AMC Best Picture Showcase: Day 1

24 Feb

This past Saturday was the beginning of my fifth year attending AMC’s Best Picture Showcase. I didn’t attend last year for a couple of reasons, so I was really happy to find a new theater in my new home of Georgia and get back in the Oscar spirit. Here’s my thoughts on the four films I saw:

Philomena: I seriously love Judi Dench and this movie only reinforced that love. The film is about Philomena, a lovely older woman, who is in search of a son she was forced to give up for adoption as a young woman. She is accompanied by a journalist looking to write a human interest story about her and her quest. The mystery of what happened to her son after they parted is expertly unfolded in a engaging way and the lessons along the way are poignant and moving. My only gripes are the negative treatment of atheism (though it isn’t as bad as it is in a lot of other movies or TV shows) and the lack of truly satisfying justice towards the end. However, there is strength in letting go at times and – in that letting go – Philomena achieves a sort of independence and control that is very satisfying. It didn’t surprise me to learn this was directed by the same man who directed the extraordinary Mrs. Henderson Presents – Stephen Frears. From an emotional standpoint, this was my favorite film of the day.

The Dallas Buyers Club: I’m so happy to see Matthew McConaughey’s career picking back up. I really enjoyed his performances in A Time To Kill, Contact, and Amistad, so it’s always been a disappointment that, until recently, he had fallen into the world of cut rate romantic comedies and had become a shirtless caricature. I’ve found it hard to get into True Detective (though I plan to try again in the near future) and have yet to see Mud, but I was excited to take in this celebrated film – and I was not disappointed. McConaughey’s character, Ron, starts a medical subscription service after discovering he has AIDs and that his preferred treatment is not approved by the FDA. The purpose of this service is to provide other AIDs patients with access to the same drugs, since they aren’t available anywhere else. Being an opponent of the FDA, this movie does an excellent job of dramatizing the reality of how much that government bureaucracy gets in the way of sick people finding the care that works the best for them. There is occasional blame thrown at pharmaceutical companies in the form of noting the high cost of AZT at introduction and they way they often lobby the FDA for favors – but both are results of too much government power over these markets, and I felt that point and the case for separation of business and state was there during the course of the film. But the power in this film, as I mentioned before, is the concretization of the evil of our current medical government/business structure (which is only bound to get worse with the implementation of ObamaCare). Deathly ill people are forced to become criminals for the simple crime of educating themselves and desiring to try alternative treatments that they have seen to be successful. In one of the final scenes of the movie, a judge notes in his decision that we have the right to choose our own methods of treatment, but that we can only legally choose from the methods approved by the FDA – something that, when applied to the dying, is a travesty that results in potentially preventable deaths.

The Wolf of Wall Street: I’m going to keep this relatively short. DiCaprio’s performance was very good. But, ultimately, this movie was just not well constructed. It was WAAAAYYY too long and could’ve used the hand of a skilled editor. It also suffered from a distinct lack of purpose. I had heard it was supposed to be very naturalistic – presenting facts and not really passing judgment. Well, that was wrong because it did, every once in a while, seem to try to have some sort of theme or judgment the audience was supposed to get. However, it was so poorly done that those themes fluttered in and back out without ever really rooting in the story and making it a film with a purpose. The actual details of the fraud were also very vague and non-specific, so you never really got a handle on what the crimes in question were. This was just a sloppy, sloppy film.

12 Years a Slave: A very intense film, this movie portrays the story of Solomon Northrup, a black freeman from New York who is drugged, kidnapped, and illegally sold into slavery in the South. There’s very little I can add that hasn’t been said elsewhere – the film is well done and the performances are excellent. The most striking things to me was the emphasis on just how important the ability to read and write can be – and how debilitating it is to lose or need to hide those abilities. Also, all the characters were very clearly differentiated and defined, rather than simply being a mass representation of “slaves”. It made the individual stories much more tangible – for better or worse. 12 Years a Slave was a hard movie to watch, but ultimately a worthwhile viewing.

Next Saturday I see Nebraska, Her, American Hustle, Gravity, and Captain Philips.

Please take a moment and read the outstanding (and more in depth reviews) written by my friend Scott Holleran. They are excellent and always worth a look!

12 Years a Slave

Philomena

Dallas Buyers Club

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