat to compete in a dance competition with her – even though neither of them can really dance – because somehow that will please Pat’s ex-wife and get her to pay attention to him.

What bugs me is that movies like this perpetuate this idea that if unstable people love each other, that will solve all of their problems. That’s a dangerous misguidance, at the very least. If you are not mentally stable, another person is not responsible for your stuff. You have to work on it and take responsibility for yourself. I’m not saying you can’t fall in love, but you have to understand self-love before you could possibly demonstrate love to another human being to full capacity. This isn’t rocket science.

Tiffany and Pat both embody people with mental issues that need to be addressed (not necessarily with just meds), not tossed away because love means they don’t have any problems anymore. Between him waking up his parents in the middle of the night to bitch about Ernest Hemingway and her throwing a temper tantrum every time something doesn’t go her way, the movie plays like a couple of adults in a Freaky Friday-type situation where they’re really kids trapped in grown-up bodies and neither of them is really dealing with anything because they’re too busy making selfish choices that hurt other people.

I think I was supposed to fall in love with this movie, but I didn’t. It’s a movie that’s meant to convey the importance of staying  positive while still sending a message to people who are unstable or still working through some things that love will save you from yourself.
But you don’t need to be saved from yourself. Self-love is your salvation.

As someone with their own mental health concerns, the most positivity I’ve found is in accepting your life for what it is and continuing to grow even when things don’t work out as you envisioned. Disappearing inside another person as a means of forgetting what you have to do for yourself, now that’s just plain crazy.

Now it’s Your Turn…
Silver Linings Playbook was nominated for Best Picture in 2012, but did the Academy get it right?

Dallas Buyers Club

Alternate Title: Drugs are Bad, AIDS is Worse (MmKay?)
2013 Nominee

This is the movie that birthed the phrases, “Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey” and, “Academy Award winner Jared Leto.” If that’s not surreal enough for you, add in the fact that McConaughey looks emaciated the whole time and Leto is dressed like a lady and they both play people who are HIV-positive.

McConaughey (excuse me, Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey) plays Ron Woodroof, a real person who was diagnosed with HIV in the 1980s. Woodroof is a Dallas rodeo cowboy, so when his friends accuse him of being gay due to the diagnosis, this only adds to the total fucking torment that is being HIV-positive. Woodroof is not in fact gay, but has had unprotected sex with women that were IV-drug users. It’s a subtle, but worthwhile reminder to ignorant folks that HIV does not discriminate; if you don’t use a condom or poke yourself with needles, you are at risk. Please be careful out there.
Unlike some people diagnosed with a terminal illness, Woodroof does his homework. With an estimate of 30 days left to live, he attempts to get ahold of AZT, a drug known to help with the virus. Remember that guy Martin Shkreli? One of the reasons he’s a villain is he spiked the price of AZT. I would have liked to hear Ron Woodroof cuss him out, but my guess is he would at least call him a mother fucker. I’m sticking with douchebag for now.

Woodroof ends up going to see a doctor in Mexico when his illegally obtained supply of AZT runs low. The doctor prescribes Woodroof Peptide T and vitamins, explaining that AZT is poison. In fact, studies did show that early AZT was highly toxic and many patients undergoing drug trials were experiencing worsened symptoms while taking it. How do I know? Because Ron figured this out and broadcast the news to the community as well as to his own doctor (Jennifer Garner).

Woodroof befriends Rayon (Leto) while selling Peptide T and the supplements to other HIV-positive people. Ron and Rayon start the Dallas Buyers Club for people who want to use their pharmaceuticals instead of the infamous AZT. Of course, this leads to problems with medical professionals, the IRS, and the FDA, all of whom Woodroof fights with Texas swagger and refusals to stop his business.

This movie does a great job illustrating an incident where the government didn’t appear to have its citizens’ best interest at heart without serving up too much courtroom drama. It’s also pretty hard not to like Ron Woodroof by the end of it, no matter how you feel about Matthew McConaughey (…Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey).

Now it’s Your Turn…
Dallas Buyers Club was nominated for Best Picture in 2013, but did the Academy get it right?

The Theory of Everything

Alternate Title: The Stephen Hawking Movie
2014 Nominee

Stephen Hawking AKA the guy from the Harry Potter movies that aren’t Harry Potter movies (Eddie Redmayne) falls in love with Jane AKA the lady from the newest Star Wars movies (Felicity Jones). Gather, nerds. We must unite!
By the end of the film, you still won’t understand anything about black holes or space or the fabric of the universe because the movie is more about relationships with people than with time or space. People are the matter that truly matters.

