Like it or not, the Oscars are big business, and the nominations and ceremony are important to the industry. Yes, the selections can sometimes seem arbitrary, rote, or political, but what it means to many films and filmmakers can be the difference between being financially solvent and getting lost in the shuffle of good intentions but not good enough entertainment. “Movies” are supposed to make us feel good and keep us entertained; “nominations” are serious and should educate, enlighten, and ennoble.
One of the nominated is the incredible and crushing Still Alice, which award or not deserves attention and eyeballs. The movie stars Julianne Moore (nominated for Best Actress) as Alice, a 50-year-old college professor and linguist suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. It is a rare case, but it is aggressive, and it will level Alice, and her family, in a matter of months.
Alice has raised a healthy and bright family, maintained a loving marriage, but her true contribution to society, the one that she cherishes and the one that defines her, is her intellect. A leading thinker in the linguistics profession—both as a successful writer and renowned teacher—Alice’s battle is all the more painful as she tries to hold on to words while the memories slip like sand through her fingers. Even worse, Alice knows exactly where this is all heading and heading fast.
Alice and her husband, John (Alec Baldwin), have successfully raised three healthy and ambitious children as well as paying their respective academic dues. They are still a good 20-plus years from retirement, but these next decades are where they are supposed to reap the benefits of their hard work. But as John Lennon put it, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.”
Watching a person deteriorate from Alzheimer’s may sound like a dire time at the theater, but it is a subject all too real for many, yet often ignored by the public. As Alice says, “I wish I had cancer. I wouldn’t feel ashamed. People feel bad for cancer patients. They put on pink ribbons and walk for a cure.” Not so with Alzheimer’s, which destroys just as completely as cancer. And with a powerhouse actor like Moore, you can see that pain etched on every inch of her face.
Moore doesn’t operate this endeavor alone; credit is due to directors (who co-wrote the script from Lisa Genova’s novel) Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland for not turning Still Alice into a showy, show-stopping Lifetime drama about the horrors of Alzheimer’s. Instead, they keep the drama simple, insular, and personal. The result is something much more horrific. One such moment shows Alice sitting alone in the living room, listening to her family discuss her condition in an adjacent room. Listening but not understanding. The filmmakers frame Alice in the foreground, with her family off in the background, completely out of focus, their voices floating over the haze. Is this real? Is this imagined? Is this now? Is this memory? For Alice, it’s all the same.
It’s award season, and everyone is discussing this movie and that. There are some movies that will slip away—and should—but there are some that shouldn’t. Here is your chance to make sure that Still Alice doesn’t slip away into the clutter and ether of award season.
Still Alice (2014)
Written & Directed by: Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland
Produced by: James Brown, Pamela Koffler, Lex Lutzus
Based on the novel by Lisa Genova
Starring: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Shane McRae, Hunter Parrish, Stephen Kunken
Sony Pictures Classics, Rated PG-13, Running time 101 minutes, Released February 13, 2015.