A Leading Perspective

Pragmatic insights for the leader in you

And The Oscar Goes To…

This post, while it isn’t about Human Resources, Leadership, Engagement or other topic I typically cover, is being published here because it’s written by a dear friend who has a way with words and, because I have enjoyed reading his thoughts, I assume you will too!

Joel Peterson is the Director of Human Resources for Goshow Architects in New York. I met Joel a few years ago at the SHRM National Conference and we’ve stayed in contact ever since. Spending time with Joel at the annual conference is one of the highlights of my trip and I wish I lived closer to him as his presence in my life is uplifting. You can find Joel via Twitter here or via LinkedIn here.

Like many of us, Joel sought to watch all of the Oscar nominated films but he took it one step further – he shared with his friends and family his thoughts on each of them. I looked forward to his “critiques” everytime I knew he was watching one of the films…I very much enjoy his descriptive way of writing.

This post is a long one…just under 5,000 words.  So sit back, enjoy a tasty beverage and just take it in…

Following all of his “critiques” are his picks for the night…it should be interesting to see how many he gets right!  🙂

 

Into the Woodsinto the woods

(This film is nominated for 3 Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actress.)

Of the 15 nominated films I set out to see before the Oscar ceremony tonight, this was actually the first one I saw and yet the last one on my list to be “reviewed.”

You should know upfront that I’ve seen it five times. Yup. Five. And it was only released two months ago.

Yes, just like many show queens out there (both male and female), I love the musical Into the Woods with award-winning fervor. The film version is gorgeous, not perfect, but gorgeous. The score is epic. The acting is wonderful.

I laughed, I sang (under my breath), I cried…five times.

Meryl Streep’s performance is spectacular. She’s frightening, fierce, flawed and fabulous throughout the movie. The Oscar will not be her’s though. Well, at least not this year.

SelmaSelma

(This film is nominated for 2 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.)

Selma is a beautiful film capturing a really bleak period of time in our nation’s history.  Like it’s many predecessors, it stirs up a lot of feeling about how we treat one another in the name of God and country.  And it shows that while progress has been made, there is always more work that we need to do.

Often times, when I watch a movie or a play I put myself in the center of the story in my mind. I’ve always done that which is why I get so carried away by great storytelling.  As I watched Selma, during a really tough, violent scene, I found myself wondering if I would have been brave enough to handle the brutality had I been there marching with the people. When the violence began, would I have cowered in shadows or fled? Or would I have stayed to help the injured get out of harms way? I guess it’s not worth debating. I wasn’t there. And courage is not always something you can plan for. I guess if the opportunity arises in present day, I’ll find out what I’m made of.

I don’t have a lot to say about the film itself. Selma is expertly written, directed, filmed and acted by all involved.  It’s compelling storytelling about our history that will stir you up and hopefully instill a call to action against injustice in all of us.

I don’t quite understand how the Oscar nomination process works. Selma only got two nominations. That’s odd. I understand that a movie shouldn’t get nominated simply because of it’s emotional subject matter.  Still, other movies that I feel aren’t any better and in fact, aren’t as good, were nominated more.  I don’t get it. But then what do I know? My little “reviews” of all the nominated films are more sentimental than technical and aren’t really reviews anyway.  That said, Selma should have received more nominations than it did in my (sentimental) opinion.

And yes, I cried. It never ceases to cause me grief how we can hate one another so vehemently.  I have to admit to you that I was also embarrassed that I cried – not because crying in and of itself is bad but because tears don’t stop injustice. Action does.

I would like to believe that I would have marched with the people back then. I hope I am courageous enough if I’m needed now.  Otherwise, tears over a movie about injustice are pointless.

The Theory of EverythingThe Theory

(This film is nominated for 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress.)

Have you ever despaired?  Are you or someone you know going through something that seems overwhelming or insurmountable?

