What it Means to Be a Man

The Power of the Dog is an old fashioned western with a new fashioned twist. After her previous nomination with The Piano, Jane Campion became the second consecutive woman to win Best Director at the Academy Awards. Although I’m certain that’s a big reason for its acclaim, The Power of the Dog is an engaging character study. It was nominated for 12 Oscars, but only won 1 for Best Director. The last movie to do that was The Graduate back in 1967. The last movie to win 1 while losing 11 was Becket back in 1964. Though The Power of the Dog seemed like a shoo-in to win Best Picture, CODA was the true underdog.

Ironically it became a competition between Netflix and Apple TV+. The scenic western production value earned it several technical nominations for Best Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Score, Production Design, and Sound. Every single award was lost to Dune. The original 1967 book by Thomas Savage works surprisingly well in the 2020’s. It’s actually another gay cowboy movie nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. Although it’s a bit more subtle with metaphors and symbolism. Campion’s style can be seen through character relationships, male nudity, and there’s even a piano. The entire cast deserved their respective nominations.

It’s an unexpectedly good ensemble that includes Doctor Strange, Nightcrawler, Mary Jane Watson, and her husband. Thomasin McKenzie is the only New Zealand native in the cast. Benedict Cumberbatch plays a surly rancher with a convincing southern drawl. Phil belittles his brother George and his eventual wife Rose. Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst are a convincing married couple since they are one in real life. Although they were nominated in the same year, neither of them won. Dunst plays Rose as a miserable alcoholic who takes abuse from her brother in-law. Kodi Smit-McPhee plays her unmanly son Peter who gets roped up in Phil’s world. Though it seems like an attraction, Peter is more devious than he lets on. The Power of the Dog is slow, but powerful.

The Power of the Dog

Peter rides with Phil

You Are the Father

The Kids Are All Right is one of the first high profile movies with a same sex couple at the center of it. I remember the film being a big deal back in 2010. Since the lesbian relationship is treated like any other relationship with problems and difficulties. Probably because the director and co-writer Lisa Cholodenko is a lesbian herself. The Kids Are All Right won big at the Golden Globes, but only managed 4 Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Original Screenplay.

The Kids Are All Right is all about the kids of a lesbian couple who contact their sperm donor. When the donor turns out to be a pretty cool dad, his continued presence starts to derail the family. The Kids Are All Right only works because of the commited cast of Oscar favorites and rising young stars. Annette Bening gives an Oscar nominated performance as the alcoholic Nic who feels threatened by Paul’s presence. Mark Ruffalo was also nominated for playing the laid back and easy going Paul. Julianne Moore is just as believable as Nic’s wife Jules who feels more repressed and ends up having an affair with Paul.

Although the adults are messed up, at least the kids are alright. Joni is Nic’s biological daughter and Laser is Jules biological son. It was a big year for Mia Wasikowska who also appeared in Alice in Wonderland. She plays the increasingly rebellious Joni who starts to bond with her biological father. Post-Zathura Josh Hutcherson is more lackadaisical when Laser meets Paul, but he does take his advice. Though Paul seems to grow from his casual hook ups and organic lifestyle, the movie doubles down on trying to save its troubled marriage. The Kids Are All Right is unconventional in a way that feels conventional.

The Kids Are All Right

Paul has dinner with the Allgood’s

Movie, Book, and Food

Fried Green Tomatoes is a 1991 film, a 1987 novel, and a Southern delicacy. I’ll admit I only wanted to watch, read, and eat fried green tomatoes because of a joke made in the Simpsons episode “The Two Mrs. Nahasapeemapetilons.” When Apu asked Manjula what her favorite movie, book, and food was, she cleverly said fried green tomatoes. I’ve eaten authentic fried green tomatoes many times since I’m currently the host of a Southern restaurant. I like them, but they’re not something I’d eat all the time. I also decided to read Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg. Although it took me awhile to understand the format, the book became very engrossing due to its controversial themes and generational story. The story takes place in the past and present with newspaper articles between chapters. The movie has a similar format, but everything is streamlined.

The Past – Most of Fried Green Tomatoes takes place between both World Wars, though the wars are mostly omitted. It follows the strong friendship between tomboy Idgie Threadgoode and Southern belle Ruth Jamison. I’m not too familiar with Mary Stuart Masterson or Mary-Louise Parker, but they both fit their respective characters. Since it was the early 90’s, the movie downplays the obvious lesbian subtext. Race relations are also toned down compared to the book’s liberal use of the “N” word. Though the legendary Cicely Tyson still gets time to shine as their cook Sipsey and Stan Shaw embodies Big George. Characters like prejudice sheriff Grady, kind hearted hobo Smokey, and noble Reverend Scroggins stick around, while other characters are either removed or reduced. Newcomer Chris O’Donnell as Idgie’s brother Buddy makes a stronger impression than the one armed boy who carries on his name. The most intriguing part of this story is a murder mystery involving Ruth’s abusive husband Frank. Let’s just say the outcome is unexpected if you haven’t read the book.

