Rightwing Film Geek

I have been too stunned for days

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… I don’t know how to react when the film I think the absolute best of the year wins the Oscar for best film. Not the year’s best American film winning, not the year’s best Oscar-bait film winning, not the best of the five nominees winning — the year’s best film winning. Only 2 1/2 of the 79 previous Best Film winners¹ was my favorite for that year and all of them happened only in retrospect, i.e., in the years from before I became a serious filmgoer: AMADEUS won for 1984 (23 years ago), LAWRENCE OF ARABIA for 1962 (22 years before that), and SUNRISE for 1927-28 (34 years before that). At that rate, I figure the coinciding of tastes should happen once more before I die.

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March 1, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 1 Comment

Oscar surprises

The Oscar nominations were announced earlier today. And here’s my quick reactions.

Kudos:

coensposter.jpg● Three of the 5 Best Picture nominees are among my 10 Best for the year, and 1 of the 2 that aren’t heads my list of runners-up. Four of 11 — NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, ATONEMENT and THERE WILL BE BLOOD, plus JUNO. And of the other 7 favorites of 2007, 3 are foreign films that one cannot expect to be top dogs at the US industry honors (which is what the Oscars are). And while I don’t think the fifth nominated film (MICHAEL CLAYTON) is that good (5 grade), it’s no CRASH and I don’t think it’s considered widely to be a front-runner to win anyway. So I am almost guaranteed to be reasonably happy on Oscar night — the Best Picture winner is near-certain to be a worthy film.

That. Does. Not. Happen.

My tastes are not the Academy’s and I don’t discriminate against comic clowning (see the film at #2 this year), small-studio/indy films and foreign films. In fact, this has never happened. I did a quick glance over the Best Picture nominees for the last 20 years earlier today, and found that that never in the entire period where I can say I have followed movies closely had 3 of my Top 10 been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.¹ In most of those 20 years prior to today, it’s been 0 or 1. Depending on how you slice my lists, the 100 films nominated for Best Picture Oscar, just 22 (or 24 … see footnote) have grabbed one of the 200 available slots on my 10 Best list — an average of barely 1 per year.

So I congratulate the Academy on my tastes. I hope it’s simply that the best English-language films of the year so clearly declared themselves, that there was no denying them. But undoubtedly part of the reason is that some of the fall prestige or semi-blockbuster films that might have looked like potential Oscar-Baition™, fizzled at the box office and/or generated poor or little critical buzz. After all, it’s not as if the Coen Brothers and PT Anderson have been big AMPAS locks in the past (this is only Wright and Reitman’s second films). I’m thinking most of THE GOLDEN COMPASS and the ELIZABETH sequel, and to a lesser extent SWEENEY TODD and BEOWULF, plus such potential breakout films as BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD and all the anti-war films, from RENDITION and LIONS FOR LAMBS to REDACTED and GRACE IS GONE.

persepolisgrandma.jpg● PERSEPOLIS received ample compensation for its snub in the Foreign-Film race (more on that below) by getting a nomination for Best Animated Film. It’ll lose to RATATOUILLE, of course (not that I’m saying that would be a travesty of judgment). But the nomination at this moment will help PERSEPOLIS, since it was released just a couple of weeks ago in the top few cities and is now spreading around the country. I hope Sony Classics has gold-statue emblazoned posters ready. This is a case of the principal reason the Oscars matter to me … as a way of raising the public profile of small films (even small English-language films) that are good enough and accessible enough to satisfy a broader audience than the one that habitually keeps abreast of such movies. PERSEPOLIS is such a film.

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January 22, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 3 Comments

Love and hate about the Oscar nominations

Having trouble with my phone line at home (cursed ice storm), so I couldn’t write up my reaction to the Oscar nominations until now (the complete list is here.)

Good surprises:
friedmansbox.jpgThe year’s best film IMNHO was CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS, which was unfortunately was a documentary and therefore in years past its quality and critical popularity would have guaranteed that it would not get a nomination as Best Documentary. But not this year. Not only was FRIEDMANS nominated, but the other candidate for the year’s most widely-praised documentary, THE FOG OF WAR, was picked too. Though I’ve expressed my doubts and crushed high expectations about FOG, it’s also good that finally the Academy acknowledges the existence of the country’s most important documentarian — Errol Morris. And all three of the others were films that I have heard of, that played in theaters, and that was generally well-liked by the few critics who saw them. The documentary branch for years had a nearly perfect record of ignoring the one film that year that *had* to be on the list — Morris’ own THE THIN BLUE LINE, ROGER & ME, CRUMB, HOOP DREAMS, HEARTS OF DARKNESS. But this year and last, they seem to have gotten their heads screwed on straight. Last year, four of the five nominees were BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, WINGED MIGRATION, SPELLBOUND and DAUGHTER FROM DANANG — all films that, regardless of my varied particular opinions of them, were strong enough *as films* to get substantial critical praise and to win (with the exception of DANANG) a very broad and hugely popular commercial release by documentary standards.

