Progressive efforts like those of the environmental, animal and health movements have made special guest appearances in Tinseltown releases, albeit small, for some time now...and the legacy continued in 2009. We witnessed raw foodist Woody Harrelson incite the production of vegan twinkies for his sugar-addicted character, Tallahassee, in Zombieland. When faced with the threat of a bear attack in Did You Hear About the Morgans?, Paul Morgan (Hugh Grant) assuaged the massive mammal, declaring "My wife is a member of PETA. I've been meaning to join." And in the based-on-a-blog film, Julie & Julia, Amy Adams playing Julie Powell repetitiously characterized herself as a "lobster killer," which she of course was. (My fingers are crossed that viewers swore off consumption of this sentient crustacean as a result. Who wants to be boiled alive?)
But in 2009 we were also gifted with a number of wholly progressive films, some of which are in the actual nomination lineup for the 2010 Oscars. As a run-of-the-mill "Level 5" vegan (see The Simpsons' episode, "Lisa the Tree Hugger") and zealous animal advocate, my standards are pretty high when it comes to how green is green. Luckily, last year's film offerings were a pretty emerald hue and I'm proud to present my top five nominations in an "Enlightened & Eco-Friendly" category for the 2010 Academy Awards.
Being the Miami native that I am, I'm humbled to observe wild dolphins a few times a week on my walk to work. Looming in the background of the cityscape, however, is the Miami Seaquarium, the institution that made former "Flipper" dolphin trainer Ric O'Barry who he is today: a headstrong, emblazoned voice against marine animal parks like SeaWorld (who's all for setting Tilikum free?) and the capture of small cetaceans near the infamous cove of Taijii, Japan. Rounding up 26,000 dolphins a year, Taijii fisherman will sell a few Bottlenose to the entertainment world -- to the tune of 150K each -- and slaughter the rest of the "catch," turning the ocean red with blood. More than a documentary, O'Barry and his cohorts created a call to action to end the needless and deadly (dolphin meat contains toxic levels of mercury) dolphin massacre. Although stark in its message, the film is also magnetic: stunning imagery is infused throughout the narrative and the covert mission to recover audio, visuals and evidence for it makes this a highly charged and engaging tale. Grab a box of tissues.
"You are what you eat," the old adage goes, but you'll be shell-shocked and sickened by filmmaker Robert Kenner's latest expose on our modern fare. What box stores have done to urban scenery likens to agro-conglomerates' wreaking havoc on our food system: lack of cultivar diversity, poor quality and nutrition, utter disregard for worker's rights, and shameful oversight of animal welfare. Author-activists Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser guest star in the film, as do industry whistle blowers, scientific and expert commentators, and family farmers. America needs a food revolution and Food, Inc. is sounding the alarm.
After experiencing the beauty and wonder found on Pandora (the alien planet featured in Avatar), like protagonist Jake Sully, I too wanted to be ten feet tall and blue. While some argue the plot is predictable -- whereby earthlings attempt to extract a highly prized mineral from Pandora and result in a war with the Na'vi natives, of whom human Jake falls in love with Neytiri -- the CGI imagery is breathtaking and priceless. The message it drives home is even more so. While we may not have floating mountains and a staggeringly impressive Hometree, we do have the Aurora Borealis, Machu Picchu and the Monarch Butterfly Migration -- all incredible phenomena to cherish together as a global community, in addition to the many other treasures on Earth. While there was too much hunting (even if done "humanely") in Avatar for my taste and "breaking" of the flying dragon-like creatures to use for transportation purposes, I'd still consider it a great contender in the awards ceremony.
In the heart of NYC, one family takes a dramatic plunge into uncharted waters. Recruiting his coffee-dependent wife and innocent toddler for a personal pet project, Colin Beavan strives to live one year without making an impact (a negative one that is) on the environment. This translates to no animal flesh, electricity, take out, food grown outside a 250-mile radius, and :::dun, dun, dun::: no toilet paper! Yes, you read that right. And no, they weren't any less hygienic for it. There are happy and comedic side effects of their worm-composting, city-cycling and doing-the-laundry-in-the-bathtub lifestyle that make this a must see. While the bees and dairy cows would protest their candle and dairy purchases, most of the Beavan's efforts are inspiring.
This one flew completely under the radar. Hitting theaters last December and scheduled for DVD release in a little under a week, Hachiko is based on a true story from Japan and is guaranteed to make you weep as if you were chopping the most potent of onions. In this Americanized version, Parker Wilson (Richard Gere) adopts a pup he discovers at the neighborhood train station. Accompanying Wilson on his way to and from work every day, religiously, Hachiko is the quintessential man's best friend. When Wilson fails to return home one day (he passes away, incidentally), Hachiko continues on with his ritual, awaiting his guardian's return. This tale inspired the local community and remains a classic example of the undying love, companionship and loyalty animals provide their caretakers -- a true testament and celebration of the human-animal bond.
Carolyn Merino Mullin is a regular contributor to Vegbooks.org, a review of progressive books and films for kids. She admits to liking zombie flicks and cheesy (of the soy variety) romantic comedies.
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