Relieved FENCES did so well. Thrilled about August Wilson. Thrilled for Ruth Negga in LOVING, and sad but not surprised about Joel Edgerton, whose performance is a thing of beauty. LOVING is a future classic----the movie audiences have yet to discover, and will watch again and again thru the years. Should have been up for screenplay. Not surprised about Mel Gibson. He's a pig but he knows how to make a movie (and how to hire a great crew.) He stole it from LION's Garth Davis. (LION bored me silly after the first section; I thought it would never end.) (I don't love MANCHESTER much either, beyond Affleck's typically beautiful work.) Glad for Andrew Garfield. Bummed for Hugh Grant. Bummed for Adam Driver but blame A24's foolish Dec. 28 release date. No one saw it, plus the Academy doesn't understand that kind of performance. (Ya gotta have a gimmick.) Amy Adams? Well, maybe she's relieved. Six losses in a row would be brutal. (Like Leo, when she finally wins, it'll be for the wrong movie.) Annette Bening---I'm not a fan of "20th Century Women" (it's such a "movie") but she must be bummed. (She'll get an Honorary Oscar soon.) Sad for Taraji P. Henson. She deserves to win---that's a classic Academy performance. In another time, Kevin Costner would have been a lock. Not surprised about SILENCE or Scorsese though the Cinematography nod is nice. (The Cinematography branch does nice things, like the time they nominated SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS.) SILENCE is not a screener movie---they never finished it (if they even put it in the player). Nominating Viggo Mortensen for Actor is a lovely surprise---the sweet spot nom of the day. (His son in CAPTAIN FANTASTIC, George MacKay, IS that movie.) Wish they had found a spot for Krisha Fairchild, whose work in KRISHA, is staggering.
O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA is the best documentary ever made for television, but still....it's a TV show, kids, and always was. (It'll be fun to see if its genius PR team can pull off Emmy noms next September.)
Nine Best Picture nominees. Absurd. If you nominate everyone, how does it mean anything? When the Academy went up from five Beat Picture nominees, they ruined the brand. When you have to check an app to remember the Best Picture nominees---instead of ticking them off on your hand---meaning has been lost. (Chuck Wilson)
It's weird to me that the Hudlin/Hill produced Oscars is getting good reviews by so many smart people. There were funny moments to be sure—Chris Rock's opening monologue was downright subversive—but not including Latino and Asian artists in the show's "conversation" was an epic fail. One step forward, two steps back. (Chuck Wilson)
Interview began awarding our own Oscars for greatness in
extremely small packages in 1981, because if we didn't, who would? And
although Steve Buscemi, Delroy Lindo and Brooke Smith were among that
first crop of "unknowns," the idea wasn't to scout Stars of Tomorrow.
It was to celebrate actors who deliver a fully rounded character with
the fewest strokes, to recognize the uphill years behind such indelible
bursts of energy—and to give a shout-out to tenacity and to keeping on
keeping on (hullo there, Margo Martindale! howdy Gene Jones!).
Since 1981, we have had years when directors and, more crucially,
writers (although not the Coen brothers, and certainly not Mike Leigh),
did away with deftly written small parts in favor of The Girl, The Guy
and Her Girlfriend. Not today: filmmakers have suddenly rediscovered
the ensemble and the power of filigree, and in 2008, ten of the
niftiest of these were:
1. Katrina Fernandez as the fiery Flamenco teacher from Seville in Happy-Go-Lucky,
who attempts to ignite gypsy passion in an after-work class of 40-ish,
amiable, willing English puddings. With her back arched, her red heels
drumming dangerously, her syntax a wonder of its own, she's a figure of
implacable dignity, until thoughts of her private life blindside her
and she's wracked with the pent-up fury of a woman betrayed. Her shift
from devastating comedy to sheer devastation is jaw-dropping. Hola! Fernandez, a thoroughly English actress, who learned Flamenco at the
same time she evolved her singular accent and her ferocious assault on
all things British.
2. Jennifer Coolidge in Soul Men as Rosalee, a San Antonio
gal who gives Bernie Mac the surprise of his life when he picks her up
and brings her back to his hotel room. Coolidge, ever fearless, ever
joyous, throws Mac down on the bed, shimmies her blissfully prodigious
bosom in his face and then offers him a glimpse of private paradise—a
sight that prompts the late, great Mac to utter a line too raunchy to
repeat and too funny to miss.
3. Bob L. Harris uses the law, not a six-shooter, to cut a murderous cattle baron (Jeremy Irons) down to size in Appaloosa.
As a traveling circuit court judge, Harris, with his white hair, beard,
and barely concealed impatience for two-faced power brokers, appears to
be channeling the late Robert Altman. If it strikes you that Harris has
scored Appaloosa's funniest line—a bit of business about
"bees in the honey"—credit the film's director and star, Ed Harris, who
is smart enough to give his daddy the last word.
4. Deborah Harry doesn't appear until the final moments of Elegy,
but we've had plenty of time to wonder about her, especially as marriage
seems to have brought only crumbs from her husband Dennis Hopper. He's
a Pulitzer-prize poet, who, when he's not writing, is busy as the
"earthly confessor" of his best friend and celebrated academic (Ben
Kingsley), regarding his complicated love life (Penelope Cruz.) Elegy's
subtext is the imminence of death, but when it comes suddenly, Harry's
wry, mature delivery of the moment's pivotal line reveals how deep her
character's knowledge has been—and how canny director Isabel Coixet was
to choose an actress with her own depths to draw on.
5. Greta Scacchi, Italian born herself, brings warmth and
worldliness to the role of Cara, the Italian mistress of the aging
Englishman, Lord Marchmain (Michael Gambon), who long ago fled the
stately manor that haunts Brideshead Revisited. A woman who
sees all, Cara uses a beachside picnic to advise the social-climbing
Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) to "tread lightly" with the heart of
Marchmain's son Sebastian (Ben Whishaw), whose intense affection for
Charles is, Cara suspects, more than "just a phase." As Charles runs
off to romp in the surf with Sebastian and his sister, Scacchi shifts,
in the blink of an eye, from a look of optimism to one haunted by
knowledge of how such stories tend to play out.
6. Stacey Keach as the Reverend Earle in W, gives a
born-again, yet still uncertain George W. Bush a lesson in the glories
of political power and godliness which, Keach unwinkingly manages to
suggest, are two sides of the same coin (in Texas, at least). It
might just be this unwieldy film's best-written scene, not least for
the Reverend's irony-free warning to the newly sober future president
that, "The Christian life is not a constant high."
7. Andre Blake in Rachel Getting Married seems almost
lit from within as he does the hair of Kym (Anne Hathaway) his former
rehab-mate, the day before her sister's wedding. Facing his methadone
muse, as though reciting the Lives of the Saints, he reminds Kym of
each of the acts of courage she'd confided to her not-very-secret
diary: pulling her sister Rachel through bulimia, overcoming assault by
a beloved uncle. It was her strength, he swears, that led him to
utterly change his life. Unfortunately, getting swept up in "their"
story makes him oblivious to Kym's dawning horror; she'd made up every
lurid detail, and the "bulimic" bride-to-be is just two chairs away.
In the family fracas that follows, only the stylist remains unscathed,
still deluded, still blissfully innocent.
8. Stanley Townsend's nightmarish Tramp in Happy-Go-Lucky marks
the only time we've used two actors from the same movie, yet we
couldn't omit the depths of Townsend's compassionate, detailed portrait
of this universally tragic figure. Clearly living in at least three
worlds at once, the Tramp exists to test Poppy's conviction, not that
all people are good, but that they all deserve to be listened to. There
are moments when she and we are equally afraid that this hulking,
bearish man, driven mad by we don't know what, will swipe at her with
one huge hand and leave her crumpled among these ruined buildings. Or
worse. Yet, when he presses a question to her in his made-up
gibberish, and she agrees with him, quietly, eye-to-eye, he subsides.
He wants only connection, and after he shambles off, Poppy totters
away, aware of how narrowly her ideals have beaten the odds, this time.
9. Elias Koteas has a delicate, sorrowful dignity as Mr. Cake, the blind Clockmaker who starts everything (backward) in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Mr. Cake keeps to his work of building a huge clock for installation at
a vast New Orleans train station even while his son goes off to World
War I. Clambering around its works, adjusting only by touch, Mr. Cake
makes a fateful adjustment when that only son is killed, a moment
Koteas hits like a plangent grace note. At the ceremonial unveiling,
Cake's whole being seems steeped in mourning as he reveals the secret
to his clock's backwardness: "So that perhaps the boys lost in the war
might come home again" through his recaptured hours. In Koteas' hands
the film's semi-magical beauty and gentle rumination are perfectly
sustained, even to his fairytale exit, rowing out on a cerulean sea.
10. Lena Olin is The Reader's steely unforgiving voice, she
speaks for those who were in "the camps," Auschwitz et al. At the
film's coda, Ralph Fiennes seeks out this survivor in New York, to
present her with a death bequest from a former guard on the Woman's
block that housed her and her mother. Now obviously living well, Olin
is ramrod stiff and withering: she will not participate even marginally
in such expiation, not for Fiennes, never for a Nazi. "Go to the
theatre, if you want catharsis," she suggests. She unbends just one
millimeter at the sight of the guard's battered little tin box; that
she will keep, that everyday link to her past—and her mother's. In a
film whose messages about guilt are, to put it politely, murky, Olin's
centering clarity comes like a clearing of the skies.
I was a waiter at the 1988 Academy Awards Governors Ball, the post-show dinner that’s meant to feed and amuse the weary stars and Academy members who’ve been sitting dutifully inside the auditorium for hours. Unfed and overdressed, they come out of that theatre as beleaguered and disillusioned as a recruited audience at a sitcom taping. To find me: the world’s worst waiter. Although it’s a fact I all too often forget, the truth is that I cannot move and think at the same time. (Ask me, at the next party, about the four days I parked cars at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Not pretty.) All I really remember about my experience serving at the Governors Ball is the collective dismay of Oscar host Chevy Chase and director John Boorman when their long delayed hot meal arrived cold to the touch. That lumpy, gravy-drenched chicken looked ghastly, and must have felt like the final insult for Boorman, whose magnificent and deeply personal film, Hope and Glory, had just lost in five major categories. As a movielover, I was insulted for him. Looking back all these years later, I pray I didn’t tell him so directly. (I probably did.) As for Chase, he was miserable but trying hard to be genial. He looked so tired. I remember him looking down at the plate I'd set before him and saying, “This is cold,” which prompted me to gibber apologetically and go racing back to the incredibly chaotic kitchen, whereupon I burst through the swinging doors and shouted, with pure hysteria, “Chevy Chase’s chicken is cold!”
The five films nominated for Animated Short in this year's Oscars are all terrific. I'd vote for the gorgeous Russian entry, "My Love" by Alexander Petrov. It is magnificent. But there's no denying that Josh Raskin's "I Met the Walrus" is destined to be a classic in the literature of John Lennon and The Beatles. It might just win. Lennon would certainly have loved it; I bet Yoko and Sean sure do. Below is the trailer for "Walrus" and also the first nine (unsubtitled) minutes of the 30-minute "My Love". The Live Action Shorts didn't thrill me, but Daniel Barber's "The Tonto Woman", based on an old Elmore Leonard Western short story, is very fine, and left me wishing it was a feature length film. You can see a key scene from it in the video below. All the Live Action & Animated Shorts will play as part of a Magnolia Pictures release opening this Friday, the 15th, in some 50 U.S. cities. Check here to see if it's coming to your town: https://www.magpictures.com/
For a show built around a room full of out-sized egos, the Screen Actors Guild Awards is the friendliest and sanest of TV awards show. The SAGs have only been broadcast for a few years now, but so far, they’ve managed to keep the show low-key and very much a celebration of all things union, although it could be said that handing the stage over to a ham like Mickey Rooney (bless him) was not the best of ideas…
The SAG Awards is the only show in town that reveres the elderly, and god love ‘em for that. The lifetime achievement presentation to the great Charles Durning was SAG at its best — the Academy would never stoop to honor a character actor — and it got me all teary. What a beautiful career. (They should give it to Ned Beatty next.) Durning looked so frail trying to make it up the stage stairs (why is there never a ramp?), and then he gets up there and turns out to be slyer than anyone in the room. It was nice too to see Burt Reynolds doing such a non-jokey, heartfelt presentation. Old school rascals, those two. I think that going out to dinner with Charles Durning and Burt Reynolds (and their buddy Charles Nelson Reilly too, before his passing) would be one joyous, laugh-filled night. (Why hasn’t Burt Reynolds written a memoir? There’s a man with a trunk-full of great stories. Remember him on Johnny Carson? So sexy and crazy. He had more life in him then than Johnny Deep, Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington combined. Today's movie stars, let’s face it, are just no fun.)
Loving the aging masters extended to Ruby Dee, who won supporting actress for providing American Gangster with its one moment of real emotion, but they shut out Into the Wild’s Hal Holbrook, who didn't look surprised and who smiled gamely as Durning and Dee won prizes after his loss. There’s no question that Javier Bardem deserves to win awards for No Country for Old Men — it’s a classic performance — but Holbrook’s work in Into the Wild is transcendent. Bardem is a gifted and genuinely soulful actor — he should have won an Oscar (not even nominated) for his devastating work in The Sea Inside — but he’s young still and handsome as all get out and will have many more chances at prizes. Not so Mr. Holbrook, who brought a lifetime's worth of craft to that magnificent pickup truck scene with Emile Hirsch. It’s up to you, Academy.
Julie Christie is a fine actress and Hollywood royalty, but not naming Marion Cotillard Best Actress for her blistering and downright terrifying performance as Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose is incomprehensible. Imagine if Meryl Streep hadn’t won the Oscar for Sophie’s Choice or DeNiro for Raging Bull. Snubbing Cotillard is on that level. (Cotillard’s mistake was in not hiring a decent publicist.) Which isn’t to say that Christie isn’t superb in Away from Her, but I get the feeling that all these awards to her have less to do with the performance and more to do with the fact that Christie holds Hollywood at bay. She dared to abandon her career and go off and get an actual life — the great Hollywood dream— and now that she's back, ever so briefly, they don’t want to miss the chance to reel her back in, to make her as greedy for gold as the rest of us. More beautiful than ever, she looked amazing tonight — love that vest — but for me, the telling moment came when she thanked a Lions Gate exec for forcing her to attend tonight’s show. Damn right. I can almost hear the poor bastard, pacing back and forth, cell phone jammed to his aching ear: “Julie, you must attend the SAGs. If you don’t show up to accept the award you won’t win the Oscar!” And so, lo and behold, there she was. Funny how that works.
P.S.: I felt kinda sorry for Tom Cruise. What a lukewarm reception he got when he came out to present the final award. He’s a nut, but he’s also one of the last great movie stars, and good grief, he hasn’t killed anyone. (Far as we know…)