Fried Green Tomatoes

Ruth lies next to Idgie

The Present – The rest of Fried Green Tomatoes is framed with elderly nursing home resident Ninny Threadgoode telling the story to middle aged housewife Evelyn Couch. Like the book, these segments ended up being the funniest. After their respective Oscar wins for Driving Miss Daisy and Misery, Jessica Tandy and Kathy Bates ended up giving the best performances in the film. Miss Threadgoode is similar to Miss Daisy, but the difference is Ninny’s fondest for life and sense of nostalgia. When feminist classes fail to spice up her marriage to husband Ed, Evelyn forms a touching friendship with Ninny that inspires her in real life. Evelyn goes through a major transformation after a nasty supermarket encounter. Though the scene is better in the book, it doesn’t take away how impactful it is. Fried Green Tomatoes has two seperate deaths, but only one got me to cry.

In conclusion, Fried Green Tomatoes retains its strong Christian themes, but loses some of its edge with a safer PG-13 rating. Other artistic liberties were taken in order to maintain some of the mystery. While it isn’t the easiest story to adapt, the late Carol Sobieski and Flagg herself were both nominated for Adapted Screenplay. Tandy was nominated for Best Actress, but Bates only received a Golden Globe nomination. If there’s one thing the movie definitely gets right, it’s how hungry you’re guaranteed to be after watching it. Fried Green Tomatoes doesn’t quite have the bite of the novel, but it’s still a very well acted and emotional adaptation.

Fried Green Tomatoes 2

Ninny tells Evelyn her story

Attica! Attica!

Dog Day Afternoon is a perfect movie for the anti-establishment 1970’s. Based on the real life Chase Manhattan bank robbery perpetrated by John Wojtowicz and Salvatore Naturile in 1972. I’ve been wanting to see Dog Day Afternoon for years since I’ve seen it parodied on The Simpsons and even SpongeBob of all places. The R rating is mostly for language that they do call attention to a few times. Dog Day Afternoon is an all time best crime film that had serious competition from Jaws and eventual Best Picture winner One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Although based on the event’s Life Magazine article “The Boys in the Bank,” the movie’s only win was Best Original Screenplay. Frank Pierson’s script is a lot like director Sidney Lumet’s first film 12 Angry Men. Dog Day Afternoon also takes place in real time with a small cast of characters that we get to know over the course of one heated afternoon.

Dog Day Afternoon focuses on the 2 bank robbers, bank employees, police negotiators, and civilians. The renamed Sonny Wortzik beared likeness to Al Pacino, but the actor backed out several times before settling on a performance. An Oscar nominated Pacino was at the height of his fame. He turns Sonny into a sympathetic figure and unlikely hero of the people. His “Attica!” chant perfectly captures his distrust of authority. The crowd gets worked up into a frenzy and of course the media makes a spectacle out of the crisis. Pacino’s fellow Godfather co-star John Cazale plays his much more reserved partner Sal Naturile. Unlike the more outspoken and commanding Sonny, we don’t learn too much about Sal. Their initial bank robbery goes south in an almost comical way. Hostages include the asthmatic security guard, Sully Boyar as the frustrated bank manager Mulvanny, Penelope Allen as lead bank employee Sylvia “Mouth,” and the rest of the all-female bank tellers. The women develop stockholm syndrome and don’t show much fear of their captors.

The primary police negotiators couldn’t be more different from one another. Charles Durning is the more emotional street Sergeant Moretti and James Broderick is the more calm FBI Agent Sheldon. As the movie unfolds, we learn the shocking truth about Sonny’s personal life. He has an overprotective mother and a wife he can’t stand, but the most unexpected twist is the relationship he has with another man. Homosexuality was a sensitive topic back in 1975, so the movie is careful not to make it seem like a joke. Chris Sarandon was also nominated for his portrayal of Sonny’s lover Leon who seeks a sex change operation. Though it’s never made explicitly clear if that’s the whole reason for the robbery. Their phone conversation is intense, but that’s the extent of their interactions. Most of Sonny’s requests for food and transportation are approved until the crisis ends in an instant. Dog Day Afternoon handles crisis with all the intrigue and character depth you’d hope for.

Dog Day Afternoon

“Attica! Attica!”

Mein Herr

Cabaret puts on a show unlike anything seen at the time. Liza Minnelli steals the show with a Best Actress winning performance. Something her famous mother Judy Garland wasn’t able to do. Liza carried on her late mother’s legacy and made her father Vincente Minnelli proud in the process. Cabaret is sometimes considered to be the last great musical to win big at the Academy Awards. Despite a record 8 wins and 10 nominations, Cabaret is the most awarded film without winning Best Picture. Of course The Godfather was major competition. Yet Cabaret still won Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Score, and Best Sound. Cabaret was a big comeback for director Bob Fosse who also choreographed the dance numbers. It’s full of his signature jazzy style and gay undertones.

