Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Why "Precious" deserves to win; an argument

A continuing series of brief reflections on the Best Picture nominees. As always, this is an ARGUMENT, not necessarily what I think SHOULD win. I have to keep this one short if I'm going to get through all ten by Sunday...

Precious is like so many other urban dramas, and yet so different. It's the second time an African American director has been Oscar nominated, it has towering performances at its center, and it stages an almost elemental attack on the senses. It's a raw and impressive film. While the press has inked plenty about Mo'Nique's transformative, horrific performance and Gabby Sidibe's accomplishments as a first-time actress, I find myself far more drawn to how director Lee Daniels works his film.

It's a film very much about perception and torture (mental and physical), and as such he really pulls no punches. It's a gritty, difficult film with little in the way of real answers. Yes, it has a bit of an uplifting end, but c'mon - it's not like things are significantly better at its end. Structurally, the film is guided and woven through Precious's inner flights of fancy, the moments where she can imagine herself as someone else. In that way, "Precious" is really about our inner longing to break out, and Daniels seems to so perfectly understand those emotional nuances that he can create an aesthetic that marries it. The dream sequences are so vivid, so wonderfully edited against the more "stereotypically handheld" moments of huge close-ups and stark emotion.

The argument *against* Precious has been that a black filmmaker should explore different things about the black community. I don't think Precious is a condescending film. It's a bit of a paradox - elevating us past emotional torture by subjecting us to it for two hours - and I don't find it a particularly challenging or eviscerating look at the community it tries to build, but it's wonderfully perched behind the eyes of Gabby Sidibe. Lee Daniels is an emotional filmmaker, his vision is more concerned about getting us to empathize than it is about presenting the innate conundrums of life (which he often does in this film). It's got a soft center under its tough shell, which is what I think draws people to it, but it's a very careful film. And by careful, I mean respectful.

For Your Consideration - Precious.

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