Friday, February 09, 2007

The Oscars Bandwagon

Every year I promise myself to watch most of the movies up for Oscars so I can actually debate the merits of one over the other instead of cheering on the only one I happened to have seen but alas I’ve failed again.

So, let me rant about the three movies I did manage to see, that are getting a nod.

Little Miss Sunshine. The girls over at have done a great job blogging about this one, and it really was one of the best movies of the year. Not sure if the kid deserves an Oscar though… I’d give it to the screenwriter, maybe the director, and quite possibly Steve Carell (who brings comic genius to every role he plays, including cartoon voices). Greg Kinnear was great, as always (LOVED him in The Matador – another hilarious movie that flirts with the dark side – and succeeds). Toni Colette was also fabulous (isn’t she always?) as was the sulky teenager and the coked-up grandfather.

But here’s the deal: I think all these actors are genuinely talented to begin with, so it was really this rich, subtle, nuanced and very well written story that gave them an opportunity to shine. As writers, we could probably learn a a lot from a movie that takes the most ordinary of families and mundane of circumstances to Oscar level entertainment.

Dreamgirls. Do NOT get me started. Hated it, hated hated it (before you hate ME I’ll tell you where this venom comes from. I think if threre weren’t any Oscar buzz around this movie, I would’ve said it was cute and mildy entertaining, not a total waste of $10. The costumes were beyond fabulous. I really felt I was in the 50s, 60s, 70s (loved those 70s…) and 80s. I loved how BeyoncĂ©’s voice was constantly getting dissed – kudos to her for putting up with it. But Jennifer Hudson??? Just because it was her first time acting does not mean she deserves an Oscar. These aren’t the A-for-effort awards. She WAS good for a first timer, but not once in that whole movie did she move me, touch me, or elevate my thinking to another level, like say, Eddie Murphy, who did in fact deliver an Oscar worthy nuanced and layered performance (you really saw his character change over the span of the movie… can’t say the same for Hudson’s).

Blood Diamond. Now THIS is a movie that deserves an Oscar, if only for shining the spotlight on a difficult subject. That everything else is so great about it is gravy: the tight screenplay, the sweeping, breathtaking shots of Africa, and every single actor, from the little boy who gets kidnapped and recruited into a rebel guerilla to Leo’s incredible body and spot-on Zimbawean accent (yes, lots of people from Zimbabwae and South Africa living here in the Caymans, so I can judge).

The criticism I’m hearing about this movie is that it was too violent. I can’t tell you how much this annoys me. Life isn’t a slightly grittier version of Disneyland, people. Most continents are riddled with very serious, ugly, life-threatning problems. Diamonds are just one of them (one guy in the movie, looking at the dead bodies littering the street after a rebel raid, remarks: “Thank God we don’t have oil”. Coming from the Middle-East, I find that pretty ironic). It’s important tobe exposed to these issues. How else are you going to learn to put things into perspective? Not watching a movie depicting people getting limbs machete’d off in the name of the “blood diamonds” is not a stand a violence in the movies. It’s just wilful ignorence. To be honest, there are scenes where I had to look away, butit didn’t take anything away from the experience. I learned so much. Like, for instance, did you know that the big diamond cartels – such as De Beers – used to buy up those “conflict diamonds” that rebels obtained illegally (i.e horrifically) so the flood of cheap diamonds would not bring down their market price?

Let me put it another way: rebel gangs raid villages in Africa, ensalve people into working the diamond mines, try and sell these mined diamonds on the free market so they can purchase weapons, a big company like De Beers buys them up so that diamonds, a commodity like wheat, oil and gold, stays at a certain (high) price. Doesn’t that make you mad??? The only people who aren’t getting a totally raw deal out of this sordid mess are the companies that rake in profits from bling-bling loving schelps like us (I’m convinced De Beers came up with the ‘two-months’ salary rule).

What those people who didn’t like Blood Diamond under the pretext of “violence” missed is that at the end, after all the spilled guts and gangs and drugs and corruption, Blood Diamond was actually uplifting. It sent a very powerful message. That ordinary people like us, can and do make a difference, with every thought, every action, and every purchase.

The movie is set a few years ago, just before a special law was passed which specifically addressed the misery surrounding the trade of “conflict diamonds” on the free market. As a result of this international law (which is just a few years old, remember), only 15% of diamonds on the market nowadays are thought to be “conflict diamonds”. That’s still a high number, but think how high it would have been if regular people hadn’t been made aware of, and then enraged at what their money was buying.

To me, the key message wasn’t “don’t buy diamonds”, it was “you can and do make a difference”. Just think about how positive, how empowering this is.

If that doesn’t convince you to see Blood Diamond, maybe this will: Leonardo DiCaprio has never looked hotter.


Aryn Kennedy said...

You're right about the DeBeers thing. Not only did their marketing department create the two-month rule, but the "right hand ring" was created because they managed to boost the "required" six of engagement rings to such a size that they had an overload of small stones.

The "diamond is forever" campaign was created in the 20s because diamonds were less important then and they didn't want women selling them or handing them down and reducing the demand for new diamonds.

WendyToliver said...

Quick note on Leo: Okay, so I always thought he was cute in a little boy kind of way (think Titanic) but I just watched Departed last night (for V-day) and I won't get into why the movie wasn't very good IMHO, because OMG did Leo look great! And his acting was amazing. I'm so proud to see what he's blossomed into. And I hope to get to see many more movies w/ him gracing the silver screen.