Archive | November, 2012

Here Come the Actors. Where and Who Are the Actresses?

29 Nov

Well, the Oscar race will officially kick-in next week when such groups as  the New York Film Critics Circle, the National Board of Review, and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association announce their picks as the year’s best.  At this point, I think the race for Best Picture is being led by Argo and Lincoln;   I expect the long awaited big screen adaptation of Les Misérables (from the ever-popular stage musical incarnation of Victor Hugo’s epic novel) to be a strong contender as well, but that film is still being kept under wraps–for now. The official release date is December 25th, natch, though I’m sure many influential, high profile critics are being treated to screenings for the sole purpose of awards consideration. At this point, I’m not convinced that Oscar winner Ang Lee’s 3D version of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi has what it takes to go the distance though it has its champions.  Likewise, Cloud Atlas could sneak into some categories, bur it no longer seems like a major contender. On the other hand, some of us are anxiously awaiting the release of Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, the story about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden–and Bigelow’s follow-up to her 2009 Oscar winner, The Hurt Locker.

Right now, I think the tightest race has to be that of  Best Actor.  This could very well be the most competitive this category has been since the 2005/06 season when there were 5 legitimate contenders–and, to clarify, no filler: Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote-w), Terrence Howard (Hustle &  Flow), Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain), Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line), and David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck).  Though the Oscar ultimately went to Hoffman, many pundits were of the opinion that any of the other four could have won in less competitive years. In 2008, there was definitely a heated race between two front-runners, Sean Penn (Milk) and Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler), but the rest of the bunch paled in comparison when taking into account ALL the variables: Penn’s transformative performance as Harvey Milk in a timely, fact-based offering (coming out around the time of California’s Prop 8 debacle), and Rourke’s widely heralded comeback in a film by arty/indy fave, Darren Aronofsky. The remaining lineup consisted of Richard Jenkins (in the acclaimed if low-profile The Visitor),  Frank Langella (recreating his Tony winning role as President Richard Nixon in Frost/Nixon, a Best Picture nominee that failed to find a huge audience in spite of its major nods), and Brad Pitt (competing against the dazzling aging/anti-aging effects in leading Best Picture nominee The Curious Case of Benjamin Button).  One more: last year, the Best Actor race was dominated by a wildly over-hyped front-runner, Jean Dujardin the eventual winner, in the  unstoppable Best Picture frontrunner The Artist.  Sure, last year saw two genuine movie stars in contention, George Clooney (The Descendants) and, once again,  Brad Pitt (Moneyball), but their vehicles were not as well positioned as The Artist in order to  dethrone Dujardin–and Pitt actually appeared in two Best Picture contenders (Moneyball AND The Tree of Life); last year’s other nominees, Demián Bichir (A New Life) and Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) were certainly worthy of their nods; they just could not overcome the obstacle of appearing in lesser-seen, and less publicized, films.

This year, I believe we’ll be enthralled by a real nail-biter of a race.  It’s interesting to me that the leading contenders  all appear in films that are currently in release at this relatively early stage. That almost never happens. Oldman’s film from last year didn’t go wide until January or so, even though it had played the film festival circuit for weeks and months.  Again, this year is  no one is waiting on a last minute entry to sweep in and shake things up, as was the case with 2009’s Crazy Heart starring Jeff Bridges, a strong sentimental favorite who, after earning  4 previous nods in the 1970s, ’80s, and early 200os, snatched victory away from George Clooney (Up in the Air) who had generated the most buzz until Bridges’s 11th hour emergence.   Here are the actors that I believe are the faves as of this moment:

