Well, here we are again, friends. The Academy Award nominations are upon us. For voting members it opens the sluice-gates to six weeks of more “friendly” persuasion than the NRA at that Tucson gun buy-back.
The rest of us can expect a deluge of guesses and pronouncements from folks not vastly smarter than we are about an event roughly as predictable as an earthquake. (See: Marisa Tomei’s Best 1992 Supporting Actress Oscar win over Judy Davis, Joan Plowright, Miranda Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave. I know. It was a long time ago. Some folks recover slowly.)
To wade in at the top: what was the Directors Guild up to on Tuesday — that’s just two days ago’s Tuesday — when it nominated Ben Affleck and Katherine Bigelow for two of its five Feature Film Director slots? (Tom Hooper, Ang Lee and Steven Spielberg rounded out their slate.)
The DGA slate is supposed to be the solid gold, take-it-to-the-bank standard of who’ll be nominated by the Academy. Were they simply giving two hard-working directors a good night’s sleep before Announcement Thursday, when they might reasonably expect to find themselves in nomination? You don’t think Affleck and Bigelow were being set up for a sucker punch, do you? The Guild loves you, just not the membership of the Guild, the ones who vote in the Academy? Don’t look at me. I’m as stunned as they are. Well, relatively speaking.
BAFTA, the British film academy, released their nominations at virtually the same moment as our Academy. Will it make Ben Affleck feel any better to go to the London celebration, where among Argo‘s seven nominations, including best picture and best director, he also picked up one as best actor? Probably not.
I liked the Guardian’s description of the BAFTA best five pics: “Lincoln, Argo, Les Miserables, Django Unchained and Life of Pi, pluckily bobbing in their wake.”
What makes me personally happy? To see the many ways humanism was defined by this year’s nominees: in utterly different ways throughout Life of Pi and Argo; in so many of the personal exchanges in Lincoln; by the tenacity of Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook and by the unforgettable face of Emmanuelle Riva in Amour. And please, throw in your own choices, this is such a perfunctory armful.
Welcome 2013 with one last look back at the best releases of 2011, as seen by the contributors to Parallax View and a few notable Seattle-based film critics.
1. Holy Motors
2. Zero Dark Thirty
3. Moonrise Kingdom
4. Margaret (2011 in NY and LA, didn’t screen elsewhere until 2012)
6. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
7. The Master
8. The Turin Horse
10. This is Not a Film
Ten more: Amour, Barbara, Deep Blue Sea, Django Unchained, Hyde Park on Hudson, I Wish, The Kid With a Bike, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Magic Mike
My greatest cinematic events of 2012
Hands down the cinematic experience of 2012 for me was the American premier of the complete restoration of Abel Gance’s Napoleon (1927) with live accompaniment by Oakland East Bay Symphony conducted by Carl Davis. The density of Gance’s ideas, the frisson of his images and experiments in cinematic expression, and the complicated perspectives on the legacy of Napoleon have a weight that is undeniable. And watching the full 5 ½ Napoleon with a live orchestra in a magnificent theater elevates the film to a cinematic experience without parallel, and that experience electrifies the storytelling and imagery.
Local (Seattle) Event: Joe Dante’s The Movie Orgy, one-night-only at Grand Illusion. It was a perfect marriage of film and venue: the tiny, independent house with a storied history and an audience of regulars, and a scrappy compilation movie with some surreal moments and a climax that manages to bring over dozen films into the same narrative universe, if only for this moment. And hey, don’t crowd me, man.
1. Rust and Bone
5. Holy Motors
6. The Master
7. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
8. Life of Pi
(the first nine in alphabetical order, the last as the film of the—um—year) Holy Motors, Hugo, Lincoln, Margaret, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Rust and Bone, Silver Linings Playbook, Tabu, Take this Waltz, and La Rabbia: the Rage of Pasolini (“a film released, in what must have been an infinitely less compelling form, in 1963, but listed this year by the National Gallery of Art as a “Washington Premiere” in a form so imbued with greatness it triggered a private pre-New Years Pasolini epiphany”).
