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I meet people occasionally who think motion pictures, the product Hollywood makes, is merely entertainment, has nothing to do with education. That’s one of the darndest fool fantasies that is current . . . . Anything that brings you to tears by way of drama does something to the deepest roots of our personality. All movies, good or bad, are educational and Hollywood is the foremost educational institution on earth. What, Hollywood more important Harvard? The answer is not as clean as Harvard, but nevertheless farther reaching.

–Carl Sandburg, poet laureate

I believe cinema is now the most powerful secular religion and people gather in cinemas to experience things collectively the way they once did in church. The cinema storytellers have become the new priests. They’re doing a lot of the work of our religious institutions, which have so concretized the metaphors in their stories, taken so much of the poetry, mystery and mysticism out of religious belief, that people look for other places to question their spirituality.

–George Miller, filmmaker

The 82nd Academy Awards will be held on Sunday. This year the Best Picture category was supersized from the usual five nominations to ten.

  1. Avatar

  2. The Blind Side

  3. District 9

  4. An Education

  5. The Hurt Locker

  6. Inglorious Basterds

  7. Precious

  8. A Serious Man

  9. Up

  10. Up in the Air

Despite this expansion, there are only five serious contenders for Best Picture. The clue: nominees for Best Director.

  1. Avatar: James Cameron

  2. The Hurt Locker: Kathyrn Bigelow

  3. Inglorious Basterds: Quentin Tarantino

  4. Precious: Lee Daniels

  5. Up in the Air: Jason Reitman

Four questions every movie-goer should be asking:

  1. Which movie will win Best Picture?

  2. Which movie should win Best Picture?

  3. Which movie(s) should have been nominated for Best Picture?

  4. Which movies of 2009 were your favorite?

Here are my answers, and I invite you to share yours as well:

  1. Avatar will win Best Picture.

  2. The Hurt Locker should win Best Picture but Kathyn Bigelow will be awarded Best Director for her movie.

  3. Bright Star should have been nominated for Best Picture.

  4. My favorite movie of 2009 was Bright Star. Runners-up: Julie & Julia, (500) Days of Summer, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Gomorrah, The Young Victoria, Summer Hours (foreign movie), and The Class (foreign movie).

A. O. Scott (film critic of The New York Times), Annette Insdorf (Director of Undergraduate Film Studies at Columbia University), Stephanie Zacharek (film critic of Salon), and Dana Stevens (film critic of Slate) appeared on the Charlie Rose Show to discuss the Oscar nominations. Watch the episode here.

Regarding my favorite film of 2009, A. O. Scott writes eloquently about the freedom from hypocrisy in his review:
Ms. Campion is one of modern cinema’s great explorers of female sexuality, illuminating Sigmund Freud’s “dark continent” with skepticism, sympathy and occasional indignation. Bright Star could easily have become a dark, simple fable of repression, since modern audiences like nothing better than to be assured that our social order is freer and more enlightened than any that came before. But Fanny and Keats are modern too, and though the mores of their time constrain them, they nonetheless regard themselves as free.

The film is hardly blind to the sexual hypocrisy that surrounds them. Fanny can’t marry Keats because of his poverty, but Brown blithely crosses class lines to have some fun with (and impregnate) a naïve and illiterate young household servant (Antonia Campbell-Hughes). That Fanny and Keats must sublimate their longings in letters, poems and conversations seems cruel, but they make the best of it. As does Ms. Campion: a sequence in which, fully clothed, the couple trades stanzas of “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” in a half-darkened bedroom must surely count as one of the hottest sex scenes in recent cinema.

The heat of that moment and others like it deliver Bright Star from the tidy prison of period costume drama. Ms. Campion, with her restless camera movements and off-center close-ups, films history in the present tense, and her wild vitality makes this movie romantic in every possible sense of the word.

Brett McCracken’s review in Christianity Today touches on why modesty is an erotic virtue and how love begets love:
In Bright Star, Campion employs a similar Victorian-era restraint to that of The Piano (1993), which was also a deeply sensuous but equally corseted period piece. Bright Star is even more understated (and at PG, more family friendly) than The Piano, but it is equally sweeping, mysterious, and sexy. The most we get are a few kisses between Keats and Brawne, but we hardly even need those. The chaste romance is infused in every frame and costume and set piece of this film. It’s an intoxicatingly romantic film that I think Keats would find very favorable.

The love story is one thing, but the romance of Bright Star is also in its visual splendor and all-around loveliness. Cinematographer Greig Fraser does a superb job photographing the pastoral English countryside in all seasons, the life and customs of Regency-era Britain, as well as smaller-scale details like the sensual beauty of hands touching or a needle weaving. This is the feeling of falling in love: lying on a bed as the window curtains flap wistfully in the warm spring breeze; climbing atop a flowering tree and lying between its branches and the sun-filled sky; composing letters to our distant love while sitting at a desk by a window looking out to the sea. We don’t need to have heaps of dialogue or sappy soliloquies to know that love is in the air for these characters. We must simply look at the butterflies in the grassy field in the same way these characters do, recognizing that love makes you love others and love things more. It makes you love life.

Jane Campion appeared on the Charlie Rose Show to talk about Bright Star. Watch the episode here.

This Sunday plop yourself on a crushed velvet sofa, open a bottle of voluptuous Pinot noir, and gawk at the glitterati who bow to the androgynous statuettes. In my imagination, I will be strutting down the red carpet with my ravishing date who is adorned in Harry Winston diamonds and a homemade dress.

Fun stuff:
• 2010 Oscar ballot.

And the Nominees Should Be: The New York Times critics make their choices.

VIDEO: Best Performances of the Decade. Jake Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore, George Clooney and other actors discuss their selections.

VIDEO: Oscar Fashion 101. Melena Ryzik travels coast to coast to peek inside the world of Oscar fashion.

More on: Culture, Movies

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