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I know this is the type of diary that should be reserved for Oscar Night, but I'm leaving town in a few hours and won't be back til next week so I'll start things off early.

Besides, even Rachel offers breaks from politics at the end of every show.

So who'll win on Sunday?  I think it's safe to say that there's enough backlash against Avatar, aka "Pocahontas 2" or "Dancing with Smurfs" to thankfully eliminate it from competition.  In the end, Hurt Locker despite some over zealous campaigning, will still win the big award.  Really, I can't complain if Hurt wins.

It was my second choice and having it win wouldn't be like Slumdog beating The Reader and Milk last year.  Or beating superior films which weren't even nominated like Frozen River, The Visitor, Doubt, or The Wrestler.  

Still, the best flick of the year, the one which shined at the major festivals and created a lot of controversy along the way, seems to now be completely out of the mix.

For me, the absolute best film of 2009 was Precious.  

It won't win, but it should.  The same way Do the Right Thing and not Driving Miss Daisy should have won in 1989.  Or Goodfellas and not Dances with Wolves should have won in 1990.  Or Pulp Fiction and not Forrest Gump should have won in 1994.  Or Fargo and not The English Patient should have won in 1996.  

And that's back when the Oscars had some sort of clue.  Since then they've given BEST Picture Awards (not, "OK if there is nothing else on" Picture Awards) to Titanic, Shakespear in Love, Gladiator, Lord of the Rings, Million Dollar Baby, The Departed, No Country for Old Men, and the aforementioned Slumdog.

Again, I won't complain if Hurt Locker does indeed win, but there is something better out there.  Below (and cross posted at BrooklynAtlantic.com) is my review for Precious.  A movie which also gets the Vinny for best New York based film of the year.

(DISCLAIMER:  BEFORE ANYONE READS ANY FURTHER, THIS REVIEW DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS)

2009, unlike the previous year, was a weak one for movies, particularly New York movies. After the death of the Big Studio's indie-subdivisions, 2009 truly marked the end of a brief (2005-2008) filmmaking Renaissance.  It just might be the first of many bad years to come. Still, all of the current and future Hollywood crap is forgiven thanks to Precious, perhaps the single greatest film of the decade and unquestionably the greatest New York film of the decade.  

Brutal, blunt, disturbing, powerful but most of all, heartbreaking, Lee Daniels' piece is simply put, a modern day opera. An unsubtle, uncompromising, unapologetic, nightmare set in the pre-rezoned, pre-high rise luxury condos, pre-gentrification, pre-hidden away, pre-Bill Clinton Harlem of the late 1980s.  A time when (just 8 miles north of the "greed is good" high life of Wall Street) crime, crack, and AIDS ran rampant in a community that even 20+ years later, is still awaiting Ronald Reagan's Trickle Down.

The story is that of Clareece "Precious" Jones, a morbidly obese, illiterate, inner city, dark skinned, black adolescent who at 16 is already pregnant with her second child.  Like the first, a four year old with Down Syndrome whom she refers to as Li'l Mongol, this second pregnancy is the result of a brutal incestuous rape by her own father.  A father who only shows up to rape Precious.  As horrific as that is, it's actually Precious' mother, Mary, who spends most of the film terrifying audiences.  Viciously depraved over losing her "man" to her own daughter, Mary spends her life treating Precious as a personal slave.  She too beats and rapes Precious when not also verbally attacking her slave to the point where Precious is a terrified shell of a human.  

That concept, along with the fact that the teen's self-esteem is so low she fantasizes (the film is loaded with comedic but ultimately heartbreaking dream sequences) about being a skinny white blonde says as much about race, history, and sociology in America as any previous movie ever has.  And unlike other movies which do try tackling those issues, there is nothing preachy here.  There are no hidden political agendas (showing Mary as a fat, lazy, chain-smoking, Welfare Queen and Precious as another lost number in a cold system which has been broken for decades) here either.  Instead, it simply reveals the worst of all possible nightmares.  Disgusting nightmares which, unlike the Disney-esque cartoon that was Slumdog Millionaire, are never sugar coated.  The many vibrantly colorful, surreal, dream scenes (when Precious is not dreaming of being a blonde, she's dreaming of marrying her white math teacher, or dreaming of becoming a pop-diva with a light skinned boyfriend) only highlight the fact that, unlike the mythically fortunate and often befriended Slumdog, Precious will never be able to truly shake the grotesque reality of everyday life.

While it later becomes apparent that the nightmare will never end, the film is not sheerly nihilistic in a way that the glossy but pretentious, racially offensive, ridiculously silly, uber unrealistic, two hour, "Just Say No" commercial, Requiem for a Dream was.  Despite the absolute failures of a bureaucratic, inner city public school system which has abandoned Precious into the 9th grade, the film also exposes a glimmer of humanity.  She takes advantage of that glimmer by getting help from an alternative school teacher, of the Each One Teach One program.  From that teacher, Miss Rain, to a hospital worker, Nurse John, who's there for the delivery of Precious' second child, to Mrs. Weiss, a tough-love Welfare case worker who at first seems to be simply going through the motions of a thankless job, Precious does find some hope.  Not enough hope to ever save the brutalized teen, but enough to give her the necessary self-worth to simply get through the day.  Unfortunately the brief flicker of light in a world this dark is also heartbreaking.

