Best Picture screenings resonate with themes

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of retaliation, redemption

The Malibu Film Society screens two Oscar-nominated films, “Inglourious Basterds” and “Precious.”

By Leslie Wade / Special to The Malibu Times

Last weekend, the Malibu Film Society screened two films at the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue: “Inglourious Basterds” and “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire,” both of which are included in the list of 10 films nominated for Best Picture at the 82nd Academy Awards.

This year is the first time since 1943 that the academy has announced 10 nominees in the Best Picture category, as opposed to the usual five. The last time this happened, “Casablanca” won the award for best picture.

“Inglourious Basterds” also earned seven other Oscar nominations, including Best Director for Quentin Tarantino and Best Supporting Actor for Christopher Waltz. The story takes place during World War II in Europe, where a Nazi-scalping squad of American soldiers, known to their enemy as “The Basterds,” is on a mission to take down the leaders of the Third Reich. A side story involves a woman whose family is killed by a Nazi leader; she joins the mission of “The Basterds” by allowing an intricate plot involving the movie theater she owns to take down the Nazi leaders, including the one who murdered her family.

“Precious,” directed by Lee Daniels, won three awards at the Sundance Film Festival and received six nominations from the Academy, including Best Director for Daniels, Best Actress for Gabourey Sidibe and Best Supporting Actress for Mo’Nique. The film tells the story of Clareece “Precious” Jones (played by Sidibe), an overweight, illiterate teen who suffers a hard life that includes being raped by her father, producing two children, and the scorn and jealousy of her mother (played by Mo’Nique). Jones escapes the horror of her life by daydreaming about being a singing star adored by a handsome, loving man. After she is suspended from school, she is enrolled in an alternative school where a teacher and students there befriend her, and Jones ultimately finds the inner strength needed to prevail.

Malibu local Elizabeth Reilly, director of Educational Leadership for Social Justice at Loyola Marymount University, equated the two films’ stories of retaliation and redemption to the Jewish holiday of Purim.

Falling this year on the evening of Feb. 27, Purim is a celebration of a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination; it tells the story of the persecuted coming out on top.

“Inglourious Basterds is really a surrealistic retaliation,” Reilly said. “It’s a story about what could have happened if the underdog won.

“What we remember is that yet again, the Jews didn’t get destroyed.”

In “Precious,” the titled character loved by few and believed in by one, Precious faces her fear when her mother asks her to come back home, and she refuses.

Both films show a redemption and righteous retaliation, Reilly said.

“In ‘Precious’ the brutal and ugly truth is hard for us to face,” Reilly said. “But in both films you see that as desolate as the situation is, the purity and goodness overcomes the evil.”

The heart-wrenching double feature marked the final event of the MFS Academy Awards screening series leading up to the first annual Malibu Film Society Academy Awards screening gala, to be hosted at the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue March 7.

“We are very excited to host Malibu’s first community-wide Awards night party,” MFS Executive Director Scott Tallal said.

The mission of the Malibu Film Society is to screen critically acclaimed, thought-provoking films that otherwise wouldn’t be shown in Malibu, Tallal said.

“It’s still not financially viable for Malibu Cinemas to show the types of films screened by Malibu Film Society,” Tallal said. “They operate under a completely different business imperative, which almost always forces them to choose the big commercial releases.

“That’s why we wanted to create a ‘third screen’ in Malibu, so that local audiences would finally have a chance to see some of the truly wonderful movies that otherwise wouldn’t be shown locally on the big screen.”

Proceeds from last weekend’s event go toward helping MFS provide the local venue for screening overlooked and/or restored classic films in Malibu.

The Malibu Film Society’s “Awards Night” viewing party will take place March 7 at the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue, 24855 PCH, 7 p.m. Tickets are $50; admission is free for VIP Malibu Film Society members. Reservations are required. More information can be obtained online at www.malibufilmsociety.org or by calling 310.589.0223.