Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Old Faves in New Films

The just-announced Academy Award nominations include two of my "sentimental favorites" that tell worthwhile stories in a very simple, linear style. They don't leap layers of dreams as the intriguingly written and visually manipulative Inception or show some horrors of human relationships, a la Black Swan. They aren't currently hot topics like The Social Network. And that's why I liked them.

They move a bit slowly at times (a whole film about the King's speech?!), but they build layers of emotions so that I cared. The films that warmed me this year, whether I hid in a theatre from sun or snow, tell old-fashioned stories of love, determination, and life-changing decisions. They're uplifting without being pompous, memorable without being terrifying, sentimental without being trendy.

In particular, I'm pleased that Helena Bonham Carter received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for The King's Speech. Her role is subtly played and adds so much--strength, love, faith, empathy, humor, self-awareness--to what could be a fade-in-the-background role. Of course, I adore Colin Firth in just about anything--especially so for his last-nominated role in A Single Man. His controlled (until it bursts forth) anger made the performance so much more interesting for me to watch and gave me greater insight into what had been a historic figure trapped within a history book. The 12 nominations for The King's Speech might not surprise anyone following the many other awards ceremonies this season, but I'm still gratified that a period drama gets so much press. It may be a matter of critics' choice rather audience-chosen blockbuster, but I hope more people who would've turned up their nose at history will give this film a chance.

Toy Story 3 probably will be relegated to the "animated" wins--which isn't bad at all. Nevertheless, now that the Academy nominates 10 films as the year's best, I'm pleased that an animated feature is among the nominees. Perhaps the longer list will always include science fiction or animation--or the combo pack--as a nod to the diversity that should be considered worthy of being named "best."

I've read where the off-to-uni crowd felt particularly attracted to the last installment of the Toy Story franchise because they grew up with the story and, just like Andy, now were leaving home as young adults. I'm well past that time in my life--and was when the story started--but I fondly remember the toys and early online interactive games with which we entertained my baby niece. Now she's independently enjoying her last weeks as a teenager. Computerized animation has grown up with her and proven that technology can indeed have a heart. Despite human and technological generational differences, Toy Story connects audiences because it's a human story of love and loyalty. I hope I never outgrow it.

I like many films nominated and appreciate them in different ways: stories that demand to be told but sometimes make me want to avert my eyes, performances that outshine the script, scripts that defy what the Academy traditionally rewards. Perhaps because of the state of the world, my response to its chaos is to look for comfort films--and The King's Speech and Toy Story 3 fill me up emotionally.

The choice facing Academy voters is interesting, especially in the best film category. Should they vote primarily for story or technology, or the successful blend of both to showcase edgier cinema? Should they vote for characterization and plain old emotional punch, even if the story seems simple? Should the year's best movie reflect modern social issues or the eternal human spirit? If their choice indicates the state of American filmmaking and, years from now, will pinpoint what makes film significant in 2011, this year's results will be well worth watching on February 27.

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