I have despaired a number of times in my life.  Amidst the struggle, even at my darkest or weakest or saddest, one thing has never ever failed to appear.  Hope.  I don’t know where it comes from. I have no clue what triggers it.  I can’t say how deep the well of hope is. I can just tell you that it has always shown up just when it was meant to.  It didn’t resolve my struggles.  It didn’t fix what, for lack of a better word, was broken. It didn’t stop the hurt.  It just always assured me that I would be okay. And I have been, each time, every time.  I think until I am no longer on the earth, that wellspring of hope will never leave me (and trust me – there have been times when I wanted it to).

The Theory of Everything spoke to that part of me that has despaired and always hopes.  I have never read Stephen Hawkings’ book. I’m no astro-physio-math-whiz-brainiac.  For me, Hawking’s gift to humanity is in the living of his life and the sharing of it with us all.   There is something infinitely special about the human spirit and we need reminders of that every day.

Eddie Redmayne is naturally a charismatic man.  He exudes warmth and charm and vulnerability very easily.  This is evident in his outstanding performance as Hawking.  His physical transformation is captivating in and of itself.  But the emotion he was able to convey – the fragility, the loss, the humor, the love, and the majority of it through his eyes and face, was incredible.  He deserves the Oscar.  Well, he’s got my vote anyway.

Felicity Jones as Jane Wilde Hawking was also simply lovely. She did a fantastic job of showing Jane’s love and devotion for Hawking and the cost of that love.  If it wasn’t for Julianne Moore’s heart-breaking performance in Still Alice, I’d say give the Oscar to Felicity!

As far as Best Picture goes (and keeping in mind that I still have one movie left to watch before the Oscars tomorrow), I would give my vote to The Theory of Everything.  But I have a feeling the award will go to another film this year.

In the final few minutes of the film, Hawking is asked, “You have said that you do not believe in God.  Do you have a philosophy of life that helps you?”

I love his answer.

“Ever since the dawn of civilization, people have prayed for an understanding of the underlying order of the world. There ought to be something very special about the boundary conditions of the universe.  But what can be more special than that there is no boundary. There should be no boundaries to human endeavor.  We are all different.  However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. While there is life, there is hope.”

YES. As long as there is life, there is hope.

BoyhoodBoyhood

(This film is nominated for 6 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress.)

Boyhood is a story in which nothing epic really happens to the main character. What he goes through, you could argue, is pretty normal for a kid growing up in this day and age in our country.  About one third of the way into the movie, I thought “Where is this going? What’s the point?”  By two thirds of the way in though, I’d forgotten that I cared where it was going because the way the film was crafted quietly caused me to care about the main character’s evolution.  And then at the end, when the credits started rolling, I realized what the film was showing me. But wait, let’s pause for a second as I diverge a tiny bit.

As I watched Boyhood, I found myself drifting off and thinking about my four oldest nephews and nieces.  The act of following the same boy over twelve years of his life reminded me of what it has felt like to watch my nephews and nieces travel on their various paths to young adulthood.  I remember them all as babies, young children, teenagers and now they are all grown and for the most part, on their own.  From my current vantage point in life, it feels like all those years that it took them to reach adulthood have flown by like a two and a half hour movie.  And each of them, like Mason in Boyhood, have a unique growing up story.  We all do. Now, back to the film…

Do you think that this particular method of following life over an extended period of time is going to become a trend in filmmaking?  Do we need to follow something so closely just to tell a story? Did making Boyhood in this way make us care more or less for Mason and his family than if his story had been told in the more conventional way we know? Oh who cares. It’s art.

This film is certainly ground-breaking in its approach though.  Instead of capturing a specific dramatic moment in time, as most movies do, it made the entire 12-year period of a boy’s life the dramatic “moment.”  As the credits rolled and I reflected on how he had changed physically, that’s when I realized what the film was showing us: that the act of growing up itself is the story – epic, beautiful, confusing, and worth telling.

All thumbs up for Boyhood.  Of the Oscars it’s nominated for, the most likely award it will win is Best Director.  But don’t take my word for it. 😉

The Grand Budapest Hotelthe grand budapest

(This film is nominated for 9 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Director.)

What a quirky, charming movie this is.  I love zany, fast-paced humor and Wes Anderson, who wrote and directed the film, definitely has a zany sense of humor.  While its wacky though, its also off-beat and a shade dark which, in my opinion, gives Wes Anderson’s filmmaking a distinctly Gen X sensibility. I think of all his work, this is probably my favorite right up there with Moonrise Kingdom.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is certainly worthy of it’s nominations.  It has already won various other awards, including the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – musical or comedy.

Will it take home the Oscar too?  The last comedy to win the Oscar for Best Picture was Annie Hall in 1978.  I guess we’ll just have to tune in next Sunday and see what happens!

The Imitation GameThe Imitation Game

(This film is nominated for 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Supporting Actress.)

I feel so blessed that for all the challenges I’ve had to overcome in my life, being openly who I am has not cost me my life or my happiness. That is my personal take away from watching The Imitation Game.

I can’t by any stretch of the imagination relate to Alan Turning’s mathematical genius.  But his struggle to be who he naturally was resonated deeply with me.  I’ve felt his sense of isolation and loneliness, his “otherness,” at various times in my life.  Presently, that particular isolation is no longer a part of my life.  But my “otherness” has never gone away.  I used to want it to. I don’t anymore…necessarily.

The thing is we all have “otherness” in us. No one is normal. Everyone is unique. In order to embrace diversity, are we to search for the commonalities we share and focus on how we are alike? Or is embracing diversity to acknowledge the “otherness” that we see in each other and to celebrate our differences?

There are any number of answers to this question but the truth is, Alan Turing’s life would have ended much differently had his “otherness” been allowed to just be as it was – a unique and beautiful part of the overall genius of his humanity.

As I said, I’m so grateful that my unique humanity has not cost me my life or my happiness.

The Imitation Game is an amazing movie, a truly solid piece of filmmaking.  I loved Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance. He is A-list actor material for sure.  And I haven’t seen Keira Knightley in anything new for quite some time. She gave a warm, compassionate performance in her supporting role.

I’m not sure what it will win but The Imitation Game is worthy of whatever Oscars it wins.

Wildwild

(This film is nominated for 2 Academy Awards, including Best Actress, and Supporting Actress.)

I was genuinely drawn into this true story of a woman working through her grief and loss as she traverses the Pacific Coast Trail all alone.  There were parts of her story that I resonated with and there were parts that I didn’t.  But the big truth I took away from it all is that no matter who you are, everyone’s journey through life, complete with all its pain and joy, is epic in its own way.  It’s a story worth telling each other.  It also reminded me that the riches of life are not at the finish line – they are throughout the journey.

One of the fun things about following someone throughout their career is that you get to see how they change.  As she has matured, Reese Witherspoon’s performances have deepened with her.  This was evident in her performance in this film.  And Laura Dern’s performance was lovely, fragile, and poignant.

I love these words spoken by Reese Witherspoon’s character. They sum up what I have come to feel about life:

“I knew only that I didn’t need to reach with my bare hands anymore.  That seeing the fish beneath the surface of the water was enough. That it was everything. My life like all lives: mysterious, irrevocable, and sacred. So very close. So very present. So very belonging to me. How wild it was to let be.”

Birdmanbirdman

(This film is nominated for 9 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress and Supporting Actor.)

I think it’s a bizarre privilege to live long enough to have a past worth judging.  Happy moments, successes, failed attempts, bad choices, junk food.

It seems that this relationship to the past is partially what is haunting Michael Keaton’s character in Birdman. He’s reached the point in which his past is longer than his future and his present is not the return on investment that he thought it would be.  Regrets. Lost opportunities. Squandered  relationships. Insecurity. Self indulgence.

His response to this angst is to put all his energy and resources into a new play that he hopes will validate him; or at least silence his inner critic. As you can imagine, that journey is chaotic.

I did not like Birdman.

My issue with it isn’t technical though.  The screenplay is excellent. The direction is solid and the cinematography is fascinating.  All of the actor’s gave top notch performances, particularly Michael Keaton and Edward Norton.

My issue is purely subjective: the main character and almost everyone around him are self-important, self-centered people. We may enjoy these types of people in small doses in real life but let’s be honest, they are exhausting to be around.

It’s true that we all have the potential to be self-absorbed and wear down the nerves of those around us.  Perhaps I didn’t like the people in this film because they reminded me of me at other times in my life?  Wait. Whoa. This isn’t about me. Or is it?? Yikes.

It’s also true that there’s a fine line between being self-absorbed and being self-aware. Taken to the extreme both are really just different shades of arrogance.

Anyway, my lack of empathy for the characters in this film doesn’t mean it’s not a good film. In fact, it’s entirely possible that it will capture one or a few Oscars (but I don’t think Best Picture will be one of them).

It’s also entirely possible that this film’s brilliance is just beyond my comprehension. Like trigonometry.  Or Jello with mayonnaise.

Finally, if you’ve made it to the end of this post and feel exhausted or aren’t sure what my point is…congratulations: you just might have experienced Birdman without having to watch it.

Still Alicestill alice

(This film is nominated for 1 Academy Award, Best Actress.)

If you had to lose one of your senses, which would be the most painful? Sight? Sound? Taste? Touch? I am by nature a communicator. I think losing my ability to communicate would be the hardest thing for me to face.

This was made pretty clear to me as I watched Julianne Moore’s beautiful and heart-wrenching portrayal of a woman living with a rare form of Alzheimer’s Disease. Her character’s identity is centered around her love for language and communication. As she begins to lose her memory, the tragedy of her loss and the toll it takes on her is intense.

So far in my Oscar-watching blitz, Julianne has my vote for Best Actress.  I’ve watched her for years from The Hand That Rocks The Cradle through Boogie Nights, The Hours, and so many other great performances. In this film, Julianne continues to excel at being a transparent canvas of human emotion for the camera allowing it to capture Alice’s struggle.

Still Alice is a great reminder that nothing is permanent.  And all we truly have is the present. When everything comes to an end, when we get ready to face our mortality, whether by choice or not, here’s hoping each of us has lived as fully as we possibly can. Without regret. Because life is precious and mercurial. And when it’s over, it’s over.

In the final scene, Julianne’s Alice poignantly demonstrates what Maya Angelou famously wrote, “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Gone GirlGone girl

(This film is nominated for 1 Academy Award, Best Actress.)

Rosamund Pike is up for Best Actress for her role in Gone Girl.  I have not seen anything else she has done to compare her performance to but her work in Gone Girl was very strong nonetheless.  She pulls off sweet, sympathetic, conniving and dangerous superbly.

Gone Girl is quite an interesting film although it made me feel like I was watching the 2014 version of a film from the 90s.  One that might have started Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Jason Leigh, or Sharon Stone. That is to say it just felt rather familiar in all its contrivances, twists and turns.  Still, Rosamund Pike gave a great performance and she will be fun to watch. I suspect she’ll probably have to wait for an Oscar until another year; or at least until she dons a prothetic nose and plays a homely character struggling against all odds. Whichever comes first.

Good flick though.  You should see it if you haven’t already.

FoxcatcherFoxcatcher

(This film is nominated for 5 Academy Awards including Best, Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Director.)

What is going on here?  Wait. Where is this story leading?  What the…this is a true story?? This is getting creepier and creepier as the story continues!

Those were various reactions I had as I watched Foxcatcher, a gripping narrative about the relationship between a man and the people pulled into his web, made all the more fascinating by the fact that it’s based on a true story.

