You know, we have become far too dependent on the early word of a handful of people who see movies early. It’s really as simple as that. What is the need to be so quick on a judgment as to whether a film is good or bad, thumbs up or down, in or out? It’s a sick process and it will do to the Oscar race what finding a great President has done to the political system; we should not be looking at films that can win, but rather, films that are brilliant. Of course, we’re not going to agree on those films. The one we all can agree upon is usually your winner. However, with ten nominees, there should be some great films represented in the mix. Successful films, artistically daring films, comedies, dramas — with ten slots, this group can reward the kind of movies that keep the industry in stead, and it can reward the kind of films that have the audacity to be original, whether they are “Oscar movies” or not.
I’m thinking specifically of the unusual, unforgettable Lovely Bones, which I saw last night. True, it helps to have the whole cast on stage answering questions, with Peter Jackson and my own personal hero, Fran Walsh, but I could have been at a multiplex in Tarzana and had the same reaction to this movie: it was unlike anything I’d ever seen before, and yet, it was a faithful rendition of the book.
I am seeing a possible Scripter nod for this film and I hope the WGA acknowledges what a challenging adaptation that was – to hover between worlds in the 1970s, to visit the “in between” – which may or may not be real, but is a fairly good imagining of what might happen to the soul (I say this as a proud non-believer).
Peter Jackson doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone. Like Jim Cameron, he has already made billions. He has won Oscars. He is now where he was at the start of his career, in the zone of creating artful entertainment – bobbing in and out of different genres at will – only now he has better technology to express his vivid imagination. My first thought watching the Lovely Bones, and Invictus for that matter, is that Oscar season is where great films go to die. Why do we kill them off because they don’t fit the mold of we all expect an “Oscar movie” to be? I wasn’t expecting anything from Jackson except, perhaps, lowered expectations from some of the reviews I’d read. It’s a mess, it’s all over the place, it’s not a great movie, etc. Wrong, wrong, wrong. To me anyway. But, full disclosure: I say this as a Peter Jackson fan. I loved King Kong too.
If you’ve read the novel, you know basically how The Lovely Bones plays out, one unbearable detail after another as a vibrant seedling of a young girl is plucked violently from the earth. The murdered girl still hovers in her home town, still aches after the boy she almost kissed, still reaches out to touch her father, who can’t let go. The murder tears apart her family, turns her mother catatonic and sends her father on a hopeless quest to find her killer – he is among them, he knows, but at some point every man starts to look guilty.
Not much is required of Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz and Susan Sarandon – they are all very good in their parts. But this film is all on Stanley Tucci – who has never been fucking better as the serial killer, and the breathtaking Saoirse Ronan as Suzie Salmon. The thing about a good film is that it can be forgiven for its minor missteps if it doesn’t screw up in the key moments (as a screenwriting teacher once told me).
What Peter Jackson does, working with a great sound team, is create the perfect wail of a desperate, helpless child. If you are a mother you will recognize it right off and it will haunt you, as it undoubtedly already has in those fragile moments when a child moves too close to danger – when fear takes hold, everything else strips away and there is that scream, level 10 fear. Ronan does it perfectly and when you hear it, if you’re a parent, it will make your heart skip a beat.
This isn’t a film about crime solving, and it isn’t strictly a fantasy about “Heaven,” (“No, it’s Iowa”). It’s a film about the tragedy of life. Some people are lucky enough to live it. It’s also about giving life to the victim when their identity becomes one line in a news story about a murderous pedophile. You hear the details of it, you feel the anger rising, and yet – there it is, another dead girl. Or boy.
Someone asked me on Twitter whom they felt this movie was for. Another said it made him want to blow his brains out. And still others were excited to hear that I thought it was great. I can’t speak for anyone else – and I figure, it will have a tough time in the Oscar race because the Oscar race is, pretty much, judged by those who are limited by their inability to use their own imagination anymore. It is no good to bring something to the film –a participatory brain, for instance. It all must be handed to you on a platter. So of course most of the movies coming up for Oscar, especially if they are artistically daring and step outside the box, will fall short. But remember, the brain is one’s most useful organ. Right up there with the heart.
Finally, two filmmakers have used this song – David Lynch and now Peter Jackson. How can one not be moved.