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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bummerman's 2010 Pre-Oscars Review

The Oscars don't air until March 7th... presumably so that idiotic rom-coms released around Valentines Day can still snag a nomination for the 2009 Best Picture. Pushing it out this far past the holiday Oscar buzz season is a mistake, but given the number of blunders the academy makes every year, that's hardly newsworthy. Conversely, doubling the number of Best Pic nominees from 5 to 10 is actually smart... so... that's a surprise.

I finished my quest of trying to watch every significant film of 2009. I came up a few short, but just couldn't bring myself to watch Crazy Heart... and couldn't find illegal copies of 35 Rhums or Panique au Village with English subtitles. So, I'll just have to do my best. I previously listed my own selections for the most interesting films of the year... but I'm not here to talk about good movies, I'm here now to talk about the Oscars. So here you go.

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

Apparently Avatar and The Hurt Locker are frontrunners, which is all very dramatic because the respective directors used to date or something. Which is all very E-Newsy to me... which is all very "Who gives a crap!?" Avatar is a bloated mess, and has no more business being nominated for this award than Inglourious Basterds does. Oh wait, I forgot to include my "People are friggin' morons" factor into the equation. Seriously, these films are the cinematic equivalent of a cheeseburger. I'm not saying cheeseburgers can't be delicious... but do you really think a cheeseburger (ANY cheeseburger) should be in the running for best meal of the year? If you answered yes, you're an idiot. But take heart. You'll be vindicated when Avatar actually wins this stupid contest. And I'll feel yet another stake driven through my cold black heart. Seriously, screw you guys.

And to those who think I'm just immune to any movie with emotion or sentimentality... you're wrong. The best picture of the year was Up.

Other nominees that don't make me angry: District 9, Hurt Locker, and A Serious Man.

For Best Actor: well, crap. I didn't see 3 of the 5 relevant pictures. This is supposed to be Jeff Bridges' year... and if you subscribe to the idea that this award should occasionally be a lifetime achievement award... I think he probably deserves it.

For Best Actress: If you subscribe to the theory that acting is a measure of how well you can inhabit someone else, then it's tough to root against Meryl Streep's portrayal of Julia Child. And if you think.... wait... seriously... is Sandra Bullock seriously being considered for an Oscar?! JFC.

For Supporting Actor: who cares?

For Supporting Actress: This should go to Mo'Nique. But, it can be hard to vote for someone playing such an unlovable character. So I'll be happy if it goes to Vera Farmiga instead. Up in the Air isn't perfect, but her performance was.

For Best Animated Feature: Exactly one of the five nominees is also being considered in the Best Picture category. That should make this a no-brainer. Instead, I expect the academy to select Disney's Princess and the Frog. I will laugh as America collectively sees nothing wrong with this at all.

For Art Direction: Avatar actually should be credited here... but the award could also go to Sherlock Holmes and I'd be happy.

For Cinematography: This absolutely belongs to Hurt Locker. Any other pick is criminal. So of course, don't be surprised when Harry Potter wins. Dear lord, what a rancid sack of pig feces.

For Costumes: I dunno. Ask a girl or something. I didn't see any of these films.

For Directing: My guess is that Katheryn Bigelow wins this... as compensation for losing on Best Picture to a steaming pile of 3D chest-beating. The funny thing is, Tarentino actually believes he deserves this award. It will be a little satisfying to see him lose.

For Best Original Screenplay: A Serious Man should win. Up would be okay. Inglourious Basterds or The Hurt Locker would be mistakes. Maybe I should see the 5th selection: The Messenger. Films that get nods in this category are usually the kind that I like best.

For Best Adapted Screenplay: I don't believe it! These are actually all good nominees. I'd kind of like to see In the Loop honored here. It probably won't happen for the same reason Precious won't get it: They can't really show any clips of the best bits of writing due to the excessive profanity. I'll guess that it goes to An Education... because everyone loves Nick Hornby's safe-but-awkward stabs at profundity. Whatever.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Feeling Defensive

Some recent clinical work at my day job has me thinking about defensiveness. Specifically, I've been considering the defenses of the ego, the cataloging of which began with the early Freudians... and the interpretation and categorizing of which continues today. Pop culture includes a fairly intuitive definition of defense mechanisms: self-protective thoughts, attitudes and behaviors that people exhibit when they are threatened by internal or external stimuli. Most people have heard of some of these and have an idea how they work. Some examples you've probably run across include projection, denial, and passive-aggression. Here's an illustrated example of another common defense: when Mary's boss tries to confront her about a chronic tardiness problem, Mary starts to indulge a vivid daydream about a guillotine decapitating that boss. The image allows Mary to avoid the brunt of the criticism, preoccupying her conscious mind with playful mayhem instead. After the supervision meeting is over, Mary has successfully avoided being challenged by her boss's feedback. Her ego (or self image) has been protected by virtue of the defense mechanism.

