Monday, February 23, 2015

Oscar weekend 2015

It's been an amazing and fun Oscar weekend, and I'm especially grateful for it because I've been so sick with this sinus infection up until now that I was worried I wouldn't be able to enjoy all the plans I'd made.

Last weekend Kristina and I had a low-stress Valentine's Day together by seeing Don Giovanni at the Metropolitan Opera. We were actually both pretty sick, but we powered through together with plenty of cough drops and tissues. Thankfully we had Dress Circle box seats so we weren't packed in with people around us. The opera was excellent, and I loved the climactic special effects with fire and the title character being swallowed up by the floor.

Last week I tried to get to see the doctor but I had to wait until Wednesday to get an appointment since Monday was Presidents Day. So basically all I did was blast through all four seasons of Game of Thrones, resting and taking antibiotics to get healthy for this weekend. And that was fun, I'm really looking forward to the new season starting in April.

I woke up at 6 am on Saturday because of my cough and couldn't get back to sleep, so I went down to the theater at 7:45 to stand in line. The doors were still locked, so there was a line forming outside of about 20 people already in sub-freezing morning temperatures. By the time Puck joined me in line at close to 9 am, there were hundreds of people in line halfway down the avenue block. But we got in, got our preferred seats in the smaller of the two theaters and waited for the others to join us. Apparently the larger theater was sold out, so there were a lot of arguments over saving seats. I'm glad I didn't have to deal with that because it would have soured the whole experience for me. As it turned out we had several friendly people around us and it made it pleasant for everyone.

So here's my take on this year's eight nominees for Best Picture, in the order we watched them.

Boyhood - Despite the prosaic subject matter, I really enjoyed this movie for its authenticity and its lack of pretentiousness. Interestingly, even though part of it was filmed in Houston, it didn't bring back very many memories of my old life, which is a testament to how involved I was in the story. Piper, Ben and I marveled at how they seamlessly combined footage from over such a long time period, a technical challenge that I'm sure many audience members may have overlooked.

The Theory of Everything - This was a lovely little film, and Eddie Redmayne deserves his Oscar for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking, even though this is clearly an Oscar-bait kind of role, a la Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot. My only critique is that it didn't quite hit me emotionally at the end. I was hoping for a "A Beautiful Mind" kind of moment that brings tears and it didn't quite get there.

Birdman - This was the only movie I'd seen prior to the showcase, so I took a little nap in the second half. I still think it's an impressive movie and I don't have a problem with it winning (although my Oscar pick was Boyhood). The best thing I can say about Birdman is that it is an unusually strong ensemble cast of actors and performances.

Selma - This was also a highly enjoyable, if a bit sedate, film about the civil rights struggle, and immediately takes it place as THE movie to watch on MLK Day every year. Because there seriously weren't that many great options before. The story was well told, but the whole movie was just a touch slow (behind the beat, to borrow from co-nominee Whiplash). But certainly the march scenes reminded me of the protest marches I've been a part of in the last few years and how we still have such a long way to go in the struggle for freedom and equality.

American Sniper - I liked this movie more than I thought I would, but then I'm a fan of Clint Eastwood movies. This was the only movie of the showcase that made me tear up at the end, watching Chris Kyle's funeral and the outpouring of grief and respect. Yes, politically the movie is pretty awful with the way it treats Arabs and glorifies war. It also reminded me a lot of Ridley Scott's "Black Hawk Down," or what it could have aspired to be. But American Sniper told the story it wanted to tell, and it did it well. Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller were both excellent in their roles.

The Imitation Game - This was probably the most entertaining movie of the bunch. Another movie that conjured up "A Beautiful Mind" for me, this was a thrilling, intelligent and enjoyable portrayal of the true and tragic story of Alan Turing. Just about the only thing I didn't like about this movie was the downer, yet unfortunately also true, ending. In fact, Puck was so upset that they started collecting lists of LGBT movies with happy endings for us to start watching.

Whiplash - This was the movie I was most looking forward to seeing, and it also did not disappoint. But since I used to play drums and Tara was an elite-level drummer, I have a familiarity with the subject. I loved the pace of this movie, the music, the acting and musical performances, and the whole look of the film. The ending was unexpected, but very satisfying to me - I think it works for a fictional story, even if it is a little problematic for a real life one.

The Grand Budapest Hotel - This movie is pure Wes Anderson at the top of his game, and since Piper and I are in the middle of a WA marathon, I was thoroughly prepared for this movie. It was pure eye candy and a non-stop narrative, plus I'm a big fan of Ralph Fiennes. I can offer no better praise than to say that, after watching seven movies and having been awake for nearly 22 hours, I didn't fall asleep at all during this gem of a film.

This year Puck, Beth, Andrea and Ben joined Piper and me for the marathon and it was nice having the company. The only downside is that the event seems to be getting so popular that it is in danger of degradation. They also didn't have posters this year, which was a disappointment, and the t-shirts didn't include the nominees on them. But it was a strong field of films so it was totally worth it. If next year's nominees don't interest me as much, I'd consider skipping it for 2016.

Puck and I got home at 5:30 am and slept until early afternoon before they went off to visit a museum with their shul and I watched a Rockets game and cleaned up the apartment. Once they got back we started preparing food for the party. Our Oscar-pun inspired menu included:

The Imitation Crab dip with Theory of Everything bagel chips

The Grand Budapesto stuffed shells
Birdman chicken wings

DoughBoyhood stuffed rolls
American Snapper sugar snap peas with bacon
Selma-lina pasta salad

Mixed berries with coolWhiplash
Selma Alabama Fudge Cake