On the 2019 Academy Awards

As the Oscars will be awarded to the chosen creative elites on February 24, my excitement for the event is absent. If this year’s Oscars is anything like this year’s Super Bowl, I would recommend skipping it and sleeping earlier, maybe anything else. I find it more interesting this year, because of lack of pieces that closely appeal to me, to write about it rather than watch it.

A Star is Born to me, a young-ish straight guy, is about as appealing as La La Land was. I wouldn’t be surprised if Lady Gaga’s movie wins Best Picture. I’d watch it if I were monitoring patients at a nursing home because they might enjoy, or envy, the youth of dreaming or yearning. The African-American movies, though veritable, simply pose little intrigue to me. I would have watched Vice just for my appreciation of Christian Bale, but after he thanked Satan at the Golden Globes – and the Church of Satan hailed him the next day – I think I’d better wait for the next Christian Bale movie.

For me, the biggest Oscar snub of all was Ethan Hawke. First Reformed was the first critically-acclaimed film I saw this year. They promoted it mostly pertaining to characterization, not to the actual story. Since it was limited release, I had to wait until it hit the Redbox. The plot-line of the film involved some bad turns after indirect influences by a reluctant protagonist. Hawke’s character, a drunk and grieving minister, pushes himself in the direction of righting another’s wrong and away from his depression. Ultimately, sin plays the resolution and a theme, but the lack of more action scenes could be a reason more didn’t find merit in this movie; maybe at least more dialogue with the do-gooder who took his life could have helped.

Still, it was refreshing to watch a well-known actor portray a religious official as a human being, and not a pedophile or a complete hypocrite. Organized religion is something Hollywood may not want to touch much anymore. Ladybird, with its Catholic school background, had its 5 minutes of fame. Passion of the Christ feels like it came out ages ago, while the story it’s based on, once the most well-known story the world has known, has been chipped away by serious and slapstick parodies. While movies like Spotlight simply educate about cover-ups by the Catholic Church. As a recovering Catholic going to mass every so often, noticing that each time the pews become more vacant that the time before, I wonder when my unsaved body will be the only one left, 1:1 ratio between the priest and me. Even the Trinity is 3:1.

Then there was another snub I had been looking forward to watching, excited that it might live up to its hype. I read on Rolling Stone that this would have been the first Korean film nomination. Old Boy wasn’t nominated. Poetry wasn’t nominated. Burning was something that I had been looking forward to as soon as I heard it was based on a work by Haruki Murakami. Knowing this and that it was set in Korea, I found a way to stream it. $6 for about 150 minutes. Steven Yeun, who portrayed Glenn from The Walking Dead, was in it and how refreshing was the change of characterization from a not-so-confident everyday Asian-American to a mysterious, smooth lady-killer, not to mention his bilingual Korean to English ability. It was billed as a “thriller,” my favorite kind of movie.

Nostalgia of my two years in Korea hit me in the introductory scenes. The Korean spokesmodels pitching product. And that sparked the first dialogue. Followed by the catharsis within the characters. The wish of a desire to be met that originally unveiled itself years earlier that, only by chance, results in redemptive sex. Followed by the cat-sitting. So much time watching someone watch a cat that isn’t even seen. Only a great like Murakami could pull off storytelling that seems so slow yet seduce my attention.

When a mysterious socialite enters, finally we know why we are watching this. The conflict is clear: two males vying for a single female. Yeun, as the confident stranger, poses more of a curiosity than the other, the familiar desire of a local who isn’t good at spitting game. The familiar even asks her once, “Why would someone like him be interested in you?” The old saying about curiosity and cats, and the spoiler is ripe for the taking. The pace, cautious as it is, does not deviate much for what the stakes warrant. The escalation of tension in the latter of the movie is tremendous, reminding me that this is based on a Murakami short story and that this is about as close to a great film adaptation as it can get to something he’s done. The final scene resolved the question of whether the familiar male desire had balls after all.

One thing the movie could have done better, but maybe not: There was a scene of them smoking weed in Korea, which I overanalyzed. For someone who has lived in Korea, I remember how special of an even it would be to get green there. You have to know somebody who has to know somebody who has to know somebody who has to have a neighbor who knows somebody, and nothing short of a Jason Bourne mission for the seller to justify his story of selling it for such a high price. So the three characters, really the only characters, smoked weed and the female character stripped and danced, her eyes closed and dancing more for herself than an audience, maybe how a flowerchild would have. But, now, I’d doubt that.

While sometimes the Academy chooses the same things I enjoy and find artistic achievement in, this is not one of those years. The day someone seriously asks my thoughts on a piece of art, my first reaction would be to question what day it is. Until then, I can write periodic blogs and swear that I’m cooler in-person.

 

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