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Best Picture Movie Marathon, Part 38

Part 38: 2006


MOVIES:

  • Brokeback Mountain

  • Munich

  • Capote (hidden gem)

  • Good Night, and Good Luck

  • Crash (winner) (guest-written by Gordon!)

Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain is most often described as a “gay cowboy movie”, which is a cruel simplification. It is so much more than that. It’s a love story in which the word “love” is never spoken. It’s a story of two men who were forced to deny the only great passion either of them would ever feel. It’s a rich and passionate movie about showing, not telling, those feelings that dare not speak their name.


The tragedy of Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis (Heath Ledger) is universal. It could be about two women, or lovers from different religious or ethnic groups. It’s a love that’s forbidden, that society deems “unworthy”. It’s love saved for “fishing trips”, darkened alleys, and remote cabins. It’s messages spoken in code, glances when no one is looking, a tender touch in the dark of the night. It’s a deeply sad story in many ways, but also a beautiful one.

Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar meet in the summer of 1963 when both are hired by Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid) to be sheepherders on Wyoming’s Brokeback Mountain.


Ennis is a man of so few words that he barely opens his mouth to release them. He learned to be guarded and fearful even before he knew what it was that he feared. Jack is a little more outgoing. A rodeo performer by day, Jack is wild and daring. The two men couldn’t be more opposite.


Between swigs of whiskey and chilly fireside chats, a friendship blossoms that eventually turns physical. “This is a one-shot thing we got going on here,” Ennis says the next day. But they both know it’s not. You can take the boys out of Brokeback but you can’t take Brokeback out of the boys.

When the summer is over, they part with a manly goodbye: “See ya around.” Ennis marries his sweetheart Alma (Michelle Williams) and Jack woos and weds rodeo queen Lureen (Anne Hathaway). They settle down, even pop out some kids, but neither can forget that summer on Brokeback Mountain.


Jack finally gets the courage (4 years later!) to reach out and make contact with Ennis. Suddenly the undiminished urgency of their passion envelopes them. Fishing and camping trips give Jack and Ennis the opportunity to express their love in the comfort and privacy of the Wyoming wilderness, away from society, judgement, and their families. But when you build castles in the sand, your foundation is anything but solid. What was it we learned in Romeo and Juliet? “These violent delights have violent ends.”

One of the most beautiful things about Brokeback Mountain, besides the amazing scenery, is how director Ang Lee expresses longing, desire, want. You don’t have to be gay or queer to know the pain of not being with someone you love – to know the sadness of the road not travelled. Though both Jack and Ennis deny their homosexual – or at least bisexual – feelings, there’s no denying the love between these two men. Brokeback Mountain is not only one of the best LGBTQ+ stories of our time, it’s one of the best love stories, too.


Back in 2005, Brokeback Mountain was tipped to become the first LGBTQ+ movie to win the Best Picture Oscar. It had already won four Golden Globes (including Best Picture and Best Director) and three BAFTAS by the time the Academy Awards rolled around. However, when presenter Jack Nicholson announced the winner as Crash, his surprised face was only echoed by the amount of audience members not clapping or cheering.


Though Brokeback was snubbed of its award, it’s still considered one of the best LGBTQ+ films in modern history. With an amazing cast, beautiful writing and skilled directing, Brokeback Mountain is a smart study of relationships that could but can’t and never will be.

Munich

Just before dawn on September 5, 1972, a group of eight members of the Palestinian Black September terrorist organization broke into the Olympic Village in Munich and kidnapped eleven Israeli athletes, coaches and officials. By the end of the night, all eleven Israelis would be dead.


In his film Munich, Stephen Spielberg gives us a thrilling, albeit semi-fictional, account of Israel’s response to this attack. He sets the stage by combining dramatic recreations with archival news footage before taking us straight into the office of Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meier (Lynn Cohen).

Sitting amongst her cabinet, Meir forms a secret Israeli revenge squad to take out those responsible for the attack. The leader is Avner (Eric Bana), a former bodyguard to Meir and soon-to-be father who isn’t too sure about this mission but isn’t one to say no to his beloved homeland.


Avner is only assigned four teammates: Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz), a toymaker-turned-bomb expert; Carl (Ciaran Hinds), the ‘cleaner’; Steve (Daniel Craig), the trigger-happy getaway driver; and Hans (Hanns Zischler), an expert forger of letters and documents. Armed with false passports and fake names, these five men travel the world attempting to hunt down all 11 Palestinian terrorists and dispose of them however they see fit.

Of course, not everything goes to plan. Tragic near-misses, accidents and mistakes threaten the outcome of this mission from the very beginning. Worse still, the most dangerous target – who remains elusive throughout the entire film – may be allied with the CIA.


As is the case with most espionage films, the best moments of Munich are in the details of the assassinations. Bombs are planted, booby traps are baited, the Hitchcockian suspense is real as the team tracks down each Palestinian one by one.


But Munich doesn’t really get anywhere – even with its near 3-hour run-time. It wants to be a thought-provoking film, but it doesn’t really provoke that much thought. Instead, it sticks to the big question: Is a war against terrorism “winnable”? We would like to think so but, as Munich points out, for every terrorist killed, there is another – possibly a worse one – to take his place.

And that’s where Munich leaves us – in a stark world where violence breeds violence in a never-ending struggle for survival of the fittest. Though Spielberg seems to revel in creating a film where the Jews are actually the heroes, there’s also a moral question of who has the right to live – and to take a life. By the end of his mission, Avner is so haunted by his actions that he can’t even face returning to Jerusalem. During one assignment, one of his team members even says, “[We] do what the terrorists do.” On the battlefield of his kind of war, are there good guys and bad guys, or has everyone slipped into the murky gray?

Capote

In the early morning hours of November 15, 1959, four members of the Clutter family – Herb, his wife Bonnie, and their teenage children Nancy and Kenyon – were murdered in their home. The gruesome act rattled the small town of Holcomb, Kansas…as well as the mind of a writer living 1,600 miles away.


When Truman Capote first read about the Clutter family murders in “The New York Times”, he knew he had to write about it. Together with friend Harper Lee, Capote set out to Holcomb, Kansas to begin work on his new novel. The film, Capote, focuses on the way a writer works on a story – and the story works on him.

The movie starts in 1959. Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is already a well-known writer and is looking for his next project. Tired of writing fiction, he decides to turn a small-town murder into a non-fiction novel. His dear friend Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), who just finished her manuscript for To Kill a Mockingbird, joins him as a research assistant and the two begin interviewing the folks of this small farming town.


The local police chief Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper) offers reluctant cooperation as Capote begins to ingratiate himself into the community. With research barely underway, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation gets word that the two killers – Perry Smith (Clifton Collins, Jr.) and Richard Hickock (Mark Pellegrino) have been caught. Capote wastes no time befriending Perry, initiating what would become a close, yet very twisted, friendship.

In Cold Blood, the title of Capote’s book, was supposed to refer to the detached attitude of the young killers; however, in Capote, the message gets turned around. Brilliantly portrayed by Hoffman, Capote is a vampire, disarming the local townsfolk with his childlike manner while all the time drinking in everything that would make a good story. As Perry Smith languished in prison, Capote used him in every way possible. He paid the warden off for the ability to visit Perry anytime. He got him a lawyer, befriended him with personal stories, and even bought him a stay of execution.


Of course, that all ended once Capote got his story. With Perry’s help, Capote was able to put the final pieces together and cut off all ties he made to the convict. After all, Perry’s execution by hanging would provide him the perfect ending. Cold blooded, indeed.

Nominated for 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress (Keener), Capote would only win one – a Best Actor award for Hoffman.


Truman Capote finished In Cold Blood in 1965. It was an instant success and is still the second best-selling true crime book in history, behind Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter. However, Capote was never able to get over it. He never finished another book and died in 1984 of a drug overdose.


After watching Capote, it’s clear to see how Truman Capote sacrificed everyone and everything for his magnum opus. How poetic that he seemed to sacrifice himself for it, as well.

Good Night, and Good Luck


The 1950s. It was the decade that seemed to give birth to the term “Americana.” It was a time of white picket fences, apple pie on windowsills, candy-colored cars and innocent television. Given such an idyllic portrait, it’s easy to forget that the 1950s were also a time of growing unease as the threat of Communism lingered in the wake of the Cold War.


In the shadow of this Red Scare, Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy launched an aggressive campaign to expose Communist sympathizers as threats to our national security.

Enter Edward R. Murrow, a CBS journalist who openly disagreed with McCarthy, believing his campaign to be too heavily based on intimidation and hearsay. Now, holding the rich and powerful accountable is, or should be, one of the main pillars or journalism. For Murrow and his team, truth-telling was as important, if not more so, than their own necks…and by using McCarthy’s own words against him, Murrow set a precedent for impactful, meaningful, and courageous reporting that would help him go down in history as one of the most popular correspondents in America.


Directed by George Clooney, Good Night, and Good Luck tells the story of the infamous McCarthy/Murrow battle. It picks up in 1953 as Murrow (David Strathairn) and his team of reporters – including his producer, Fred Friendly (George Clooney) – debate the appropriate response to McCarthy’s campaign. At the time, other news agencies were reluctant to question the Senator, for fear they would be branded as “taking sides”; however, Murrow was not one to sit back and do nothing.

