Sunday, February 24, 2013

Random Thoughts Just Hours before Oscar Night

I feel a good rant brewing.  No..I feel like an absolute curmudgeon!

Never fear.  I'll not spoil the evening with a tantrum.  This is one of the more interesting Oscar years in recent memory, even if it's almost certain that the year's most interesting films will not be justly recognized.

It has been a year since my Mother entered a Nursing home.  I'm feeling a little melancholy today.  I miss her enthusiasm about the Oscars, mostly done (I know this now) for my sake.  I miss going to the movies with her. 

Mark's Mother died almost a month ago. She went quietly after a long illness.  Mark's sons will join us tonight for the Oscar show.  We will be festive, although Helen's recent absence still hangs heavy over us.  I miss her, too.

I think we will drink a silent toast to both Moms tonight.

Now, on to Oscars and my burning, snarky questions:

--Can someone tell me just what Daniel Day-Lewis DID to earn such programmed, lockstep acclaim for "Lincoln"?  To me, he handled Tony Kushner's labyrinthine speeches admirably, often beautifully.  But come on...What do people mean when they say he made an uncanny transformation into Lincoln?  Do they mean that they themselves met Abe Lincoln personally, and Day-Lewis is a spitting image?  Rather, I think people are in awe of the surface resemblances, thanks to make-up, that render the actor like a bronze bust of the 16th President.  Lewis so resembles our own images of Lincoln, gleaned from pennies and $5 bills, from amusement park dioramas and somber sculptures, that it is easy to assume that these transformations were due to Lewis' acting.   But, compared to Lewis' own best work ("My Left Foot", for instance) and his Best Actor competitors, I see neither the level of difficulty, nor the memorable high points, I saw in either of the perfomances of Hugh Jackman or Bradley Cooper.  Even non-nominated John Hawkes of "The Sessions" will stay in memory longer than the Lincoln Lullaby.

--Argo is suddenly the favorite to win Best Picture, based on precursor awards.  (Of course, these have gone for naught before.."Brokeback Mountain", anyone?)  Ironically, had Ben Affleck received a reasonably deserved Best Director nomination, I wonder if the movie would now be an also-ran?  It occurred to me that Best Picture, should "Argo" triumph here, might be its only win!! I don't think it is heavily favored in ANY of its other nominations (Arkin had too little screen time, and its nominees for Screenplay, Editing, Score, and 2 Sound categories are up against fierce competition).  Should "Argo" win Film Editing, however, then it is all over but for Affleck's Producer acceptance speech.

--I liked "Argo" a lot, and it would be a respectable best Picture winner.  It is entertaining, informative (even if not wholly historically accurate), and extremely well-made.  Still, there are other nominees that stirred my passions more, and inspired my creative juices, and old love for filmmaking.  See below for Loudest Cheers.

--Speaking of Director: with DGA going to Affleck,  but no chance for an Oscar, this has to be the most breathtaking award of the night.  If "Argo" is going to win for Best picture, then will the Academy do something impetuous, wonderful--like give it to the new guy, Benh Zeitlin, for creating a once-in-a-lifetime work like "Beasts of the Southern Wild"? Talented though he may be, he will never have this moment again, where he crafted an artistic and emotional powerhouse out for sheer will and dedication of a group of amateurs who happen to LOVE FILM MAKING?  Or will they recognize Michael Haneke, for a difficult, hushed, controlled, steamroller called "Amour"?  It would be like a long-overdue recognition of Ingmar Bergman.  Of course, was there a more difficult assignment than "Life of Pi"?  Will Oscar once again recognize the visionary Ang Lee? 

--There are three actresses for whom I will cheer loudly if wither of them win. Of course, if either of the 3 do win, then I must lament the downfall of the other two.  With all due respect to Jessica Chastain and Naomi Watts, I am SOOO pulling for either Jennifer Lawrence ("Silver Linings Playbook"), Quvenzhane` Wallis ("Beasts..."), or Emmanuelle Riva ("Amour").  All three engaged me, riveted me, astounded me.  Wallis gave line readings that seasoned actresses would weep to achieve, and had a final scene with her on-screen father that is great "acting" in the purest sense..  Lawrence had the sexy humor, ferocity and confidence of Jane Fonda's Oscar-winning portrayal of Bree Daniels in "Klute".  And Riva captured so perfectly the nuances of aging, that her tragedy became my own.  Oh why can't there be a 3-way tie??

