The first Matt vs. the Academy film for the new year was another Best Picture nominee from 1999's contest...
The Cider House Rules
(based on his novel)
Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron, Delroy Lindo, Paul Rudd, Michael Caine
2 wins, for Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay
After two failed foster care incidents as a baby, orphan Homer Wells (Maguire) is returned to his remote Maine orphanage where he is taken under the wing of the orphanage's director, Dr. Larch (Caine). Despite his ether addiction, the good doctor is actually a caring father figure to the children. Grooming Homer to eventually take over the orphanage, Larch teaches him the ins and outs of gynaecology, as well as how to perform illegal abortions. But Homer has other plans. After a young couple, Wally (Rudd) and Candy (Theron), come to Dr. Larch for an abortion, Homer follows them back to Wally's family's orchard, where he begins work as an apple picker. Life away from the orphanage is inevitably full of life lessons as Homer attempts to figure out what the rules of life are and when they can be broken.
When I first saw The Cider House Rules upon its original release, it didn't strike me as particularly memorable. However, this time, I confess, it left a more emotional impression. Still not spectacular, but a good solid tearjerker nonetheless. The drama rambles a little, but that is almost expected from films based on novels, which tend to have the advantage of more extensive narratives. However, considering that John Irving, who adapted the script from his own novel, cut out chunks of the plot to accommodate the film's two-hour running time, the story is surprisingly accessible.
The drifting storyline had me slightly puzzled as to it's themes until the last half hour or so, when I actually considered the film's title. The rules of Homer's workplace act as a metaphor for the rules of life and he learns to judge when it's okay to break them. He even literally burns the rules at one point. The feeling of pride at decrypting the film's message was brief, however, because soon after my discovery, one character exclaims, "Sometimes you gotta break some rules to put things straight." Well, now you've just given it away, Mr. Irving.
I'm not sure why Michael Caine won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this film. Not that it's a bad performance, per se, but it didn't seem to me to be a particularly demanding role. Charlize Theron, however, is supremely watchable as a woman who doesn't know how to be alone. And Tobey Maguire, as minimalist as ever, hardly opens his mouth when he talks. He is intriguing, nonetheless, as he almost defies you to guess what he's thinking.
For the trivia hounds, The Cider House Rules makes reference to not one, but two prior nominees for Best Picture. Candy and Homer watch the winner from 1940, Rebecca, on the silver screen and earlier they are seen exiting a cinema discussing another Olivier picture, Wuthering Heights.