My wife and I are trying to see as many of the Best Picture nominees as possible before the Academy Awards take place. We have managed four so far, and here is what I think about them.
Moneyball - Sports movies often suffer from the difficulty in translating the game to film. Fortunately, this one is about the most important part of professional sports - the part that happens off the field. More specifically, it is about the business side. If you are a sports fan, this is your chance to see how the sausage gets made.
Midnight in Paris - I am beginning to believe that Paris itself is a great actor. It gives every movie it is in a kind of whimsy that seems to be unique to the city. I think it must be the way the directors feel about their subject that brings this out, but Woody Allen certainly loves the city. Owen Wilson does a nice job of playing the self-aware character in a crowd of intelligent but oblivious upper-crusters. This movie also gives you the chance to see a guy who once played Tony Blair debate with the real life wife of Nicholas Sarkozy. That does not happen everyday.
Tree of Life - I have no idea. I admire the concept. I like people trying new artistic methods. I don't mind the placement of cinematography ahead of storytelling. I am impressed by child actors who can seem like real kids on film. I love space. I like the idea of asking big questions. And yet, I spent most of the movie being distracted by things like "who is this person who is now braiding the mom's hair?" and "what kind of dinosaur is that?" Really, I have no idea.
The Descendants - Clooney! Clooney! This is a great movie. The dialogue at the beginning about how everyone thinks people who live in Hawaii are immune to life sets the tone perfectly. This movie is about real life, or at least what real life is like when major life events happen. The are sad, funny, and maddening all at the same time. This movie has all of that, and it has a lot of George Clooney running funny. My front-runner for Best Picture.
This is the real issue here. There's a sense that a lot of us have that our public policy ought to be aiming to produce large gains for everyone. You often hear that for one reason or another the United States "can't afford" this or that. We "can't afford" to pay people Social Security benefits. We "can't afford" to build high-speed trains. We "can't afford" to give everyone early childhood education. But why can't we afford this stuff? Are we a poor country? No, we're not. We're one of the richest countries that's ever existed. Are we a poorer country than we used to be? No, we're not. But a very large share of the gains we've made over the past three decades have gone to a relatively small number of people. If the gains had been broadly shared, then the burden of paying for that basic infrastructure and public services would have to be very broadly shared. But the gains have been very concentrated, and so if we're going to afford that stuff, a large share of the revenue has to come from the people who've gotten the money.
That's not envy, that's math.