Oscar Watch, Part 1: What the Golden Globes (Don't) Teach Us
December 20, 2008 at 4:21 pm
There's always one movie that, despite an all-star cast, an A-list director, and tons of critical acclaim, gets overlooked during awards season. At the Golden Globes this year, that movie was Milk, the Sean Penn biopic that only garnered one nomination. Street film critic Tucker Johns gives us the lowdown on this year's HFPA snub.
Biopics are taking over the world, which makes it hard to get excited about what seems like yet another mildly interesting story about a mildly interesting real person. But Milk, director Gus Van Sant's film about the last years of Harvey Milk, America's first openly gay elected official, is more than just a biopic. The film is elevated to a whole new level by Van Sant’s direction, a strong supporting cast, and an outstanding performance by Sean Penn as the eponymous lead.
The plot of the film is standard–-Milk struggles against impossible odds, and must learn to balance his political aspirations with his personal life–but Milk manages to resonate with viewers despite a lackluster screenplay. The reason for Milk's success is Penn. As usual, he completely transforms himself, and his multi-faceted portrayal of Milk may earn him another well-deserved Oscar nod. A bespectled Emile Hirsch provides some comic relief as smart aleck supporter Cleve Jones, and James Franco turns in a subtle, mature performance as Milk’s first love, Scott Smith. Franco's Golden Globe nomination might have been for Pineapple Express, but as Smith, Franco is extraordinary.
Milk is especially relevant now, in the wake of the Proposition 8 controversy in California, but it would be a mistake to reduce this movie to one whose value is defined by current events. Milk’s story is timeless, and the stellar cast infuses the film with such pathos that it is impossible not to be moved. Van Sant does his job, and writer Lance Black keeps the story moving, but it is Milk’s cast that make it worthy of a sip, or better yet, a chug.