Saturday, March 04, 2006

In the past week I have doubled the number of movies I've seen that are up for major Oscars this year: seeing Capote on Monday and Brokeback last night. I liked both, probably Capote a little more, but there's no question these are two really good movies.

The shame about Brokeback is that it's always going to be thought of as "gay cowboy movie," when in fact there's a whole lot of other interesting stuff going on there. Most movies nowadays seem to try to suck out all the ideas (compare Rollerball to Rollerball), but Brokeback is chock full of them. For one thing, it's about social class--these are two poor working-class guys who come from nothing. One of them marries up and starts leading a relatively normal middle-class life (which he interprets as "wealthy"), and the other continually struggles to feed a family in temporary and seasonal jobs. It's also about the U.S. West and rural America in the second half of last century. Jack ends up selling super-expensive equipment for use in agribusiness, while Ennis tries to continue the largely outmoded life of ranching. There are also complex family issues that arise for both men--some of which have little to do with what went on at Brokeback Mountain, and some which are directly connected. And also, of course, there's the butt sex.

One thing that surprises me after juxtaposing these two movies is that Brokeback is getting all the publicity for the gay angle, while that's been downplayed with regard to Capote. In some ways, Capote is the more progressive film, and the one that should scare the red-staters more. In Capote, a gay man is our (admittedly ambiguous, perhaps amoral) hero, and he's in an openly gay relationship, and it's hinted that he has dalliances on the road as well. You know what's made of this? Virtually nothing. If acceptance of homosexuality is all about people being allowed to be gay and having it treated as no big deal, like they're just a regular person whose life includes homosexuality as one aspect, then Capote's the perfect film for that. Brokeback no doubt gets more publicity on this point because it's the bigger movie with bigger stars, and because it's the central drama of the movie. But Brokeback is all about hand-wringing, hiding, teeth-gnashing, etc. You could say that one difference is that the butt sex in Brokeback happens in a red state wihle in Capote it's just about urbanite New Yorkers, so it's less threatening to Middle America. That's true to a point, but it's pretty clear in Capote that everyone knows who this guy is, and while it's not that no one cares, he certainly doesn't come to any direct violence or harm over it, for all the time he spends in western Kansas.

I recommend both films, and neither one would do the Oscars a disservice if it were Best Picture. Then again, they normally get this right in the sense that while it doesn't necessarily go to the best movie, it does go to a good movie. I've seen 40 Best Picture winners, and I'd only classify one of them as a bad movie--yes, Forrest Gump, I'm looking at you.

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