I used to get really worked up over the Oscars. One of my first movie books was an old battered copy of Robert Osborne’s Academy Awards history, and I memorized it to the point that during my twenties I was a formidable opponent in a game of Silver Screen Trivial Pursuit.
I still spend as much time watching movies as I possibly can, but most of the time when I go out to the movies, it’s to my local theaters to see oddball, old, or independent features. When I do venture out to the giant AMC multiplex with the stadium seating and escalators that make me air sick, I tend to get bent out of joint all over again by the ticket prices, the commercials, and the endless loud previews that either make me not want to see the movie, or convince me that I’ve seen it already.
Half the moviegoing I do during the year is to the international film festival. In the course of a two weeks, I walk into dozens of films knowing little about them in advance besides the country of origin. Many are not that good. Some are dreadful. A few are brilliant, and I’m always impatient for them to be released in North America so I can tell all my loved ones to run out and see them. But with rare exceptions, these films are never are picked up here. They flicker across festival screens and then disappear, and I’m left shell-shocked. To love a movie that no one else sees almost makes you wonder if you dreamed it. Especially when you ask people if they’ve ever seen, say, a Finnish movie called Dog Nail Clipper, and they gape at you as if you’ve gone off your meds again.
I don’t see a lot of Oscar-nominated movies, but I miss having my year of moviegoing boiled down to a few contenders and seeing them battle it out for the big prize. So this year I’m making my own nominations. My only requirement was that the film be one I saw on the big screen in 2009. I might have enjoyed other films more as I was sitting in my theater seat, but these are the ones that have stuck with me for some reason.
Le Trou (The Hole)— (1960)
A new-to-me film I saw in the theater. It’s about a bunch of French convicts digging their way out of jail. I never thought I could be so riveted by guys hacking their way through a concrete wall.
Sita Sings the Blues— This is an animated feature of part of the Ramayana told through different styles of animation and punctuated by the songs of the 1920s chanteuse Annette Hanshaw. I was so amazed by it that when I got back to my apartment I emailed the director, Nina Paley. Unfortunately, because of copyright issues involving the Hanshaw songs, the movie film could not find a distributor. The good news is, it can be viewed free of charge at http://www.sitasingstheblues.com/watch.html . Go ahead–she wants you to.
Ce qu’il faut pour vivre (Necessities of Life)– A very moving and surprisingly entertaining Quebec movie about isolation and survival. An Inuit with tuberculosis is taken by force from his home in the north to recover in a sanitarium in Quebec City. Quebec has a thriving movie industry that the US knows practically nothing about.
Last Train Home— A documentary about sweatshop workers trying to get home for the Chinese New Year. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but I won’t forget the couple living in their little berth with a shower curtain for a door. Or the squirmy moment when the Chinese man holds up the huge pair of pants destined for the U.S.A. Ironically, I paid $13 to see this film, the most I’ve ever shelled out for a movie ticket. That made it unforgettable, too.
Mein— In this German thriller, a May-December couple is travelling around Europe in a van. He’s a cranky geezer and she seems brain damaged. What’s going on? Granted, part of what’s stuck with me from this movie is how slow on the uptake I am. (It’s a shame I don’t like horror more, because I’m the model audience member for scary films: I never see anything coming, and everything terrifies me.) Nevertheless, it has weird, haunting moments.