Tag Archives: academy awards

Oscar Recap

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Wellp, it’s over. The 85th annual Academy Awards have come and past. I figured, since I spent so much time thinking about the Awards before they happened, I should do a quick wrap-up post to summarize the experience and, of course, my take on the ceremony.

I have to say, doing this Best Picture project made the Oscars A LOT more interesting to watch. I found myself getting really into categories that I never would have cared about before. For example, when the visual categories came up– cinematography and visual editing, both of which Life of Pi took the award for–I was able to cheer on the winners and be excited for them because I had experienced the film myself (and commented on the cinematography…look at me reviewin’ like the Academy.)

I didn’t see every film that was nominated for an award, but I did see the nine tremendous films (excluding you-know-who) that were nominated for Best Picture. So I had a pretty good background and was able to have an educated opinion in almost all of the categories. I should have bet on some of them or something. Just kidding, I’m not much of a gambler. But I wouldn’t have bet on Argo winning. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the film, but I sort of saw it going to Lincoln or Beasts or Zero. But it was pretty awesome that Argo pulled it off. It was a great moment to watch, and must have been very validating for Mr. Affleck.

Perhaps the biggest shock of the night for me was how poorly Zero Dark Thirty did. They went pretty much unnoticed at the Awards. I still though it was a great film, and I think the political outrage points more toward the movie being true than it not.

Life of Pi did well, taking home awards in music and the visual category as well as Best Director for Ang Lee. I think this is fitting since, before making the film, Life of Pi was believed to be “unfilmable”. Lee took this challenge on and nailed it. So I’m happy for him.

Amour won Best Foreign Film, which was a completely obvious choice. Still glad they picked that one up though 🙂 (Almost cried when they showed the brief clip.)

I totally called Anne Hathaway for Best Supporting AND Christolph Waltz. So glad my picks won here. Daniel Day Lewis was winning from opening day. We all knew that one. I was up in the air between Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain though. J-Law falling up the stairs– best moment of the night?

Seth MacFarlane did a pretty good job I think. Just enough inappropriate to not be boring. What a great singing voice! And speaking of which…Adele killed it. And looked GORGEOUS. J.Huds rocked her solo out as well. (Could have done without the les mis thing but whatttttever)

I’m not going to pretend that I’m a movie critic AND stylist, so I’m gonna skip the best dressed section.

All in all I thought it was a great show and I’m really glad I took on my Quest for Best Picture.

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QuestForBestPic-Silver Linings Playbook

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This is my last Best Picture Nominee review, and not a moment too soon as the awards are starting shortly. Even though I’ve bombarded myself over the past few days with movie review assignments, this has been a really fun project. I got to see some great films and am way more excited to watch the Oscars than I usually am. Well, here it is, last but not least, Silver Linings Playbook…

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“This is what I believe to be true: You have to do everything you can and if you stay positive you have a shot at a silver lining.”

Silver Linings Playbook stands out from the pack in that it is an uplifting film with a happy ending. Are best pictures allowed to have happy endings?

I left the theatre smiling after seeing Django, but it wasn’t exactly a warm and fuzzy kind. It was that smile that a badass Tarantino gives you, that one where you feel kind of weird and terrible on the inside but kind of exhilarated at the same time. To be fair, Argo did have a happy ending, and the six US citizens were rescued from Iran. It left me thinking about the Iran Hostage Crisis, US foreign relations, and how crazy it was that the incidents in the movie actually occurred in real life (oh, and what a marvelous job Ben Affleck did directing!) But this is a different type of happy ending than the one in Silver Linings.

For, while I was happy to have seen Argo, and thoroughly enjoyed it, Silver Linings actually made me happy.

The film follows Pat, played by Bradley Cooper, after his release from a psychiatric hospital where he was being treated for bipolar disorder following a violent attack in which he nearly killed his wife’s lover. Pat, in desperate effort to win back his estranged wife Nikki, is in a constant state of attempted self-improvement, exercising obsessively, reading each book on her classroom syllabus, and generally willing himself to be better.

