Here's to the movies that take us someplace

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The Oscar nominations came out yesterday, which I pay some attention to but don't get too worked up about anymore (my last emotional outburst came over the snub of Steve James' wonderful documentary Hoop Dreams, and that was even before I knew James lived in Oak Park.

I still do a slow burn over blatant injustices, but most of the oversights are minor, and it never surprises me when Academy members demonstrate what I consider to be wrongheadedness.

But I enjoy the nominations, the pre-nomination predictions, and the post-nomination postmortems because they remind me of the films I've enjoyed during the past year.

I go to the "movies" (an odd, childish term) pretty often. I don't watch TV, so movies are like television for me. But not really. Going to a theater is an event. You have to leave home (I don't watch many videos either), which reinforces the illusion?#34;a positive illusion, I think?#34;of departing ordinary life for a two-hour virtual adventure.

Movies take us to other worlds, alternate realities, and, especially at this time of year, for brief visits to other seasons, places with plenty of light and warmth.

There's a place for fantasy and escapism in our lives?#34;as long as it's a small place and you don't start mistaking the escape for reality. I love live theater too, but I never seem to be able to suspend the recognition that those are real human beings performing in front of me. Film, on the other hand, feels more like a parallel reality.

Yet it's so intimate. With the exception of a sexual partner, we never get as close to another face as we do in movie close-ups. And if that person happens to be physically beautiful, and if the character is well written, it's hard not to experience a small falling in love. If we all connected as intensely with other people as we do in the movies, this might be a very different world.

Many of these characters are doing things we would never dream of doing in our ordinary lives. Most of us do not lead very romantic lives and most don't want to. We prefer the vicarious romance of characters on screen, pushing the envelope, making wild mistakes and surviving them, experiencing great emotion, and, we hope by the end, experiencing some personal growth or redemption.

We're drawn to movies, I suspect, because either we don't live intensely enough and want to see someone else do it for us, or our lives are already intense enough thank you, and we don't need any more of it. Let's watch someone else navigate the melodrama for a while.

A good film (or any work of art) makes me feel more human, and that's a sensation I don't experience often enough. The routine of life sometimes makes me feel like a machine, and I lose an immediate sense of my humanity. Sometimes it takes a good film to get me back in touch.

A number of movies this year did just that: The Aviator, Sideways, Million Dollar Baby, Fahrenheit 9/11, The Notebook, Spanglish, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Before Sunset, I  Huckabees, Friday Night Lights, Big Fish, Meet the Fockers (Just kidding, wanted to see if you were still paying attention). And some simply entertained me: The Incredibles, Starsky and Hutch, Troy, Silver City, National Treasure, Shall We Dance. I didn't see Meet the Fockers.

They won't all win Oscars or even receive nominations. Doesn't matter. They all took me somewhere this past year, and I enjoyed the trip.

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