On the 2020 Academy Awards

It looks like the last blog post was about the 2019 Oscars, so here goes a brief blog post about the newest Oscars. I still have not seen “1917,” but that should change once it goes to a second-run theater or is at Redbox. Almost everyone I’ve encountered in-person has only said good things about it, except for one, who said it was “about weak people reminding themselves that they’re weak.” The person who told me that I can never take seriously anyway, so “1917” is definitely on my to-see list. At any rate, I saw five of the movies that are up for armfuls of awards tonight.

I saw “Joker” the night it came out. The theater was full, mostly of teenagers and 20-somethings. There’s something about going to see a movie in theaters, a different feeling than watching it at home. It’s like you’re part of something revolutionary, even though anyone can buy a movie ticket. It wasn’t as hilarious as I thought it would be. I laughed a few times, mostly under my breath. It was depressing more than anything, leaving little room for hope, but the best film I’ve seen in a long, long time. Mental illness, both as a catalyst and consequence of this film, was at the heart of it. There were several hints that nothing was what it seemed from the Joker’s POV. Throughout these subtleties, a part of me wanted to be reassured that my intuition and intelligence would be proved to be correct, but at the same time, another part of me wanted to be proven wrong, that in fact things would be on the up-and-up for the main character. The mix of Batman-themed elements and an actual non-Batman story was as balanced about as good as it could be. Everyone knows this would not have been such a box office success if it weren’t for everyone associating the character to Gotham and all things Batman. A memorable line, written, in the movie was, “The worst part of having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t.” Shirts have been made with this on them. By the end of the movie, most of my sympathy was lost for the Joker, but the last scene was where my hope was at its highest, because even a mediocre sequel of this would make most other movies look weak in comparison.

I saw “Parasite” two nights in a row, Friday and Saturday night prior to tonight. Better than “Joker,” without a doubt. I couldn’t find “Parasite” at the library, Redbox, or the local Family Video (a somehow-remaining Blockbuster Video rental competitor). Maybe it was hearing that a coworker was going to watch it that night and maybe it was the stellar reviews online that piqued my curiosity. Or maybe it was because it was a Korean film that mentioned Chicago in it, although it briefly, and I’m a Chicago-area guy who lived in Korea what seems like another lifetime ago. So I bit the bullet and paid $15 to own it on Amazon. After watching this one time seriously and another time passively and not even paying much attention, I still can’t thinking about it. Amazing. Awesome. Crazy good. Those are some words that come to mind, but I can’t explain why. I would suggest watching it yourself. That is the kind of story I would want to tell.

I saw “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” at a second-run movie theater where I had a gift card that still had some value on it. This was at about 4 p.m. on a weekday, right after my time ended at my day job (where I spend more hours than I should anyway). Only five other people were scattered through the large, old theater. I sat farthest back, cell phone in hand to catch up on texting, ultimately making plans to see a long-time friend who turned to alcohol after the Tarantino flick ended. Anything by Tarantino I at least had to watch, especially with all of the praise for this one. My legs were on the seat-tops of the row in front of me for most of the two-and-a-half hours, which had me imagining that Tarantino may have done something similar in his younger days, hanging out somewhere, like a video rental store, and watching movies all day, with a TV screen never not playing anything. When the movie started, I was placated by the acting of Pitt and DiCaprio. For someone who had never been to Hollywood, I was impressed by the scenery that this movie showed. I liked seeing the blasts from the pasts throughout the film, like Bruce Lee and Roman Polanski. There were some mini-stories within the film, mostly getting answered at the end. Stories that I don’t know, or have little idea, where they are going to go are always my favorites. As a reminder to myself, I should watch this one again. As a side note, in 2019, I started attending a local-ish in-person writers workshop to get my novel ready for publication. (Now, it’s 2020, still not ready, when I thought that it would be ready by mid-2019 at the ABSOLUTE latest. So much for that.) At a workshop in summer when my piece got primarily negative feedback, one of the group members pulled me aside afterward and mentioned how much my story reminded him of the mechanics at play in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Even though that writer was stretching the truth to make me feel better, it was appreciated.

I saw “The Irishman” the day before Thanksgiving on Netflix, but it was cool to hear that it was available at select theaters, just like “El Camino” was. After the first two hours, the movie started to drag. There was no doubt that it was great filmmaking. The different settings were all interesting, but my mind lost patience throughout and was waiting for the ending. This film wasn’t as meaningful, or didn’t relate, to me as much as the other ones did, so my thoughts on this are brief.

I saw “Marriage Story” during a flu-infused two-week break from my day job during the holidays. Adam Driver seemed to be the hype of social media on my newsfeed every so often, but I hadn’t watched anything else he was in. I knew Scarlett Johansson from a decent amount of projects, so I turned it on. The first scene was beautiful, showing the love they had for each other, until it was shown that they were going to be divorced. The plot was mostly about how divorce unravels. It was emotionally-charged at times, interesting at others, and occasionally darkly humorous. Still, this was ultimately sad, but the ending made the movie because it connected the first and last scenes together, quite thought-provoking.

All in all, I used to love Oscar season, around the holidays and when the frigid cold started to hit (although this was a blistering January in Chicagoland) all the way through Valentine’s Day. Now I have my TV shows like “Better Call Saul,” “Euphoria,” and maybe “Homeland” from where I stopped in Season Two or Three o help me pass the time for the next while, until the weather warms up and time can be spent outside. Or until the final season of “The Handmaid’s Tale” comes out, but maybe the 2021 Oscars will happen first.

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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