In honor of the biggest night for movies, let’s talk about favorites. Everyone has favorites. Sometimes it’s based on a favorite actor, a favorite book that the movie is based on, a favorite director whose movies you always love. My favorites from this year were based on artistry.
It’s easy to forget that filmmaking is an art. Some movies have more artistry than others. But like any other art (painting, writing, photography), filmmaking is about telling a visual story, eliciting a reaction from the viewer, and giving the viewer an experience outside their own life experiences. To me, the two nominated films that did these things unlike any others were Life of Pi and Beast of the Southern Wild.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
When I saw this film, I truly didn’t know what to expect. It didn’t get as wide a release as most of the others. The trailer looked beautiful and intriguing, and I was curious enough to go out and see it in the theater, but I really wasn’t quite sure what the story was going to be about. It was phenomenal! Beasts of the Southern Wild follows a 6-year old girl named Hushpuppy who lives in the “Bathtub,” unlabeled as such but clearly representative of the most devastated and least affluent area of New Orleans, as an indescribably destructive storm hits and tears down the levy the protects the people of her community from flooding. The film illustrates a complex yet loving relationship between her and a nearly-not-present father who seems tortured just to look at her but nonetheless takes care of her the best he knows how and provides her the basics for her survival. He relentlessly defends the Bathtub as the home he will never leave, no matter the devastation present.
The remarkable thing about this film is the mythology present in the world of little Hushpuppy. Since the story is told from her point of view, and a 6-year old’s perspective on the world is quite different from that of an adult, it is a story of magic, myth, territory, strength, and the search for family (specifically Hushpuppy’s mother). Hushpuppy is followed by beasts that look much like enormous warthogs, metaphorical beasts which she battles with her tenacity and will. I felt completely enveloped in the world the filmmakers created, to the point that it was almost a bit jarring when the movie ended and I had to transition back out of it!
Beasts of the Southern Wild was Nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role (Quvenshane Wallis was the youngest person ever nominated for the award; she truly was incredible in her first ever acting role), and Best Director (Behn Zeitlin).
Life of Pi
This is another film that completely took me away from my own world and into another. I also saw this in 3D, which I am usually skeptical of because so much of it is being done after the movie is shot, and done poorly. But not this one. Life of Pi was shot in 3D and all of the visual effects were also done in 3D from the get go. I was so glad I decided to see it this way, because this is how the filmmakers meant for it to be seen.
Based on the book by Yann Martel, Life of Pi is a gorgeous story of faith, family, struggle for survival, and the meaning of life. The story tells of a boy and a tiger stranded in the same lifeboat after a horrible shipwreck in the middle of the ocean. Because of this, it was the story that supposedly “could never be made into a movie.” How would a filmmaker ever put an actor and a tiger in such close proximity for hours/days/months on end, and how to make sure that tiger predictably performed every action as needed without endangering said actor while on a rocking boat in the ocean? But visual effects and animation are now so technically advanced and the artists that make them happen are so talented and skilled that they made it possible. The artists that worked on the film made this:
And Ang Lee directed the lead actor (Suraj Sharma) to elicit all manner of emotions from the audience, all while not actually having a co-star to interact with on set.
The whole film is as beautiful as a painting yet somehow is also convincingly real. The colors in the sky are more vibrant than the most beautiful sunsets, the ocean more blue than the blue-est cove in the tropics. The ocean becomes a character all of it’s own battling with Pi and Richard Parker (the tiger), making survival seem impossible one minute and then providing a wealth of hope resources the next.
This story truly transcends race, religion, and gender to make everyone question their own reality and appreciate the meaning of faith.
Life of Pi won for Best Visual Effects, Best Director (Ang Lee), Best Cinematography (which was in no small part also due to the film’s accomplishments in visual effects), and Music – Original Score. It was also nominated for Best Picture, Film Editing, Production Design, and Writing – Adapted Screenplay.
Tell me, what was your favorite Oscar-featured movie this year?
So many of the year’s most successful movies (like Life of Pi, The Avengers, Snow White and the Hunstman, and The Hobbit) were not only dependent on, but their stories were driven by visual effects and the ability for the vfx technology and it’s artists to do things beyond our wildest dreams. What has not been widely talked about in the mainstream media is a huge shake-up happening within the vfx community. Even though the technology gets better and the artists executing these phenomenal feats of the imagination get more skilled and more talented, the studios are driving costs down lower and lower, to the point that a huge amount of the work is being outsourced to India and China. The biggest and best companies in the vfx industry are going out of business, including the recently bankrupt Rhythm & Hues, the Oscar winner for vfx on Life of Pi, because the prices have been driven down so low that they can’t keep up. On the night of the Academy Awards nearly 500 vfx artists turned out to the Dolby Theater with picket signs to protest their treatment, the treatment of their companies, and the outsourcing of their jobs. In an effort to raise more awareness of the issue, I’ve included a few links below to illustrate the state of the vfx community and what these artists are fighting for. I welcome any discussion.