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He meets Jennifer Lawrence’s character, the emotionally unstable Tiffany, through her sister, who happens to be a close friend of Nikki’s. A peculiar and combative friendship forms between these two damaged souls, eventually leading to a love story. They have eccentric social skills. They are blunt and sometimes impolite. And while they are comfortable around each other and understand each other better than their respective family members do, they also seem to push each other’s buttons far more than anyone else would dare to. Pat makes constant reference to Tiffany’s deceased husband or to her being a “slut”. (“No, that doesn’t count, he’s dead.”) And Tiffany casually asks Pat how his restraining order is going. Neither of these character flaws would be bluntly discussed by a “normal” person, because we’re always so concerned about etiquette, sparing feelings, and not making situations worse. Pat and Tiffany in this film found a way to connect with one another on a small oasis of truth.

Which sounds weird since Tiffany was lying to Pat about having contacted Nikki for almost the entire film.

The relationships are what this film is all about. Besides the relationship between Tiffany and Pat, we see a spectrum of others that range from devoted friendship (Pat and friend from the hospital Danny) to strained misunderstanding (Pat and his Parents) to stifling resentment (Tiffany and her sister Veronica played by Julia Stiles), and everything in between. The little idiosyncrasies that render each of us “crazy” in our own way are showcased in the context of tangled and thorny interpersonal relationships to create a small snapshot of life and of human interaction that is strikingly honest and relatable.

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The script is fantastic. It’s funny, like really a lot of funny. And it’s touching and entertaining.

The acting, very obviously, was wonderful. Jennifer Lawrence, our new IT girl killed this role. It was a great move after Hunger Games, and I can’t wait to see what she has coming up next. Bradley Cooper played this high-strung, delusional, and idealistic character very well, but he has a snowball’s chance in hell at beating Daniel Day Lewis for Best. I LOVED DeNiro in this role. Seeing the softer side of him in the heart-to-heart scene with his Cooper makes you want to give him a hug. He could be a contender for Best Supporting (although I still think I’d have to pick Christoph Waltz).

This feel-good film was worthy of the actors nominations it received and of Best Picture. One can only guess who will be victorious, but it is worth seeing either way. Enjoy!

QuestForBestPic-Argo

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Argo was the first of the Best Picture Nominees I saw, way back months ago. But, being the last-minute-mary that I am, I didn’t write the review until just now, the day of the awards show. But it’s done and up. I will be posting my Silver Linings Playbook review shortly (yes, I am strategically placing the happy ending films at the end.) Anyway, here it is:

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Whenever I see a film that is based on a true story, I am inevitably more interested and invested. The story of Argo is so incredible that it is hard to believe it was based on actual events, and it certainly could have been a great, highly entertaining film even if there were no truth behind it. With all the excitement of a fiction suspense set on the backdrop of a real historical political crisis, this movie was a home run for me.

The film takes place during the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis, in which the U.S. embassy in Tehran was overtaken by protestors, and the employees held hostage for 444 days. Six US diplomats escaped the embassy before seizure and sought refuge in the home of the Canadian Ambassador and his wife, hiding out and waiting to be rescued. Argo tells the story of this unlikely rescue mission.

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CIA operative Tony Mendez, played by Affleck, headed the impossible mission of retrieving these harbored escapees. The ingenious and extravagant plan involved creating a fake sci-fi movie, which came to be titled Argo, using the ruse of scouting film locations to evacuate the six diplomats undercover and in plain sight.

The movie keeps you on the edge of your seat, biting your nails or nervously clutching your bag-o-popcorn, right up until the last frame. The plan, so improbable and so intricate, that it almost seemed sure to fail, and almost did more than once. While I don’t particularly enjoy the feeling of panic or anxiety, I do like when a movie makes me feel. It kept me fretful, uneasy, and hopeful the entire time, conspicuously rooting for our Argo crew to make it out. And while the events of the movie are serious and daunting, the creators left room for comedic relief. And this I appreciated.

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I personally found this to be Ben Affleck at his best. Both in direction and acting he was superb. Seeing him as a man named Tony Mendez, however, was a little less than believable. Maybe he should have gone tanning before or something. Alan Arkin (who played film producer Lester Siegel) and John Goodman (Hollywood makeup artist John Chambers) brought the funny. Their characters were a central piece to the movie and helped take the film from scene-by-scene docu-drama to a personal and entertaining experience.

