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.
Alan Turing and his machine
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. Chloë 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.
Brandon Teena in a skate park
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? Well 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.
Ron Woodroof (right) and Rayon (left) sit on a bench
Bohemian Rhapsody is a movie I’d been waiting years to see. I’ve been a Queen fan pretty much my entire life. Not realizing all their songs were by them. Which has always been the point of Queen. None of their songs sound exactly the same, but all of them are hits. So when they announced they were making a biopic, I knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. To listen to Queen’s greatest hits all at once. Songs that include, but are not limited to: “Killer Queen,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” “We Will Rock You,” “We Are the Champions,” “Somebody to Love,” “Don’t Stop Me Now,” “Under Pressure,” “You’re My Best Friend,” “Fat Bottomed Girls,” “Bicycle Race,” “Radio Ga Ga,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “The Show Must Go On,” and of course their magnum opus “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Which is also my favorite song. Bohemian Rhapsody recounts all of the most important parts of Freddie Mercury’s short life. When he first meets/joins his bandmates, his marriage to wife Mary Austin, meeting Jim Hutton, and when they played Live Aid. Writing all their hit songs along the way. Despite some turbulent behind the scenes drama involving the director (Bryan Singer) and the original star of the movie, Rami Malek perfectly captures the unique vocal talent of Freddie Mercury. From his teeth to his mustache. Although the film is much more devisive than I thought it would be. Since Mercury is a gay icon, it’s possible some fans were expecting more. I personally thought it was just the right amount. They do talk about his AIDs diagnosis, but that’s not where the focus should be. They know it’s supposed to be all about the music. Which is what makes Bohemian Rhapsody a champion in my mind.
Freddie Mercury sings
Brokeback Mountain should have won Best Picture instead of Crash. Honestly, which one of those movies are people gonna remember. When Brokeback Mountain first came out, people only knew it as “the gay cowboy movie.” That’s certainly how I knew the movie back in the day. Which is why I (and likely other straight men) avoided watching it. It took me awhile, but I finally decided I should just go ahead and watch it. Brokeback Mountain was the first movie Ang Lee directed after the mistake that was Hulk. Showing that he really should stick to what he knows. Even earning him a Best Director Oscar for his trouble. It’s about two men who are hired to herd sheep in the titular mountains. All their time spent together leads to a forbidden romance that nobody can know about, because it takes place in the south during the 60’s. The only thing I have a hard time getting past is the adultery. Both characters have wives and children that they leave to “go fishing.” Making their relationship more complex and eventually end in tragedy. Brokeback Mountain is filled with great performances from Heath Ledger (R.I.P.), Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, and Anne Hathaway. It’s likely the main reason it didn’t win was because the Academy wasn’t ready to award a movie with a gay romance Best Picture. Even though their sexuality is a subject of debate. I probably won’t see it multiple times, but Brokeback Mountain is a very well made movie.
Ennis (right) comforts Jack (left)
Midnight Cowboy is the original gay cowboy movie. Even though the main character is neither gay nor a cowboy. He dresses like a cowboy, but this is the 60’s we’re talking about. So why is Midnight Cowboy remembered the way it is? Well Midnight Cowboy is about Joe Buck. A dishwasher who leaves Texas to become a hustler in New York. As he believes his looks will make him irresistible to women. Little does he know, the big city isn’t as forgiving as he thinks. Both Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman deliver award worthy performances which keep the movie from feeling too hard to watch. Hoffman plays a disabled con man named Rico “Ratso” Rizzo. He’s the one responsible for the movie’s most famous line “I’m walking here!” Which was entirely improvised. It’s one of the most famous quotes in movie history and a testament to Hoffman’s acting ability. His character is also the most tragic character I’ve ever seen him play. Let’s just say you won’t know how to feel by the end. Midnight Cowboy is most remembered for being the first (and only) X rated movie to win Best Picture. By today’s standards it would have been R, but all the references to homosexuality made it X. It may be bleak, but Midnight Cowboy is a landmark movie and the first truly shocking Best Picture winner.