According to George Vaillant's classification of ego defenses, Mary is exhibiting the "fantasy" defense. It's classified in his second tier of defenses labeled "Immature". His other tiers are "Pathological", "Neurotic" and "Mature". Immature defenses like fantasy escape are considered developmentally typical of children. If Mary was a 4th grader, this behavior would be normal and expected. But if she's a 28 year old professional file clerk... this behavior signals an unhealthy defense tactic. It's unhealthy because it succeeded in protecting Mary, but at too high a cost. The cost was that she was unable to actually engage with the criticism or consider a change to her long-term behavior.

So, since most of us strive to improve our mental health, what are the healthy defenses? Vaillant's list of the "Mature" defenses includes:

Altruism - Achieving satisfaction by doing for others.
Anticipation - Wisely planning for future distress with self-care.
Humor - Laughing while confronting the absurdity and frustrating truths of life.
Identification and Introjection - Allying your self-image with that of another person or object.
Sublimation - Transforming negative thoughts/feelings into some positive activity or expression.
Thought Suppression - Consciously pushing a difficult thought "back down" so that it can be dealt with later.

How might Mary utilize these defenses instead of her violent escape fantasy? She might accept the tardiness criticism as valid but balance the blow to her ego with bolstering thoughts that she's a good person and will continue to do good works for others. She might have anticipated and prepared for the meeting with her boss, bracing herself for the impact of the criticism. She might try to find aspects of her shortcomings that she can laugh at, accepting the feedback as something she struggles with even if it seems ridiculous. She might soften the criticism by identifying with a respected coworker who is also often late, but admirable in other ways. She might deal with the feelings of shame at being called out by her boss by creating art, exercising, or putting extra energy into preparing a lavish dinner party for friends later that night. And instead of melting down in her boss's office, she might decide to suppress her emotional reactions until she's alone in her own office and it feels like a safe place to cry or vent.

These are all preferable, or more "mature" reactions, from a mental health therapist perspective... though they aren't terribly fun to talk about or laugh at. If I'm to look at myself, I think I have issues with a couple of Neurotic-tier defense mechanisms: Intellectualization and Rationalization. I think much of my own self-work involves trying to get over these old habits and to embrace some healthier options.


Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Road (Less Traveled)

Given my recent criticism of The Book of Eli, it seems important to mention that someone else had already taken my advice. In contrast to Eli's cartoonishness, Cormac McCarthy's The Road has been adapted for the screen in tones both subtle and logical. It's thematic goals are permeated with balance and ambiguity instead of abject moralism and posing. It's rare and refreshing to see Hollywood take that path. The Road is also the best punch in the gut that I've endured since watching Grave of the Fireflies.

Based on his previous film The Proposition, John Hillcoat works in my favorite colors: sad and beautiful. And he has painted a quiet masterpiece in The Road. Unlike The Book of Eli, there are no superheroics in this film. But there is a significant meditation on everyday heroism... on the hellbent dedication of a father who has only one thing to live for (his son) and the compassion exhibited by his raison d'etre. The two characters, father and boy, are contrasted throughout the film in its efforts to strip away everything unimportant about man and find what lives at his core.

An example of this soul-spelunking: they've made cannibalism far more terrifying than the Book of Eli by showing just how awful starvation is. Viggo Mortensen strips down in one scene to show off a holocaust physique reminiscent of Christian Bale's body in The Machinist. Only when we can genuinely imagine the horror of starvation does it awaken the possibility of cannibalism. And only then do we see the dehumanization of man at his worst. Where The Book of Eli makes eating people seem like a disturbing fetish, The Road views it as a watershed of what men will do to survive, and casts grim light on the price it commands.

This type of inquiry into the human spirit is exactly what post-apocalyptic tales should do. So I tip my cap to both Cormac McCarthy, who writes devastatingly bleak but fascinating stories, and to John Hillcoat who birthed McCarthy's vision into a stark spectacle.


Update: I'm still hoping to finish all of the interesting films of 2009 before the Oscars, but time is running out, and I seem to keep adding a film or two to the list every time I cross one off. >:(


Tuesday, February 02, 2010

More Photos about Buildings and Flowers

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Photos de mi Sobrino

Danny menaced the beach with his general badassery

Danny then rocked the beach's socks off

Bob and Cher take in Danny's awesomeness

A plague of darkness falls upon the land in honor of Danny's power

This was followed by a plague of lizard-painted butterflies

After the plagues, Danny expressed his displeasure with some nearby crips

I was honored to have this single photo taken with "El Chingador de Todos Santos"

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