1. Holy Motors
2. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
3. The Deep Blue Sea
7. Moonrise Kingdom
8. The Turin Horse
9. This is Not a Film
10. The Master
Technically, Kenneth Lonergan’s remarkable Margaret may not have qualified as a 2012 film (a few people saw it in 2011), but the years he spent in the editing room paid off in this story of a high-strung teenager (Anna Paquin) who causes a horrendous traffic accident. The writer-director’s unique focus on responsibility–and its limits–led to the creation of the year’s most haunting and original film. Almost equally affecting were Michael Haneke’s wrenching account of an older couple facing the end of their relationship, Amour, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, about an American personality cult spinning out of control. Among the most playful new movies: Wes Anderson’s tale of romantic runaways, Moonrise Kingdom, and Richard Linklater’s stranger-than-fiction Jack Black vehicle, Bernie. The latter, like Ben Affleck’s self-assured Argo, Steven Spielberg’s painstaking Lincoln, and Kathryn Bigelow’s vigorous Zero Dark Thirty, is based on fact. Gary Ross’ The Hunger Games took a popular young-adult book and made something majestic of it. Northwest filmmaker Jon Garcia’s The Falls, a perfectly cast love story about 20-year-old Mormon missionaries, was the best of several strong gay films.
A second 10: Rust and Bone, How to Survive a Plague, The Invisible War, Keep the Lights On, Barbara, A Royal Affair, Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook, Queen of Versailles, Any Day Now.
1. Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel)
2. Tabu (Miguel Gomes)
3. Neighbouring Sounds/O som ao redor (Kleber Mendonça Filho)
4. In Another Country (Hong Sang-soo)
5. Two Years at Sea (Ben Rivers)
6. small roads (James Benning)
7. Viola (Matias Piniero)
8. O Gebo e a Sombra/Gebo and the Shadow (Manoel de Oliveira)
9. Vers Madrid/The Burning Bright (Sylvain George)
10. Arraianos (Eloy Enciso)
Anna Karenina Argo The Avengers The Deep Blue Sea Flight I Wish Lincoln Margaret Pina Ruby Sparks
Ten more terrific movies, any of which might have slipped into my first ten on a different day: A Cat in Paris, Bernie, Liberal Arts, The Master, Middle of Nowhere, Moonrise Kingdom, A Royal Affair, The Sessions, The Silver Linings Playbook, Skyfall, Smashed. OK, that’s 11. So be it.
Best 2012 movies that haven’t opened in Seattle yet (but I’ve seen them): Amour, Zero Dark Thirty
1. Zero Dark Thirty
3. The Master
5. Holy Motors
6. Django Unchained
7. Moonrise Kingdom
8. Silver Linings Playbook
9. The Deep Blue Sea
1. The Turin Horse
2. The Kid with a Bike
3. Moonrise Kingdom
5. The Master
6. Holy Motors
7. This Is Not a Film
8. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning
9. Not Fade Away
10. The Loneliest Planet
1. Django Unchained
2. Holy Motors
6. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning
8. The Master
9. The Grey
I started to describe why Argo struck me as brilliant and almost unendurable, all at once, but that’s silly. Just drop everything and go. For such a full-throttle, gripping, movie-goer’s-movie, it has depths that linger — certainly at this house.
I haven’t been writing for a while. Even before the September 11th attacks in Benghazi, with the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others, I’ve been reading, almost every day, reports from a world that I am intimately connected to, yet necessarily apart from, our Foreign Service.
Most of my friends know that the most far-flung of the three daughters joined the Foreign Service just over three years ago. She began working in Bogota, came back to D.C. this Fall for training as a Consular Officer and when that’s finished, she goes to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. With, of course, her husband and their three cats, the Tabbies.
At the same time that I followed every test, every setback and surge forward on her blog, I began to browse over at the Tabbies’ lower right-hand column, where she lists other FS blogs she follows.
They are the damndest mash-up imaginable: blogs so dense with acronyms that I don’t venture across their threshholds; ones fuming at a bureaucracy that seems to make things harder, not easier, and ones with pretty imaginative examples of coping calmly with what you and I might see as staggering obstacles.
The secret of having a fine night watching the Academy Awards is having a horse in the race, and I had two: Meryl Streep, whom I couldn’t bear to see lose again, not after that performance, and Undefeated, a documentary longshot about high school football players in North Memphis,Tennessee, that didn’t stand a chance in a field that stretched from Pina to Hell and Back.
So, understandably, our house echoed with shrieks, after Undefeated’s win. You may remember the bleeping disbelief by one of its pair of young director-editors, Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin, Oscars in hand.
As the extraordinary Manassas Tigers’ coach Bill Courtney says, “Football doesn’t build character; football reveals character.” Undefeated reveals the almost overwhelming personal struggles of three of Courtney’s young black athletes as they move toward manhood, captured by the kind of filmmaking “luck” that comes from being there, day in day out, recording routine moments and ones of high and sometimes almost hidden emotion.
