All Quiet on the Western Front

Alternate Title: The Ants Go Marching
1929 Winner

This is not a pretty sight. All Quiet on the Western Front opens with a group of school boys being told by their teacher how the fatherland needs them to fight in the war (World War I, in this case). Most of the boys, with one exception, are excited at the prospect of becoming soldiers and eagerly enlist.

Paul Baumer (Lew Ayres) is the leader of the pack. He and his friends manage to make it to the front together, where they soon discover that war means living in cramped trenches, underfed, and with the sound of bombs going off as the only music in their ears. There is no glory; there is no victory; there are no girls; and there isn’t a lot of explanation as to what any of them are doing there. Though Paul is a self-starter, his attitude darkens as he watches the war change all of his friends around him from young boys into dead men.

https://youtu.be/_SQr8I3lcW8

The movie is old, but marks an early example of an anti-war film from a German’s perspective – a perspective that doesn’t get a lot of air time after that second World War. The story describes how war eats away at humanity and begs the question asked by every anti-war film since this one: What is this for, and is it all really worth it? Furthermore, why are the people who aren’t doing the fighting always the ones with the loudest voices?

Now it’s Your Turn…
All Quiet on the Western Front won Best Picture in 1929, but did the Academy get it right?

Milk

Alternate Title: Politics as Usual
2008 Nominee

Sean Penn plays gay activist Harvey Milk, a man whose voice spoke for countless others. After meeting Scott (James Franco, seen here as a non-douche and a non-stoner, so don’t let that deter you), Harvey and his new beau pick up and head to San Francisco.

San Francisco in the 70s was just getting its reputation for hosting proud members of the gay community. While it was their haven, it was certainly not safe. Legal and moral objections were raised against them at every turn and as a result, Harvey took to the political scene. He became the first openly gay man to hold political office in the country.

A workaholic with a message that affected many, Harvey was plagued by death threats and ghosts of lost lovers; in fact, several of his partners committed suicide – something Harvey believed was partially his fault, due to his fear of coming out of the closet.

While I agree with the message Harvey and his followers preached and believe that politicians out to destroy civil rights are really just demonizing democracy, I still don’t like politics. The outcome of Harvey Milk’s time as a supervisor was heartbreaking and ultimately, I don’t love stories that have unhappy endings.

However, he’s a person I didn’t know a thing about until I watched this film and that’s a genuine shame. Political activists – especially those fighting on behalf of human rights – really ought to be recognized more readily. With the fucking laugh-riot our country is slowly becoming, it’s easy to see why now, people like Harvey Milk deserve a megaphone and a place behind the podium.

It’s nice to say we’re born with unalienable rights, but we are not born with them.
We fight for them. And the fight is definitely not over yet.

Now it’s Your Turn…
Milk was nominated for Best Picture in 2008, but did the Academy get it right?

Up in the Air

Alternate Title: Going Nowhere Fast, with George Clooney
2009 Nominee

Everyone in this movie has straight, white teeth and false smiles and the whole thing feels like it’s an elaborate ad encouraging you to stay at the Hilton.  They even make a big deal about Ryan Bingham (Clooney) being a Hilton Honors member, but you know what? It’s free to join.
I know.
I’m a member.

Ryan Bingham is the unrealistically handsome guy who makes a living by firing people. Yes, that’s correct. He takes away other people’s livings for a living. You know who else does that? The Grim Reaper.
He does his due diligence by using money paid out by his own company to fly around the country and fire people whose bosses can’t seem to fathom the cojones to do so themselves. He’s acquiring miles and membership points and has a hard-on for loyalty and status the entire time.

Toothy McHandsomePants meets a lady named Alex (Vera Farmiga) who’s equally smarmy on one of his trips, but the movie catches a second wind with the appearance of Natalie (Anna Kendrick), who although she’s a member of the Hollywood Dental Delights club herself is at least a teeny, tiny bit believable because she’s intimidated by George Clooney and actually cries once in the movie. She’s trying to learn how to do what Bingham does, but has the brilliant idea to involve the internet so that people can get fired over Skype or FaceTime.
Who can’t resonate with wanting to ruin someone’s day with the help of the internet and get paid for it?
I know what you’re thinking, but I don’t get paid to write this blog. (Yet).

Bingham decides to go to his sister’s wedding in Omaha with Alex. That part almost feels like a different movie entirely because one outburst from Natalie and one fun romp around his old high school with Alex turns Bingham into a softie who wants to settle in Omaha and abandon his status. It’s a sickeningly fast character change and I don’t buy it for a second. He’s still George Clooney, who for as handsome as people say he is, I would still rather listen to him read me a bedtime story than look at him because he always looks vaguely bored, like it’s not a challenge to show up and be George Clooney every day.
I don’t understand that kind of life, dude.

The whole sorry mess culminates with random shit collapsing in on itself like a dying star. Natalie quits via text message and Alex, as it turns out, is even scummier than Bingham.

The moral here? I don’t know. It’s about a bunch of sad, sorry beautiful people pretending they’re not empty inside. The characters that are most relatable are the characters who are getting fucking fired.

It’s an unrealistic movie trying desperately to make you feel for characters that have no soul.

Now it’s Your Turn…
Up in the Air was nominated for Best Picture in 2009, but did the Academy get it right?

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?

The Broadway Melody

Alternate Title: Bittersweet Symphony
1928 Winner

One of the first musicals to hit the screen, this movie encapsulates the spirit of modern musicals as well.

Hank (Bessie Love) and Queenie (Anita Page) are the Mahoney sisters trying to make it big on Broadway. They move to New York to get their break. Hank is dating Eddie (Charles King), who falls in love with Queenie just as soon as he puts his eyes on her.
This is when things get 1920s-level creepy. Some of the compliments Eddie pays Queenie include calling her a “cute kid,” and saying she’s a “sweet, little girl.” Not to mention, the guy is going out with her sister. It’s totally pathetic.

Once they audition, the Mahoney sisters as a unit are paid no mind, but everyone is taken with Queenie’s natural good looks. This irks Hank since she’s obviously the more ambitious – and the more business savvy – of the two. Hank is a spitfire, making sure that there’s room for her on the stage with her sister, but Queenie soon gets swept up by a man named Jacques Warriner (Kenneth Thomson). He seems more interested in purchasing Queenie’s affection than considering whether she actually fucking likes him at all. That’s maybe one thing about show business that hasn’t changed a whole lot in nearly 100 years…

Queenie is smitten with all the attention she’s probably never had, but faces a crisis of character when she discovers that she might care about Eddie as much as he does about her.

Though the movie is old and thus plagued with shrill acoustics and blurry images at times, it’s easy to see where almost every musical since has borrowed a few ideas. It’s character-driven, but interspersed with some catchy songs. Hank Mahoney is an especially dynamic character because although she’s fierce, she is a purely unselfish individual. She’s a rare commodity on screen and just as rare in real life.
The Broadway Melody is still pitch perfect today.

Now it’s Your Turn…
The Broadway Melody won Best Picture in 1928, 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?