John Hawkes (The Sessions): Hawkes has been around for years. He has 116 credits listed as an actor on the IMDb, dating all the way back to 1985; however, he didn’t achieve “breakthrough” status, for lack of a better word, until two years ago when he played a key supporting role in Best Picture “sleeper,”  Winter’s Bone.  For that intoxicating portrayal of an aging hoodlum from the Ozarks, he earned not only an Oscar nomination, but he also claimed an Independent Spirit Award. Since then, he has snagged more high-profile roles, including the lead in The Sessions, as poet Mark O’Brien, a severely disfigured polio survivor who spends most days in an iron-lung and seeks the services of a sex therapist (Helen Hunt) in order to realize his long-held dream of sexual intimacy with a woman. Hawkes, a resourceful character, reinvents himself in this role in a way that none of us could have imagined after The Winter’s Bone; as a bonus, he has a small role in Spielberg’s Lincoln, starring Daniel Day Lewis. PS: He was just nominated for a Spirit Award.

Daniel Day Lewis (Lincoln): DDL already has already won two Best Actor Oscars (My Left Foot, 1989; There Will Be Blood, 2007); if he earns a nod for Lincoln, it will be his fifth. Lincoln could very well turn out to be a Best Picture front-runner, which might help Lewis since no actor has ever won in this category three times. Jack Nicholson has three Oscars, yes, but one of those is a supporting win. True, any actor playing President Abraham Lincoln is akin to Ben Kingsley playing Mahatma Gandhi in terms of
gravitas. No doubt. This is the sort of role that wins Oscars–and how. Still, can you believe that this is only DDL’s second movie since There Will Be Blood? He made a foray–mixed as it was– into movie musicaldom with 2009’s Nine. My point is that a third Oscar at this point might be too much too soon.

Joaquin Phoenix (The Master): Phoenix has never won an Oscar, but if he snags a nomination this year, it will be Oscar race number 3 for him. His last nomination was for his brilliant leading turn in Walk the Line, the 2005 Johnny Cash biopic. Prior to that, he netted a supporting actor nomination for the 2000 Best Picture winner, Gladiator. With all his crazy stunts, such as bad-mouthing the Oscars, Phoenix appears to be a publicist’s nightmare though Dustin Hoffman used to trash the awards all the time–and he now has two Best Actor trophies. I just think Phoenix is crazy like a fox.  In The Master, he brilliantly plays a disillusioned WWII vet who falls under the spell of a charismatic cult leader, the irony being that the charismatic cult leader is at least as unhinged as Phoenix though, of course, the latter is too far gone to pick up on that. The problem,  if there is one, is that The Master may very well be too stylized to break through with Academy voters in spite of Phoenix’s superb work. The movie simply looked more attractive earlier in the season when there was less competition.

Denzel Washington (Flight): Washington earned his first Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for 1989’s Glory (and well deserved); his second Oscar, and first for Best Actor, came for 2001’s change of pace Training Day, in which Washington, normally cast as good guys, played a terrifyingly dirty cop–and I do not even like the word “cop,” but it definitely fits in this case. He is looking to score Oscar nomination number six with Flight–and his first nomination since his last win. Though he has made several reliably exciting action fueled pics in the last decade, this is definitely the meatiest role he has had in a good long time. Funny thing: Flight has been marketed as a movie about a heroic pilot who appears to have been framed for causing the very accident that prompts all that hero talk in the first place; however, what the movie is really about is the downward spiral of a man whose various addictions are out of control, and Washington navigates the various twists and turns brilliantly.

Unless I don’t totally know my stuff, my guess is that the four actors in the above profiles are the sure-bets; however, there are still at least two more guys duking it out for the fifth slot.

Ben Affleck (Argo): Affleck’s third directorial offering has been, until now, the most seriously buzzed-about Best Pic contender. Plus, it has been a huge, huge, box-office hit. This could very well be the movie to beat for the top trophy as Academy members are often predisposed to favor actor-hyphenates though Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is as imposing as, well, say, Mount Rushmore. That noted, Affleck is generating more buzz for his work behind the camera than in front of it though I would not rule him out just yet. Of course, Affleck won an Oscar for co-writing 2007’s Good Will Hunting with Matt Damon. As a director, he has guided both Amy Ryan (Gone, Baby, Gone) and Jeremy Renner (The Town) to Oscar nominations (in the supporting categories). Among a celebrated batch of actors-turned-directors, Laurence Olivier won an Oscar for his self-directed Hamlet after earning a nod for his adaptation of Henry V. More recently, Clint Eastwood has earned two Oscars for directing films in which he also earned Best Actor nods (Unforgiven, 1992; Million Dollar Baby, 2004). On the other hand, Mel Gibson took home the Best Director trophy for 1995’s Braveheart though that film failed to earn a single acting nod–and that includes Gibson’ starring performance. Update: Affleck was just named Entertainment Weekly’s “Entertainer of the Year.”

Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook): Cooper has been a star ever since he appeared in the outrageously raunchy box-office smash The Hangover. Since then, his credits include at least one film that almost seemed too specifically tailored for Oscar consideration, The Words (released earlier this year); however, that vehicle seemed too obvious and contrived to be taken seriously. With Silver Linings Playbook, Cooper might have very well found the role that will cement his status as a “serious” actor on top of his matinee-idol charisma. Frankly, I’m still wrecked that he wasn’t at least Globe nominated for The Hangover, but I digress. This latest offering is directed by none other than David O Russell, whose last film, The Fighter,  earned (supporting) Oscars for both Christian Bale and Melissa Leo.

There was early buzz–dating back last winter’s Sundance Fim Festival– for Richard Gere’s outstanding turn in Arbitrage, but a groundswell of killer praise never developed for this well-crafted look at a high-flying wheeler-dealer facing ever-increasing scrutiny about messes he’d rather see buried. (It’s like Wall Street meets Chappaquiddick.)   It’s also possible that either Russell Crowe or Hugh Jackman could be nominated for Les Miz.  At this point, I can’t see that Jack Black has much chance for Bernie though he might snag a Golden Globe nomination; he was just announced as a Spirit Award contender, so good for him. I love Bernie and Black’s performance in it, but even I can see that his work pales in comparison to the towering performances of Hawkes, DDL, Washington, etc.

Meet Quvenzhané Wallis. She plays “Hushpuppy” the lead character in the post-apocalyptic phantasmagoria known as Beasts of the Southern Wild, one of the yea’s most celebrated indie flicks. Wallis was a mere 5 years old when she auditioned for the part. I believe she is now 8. She could be poised to become the youngest Best Actress nominee ever, besting the previous record-holder Keisha Castle-Hughes, who was only 13 years old when she was nominated in the same category for 2003’s The Whale Rider (from New Zealand). Wallis was recently nominated for a Spirit Award (which I still stubbornly call the Independent Spirit Awards, but i digress.) Additionally, two of my favorite films and/or performances are all up for Spirit Awards: Jack Black in Bernie (YAY!) and Wes Anderson’s Moonsrise Kingdom, which netted 5 nods, tying for the most nominations with Silver Linings Playbook.

On the other hand, the bigger question mark is that confounded Best Actress race. Is there really a front-runner? Sure, there are some likely candidates,  such as Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty),  Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone),  Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings  Playbook), Keira Knightley (Anna Karenina), and Naomi Watts (The Impossible).  Of these, I think Chastain might still be riding the enormous wave of goodwill she generated last year when she appeared in a half-dozen films, including two Best Picture contenders: The Tree of Life and The Help; she earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination for the latter. Goodwill aside, some early reports indicate that her character in Zero Dark Thirty is on the sketchy side, but I bet the whole thing is still very exciting.   Of course, Jennifer Lawrence is certainly well-poised, what with her leading role in the blockbuster known as The Hunger Games.  This young woman’s rise has definitely been meteoric.  Now 22, she was still in her teens when she filmed Winter’s Bone,  the indie darling that garnered raves, played in theaters for weeks and weeks, and earned Lawrence a Best Actress nomination–and was likely the right film at the right time to help her land the role of  Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger GamesSilver Linings Playbook repositions her as a grownup actress, but will the Academy take the bait? I would not rule out the possibility of Helen Hunt as the sex-therapist who teaches John Hawkes about intimacy in The Sessions. Oh sure, I know that the studio releasing the film is positioning Hunt, so to speak, as a supporting player, but Academy members ultimately decide these things.  Publicists can only make suggestions. Besides, no less than Susan Sarandon was promoted as a supporting actress for 1981’s Atlantic City, but her peers rightfully nominated her as Best Actress.

