Last week I went to see a stage production of the Tony Award Winning play Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike. In this play, there is a powerful monologue by Vanya lamenting about how disjointed our pop culture is these days, that we all consume different music and different television and different live theater and lack a sense of pride in a national culture of sorts. In many ways, this is true. We are all not going home and watching the one, same popular TV show, especially considering the hundreds and hundreds of TV channels and YouTube and Hulu and other web resources that exist. The same is true with music. We certainly aren’t all waiting on line any longer at our local Tower Records for the same, new CD. In fact, the way we consume our music is as varied and disconnected as the music genres themselves. However, the one medium that really still transcends American pop culture is cinema and that once-a-year TV show that celebrates achievement in movie making. We still line up every week to see essentially the same handful of movies in our local mega theaters or indie theaters and last night we all Tweeted and Facebooked and Instagramed and discussed what is exceptional and captivating about this American industry.
This past year I truly believe we have experienced a golden era of filmmaking from the quality and budgets of films new and adapted, as well as the incredible onscreen performances from some of the most talented artists of our time. We have really sought outside the confines of the mafia blockbuster, the holocaust docudrama and the slavery tale this year (even though the best picture award remained within these confines). Movies like American Hustler and The Wolf of Wall Street, though both shunned at last night’s awards, have almost invented new categories of movies. The Wolf of Wall Street tells a story so twisted it has caused its “real life” subjects to sue the filmmakers. Best picture nominee Philomena took the Catholic Church to task on their sinful policies in orphanages in Ireland; a movie so powerful it warranted a public apology from the Pope. Dallas Buyers Club chronicled the role of our FDA in blocking pharmaceuticals that would ultimately slow the death rate of AIDs in the early 80s. Captain Phillips chronicled the horror of a real life commercial vessel crossing pirate waters and getting embroiled in a terrorist plot to hijack the vessel and kidnap the captain.
What makes for such a golden era in my mind is a two-fold phenomenon. First, the volume of quality filmmaking and acting talent makes this a standout year. And more importantly, I can recall the varied and complex array of emotions I experienced from each film. In American Hustle, I laughed hysterically when Bradley Cooper’s character thought he had the whole case solved. In Captain Phillips, my body physically hurt after Tom Hank’s character was rescued and then triaged. I remember feeling the lingering of a sort of post-traumatic stress from the scene as though we too had been taken along as ransom by the evil pirates. In Philomena, I wanted to quite literally scream out in anger to that crusty, old head nun, who intentionally caused a lifetime of agony for mother and grown son alike.
And then there is Blue Jasmine. I went to this movie with the least of any expectations, early in its run, and was completely overwhelmed by the caliber of Cate Blanchett’s performance, the caliber of Woody Allen’s writing, the caliber of character development of the sister and her husband, and the overall quality of the film. It’s one of those movies that you experience pretty much every emotion from hysterics to depression. I felt guilty for laughing and then silly for crying. And Cate for Best Actress was one of the very few Oscar predictions I made that my instincts did not fail me on!