Steve Carell surprised the heck out of me with his performance.  First of all, the makeup they used on him rendered him almost unrecognizable when coupled with the creepy mannerisms he took on for his performance. The nose they had him wear – I swear reminded me of Nicole Kidman’s Oscar-winning nose in The Hours.  If he takes home the Oscar too, won’t that be a coincidence – who “nose?” Haha.

Anyway, Carell’s portrayal of John du Pont was spellbinding in that haunted way you just know something isn’t right but you can’t look away.  But you should look away.  In fact, you know that in order to save everyone in the movie you must look away.  But you don’t.

Equally compelling were Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum.  Why Channing wasn’t nominated, quite honestly, seems weird to me.  He gave an intense performance that is unlike anything he’s done to date.

Mark was brilliant in his portrayal of a devoted older brother and family man.  He sure does quiet, still-waters-run-deep type characters very well, doesn’t he?  That seems to be his signature type.  And it works well in his favor.

Kudos to the writer and director for the way they crafted the film. They built a case for “OMG – I’M SO CREEPED OUT” very slowly, almost mesmerizingly so.  The viewer isn’t tortured with overt explosions of chaos or twisted action.  Instead, the viewer is tortured slowly by mounting anxiety caused by the quietly unfolding events of the story.

Random side notes: Vanesa Redgrave as the elderly, domineering mother of Steve Carell’s character added a Hitchcockian twinge a la Norman Bates to the story. Ick.  Also, Sienna Miller plays the wife of Chris Kyle in American Sniper AND the wife of Dave Schultz in Foxcatcher. Interesting.  And director Bennett Miller is nominated for Best Director but the film was not nominated for Best Picture.  That hasn’t happened since 2008.  Curious.

To summarize, Foxcatcher is compelling, well-done, awkward and ultimately sad.  And in my opinion, the race for the Best Actor Oscar just got a bit tougher.  Before today, I would have said that J.K. Simmons will get it for his performance in Whiplash.  But now I think he’s got worthy competition in Steve Carell.

The JudgeThe Judge

(This film is nominated for 1 Academy Award, Best Supporting Actor.)

Okay. So Robert Duvall was excellent in his supporting role.  He plays a tough as nails judge who’s relationship to his three sons is complicated and at times painful.  He convincingly portrayed the myriad of vulnerabilities that an aging man faces at the end of his life.

That said, the movie as a whole did not rise to meet him at the same level of quality. It’s beautifully filmed but completely predictable and canned. There were far too many court-room-drama and son-estranged-from-father cliches throughout the film.  In his role as a hugely successful yet arrogant and misunderstood know-it-all lawyer, Robert Downey Jr. gave what we have come to recognize as his trademark performance full of sharp-tongued quips and barbs.

This film will most likely end up on cable television on Saturday afternoons in rotation with all the other movies like it that we can barely distinguish from one another.  And Mr.Duvall’s performance, while certainly worthy of the nomination, is not destined to win the Oscar.  Not when it’s in the same category as J.K. Simmons’s scalding performance in Whiplash. But that’s my verdict. I’ll let you be the judge. (Puns intended.)

American Sniperamerican sniper

(This film is nominated for 6 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor.)

Bradley Cooper fascinates me.  In my opinion, he’s risen above his classic hollywood handsomeness to become a very competent and talented actor. The one thing I always notice when I see him perform is that he commits completely to whatever role he plays.  You could argue that many other actors commit to the roles they play as well.  But my experience of Bradley Cooper is that he really does – whether its a small role in a romantic comedy or a lead role in an intense movie like American Sniper.  I have come to really appreciate that about him.

Okay, now about American Sniper as a film.  It’s a Clint Eastwood film. That is to say it’s well done without a doubt. (Incidentally, Clint was not nominated for Best Director which is curious.)  All that said, I sit in my privileged life and try to relate to a movie like this and all I do is feel conflicted.  I hate war. I hate what it does to people. And I don’t believe that good and evil or right and wrong are black and white.  And yet, on a human level, I have to acknowledge what the men and women who choose careers in the armed forces, like Chris Kyle, go through. I’d like to say that I have the heart of a lion like Chris appeared to have but in reality I probably have the sensibility of his younger brother as well, who as depicted in the film, was openly tormented by his experience serving in the armed forces.