Some major nominations going to foreign films. THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE scored a nomination for best animated feature nomination and one for best song. And then there was all the love for CITY OF GOD — four nominations, including two major ones (script and director). I’m under no illusions that either is likely to win anything — for a foreign film, it is really true that the honor is just being nominated (some exceptions duly noted, including last year’s script win for Almodovar’s excellent TALK TO HER). According to the Associated Press, when director Fernando Meirelles heard of the nominations, he asked “Has the Academy gone mad?” No, Fernando: you just did good. I’ll have more to say here about this great film, which will be out on home video in a couple of weeks, when I do my Top 10 essay this weekend.

The near-shutout suffered by COLD MOUNTAIN in the major categories — film, actress, director, script (yes … adapted script). I don’t begrudge Renee her nomination (and likely win), but what exactly was distinguished about Jude Law? Have I mentioned that I don’t care for this fantasy for the art-house audience? One Southerner of my acquaintance high-fived me, and told me that when he had heard of the film’s Oscar flop, he was dancing on the toilet bowl.

billmurray.jpgFinally, a Best Actor nomination for Bill Murray, and he might even win, though my money would be on Sean Penn (insert this rant from yesterday about the Academy giving short shrift to comedy and comic actors).

While I’m not crazy about most of the particular choices, it is good to note that the Academy actually acknowledged that films get released in the first 11 months of the year. Last year, all five nominees were released Dec. 18 or later. This year: LORD OF THE RINGS 3 on Dec. 17; MASTER AND COMMANDER on Nov. 14; MYSTIC RIVER on Oct. 8; LOST IN TRANSLATION on Sept. 12 and SEABISCUIT on July 25. Perhaps the shortened awards season this year (and the screener ban) made the end-of-year booking strategy not viable. Or maybe the voters just didn’t care for MONSTER, HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG, 21 GRAMS, THE COMPANY, COLD MOUNTAIN, IN AMERICA, BIG FISH, GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING and CALENDAR GIRLS.

Bad surprises:
campbellscott3.jpgThe absolute shutout suffered by THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS. That’s not so much a surprise, I guess, as a disappointment about what I think was the best American fiction film of last year. I well realized it wasn’t gonna be a major player, since it was released in August and did poorly at the box office. But it still hurts that there was no room at the inn for its script and that Campbell Scott has nothing to show for the two of the best performances by an American male of recent years (this one and ROGER DODGER — so amazing because the characters in question are nothing like one another). Grrr … oh well: DENTISTS came out on home video last week and I heartily recommend it as one of the most realistic and dry-eyedly romantic depictions of family life I’ve ever seen.

The nomination of Tim Robbins and his collection of gestures masquerading as a performance in MYSTIC RIVER for anything other than a Razzie. Have I mentioned here before that I *hate* that performance. I suppose I can see the logic … that’s Acting. In fact I’ve never so *much* Acting in a noncomic performance in my life. You see every twitch and halt, and all the blood, sweat and tears that went into this, The Ultimate Performance. It’s discouraging that even professional actors are again mistaking playing a handicap (or someone of the opposite sex, who ages 100 years, etc.) as acting.

lostscarlett.jpgNo Scarlett Johansson. She gives two of the year’s best lead female performances — in LOST IN TRANSLATION and GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING — and gets shut out. And not because neither film was up the Academy’s alley — LOST was one of the big winners and PEARL was a December prestige release that did get several (very deserved) nods in the technical categories. Maybe the two performances canceled each other out. Or maybe the Academy just prefers telegraphed collections of body-language tics to using your eyes and face and just *existing* on camera.

January 29, 2004 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Fearless prognostication, part 2

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The Golden Globes were handed out last night (a complete list of the winners is here), and the two films that won Best Picture (unlike the Oscars, the Globes divide some of the movie categories into comedy and drama) were THE LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING (drama) and LOST IN TRANSLATION (comedy).

Other key winners were Sean Penn (MYSTIC RIVER) and Charlize Theron (MONSTER) for best drama lead performances, and Bill Murray (LOST IN TRANSLATION) and Diane Keaton (SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE) for best comic lead performances. Peter Jackson won best director for the third part of the Tolkien trilogy, and Sofia Coppola won best script for TRANSLATION. These are all pretty much locks for at least a nomination.

I do hope, though, the supporting actor award given to Tim Robbins for MYSTIC RIVER was the result of the ballots being sent by mistake to The Deaf and Blind Academy giving out their Braille novel awards and that “Tim Robbins” in Braille forms the shape of a Playboy centerfold. That’s the only acceptable excuse I can imagine.