There is some science jargon. There’s even some medical jargon related to Hawking’s diagnosis of Motor Neuron Disease, which is Lou Gehrig’s disease, which is Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Remember when everyone in the universe was dumping ice water on themselves? They were fighting this disease, one frigid-ass shower at a time.
The whole film touches on the dynamics of love and – briefly – addresses the principle of time in relation to love. There’s just enough science to make you feel smart, but still not smart enough to read A Brief History of Time and have the faintest idea what it all means.

There isn’t a lot of Hollywood drama clouding the reality of the situation. In fact, there isn’t a lot of Hollywood dialogue either, but that’s partially because Hawking’s disease made it progressively more difficult for him to speak (until they made him an American robot voice, of course).
What I appreciate the most is that the film demonstrates how two people can still love each other with change. Love even develops for other people, but none of the characters end up demonized. There isn’t a lot of black and white when it comes to love or time (just black holes). Instead, the film delves into how relationships expand just as the universe expands and that love, like time, can be infinite if you simply allow it to exist for what it is at any given moment.

The Theory of Everything left me a little dizzy. Not only does it feel like a tremendous lot  of information to take in, but there are literal circles in the whole thing. The way scenes are shot, circular objects, and the notion of time itself all encompass an idea of circular motion and the cycle of life.
Sit somewhere comfortable for this one.

Now it’s Your Turn…
The Theory of Everything was nominated for Best Picture in 2014, but did the Academy get it right?

 

Room

Alternate Title: Oh the Places We Might Go if We Ever Get Out of Here
2015 Nominee

You might have no room left in your body for emotion after watching this. From the get-go, you are just like Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and your world is almost as small as his, except that you’re watching a movie and you know that room is not all there is to it.

Jack turns five and on this momentous birthday, Ma (Brie Larson, the best part of the show United States of Tara) decides to tell Jack that their Sunday visitor, Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) kidnapped Ma when she was 17. Ma reveals that her name is Joy and that their home, room, is not the universe. In fact, Ma explains that lots of things Jack sees on TV are actually real things and that Ma and Jack have to escape.
Although five, Jack is unprepared for the shock of this news. It takes a little time, but he eventually warms up to the story Ma has told him and agrees to try and help them get out of room.

Everyone knows the heart-stopping stories of young women who have been snatched away, only to return home years later. Few people consider the trauma and heartbreak endured by these women for years – even after the events. It’s not something the media focuses on when the stories are supposed to be about triumph and survival.
The fact is that survival is such a powerful word because it carries with it struggle and sacrifice. Survival implies overcoming a harrowing force. Room paints this picture, but from the innocent viewpoint of a five year-old boy who doesn’t understand the overwhelming danger and beauty of the whole wide world.
Room is a unique take on a haunting story everyone has heard because no one has ever heard it quite like this.

Now it’s Your Turn…
Room was nominated for Best Picture in 2015, but did the Academy get it right?

Lion

Alternate Title: The Lost World
2016 Nominee

A little boy gets left by his brother at the train station only to wake up on a life-changing journey. The boy in question lives in a small town in India and after months of travel and meeting strangers, he ends up adopted by an Australian couple.

Fast-forward two decades. Saroo (Dev Patel) and his adoptive parents (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) lead a charmed life. Saroo studies hospitality in school, where he meets Lucy (Rooney Mara). The two of them start dating and by chance, a gathering of friends triggers a memory of Saroo’s childhood.

He tells his friends that his brother left him at the train station to go find nighttime work and that his mother and sister were both at home. Saroo never found them, but for all this time has wondered what happened to his family after his impromptu nap on a bench.

The film feels cut in half – perhaps like its title character. The first half follows little Saroo through the perils of being too young to be taken seriously by adults and being too young to know how to find his way back home; the second half chronicles grown Saroo with his Australian parents and his troubled – also adopted – brother.

Lion is a hard look at the intersection between childhood and adulthood. It serves as a reminder that being profoundly lost is much different than not knowing which college to pick or which what to do on the weekends. Getting lost in the day-to-day is effortless and often healthy; this is a story about reconnecting with a piece of a lost soul. However, what is lost can always be found again if you only have the courage to go looking.

Based on the true story by Saroo Brierley (A Long Way Home), Lion envelopes you in a story about fear, cross-cultural reconciliation, and the struggle to find peace when a huge piece of your identity is missing.

Now it’s Your Turn…
Lion was nominated for Best Picture in 2016, but did the Academy get it right?