Happy Valentine’s Day (A Day Late)

I hope everybody had a marvelous Valentine’s Day weekend. I spent Saturday night seeing the last Academy Award Best Picture Nominee that I needed to see with Sara. We went to see An Education and then ended up at Skip’s, home of the best nachos in Des Moines. They really are fantastic and they are worth the trip to Des Moines.

Now I’ve seen all 10 Best Picture Nominees, I feel a need to rank them. Even though I think that it is a rather tragic oversight by the Academy that they failed to nominate (500) Days of Summer. I also feel that Julie & Julia should have been nominated for Best Picture, but other than those two omissions, I can’t complain about the list too much. Okay, Fanastic Mr. Fox should have gotten more love as well. I also understand that the Oscars this year will hold very little suspense. Avatar will win Best Picture. That being noted, here is how I rank the 10 Best Picture Nominees from Best to not so good. Also, in case a person was to get invited to an Oscar Party, the movies that are currently available on DVD have been noted.

  1. The Hurt Locker (DVD) – Most action movies have one big bomb diffusing scene at the end of a movie. Now imagine a movie with 4 or 5 of those scenes. On the surface it sounds like that could get boring, but every sequence is slightly different and slightly more intense. I’m not usually a huge fan of war movies, but this movie about the final few days of a bomb squad in Iraq is original and intense.
  2. Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (Released on DVD March 9) – For starters, Mo’Nique should win the Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role. This movie is strangely uplifting even though I can’t think of a more depressing story. Precious follows the story of an illiterate teenage girl that is approximately 150 pounds overweight and is pregnant for the second time with her father’s baby. As bad as that sounds, the mom might actually be the worse parent. Her first child is born with Down’s Syndrome and you never actually learn the name of the child because they call the child Mongo. Yes, that is short for mongoloid. Despite how screwed up everything is in this movie, it somehow works extremely well. Even the casting of the normally wretched Mariah Carey even works.
  3. Up (DVD) – Perhaps the least impressively animated Pixar offering to date, but who cares? It has the most heartwarming and beautiful story. Finding Nemo is the most beautifully animated Pixar film (besides WALL-E) and it is their worst movie.
  4. District 9 (DVD) – For the most part I’ve parted ways with science fiction. Rarely does anything interesting or original come out any longer. This movie and Moon were two releases this year that have helped slightly restore my faith in the genre. Now if I could only wash memories of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Terminator Salvation out of my mind. This is science fiction how it used to be – smart. It also comes with a sociological message. Reminds me of the glory days of The Outer Limits.
  5. Avatar (Still playing in Ames) – James Cameron certainly deserves to win Best Director for this movie. It is a technological milestone in cinematic history. Unfortunately it isn’t really a great movie. It is great to look at, but the story is only so-so at best. It is basically Dances with Wolves in space. Dances with Wolves is the 2nd worst movie to ever win Best Picture, next to Annie Hall. This movie isn’t bad. In fact it is good, but the majority of me just wishes that the story was half as good as the visual effects.
  6. Up in the Air (Released on DVD – March 9) – I was a little disappointed in this movie. It is a good movie, but it was better in my mind. All of the really great sequences in the trailer were better in the trailer than they are in the movie. The movie is also filled with great characters, but I don’t think the story is as great as the characters deserve. There certainly aspects of the story that are fascinating. Just the thought that it is okay to lay people off over video conferencing and that anybody can do such a thing by following a simple flow chart was a perfect snapshot of corporate America. The performances are all great. In particular J.K. Simmons and Zach Galifanakis are superb in small roles.
  7. An Education (Currently playing at The Fleur) – A good little movie that probably would have scored higher on this list if the ending wouldn’t have felt so rushed and thrown on. An Education is the story of a 16 year old girl with dreams of going to Oxford that begins a romantic relationship with a much older man. The movie never really reveals his age but the actor that plays him (Peter Sarsgaard) is 39 years old. It is the type of movie that is frustrating because the parents of the girl completely sign off on the relationship because they think the man is suave and sophisticated and is good for the future of their daughter. The thoughts of the dad are best illustrated when he points out that David (the older man) is better for his daughter than a love interest that is her same age because he know C.S. Lewis. The daughter points out that the “boy” could become a famous author some day. Her dad retorts: “Knowing a famous author is better than becoming one. It shows you’re connected.” It is my hope that Carey Mulligan wins the Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for her performance as the 16 year old girl that gets seduced by an older man. It is certainly a better performance than Sandra Bullock’s overhyped performance in The Blind Side. Olivia Williams is also brilliant (as usual) in her performance as the girl’s school teacher and seemingly the only adult that sees what a colossal mistake this relationship is going to be for the girl.
  8. A Serious Man (DVD) – Funny, quirky and a return to form by the Coen brothers, after the dreadful Burn After Reading. Not anything particularly great though. Funny in parts. Solid performances, but probably not Best Picture nominee worthy.
  9. The Blind Side (Not playing anywhere that I know) – This is a decent and well made feel good movie. Sandra Bullock is good, but this isn’t an earth shattering performance. There is nothing decidedly original about this movie and there is a very painful sequence where football coaches play themselves. Not one of them is a thespian of note. It is a good movie and I will no doubt watch this again on some sleepy Sunday afternoon, but that is about it.
  10. Inglourious Basterds (DVD) – This movie is a collection of great scenes that does not end up to a great movie. There is Tarantino’s normal addiction to violence and gore and he does do it in an artistic manner, but at the end of the day, it is still just violence and gore. This movie easily has the worst ending of any movie I’ve seen in a very long time. But the hype surrounding Christoph Waltz’s performance is well deserved. I do hope that he wins the Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role.