Left to right: Maria Belon, the dark-haired, dark-eyed Spanish woman played by blonde haired, blue-eyed Brit Naomi Watts in The Impossible.

Now, about Naomi Watts in The Impossible. This is a fact based story about one white family’s survival in the aftermath of  the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia.  The trailer begins with this announcement: “In 2004 Hundreds of Thousands of Lives/Were Suddenly Changed Forever/By the Worst Natural Disaster of Recent Times.” It continues: “From Director J.A. Bayona/One Family’s True Story.” Well, I have to admit that when I saw the trailer for the first time,  I was a little stunned.  I mean, the images accompanying the message are of a seemingly happy white family (headed by Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor),  and I wondered who chose a white family’s experience to be representative of a disaster that affected hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of brown-skinned humans.  Oh sure, I get that we’re meant to understand that these people were merely tourists, strangers in a strange land, looking for a little rest and relaxation,  and that a tsunami was an unexpected shocker; they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yes, I guess that makes for a dramatic story, yet it still bothers me because the message implies that the suffering of white tourists is somehow greater than the suffering of the non-white indigenous folk.  What’s worse, as I soon learned, is that the real-life couple that Watts and McGregor are portraying isn’t even British.  Okay, technically McGregor is from Scotland, and Watts is well-regarded as an Aussie though she was, in fact, born in England. At any rate, these two actors are white, and the people they are playing are…Spanish, meaning not necessarily white. I understand how movie-financing works, so I’m sure that casting non-Spanish actors was a marketing move to make the film more commercial, but I still say such literal whitewashing of the truth is phony, and it stinks. Will I see The Impossible when it comes to Dallas? Yes, probably. I like Watts well enough. I don’t think she earned enough praise for her role as wrongfully exposed CIA operative Valerie Plame in 2010’s Fair Game (in which she was perfectly cast as Plame’s stand-in); moreover,  her breakthrough performance (in dual roles?) in David Lynch’s trippy Mulholland Drive still revs my memory–of course, the downside is that to get the full impact of Watts’s particular greatness in the film, one must be willing to sit through the entire movie, and that is easier (much, much, easier)  said than done.  Talk about impossible.

Thanks for your consideration….

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For Your Consideration: Beth Grant and Dale Dickey in Blues for Willadean

12 Nov

Well, if it’s November, and it is, Oscar season must also be upon us. Ben Affleck’s Argo is currently the most-buzzed about movie with Best Picture potential. Of course, that could all change as more and more prestige flicks are released. The Best Actor race is probably as competitive as it has ever been. As of right now, Affleck, Denzel Washington (Flight), John Hawkes (The Sessions), and Joaquin Phoenix (The Master) are virtually set to claim their slots among the final five; Daniel Day Lewis’s Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg, is open in a few markets and will expand soon.  Oh, and never mind about all that noise with Joaquin Phoenix making a big show about how he doesn’t want an Oscar and all that stuff.  You know, the Academy has been down that road already with among others, George C. Scott (Patton). Not only did the Academy award Scott the 1970 Best Actor trophy for Patton after the actor formally tried to withdraw from the race,  the very same Academy turned around and nominated him for The Hospital the very next year.  Ditto Marlon Brando. He famously sent “Sacheen Littlefeather” (the stage name of Native American actress Maria Cruz) to refuse his award for 1972’s The Godfather, yet one year later Brando was back in the race for Last Tango in Paris.  Speaking of Paris, Woody Allen just won his fourth Oscar even though he has snubbed the ceremonies for decades. Phoenix is in good company. Besides, the Academy’s official take has always been that it’s the performance (the script, the costume design, etc.) that’s being recognized–and not the person him/herself.