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I was very glad to see the happy ending, and left in amazement that something so far-fetched had actually occurred. Bravo for bringing history and entertainment together in a piece that was neither stuffy, nor campy, and for creating a film that I can and will recommend to anyone, regardless of age or personal taste in film.

<<insert nod of approval here>>

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Zero Dark Thirty-QuestForBestPic

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Here’s my Best Picture review for Zero Dark Thirty. Two more to go and we’re all set for the Awards tomorrow!

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The beginning of Zero Dark Thirty was difficult for me to watch. Wincing, shifting my eyes to the side, and thinking this was going to be tough to get through, I felt immensely uncomfortable watching the torture and complete vulnerability of a human being.

Interestingly enough, by the end of the film, Jessica Chastain sitting alone in the back of a plane, a single tear rolling down her cheek, overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the fact that an intense eight-year chapter of her life had closed, you kind of forget about all that torture in the beginning.

The film follows Maya, played by understated powerhouse Jessica Chastain, who works on and ends up taking the lead in the CIA’s mission to find Osama Bin Laden. Her character is young and confident to the point of borderline naivety. But she is smart, she is dedicated and outspoken, and eventually she completes her mission. Chastain really makes this movie. Her sweet looks and demeanor coupled with the no-nonsense attitude of her character and the grim and grueling ranks of her work, create an intriguing and believable protagonist.

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Seeing the background story, that was happening all around us and right under our noses, of the hunt for Bin Laden was sort of haunting. I like seeing the behind the scenes stuff, “what really happened”, and it was certainly fascinating to watch through the lense of this film. But it was incredibly dark, and at the end it left me feeling a kind of emptiness (much like Maya experiences in her plane ride home.)

Eight years she was on the case. Looking at all of her teammates on this endeavor, all of the money and manpower involved, all of the hours of sleep and number of lives lost…it makes you question whether it was worth it. Tucked away in a compound in Pakistan, was Bin Laden still heading Al Qaeda? Did he still have the access and plight to call the shots? Do we, in 2012, accept American government-sanctioned assassinations as valid channels of justice? And did this decade-long manhunt deliver us the justice we sought?

Zero Dark Thirty displays the answer of how we got Bin Laden, but the questions is provokes are far greater.

Viewing torture, assassination without trial, and the killing of unnamed women and children leaves you wondering about the integrity of our belief system. In our doctrine of democracy, these things are denounced, and yet, when it suits our needs we throw procedure and principle to the wayside and do what we feel is necessary. Is this case-by-case basis the right way to run the show? Or should we be strictly interpreting our codes?

Does this film, this story, make it worse for us as Americans facing a fed-up world?  It’s funny how we consider ourselves the good guys but partake in activities that are so out of line with who we think we are… and all in the name of justice, morals, and democracy. Or was it all about vengeance?

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Writer Mark Boal and Director Kathryn Bigelow do a wonderfully careful job not to glorify this hunt and seizure, and I really appreciate the honesty.

Every American should see Zero Dark Thirty.

QuestForBestPic- Django Unchained

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Django Unchained was a BAMF of a movie. It was one of the most entertaining of the Best Picture films, but who doesn’t love a good Tarantino?

The combination of humor and badassery that QT brings to his films keeps you watching and wanting more and makes the extreme violence seem like background noise so the bigger issues shine through.

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The acting was near perfect. Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, and Leonardo DiCaprio seriously brought it. I think I formed a crush on Waltz through this movie and am probably going to be looking to see all of his previous films. Because he, as the kind-hearted killer Dr. Schultz, was SO incredibly engaging. The character was brilliantly written, so I’m sure that is part of my bias. A German doctor-turned-bounty-hunter who kills for a living but draws his moral line at slavery? I’ll take two.

Django and Stephen, played by Jackson, were both, as far as I am concerned, unlikable characters. While they’re supposed to be on the good-guy, bad-guy spectrum, it seemed to me that they both had a little of each in them, and that they both leaned more towards the “bad”. Django, our protagonist, may have had good intentions (rescuing his wife), but in the process we see his total lack of regard for other humans  That’s fine, no one is perfect, but it harkens the same question I asked in my Lincoln post: Do the ends justify the means? Do they have to? (On a side note, when I mention the disregard for human life I’m referring to the other slaves and the man farming with his son, NOT the asshole slave-owners and cronies.)

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The film, inevitably and in true Tarantino fashion, turned into a bloodbath. But the fantastical shoot-em-up gore-spectacular towards the end was a cake walk when compared with a scene from earlier in the movie. The two most disturbing scenes for me offered less blood and less gore, Django-Unchained-28but made up for it in the unnerving vision of pure unfiltered evil played out on screen.

The first time Django and Dr. Schultz meet Calvin Candie (DiCaprio), the men are gathered in a smoking room, complete with bar and bartender, pool table, and snacks—a man-cave of sorts. The source of entertainment? Deathmatch-by-fireplace of two slaves. These two enormous black men were forced, by their owners, to fight one another to the death. Candie’s fighter wins, ending the match with a hammer.

I admit I’m a girl and I’m not big on violence. But there was something more sinister than two men fighting and one man dying. The fact that it was forced upon them, that they had to disavow any morals they may have had to quench their most basic human instinct of survival, made me absolutely sick with remorse.

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When the prized fighter mentioned above is caught in his attempt to run away, he cries that he can’t do it, can’t fight anymore. The war waged on his morals, on his soul, through the mandingo fights was too much to bear. He is questioned, ridiculed, and subsequently ripped apart by dogs in front of a caravan of people including a line of slaves, Candie and his employees, Dr. Schultz, and Django, who doesn’t flinch.

This was the worst moment in the film for me. It was difficult to watch and stuck with me long after the film had ended.

Here’s what Django does: It gives us an exciting and entertaining excuse to take a look into our Country’s most shameful history. We all know it happened, we all learn in school that slavery was bad and that the days of freedom came. But putting into context the brutality of small day-to-day events, and the fact that the entire black American experience was formed out of this treacherous circumstance, creates an opportunity for one to think critically and in depth about slavery and the need for repentance that never came.

I hear the criticisms, but I’m a big fan of this film.

Amour-QuestForBest Picture

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MY review for Amour, as part of my Quest For Best Picture series. **Contains Spoilers**

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If the emotional response evoked by a film is any measure of greatness, then Amour wins.

I just got home from the theater. I cried most of the car ride home, and then once in the bathroom since I’ve been here. My eyes are welling up right now thinking about it. I am so incredibly sad.

I was thinking, with the title being Amour, that I might see more of a traditional love story, albeit a senior citizen love story. I thought perhaps the suffering of one would bring them closer together, they’d fall more deeply in love, “still the one”, all that jazz. But this was a different kind of love story.

Amour shows us the depth, the brutality and beauty, of a love that has withstood time and joy and pain and just about everything in between. Both terrifying and admirable, this portrayal is perceptive and sincere.

Amour follows husband and wife, Anne (played compellingly by Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges(Jean-Louis Trintignant), through their struggle with Anne’s deteriorating health and journey. She goes slowly, suffering one stroke that leaves the right side of her body paralyzed. Wheel-chair bound and utterly vulnerable, she needs Georges’ help for the most basic tasks like washing her hair, pulling up her pants after going to the bathroom, or getting in and out of bed.

While Georges is out attending a funeral one rainy afternoon, Anne tries to kill herself by jumping out of the courtyard window in their apartment. When George walks in earlier than expected and finds her, she shrugs that she was sorry that she was too slow. She very seriously tells him that she doesn’t want to live any longer, doesn’t want to wait around for things to get worse. But she lives, and they do.

The second stroke leaves Anne completely helpless and utterly unrecognizable as the person she once was. Unable to speak or move on her own, Ann continues down the slope. And Georges stays the course, stating Things will go on, and then one day it will all be over.”

The movie caused me a cascading pendulum of emotions that swung from benevolent sympathy to gut-wrenching depression. At one point I recall thinking to myself in the theater I could have gone my whole life without seeing this movie. And been happier for it.