American Sniper probably won’t take home the major awards at Oscar time.  Nonetheless, it’s a well-crafted cinematic experience and Bradley Cooper’s performance is the reason why.

Two Days, One NightTwo Days

(This film is nominated for 1 Academy Award, Best Actress.)

In this film, Marion Cotillard is Sandra, a woman struggling to retain her job at a solar panel factory.  At the start of the film, we learn that her boss told the rest of the small company that they had to vote to either keep Sandra on staff or keep their bonuses. Over the course of two days and one night, we watch as Sandra battles self-confidence and a desperate need to keep her job as she attempts to rally the employees, one at a time, to vote for her.

Marion Cotillard’s work in this film is beautifully understated.  It’s a quiet, deceptively simple performance.  The way the film was shot, it feels more like a documentary than a traditional movie. The camera work gives the watching of the story a voyeuristic feel to it.  This is made even more apparent by the lack of any sort of movie soundtrack manipulating the viewer’s emotions.  You genuinely feel like you are following Sandra around town as she attempts to convince her co-workers to vote for her.  The camera lingers just long enough after the action in each scene is done that you feel like its real life not fiction.

As story telling goes, I got pulled into Sandra’s journey pretty quickly.  As a Human Resources professional I was fascinated by the awful struggle that the boss of the factory forced on his employees by asking them to choose between their bonuses and their co-worker.  Will they pick their bonus over her or make the sacrifice to help someone in need?  And each person she talks with is genuinely interesting to watch as they wrestle with the dilemma.

This is an intriguing, quiet, and compelling film.  If I had to guess, I’d say that it won’t take home the Oscar. But I’ve been more wrong than I’ve been right in the Oscar guessing game.  Regardless, I enjoyed Two Days, One Night. Maybe you will too.

Whiplashwhiplash

(This film is nominated for 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor.)

When I was in undergraduate school, majoring in theatre, I was cast in a small role in the school’s production of The Grapes of Wrath. The professor directing the production had a penchant for being really intense with the students.  During one of the rehearsals, as I was working my way through the one and only monologue I had in the show, the professor repeatedly interrupted me and yelled his venomous critiques about my acting choices at me while all my peers watched off stage. Then he’d have me start over again from the top of my monologue. It was humiliating and painful.

This many years later, I can’t recall what he actually said to me that night. But I vividly remember how awful his words made me feel. While it’s true that his barbed words stung me each time, they also forced me to tap into the strength of my humanity.  I was determined to rise above his harshness. Therefore, I gave as good a performance as my fledging self possibly could. And at the end of the semester, I transferred to another school.

In Whiplash, the teacher says of his job as a jazz band teacher that his responsibility isn’t to simply conduct. Any idiot can wave his arms around and make everyone stay in tempo he says. He believed instead that his job was to force his students to perform beyond what was expected of them.  That seductively sounds great but the audience watching Whiplash learns quickly that there’s a fine line between inspiration and abuse.

Do I think my theatre professor inspired me? He sure did. He inspired me to overcome. To believe in myself. To never give up.  In spite of him. And years later I would earn the privilege of obtaining my Actors Equity card and I performed Off-Broadway.  Also in spite of him.

Do the ends always justify the means? Go see the intensely gripping Oscar-nominated Whiplash and let me know what you decide.

And the Oscar Goes To…here are Joel’s picks:

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: J.K. Simmons

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Patricia Arquette

BEST ACTOR: Eddie Redmayne

BEST ACTRESS: Julianne Moore

BEST DIRECTOR: Richard Linklater (Boyhood)

BEST PICTURE: Boyhood

FilmJoel PetersonMovie CriticOscars

Heather Kinzie • February 22, 2015


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