John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton

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Catching up with the Best Picture nominees, part I

Each year, I try to see all five of the films nominated for Best Picture. Prior to the nominations being announced last week, I had seen only one of the Best Picture nominees: Little Miss Sunshine. So, no time to waste! I had both Sunday and Monday off, so I took advantage of that and saw two of the other four, Babel and The Queen.

(N.B.: slight spoilers to follow. Caveat lector.)

Babel was interesting, though somewhat not just for the has grown on me since Sunday, as I've thought more about it. It's hard not to admire its complexity, the ways its four principal stories simultaneously intertwine, parallel, and reflect one another.  And Rinko Kikuchi was amazing.  Had I not known better, I would have believed she actually was deaf and mute. The other performances are also good, but I think in the end it's Kikuchi who carries the film.

And speaking of outstanding performances, Helen Mirren deserves every accolade that's been given her this award season. Of course, I'm somewhat biased; I was naturally sympathetic to the Queen, because I happen to think she was absolutely right: the public response to Diana's death was, at best, distasteful. It was the absolute nadir of a culture devoted to the worship of celebrities, and I for one hope I never see anything like it ever again. Now, I'm at heart an anti-traditionalist who believes that if the only reason you're doing something is that it's always been done that way, then you should immediately look for another way to do it. But if the Queen is nothing else, she is the embodiment of several hundred years of British tradition, so it's perfectly understandable why she would be reluctant to break with protocol in response to Diana's death. Mirren does an outstanding job of portraying the Queen's personal ambivalence about Diana's death and her deep distaste for the public hysteria that accompanied it, and her struggle to bring herself to set aside her own principles for the sake of her subjects.

Two other quick comments about Babel. First, I found that film's portrayal of Moroccan law enforcement to be very interesting. It was a great surprise to see them investigating the crime scene in a thorough and professional manner in one scene, and in the next see them treating the suspects so brutally. Their earlier professionalism made the subsequent brutality all the more effective and shocking.

Second, upon further reflection, I feel that the Mexican nanny's story strains credulity somewhat. My question is, how is it remotely possible that Amelia would be unable to find anyone to take care of Richard and Susan's kids? First of all, I find it very hard to believe that Richard's sister Rachel would not drop everything and get to San Diego immediately. If they're close enough that she would be the very first person Richard would call, why would she not be one the first flight out to take care of her niece and nephew. God knows I would have. But OK, let's accept it. Are we to believe that Richard and Susan have no friends willing to look after their kids for one day? Granted, they were not exactly in a position to make a lot of phone calls to find someone, but I can't believe that given the circumstances, Amelia couldn't find anyone willing or able to watch the kids for one day. OK, maybe Amelia didn't feel it appropriate to ask her employers' friends for what amounted to a personal favor, it it still strikes me as implausible, and to my way of thinking, that implausibility weakens that particular storyline.

Ultimately, I thought both Babel and The Queen were good movies, and I wouldn't be particularly upset if either one ended up winning the Oscar, but neither one really blew me away. That's true of Little Miss Sunshine as well, by the way. Perhaps Letters from Iwo Jima or The Departed will have more of an impact on me.


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