Thoughts on Kingdom, Church, and Grace from an American living in Hong Kong

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Oscars

My friends know that every year I host an "Oscars" party at my house on the night of the Academy Awards. I am a movie lover..uh hum...I mean film lover, and the Oscars is a day and evening to celebrate all things film. I usually start by watching E channel (about the only time of year I watch that juvenile channel) because they have the earliest "red Carpet" coverage. I know some of you reading this are rolling your eyes...but indulge me.

The guests usually arrive just before the awards start and we celebrate a fun evening with good food, good drink, and many, many laughs. We play "Oscar Bingo" which is similar to normal bingo but you get to tick off the various boxes on your bingo card when traditional Oscar moments happen like winner thanking their mother, winner begins to cry, or winner stumbles on the way up to the stage. The bingo winner gets to pick any DVD from my collection as a prize (multiple disk sets not included :)

This year Tammy and I are in China and no one seems to be interested in an Oscar party. One of the reasons is that Sunday evening in America is Monday morning (and a work day). However, that has not deterred me from trying to catch up with the films and actors that are being nominated. Being in China (where there are not so much copyright laws as much as copyright suggestions) the availability on DVD of most of the main films has been possible.

I walked into my DVD store here in Qingdao and handed my Oscar ballot list to the shopkeeper who was able (after brave attempts at deciphering the English) to get most of my requests. I even feel a bit like an Academy member because nearly every movie I bought occasionally would flash at the bottom of the screen, "For Academy member viewing purposes only. Unauthorized sale or reproduction prohibited."

Anyhow, here are some of my thoughts on what I've watched so far:

Slumdog Millionaire: My pick to win best picture. It is a film about two brothers and the choices they make. The story tells of one of the brothers success on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. His unprecedented success on the show coupled with his humble "slumdog" background causes him to be questioned by police for possible fraud. In a series of flashbacks, the brother tells his story of overcoming adversity and the events that unfolded to bring him up to the present situation. It is a wonderful movie and Tammy and I enjoyed it immensely.

Doubt: Doubt tells the story of a of a priest suspected of inappropriate behavior at a Catholic school in the 1960s. At first I was thinking it was going to be yet another swipe at the Catholic priesthood on an easy and overflogged topic...but it wasn't. At the end, you don't know if the priest was in fact, guilty of anything other than a genuine concern for the kids. Instead, the film explores such topics as doubt, fact, appearances, and truth. The always brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the priest under suspicion with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams serving as his accusers. All three actors are nominated for Oscars this years and offer stellar performances. As a side note, considering the subject matter, it was remarkably clean and watchable by more sensitive movie watchers.

Milk: Sensitive movie watchers on the other hand may want to give Milk a miss. Sean Penn plays homosexual rights activist and first openly elected gay politician Harvey Milk. The film follows Milk from his arrival in San Francisco to his assassination in the late 1970s. Penn is nominated for Best Actor and like many of Penn's performances, he offers a strong acting portrayal of the slain gay rights activist. I felt though at times the film was unfair in some of its portrayals. For example, anyone disagreeing with the homosexual lifestyle was shown as either a hate filled "homophobe" or a religious buffoon. In the end, if you are a proponent of increased acceptance of gay lifestyles, you'll probably like "Milk", if you don' won't.

Frost / Nixon: For political junkies like myself, Frost / Nixon is a rare treat. Based on the play by Peter Morgan, the film follows the events surrounding a series of interviews hosted by British pundit David Frost to recently disgraced U.S. President Richard Nixon. The cat and mouse strategies employed by both sides becomes the movie's central theme with rising T.V. personality David Frost trying to score the big hit that will make him a household name outside his native Britain, and Richard Nixon breaking his post resignation silence in an attempt to explain and redeem himself. Michael Sheen (fresh off his brilliant performance as Tony Blair in The Queen) plays David Frost, and Frank Langella, who is nominated for his performance, plays Richard Nixon. It probably won't win Best Picture...but you should watch it!

The Visitor: Richard Jenkins is nominated for best actor in this film about a professor who lives alone and reaches that point in life where the vigor of youth has passed and you find yourself just going through the motions. He maintains an apartment in New York and while visiting it discovers a Syrian drummer and his Sengalese girlfriend "squatting". Rather than throw them out, Jenkins character is intrigued with their lives and over the course of the movie, their relationship with him gives him a fresh infusion of life. Wonderful tale. Jenkins will probably lose the Oscar to either Micky Rourke or Sean Penn, but his performance in the movie of a man who dreads life, to a man with a fresh lease on it, I heartily recommend.

Have not been able to get The Wrestler or The Reader, which are two Oscar movies I would very much like to see. Anyhow, we'll see you Sunday night on the Red Carpet.

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