Cabaret was actually rated X at the time for its frank depiction of sex, homosexuality, fascism, and other controversial topics in 1930’s Weimar Republic. Although it didn’t win Best Adapted Screenplay, there was a lot of material to work through. Cabaret is based on the 1966 musical of the same name, the 1951 play I Am a Camera, and the semi-autobiographical book Goodbye to Berlin. Carefree American cabaret singer Sally Bowles is based on the English Jean Ross. She performs at the Berlin Kit Kat Klub, but dreams of becoming a famous actress. I don’t agree with all of her choices, but Minnelli makes an impression with her iconic black pixie cut. Her English roommate Brian Roberts is bisexual, but based on the openly gay Christopher Isherwood.

Michael York portrays the inner conflict well, even though Brian is mostly serious about his relationship with Sally. They both end up in a love triangle with playboy Maximilian von Heune. Max in turn ends up romantically linked with the Jewish Natalia Landauer. The relationship is challenged by the Nazis slowly rising to power. They cleverly keep it in the background until the innocent sounding “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” turns sinister when a Nazi youth is revealed to be singing it. Scenes like this are juxtaposed with lively cabaret performances. Songs like “Mein Herr,” Money, Money,” or “Cabaret” are only heard during these sexually charged numbers. Joel Grey actually won the Oscar for playing the flamboyant Master of Ceremonies. Cabaret is a cynically realistically musical told with a smile.

cabaret

Sally Bowles performs “Mein Herr”

The Scorpion and the Frog

The Crying Game is all about human nature. Something I was never aware of, because I only ever knew about its shocking twist. Spoilers were unavoidable since shows like The Simpsons and movies like Shallow Hal both gave away the big reveal. Much like Soylent Green, I doubt I would’ve seen The Crying Game without knowing the twist ahead of time. The Crying Game is mostly about a volunteer member of the Irish Republican Army during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The movie deals with a variety of controversial subjects that practically guaranteed its nomination for Best Picture.

Nationality is most present when Fergus struggles with remaining loyal to his country. Race is apparent when the black British Jody is held hostage at the beginning. Miranda Richardson is especially cruel as the woman who lures him in. The bond Fergus forms with Jody showcases a brief but memorable performance from Forrest Whitaker. When their friendship is tragically cut short, Fergus tries to make a mends by comforting Jody’s girlfriend Dil back in London. Dil is a hairdresser who frequents a bar and ultimately sparks a romance with Fergus under the alias “Jimmy.”

Sexuality is the most major theme, because (SPOILER ALERT!) Dil is actually a man. The character is transgender, but first time actor Jaye Davidson plays the part. His androgynous look and feminine British accent probably fooled a lot of people back in 1992. Davidson’s transformative performance earned him a nomination for Best Supporting Actor, but Stephen Rea’s subtle performance was equally deserving of a Best Actor nomination. The stories complex nature did earn it an Oscar win for Best Original Screenplay. The Crying Game is a matter of fact thriller that feels realistic.

The Crying Game

Fergus and Dil in a bar

I’m Still Standing!

Rocketman soars as high as a kite. Since Elton John is one of the greatest living musicians, it was only a matter of time before someone gave him a biopic. Turns out the singer had been wanting a movie based on his life story since the 2000’s. The timing couldn’t have been better for it to happen in 2019. Dexter Fletcher directed Rocketman a year after his uncredited work on Bohemian Rhapsody. Both musical biopics center around gay singers who dealt with a lot of personal struggles. Music manager John Reid also plays a part in both stories. Even more ironic is the fact that Taron Egerton was practically born to play Elton John. Though singers and/or actors like Justin Timberlake and Tom Hardy were considered, Egerton had a lot of bizarre connections to the singer.

Egerton already sang “I’m Still Standing” in Sing and John himself had a featured role in The Golden Circle. He also happened to work with Fletcher before on Eddie the Eagle. Kingsman director Matthew Vaughn encouraged the casting by becoming a co-producer. Edgerton pulls off the bespectacled look and every flamboyant outfit. Although I saw Bohemian Rhapsody in theaters, I chose not to do the same with Rocketman. Though I am a big fan of John’s songs, the R rating spoke for itself. Unlike Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman doesn’t hold back on the singer’s homosexuality or various addictions. The film explores his younger days as a piano prodigy and the strained relationship with his parents that led to him changing his name from Reginald Dwight to Elton John.

