If I’m going to talk about movies, I gotta talk about Mom, a.k.a. Annie.
My mom and I were best friends when I was growing up. From the time I was six years old it was only her and I in the house so we were lucky that we liked each other. However, we had very different temperaments. I was an introvert. My mom was not. I liked staying home and reading. My mom liked to go out and do things. Early on we realized one common denominator for us is that we both had a bountiful passion for watching movies.
My mom nurtured my love of movies in much the same way she nurtured my love for reading when I was growing up. She just kept making both mediums available to me and she rarely censored anything. One of my favorite stories about her is when she took me to see The Exorcist when I was young. She gave me the book to read first, then we went to the movie. Since I was roughly the same age as Linda Blair, I was the only person in the theater who wasn’t hiding their eyes terrified by her portrayal of the possessed girl. I was just starting puberty so to me the movie seemed a pretty accurate depiction of what that journey was like.
I realized quickly that I liked movies because I love a good story. I’m also a visual person so learning about fascinating people through the stories that are told in movies is especially enjoyable for me. Mom loved those things too but primarily, she really dug celebrities. Their glamour appealed to her because she herself was naturally glamorous.
Mom had numerous magazine subscriptions when I was growing up. Ebony, Life, Jet were all magazines that were always on the coffee table but her favorite magazines were the old movie mags like Photoplay and Movie Screen. She’d pick them up at the newsstand on her way to work and she’d have devoured them before breakfast the next morning.
Many of her favorite actors when I was a kid were people who are all gone now: Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif. I grew up watching black and white films on TV with Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Bette Davis, Jimmy Stewart, and Humphrey Bogart. My mom would pick out the ones I should see giving me a little synopsis in her own words and then letting me know if she thought I’d like it and telling me to watch it anyway even if she didn’t think I would. By the time, Sidney Poitier did Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner I was still in elementary school but I’d seen dozens of movies and I wasn’t too young for that particular story to quite literally blow my mind in a good way.
I believe it was around the time that Sidney won his Oscar for Lilies of the Field that my mom developed what I always thought was a peculiar habit. She adored watching the Academy Awards and prepped for it like it was a state dinner with only her and me at the dining table. She’d dressed in her favorite and fanciest lounging outfit, make dinner for us, then set us up in the living room to watch. The phone was always nearby so she and her mom, my grandmother, could call each other when something especially exciting happened on the show. The second that the Academy Awards would start to come on, my mom would dig out her red ledger book, and write in what I still think is the most perfect handwriting I’ve ever seen, every single host, presenter, award, nominee, and winner for each category. She did this for at least two decades.
Now before you decide this pet project was a little wacky, remember there was no internet when Mom started doing this. Therefore, if you really wanted to try to remember what won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1973 you either had to have a good memory or wait for a trip to the library, because it wasn’t as if you could easily find the information at your fingertips if you wanted it. You could however, because of her meticulous documentation of the proceedings, easily answer that it was The Godfather, if you were my mother.
My love of movies and the unbridled fun I have analyzing them with friends has not diminished even slightly since childhood. But it has become increasingly difficult to find the time to actually go to see a film the way they should be seen – in a comfortable chair, in a dark room, with a screen at least two stories high and just as wide. I thought it would be easier now that I’m single, but it’s not. Like everything else if you want something you have to make time for it. In much the way, my mother made time for her interests. It was not uncommon for my mom to make sure she had seen every single film nominated for best picture before the Academy Awards day came around. To honor her memory and to get myself into the habit of going out to the movies again, I decided I’d do the same this year.
There were nine movies nominated for best picture this year. Nine is a bit of an overwhelming number but I started in October with Moonlight and finished late last night with Lion. Except for two of the films I saw them all alone which is something I don’t mind unless the movie is scary. I was by myself when I saw Jaws the first time. I still haven’t recovered from seeing the first ten minutes of that film by myself and have instant replays of the music in my head if I’m alone in the ocean. Luckily, it’s rare that a scary movie gets picked as best picture nominee by the Academy. Can you name the last one? See, where are Mom’s red ledgers when you need them?
One thing I can say about all the films nominated is that they were all sad in some way. All but one of them made me cry, including the one I least expected to do that: Hidden Figures. I think I cried about that because as a little black girl growing up in Harlem I would have liked to have known those women existed. I liked math as a kid. The strength and intellect of women like Mary Tucker, Dorothy Vaughn, and Katherine Johnson would have been very inspiring to me. It makes me sad to think how much I should have known that I didn’t because of America’s mangled deprivations and tortured history related to race and gender.
I won’t review all the films but I will give you a one liner about all and list them in the order in which I liked them or felt they deserved the best picture nod. And since some of my friends need to know whether they will have to bring the tissue box before they even decide to go to a movie, I’ll rate it between one and four tears, with one being barely a sniffle and with four being a nasty, ugly cry that required a whole roll of tissue paper and an hour of therapy.
- Manchester by the Sea = 4 tears: Sad, sad, sad frigging movie made brilliantly with hints of Beantown humor (loved how it used classical music to soften the blows) the only movie that came close to beating out Moonlight for me.
- Moonlight = 2.5 tears: I loved this movie for all its black faces, for its quirky camera angles, for all three of the young actors that did an outstanding job playing the main character, for its subtlety, and for Mahershala Ali and Andre Holland both of whom I have a particular fondness for. Barry done good.
- Hell or High Water = ½ a tear: I couldn’t wait to see this movie because I dig Jeff Bridges and I had a feeling it would be a small gold nugget of a film, made in a Coen brother style so everyone would get what they deserved and the story would be well told; it did not disappoint me at all.
- Hidden Figures = 2 tears: Excellent! I probably would put it higher on the list if I were being objective or had less perverse tastes.
- Arrival = 3 tears: This film was a surprise in that it sucked me in and blew me away quite unexpectedly. It’s not even a terribly original plot but the pacing, the effects, the art direction, and Amy were all terrific.
- Fences = 1 tear: This was a play and is so talky it feels like one so you have to get over that to really pay attention to the amazing acting tour de force by EVERYONE on the screen, not just Denzel and Viola, and for the record, I didn’t cry until the last ten seconds of the film. Denzel as director and the great August Wilson deserved this nod.
- Hacksaw Ridge = 2 tears: I’m not a pacifist but I have a hard time with war movies and when they are made by Mr. Blood & Guts Gibson well you know, still this was a great story, told effectively, and Garfield is very good but the real shocker for me was Vince Vaughn in a little cameo playing an actual character.
- Lion = 4 tears: I LOVE Dev Patel but he is not the star of this film for me, that honor went to Sunny Pawar who plays the same character Dev plays as a child and steals the movie. Again the story is very effecting but the film is slow in places.
- La La Land = 0 tears: Only three things to say, yes this is a real musical, yes I still love Ryan and Emma together but in wholly different material, and ultimately because of it’s story and plot La La was ca ca to me. I can’t explain further without spoiling it for anyone who might enjoy it.
One last thing, the Academy should have nominated ten films this year. Captain Fantastic was a terrific movie, it deserved the nod and if I could pencil it in somewhere in the top five I would. The story was original and the film had a distinct sense of humor while also being heavy and poignant. I highly recommend it and it definitely got 2.5 tears.
Okay I shared, I even sort of reviewed them. Maybe you’ll reciprocate and tell me: what’s your pick for best picture of 2017 and why?