Oscar night concludes a year of cinema

Published 7:49 am Sunday, February 26, 2012

Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster

I was going to greet you this morning with a big, fat lie, but I couldn’t do it. Normally I see every film nominated for the best picture Oscar, but this year I missed one, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.” I was going to say something like, “The scene that was extremely loud was really disturbing, but I was moved by their incredible closeness.”

Shame on me. The only thing I know is that the academy must have a deal with Tom Hanks. They nominate one of his movies every few years, and he continues to be the next best thing to Jimmy Stewart. Everybody wins.

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Now, on to the movies I’ve actually seen.

Viola Davis in “The Help” is the only actress who might lure Oscar away from Meryl Streep this year. She plays Aibileen Clark, a maid in Mississippi during the not-so-nice 1960s. Intrepid journalist Skeeter Phelan records the story of how domestics are treated by their white employers, but it’s Davis and Octavia Spencer, as Minny, who give it life and conscience.

“The Artist” or as I like to call it, “A Jack Russell Terrier and Some Other People” is the front-runner in the Best Picture race this year. The film is silent, but who needs talking when you’ve got faces like Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo? As star-crossed lovers, George and Peppy, his career in the silents is waning just as hers is rising in the talkies. If this movie wins there will be no shortage of “Silence is Golden” headlines Monday morning.

I’m convinced that when Steven Spielberg made “War Horse” he was conducting an experiment to find out how many times he could make someone cry in 146 minutes. Who knew the story of a boy and his horse could be so emotionally exhausting? I guess a reprobate father, World War I and temporary blindness does put a damper on things. I haven’t been so happy to see a boy and an animal reunite since Lassie found Timmy in the well.

“The Tree of Life” is the latest from reclusive director, Terrence Malick. It deserves the award for best middle of a film. Act One shows the beginning of life on earth and Act Three explains what happens after we die, but I was really more interested in what happens to Brad Pitt in Act Two. There’s a really good movie lurking inside “The Tree of Life,” but you’ve got to do a lot pruning to find it.

How would you like to eavesdrop on another era? Owen Wilson gets to do just that in “Midnight in Paris.” We see Hemingway, Fitzgerald and the rest of the Lost Generation through the prism of Woody Allen’s sensibilities, so everyone’s a little bit neurotic but loveable. The champagne flows, the literati pose, and we learn that the past is always greener on the other side.

I went into “Hugo” not knowing what to expect. It’s a Martin Scorsese movie, but it doesn’t look like one. I sat there watching the story of a young boy who helps an old man rediscover his purpose wondering, how come no one’s getting whacked, and for the love of Joe Pesci, where are all the bad words? Scorsese’s ability to travel between genres shouldn’t surprise me. This is the guy who made “Kundun.” Who knows what else he’s got up his sleeve?

In “Moneyball” and “The Descendents” the two biggest movie stars in the world try really hard not to be movie stars. Brad Pitt plays the very un-movie star-like Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane. I’m not a baseball fan, but I was captivated as the beleaguered Pitt and his sidekick Jonah Hill rack up win after win by interpreting players’ stats differently than everybody else. It doesn’t sound like the stuff of great movies, but it is.

I’m sorry George Clooney, but even with a regular-guy haircut, you’re still a movie star. You tried to shed your skin in “The Descendents,” but you’re not kidding anyone. We know you go home to your villa on Lake Como and bathe in Pellegrino. Even so, you were wonderful in this story of a man angry at his dying wife and a stranger to his children. It’s not your fault you’re too debonair to ever really seem like a schlub.

I love this night. It’s the conclusion to a year of sitting in the dark letting the movies take me to other worlds and other times. The actors, directors and designers will win the awards, but when the curtains part and the music swells we’ll be celebrating our own experiences. I can’t wait until next weekend when I can head to the theater, walk back into the dark and start all over again.


Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at alikloster@yahoo.com, and her blog is Radishes at Dawn at alexandrakloster.com.