While the story, based on the novel, Push, by Sapphire, is strong (Sapphire was an inner city teacher during that time period) and the foul mouthed street dialogue is authentic, Lee Daniels needs separate recognition for packing the film with adrenaline at every turn. Whether it be the dreary hell of reality, the colorful tease of dreams, the fast popping cuts in between, or even an homage to Vittorio De Sica's neorealist, Two Women, Daniels constantly keeps the audience on edge with his deep bag of tricks.  Some of his tricks, like the final blowout involving a baby seem manipulative.  All of them seem abrasive.  Still, the situations ring true and Daniels should be applauded for not pulling punches and not being delicate in addressing this cruel subject matter.  While others might have craved more subtlety, Daniels accomplishes his mission.  He gives us one of the most unloved characters in movie history and makes every audience member with a heart fall for her.

Accolades to Daniels aside, it's his cast (Daniels was once a casting director) which truly shines.  Gabby Sidibe as Precious, in her very first role, truly captures what it's like to be a victim of abuse.  Shy, timid, often violent and angry herself, she shows all the signs of someone who's stuck in a gruesome home life.  Mo'Nique as Mary, notorious for a brand of comedy which is as obnoxious as it is unfunny, delivers in a way rarely seen by any Academy Award winner before.  Evil incarnate, Mo'Nique's character later tries justifying her sins in one of the most desperately pathetic yet stunningly powerful monologues ever given on film. Mariah Carey, notorious for being a horrific actress, shines as the hardened case worker who has seen it all.  Until the end, her subtle performance (the only bit of subtlety in this film) truly leaves you wondering if she really cares, or is simply doing a job.  Paula Patton, as the teacher, is also good but not quite as effective as the others.  Her character seems to be almost too perfect.  Then again her character was written to serve as the antithesis of the Mo'Nique one. Cameos from musician Lenny Kravitz (also making his feature film debut) as the charismatic Nurse John and a slew of young female beginners all playing Precious' classmates help in adding color to the grim despair.  The girls in particular bring a doc-like look to the classroom scenes.  As unlikely as it may seem, this cast featuring Mo'Nique, Mariah Carey and a bunch of newbies create as strong an ensemble as any seen this past year.

Finally a nod must go to the executive producers, Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry.  Oprah, like a black Barbra Streisand, has detractors as rabid as her fans.  Perhaps deservedly so, but let's look at her recent track record. She championed Into the Wild (the best movie of 2007) then prior to the 2008 primaries became the first "big name" to endorse Barack Obama, and later still was named PETA's 2008 Woman of the Year before going the extra step of putting her own name on this film.  While this isn't "safe" Oprah-like material, her backing makes sense considering her own past as a victim of sexual abuse.  Tyler Perry, as unfunny as Mo'Nique and the latest in a long list of black male comedians to throw on lipstick and a house dress for laughs, also jumped on board after the film's Sundance premier.  Like Oprah, he too was sexually molested by multiple partners as a child.  Instead of keeping their respective pasts a secret, the two joined forces to show worldwide audiences what the absolute worst case scenario looks like.

They should be applauded for not pulling punches in their support of this controversial piece. A film which has generated some disdain from radically conservative and radically liberal critics, each with their own political agenda, alike.  A film which has been somewhat ducked by a few unaware middle class whites and panned by a few embarrassed middle class blacks alike for portraying the worst in poor, black, inner city society.  A film which offends those with fragile palates.  A film which has been troll rated by "too cool for school" contrarians lacking in enough heart or brains to understand what they've actually seen.  

A film, however, which also became the first ever to win Audience Awards at both Sundance and Toronto, and whatever Oscar says, easily was the best film of 2009.  Easily the 2009 Vinny winner as well!  Congratulations must also go to Geoffrey Fletcher, the screenwriter who adapted Sapphire's novel and allowed all of the aforementioned names to make Precious.

OK, now that I got that off my chest, I can get back to packing!  Apologies in advance for not being able to respond (I'll try for one or two here or there) to the responders.

Originally posted to BrooklynJohnny on Wed Mar 03, 2010 at 06:27 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I liked avatar :/ (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    webranding, lisastar

    You're watching Fox News. OH MY GOD--LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU

    by rexymeteorite on Wed Mar 03, 2010 at 06:31:28 AM PST

  •  Avatar far and away (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    webranding, lisastar

    I'm astounded at the people who don't understand the science fiction genre, and who make light of the plot, the deep meaning, etc. of Avatar. There is some deep-seated bias against technology.

    The Hurt Locker broke the rules. What part of rules don't you understand?

    Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum viditur.

    by MrMichaelMT on Wed Mar 03, 2010 at 06:34:26 AM PST

  •  I liked Hurt Locker (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BrooklynJohnny, Nedsdag, foufou

    though the growing beatification of Katherine Bigelow puzzles me.

    "Vaya con Dios, Dude".

    Meh.

    Also.

    "And tell me how does god choose whose prayers does he refuse?" Tom Waits

    by madaprn on Wed Mar 03, 2010 at 06:39:23 AM PST

  •  can we give the Oscar to the LOTR series again nt (0+ / 0-)

    You're watching Fox News. OH MY GOD--LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU

    by rexymeteorite on Wed Mar 03, 2010 at 06:40:42 AM PST

  •  I Have To Say I Wasn't Impressed With (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elmo, lisastar

    Hurt Locker. A fine film and maybe all the hype I heard before hand made my expectations impossible to met, but I just didn't think it was the best picture of the year. I really like Avatar, but felt District 9 was superior. The Coen Brothers are my favorite directors and A Serious Man was wonderful, but I don't think the best picture.

    For sheer fun, Inglourious Basterds was a thrill ride. But for me Up in the Air was the movie I found myself liking the most. I don't think it has a chance, but I guess you never know.

    --

    Avatar (saw)
    The Blind Side (didn't see)
    District 9 (saw)
    An Education (didn't see)
    The Hurt Locker (saw)
    Inglourious Basterds (saw)
    Precious (didn't see)
    A Serious Man (saw)
    Up (saw)
    Up in the Air (saw)

    "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." - George Orwell

    by webranding on Wed Mar 03, 2010 at 06:41:13 AM PST

  •  Fuck all these over priced actors. What's the (0+ / 0-)

    matter all that money isn't enough, they have to keep patting each other on the back with all these awards ceremonies. Golde Globes, Oscars, Peoples Choice, NAACP. How shallow are these people? And that one from Precious cracks me up. She said when she went for her audition they recognised talent. WTF Halle Barre is talent but she doesn't weigh 350 pounds, that's what they needed a fat ass don't disillusion yourself.

    If we all just stopped voting would they all just go away?

    by longislandny on Wed Mar 03, 2010 at 06:42:09 AM PST

  •  you aren't even around to participate (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Meteor Blades, foufou

    in your diary and you pushed someone else's work down the recent list over !@#$%& Oscars?

    bad form.  

    People are upset Obama hasn't solved all the problems yet. C'mon, he's only been in office one year...the man went to Harvard, not Hogwarts. - Wanda Sykes

    by Cedwyn on Wed Mar 03, 2010 at 06:45:24 AM PST

  •  My favorite from 2009... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elmo, webranding, Nedsdag

    As father of an 8-year-old, I find it difficult to find the time to see many movies for grownups. Still, I must say that I was absolutely delighted by "The Fantastic Mr. Fox," which is a delight for both kids and adults.

    The movie is 90 minutes of glorious fun, and, unlike every other movie aimed at kids I've seen for the past five years, this movie is almost entirely devoid of some cloying "message."

    I also liked "Up" a lot, and I suspect it will nab the animated Oscar, which I have no problem with. It was wonderful. But for out-and-out fun, please check out "Mr. Fox." (You'll love the way the characters get away with swearing).

    Speaking of kids' movies, please take my word for it and avoid "Where the Wild Things Are," unless you wish to see a classic children's book turned into an annoying piece of psychobabble trash before your very eyes.

  •  Avatar (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lisastar

    And James Cameron as the greatest Director in a generation.

  •  The Oscars lost all meaning for me (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lisastar, longislandny

    when they gave one to Julia Roberts and they were forever ruined when they gave one to Reese Witherspoon for a "portrayal" of June Carter that did NOT look, sound, act, walk, talk, dress, sing like or bear the slightest resemblance whatsoever to the real June Carter.  

    To say that I don't care about them at all is a vast understatment.  

    "In our century, we've learned not to fear words" - Lt. Uhura

    by ShempLugosi on Wed Mar 03, 2010 at 08:04:34 AM PST

  •  I'm going to go on out limb: "Inglourious... (0+ / 0-)

    ...Basterds" is going to win Best Picture and here's why:

    Now "Avatar" might have a chance just because it's now made over $707 million domestically and over $2.5 billion total gross, which is insane and hard to ignore for a business fighting to get people into theaters - but it's still an overblown action movie, and they rarely - if ever - win; and the script was terrible - don't get me wrong, I saw it twice and loved the experience. It was incredible - but it is highly derivative. "Hurt Locker" had a lot of early buzz, but that's faded do to two big things - the producer breaking the rules and the military itself bad-mouthing the film and saying it was so inaccurate, they laugh at it when they watch it. A few articles about that, one big one in the NYTimes. Bigelow might still win for Best Director, though.

    The only film that's retained its reputation and shimmer is "Inglourious Basterds", which I've heard from friends in the biz that Academy members are voting for in droves. Shh.

    So I'll go out on a limb and say that the surprise of the night is going to be "Basterds" wins Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor - and Best Picture.

    All that said - the Oscars are ridiculous - pitting good films against each other is pointless - it is, however, fun to watch. ;-)

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