--Listen for my loud cheers if these others are called: Robert DeNiro and Bradley Cooper ("Silver Linings..."), Helen Hunt for "The Sessions", "Les Misearables" for Makeup/Hair and Art Direction, and "Life of Pi" for ANYTHING (especially for it's lush, moving Score and for its Visual Effects, giving us Richard Parker).  Or "Silver Linings", "Beasts", "Les Mis", or "Amour" for Best Picture!

--I will remain politely mute, a passive-aggressive "WTF" in my expression, if "Django,,,", "Zero..." or "Lincoln.." get called, for anything.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Oscar's Choices, And Capsule Reviews, for 2012

Yeah.. I'm still here.  Deal with it!

It's time to chime in with my thoughts on this year's Oscar nominees for Best Picture.  In the bargain, I offer  you capsule impressions of those films I have seen, want to see, or refuse to see....

The cinematic sleeping pill that is "Lincoln" earned the most Oscar nominations--12. Incredibly, the one category to which the film undoubtedly owes most of its success, Hair and Makeup, was not one of its nominated categories!   I believe "Lincoln"'s acclaim is a case of voters feeling self-righteous about the subject matter, and not the film that was on the screen. Its cinematography was one of its weakest elements--the film is a visual bore, and a slog-- but, hey, gotta get Kaminski in there.   Ditto Michael Kahn:  there was nothing inspiring or exceptional about the editing. Tony Kushner has all but won in this category.    It is a subtle screenplay, but not a cinematic one--I fear it is best suited as a radio play.    Spielberg, never known for his subtlety, seemed flummoxed by Kushner's grand speeches and plodding exposition.    Of course we do get some of Spielberg's "touches" : for example, there's one shot of Day-Lewis at the end, walking to his doom, with a halo---I am afraid--over his head.    (Interesting that Spielberg got snubbed by BAFTA.)    Tommy Lee Jones should memorize his acceptance speech soon.

Although it is not among the favorites of on-line Oscar-Geeks (it is barely discussed by neophyte Oscar pundits), I think "Life of Pi" could be a tough competitor.   Its only drawback to winning the top prize may be that it garnered no acting nominations. But it took an impressive second place in the total nods with 11 nominations!    And all of them richly deserved, I might add.    This is what cinematic imagination, and emerging technology, is all about: to visualize a work that many said would be impossible to translate to the screen.  It's a film that plucks at our thoughts and feelings about death, truth, and nature,  ones that we often want to avoid, and does so in the guise of a magnificent animal.  Should be a lock for Visual Effects, and Original Score, too... I think it has a great shot in many technical categories, and I will cheer for all of its wins.

Those same Oscar-geeks that are left floundering in the spiritual tsunami that is "Life of Pi" are drooling over "Django Unchained"...and I was dismayed at its inclusion in the Best Pic list.. Ok Ok, I have not seen it, it's true; but I get nauseous just reading the synopses, so I don't care how "pretty" Richardsons' camerawork might be.    Some viewers will be thoroughly entertained--even get some laughs!--from watching helpless slaves get tortured, or fight to the death, or get attacked by savage dogs.  They may snicker at QT's precocious-schoolboy cleverness.  Not me...Nothing I have read yet suggests that the violence or "satire" is in service to anything above the level of adolescent revenge fantasy.  When blaxploitation films and spaghetti westerns were in vogue, they were (accurately) regarded as third-rate entertainment.   And I'm not flattered by the many filmic allusions QT purports to use,  stuck inside the film like rancid raisins in a stale pastry.  Thank goodness Leonardo DiCaprio was "snubbed" again.. Why, oh why, can't he pick roles that suit his easygoing, romantic-comedy-lead persona?? He must love playing dress-up in his grandfather's old clothes. As for Tarantino's inclusion yet again into the Best Picture and Screenplay slots, he must have a built-in Academy bloc of young hipsters who don't know that their idol-emperor HAS no clothes...

