Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Milk

Milk is not as much the story of Harvey Milk as it is the story of a revolution with one charismatic personality at its center. Starting as a humble but civic-minded businessman in San Fransisco's Castro district in the mid-1970's, Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) was drawn into the world of politics through his involvement in the growing gay community in his neighborhood. Spurned into action, Harvey goes through three unsuccessful campaigns for public office, gaining allies and support as well as enemies with each attempt. When he finally becomes America's first gay publicly-elected official, he finds that things don't get easier. An expert at the theater of politics, Harvey used the media and grass-roots movements to affect change. He started speeches by saying "I'm Harvey Milk and I'm here to recruit you," demonstrating his belief that there is power in numbers and that when united behind a cause, minorities can make up a majority. As he gains support and influence, Harvey also gains powerful enemies who turn out to be his undoing, but the revolution he led grew and lives on, becoming more powerful than the actions of one man.

Milk is up for eight Academy Awards: Best Actor (Penn), Best Supporting Actor (Josh Brolin), Costumes, Editing, Score, Screenplay, Directing, and Best Picture. Brolin and Penn each have big competition and aren't likely choices. I'd love to see Danny Elfman's score awarded, but pop songs were used as much as original music, so a film with more sustained use of score is more likely to win. The costumes were period, but it was a recent period and will be considered to have a lower degree of difficulty than some other films. Milk will probably not win its Editing or Directing nominations. As for Best Picture, it's impossible not to draw parallels between Harvey's struggle against Issue 6 in the movie to the recent outrage over California's Proposition 8 - a ballot measure opposed by many current Academy voters. It's a very timely movie that brings up current events and strong emotions, but it will lose ground against flashier fare and epics. Its best shot is for Best Original screenplay. The story of Harvey Milk has been kicked around Hollywood for years and it was only recently that someone had the novel idea to focus on the political movement rather than the politician. Besides, it's the only Best Picture nominee in the Original Screenplay category.

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