Left to Right: Dale Dickey, Beth Grant, and Octavia Spencer

On the other hand, there isn’t quite as much buzz swirling around Best Actress possibilities. Oh sure, Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Jennifer Lawrence (The Silver Linings Playbook), and Naomi Watts (The Impossible) are among the candidates, or potential candidates, profiled in a recent Entertainment Weekly feature, but their movies aren’t due in theatres for awhile. Of course, Lawrence also has the advantage of starring in one of the year’s biggest blockbusters, The Hunger Games.  Earlier this fall, previous nominees Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal co-starred in the fact-based Won’t Back Down, but that came and went in a flash. No Oscar buzz there. Meanwhile, I saw a movie a week or so ago  that serves as a stunning showcase for a pair of great character actresses. The movie is Blues for Willadean, written and directed by Texas native Del Shores, and it stars the great Beth Grant as the title character (more on her to follow). The cast is rounded out by the ever-reliable Dale Dickey, as the floozie of the trailer court where Willadean lives with her abusive husband (played by David Steen), and last year’s Best Supporting Actress winner Octavia Spencer as Willadean’s only true friend LaSonia (often called Lasagne); Debby Holiday also appears as a blues singer who more or less acts as a one woman Greek  chorus.  Even though Shores tries his best to make the latter interesting, it/she is a device that probably works best onstage than on film. Indeed, the film is based on Shores’s  play, The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife, but I digress. I also have issues with the phrase “trailer trash,” but I digress further still.

In the foreground, Del Shores (l) directs Beth Grant (r) on the set of Blues for Willadean. Besides, this latest offering and Sordid Lives, Shores’s other credits include Daddy’s Dyin’…Who’s Got the Will? The 1990 feature, directed by Jack Fisk from Shores’s screenplay, was filmed in Denton, TX. and starred Beverly D’Angelo, Beau Bridges, Keith Carradine, Tess Harper, Patrika Darbo, Judge Reinhold, and Amy Wright.

Shores, famous for, among others,  the cultishly popular Southern-fried gothic  Sordid Lives (first on stage, then screen, and, finally, a short-lived TV spinoff) does not break new ground with his latest project. Simply, Willadean and her husband  J.D. barely make ends meet, living in a trailer park in good ole Mesquite Texas (though the movie was actually filmed in Georgia).  J.D. is a truck driver who drinks too much and keeps Willadean on a short leash; he doesn’t want her to work, preferring to keep her in the role of full-time cook, housekeeper, and sexual conquest. (Partner would not be the most applicable word.)  Of course, J.D. drinks too much; of course, he’s also a nasty drunk; of course, he’s not too bright. He complains about not always having what he wants when he wants it, but he doesn’t seem to grasp the fact that all the money he spends on booze cuts into Willadean’s monthly household budget, a shortfall compounded by the fact that he doesn’t want his wife to contribute financially by working outside the home. J.D. resents Willadean for “trapping” him into marriage, thereby curtailing what he believed would be a brilliant career as a Dallas Cowboy.  Furthermore, he’s such an abusive bully (if that’s not redundant) that he has alienated both of his grown children, one of whom–the son–is clearly identified as a homosexual.  Again, Shores isn’t breaking new ground here. We’ve seen this “trope” more than once.

Willadean, on the other hand, is more interesting and more vivid than any summary might indicate.  She’s bright, fun-loving, and her feelings for her husband are complicated. She doesn’t love being abused, and she doesn’t even think she deserves her husband’s abuse, but on some level she still loves him in spite of all his faults. The years of abuse have taken their toll on her. “Relaxing” is something that doesn’t come easily for her. Sure, she’s at her best when she’s shooting the shit and watching Dr. Phil with her best friend, Lasagne, but, even then, she spends too much time either defending J.D. or avoiding the topic altogether; meanwhile, when J.D. comes home at night, Willadean is a model of forced gaiety though her attempts to appease her husband inevitably fail; nevertheless, she always holds on to the idea that things can and will get better. When J.D. storms out of the house, Willadean begs for his return because she feels lost without him however unlikely that might seem to an outsider, which is kind of the point. Dysfunction such as this never looks as awful from the inside out as it does from the outside looking in; however, eventually, Willadean finds the fortitude she needs to stick up for herself and find her own path though Shores refuses to make it easy for her.