Murrow is biting at the bit to call the Senator out but is told to hold off. His higher-ups, including the head of CBS News, Sig Mickelson (Jeff Daniels), and the network president, William Paley (Frank Langella), don’t want to offend sponsors or alienate audiences. But Murrow’s rage can only last so long. When McCarthy eventually sets his bullseye on Murrow, the gloves come off. A political and ethical battle begins, one that pits station against sponsor, reporter against network, fact against fiction, and truth against the media.


As director, Clooney shot Good Night, and Good Luck in black and white, a tactic that allowed him to cast the real Joseph McCarthy as himself. It’s frightening to see him ranting and raving, maybe even familiar, as he hurls insults and accusations at Murrow that have no basis in reality.

There is also a very real sense of place. Having studied journalism in school and being the son of a journalist, Clooney does a great job of putting us right in the middle of the claustrophobic newsroom. Everyone is within an arm’s reach of everyone else. Everyone…EVERYONE…is smoking. There is no instrumental score…instead a jazz singer recording in a nearby studio helps break up the scenes with amazing renditions of popular standards. In this way, Good Night, and Good Luck feels more like a documentary than anything else. And it works.


In addition to covering the Murrow/McCarthy battle, this film also makes a statement about the “dumbing down” of mainstream media. The responsibility of CBS to report hard news was being affected by the network’s desire to “entertain”. Ratings are everything for a network. A little station like CBS couldn’t just rely on informative content, they had to give compelling sound bytes that grab the attention of viewers. For a man like Murrow, who’s character was tied to his career, “entertaining” was not an option. “We have a built-in allergy to unpleasant information,” he says. “And our media reflects that.”


There aren’t too many Edward R. Murrow’s around anymore, if at all. It’s near impossible to find accurate information from our “qualified” news sources and even harder to find journalists willing to stand up for their own beliefs and report the truth as they see it. They say those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it…and that seems to be the lesson George Clooney is trying to tell here. Part drama, part thriller and part cautionary tale, Good Night, and Good Luck offers a glimpse of a time long gone…yet it also seems to be peering into the future.

Crash

Guest-written by Gordon


Crash? More like Trash. Am I right?


America in 2004 was a different landscape than what we live in now. Islamophobia was rampant, our Iraq war was deemed “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED”, we were the greatest nation on earth, and Brendan Fraser still made movies. Like I said, a very different place.


What hasn’t changed too much is Hollywood’s vacuous attempts to paint itself in a cool, woke light. Crash is right up at the top of the list of movies that tried and failed to be non-politically correct for the sake of making a point. The entirety of this film is laced with overtly racist tropes, as if shouting in the viewer’s face “SEE? GET IT? THESE ARE BAD PEOPLE!!!” But underneath this, there’s something more sinister.

Paul Haggis earned himself a couple Oscar nods for this steaming dump, and then rode that high for years. A former Scientologist with a few sexual misconduct suits against him, Haggis was also an uncredited writer on Terminator Salvation. Three strikes, Paul.


Getting back on track, Haggis weaves this nonlinear yarn of several lives all “crashing” into each other over the course of one day. The black guys carjack folks, the Asian lady crashes her car, the rich white lady thinks the Latino locksmith is going to burglarize her house. These people are all flawed, but the manner in which they are flawed is dripping with the heavy handedness of a junior year writing student (kind of like this shitty review). This movie was supposed to be about how, in the wake of 9/11 and being lied into two wars, the country had become divided. This is made overtly apparent, but like I said before, there’s something more sinister at work. An astute viewer will watch this and ask what the point was. Why did this story need to be told? What did we learn from this?

Here’s what I gleaned from it. This movie was made with the sole purpose of being a psychological balm of sorts for guilty, white Hollywood liberals. Those folks just like Sandra Bullock who, in the movie, is a racist asshat who realizes at the end of the movie that the very people she is prejudiced against are the ones who take care of her. And the reason it barks at us from the screen about how ghastly these characters are is done for one reason: to make the self-aware dickhead feel better about being a little bit shitty to the valet that one time. Was that over the line when I fired the cleaning people because I assumed they stole my necklace? I mean, that guy MIGHT have tried to mug us in the parking lot, right?

Having the level of awareness that Americans had in 2004 was dangerous, because movies like these made them feel okay for their microaggressions. I didn’t curb stomp that Middle Eastern guy. It wasn’t THAT bad when I got her arrested for shoplifting. Realizing that we had moved to a dangerous place was a good thing, but allowing for the smaller wrongs to go unchecked was weak, un-woke, and wrong in and of itself. Changing who we are is hard. Realizing that we have been lied to and raised in a shitty situation is tough, but it’s a good thing to come to that truth.


Some of us have grown since 2004. Others have gone backwards, as we’ve seen with astounding clarity in the past 5 years. Maybe that’s just it though. We’re finally seeing how Americans have always been. The cameras are rolling. The world is watching. Maybe 2004 wasn’t so different from 2021. One thing is for sure though. This movie would be laughed out of theaters today, and rightly so.


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