“I’m walking here!”
Bound is the directorial debut of the Matrix trilogy directors the Wachowskis. It also happens to be the last movie of theirs that I saw. Mostly because it’s so different from the rest of their work. The Wachowskis are known for their large scale CGI filled science fiction films. Bound is a small scale neo-noir crime thriller. Most people probably forgot it even exists or that it’s even associated with these directors. That was the main reason I knew about the movie. That and the fact that Bound is about a lesbian couple. Before I get into that, here’s the story. Bound is about Violet, a woman who plans to steal $2 billion dollars from her mafia boyfriend. With the help of her ex con neighbor Corky. Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon give realistically hot & steamy performances as a lesbian couple. One of the reasons the movie was well received. I personally liked how tense the atmosphere was. The climax (including the reason the movie is called “Bound“) keeps you on the edge of your seat, unsure of what’s gonna happen. While most people don’t remember Bound, it’s an underrated film that promised an interesting career from the Wachowskis.
Corky (left) meets Violet (right)
Rent is the movie version of the hit musical of the same name. It features a cast of almost every member of the original broadway lineup. Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal, Jesse L. Martin, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Idina Menzel, and Taye Diggs are returning cast members. While Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms replace Daphne Rubin-Vega and Fredi Walker respectively. I never knew much about this musical beforehand. Other than the fact that my theater class would occasionally play songs from it. Needless to say I wasn’t expecting what I watched. Rent is about people called Bohemians (a person who has informal and unconventional social habits, especially an artist or writer). They live in the same building and deal with problems like paying the rent. It’s also set from 1989-1990, when the AIDS epidemic was in full swing. That’s what I wasn’t expecting from the movie. It may be a musical (with some pretty good songs), but that doesn’t make its subject matter any less edgy. Rent features a gay couple, a lesbian couple, characters dying from AIDS, two F bombs, brief female nudity, and somehow it didn’t get an R rating. That just doesn’t make much sense to me. If high schools find it too edgy to perform, why did it get a PG-13 rating? Some musicals work well enough on stage, while others just don’t translate well to film. Rent might have benefited from a different direction.
“La Vie Boheme!”
Well to end Black History Month, I finally got around to seeing Moonlight after avoiding it for a year. Not entirely because of its subject matter. I was trying to get over how annoyed I was that it won over La La Land. I still see it as more of a personal favorite, but I get why Moonlight won. Moonlight is very well made, like a work of art. Its camera work, blue and purple color palette, performances, story structure, music, and themes all make it work. As soon as I saw the trailer I knew it would get Oscar attention (the trailer is also really good). Moonlight has all the elements of an Oscar bait movie. The main character is black, gay, there’s drugs, poverty, growing up, it’s based on a book/personal experience (really the only thing missing is some form of handicap). Moonlight is about Chiron and it’s separated in three different segments. One when he’s a child, a teenager, and an adult. I don’t often watch movies about race or homosexuality, but Moonlight actually isn’t entirely focused on that. Moonlight is about life and identity above anything else. Which made it easier to watch then I thought it would be. Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris are notable standouts, playing a fatherly drug dealer and drugged out mother respectively. My feelings towards the Oscar results haven’t changed much, but Moonlight is definitely a worthy winner.
“In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue”
The Birdcage is unexpectedly good. Being a straight man, I don’t actively seek out LGBT movies. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. However my mom told me it was hilarious so I watched it. I’m glad I did, because it’s my favorite movie on the subject. The interesting thing about the movie is the characters. Robin Williams isn’t playing the over the top comedic role. He actually plays the straight man (no pun intended). It’s actually Nathan Lane and The Simpsons great Hank Azaria who steal the show. The humor and the craziness of the situations are what makes The Birdcage such an enjoyable film and a recommendation.
Albert (left) and Armond (right) sit together on a bench