It’s Oscar season once again. And thus I’m faced with my usual challenge – how many nominees can I catch up on before the too-early ceremonies in February? I decided this year that other than a few I’ll try to hit on Netflix, I’ll put my main focus on hitting the Best Picture race. I’ve already seen two (Milk and Benjamin Button), so that left three more. First up on the list ended up being The Reader, which ScottE and Joyous both expressed interest in seeing. (Side note – I still hope to see Doubt as well, because we saw it on Broadway, and because all 4 leads scored nominations.)
A simple and unconventional love story in post-WWII Germany, this film begins in a nice and strangely happy place. Very quickly we forget that Hannah (Kate Winslet) is having a highly questionable affair with a nearly 16 year-old boy (David Kross) because of the way the film is structured and the obvious affection that runs between them. Each day after school he meets her at her apartment to read her stories from his school books and then they make love. But as the summer closes, she disappears and Michael is left to wonder why.
The second act of the film brings us to the grown-up Michael (played by Ralph Fiennes) who recalls how he found out why several years later. I won’t divulge the details, but let’s just say it’s a dark story and it’s not going to end happily. Eventually we reach the present day as Michael decides whether to reopen this old wound, perhaps to save his damaged relationship with his own daughter.
I really enjoyed this film, from its emotional highs to its dreary numbness as we face the horrors of Hannah’s past. It’s a moving meditation on the power of shame, and how personal pride can damage more than just one life. It’s not a huge sobfest, but even the strongest amongst us will get misty when Kate Winslet starts circling all the “the” words in her book. (Sorry, not divulging more details than that!) My grade for this movie is an A-.
So is The Reader worthy of a Best Picture nomination? Sure – it’s very well-done and well-acted (particularly by Winslet). I don’t think it will or should win the top prize, but it’s fine recognition for a good film. I’m now pulling for Kate to go all the way and take home an Oscar at last (probably the only win for this movie), as her performance was exemplary. (Admittedly I haven’t seen any of the other Best Actress nominees yet, so she has a big leg up with me!)