One of these came on the filmmakers’ first day with Montiel, known as “Money,” a small, speedy offensive lineman and honors student. He took Lindsay and Martin behind his grandmother’s house where he lives, to show them his pet: a tortoise. As he picks it up, explaining gently how its hard shell protects the soft creature inside, we get the first glimpse of the heart on each side of Undefeated’s lens.
If you saw The Blind Side, and think you already know this territory — you don’t. There’s no Sandra Bullock (lord love her) facing genteel opposition as she steps in to change the life of one gifted black player. If Undefeated’s kids see college football as the only way out of their flat-lined lives in this weed-filled, scraggly patch of North Memphis, they can also see the odds as clearly as we can.
So, after an 8-month effort of digging, cross-referencing, and prying the news out of agents and publicists that their clients are in the prestigious Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Los Angeles Times released its bombshell Sunday.
Academy members are:
54% over 60 years old
Board members, reportedly surprised by the results, reacted with variations of, “We knew it was bad but we didn’t know it was that bad.” You might think that a quick look around the room. . . . oh, never mind.
Dig a tiny bit more and you’ll find that only 2% of the membership is under the age of 40; those in their 40s make up 11%, and 25% are in their 50s. (I know, there’s a rogue 8% “Unknown” missing. . don’t look at me, I only lose glasses.)
“Uncomfortable,” “Profound,” “By Mike Leigh” are not words that propel the well over-60-year-old Academy member into a screening. Do you think those same members liked what they saw, when they threw their For Your Consideration DVD of Shame on their home projection system?
Although it’s essentially a noir love story, how well did the unexpectedly violent moments of Drive play in that comfortable Bel Air living room?What about the knife-edge walked in Young Adult by both Patton Oswalt and Charlize Theron? Their (virtual) shut-out in the nominations was a hint. Drive managed one technical nomination, but nothing for its music, let alone its actors, just ask Albert Brooks. On second thought…
Before we get into BAFTA, here are a pair of presents.
Looking up from the work at hand — bringing home as many Oscars as possible — a couple of studios have watched what big money PACs have wrought, and liked what they saw: money = influence. No, no, no, this time it’s a good thing. These featurettes were made in the hope of swaying voters, butthey’re shameless fun all the same. (Okay, the von Sydow piece is truly barefaced and blatant fun, and it diminishes my ardor for him not one scintilla.) .
I’ve been trying to puzzle out why last night’s BAFTA Awards show went down so smoothly, at least at this house. Not the awards themselves — a few things to talk about there — but the feeling of the event.
It may be a certain British take on life in general that seems so appealing. Offer a wild opinion to the kind of Englishman now owned by Colin Firth, and his opening salvo is, “Yes, well. . ” It has to do with reticence, a deep level of wit and intelligence, and the sense — rightly or not –that the person you’re speaking to is as least as quick as you are. It’s so flattering, really.
The show last night seemed to be steeped in that attitude. It gets on with things. Even thought it’s held at the Royal Opera House, it seemed intimate, certainly compared to whereever they house the Oscars, where the vastness is always chilling.
BAFTA seems blessedly anti-banter (Aussies excepted), which usually means a single presenter, even a grown-up, who gives a short intro that gets briskly to the point. Although music is recognized, there are no song awards,and thus no music production numbers. Think of the time your life gets back, right there.
If they have a house band, I don’t remember it, but nothing drowns out the winners who, peculiarly enough, have short and sometimes moving things to say. There seems to be the expectation that they will have something to offer, beyond thanks to their wife (first or current), to everyone they’ve ever met in the Industry, to their parents and to the god that made them. And this is an example of the thanks they do get:
Winning the Best Adapted Screenplay for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Peter Straughan first acknowledged the beginning of The Artist’s mop-up job of 7 awards in all, with, “I’d just like to thank The Artist for not being based on a book.” Then, he took the award for himself and his late wife and co-writer, Bridget O’Conner, whose clear blue eyes had just shone down from the BAFTA clip of artists lost in 2011, saying “She wrote all the good bits, I made the coffee.”
A few people have asked about the Margaret in Margaret, as well they might. My apologies! I think she was ungallantly left behind during a cut-and-paste from another version, although this may also have had something to do with it.
In any case, here she is:
“Margaret, whom we discover must be called Mar-gar-et to fit the meter of Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall,” is a “young child” who grieves over changes in nature she is noticing for the first, painful time.
“Ah, but as the heart grows older It will come to such sights colder By and by. . .”
It’s the kernel of writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s epic look at the effect that the fall from another kind of innocence -– uncompromising idealism –- has on Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) a smart, self-absorbed 17-year old in New York City, a few years post-9/11.
