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February 21, 2009

'Milk' and the problem of politics

In case you missed it, Annie went on record last night predicting that Milk will sweep the Oscars-- or at least, that it will take Picture, Director, and Actor. Were I a betting man, I'd still put my money on Slumdog, but I think Milk is the only nominated film that really has a chance of taking it down, largely because the other three films are, um, really boring. But more to the point, I'm almost ready to say that I'm rooting for Milk; while I think that both it and Slumdog are significant achievements in filmmaking, and either one would be a deserving winner, it's the former that seems to be staying with me a bit more than the latter, at least on an intellectual level.

And yet, there's another part of me that dreads what seems bound to happen if Milk wins: All of the film's detractors-- be they folks who object to its politics, folks who think it's simply not that great of a film, or folks who were really gung-ho about Slumdog-- will, very probably, accuse the Academy of picking the movie not for its cinematic merits, but simply for its "cause." Indeed, that's a charge that has already been leveled by more than a few critics, who think the film is too conventional to warrant the heaps of praise it has received.

I'm certainly not privy to the Academy's intentions, so if indeed Milk does win, I really won't be able to say exactly why. I will say, however, that this movie-- perhaps more than any other I've seen, at least recently-- highlights the difference between a political film and a propagandistic one. Certainly, the movie has a political agenda, and, to that end, it's a bold and fearless piece of filmmaking, one that never shies away from its cause, one that seems determined to stir up trouble and get right up in the face of those who might not share the same ideology. That said, I would also say that the film is inviting a serious conversation. It makes a persuasive argument (and I use that term descriptively, not necessarily evaluatively) for its side, but since when is that such a bad thing? Most Christian films make persuasive arguments of their own, it seems, and Milk never strikes me as demonizing those on the opposing side, nor does it seem uninterested in truly engaging principles and ideas.

In short, it tackles divisive issues with fervor, conviction, humor, compassion, and heart-- and it invites (possibly heated) discussion. And I'm certainly not one to condemn a movie for having such grand aspirations, when so many films have such small aspirations. If Milk wins tomorrow, it may very well be because the Academy likes its politics-- but that doesn't mean it isn't a dynamite movie, as well.

Related Tags: Milk, Oscars


Sorry to see that it didn't win more (although I also thought Slumdog Millionaire was superb) but glad it did win best actor--Sean Penn was brilliant--and original screenplay.