Saturday, February 21, 2015

Still Life With Robin: Fill in the Movie Blanks - A Pre-Oscar Game

Carol M. Highsmith [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
by Peggy Robin

In the run-up to the Academy Awards show, we’ve been fairly inundated with essays from critics arguing for their favorites. I’m as happy as anyone to play this game, and to make it more fun, I have put my argument for the Best Picture choice in the form of a fill-in-the-blank quiz. Here goes:

This year there are eight movies in contention for the Oscar for Best Picture – but as you will see from this fill-in-the-blank sentence below, seven of them are essentially the same movie, as long as you select the appropriate answer to fill in each element represented by a blank for each of the seven nominated films.

Great man _______1._______, who has an extraordinary talent for _______2._______, overcomes _______3._______, but despite his triumphs, still struggles with _______4.______ in the movie _______5._______.

Here are your scrambled choices:

1.  A. Alan Turing
     B. Stephen Hawking
     C. Martin Luther King
     D. Chris Kyle
     E. “Birdman” Riggan Thomson
     F. Drummer Andrew Neyman
     G. Lobby Boy Zero Moustapha

2.  A. marksmanship
     B. playing the drums
     C. cryptography
     D. hotel service
     E. cosmology
     F. acting
     G. leadership

3.  A. the limitations of a progressive disability
     B. the Nazis’ Enigma code
     C. his teacher’s cruelty
     D. his enemies on the battlefield
     E. dismissive people around him and his own self-doubts
     F. bigoted laws, officials, and mobs
     G. a series of cartoonish disasters, including being pursued by a relentless assassin

4.  A. society’s racial injustices
     B. society’s intolerance of homosexuality
     C. re-integration into civilian life
     D. his marriage(s)
     E. hallucinations, depression, suicidal impulses   
     F. the need to prove himself in front of an audience
     G. loneliness and longing for a departed time and style

5.  A. Selma
     B. Birdman
     C. Whiplash
     D. American Sniper
     E.. The Imitation Game
     F. The Theory of Everything
     G. The Grand Budapest Hotel

That leaves the one movie that is strikingly different from the others: Boyhood. It’s not about a great man; it’s about a fairly ordinary boy, with no outstanding abilities. Sure, he’s a good photographer but he’s no prodigy. He overcomes some commonplace challenges – his self-centered and childish parents, having to move a bunch of times, getting dumped by a girlfriend for a better looking lacrosse player. But there’s no triumph over anything….and not a whole hell of a lot of plot, either. The one thing that is strikingly different and really quite remarkable about the movie is that it was filmed over the course of 12 years with the same actors, starting when the main character, the boy, was just 6 years old. You get to see this child grow to just-on-the-cusp of manhood in the course of a mere two hours and 46 minutes. That is what makes it like no other movie experience ever, and why it is my choice for tomorrow night’s Best Picture.

However, I think it’s slightly more likely that the Academy will pick Birdman, on the premise that a bunch of people in the film industry will find the story of an aging actor trying to be taken seriously to be far more engaging than the undramatic life of a fairly typical kid growing up somewhere in Texas. Of course, I could be wrong and when it comes to the Oscars, I frequently am. The real fun comes when they open that envelope and say, “The Oscar goes to….”


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland ParkListserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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