Midweek Update—Some (Incomplete) Thoughts on the Oscars and Plans for February

Hi all! If you are reading this, thank you so much! Also, sorry for the typo in my Devilman Crybaby review. It took me way too long to fix that. I know this blog is relatively low-activity, partly because I’m working on an important research proposal and partly because I am a full-time student, so once a week is all I want to throw at myself. However, with the Oscar nominations out, to celebrate five posts, and in the spirit of productive procrastination, I figured I’d write a brief reflection.

In my last post I stated that I’ve seen five out of nine best picture nominees: Call Me by Your Name, Get Out, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Because I haven’t seen some evidently really stunning films, it’s hard to make a strong statement without feeling out of my depth. However, I get the feeling that no matter what, I’ll end up being caught between Get Out and Call Me by Your Name.

Moonlight, last year’s best picture winner, is one of the best movies ever made. I don’t think it’s importance can be overstated. The first LGBTQ+ film and the first film with an all-black cast to win, and it had a budget of under $4 million. It’s a supremely emotional and almost incomparably beautiful film. The only thing I can really liken it to visually is In the Mood for Love, which I believe to be the most beautiful movie ever made.

I mention Moonlight because it’s a movie about a gay black man discovering himself. My two ideal picks are a gay coming-of-age story and a horror movie about racism, and I worry that the likelihood of the Academy choosing films about marginalized people two years in a row is pretty low.

Get Out is an incredibly memorable and affecting film, and I know I haven’t seen everything yet but I desperately want Daniel Kaluuya to win Best Actor for his performance. It’s significant not just for its intimate and frightening depiction of modern racism, but for having really inspiring art direction, great symbolism, excellent pacing, and a great script. Also, a horror movie hasn’t been nominated for Best Picture since 1991, when The Silence of the Lambs (deservedly) won. The Academy rarely makes the right decision (Titanic is a bad movie, Shakespeare in Love sucks, and Brokeback Mountain was VIOLENTLY ROBBED), but if Get Out won, I think it would signify a broadening of perspective.

And then there’s Call Me by Your Name, which is another big egg to crack. I want to say first that Call Me by Your Name is the most beautiful movie on the best picture nomination list. I want to say second that I was skeptical of this movie going in, and by the end I was borderline inconsolable. The end credit sequence of this movie is destructive. I knew that neither of the main characters died, which is a relief for a LGBTQ+ movie, and I knew that the protagonist’s parents were supportive of him. But this is not a clean-cut romance, and in many ways hardly a romance at all.

Call Me by Your Name follows the 17-year-old Elio Perlman, a precocious, educated, mature teenager struggling against an abundance of free time and his own fragility and self-loathing. The setting is northern Italy, summer of 1983, and the story begins with a graduate student from America, the 24-year-old Oliver, coming to the Perlman family’s villa to assist Elio’s father in research. Elio involuntarily begins to develop feelings for Oliver, romantic and erotic. The film follows him through his coming-of-age, personal sexual development, and first heartbreak.

Narratively there is so much this movie accomplishes. The title, which has stumped me for a while, becomes clearer as we delve into Elio’s psyche. My initial worry was that it was some sort of auto-erotic or narcissistic exercise, but I read it now more as an endearment in the name of self-love. Attaching one’s own name to someone they love and admire. This make’s Oliver’s suggesting it much more romantic and adoring of Elio, though that doesn’t necessarily erase the film’s problems.

The novel is written from Elio’s perspective, and the film is shot that way as well, but a novel has more ease of digging into the corners of his mind. Elio in the novel is also more obsessive of Oliver, fetishistically masturbating while wearing Oliver’s clothing. Also the peach scene, but I won’t get into that. But there is an issue of framing: a novel about a teenager grappling with his transition into adulthood and sexual obsession of an adult man, whose perspective we do not live, versus a film about a teenager falling in love with an adult man and fighting his own delicacy.

The age gap is troubling, and if it weren’t there I would call this movie basically perfect. But it is not a story about a 24-year-old man preying on a young boy. That doesn’t justify it, of course (and I feel a little like that guy in Transformers 4 trying to explain why he can date a teenager, pulling out my Romeo and Juliet Law card in my wallet), but continually contextualizing the book in Elio’s perspective makes it more powerful. Jeffrey Bloomer of Slate Magazine describes the book as “manic” and “an often comic encyclopedia of lust.”  The movie, which meanders in the image of a laid-back summer, does not feel so manic, and the lush scenery, romantic piano music, and generally gentle tone make the movie more reminiscent of a period romance, like A Room with a View, rather than a story of lust. It also basks in its economic privilege, that the story exists at all in this form is entirely dependent on the wealth of Elio’s parents (they have a summer villa for Christ’s sake), which also makes the viewing experience more idealized and romantic in the traditional sense.

Ultimately it’s a matter of taste. I hope Sufjan wins Best Song, I wouldn’t mind if Chalamet won Best Actor, he did a stellar job, but I still cast my vote for Daniel Kaluuya. I want to talk more about Get Out, but it’s been months since I’ve seen it and I only saw Call Me by Your Name two days ago. I would be happy if Call Me by Your Name won Best Picture, because it is a lovely movie. But it’s a movie about gay men, played by straight men, which I hope we can depart from soon.

shame 1

Speaking of sexual obsession, I have a theme for February! I wanted to talk in-depth about Call Me by Your Name here rather than doing a full review, because I have declared February, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, Sexy Movie Month (or Sexy Month, SM for short).

Each weekend I will watch and review a different sexy film, thinking deeply about framing the sexual acts, framing the women/male gaze, atmosphere, and narrative. I didn’t want to use films that I’d seen before, but I’m going to make one exception and begin with Shame, directed by Steve McQueen, one of my favorite directors. After that will be Nymphomaniac Parts I & II, then Y Tu Mama Tambien, and finally In the Realm of the Senses. The directors all come from different countries, (Britain, Denmark, Mexico, and Japan respectively), so a cultural lens is useful here as well.

I might follow up or edit this post after I watch more of the Oscar-nominated films, but that’s it for now. Please look forward to February!

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