Wednesday, February 21, 2007

good pictures #1

the queen- 'the queen' will not win best picture. there are several reasons why, but none of them have to do with the quality of the movie. and hellen mirren will most likely win for best actress. being nominated for the crowning award is prize enough for this movie, because this an excellent movie and the oscar attention brought it to the box office top ten for a few weeks, giving it the audience it deserves.
'the queen' gives us a very inside look at the upper eschelons of england during the spring of 1997, from the landslide election of tony blair through the death and funeral of princess di in september. what we take from movies is partly dependant on what we bring; i knew almost nothing about the prime minister, the royal family, and the controversy of diana's funeral. and so that is what i got out of it.
the royal family was not particularly fond of the princess, but they did not know how much she meant to not only the britains but also so much of the world. after the tragic car crash, there is a great cry from the public that the royal family should show respect and care for 'the people's princess', a term coined by blair that created a ripple with the monarchy. and so much of the film is the delicate game of balancing progression with tradition: diana was no longer a part of the family, and so they are under no obligation to do anything, but to the public, she was the last vestige of humanity that they saw in the traditional royalty. caught between this is the new and inexperienced prime minister, confused at how he can mediate the parties. the story seems to elevate blair almost to infallibility, portraying him as the rescuing hero, and perhaps he was. i do not know, but there is nothing to suggest that unreasonable adaptive changes were made.
while this does not sound like the most gripping plot [it shouldn't, because it isn't], the movies interest comes from the intimate and real look at the royal family. helen mirren's queen is a real person, not a stoic relic left over from elizabeth I of centuries before. what is fascinating is what the queen does do. she is not chauffeurred everywhere, kept from the sun by a parade of servant. no, she drives her own hum-v [the original, not the yuppee brand] through the back woods, and when she gets stuck in a river, she hops into the water pulls out her cell phone to call for assistance only after checking things for herself. this is the queen.
the crown does rest heavily, and she weighs what she is obligated to do with what her pseudo-subjects demand, while the prime minister's wife talks of abolishment. and, in a quiet but insightful scene as she and philip pass by the ocean of flowers and tokens left for diana, the queen begins to understand how the people see her and how they see the late princess. with that, a shift of patterns and tradition begin; it will take adaptation, but there is room for the queen of england in the twenty-first century.
---about what i expected---

*i do not think that 'the queen' will win best picture for three reasons. first, it is a 'small' movie, following the actions of a small and exclusive group, with no epic feeling or grand power [yes, there are exceptions, most notably 'driving miss daisy']. second, it is about the politics of the queen of england the prime minister. it is interesting and enlightening, but does not engage the heart and souls of the predominantly american academy. and third, in the globalizing and socio-cultural-political environment of the current world, pondering the meaning of tradition vs. progression falls to become a minor issue.
now, i am not listing any of these as faults of the movie. rather, this is the playing field and i do not think now is the time for a movie like this.
on the other hand, the academy may say, 'heck, it was a nice movie' and it will win.

little miss sunshine- the big movie at sundance last year is a best picture nominee this year--in america, anyone from anywhere can make it if they get a lucky break. and 'sunshine' deserves it. at the core is a sweet little girl who dreams enough to follow but not enough to obsess over it day and night. and that sweetness and charm become the heart of the movie. surrounding her, of course, is a family. eccentric? or are they rather common now? 'dysfunctional' is an easy classification, but i like steve carell's comment that he 'never thought it was about a dysfunctional family, because to me they seemed functional. ...once they get together and start traveling, they work like a well-oiled machine.' i like that.
olive is too young to have any serious issues yet, but her loving family [no sarcasm there] has plenty of quirks. and a bright yellow vw bus that can only start in third gear, so they have to park it on a hill or push start it, and hills aren't too common. and it loses a door.
it is not a grand movie, but is big enough for a family, with no space for a definite lead role. steve carell is probably the most recognized name at the moment, and shows his acting range in playing a suicidal gay uncle and not michael scott. he is not a charicature, nor would most people ever think him gay were it not mentioned in the storyline. alan arkin's grandpa is another example: he has a foul-mouth and does drugs [with reasons, skewed though they be] but also sincerely loves olive as truly as any grandparent, and certainly seems to spend as much time with her as anyone. even the depressed teenage son who has taken a vow of silence has multiple facets, redeemed best in a deceptively simple and tender scene showing the power of love unfeigned.
'little miss sunshine' is a comedy, but it is not a laugh-a-minute slapstick, nor is it a wes anderson style story where things get funnier with each viewing [although it may be; it's hard to tell sometimes]. it tells a story about a family with several funny incidents. as the eponymous pageant is reached, i realized that not only did i not know what olive's performance routine was, none of the family seemed to. along the journey, i thought about how the movie could end: she wins, or she doesn't. neither seemed to work, and the movie was well aware of this and picked the wise third choice. it was outrageous and fit everything we knew about each and every character. i do not doubt that each person would have done precisely what they did in reality, and the results solidified the movie as being about family. there is no saccarine taste; it is honest, sincere, true.
---better than i expected---

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