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CODA's Music 

As the Oscar vamp starts

click to enlarge Gen X-ers who grew up during the Cold War watching right wingers cheer Russia.

CODA

Gen X-ers who grew up during the Cold War watching right wingers cheer Russia.

CODA. Although my editor made not-so-veiled threats regarding The Sky is Everywhere — order must be maintained, after all — none were required to compel me to watch this, another emotionally charged exploration of teenage identity. Rather, it was the strange pressure of the impending Academy Awards which, as it does almost every year, makes me feel I should watch every Best Picture nominee.

A friend also asked when I would be writing Oscar coverage — his point being Jackass Forever's lack of nominations represents a grievous oversight, as it contains, at least for said friend, the most cogent and incisive cultural commentary of the year. I can't speak to that, having not yet watched Jackass Forever, but the question/suggestion gave me pause and a moment to consider and reconsider my attitude toward and relationship with the Academy Awards.

While "relationship" may be overblown, implying an exchange of ideas, the short-listing and anointing of meritorious work within the American cinematic community/industry (with a few nods to the rest of the world) has been a part of my cultural consciousness for most of my life. To be fair, I haven't actually watched the ceremony in probably a decade and have at times bristled at it as a self-congratulatory — masturbatory? — popularity contest, where the cool kids borrow astronomically expensive jewelry and try to look more attractive than each other in front of the cameras. While that may be a fair assessment, it also reeks of sour grapes and lashing out; I've got my demons.

Regardless of cultural relevance within the sweep and scope of human history, acknowledging that the Academy Awards get it wrong as often as they don't, I still find myself involuntarily compelled. The movies, after all, are at once the ultimate synthesis and encapsulation of human art and endeavor, and probably the most accessible, egalitarian artform we've ever had. Not everybody looks at the movies as "cinema" but everybody watches movies. And maybe as the plague recedes, we will all start going back. (Excepting the Midwest, where I suspect they never stopped.) Add to this our societal fascination with the notion of celebrity, our held-breath expectation that we are all a happy accident from vast wealth and prominence, and it makes sense that the Academy Awards matter to us (read: me), even if we (read: I) would rather they didn't.

And so there remains the compulsion to participate, at least in gauging what the Best Picture nominees say about the year that was. In recent years, as the field has broadened and the Academy itself, in a surprisingly self-aware moment, has dramatically increased the size and inclusiveness of its numbers, Best Picture has become a fascinating planted flag for an organization and an industry attempting to assert itself as a standard-bearer of progress.

This year, I've made strong headway through the list, thanks in no small part to the more conservative (read: profit-oriented) wing of said industry relenting a little in the face of the pandemic and allowing us access to stream prestige movies. I'll have to return to West Side Story, despite my mortification at the musical form; I do have tremendous respect and admiration for the work of Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner, after all. And Drive My Car continues to elude; alas.

CODA (Child of Deaf Adults but also a pun) was the big winner at the Sundance Film Festival two years ago (!), just before the world closed up shop. In contemporary Gloucester, Massachusetts, Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) faces the typical struggles of a high school senior. Additionally, she is the sole interpreter for her family: dad Frank (Troy Kotsur), mom Jackie (Marlee Matlin) and brother Leo (Daniel Durant), all of whom are deaf. She also works as a deckhand on the family fishing boat, endures the taunts of heartless classmates and struggles with her schoolwork. In the midst of all this, kinda-sorta chasing a cute boy, she signs up for the school choir and discovers she is a gifted singer. As her instructor (Eugenio Derbez) implores her to apply to the Berklee School of Music (with his help), her family sets out to start their own business, needing Ruby's help more than ever.

Adapted from the French La Famille Belier by writer/director Sian Heder, CODA is a self-assured, formalistically constructed Capra-style family/social drama that I am frankly surprised exists. It's a hair's breadth from maudlin, barely skirts Disneyfication by showcasing a talented singer/actor in Jones, and yet is somehow compelling and genuine. Am I surprised this is a Best Picture nominee? Yes and no — as much as some of us cling to darkness for solace, we must acknowledge that stories of hope and togetherness, however sentimental and well-worn, can be a great comfort. PG13. 111M. APPLE TV+.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.

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For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.

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