Bryce Dallas Howard is practically unrecognizable as his mother. As his star rises, John forms his longest lasting platonic relationship with songwriter Bernie Taupin played by Jamie Bell. His troubled love life includes abusive manager Reid played by Richard Madden, but his relationships with women are significantly downplayed. Rocketman is more of a fantasy with purposeful historic inaccuracies and stylish musical numbers for all his songs. Every performance is fun to watch, but Elton’s rehab visits and struggle to love himself are the heart of his life’s story. Which is why “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” won Best Original Song. And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time ’til anything tops Rocketman.

Rocketman

Elton John dressed up

The Turing Machine

The Imitation Game highlights an often overlooked part of history. The 2015 Academy Awards is the first show where I watched every film nominated for Best Picture. The Imitation Game was last on my list, because I thought it would be boring. Little did I know how fascinating cryptography would be. Alan Turing was an English mathematician turned cryptanalyst who asked the important question “Can machines think?” His theory led to the invention of one of the earliest computers. Though Turing faced great difficulty as a homosexual in the middle of World War II.

The Imitation Game is a suitably thrilling war movie fought behind the scenes. Some complain that Turing’s sexuality is underplayed, but that’s not the key focus of the story. Any romantic feelings are hinted at during Turing’s school boy days. Benedict Cumberbatch proved himself as a serious Oscar contender. Although the film may not be 100% factual, Cumberbatch captures Turing as a socially awkward loner. He and other cryptographers are hired to break the Nazi Enigma machine. Which sends coded messages that could be vital in winning the war. So Turing built a machine capable of outthinking Enigma.

Equally important is Turing’s non-romantic relationship with Joan Clarke. Frequent historical actress Kiera Knightly was also nominated for her effort. Clarke faces her own share of adversity as the sole female cryptanalyst, but she forms a bound with Turing that helps complete his work. Of course the truth comes out and it is distressing to see Turing endure chemical castration. Although it cost him a great deal, Turing’s machine was a major victory for all involved. Making The Imitation Game a story worth telling.

The Imitation Game

Alan Turing and his machine

If I Were a Boy

Boys Don’t Cry is the most transformative film of Hilary Swank’s career. Although I would’ve prefered seeing American Beauty win all five major Oscars, I completely understand Swank winning Best Actress. The Academy loves major transformations. No matter how controversial the subject matter is. Boys Don’t Cry is centered on real life transgender individual Brandon Teena. Although I rarely gravitate towards movies like this, I can still appreciate the performances, direction, and handling of tragic events. Transgender movies were almost unheard of in 1999.

Until director Kimberly Pierce learned about the story in college. Swank lost weight, cut her hair, and wore male clothing to effectively pass for Teena. The movie tries to focus on a love story and coming-of-age themes before the brutality comes in. Pierce uses several artistic techniques to represent confinement and longing. The Nebraska trailer park setting only emphasizes 1999’s fascination with escaping a mundane lifestyle. Teena tries to live like a boy, but several reckless decisions with rough male friends make things worse.

Eventually Teena falls in love with burnt out singer Lana Tisdel. Chloรซ Sevigny gives the second best performance that also deserved an Oscar nomination. There’s plenty of intense passion even if it isn’t entirely factually accurate. As I saw in the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated, Boys Don’t Cry nearly received an NC-17 for its graphic sex scenes and inevitable assault. The latter is particularly hard to watch. Teena was later murdered by the same “friends” who committed the assault. Leading to a change in hate crime law. Boys Don’t Cry leaves a lasting impact.

Boys Don't Cry

Brandon Teena in a skate park

This Ain’t My First Rodeo

Dallas Buyers Club made us reexamine Matthew McConaughey as an actor. Before he was merely that dazed and confused stoner guy with a southern drawl. Now he’s a serious Oscar contender. So how did that happen exactly? Wellย Dallas Buyers Club played through McConaughey’s strengths. He portrays the real life Texas cowboy Ron Woodroof. A man so macho that it comes as a complete shock to him that he’s just been diagnosed with AIDS.

This was back when nobody knew anything about HIV. So anyone who had it was treated like a leper with a death sentence. The AIDS epidemic is another point in history I was fortunate to have avoided. Upon learning his diagnosis, Ron is in complete denial. Until he ends up losing everything and his health begins to deteriorate. With the help of his lovely doctor, Ron begins to seek treatment from outside sources. Leading to the smuggling of unapproved drugs from other countries. Realizing he can profit off it, Ron establishes the titular Dallas Buyers Club.

In the process Ron partners up with polar opposite Rayon. A trans individual who helps Ron find more AIDS patients. Their performances couldn’t be more different, but Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto both ended up winning Oscars for Best Performance. What they do have in common is all the weight they had to lose for their roles. Looking like very convincing sick people. In the end, Dallas Buyers Club is all about the well being of its patients. Regardless of who they may be on the outside.

DBC

Ron Woodroof (right) and Rayon (left) sit on a bench