With the Academy Awards creeping up next week, I figured it would be a good time to reflect on some of the recent winners and nominees that have stuck in my head for one reason or another. Who knows why the Oscars have been able to keep themselves at the forefront of the conversation of film for as long as they have been. Each year with more and more blockbusters coming out and not being represented it feels as though that gap is only getting larger. That said, by this time of the year without fail I find myself planning out how I am going to watch every single Oscar movie and start ranking them with my girlfriend.
To put it simply, I love movies and I love Oscars. And I’m not apologizing for it.
I have a pizza making addiction. My girlfriend would argue that it is borderline crippling. Our apartment floor is covered with that nice bread flour I insist on buying though secretly cannot tell the difference between that and Pillsbury All Purpose, the walls are caked in the remnants of canned San Marzano tomatoes, and old hand shredded mozzarella can be found in the crease of our futon.
At least once a week you can find me in our tiny kitchen, dishes piled high in the sink as I work on perfecting the seemingly impossible dough recipe. Our gas bill is lowkey skyrocketing due to me cranking the oven to 500 degrees for an hour prior to the pizza even going in, so as to properly heat the stone. When I am talking to people, I sometimes zone out, focusing instead on ways I could improve my sauce and cheese balance. I stay up late secretly looking at different, mouth watering combinations of toppings.
I struggle with balance. This isn’t anything new. I don’t half ass any hobby. I have to submerse myself into a thing until it sticks or I burn out. When I first discovered hip hop, it wasn’t enough to just learn about the greats, I had to know everything about everyone, which incidentally led to many questionable iTunes purchases.
When I first saw improv comedy I decided I needed to become a famous comedian and perform on SNL. Within less than 6 months I had learned about the performance art-form, thrown myself totally into it, and mapped out an imaginary career path.
I’m aware of my compulsions, which I’m told by online self help magazines is half the battle. That said, my girlfriend is pretty over it.
They say the definition of insanity is to do the same over and over expecting different results.
I guess in that regard, I am a little insane when it comes to my interests. Each time I throw myself into it and expect it to stick, despite not necessarily changing my approach or mindset. Even most recently, I have basically outlined a far-fetched scheme to own a pizza shop in 10 years.
That said, my passions, as previously highlighted, are not treated as carelessly. I push myself when I get into something. I challenge myself to grown and learn. It engulfs me, but I work at it and get better. Even a hater like my girlfriend can appreciate the progress my pizza has made. That came from constant experimenting, research, and studying. I take it seriously.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s newest film Phantom Thread follows the eccentric, intense, and acclaimed designer and tailor Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day Lewis) in post-war London as he enters a relationship with a countryside waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps).
Nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director, and Actor, the film shows just how much abuse it takes for Alma to break as she is introduced to Woodcock’s perfectly manicured world.
In a more poignant way it dissects this cross section of insanity and passion. On the outside, Woodcock is an insanely neurotic recluse whose work has driven him mad. That said, as you see him at work, it becomes very clear that this man is not only invigorated by his work, but also constantly pushing and progressing it. It’s not quite insanity, closer to unchecked, festering passion.
It would be close to what would happen if I dropped everything and went into pizza making for six months. You would find me insufferable and irreproachable, but also my pizza would be phenomenal.
At first I quantified his art as his true love in his life. That this is what he has dedicated all to and that this is the life he chose.
But as he chose to continue to pursue his relationship with Alma, it seemed foolish to call tailoring a love.
Love is something that is almost inexplicable and eats at you just as negatively as it does positively. It is as much heartache and discomfort as it is pure, unfettered bliss.
Tailoring doesn’t challenge him in those ways. Tailoring is a skill that he constantly improves and progresses at. He has challenges, like when he learns that one of his top clients no longer wants to come to his house because his style isn’t “chic,” a word he nearly has a conniption to upon hearing. But that is a hardly a challenge.
No, tailoring is a passion. Passion is something that feels good when it fights back. That you continue to push in order to keep getting better and better results. Once you overcome the challenge, like how to make a well balanced sauce, that stays in your pocket for ever.
Alma is different.
When she enters into his life, she simultaneously seems to totally understand and accept his idiosyncrasies, while also constantly driven to push back on them, both subtly and overtly. From when she is appalled that she can’t chew her toast loudly at the breakfast table as it disturbs his me time, which as far as I can tell appears to be every single part of his day, to when she attempts to send everyone home to make him a dinner, a romantic gesture that ends in flames.
That’s not passion. That’s love. That is also the thing that drives her insane.
Alma starts the picture as a quaint, charming waitress, who, according to his sister Cyril (Leslie Manville), has the perfect frame for Reynolds. She is enamored if not slightly overwhelmed by Reynolds and his extravagant life; restaurants, homes, cars, and of course fabrics.
As she becomes more and more deeply invested in the relationship, the gloss wears off to show what it truly is: a relationship with a neurotic narcissist.
From there, she proceeds to not only board the crazy train, but kill the conductor and navigate it into its darkest pits.
The old adage in jazz is that it is not about the notes the soloist plays, but rather the notes they don’t play. This is an albeit confusing concept, that I have never quite comprehend in may day to day life. That said, that is how I would describe watching this movie.
It is not the scenes where Alma acts out against this relationship that define her character, it is that there are a hoard of other moments and beats and days and weeks where she does nothing. Where she quietly butters her toast and sleeps dutifully in her own separate room. Where she plays by his rules. And where she expects different results to appear magically.
Insanity is to do the same over and over expecting different results.
That is what makes her turn. What makes her decide to take things in her own hands and play god.
I know that this piece is already chalk full of spoilers, hopefully we have all learned by now in the year 2018 not to click on an article about a film you have not yet seen if you have an interest in seeing it. Still, I don’t want to ruin the crux of the film, just on the slight chance that you have not. Far be it from me to tackle these concepts in 1500 words when PTA handles it so delicately in his film.
I just know that this is what leads to Alma’s downfall.
From the onset, if you were to ask me which character I thought was insane, I would have said Reynolds, no question.
I might have been right too. That level of neuroses is probably not the healthiest thing to constantly indulge in. But there is something distinct to Woodcock and his behavior. He never quite loses that perception of reality. A vision at night during an intense bout of food poisoning is the closest we see him lose his grip on it all.
Sure he has mind games and definitely an agenda to dominate the person he is in the room with. He is epitome of high status. But I don’t know if this quantifies throwing a celebration for the man, after all he is almost certainly a prick. And he should definitely die alone.
Alma on the other hand is sweet. She is pure. Most dangerously she is in love. She believes that because she feels this way she can change the way he behaves, how he has acted for all of his adult life. And that is what drives her insane.
I’m not here to hate on love, it is the greatest thing ever. And I am not just writing this because my girlfriend is aggressively playing episodes of “Ryan’s Roses” through the house while staring at me, or because this Saturday I was crying like a baby while watching the into to Up. That is what love does to you. It doesn’t consume you in the same way a passion does, I’m not looking to improve how I spend time with my girlfriend the same way I am with my pizza, maybe that is not for the best.
But it will drive you insane. It will be the thing that makes you feel like you have to stay up to midnight making the house clean, cooking a meal, imaginary house shopping, or naming your fake, future child just because.
The key is just like Alma and Woodcock, to find that person that allows you to be crazy. That still loves you even at you worst because of the love you feel. It is a maddening yet beautiful dance.