"Amour" intrigues me...It starts in Chicago this weekend. I liked Haneke's "The White Ribbon", and have liked all of the performers' other films.   (Especially Jean-Louis Trintingnant, so doggedly handsome as the relentless investigator in 1969's "Z").  Since the film is about the ravages of old age, it will be terribly relevant to me, and to all of my friends and peers who, over the past year, have had to deal with the nightmarish caregiving needs of horribly declining parents.   I remember Emmanuelle Riva from "Hiroshima Mon Amour" decades ago. At 86 she is the oldest Best Actress nominee (hmmm...older than Jessica Tandy, I guess...). Her birthday is Feb 24, the day of the upcoming Oscar ceremony. As the oldest, she is competing with Oscar's youngest Best Actress nominee ever..."Q"  (Quvenzhane) Wallace!
Which brings me to my favorite moments of the nomination announcement ceremony: The mention of "Beasts of the Southern Wild", which is my vote for the most interesting and affecting piece of cinema of the year (along with "Pi").  I cheered when it was cited in the Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Actress categories.  Director Benh Zeitlin used his limited resources to craft an imaginative, child's-eye-view of life in an impoverished, pre-Katrina New Orleans swamp community.  Its seamless blend of grit and magic held me spellbound throughout its running time.  It's presence among the other highly-financed nominees is something like Hushpuppy herself, the film's scrappy young heroine.  You can't help but root for both the movie and her character.  Hushpuppy's travel to a mythical island in search of her long-lost mother was the most emotional scene in any movie I saw this year.  I don't know if it has a shot to win, but it could grow in favor among voters who were not 100% enthusiastic about "Lincoln" or "Silver Linings Playbook".   For me, "Beasts" took this year's "Tree of Life" slot..... 
"Silver Linings Playbook" becomes the first film since "Reds" (1981) to receive a nomination in all 4 acting categories...All of them strong contenders.  I think Cooper can unseat Lewis (if Jackman doesn't do it instead).   Wow...this is DeNiro's first nomination in 21 years????   (Must have been "Cape Fear"?)  It's good to see DeNiro use his still formidable talent for menace and humor in a role of real depth.  To the movie's credit, it is one of the few good films this year that takes place in a recognizable, middle-class American here-and-now, with identifiable human characters coping with modern foibles and culture.  It's a nice film, sensitive in the way '70's movies routinely were, warm-hearted, even a little preposterous in the second half (where it mashes-up football and Dancing With the Stars to appeal to the broadest possible denominator)... But the strength of the performers carries it through. I can't think of a more attractive couple in a movie this year than Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.  I especially loved their playfully steamy scene in a diner, which erupts with intense anger and pain.  This could have had a real shot for Best Picture, but precedent is not kind to films that do not get both a Director's Guild nomination AND an Oscar Nomination for Best Director.
(In that respect, precedent suggests that the only contenders would be "Lincoln" and "Life of Pi".)
The movie version of the beloved musical "Les Miserables" has been the most confusingly maligned film of the year.  (I never saw the stage version). Is it because purist-lovers of the stage production object to the intimacy of the film?  Or is it an old "King's Speech" grudge?  Tom Hooper was unfairly eliminated, I think, from the directing competition. There's a tiresome bandwagon of those who opposed the coverage of the musical numbers in closeup.  I, on the contrary, felt it was smashingly effective in drawing the viewer into levels of emotional meaning that might be lost from the fixed perspective of live theater.  Who could have managed better with the material at hand?  For those who just hate the show and feel the source material is manipulative, there's no arguing the point.  (I didn't feel that way.)   Although I didn't buy in to the religiosity of it, that should not be held against it; there's a humanist streak that I embraced.  I loved the film of "Les Miserables"; it had the grand sweep of classic movie musicals, and while I watched it, I felt those same satisfactions unique to those classics.   And the performers, especially the extremely watchable Hugh Jackman, were uniformly excellent.  Even the much-criticized Russell Crowe, although not an operatic singer, to me appropriately embodied a character whose spirit is, shall we say, less melodic.  The scope and sweep reminded me especially of "Oliver" (a peculiarly French version!).   I enjoyed this better...unlike "Oliver",  I had a catharsis without feeling brutalized.  The Academy seems to be split on the merits of this big, emotional musical, and without Hooper in the running, it stands slim chance of winning Best Picture. But Anne Hathaway should memorize her acceptance speech soon.
"Argo" is a crowd-pleaser, a surprising history lesson, and a terrific film. It deserved every nomination it earned, and I lament Ben Affleck's shutout in the Director's category.   To me it was one of the most exciting yarns at the movies this year.  Movie-lovers and aspiring filmmakers should find this especially appealing, as we are immersed in the unlikely (but true) story of a fake film crew endeavoring to save a small group of frightened but resourceful detainees.  For those who recalled the dark period of history when Iran held Americans hostage, the revelation of long-classified facts was enlightening, and expertly woven into a satisfying piece of film entertainment.  To those who were not alive then, and have no knowledge of the hostage crisis, the film supplies the requisite exposition, in a brisk manner, to bring viewers up to speed.  Some of the darker aspects of this story were glossed over or ignored, or punched up with humor and altered for the sake of drama, but there's truth at its core and is appropriately inspiring. 
I would have selected "Argo" as a dark-horse winner. But it is sure to be overshadowed by "Zero Dark Thirty", whose prospects for the top prize have dimmed with the elimination of Katherine Bigelow from the Director's slate.  (I wonder if she and Affleck cancelled each other out among voters who split their allegiances between two similarly political stories?) I am on the fence about seeing this film.. It seems like a re-hash of "Hurt Locker", with torture and a female lead (although I love Chastain in everything...).  It would have to be a terrific film indeed to earn the right to depict the horrific details I've read about...although I STILL wonder if a film depicting the torture of AMERICAN prisoners to expose AMERICAN secrets would be as well-received.  In the end, I guess I will be more inclined to go to see this than "Django".
Oh--and Adele should clear a space on her Award Shelf, for "Skyfall", to add along side her Grammys....
A few other thoughts:
"Skyfall" was not only one of the greatest Bond films was one of the best movies of the year.  Oscar may NEVER recognize Bond as "weighty" enough for its highest accolade...Which is why the British Academy Awards are seeming more relevant by the hour.
"The Master" was the biggest disappointment of the year.  The only proper critical response should be to paraphrase a line used in the film: Paul Thomas Anderson "made it up as he went along".  While proponents of this film are praising it for its "exciting ambiguity", to this viewer it gave a feeling of being stranded in bad Improv.  Anderson had no idea what to do with his intriguing seed of an idea.  The result was uncomfortable in the least aesthetic way possible.  What a waste of actual celluloid film.  Point the camera, get your actors to scream and cry and be "quirky"...  and defy the "cinephiles" to declare you a great artist.  Best to pay heed to Anderson's initials, P.T (as in Barnum): "There's a sucker born every minute."
Good riddance (no nominations to): "The Dark Knight Rises"; "Cloud Atlas";  "The Paperboy"
Mourning: No nominations to "The Best Exotic Margold Hotel".

