Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Oscars X: Nominees and a Blind Side Reassesment

Posted By on Tue, Feb 2, 2010 at 4:31 PM

Unless you've been hiding under a very ungeeky rock, you know that the Academy Award nominations were announced today. For film lovers, the Oscars represent the best and worst of the cinema industry. Celebrating great movies and filmmakers and actors? Yes, please. Celebrating them by recognizing non-daring, inoffensive, middle-of-the-road pretentious works in a self-congratulatory ceremony that's galling to all but the most nimble celebritaphiles? No, thanks.

In other words, the awards mean nothing to the actual worth of the film. So why does it feel so lousy when a personal favorite doesn't win or, worse — gasp! — isn't even nominated?

Ostensibly still smarting from leaving out 2008's critically lauded box-office champ The Dark Knight in last year's Oscar nominations, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to never let THAT happen again. So this year you know (unless you've been living under a very well-adjusted rock) that the Academy has expanded its slate of Best Picture nominees from five to 10.

Here at SING ALL KINDS we've been trying to suss out who would wind up with those diluted-but-still-desirable Best Pic nominations. And now we know. As of January 7th, I conjectured Avatar, The Blind Side, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Invictus, Julie & Julia, Precious, Up, and Up in the Air. Close but no cigar. Scratch a couple and add a couple different. Shake and uncork and you conclusively have, in an easy-to-read list form replete with links to the Flyer's coverage of the films:

2010 Best Picture Nominees:
The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Up in the Air

Of note to locals is the nominations garnered by The Blind Side.

In addition to Best Picture, The Blind Side received Best Actress recognition for its star, Sandra Bullock, who plays Memphian Leigh Anne Tuohy. Based on the story told in Michael Lewis' nonfiction book of the same name, The Blind Side tells about a white East Memphis family who takes in a poor, underprivileged African-American kid from the projects. To date, the movie, with an estimated budget of $29 million, has grossed more than $233 million — the biggest box-office success of any female-driven movie in history (that is to say, of movies with a female lead). Take that, Hepburns!

Upon its release I lauded Bullock but panned the overall film. In retrospect, the chasm between the two variables has grown in my mind. Bullock is still good, but the film shrinks in stature over time. Lots of folks have sharpened their knives as they question the intentions of the Tuohys, who met and cared for Michael Oher (played in the film by Quinton Aaron), and saw him become a phenom football player at the private school Briarcrest, a highly sought-after recruit by major colleges nationwide, and eventually take the field for their alma mater, Ole Miss.

But all that's neither here nor there for this discussion. I don't know the Tuohys, and I guess it wouldn't matter if I did. What bums me out about The Blind Side as a Memphian is how superficially it captures the feel of the city. Filmed in Atlanta and with a tin ear for the Bluff City, The Blind Side acts as if the geography and socioeconomics of Memphis is as stark as the color difference between the blackest black and the whitest white. In the film, Leigh Anne asks a friend, "Have you ever been on the other side of town?" She's referring to, you know, this specific part of Memphis where all the black people live. I could just scream. The mistake is compounded later when a ghetto grotesque tells Oher he heard he was living with a white lady "on the other side of town." You know, this specific part of Memphis where all the white people live. O-M-G! The script was written by John Lee Hancock (who also directed), so at least I know who to blame.

And what bums me out as a movie consumer is how poorly it lets me get to know Oher. The Blind Side tells his story from the point of view of Leigh Anne. Hey, it's interesting stuff, to see what happens to her. But it does a great disservice to Oher, who's portrayed as having very little to do with his ultimate success — a little toy sailboat battered along the rapids of life until plucked out of the torrent by a caring hand. Oh, what lovely sails the boat has! And such a fine rudder. How dehumanizing, to deny Oher his voice and the self-determination, intelligence, and hard work you know it took for him to get to where he is.

Actually, all this blame goes deeper, to the feet of author Lewis, who's original book takes a compelling story and impregnates it with flaws. Lewis refers to Hurt Village, where Oher is from, as being in the west side of Memphis. He means North Memphis, just above downtown, but the description is so laden with outsider vocabulary, it's tempting to extrapolate that there are all kinds of misinterpretations elsewhere in the author's narrative.

The bottom line isn't that what the book says is false — it's that it leaves out half of the account. It's the story of an African-American North Memphian, through the eyes of an East Memphis white family, as told by their childhood friend from Louisiana. In other words, it's a Best Picture Oscar nominee.

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