theater goers seemed to provide more than just a rush in
adrenaline for the average $15 ticket price.

In darkened movie houses across the country, millions came
out to witness for themselves what became the final
performance of Heath Ledger career.  Ledger portrayed
the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s re-imagining of the Batman
mythology.  THE DARK KNIGHT was such a stark contrast to
Ledger’s already award-winning performance in the hit film
BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, the story of two cowboys who found
themselves facing forbidden love and loss, but the actor
never the less approached the iconic comic-book
character as ferociously as he did the role of beleaguered
cattle man Ennis Del Mar.  Heath Ledger died before THE
DARK KNIGHT’S theatrical summer release, a victim of an
accidental drug overdose – the actor had been suffering
from depression -- some rumored it was due largely to the
dark recesses he dared to access within himself to bring the Joker to life.  Sadly it may
well have been the young and overly talented Ledger’s most remarkable performance,
and very much in the sad vein of Hollywood luminaries like James Dean who became
legends, Heath Ledger’s legacy had too ended been extinguished too quickly.

THE DARK KNIGHT itself was a crowning summer movie moment – in that historically
big-budget blockbusters didn't have to prove socially relevant or timely – Nolan’s script
dealt with political corruption, obsession and greed all set to the tone of classic crime
drama, but with a hero in a black leather cape and cowl ready to swoop in and save the
day!  The other shining moment this summer
Another Broadway-to-Screen turn came from director Ron Howard’s interpretation of
FROST/NIXON which reprised Frank Langella in his Tony-winning performance as the
controversial and non-too popular President Nixon.  Alongside his Golden Globe
nomination, the actor is rumored to soon be welcoming an Oscar nod as well – will this
be Langella’s year to win the golden statue, which has evaded him?  I wouldn’t suggest
that Frank get that Oscar speech together just yet.

In a Presidential election year historical in the making and marking the first African-
American nominee who will soon take the office, in a year that we sadly rebuked the civil
rights of hundreds of gay and lesbian married couple by the passing of Prop 8 which
was supported by religious groups who claim to preach love and unity, and minority
groups who understand the shame of being considered second-class citizens,
Hollywood gave us a thrilling and shining beacon in the revelation of historical accounts
of the early Civil Rights movement.  Gus Van Sant’s MILK revitalized and inspired my
faith in the art of movie making and the power of film and performance.

Sean Penn had built a career and creating character actors often nearly stereotypically
engrossed in their masculinity and virility, but always their was a vulnerability in his
character’s psyche that Penn revealed thoughtfully and with a dignity that garnered him
the respect of his peers and audiences alike.  His unlikely turn in MILK portraying the life
of our Civil Rights leader, Harvey Milk may be Sean Penn’s most visceral performance
as an actor yet – turning his usual approach of defining the subtle sensitivity of his
character’s life inwardly and making their strength stand out.  

Penn did not see Harvey Milk as a caricature of a gay man.  He found the strength in his
integrity and leadership – Milk spoke not about just gay civil rights…he fought for all and
equal rights across the board and made changes that affected our community still
today.  In a time where righteousness and pious
came from another non-too typical experience and yet another comic-book inspiration –
the invincible IRON MAN featured an Oscar-caliber cast from Robert Downey, Jr. in the
titular role of weapons manufacturer/industrialist Tony Stark, to Gwyneth Paltrow and
Terrence Howard.  IRON MAN didn't have to relevant amid the bright primary colors,
high-tech appeal and myriad of explosions yet it delivered a whimsical script and viable
story about military arms responsibility, greed and corruption (hmmm…I’m detecting a
pattern here).

And no film could have matched the heart and warmth of the Disney/Pixar animated
WALL•E, the surprise hit also realized our worst fears about the devastation of over-
consumption and global warming, as our optimistic, little hero continued to strive on an
abandoned planet Earth to fulfill his programming and continue to clean up after our
mess.  How could even WALL•E have imagined that he (or more appropriately “it”; the
gender isn’t exactly established of the dutiful little drone who has an affinity to musicals
and is also good with tools) would find true love in the form of a spruced up iPod come
to find the last remnants of life.  If this animated treasure didn’t make you feel good, or
scare you into coming out from behind your computer terminal to perhaps make tactile
contact with another human being, then you deserve the fate predicated in this shoe in
for Animated Film of the Year.

By the time Hollywood was gearing up for Oscar season (historically the late fall and
early winter) theatre audiences had had their fill of special affects and blaring
soundtracks, and as the true performance pieces of the season did begin to emerge
suddenly we realized that filmmakers were no longer playing.  The art of movie making
had somewhat gone lost in the years since the first, big Hollywood summer
blockbuster. Do you even remember a summer before JAWS or STAR WARS?  And as
we entered the hyper-consumer ages of the 80’s and 90’s
where marketing machines and ticket sales meant more than story and execution, the
big studios just existed to churn out formulaic fare that sedated the masses unless until
the less barrage of sci-fi flicks.

