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Double Feature: February 2014

fargo

Oscar Hustle

Watching the right pair of movies back-to-back can illuminate wildly different details, create a whole new viewing experience and, just maybe, BLOW your MIND. Plus, it’s fun! Here’s your monthly guide:

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like any of the Academy Award Best Picture nominees this year will be available for (legal) home viewing before the March 2 Oscar broadcast, otherwise I would gladly recommend a Double Feature of any of them. We’ve got a remarkable selection of obvious choices: 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street. But we’ve also got a satisfyingly varied group of films with less clout: Her, Philomena, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club and Nebraska.

The list is extraordinarily lively and complete. That’s not to say it includes every great movie from the past year (Spring Breakers, y’all!), but what we have is a glowing sample of celluloid/digital awesomeness from 2013. This really would not have been possible until 2010, when The Academy expanded the Best Picture category from 5 to a potential 10 nominees. At the time, there was an uproar about sacrificing the integrity of the elite 5, as if that were the perfect number of great movies from every year that the Academy members would carry down from the Hollywood Hills on engraved stone tablets. There was speculation they made the change because the previous year they had neglected to include the instant classic The Dark Knight, which made them look like the old fogies they are, so they broadened their net just to have a better chance of catching the youth of America by including more popular, mainstream nominees. Or, possibly to keep their TV broadcast relevant to youth-oriented viewers.

But let’s look at the 2009 nominees a little closer: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader and Slumdog Millionaire. A totally acceptable category of BP’s loaded with “Oscar Pedigree Talent”, “Oscar Caliber Execution” and “Oscar Bait Material.” You might call this predetermination.

The terrifying Joker opus would quite clearly be the sixth choice, but here are some other possibilities they missed out on: The Wrestler, Shotgun Stories, Gran Torino, WALL-E, Synecdoche, New York, and especially the woefully neglected masterpiece In Bruges. Each of these movies are somewhat better than at least one of the formally honored movies above; in fact, some flicks on this alternate list are far better than all of the actual nominees. There is nothing infallible about the number 5. It is a revered-yet-arbitrary number for a revered-yet-arbitrary ceremony.

The thing that truly makes the Academy Awards so special is the explosively huge and gaudy way it celebrates fame and cinema. That’s it. A celebration. There is no true Best Picture. There is only your pick for Best Picture – and the money you lose in the Oscar Pool.

First up:
The English Patient (162 min)
Dir. Anthony Minghella, 1996
Availability: DVD/Blu-ray
The Best Picture winner seventeen years ago was precisely the sort of movie anyone would envision taking that honor. The English Patient is poetry in images, sound and language. Its romance is a combination of fragile innocence and sweltering eroticism. Tragedy, mystery, disfigurement, Italian countryside, North African Sahara – Oscar favorites all steaming up the atmosphere of Oscar’s favorite era, World War II.
“Swoon. I’ll catch you.” Lines like this abound and could have made this movie embarrassingly gushy if the love displayed weren’t made so seductively, intimately passionate under the direction of the late, great Anthony Minghella. Couples walked out of this movie dizzy with sex and death.

Next:
Fargo (98 min)
Dir. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, 1996
Availability: DVD/Blu-ray; Netflix Instant; Amazon Prime
There was this little picture that lost the big race that same year, only to climb much higher up the scale of the all-time greats. To many at the time, it seemed to be just one of the better Tarantino-type thrillers with wise cracking thugs and senseless violence. But with an extraordinarily iconic bevy of characters and a wild yarn of desperate greed set in a serene white landscape, Joel and Ethan Coen created one of the simplest, funniest, most despairing movies ever made about the joy you can grasp in life and the mindless, gutless, indiscriminating demons that can snap it out of existence.

Fargo has become hugely influential and important in ways that give The English Patient a certain regrettable stink just because some old farts liked it better. But, really, it doesn’t matter. Winners or losers, all movies have a rich life of their own that far outlive any esteemed extravaganza.

- Rob Fagin

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