Tuesday, May 10, 2011

AFI Top 100 Countdown #92 SOPHIE'S CHOICE


Directed by Alan J. Pakula
Written by Alan J. Pakula
Starring: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, and Peter MacNicol

AFI Top 100 Criteria:

Critical Recognition: Formal commendation in print, television, and digital media.

* 81% on Rottentomatoes.com

*"So perfectly cast and well-imagined that it just takes over and happens to you. It's quite an experience."
-Roger Ebert, Chicago-Sun Times

*"Though it's far from a flawless movie, Sophie's Choice is a unified and deeply affecting one. Thanks in large part to Miss Streep's bravura performance, it's a film that casts a powerful, uninterrupted spell." -Janet Maslin, New York Times

Major Award Winner: Recognition from competitive events including awards from peer groups, critics, guilds, and major film festivals.

*Academy: Won Best Actress, Nominated for Best Cinematography, Costume Design, Original Score, and Writing

*BAFTA: Nominated for Best Actress and Most Outstanding Newcomer to Film (Kline)

*Won Best Actress at Golden Globes, Boston Society of Film Critics, LA Film Critics Association, National Board of Review, and National Society of Film Critics Awards.

Popularity Over Time: Includes success at the box office, television and cable airings, and DVD/VHS sales and rentals.

*Budget: $12,000,000

*Gross: $19,962,353

Historical Significance: A film's mark on the history of the moving image through visionary narrative devices, technical innovation or other groundbreaking achievements.

Cultural Impact: A film's mark on American society in matters of style and substance.

* Streep's characterization was voted the third greatest movie performance of all time by Premier Magazine.

Jonesy: If anyone ever had a shadow of a doubt that Meryl Streep was the actress of her generation and possibly of all time, they haven’t seen SOPHIE’S CHOICE. The movie follows a young writer, Stingo, as he rents a room in a boarding house in Brooklyn and befriends Polish immigrant, Sophie, and her partner, Nathan. Stingo, being a young twentysomething, becomes infatuated with Sophie and falls in love with her and slowly persuades her to let him into her dark past.

The movie changes time periods as we delve more and more into Sophie’s history. Turns out she was deported to Auschwitz along with her two children. The flashbacks of Sophie in Auschwitz are tremendous. Streep completely transforms herself into a Holocaust victim and, to me, was utterly unrecognizable. Throughout her stories we peel back another layer of Sophie. By the end, I felt so beaten and dreary, I couldn’t imagine anyone surviving an experience like that. The eventual love triangle that develops in the modern day part became arduous after a while. It became a story that has been told over and over again, and it got in the way of the real meat of the story of Sophie’s past.

There will never be enough praise for Streep with her portrayal. She embodies what it means to lose yourself in a character and become unrecognizable. I read that she only filmed the “choice” scene once because it was too emotional for her to do multiple takes. I’ll echo her sentiments because I won’t ever watch that scene again; it’ll forever be etched into my mind. The movie falls into my own special category, “Great Movies I Will Never See Again..Ever”, and it has joined such emotional and gut-wrenching movies such as BIUTIFUL, SCHINDLER’S LIST, and BLUE VALENTINE.

Javi: Meryl Streep, oh that amazing actress, I’ve always enjoyed her acting and her screen presence bring a certain type of regality to everything she does, even if it’s some moronic adaptation of an Abba inspired musical.  Regardless, SOPHIE”S CHOICE was more of a movie I heard in passing and I never understood. 

Now that I have seen this movie, I am more in love with Meryl Streep the actress.  Like many others before and after her, she is able to completely immerse herself in a role, in this case it's that of the tortured Sophie.  It was interesting to think of her as an old-school Manic Pixie Dream Girl in the most realistic and saddest of ways.  Sophie as a character was very alluring with the aura of mystery and beauty radiating, which is why protagonist Stingo and current boyfriend/abuser Nathan.  But the complexities of her character make the “dream” part of the phrase pretty impossible.  Her character has been written about so much and I won’t try to dissect it as well here, but I will say she was tragic in the worst ways possible, someone that has been dead for a long time.  

The story itself almost feels inconsequential and it is slightly frustrating that the flashbacks, although necessary, always make the slowly moving plot stop abruptly every time they come on. By the time you get to the climax of the movie, it feels like you have seen two movies already, and I’m not sure if that’s exactly how you’re supposed to feel.  But all is not doom and gloom.  The ways that they shot the few scenes in Brooklyn were quite amazing and breathtaking, painting Brooklyn in a really alluring way that isn’t properly done in a lot of movies that depict New York. 

This movie is part of this countdown as a way to showcase one of the best actresses of our time.  The cinematography is beautiful, and the characters are insanely complex even when the story itself isn’t all that interesting in terms of plots points.  Separately, I found myself comparing this movie quite a bit to ALMOST FAMOUS.  No, I'm not saying that Kate Hudson could ever be a fraction of the actress that Streep is, but if you take the basic story of a writer being taken out of his element while growing up, especially for someone that hasn't seen it, it added a bit of enjoyment to this truly tragic tale.  It definitely holds up as a testament of what great acting can do. 

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