Sunday, March 1, 2009

Journey To The Center Of The Truth

In light of my most recent post, Kimmy and I started thinking about a movie-related project we could embark upon for both our own pleasure and the pleasure of this site's reader(s). Okay, it was mainy for our own pleasure. But, still. Anyway, we have decided to take a look at the Oscar race for Best Picture during the course of our collective lifetime (we were both born in September of 1984). This means that we're going to watch, or in some cases re-watch, all five best picture contenders from each year and weigh in with which film should have taken home the prize. We'll of course include information on which movie actually won, which films perhaps should have been nominated but weren't, and how fluffy Billy Crystal's hair was for each year we analyze. The first year we'll tackle will be 2009 and then we will work backward from there.

You probably already know this, but here are the first five movies you'll see us give "the treatment" to:


Slumdog Millionaire
The Reader
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Since I'm here, and since I'm talking about movies, why not review one? I saw The Wrestler. Here's what I thought. Oh, wait! Before I start, I'll explain my rating system. After all, I've made a little revision to what I normally do. I used to simply steal Pitchfork's rating system (1-10 with every decimal in play), but I've decided to change course. Sort of. From now on, things will still be given a rating between one and ten, but there won't be any more crazy decimals, with the exception of half points. Basically what I'm trying to tell you is that the only possible ratings now are whole numbers (i.e. 5.0) and half numbers (i.e. 5.5). No crazy '5.7' shit.

Why the change? I feel like my ratings before were a little half-assed, like I was merely assigning a rating that felt right. I think this will help me to truly assess the value of what I'm reviewing. After I've written my review, I can reflect on the subject of my writing and ask myself, "does this deserve an 8.0 or an 8.5?" This just seems more practical than trying to decide between 8.0, 8.1, 8.2,8.3, 8.4, 8.5, or jumping a few points below or above either end of the spectrum. This puts pressure on me to really
decide if what I'm reviewing transcends a certain level into the next realm. I've rambled enough.

The Wrestler (2008)
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood
Director: Darren Aronofsky

Darren Aronofsky knows the human experience very well. His excellent Requiem for a Dream detailed the lives of drug addicts, showing us their day to day lives, their relationships, and their feelings. By the end of the movie, we find ourselves really understanding and caring for people we might be likely to look down our nose at in the real world. In a way, what Aronofsky accomplishes with The Wrestler is quite similar. Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) isn't someone we would likely befriend on normal terms. He's a professional wrestler
whose heyday is two decades expired. He sports nappy, bleached blonde hair, wears flannel jackets and sweat pants, and can frequently be seen at strip clubs. He's reliant on steroids and growth hormone to keep his career alive. He's been a terrible father to his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and he doesn't shy away from cocaine and strange women. In other words, if you saw him on the street, your first impression wouldn't be a postive one.

By the time The Wrestler's end credits roll, though, you will absolutely feel for Randy. Mickey Rourke does a fantastic job portraying a man who was once king of his domain and has since fallen from grace. The intricacies of his performance here are stunning. His facial expressions of heartbreak when he's disappointed, his headbanging when he hears an '80s hair metal song that reminds him of his peak in life, his smile during his last-ditch attempts to save his relationship with his daughter: these things all feel effortlessly real.

The Wrestler documents Randy 20 years after his brush with greatness. Where is he now? He wrestles on a much smaller
scale for much less money, works part-time in a grocery store, and spends his free time visiting Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), a stripper who he has gradually fallen in love with despite her obvious reluctance to fully embrace him. Randy's life is a shadow of what it once was, and Rourke makes sure you can always see that on Randy's face.

With too much of his money going toward various drugs and lapdances, Randy is unable to pay his rent and has to spend a night in his van. This prompts him to look for better paying wrestling gigs on the weekends and ask for more hours during the week at the grocery store. All of it leads to him taking a job in a hardcore wrestling match that has dire consequences and forces Randy to rethink his life.

The thing is, no matter how bad Randy's choices are, we're still rooting for him. We see him as a legitimately decent person, but one who almost always does the wrong thing. We know that his love for both Cassidy and his daughter are real, but we also completely understand that his daughter's revulsion toward him is deserved. It's truly a credit to this film, its makers, and its lead actor that we can feel so attached to this man.

It's really not hard to see how Mickey Rourke received an Oscar nod for his turn as Randy "The Ram" Robinson in The Wrestler. His work here is astoundingly real, and it hooked me in from the very first scene. The real tragedy is that a film of emotional heft, of this power, was ignored by the academy in favor of much inferior work. The Wrestler is easily among 2008's very best, and it isn't the type of thing you're likely to forget anytime soon.

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