Thursday, February 11, 2010

Countdown to Oscar: Best Choice

To summarize the last post, in the past couple of years I have come up my own leading-up-to-the-Academy-Awards list of movies to see before the broadcast, usually centered around a theme. One year, it was all of the Best Picture winners I had not seen. This year, since I’m certain Meryl Streep will win Best Actress for Julie & Julie, I plan to see as many Streep films as I can before Oscar night.

Once I discovered I’ve seen most of them from the 2000s, and a fair number of others, I went back to the beginning of her career, the late seventies. So far, I have two under my belt. I watched Kramer vs Kramer over the weekend. She was as good as I remembered, but the film seemed very dated. Having to consider “the times” can get very tedious and borders on pandering. But it is true of this film. Kramer was one of the first critically acclaimed films whose main subject matter was divorce. While it deals with it skillfully, there’s very little that cannot be predicted at this point. Also, for only being 91 minutes, it drags.

But Streep is so raw as Joanna Kramer, a woman who, seems to have it together – just the right clothes, hairstyle, a smart elegance – until you realize she is so overwhelmed by her own sadness that she can hardly open her mouth without looking like she could cry. Not many actresses could pull this off without making you roll your eyes or want to throw up on yourself.

Because the films on my list are not easily accessible at Blockbuster anymore (I’m not judging, just stating a fact) I have to rely on NetFlix (which continually adds to my quality of life in ways I could not have predicted.) Yesterday Sophie’s Choice showed up in my mailbox.

I cannot say I’ve been looking forward to watching this. I’d not exactly been dreading, I simply knew it would be a vast understatement to call this film “heavy.” The only scene I’ve ever scene was the scene, you know, the choice. For a long time, I assumed I’d been duped by being shown that clip (probably during a segment of Charlie Rose with Streep as the guest), like being told the secret in the Crying Game or knowing that Thelma & Louise drive off the cliff at the end of the Thelma & Louise. Also, Sophie’s Choice had very few other Oscar nominations, so I figured it was a showcase of Streep’s acting ability only.

Not so.

This movie is a lovely, albeit haunting, film that truly stands up today in terms of pacing and nuance. Kevin Kline’s turn as Sophie’s charming but unpredictable and menacing lover kept the tension taut throughout the first half, until he disappears. And Peter MacNichol, probably best known as "The Biscuit" from Ally McBeal, plays the narrator, the innocent who is befriended by unstable the couple and quickly falls for them and gets sucked into their drama.

Then comes the flood. Even though we have since seen skillfully crafted Holocaust films, there is a fair amount in this film that still holds up and manages to surprise and horrify.

Up next, Out of Africa.


  1. You are an amazing writer! You've inspired me to start trying! Thanks!

  2. Steve and I watched Out of Africa last weekend. He must have known I was serious about watching it with you! I loved it so much, even though it was really sad. It made me think of lots of things that make me sad. Call me when you are watching it, I will come down and join you for an oncore.