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Oscar's Real Winner

Here's to filmmakers, technicians, and Artists alike...

Most of those who nabbed the Statuettes were expected to win, and deserved to... 

(The night's one head-scratcher:  A Big HUH? in the Film Editing category...)

First, a nod to the major winners...

Horray! for  Christopher Plummer...Meryl Streep...Octavia Spencer...Jean DuJardin....

Kudos to "Hugo", "Midnight in Paris", "The Descendants", "A Separation"...

Bravo! to Mssrs. Hazanavicius... Thomas Langmann... Ludovic Bource....Mark Bridges...

After all of that, the spirit of this year's Oscars was summed up for me in two great photographs found on the web....

Here's to the most deserving victor of the his little bow tie, taking a bow, and offering generous congratulations to his co-star.....

JOE KLAMAR / AFP / Getty Images

Chris Carlson / AP

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oscar Night--Thoughts on What Should Be A Fun Evening

I don't want a lot of surprises this year as the Oscars are announced in a few hours.

In fact, so many of the front-runners happen to be personal favorites, that I WANT to see them win. I don't WANT to see Christopher Plummer fall to a Jonah Hill upset (I'm fairly certain Max Von Sydow will not experience a sentimental vote this year)

....I will scream in delight for Meryl Streep, but will also cheer appreciatively for Viola Davis.  Brad and George gave career could I feel badly for a win for either of them? Then again, a victory for Jean Dujardin is like a victory for Uggie the Dog. How can I resist?

There isn't one Supporting Actress nominee who isn't deserving....while I expect the charming Octavia Spencer to give a moving speech, any other winner would bring me a yelp of pleasant approval.  (Especially Berenice Bejo...or best of all, Jessica Chastain).

Woody Allen's name called out in triumph will feel like a personal vindication, because I loved his movie since I saw it last summer.

And while I have in my heart a deep yearning for two movies in particular as Best Film, I have to say that any one of them would please me in one way or another.

