Thursday, January 22, 2015

Selma (a movie review post)


I have to wonder if it's the historical controversies over this movie that have caused it to be so overlooked by the Academy. Not that that has stopped them from being all over movies like The Imitation Game but, then, those are less controversial controversies. Yeah, I know Selma got a best picture nomination, but that seems almost as if it was only a token nomination (because they had to) rather than any serious consideration of the film.

The thing is, I think the controversies, especially the ones around LBJ, have to do with perspective rather than actual fact. In other words, both sides are correct and both sides are wrong. Sure, Lyndon Johnson pushed through the Voting Rights Act and not even against his will, but that doesn't mean he didn't also act as an impediment to King. That's really the kind of thing that depends upon which side of the fence you're on. It's an awfully small thing to be arguing about in a film like this.

And what kind of a film is this? Well, it's everything that 12 Years a Slave was not. Where 12 Years is emotionally distant, Selma is emotionally gripping. Where 12 Years is brutally graphic, Selma shies away from actual depictions of violence. The club goes up, but you rarely see where it falls. What you do see is the aftermath and the emotional turmoil. You see purposeful, personal, systematic persecution of a people rather than the rather impersonal depiction of slavery from 12 Years and the isolated vendetta-style conflict. In Selma, it's not someone with a chip on his shoulder abusing a loan slave, it's a culture of persecution against a race. It's deliberate and it's illegal, and it was maddening to watch the injustice. Selma shines a bright light on what was a culture of intolerance and ignorance.

Look, I grew up in the South, and this movie made me wish that I had been alive in the 60s and could have marched with King myself.

That David Oyelowo was overlooked for a best actor nomination is frustrating at the very least. That Eddie Redmayne received one for sitting in a chair is an injustice. As far as I can tell from what people who know have been saying, Oyelowo was pretty spot on and, from the clips I've heard of King speaking, it sounded to me as if he nailed it. What I do know for sure, though, is that he nailed the speaking style of the Southern black preacher. I've been to some of those Southern Baptist meetings with black preachers, and Oyelowo, when he is delivering King's speeches, would have fit in flawlessly. It's also worth noting how monotone Oyelowo was when he was practicing those speeches to himself, but it was a tremendous transformation when he moved in front of a crowd.

The other acting is also great. Tom Wilkinson was spectacular as LBJ, as was Dylan Baker as Hoover. I have a fondness for Wendell Pierce and really enjoyed him as Rev. Williams. And Tim Roth... well, I wanted to punch him in his big, old nose. He needed someone to punch it. Stephen Root is also always good, and we didn't get less than we expected. Carmen Ejogo was also good as King's wife, but I don't actually think that one was an Oscar performance... except when you see that Felicity Jones was nominated; Ejogo was at least as good as Jones.

On top of everything else, though, the movie is timely in its relation to how you deal with terrorism, because that's what had been going on in the South for 100 years. I don't remember the exact quote, but there is a conversation between King and another man while they are in jail, the gist of which was something along the lines of standing up for your rights as a person and how to deal with the fact that the people who have been keeping you down will continue to try to knock you down. You just stand up again. It really resonated with what Charb said about dying on your feet rather than living on your knees. Some of King's followers did die, but they died on their feet for something they believed in, and it allowed those that came after them to start out on their feet. It's a powerful message.

15 comments:

  1. Good review. I have been thinking over whether or not I would go see this, primarily (and maybe with some embarrassment) that I don't do well with graphic nature without the movie haunting me for a few days -- so I didn't know if it was gong to be ala 12 Years. Selma looks like it's a movie that we all need to see, I just wasn't sure if I could right now. I think I shall now. You wrote this with great description and detail -- a critic's job is tough to not come off as bitter or holier than thou, and you dealt with that well.

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    1. Jean: Well, Selma is just PG-13, so I suppose that's why there's no graphic violence. I hope in a couple of years that this is a movie they're showing in schools.

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    1. Pat: Hey! I like movies. I liked Birdman.

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  3. I was alive during the 60's and peripherally aware of some of the things going on but I had more important things to think about like monster magazines and building models.

    I might see this movie after it comes out on DVD or I might not. There are not many Oscar nominees from the past couple of decades that I've seen and when I do see them I usually don't remember. This might be an interesting film to see, but it's not high on my must see list.

    Last summer I stopped in Selma to get gas, but I was in too big of a hurry to check the town out. I'm pretty sure we played Selma with show I toured with back in the 80's but I couldn't say for sure. A lot of those towns in Alabama weren't particularly memorable.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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    1. Lee: I have found huge sections of the South to be not worth remembering. I suppose the same could be said of other places, but I don't have the same familiarity with those places.

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  4. Wow, you see a lot of movies.

    Like most biopics, this one didn't really interest me. I'm more interested in how much you know about Oscar nominations. Seems like this is kind of your hobby. The Oscars are something I usually have no real opinion about, so it's interesting for me to see other people get excited about them (one way or the other) and just be disinterested for a while.

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  5. Briane: I don't really see a lot of movies. It just seems that way around January.

    I wouldn't actually call Selma a biopic. It's really about the events in Selma, in which King was a major figure, rather than an actual movie about King.

    I don't really get excited about the Oscars. It's this thing that happens. I find the whole process interesting from a kind of clinical point-of-view. There's too much politics involved in the whole thing for me to be able to be invested in it. If they actually based their judgements off of artistic merit, I would care more. Care at all. I'll still call foul when they do stupid things, but it's not because I care about the outcome so much as just pointing it out.

    However, it is a hobby. My wife actually suggested we start doing this a few years ago. You know, to raise our culture level.
    heh

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  6. It's difficult to understand why the Academy members vote for certain films. I haven't seen Selma. I don't know if I would think it deserved more nominations. I wonder about racism and the director not being nominated, not just because she's female but because she's a black female.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Janie: In the grand scheme, I don't think this is a GREAT movie. Not as a movie. It's an important story, but the movie is fairly normal. However, in comparison to the other nominated movies, this one stands out, and I think it is much better than last year's winner.
      The director certainly should have received a nomination.

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    2. Thanks for sharing your opinion. I look forward to seeing Selma.

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  7. I'm glad you found a movie you really enjoyed. I sometimes think there are too few of those. That was a really well-written review and I especially liked the contrast you made with 12 Yrs a Slave. Have a great weekend!

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    1. Lexa: I actually tend to like movies. Mostly. I'm just a bit harder on the movies that get nominated for Oscars.
      You have a great weekend, too!

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  8. I haven't seen Selma. All I've seen as far as the Oscar nominated movies go, are Boyhood and Birdman. Boyhood was super interesting to me because of how it was done, and it was really good for the most part, but I thought there were parts where it was lagging big time...it was way too long too! I remember thinking that they'd filmed this kids WHOLE life in real time! I thought Birdman was incredible... I may see something that tops it if I get around to watching more of the nominees.

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    1. Eva: I reviewed both of those already, and I really liked Birdman. Boyhood was more interesting than it was good.

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