Here is Saturday’s love letter from The Writer’s Almanac:

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote Puritan-inspired, New England-based works of dark romanticism, and he was largely a recluse. But he was cheerful about his personal romantic life. In his 30s, he fell in love with another reclusive person, Sophia Peabody. She and Nathaniel Hawthorne secretly became engaged on New Year’s Day in 1839.

They got married in her family’s bookstore in Boston. She was 32; he was 38. The newlyweds moved out to an old historic mansion in Concord, Massachusetts, where Henry David Thoreau made a vegetable garden for just the two of them. Hawthorne wrote to his sister: “We are as happy as people can be, without making themselves ridiculous, and might be even happier; but, as a matter of taste, we choose to stop short at this point.”

Then, on his first wedding anniversary, he wrote to his wife: “We were never so happy as now — never such wide capacity for happiness, yet overflowing with all that the day and every moment brings to us. Methinks this birth-day of our married life is like a cape, which we have now doubled and find a more infinite ocean of love stretching out before us.”

Writer James Joyce said things like, “A man of genius makes no mistakes; his errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” But he often apologized wholeheartedly to his wife, Nora. And he said things like, “I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality.” But to Nora Barnacle, he wrote things like — on October, 25th, 1909 — “You are my only love. You have me completely in your power. I know and feel that if I am to write anything fine or noble in the future I shall do so only by listening to the doors of your heart. … I love you deeply and truly, Nora. … There is not a particle of my love that is not yours. … If you would only let me I would speak to you of everything in my mind but sometimes I fancy from your look that you would only be bored by me. Anyhow, Nora, I love you. I cannot live without you. I would like to give you everything that is mine, any knowledge I have (little as it is) any emotions I myself feel or have felt, any likes or dislikes I have, any hopes I have or remorse. I would like to go through life side by side with you, telling you more and more until we grew to be one being together until the hour should come for us to die. Even now the tears rush to my eyes and sobs choke my throat as I write this. Nora, we have only one short life in which to love. O my darling be only a little kinder to me, bear with me a little even if I am inconsiderate and unmanageable and believe me we will be happy together. Let me love you in my own way. Let me have your heart always close to mine to hear every throb of my life, every sorrow, every joy.”

From Sunday’s The Writer’s Almanac:

Today is Valentine’s Day, the day on which we celebrate love, especially romantic love. The holiday was named after an early Christian priest, St. Valentine, who was martyred on February 14 in 269 A.D.

The tradition of exchanging love notes on Valentine’s Day originates from the martyr Valentine himself. The legend maintains that due to a shortage of enlistments, Emperor Claudius II forbade single men to get married in an effort to bolster his struggling army. Seeing this act as a grave injustice, Valentine performed clandestine wedding rituals in defiance of the emperor. Valentine was discovered, imprisoned, and sentenced to death by beheading. While awaiting his fate in his cell, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with the daughter of a prison guard, who would come and visit him. On the day of his death, Valentine left a note for the young woman professing his undying devotion signed “Love from your Valentine.”

Poets Robert Browning  and Elizabeth Barrett Browning  carried out one of the most famous romantic correspondences in literary history. They first introduced themselves by epistolary means, and fell in love even before they had met in person. The letter that began their relationship was written by Robert in January 1845; it was essentially a piece of fan mail to esteemed poet Elizabeth Barrett. He wrote:

“I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett — and this is no offhand complimentary letter that I shall write — whatever else, no prompt matter-of-course recognition of your genius and there a graceful and natural end of the thing: since the day last week when I first read your poems, I quite laugh to remember how I have been turning and turning again in my mind what I should be able to tell you of their effect upon me …”

Elizabeth Barrett responded right away: “I thank you, dear Mr Browning, from the bottom of my heart. … Such a letter from such a hand!”

She continued, “I will say that I am your debtor, not only for this cordial letter & for all the pleasure which came with it, but in other ways, & those the highest: & I will say that while I live to follow this divine art of poetry, … in proportion to my love for it & my devotion for it, I must be a devout admirer & student of your works. This is in my heart to say to you & I say it.”

They continued writing to each other, clandestinely, for a year and a half, and then they secretly got married in 1846. Right before the wedding, Robert mailed off to Elizabeth a letter that said: “Words can never tell you, however, — form them, transform them anyway, — how perfectly dear you are to me – perfectly dear to my heart and soul. I look back, and in every one point, every word and gesture, every letter, every silence — you have been entirely perfect to me — I would not change one word, one look. I am all gratitude — and all pride (under the proper feeling which ascribes pride to the right source) all pride that my life has been so crowned by you.”

And then, the day after the wedding, she wrote to him:
“What could be better than [your] lifting me from the ground and carrying me into life and the sunshine? … All that I am, I owe you — if I enjoy anything now and henceforth, it is through you.”

During their courtship, she was composing sonnets for him, which she presented to him as a wedding gift. The sonnets were published in 1850 and include one of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s most famous poems ever:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints — I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

I know that there are some Scrooge McDucks out there that loathe and hate Valentine’s Day. I hope you can at least appreciate the great writing that was posted last week.

2 thoughts on “Happy Valentine’s Day (A Day Late)”

  1. Thanks for the write-up, Chris (and I haven’t thanked you for the Almanac pieces, but they’re beautiful). I have had the Blu-Rays of “Up” and “(500) Days of Summer” sitting here on our coffee table for two weeks, but still need to find a good time to watch them. This is kicking me into higher gear.

  2. You should definitely get on watching those movies. They are both worth watching, especially (500) Days of Summer.

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