Number 1 - Nebraska
After I returned to the yearbook from a break, the world of yearbookery had changed. We were in all color. We were paying a lot more for the book, but that decision was gone. We were in glorious color. And during that year, as the class was looking at some black and while photos during our photo of the week session, some kids suggested that we have some pages in black and white. And the class agreed.
You can't win.
Unless you watch Nebraska.
It's in black and white. I absolutely cannot imagine it any other way. To be absolutely honest, I do not think it would top my list if it were in color.
As I played with my photos from my vacation last summer, I spent a few second with every single one of the almost 10,000 photos. In the end, I picked just about 750 to actually edit. With a good handful, I tried them in black and white. But here's the thing I wasn't quite sure of. Why did I try with some and not others? And why did some work in black and white and not others?
I'm still not sure if I totally understand logically. But on an emotional level, I understand it a little more after watching Nebraska. There's a certain emptiness to black and white photography. The dark is what isn't there. That's a bit of sadness, loneliness, or whatever else. But there's the light. Something of significance is there that we can accent in a way that color cannot.
There's a certain emptiness to Nebraska. Woody Grant, played by Bruce Dern, seems to live a bit of a hopeless life. As the movie starts, he is walking alone. It turns out that he is walking from Montana to Nebraska to claim a million dollar prize that he won. Or didn't.
Everyone else who looks at the "winning" ticket points out that he hasn't actually won anything. The viewer understands very quickly that it isn't actually a winning ticket, But Woody can't seem to get it through his head.
He's portrayed as a loser. This is a guy who can't hold down a job. He's probably an alcoholic. His wife seems to blame him for a lifetime of unhappiness. His two kids seem to be in lives that are falling apart. The obvious connection is Woody.
This is the guy who gets five minutes of screen time in most movies. There a middle aged guy down on his luck. We wonder why for most of the movie, but then his father shows up for a scene. Oh, ok. That's why this guy is so unhappy. He has a crappy father. Got it. Move on to the rest of the story.
But in Nebraska, our focus is on Woody. As the movie goes on, we are shown who he is. We are shown where he's from. We are shown more about his wife and their relationship. Tiniest of spoilers - it's nothing like what you think.
The story is framed around the relationship that changes between Woody and his son David, played by Will Forte. David knows that Woody has won nothing, just like everyone else. He needs a short break from his own life. Helping Woody take this journey is going to allow for that.
You can also see, however, that David wants to be there when Woody finally fails. Perhaps he, too, has seen those movies. He pictures himself as the victim of the circumstance of being Woody's child. Nebraska is largely Woody's story told through David's eyes. We learn about Woody's background as David does. He has only heard the stories; now he gets to see the reality.
There's an emptiness to their lives. But that's not the focus. There's some light to it. There's something there. There's something in the past. There's something in their future. The black and white shows us that. We feel it.
Nebraska isn't exactly a redemption story. It isn't exactly a happy story. It isn't a sad story. It's a lot of everything. It's about, you know, the grey area.