It's nice to watch the Oscars when your favorites are likely to win.  But then again, I had my balloon burst---badly---six years ago (CRASH!!) and I have never fully recovered.  That's why I don't want too many surprises this year.

If there ARE shockers...these would please me most:
Best Picture: Midnight in Paris or Tree of Life
Best Director--Terrence Malick
Best Actress--A Michelle Williams Surprise upset

The Tree Of Life, Oscars 2012

I will cheer loudly tonight for: Emmanuel Lubzecki (Cinematography, Tree of Life); Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris); Ludovic Bource (The Artist); Meryl Streep (Iron Lady); Christopher Plummer (Beginners); Dante Ferretti (Hugo); and Alexander Payne (Screenplay, The Descendants).  Add Michel Havazanicius to the chorus.

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On recent stories that the Academy is composed overwhelmingly of old white men:

Where were all of these articles in 2005-06, when generational homophobia motivated a voting bloc to rally around a second-rate film, thus ensuring that the deserving critical and popular front-runner would not make history?

Add to that: It has ALWAYS been so; membership has always skewed older.  The Academy reflects the makeup of the industry.  And the Oscars weren't intended to appeal to the preferences of various cults within the moviegoing public.  (The "snub" of "Harry Potter" should not be seen as an injustice.)

These Old White Men are the ones who create those cults to begin with.  They fashion the blockbusters that bring in the big bucks from the mass of less-discriminating viewers.  The Oscars are an occasion for appreciating moviemaking's better intentions, when films that speak to the better part of our  natures, which can entertain us and give our minds and emotions a workout, are held up for recognition.  Sure, the choices are often less that applause-worthy, but it is, after all, an industry award. 

Who are we to demand anything else?

And for all of our complaining, we come back every year...  We sometimes forget how to regard a movie without the context of the Oscars.

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Another Nominee I would love to see Oscared: 

It's clear that the name Sergio Mendes is a complete mystery to many in the Oscar-blogosphere.  But this composer, nominated for the song from the animated film Rio, has been an influence in world music for decades.

And has been one of my favorite musicians my whole life.

I have read with dismay those who feel a win for Mendes would be seen as a ham-handed effort by the Academy to be "global" and "relevant".  So..what is the Brazilian ---er, Portugese-- word for "bull--it"?

Not only has Mendes entertained millions for almost 50 years..but the song he wrote for Rio is out-of-the-ordinary Oscar fare, and FUN!!

Here are a couple samples of Mendes' previous works that I love so much...

Friday, February 24, 2012

Oscars 2011: Revving Up My Engine With A Rant--Oscar Films Need A Chance

Evidence that modern motion picture distribution has finally descended into madness:

Say what you will about the current Best Picture nominees floundering at the box office. 

I say, don't blame the films.

First of all, has anyone noticed that most Theater chains in the U.S. are no longer advertising in the major daily newspapers?  There are still many people who rely on their local Entertainment Sections for information about which theaters are playing the movies they most want to see, especially in their neighborhood.

Nowadays, all of this information can be found on-line, or on smart-phone movie apps.  But unless you know which theaters are nearby; or you're already familiar with the films in current release; or which are OSCAR-NOMINATED--  

Unless you know all that at the start, how do you connect with an "Artist"? with a "Descendants"?  even (I shudder) "Extremely Loud..."? or any film that does not have the fan-boy build up of a "Twilight " or "Hunger Games" (which just broke a record for on-line advanced ticket sales..)

OK, OK, so I had to admit that times are a-changing, and thus I got with the program.

There is a 12-screen multiplex one mile from my house.  My new preferred method of info-gathering is on-line, using my trusty laptop computer (that alone sort of renders me as timely as Mr. Malick's dinosaurs...)

I logged on.

I found the AMC site for the local 12-plex.

And I found something maddening:


That means if I want to see "The Descendants" once more to refresh my memory and check out my original impression, or if I wanted to take a friend to see "The Artist", I might have to travel 30 minutes or more.

And yet, the movies themselves are blamed for not reaching an audience, when it is the studios/exhibitors who have not given the films and their potential target audiences a chance to connect.  The people who would likely make the films a hit are those who would  use the traditional print media that have been taken away from them.

To top it off, the films are pulled out of theaters at the EXACT TIME fans may want to check them out.

Am I wrong to believe that ALL of the Best Picture films deserve a chance to be seen on a big screen, at least for the weekend of and week following the Oscars?

More Oscar stuff this weekend!!