Lonergan lets Matthew Broderick give “Spring and Fall” its ideal reading, as an English teacher trying to pry responses from one of the poem’s tougher audiences, privileged kids, including Lisa, at a private school on the Upper West Side.
* * *
It occurred to me that the few readers lucky enough to see Margaret may not know Lonergan’s breakout success, You Can Count On Me (2000). It’s worth watching – again or for the first time.
Scooping up indie and critical awards across the country, the film gave Laura Linney her first Oscar nomination and ignited Mark Ruffalo’s movie career after years of theatre. Quite aside from its cast, perfect in Lonergan’s droll mix of dry wit, deprecation and tenderness, Count On Me is a time capsule of American innocence itself, before the convulsions of 9/11 and all that has followed.
Never, ever dismiss a grassroots movement (just ask Elizabeth Warren). Or the indignation of film critics, denied the chance to see what one of their clan has called “One of the year’s, even the decade’s, cinematic wonders.” The result has been a flurry of petitions, blog-wails and unkind aspersions directed at Fox Seachlight, from here at home and as far away as the U.K.
The fallout in Seattle has been that Kenneth Lonergan’s breathtaking Margaret got a press screening and a one-week run in one theatre (backed up by no ads anywhere.)
Here’s where critics come in: with 3 ½ stars from the Seattle Times’ Moira McDonald and a strong pick-up review-let at the Weekly – and, no doubt, a buzz in every cranny of Scarecrow Video – Margaret’s healthy weekend grosses have earned it a second week, through February 9th.
The tidy among us should probably know that Margaret is almost as gloriously unruly as Anna Paquin’s Lisa herself, and that we will be following her at almost eye level for 149 minutes, as Pacquin virtually irradiates the screen.
Very mixed bag, in and around the Oscars this week. At Park City, Utah, the Sundancers had the heaviest kind of pall thrown over their festival when one of the pioneer Indie good guys, Bingham Ray, there as always, suffered a stroke and died at a Provo hospice at 57.
During its too-short life span, October Films, the distribution company founded by Ray and Jeff Lipsky, became an imprint that meant something: singular, distinctive, often groundbreaking films (Remembering fondly and quickly, Breaking the Waves, Secrets and Lies, Career Girls, with the late, magical Katrin Cartlidge, Hilary and Jackie and The Apostle were among them.)
This invaluable mini-portrait of Ray, made by documentarian R.J. Cutler (The War Room) and Paco de Oris in 1996, was just posted over at Deadline.com. In it, Ray talks about Secrets and Lies, and the impact a possible Oscar nomination might make for its writer-director Mike Leigh, as well as for October Films. Then you get the chance to watch pandemonium in (semi-) high places as the nominations are broadcast.
* * *
As I write this, the Screen Actors Guild awards are just over, and The Help took Best Ensemble, with Octavia Spencer Best Supporting Actress and Viola Davis Best Actress.
In the infuriatingly slow ways that these things evolve, in and through film, it might be possible to see a continuum from the humor and bravery Leigh located in his film to those same qualities in The Help. Possibly. Of course, being the work of Mike Leigh, the young black optometrist of Secrets and Lies (the radiant Marianne Jean-Baptiste) trying to track down her birth mother was independent and upscale. It was her white mother (Brenda Blethyn, equally unforgettable) who was a scatty factory worker.
Let’s pick through this year’s full-on melodrama at the Academy Award nominations and see what seems to stand out. Is this deep, inside stuff you can take to the betting window or the office pool? Good heavens no. I’m habitually awful at that game. This is a bemused look around by someone a little off to one side, and just crazy enough to take it all in.
You want depth, the internet now churns with writers whose depth of field in Oscar stats is stunning, although sometimes it seems that the Oscars are their only world.
For clarity, and a sense of proportion on the nominations (and all things Hollywood), I’d trust the New York Times team of Michael Cieply and Brooke Barnes who, among other challenges, make the virtually impenetrable Academy rule changes clear, and do it with a sheen of wit. They’re non-geeky and nicely reliable.
As for me, it looks as though the Academy has tried to shake things up. A little. So we have Demian Bichir on the Best Actors list for A Better Life, and Nick Nolte as a Best Supporting Actor in Warrior. (Now to find those films!) We have the fortitude of the Animation Committee who resistedThe Adventures of Tin Tin in all its mirthlessness, and having been left off nearly every of those churning prognosticators’ lists, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy came out of the cold. Thrilled to see its 3 nominations, especially Gary Oldman’s first.