The Oscars have a tradition of ignoring or downplaying comedies (and rewarding the tic-ridden handicapped role — have I mentioned that I HATE Tim Robbins in MYSTIC RIVER?). One fact suffices to prove this: Cary Grant was nominated just twice — for PENNY SERENADE and NONE BUT THE LONELY HEART. Yes, the greatest film comedian ever got nominated for an orphanage tear-jerker and a Clifford Odets bit of cockney social consciousness. So most of the time, the Golden Globe drama winner has the advantage over the Golden Globe comedy winner. So, I’ll go out on a limb and predict that LORD OF THE RINGS 3.0 will win the Best Picture. Unless there’s pictures of Peter Jackson with a dead girl or a live boy — only in Hollywood, that might even improve its chances.

More seriously, all the extracinematic reasons that films win Oscars are pointing LORD’s way — it was the capper to one of the most commercially successful series of all time, and, unlike say THE MATRIX movies, it was a succes d’estime as well. Neither of the first two films got much love from Oscar (the first got 13 nominations, but only four victories in minor categories; the second got just six nods and two minor victories) — so voting for it becomes a way both to salute the whole trilogy and to make up for past snubs. There’s also not a clear alternative front-runner right up Oscar-bait Alley, like there was with CHICAGO last year. So my Magic 8-ball sez the man who made HEAVENLY CREATURES takes home the gold in a month.

Now, I have to *see* the damn thing.

October 2007 update: Never did see LOTR3. Don’t feel the slightest bit unfulfilled.

January 26, 2004 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 1 Comment

More on the screener ban

The MPAA’s screener ban is being challenged in court by smaller distributors, saying among other things that the exemption for members of the Academy (and not, say, members of critics circles or voters in other awards shows like the Golden Globes) violates antitrust laws.

A ruling on the injunction might come next week.

November 28, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Screener update

Daily Variety reports today (link requires registration) that the major studios and the MPAA will reverse their ban on screeners, but only for Academy members. There will still be a ban on sending tapes and discs to critics and members of the various guilds. Daily Variety says that “an announcement is expected this week.”

The continuing ban on critics screeners is only likely to further anger professional critics, fueling their argument that this is really an effort to cut them out of the “Oscar buzz” game. The Los Angeles Film Critics Association announced at the weekend that it would cancel its year-end awards in protest. The group customarily gives out its awards in mid-December, and last year was the second major critics group to announce its winners, after the National Board of Review. (They later reversed themselves.)

I don’t think this was a wise move — canceling outright rather than announcing in January, though I understand the emotional satisfaction that kicking the studios in the teeth might give. For one thing, canceling tends to suggest that the group’s real agenda is not to honor the best films, but affect the Oscar race. Now, the latter is not a bad thing in itself, and most years I prefer the LA critics circle winners to those of the Academy — so they’re pushing the Academy in a direction I generally approve. But to cancel the awards outright rather than giving them in January is throwing the baby (honoring the best films) out with the bathwater (influencing the Academy).

Further, I’m not so sure that, for pro critics, screeners affect their ability to see the December Oscar bait *that much.* I know pro critics who avoid looking at tapes or discs as much as they can, and still see every film at a critics screening by early or mid-December. Screeners are certainly convenient, especially for repeat viewings and making up a missed screening, but hardly necessary.

October 21, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Actors do good

My friend Mike D’Angelo has an excellent take on the minor brouhaha (likely will need scroll down after Oct. 20) erupting over the Motion Picture Association of America’s ban on the distribution of screener tapes of movies still playing in theaters. The practice, a widespread custom in the Oscar campaigns of recent years, is perceived as giving the smaller films from boutique studios a way to make up for their narrower distribution. It’s a way for the film and its makers to get noticed and make its own case. But the MPAA has banned the practice for its member studios, citing concerns about piracy.Mike’s piece may even become obsolete in the next few days, as the backlash from within Hollywood is growing. Both Reuters and the Associated Press had articles Tuesday about a protest ad being taken out by some of the industry’s biggest stars, including Sean Penn, Keanu Reeves, Sissy Spacek and others in Wednesday’s Daily Variety and the Hollywood Report. A similar ad was taken out last week by some of American film’s most-prestigious directors, including Martin Scorsese and Robert Altman. The Writers Guild and the Screen Actors Guild have also expressed opposition.

All this opposition could be having its effect. Daily Variety (link requires subscription) reports in Wednesday’s editions that the heads of the seven major studios behind the ban have scheduled a conference call with MPAA chief Jack Valenti. Perhaps this cockeyed ban will go down in history as the New Coke of 2003.

Nobody should intrinsically care about whether Academy members can get free tapes or discs. But, as Mike points out (and I have even less of a dog in this fight than does he, a pro critic), movie fans should know about this because Hollywood awards affect what films Hollywood makes. The less chance that small films from boutique studios like Miramax, Sony Classics, Fox Searchlight et al have of getting awards, the less chance the filmmakers have of convincing financiers that they could be profitable, and thus the less chance they will be made at all. No FARGO, no THE PIANIST, no FAR FROM HEAVEN, and go on down the line through some of the best American movies of the last ten years. And *that* matters.

October 15, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment