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Awards Predictions Were a Lot Easier When I Actually Watched Movies (But Here Are Some Anyway)

Hubby and I are movie people. Going to movies almost every weekend and methodically working through the 300-plus titles on each of our Netflix queues were things we both did before we met. He even worked at a movie theater once. And a video store. One of the first gifts he gave me was the movie poster for Cinema Paradiso, a great movie about going to the movies. So yeah, our love of movies might as well have been written into our wedding vows.

Then, our daughter was born and, any parent of a small child reading this can probably guess what happened next. Movies became a rare treat, rather than the default plan for the weekend. How rare, you ask? A friend gave me a couple of gift cards for a chain of theaters two years ago and I still haven’t used them both up. (In fairness, I tend to forget I have them when we do make it to the theater—chalk that up to the sleep deprivation that also comes with being a parent.)

So this thing that once felt essential to my life, suddenly no longer did. It happens when someone else’s eating and pooping schedule rules your life. And yet, I don’t mind as much as I thought I would. A shift like that happens gradually, and you don’t really notice until you see a trailer for a film that your movie-loving psyche identifies immediately as MUST SEE and then months go by and you happen to see another commercial, this one for the DVD/Blu-ray, and you realize that not only did you not see the movie in the theater, you completely forgot it existed. And what’s more, it has been available on iTunes for weeks and maybe you’ll see it some night after the kid is in bed . . . or maybe you just won’t. Either way, life goes on, because whatever it was that I used to get from movies, I either need less of or I get someplace else. Either way, I have little time to think about it because the kid is a gray-hair inducing handful. Then, the kid smiles at you and gives you a hug, and in that moment, who cares about the movies, right?

Being all Zen about missing out on good movies does have an exception, of course, and that’s when awards season comes around. It’s then that I really wish I still had the time and inclination to see everything with the potential to be nominated. We try, but on a good year, we seen three, maybe four, of the dozen or so in contention for the big prizes, so when the award shows happen, I have no idea what will win and, what’s worse, no sense of indignation about what should have won at the end of it. I love talking about movies at Oscar time, but can’t muster up much to say with any kind of authority.

I know the movies I’ve seen (this year, that’s Boyhood, Gone Girl and not much else), I know what movies seem most enticing by the look of their trailers (Selma, The Theory of Everything) or by the look of their casts (The Imitation Game, Into the Woods). And I know what actors should win based on the number of snubs they’ve had to endure (Julianne Moore, ever and always) and what actors would give the best speeches (Bill Murray, ever and always).

So, based on absolutely nothing but my own uninformed biases and current whims, then, here are my Golden Globe predictions:

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Before the Early Bird Special

I remember seeing Before Sunrise when I was in high school and not being quite able to buy into the movie as a romance. I enjoyed watching two people meeting randomly and having one long, engaging conversation—and the dialogue itself was great—but the concept of sleeping with a veritable stranger in a random city in Europe was very, very far away from the teenage life that I led so it felt unrealistic and overly idealized to me. I like hotels and clean laundry too much to have ever romanticized the idea of backpacking through Europe and sleeping with whatever random person I met along the way.

Fast-forward almost ten years, and Jesse and Celine had grown and so had I.

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December (Except it’s January) Movie Preview Extravaganza, Baby Edition

As regular readers of this here blog (hi, mom!) have come to know. Hubby and I love going to the movies, and we love talking about movies. In fact, back before we were married, in a brief period during which we lived in different cities, we used to go on long-distance movie dates. We’d pick a movie we wanted to see, go to our respective theaters on the same night and then catch up about it later on the phone. So it should come as no surprise that we have been looking forward to rediscovering our favorite family and children’s movies since before the birth of our little one. I’ve already bought The Secret of NIHM in anticipation and have Princess Bride, The Goonies and Lion King, among others, in my sights.

But alas, movie watching is still several years away for her, and as an almost-three-month-old she hasn’t quite mastered the social etiquette of going to the theater, which means she has put a bit of a crimp on our movie going in recent months. That she was born in late October, rendering us home-bound just as Oscar bait season was getting going, is enough to tell you that she was not a perfectly planned pregnancy. Nevertheless, we did manage to get a few good movies in before she came around. So this year’s December Movie Preview Extravaganza is running late because I’m no longer the master of my schedule. It includes the movies that hubby and I managed to see before little miss made her entrance and the single one we’ve seen since she was born. I’ll point out my favorites and the Oscar favorites, keeping in mind, as always, that the best and the Oscar-winning aren’t always in the same category.

So here, in no particular order, are the Before Baby movies.
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One good Pearl, and then another

When I was in high school, a friend of mine once referred to Garth Brooks as “country’s Pearl Jam.” The implication was that pretty much everyone—at least within the genre of country music—liked Garth Brooks, just like everyone liked the band Pearl Jam. This would have been in 9th, maybe 10th grade, a year or two after the release of the band’s debut, Ten. It was one of the first albums I bought on CD, after mom bought me my first CD player in 8th grade, a lunky boom box with detachable speakers that seems positively prehistoric when I consider my first iPod (also a gift from mom). There was no sleek maneuverability, no simple, sophisticated design. It was all awkward functionality with no style, which, oddly enough, also describes me during that era. I was one of the masses who liked Pearl Jam (as well as Eddie Vedder’s remarkable voice and cheekbones).

I’ve been thinking about Pearl Jam since watching Pearl Jam 20, the documentary about the band’s two decades of making music, directed by Cameron Crowe, a favorite around here. As always, it’s hard to separate my thoughts of the movie from my emotional reaction to it. First, there’s the obvious “I’m getting old” feeling that comes with seeing a span of time within your own life being depicted as a piece of history, with nostalgia usually reserved for periods long before you were born. Then there’s the music itself, the memories it evokes and the strange satisfaction that comes from having been there at the beginning of something that has endured at least this long, something authentic.

The documentary itself is a straight-up bio: the story of how the members found each other, found their sound and evolved over their many years together. It doesn’t really try to reveal any universal truths about music or the “grunge” scene or the 90s, nor about the motivations of Generation X back then or the suburban ennui that alternative music of that era was supposedly raging against (although there are two funny clips in the movie of the recently deceased Andy Rooney, RIP, doing his best curmudgeon, complaining about how the kids need to get over themselves because they really have nothing to complain about). This is the movie’s strength, that it is primarily about the band and their music. And yet while I watched I found myself thinking about the kid I was and the desire to be careless and do stupid things, however clichéd the desire and despite there being nothing in particular at that time for me or anyone to rebel against.

I was not one to act on this desire, certainly not in the way it is illustrated in the movie, with band members jumping headfirst into the teeming mosh pits that were their audiences to crowd surf. Still, I related to it. And it was oddly comforting to be reminded of myself as a teenager, perfectly capable of being rash and taking myself and my very tame version of adolescent irrationality very seriously. It was also comforting to be reminded that the pipers of this era of my life turned out to be fairly well adjusted people too, which kind of explains why they made it this far and why they and their music are just as interesting and entertaining now as they were back then.

* * *

When hubby and I sat down to watch Pearl Jam 20 on October 21, the birth of our daughter was still days away. So our conversation after the movie ended eventually turned, as most of our conversations did in the previous months, to our daughter and, among other things, just what we were going to name her. I noted that if we had a boy in the future, I kind of liked the name Stone, like Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard. He said Stone made him think of Stone Phillips, who is not nearly as cool. Then he suggested Pearl as a complement to Sofia, long the first name frontrunner. We noted that we lived in the neighborhood of the Old South Pearl business district (and we love it here) and that pearl is my birthstone. We didn’t settle on it right then, but when we saw her face for the first time a few days later, Sofia Pearl seemed like the perfect fit. She’s our little precious stone. I wonder if she’ll like her name, and more so I wonder what she’ll think of her parents’ music.

Globe Winners, and a Toast to the Roaster

Ricky Gervais, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

1. You are not afraid to be inappropriate.

2. You do not care who you insult.

3. You go for the jugular every time.

4. You thrive on making people uncomfortable.

5. You remind us with every appearance why your hilariously mean version of The Office was so much better than the only blandly funny American one.

So yes, the Globes happened last night, and while some may haved Tsk Tsk’d their way through the show, cringing at Gervais’ wildly inappropriate banter, I laughed and laughed. I can understand why some would prefer a softer approach. His humor has never been everyone’s cup of tea, and while I wouldn’t say that Hollywood stars don’t have a sense of humor, I do believe few are capable at laughing at themselves. They take who they are and what they do awfully seriously, especially at events like this. Gervais knows all too well that given the very comfortable lives that they lead, only the most biting repartee will make them uncomfortable. Where others would shrink, perhaps wisely, in the name of decorum or in fear of their careers and fortunes, he goes there. And how.

If it is to be the last we see of him as host of anything, he went out with a bang. But really who cares about the host. Who won? That’s why we sit through the thing, right?

Here are the winners, my thoughts and a look ahead at the SAG nominees.

(Incidentally, I didn’t bother with the TV nominees when making my picks last night, primarily because I didn’t have time. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how very happy I was for Curt Colfer of Glee, who won Best Supporting TV Actor. I literally squealed with delight. He is so talented. A single look from him expresses more natural emotion than Lea Michelle can muster tearfully mugging for the camera in her weekly show-closing power ballads. She and the rest of the cast are great, but Colfer is the heart of the show. So happy for him.)

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Better Late Than Never: Golden Globe Predictions

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written anything about movies. I intended my December movie extravaganza to include some thoughts on movies that I had not yet seen that were looking like Oscar favorites, but the end of the year came rather quickly and before I knew it the Golden Globe nominations were already being announced. The show itself is TODAY!

In late December, the only movie we made it to is Black Swan. It’s not exactly a crowd pleaser, but I loved it. I’m not usually into dark or twisted fare, but I found it rather captivating and beautiful. (For my full review, click here.) True Grit and The King’s Speech we’d been meaning to see for ages and finally made it to both yesterday—just in time for the Globes tonight, the better to critique the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s sometimes off-the-wall picks.

Other than the three mentioned above, the end-of-year pickings felt more slim than usual. I probably haven’t been around long enough to say with certainty whether 2010 qualifies as a down year for movies, but it certainly felt like it, especially toward the end. The good stuff was really good, but there just wasn’t a whole lot of it. And the slate of Globe nominees certainly suggests as much, what with The Tourist being listed among the best of the Comedy/Musicals of the year. The Globes are known to put celebrity over quality sometimes, and while that movie in particular seems a stretch, I also can’t think of many that I would include in the category in its place.

Actually, here’s one: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Here’s another: Kick-Ass. I guess my point is that usually every November and December feel full of movies that aspire to be award show fodder, even if they aren’t likely to win any. This year, that didn’t seem to be the case, so lazy nominating committees—or the Globes, at least—didn’t bother looking very far back into the year for their lists or trying to make creative choices (nothing new).

But enough about that, here are my thoughts on each category with my predictions, noting, as always, when there’s a difference between who I think will win and who I think should.

Best Motion Picture, Drama
Black Swan
The Fighter
Inception
The King’s Speech
*The Social Network

The King’s Speech is a very good movie, but stops just short of being great (more on this one, when I have a chance to write a full review, hopefully this week). I’ve heard good things about The Fighter but have little interest in boxing movies in general, so I haven’t seen it and doubt I will. Inception was a great high-concept action movie, and lots of fun, but not what I’d call the best of the year. It created a fun moment of pop culture mania this summer—Does the top stop spinning!?!—but didn’t garner enough critical support to win any of the big prizes.

Of the remaining two—both fantastic—Black Swan is my favorite, but The Social Network seems like the favorite. It’s been riding a wave of Oscar buzz for a long time. The Black Swan is great filmmaking, but a bit too polarizing, I think. It’s also driven by the performance of Natalie Portman to the extent that, at the end of the day, rewarding her will feel like rewarding the movie. (This is also true of The King’s Speech and Mr. Darcy, ahem, Colin Firth, but more on that later.)

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Not Your Mother’s Trip to the Ballet

How to begin to describe The Black Swan. If you’ve seen anything by Darren Aronofsky, you know that he likes to make movies that are intense, deeply serious and a little trippy. This one is all of those things, but more than anything else, it is a performance, not just by his actors (though they deliver and then some), but by Aronofsky himself. It’s a ballet, one so deeply absorbing that at its thrilling conclusion you’ll wonder how you took a wrong turn on your way to the movies and ended up at Lincoln Center.