Technology had taken over and films began to lose their emotion as long lost creatures
like dinosaurs were fully realized on the screen and we haplessly watched the Titanic
sinking in real time, but there were still some obvious standouts among the CGI crowd.  
Peter Jackson undeniably utilized technology to texture his Oscar winning LORD OF
THE RINGS TRILOGY and brought Frodo’s world out of the literary classic series of
books.  And even to a certain degree, special effects were used to elaborate the tale of
FORREST GUMP and his fabled journey meeting historical figures.  Suddenly, it
seemed, that Hollywood was taken note that perhaps combining story, acting, script
and direction with special effects could reveal something quite special!

Cut to 2008 and Brad Pitt’s turn in director David Fincher’s THE CURIOUS CASE OF
BENJAMIN BUTTON.  Not quite real and not quite a fairy tale, the CUROUS CASE deals
with the unique case of one said Benjamin Button (Pitt) who dramatically ages
backwards, from an “old man” birthed at the end of the first World War to die as in infant
in the modern 80’s.  The film’s themes of life and loss and especially love, of living in
the moment and knowing when and how to say goodbye certainly resonated with
audiences who have had said recent losses experienced in their lives.  What no one
expected was the emotional and romantic performances wrought by the film’s stars.

But that would seem to be the nexus of the season’s releases: ensemble
performances that may well be too good to be true, but worked and delivered beyond a
reasonable…doubt.  Such being the case with the film adaptation of the Broadway play
by John Patrick Shanely, DOUBT which pitted heavy-hitters Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour
Hoffman and ingénue Amy Adams in a test of wills and faith.  The sized-up scale of the
big screen did little to distract from the often-claustrophobic feel of the stage experience,
and all the actors received recognition for their stunning performances.
www.ambiente.us  JANUARY | ENERO 2009

By JC Alvarez

The fervor of awards season has begun!  We've entered that time of year that many have
come to regard as “The Gay Super Bowl”!  Never does a group gather most to share
statistics and debate strategies, pros and cons, numbers and career plays as when the
Golden Globes and Oscars are announced!   And it’s been way too long since
Hollywood has a made that race as relevant as in recent cinematic history.  This year,
perhaps the winners aren't as easily identifiable (or even recognized) as in past races.  
We have performances ranging from cases of nostalgia, to revolutionary, to stories of
doubt and political unrest; a little robot that would (and could) fall in love, two lovers who
won millions, a maniacal anarchist set on usurping the status quo (and I’m not referring
to “W”) but most notable among the cast of notables – a civil rights leader that time had
all but forgotten.

Yes, this year on the red carpets everyone will be paying attention…not only to who
everyone is wearing, but who is the most inspired performer among them and
unfortunately their will also be many who will be sadly missed and clearly absent from
the honorees.

Hollywood didn't appear phased by last year’s Writer’s Strike.  Movies were not only a
welcome distraction to one of the most heated and debated (and drawn out) election
years, but films were featured that were thoughtful, enlightened, deep and entertaining.  
Even the summer blockbusters, which really have no obligation to it’s audience accept
to launch rockets and missiles loudly at

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commentary against the gay community is dealt left and right, MILK speaks about the
equality in all of us as citizens, as people, as a community…and as Americans.  Sean
Penn revealed to audiences the strength and humor of Harvey Milk, he reveled in the
compassion and heart and love of a man who lived in an era where his love was
defined as a sickness and an abomination to American culture and society.

MILK reminded as that there is still so much work to still be done, but that we have
come a long way, especially when an actor like Sean Penn and a cast including James
Franco and a director can fearlessly approach the story about a gay man who lived
fearlessly so that one day none of us would have to live in fear especially in America.

This year Hollywood took us to the stars, it took us to Gotham City, it made us old and
young again, it made us question our faith – face our doubt and debate our convictions.  
Finally film provoked a nation and challenged audiences to make themselves known,
that our voices matter and that this journey of self-discovery that art usually inspires has
only begun.  Hollywood lead and loved fearlessly and this year when your favorite
nominees approach the stage to take their moment to be recognized for their
achievement, realize that their moment came from a moment of inspiration.

Sean Penn’s inspiration was one powerful American named Harvey Milk.  And MILK will
always become an inspired moment in Hollywood history.

Copyright © JC Alvarez & AMBIENTE MAGAZINE.   Do not reproduce without citing this source.