I’m not unhappy that I saw the film. But the aftermath is severe and so right now I’m generally unhappy. No need to worry, as I’m sure it will pass. But I think the feelings that the film has left me with will be long-lasting, or at the very least, will again well up inside of me when I recount the experience. Michael Haneke, Amour’s writer and director, must have known what he was doing.

In one scene, Georges tells an anecdote about a film he had seen as a boy that touched him so deeply that he found himself distraught afterward and ended up crying in front of the first person who asked him about the movie.

Georges: I started to tell him the story of the movie, and as I did, all the emotion came back. I didn’t want to cry in front of the boy, but it was impossible; there I was, crying out loud in the courtyard, and I told him the whole drama to the bitter end.
Anne: So? How did he react?
Georges: No idea. He probably found it amusing. I don’t remember. I don’t remember the film either. But I remember the feeling. That I was ashamed of crying, but that telling him the story made all my feelings and tears come back, almost more powerfully than when I was actually watching the film, and that I just couldn’t stop.

Yeah, I see what you did there. Projecting exactly what’s going to happen to me once I am finished watching your film. Well played, Haneke.

The struggles that these two characters face—the humiliation, the power-shift of extreme dependence and responsibility, losing a partner, and facing death head on—are intensely painful and difficult to watch. But that’s not what makes it so hard, and it’s not what makes this movie so emotional.

We, the audience, we’re not crying over Anne and Georges. We’re crying over our grandmothers and grandfathers who we watched lose mobility and shrivel down to half-size and suffer the confusion and maddening frustration of not knowing who they are. We’re crying thinking about our parents falling ill, the hard decisions we’d have to make, and whether we’d make the right ones. We’re crying about the prospect of being so completely dependent on others, of someday not having control over our own bodies, our own minds. We’re crying over the time we should have spent with the people who are gone when they were still around. We’re crying, during Amour, about the terrifying prospect that we’ll be Anne or Georges one day.

And this is why this film, as the film that afflicted Georges, sticks with you long after you’ve exited the theater.

QuestForBestPic-Beasts of the Southern Wild

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I’m on a quest to see and review all of the films nominated for Best Picture. I have one left to see (Amour) and a bunch of reviews to post before the Academy Awards on Sunday. Here is my review for Beasts of the Southern Wild:

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Beasts of the Southern Wild follows a father (Wink) and daughter (Hushpuppy) living on an island off the coast of Southern Louisiana through the hit and aftermath of a fierce storm. The film harkens Hurricane Katrina, and the fictional setting, Director Benh Zeitlin has said, was inspired by Louisiana’s Isle de Jean Charles.

The inhabitants of “The Bathtub”, as the island is referred, live in poverty and seem to have their own society completely separate from the main land. The houses are shacks made of scrap metal and wooden boards or an old boat converted with canvas and tarps. They are a tight-knit community, a tribe of sorts.

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The local teacher, of questionable qualification, tells the riffraff school children about a species of giant ancient beasts called Aurochs that apparently froze in the polar ice caps. These extinct creatures become our narrator’s vision of real-world struggles. Natural disaster, the subsequent “end of the world” and the necessary shift to a new way of living, broken family, illness and death are all displayed in the film. And in each case, not far behind is the Auroch, stalking, charging or retreating depending on scenario. It is in the context of these intangible beasts that Hushpuppy, our young narrator, is able to make sense of the world around her, with all its messy twists and injustices.

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They touch upon the real world issue of climate change here when, with the innocence and ignorance of a child, Hushpuppy says “Sometimes you break something, so bad that it can’t be put back together.”

In fact, this scrappy little ragamuffin is full of coarse grains of wisdom.

“The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece… the entire universe will get busted.”

“Strong animals know when your hearts are weak.”

All the time, everywhere, everything’s hearts are beating and squirting, and talking to each other the ways I can’t understand. Most of the time they probably be saying: I’m hungry, or I gotta poop. …but sometimes they be talkin’ in codes.”

Young Hushpuppy has an extraordinary way of putting things that are far too complex for her to understand into concepts which make perfect sense to her, and to us. She really is a remarkable character, and it seems a shame, when watching, that her stubborn alcoholic father doesn’t realize it.

