The Oscar Project
It’s the last full week of January and you should have just about finished four movies for the year so far. If you’re not a huge movie watcher, this might feel like a lot, but you can do it. Just take them one week at a time and try not to get too far ahead of yourself with the rest of the year. Before you know it, you’ll have over 50 movies under your belt for the year!
My film this week for the category of a film with animals was Life of Pi directed by Ang Lee. I did a little digging after watching this film, and though it is now more than a decade old, Lee has not returned to the Oscars as a nominee since receiving the award for Best Director for this film. It’s also coincidental that I am writing this post the same week as this year’s Oscar nominations were announced and have a post on this year’s crop of Best Visual Effects nominees, a category that Life of Pi won along with Best Cinematography.
The action shifts to a teenage Pi (Suraj Sharma) and his family in India before they emigrate to Canada. His family owns a zoo in their town and Pi loves the animals, especially a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker (so named due to a clerical error when the tiger was acquired by the zoo). As a result of “the Emergency” in India, Pi’s family decides to relocate to Canada, and bring their animals with them on a ship across the Pacific Ocean. When the ship sinks, Pi is the only human who manages to make it into a lifeboat alongside a zebra with a broken leg, an orangutan, a hyena, and eventually Richard Parker himself. The hyena quickly kills the zebra and eventually the orangutan, before falling victim to Richard Parker.
The bulk of the film is the journey that Pi and Richard Parker go on as they try to survive first days, then weeks and months at sea in a small lifeboat. Pi is alone and uses the time to sort through his feelings on religion and God, something he had thought about since learning about Christianity and Islam as a boy who was raised in a Hindu home. He questions why his entire family had to die in the sinking ship. He considers why he was allowed to survive and why he is stuck in the lifeboat with a creature initially bent on killing him. One of my favorite lines in the film is from Pi when there is a storm raging. He and Richard Parker have come to an understanding at this point, where Pi provides food for the tiger, and the tiger in turn doesn’t kill and eat Pi. During the storm, Pi yells to the open expanse of the sky asking why are “you” scaring him (Richard Parker)? In speaking directly to God, he exclaims, “I’ve lost my family. I’ve lost everything. I surrender. What more do you want?”
There are obvious connections to biblical stories like Noah’s Ark in this film, and honestly it takes on one of the biggest questions people have posed about that story for a long time, namely, how did the lions and tigers and bears not eat everything else during that comparatively short (40 days) journey? I’m sure there are more religious undertones that I missed relating to religions I’m not as familiar with, but it’s definitely a film that makes you think and question why certain things happen.
The film was lauded at the time for the realistic nature of the animals, specifically Richard Parker. If you look at behind the scenes footage of the film, you’ll see that much of the production consisted of Sharma sitting in a lifeboat in a giant indoor water tank with blue or green screens all around him, acting against nothing, or against a small inanimate stand-in for Richard Parker. What the visual effect artists did with the animals, especially Richard Parker, is astonishing, and honestly, there were moments where I couldn’t tell if they had used a real tiger for certain shots or if it was digital. The film is worth seeing for this fact alone. But the visual nature of the film doesn’t stop there. Going back to the point that it won the Oscar for Best Cinematography, the overall visual appeal of this film is off the charts. There are the moments in storms where waves climb hundreds of feet above Pi and the boat, but the ones that are even better are those where the sea is calm and Pi gets time to sit and contemplate. We get to see reflections of the heavens against the calm sea, a floating island full of meerkats (also computer generated) that looks like nothing I’ve ever seen, and even an enormous whale breeching near Pi’s boat, churning up bioluminescent algae along the way. If you love striking visuals in film, this is one you shouldn’t miss.
There is some question about the end of this film. Ultimately, no one can verify Pi’s version of events because he was the only survivor. Near the end of the film, some investigators from the insurance company checking on the boat’s sinking ask him for his story and don’t like the version with Richard Parker. He offers a different story where his mother survived in the boat with him along with a sailor and cook from the ship. In this version, the cook turns on the sailor and Pi’s mother, killing them before Pi kills the cook. It is obvious that these characters are substitutes for the zebra, orangutan, and hyena, with Pi perhaps being the tiger. Ultimately the insurance report sticks with Pi’s first version of the story, and I tend to want to believe that one as well.
