The Attraction of Genius

With the Oscars coming up on Sunday, I’ve been thinking of two Oscar-nominated films that I saw back-to-back, which have stuck with me for the weeks afterward. So let’s talk about them.

The Theory of Everything

Let’s talk about the Oscar nominations here.

  • Best Original Score Tinkly piano music? Always a win. Also delicacy of the score fits very well the tenderness and sophistication of the film’s subjects and characters.
  • Best Adapted Screenplay I was thoroughly satisfied by this film. Even though I knew that Stephen ends up in a wheelchair and Jane and Stephen get divorced at the end (oh, hey, spoiler alert, in case you aren’t up on Stephen’s life like you should be), it was still exciting and interesting to see how things got to where they did. Questions were raised, answered little by little, pulling at your emotions. In fact, I was desperately depressed when the film ended, because it’s so hard to see people split up because they love each other and don’t want to hurt each other any more. It is a really noteworthy accomplishment to evoke that much lasting emotion from a viewer, so great work Anthony McCarten.
  • Best Actress (Felicity Jones) I fully expected to go into the film with eye-lock on Eddie Redmayne, but throughout the film, I was drawn more and more to Jane. Partially due to the writing, of course, but one can never pull off a good character, regardless of the writing, without an invested actor. In the end, Jane was the one I sympathized with – my heart broke for her. And she was Jane, not an actor portraying Jane.
  • Best Actor (Eddie Redmayne) Along the same lines, Eddie was Stephen. Stephen himself said he felt like he was watching himself, not an actor. So….there it is. I’m a pretty huge Eddie fan, and you know when you’re a fan, no matter the film you’re watching, the actor of your admiration remains the actor and not the character. Not the case here. I felt like I was watching a secret camera of Jane and Stephen’s life – it was not a staged event. And I just want to say, how incredible is it to accurately portray someone with a muscular disorder, and convincingly? Shut up and take that Oscar, Eddie.
  • Best Picture Well, I saw it the week of Christmas and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Personally, I feel like that says enough. And everything else I just talked about combines into what? A really excellent picture. I think this nomination is deserved.

The Imitation Game

  • Best Original Score Alexandre Desplat…is one of my top three favorite film composers. I’m just going to throw him up there on that pedestal. Honestly, this score is brilliant, because it’s not one that’s tied irrevocably to the film. I can listen to it on its own and get a completely different set of thrills. Therefore, it is musically brilliant and not just fitting to the film.
  • Best Adapted Screenplay Okay, the two films are similar in their subjects and original source material. The Imitation Game has pretty much the same virtues as The Theory of Everything in this department, but I will say that The Imitation Game did an excellent job at making Turing loveable but not likeable. Complex man, complex story, fantastic portrayal.
  • Best Film Editing Well, I didn’t notice anything upsetting about the editing so that kind of makes it the best.
  • Best Directing Yeah…yeah, I agree with this. Honestly the whole film just came together so well. It’s one of those masterpieces where everyone shares the same vision and does their absolute best to make that vision come true, which is altogether too rare in films these days. It was beautifully crafted; thank you Morten Tyldum.
  • Best Production Design Okay, this I can gush about in more than general terms. Hey 1940s London, thanks for the great trip I was able to take to you through this film. Production design is one thing that I think is 1000x superior in British films compared to American. There is nothing too shiny or convenient in British production design – it’s so real. It’s dirty and gritty, with sweat and off-white teeth, cracks in tables and scuffs on chairs, threadbare fabrics and finger oil on doorknobs and buttons. GUSH. I love it.
  • Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Keira Knightley) Keira Knightley became one of those actors who was a face and not an actor after the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Fortunately, she had the sense not to do anything too huge for a while, making her appearance in this film pleasant and refreshing – she was not Keira, but Joan, which was much appreciated. Great work, Keira.
  • Best Actor (Benedict Cumberbatch) Well, you all know I’m a Benny fan. And as I mentioned, Turing was loveable but not likeable. I respect Benny’s ability to portray characters that are pointedly unique. And even though he frequently plays geniuses, he still manages to pull off an entirely genuine performance specific to this role and character. That’s just plain good acting.
  • Best Picture To be fair, when you’re nominated for seven categories plus Best Picture, how can you not be the Best Picture? But we all saw what happened to Gravity last year. But I think I’ve pointed out that The Imitation Game was superb in every aspect. And I want it to take this.

So if I’m choosing the ones that they are up against each other for, I’d give Best Picture and Best Score to The Imitation Game, and Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor to The Theory of Everything. Just me though.

But what is really going on here? I think it started with A Beautiful Mind. I mean, it probably started way before that, but in my head it started with A Beautiful Mind. And right now we’ve got two Oscar nominated films, plus we can throw in The Big Bang Theory for funsies. All of these stories right now centered around a genius who changes the way we see the world, who also suffers from a crippling disorder (and no, don’t you dare think I’m talking about Turing’s homosexuality. I’m talking about the undiagnosed but probable Asperger’s Syndrome).

What is it about an above average mind that is linked to some other “dysfunction”? In the case of Stephen Hawking, he may not be mentally ill like John Nash or autistic like Alan Turing, though he was at least socially awkward, and motor neuron disease is not a beast I would like to carry. But I find it fascinating to hear story after story of someone who was different – non-functioning in some way – who turned out, historically, to be kind of a superhero if we’re going to be real here. Can you imagine what life would be like without Alan Turing’s work? Computers, people. Yet he was a criminal and generally disliked during his life. What does that even mean?

I might be saying that being different – even medically diagnosed as non-functioning in some aspect – does not make an ounce of difference in someone’s worth or ability to contribute to the world. Personally, I’m grateful for all those ill geniuses who maybe can’t handle relationships, but who are rocking the world in all the truly important ways.

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