The relationship between Hushpuppy and Wink is sad but interesting. You hate him for not taking her out of the Bathtub before the storm. For living with that beautiful child in filth. For drinking instead of nurturing. For yelling instead of hugging. By the end he’s not quite so bad. Dying men always seem more tolerable. But, I think it is less about the actual impending loss of life, and more about the interim. The life he has left. He becomes vulnerable. You see his weakness, his illness, his desperate attempts at denial, and the utter terror he feels about his way of life, his people, becoming extinct.

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In a scene towards the end, the whole tribe is taken to a hospital/shelter on the mainland. Wink, who is more sick than we realized, finds himself in a room alone, hooked up to IVs and machines, his family and tribe nowhere to be found. He makes a break for it, and the rest of the group follows. It is in this moment that we see the true intense care that Wink has not only for Hushpuppy, but for his home. We begin to see that perhaps Wink was being more heartfelt than originally assumed when he said “My only purpose in life is to teach her how to make it.”

You see, for Wink the Bathtub was not just a place, and the people around him were not merely neighbors. They were a separate species. The only one he’d ever known. And much like the Aurochs, they were on the brink of extinction. In the back of his mind, being hard on Hushpuppy was not merely an icy way of getting through his mandatory parental duties. Don’t get me wrong, he was cold and mean and unkind and certainly less than nurturing. But the more I examine this relationship, I begin to believe that Wink’s behavior was a demonstration of his most basic, beating parental drive: ensuring the survival of his offspring.

The world in which they lived required skills that we, the audience, felt so guilty for Hushpuppy having to acuire. The truth is they were different from me, and from you, and in some weird, fucked up way, Wink may have had her best interest at heart.

Could he have been more affectionate? Yes. And I still wish that little girl had someone to hug her and say “I love you” and protect her from the storm. But she didn’t. And she was a strong enough animal to survive.

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Now..

Beyond feeling like I was one step closer to Katrina, the film also held another point of reference for me. For anyone who has ever read The Road by Cormac McCarthy, this work has some striking similarities in theme. I know I’m not supposed to be reviewing The Road, but it was all I could think about after seeing this picture.

So The Road follows a father and son on their journey through the destitute streets of what used to be what we know as planet Earth. Some untold catastrophe occurred, destroying society and most of the inhabitants of the land. The father and the boy travel a long journey on foot, making their way south in order to survive the harsh winter. I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic and dystopian story lines, so, while the book was slow going, the theme kept me involved.

So the similarities start:Book  The Road by Cormac McCarthy

  1. Father and child. In Beasts of the Southern Wild, the mother is nowhere to be found. Hushpuppy says that she left and often sees her through flashbacks. In The Road, the boy’s mother committed suicide shortly after he was born, unable to cope with the aftermath of the disaster.
  2. Nameless children. Throughout The Road, the son is never named and is referred to in his father’s thoughts as “the boy.” In Beasts of the Southern Wild, the main character, narrator, daughter is called by her nickname—Hushpuppy—by everyone in the community. (I suppose her parents could have actually named her Hushpuppy, but come on, let’s be serious.)
  3. Disaster and aftermath, “Us against the world”. The father and son in The Road must walk on through treacherous landscapes, scouring for just enough resources to last the night, knowing the next night will be just as cruel. In Beasts, Wink and Hushpuppy survive the storm, but are soon faced with the real struggle, the aftermath. The subsequent isolation, illness, and lack of resources threaten the survival of Wink, Hushpuppy, their community and their way of life. They trudge on, and fight the uphill battle to make it to a dryer day.

So I sort of went off on a tangent, but they’re both intriguing, depressing, and ultimately moving works.

The acting was fantastically convincing. Nine year old Quvenzhané Wallis (who was only five at the time of her audition) deserves every accolade she receives, including the her nomination for Best Actress. And Dwight Henry, the Louisianna bakery owner who played Wink gave a professional performance. Maybe more directors should take a cue from Zeitlin and go with amateur talent.

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And that is Beasts of the Southern Wild. Poignant. Simple yet complex. Harsh, insightful, and emotional.

Watch it if you haven’t.