The story is about Nina (Natalie Portman in a role made for her), a rising star who is cast as the lead in her company’s production of Swan Lake and immediately begins to question herself and her ability to duplicate the perfection that she sees in the departing prima ballerina (Winona Ryder). She is tormented by her demanding director (Vincent Cassel), her overprotective mother (an affecting Barbara Hershey) and a new member of the company whom Nina sees as a threat (Mila Kunis, light years away from the annoying Jackie on That 70s Show). The closer Nina gets to opening night, the more the pressure of perfection begins to engulf her.

Aronofsky puts his cameras so close to Portman that the anxiety she feels as her world closes in on her can be seen coming out of her pores. In the dancing sequences in particular, the movie really comes to life. You can feel Aronofsky’s hand guiding the work as surely as you can see Portman putting her whole self in it. The movie is incredibly well acted. Portman delivers the kind of performance that makes you wish the Academy didn’t give out Oscars every year, lest she be remembered along side other Best Actress winners who were merely fine. Reese Witherspoon, to give but one example, has won this trophy for work that doesn’t belong in the same universe.

One of the things that separates film from live performance like theater or dance is the distance between the moment of creation and the moment the audience experiences that creation. By the time we get to the cineplex, the artists, as it were, be they the actors, the writer or the director, have long since left their process for making the film behind. In live theater, music or dance, the audience sees the performance unfold before its eyes. Sure, lines have been pre-written, blocking and choreograpy pre-determined, but the performance—what happens when we, the viewers, are sitting there—is the art. In The Black Swan, Aronofsky and Portman delve into the psychology of ballet and Swan Lake with such virtuosity that you feel as if they are creating the movie before your very eyes. Bravo.

December Movie Preview Extravaganza, Part Deux

When the end of the year rolls around and movie critics start releasing their top ten films of the year, a few of them complement that list with another: the ten worst. It’s a reminder that when you are paid to see movies for a living, you have to take the bad with the good. Luckily, here at Words, Searched, we only go see the movies we want to see. No mindless action, no regurgitated meet-cutes, no stupid toilet humor (well, unless, it’s really funny). The downside to being picky, of course, is that every so often we’ll miss something that might have actually been worth the price of admission.

So having written last week about the movies that we have gone to see, here are a few thoughts on ones we missed or haven’t gotten around to see. It’s possible we will still catch one or most of these in the theaters, but when you get to pick what you see, it seems fair to have to explain what you didn’t and why. Here goes.

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December Movie Preview Extravaganza, Part I

It seems as if it took extra long to get here this year, but movie awards season is almost upon us. I can’t think of five movies I’ve watched this year that merit a spot on Oscar’s Big Ten, but isn’t that always the case in November? Months of nothing, a morsel or two of goodness during the summer and then before you know it December hits and the floodgates of Oscar-bait open. Suddenly, you’re up to your ears in movie trailers promising you, “This is a tour-de-force performance!” And, “It’s best film of the year!” And, “So and so shines!” Movie previews are such teases. As I’ve stated before, the thrill they offer often tops whatever excitement the movies themselves can muster. So it is with the Oscars. Anticipating the nominations and the big event is more fun than the actual show, which, by the time it airs, feels boring and bloated and a little bit like an afterthought. So in the next few days, I’ll discuss the movies I’ve seen this year, the ones that I wanted to see but missed and the ones still to be released in the hopes of sussing out which among them were the best and my favorite of the year and which might take the golden boys home. Keeping in mind, of course, that the best and the Oscar-winning are not always one and the same.

So here, then, are some of the movies hubby and I made it out to in the first eleven months of the year, in no particular order.

The Social Network
If the Academy gave an Oscar for best trailer, this one would win it in a walk. The choral arrangement of Radiohead’s Creep, played over images from Facebook—the network of the title—and later over scenes of the rise of its founder Mark Zuckerberg, is haunting and also strangely seductive. It makes you want to see the movie but also kind of queasy for wanting to see it. That is precisely the tension that Aaron Sorkin (auteur of the late great West Wing) presents in his script, and it mirrors the tension that people my age, Generation X, the ones who made Facebook the success it has become, first felt when we contemplated whether or not to join. I mean, putting your life on display online and seeing those of others sounded cool, but it also felt a little weird, didn’t it? The Social Network works as a movie not because it seeks to relate the real-life story behind the founders of Facebook, but because it questions their motivations and ours. What IS Facebook exactly, and why do people want to join it? What were these guys trying to do exactly, and why did they do it? Why do we?

Let me back up a bit.

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