Finally, a question I considered while digesting this film is what sort of movie I would make featuring animals. My favorite animal has been the wolf for as long as I can remember, so I would probably pick something about wolves. I know there have been plenty of films with wolves, both as good characters and bad, but hopefully I would be able to bring something new to the creature and do them justice. I think a realistic adventure film would actually be a lot of fun, showing the dynamics of a wolf pack.
I hope that I would have been able to survive as Pi did in this film. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t ever want to be stranded in a lifeboat at sea with a Bengal tiger. But if something like that ever DOES happen, I pray that I will be as resourceful as Pi in my ability to survive.
A film that is visually striking to you
I absolutely love this film and was happy to find a spot for it on my list. It’s probably my second favorite “real” space film behind Apollo 13. By real space, I mean set roughly in the current reality of our ability to travel in space, and not set in some far off future or distant far-flung past. It has a great pace to it and truly makes you feel like you are in the various space bound environments with Sandra Bullock.
With Bullock playing the majority of the film on her own in space, fighting for her own survival and trying desperately to figure out a way to get back to Earth safely, it truly give the feeling of a suspense thriller that just happens to be set in space. One of the main points of pride, but also pain points is the scientific accuracy of the film. While even director Alfonso Cuarón admits some liberties were taken in the interest of the film, it is incredible to me how well they depicted the movement in space and how things interact with one another in that environment. There are several moments where Bullock just barely manages to save herself from certain doom. Typically, in an Earthbound film, we would see this as falling over a cliff or off the side of a mountain, but in zero gravity, we get that in the form of potentially being flung off into the void of space. It’s a different look at something tried and true in survival films.
One of my absolute favorite pieces of trivia related to this film is its running time. The film runs at 91 minutes, which by no coincidence is almost exactly the amount of time that it takes for the ISS to complete an orbit around the Earth. In a similar way that Titanic runs for the same amount of time as it took for the boat to sink after it hit the iceberg, Gravity is as long as it would take for Bullock’s character to be forced to find a way home. In that way, we are on the journey with her and feel the tension in as close to real time as possible.
And finally, returning to the visuals which prompted the selection of this film for this category, the views in the film are truly stunning. You certainly get the feeling of being in the emptiness of space and far away from our home planet, but also get the feel of the scale of Earth when looking at it from low orbit on or near the ISS. As the action moves around the planet and away from sunlight that we get at the beginning of the film, the palette changes form very bright to very dark, and back again. We get interiors of various space vehicles along with the splendid exterior space shots. All in all, it’s a fantastic voyage and visually stimulating the entire time.
If you haven’t checked out Gravity, I urge you to go rent or download it today. You won’t be disappointed.
Day 26 – A film you like that is adapted front somewhere | Day 28 – A film that made you feel uncomfortable
A film you like that is adapted front somewhere
I waited almost the entire month to get to one of these films, and finally decided it was time to drop it here. It’s REALLY hard to adapt a book into a film, especially a book as deep and intricate as The Lord of the Rings. That’s what makes the accomplishment of Peter Jackson that much more impressive.
I will admit, I never read The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit growing up. I think I first read The Hobbit around 1999 or 2000 when I first heard that they were making the longer book into a series of movies. I followed that up with a mad dash through The Lord of the Rings trilogy, finishing The Fellowship of the Ring before seeing the film in theaters and working my way through The Two Towers and Return of the King soon after. After seeing all the films, I am extremely glad I read the books first. Not only did I get some of the little tidbits that the films leave out, I had a better understanding of the action taking place. Since there is so much going on in these films, even with the things left out, it helps to have a little background going in.
I know The Lord of the Rings is one of those groups of films that people either love or hate. I personally love them and think everyone should see them. I have the theatrical versions as well as the extended director’s cuts on DVD, buying all of those at a time when I didn’t have a ton of disposable income, but it was important for me to have them just the same. One of my favorite parts of the extended DVDs especially is all the behind the scenes features included across the three films. For anyone who loves films, I highly recommend those extended features, even if you’re not a big fan of the movies themselves. They cover the entire breadth of film making, from initial script writing and concept art, to costume design, sound and film editing, and up to the music that fully develops the world. One can get lost in those features and spend probably a solid week watching nothing else if you really wanted to.
Finally, I know that today is Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S. I want to just say how thankful I am for everyone who has been reading these posts this month. I appreciate the dedication to reading them and have thoroughly enjoyed writing each and every one of them for you.
Day 25 – A film you like that is not set in the current era | Day 27 – A film that is visually striking to you
A film that put you in deep thought
This is the second newest film I have on my list and one of the most recently critically acclaimed. As such, there may be a bit of recency bias in this pick, but that’s OK. I wanted this list to have a broad spectrum of films from different eras, genres, directors, and styles, and that means including recent films as well as those from 50 or 80 years ago.
For anyone who has seen this film, I challenge you to admit that it didn’t move you in some way. As I wrote in my recent review of the film, it is a personal story, yet one that is told on a grand scale. There are moments of intense emotion between individuals, followed by sweeping views of the devastation of war that is evident all around them.
I’m not joking when I tell you that I sat in silence in my living room, all by myself, after this film finished playing. In today’s world of streaming video and DVDs, it’s easy to just click off the credits and move on to the next piece of media. But as the category for today suggests, I sat in thought after this film finished. I let the credits play and imagined how I would have reacted in the shoes of the characters on screen. Would I have had the courage to lay my life on the line the way they did to save my fellow countrymen? Would I have been able to crawl through trenches full of decaying carcasses, avoid sniper fire, and swim over a waterfall, just to deliver a message that could potentially save the lives of hundreds of men? I’m not sure.
This is a hallmark of some of the best films throughout history. They tell a striking story in an incredibly visual way that makes you sit back and think. Films like this stay with you and give your brain plenty to chew on, not just in the moment, but for days after viewing. That is what 1917 did for me.
Day 12 – A film that you hate from your favorite genre | Day 14 – A film that gave you depression
A film that you will never get tired of
My first of two Christopher Nolan films on this list comes with Inception. I could probably populate this list with even more of his films, but I’m trying to keep things spread out a bit, giving love to as many possible films, directors, and actors as I can.
Inception is certainly not a perfect film. It leaves many people very confused and there is a whole corner of the internet focusing on finding ways to visualize the various levels of dreams that the characters go through during the third act of the film. To call it the third act isn’t even really fair. The whole second half of the film represents the heist that Leonardo DiCaprio’s crew is trying to pull off, while the first half sets the stage and give as much exposition as you’re going to get for a mind-bender like this.
For a quick recap, well, I’m not going to try and explain it. You just have to watch the film. The basic idea is that a team of corporate espionage experts have to hack into someone’s dreams to plant an idea deep in the victim’s subconscious in order to get them to do what the client wants. I’m not sure how someone even comes up with an idea like that, but it’s truly wild ideas like this that make many of Nolan’s films so memorable.
I have to give an honorable mention and shout out here to the first Nolan film I saw, Memento. Released in 2000, Memento tells the story of a man who suffers from short term memory loss and relies on a complex system of notes and tattoos to remember who he is, who he can trust, and why he is where he is. Another truly mind-bending concept, executed to perfection by Nolan.
But back to Inception. I love this film many of the reasons outlined above, in addition to the great cast. DiCaprio is cool and calm (most of the time) while his team made up of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, and Dileep Rao provide a good group to pal around with for two hours. Add in Ken Watanabe as their client Saito and Cillian Murphy as the mark, and Marion Cotillard as DiCaprio’s deceased wife, you’ve got a phenomenal cast that knocks this story out of the park.
I used this as the film I never get tired of and it’s true. The number of times I have stayed up until 2 or 3 in the morning watching this because I caught it on TV late at night is more than I care to admit. I think I’ve only seen it from beginning to end once or twice, but the entire heist sequence is one I can’t tear myself away from and I just have to watch it to the end.
Inception is currently available on Amazon Prime.
Day 6 - Your favorite animated film | Day 8 - A film where you like the soundtrack more
I hope you enjoyed yesterday's prediction post focused on Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects.
Today I'm looking at the categories of Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing. Unfortunately for me, none of these three categories have been shortlisted yet so there is a big batch of films to pull from, but some that have established themselves as front runners.
Be sure to come back tomorrow for a look at four categories including Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Costume Design.
I'm just a film buff who wants to watch great movies. Where else to find the best, than the list of those nominated by the Academy each year?