^ The versatile Beth Grant, looking worlds removed from put upon Willadean.

Here’s the thing I love about Beth Grant in this movie.  She, Spencer, Dickey, and presumably Steen, have, reportedly, all been working with this material since Shores first wrote it–from workshop to stage to screen, and while the final result is still too nakedly a play (long, talky scenes  confined to one or two settings, almost always featuring only two characters), Grant’s performance hasn’t been thought out so much that it feels mechanical in any way. She’s so in-tune with what’s going on around her, acting and reacting, that everything seems spontaneous, and her closeups are devastating in their immediacy–nothing too overdone as would seem to be the case with a lot of performances that have been calibrated to reach the back row of a darkened playhouse.  On the other hand, the thing  I dislike is the same thing that made me twinge when I watched 2010 Best Actress nominee Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine: I just don’t think an actress should have to portray a woman repeatedly humiliated and debased in order to show that she is, in fact, capable of delivering an award caliber performance full of big emotions.

On the other hand, the role of a Willadean is a huge break for this hardworking actress who’s been plugging away, mostly in secondary roles on stage, screen, TV (including commercials) for years and years.  One of her most memorable film roles was as the snooty–officious–pageant official/judge in 2006 Best Picture nominee Little Miss Sunshine though she has also appeared in three Best Picture winners as well: Rain Man (1988), No Country for Old Men (2007),  and last year’s champ, The Artist.  Nice work if you can get it, right Beth? Interestingly, she is not included among the recipients of the Screen Actors Guild award winners  for either Little Miss Sunshine or No Country for Old Men even though both films won the “Best Ensemble” prize during the respective awards seasons. Among Grant’s many other credits are multiple appearances on The Golden Girls (not always as the same character). Of course, she was in both the screen and TV incarnations of Sordid Lives.  My point is that Grant is an actress who works as often as she does, in as many varied projects as she does, because she’s incredibly skilled. She can seemingly play any part no matter how big or small whether comic or dramatic. In spite of my reservations for the project in general, I’m glad Blues for Willadean gives Grant a chance to not only step into the spotlight–but to own the spotlight; moreover, I hope better and bigger roles come her way as a result, which could definitely happen if this movie generates even an inkling of awards buzz.

^ Dale Dickey holds the Independent Spirit award she won for her portrayal of a grisly mountain woman in 2010’s Winter’s Bone.

Almost as impressive as Grant is the one and only Dale Dickey, again, in the role of a trailer court floozie. Dickey, another Shores veteran, is the great character actress who put up one hell of a fight in the acting sweepstakes known as 2010 Best Picture candidate Winter’s Bone.  Sure, newbie star Jennifer Lawrence and mesmerizing vet John Hawkes scored Oscar nominations, and good for them, but Dickey gave a performance as a hardened mountain matriarch that was all nerves of steel. She even scored an Independent Spirit award for her efforts, a nice consolation prize of sorts since Dickey was not among that year’s Oscar nominees.  Whatever she was, her “Merab” was no wimp. No, and she would have a field day with the neurotic mess named Rayleen that Dickey plays in Willadean. It’s a credit to Dickey’s considerable skill that she earns laughs playing a character that audiences are prepared to hate as pathetic Rayleen strikes up an alliance, however tentative, with Willadean–and in the harrowing climax, when push seemingly literally comes to shove, Dickey just goes full-throttle, letting her emotions “rip” as if her character’s life depends on it–which, at that point, it probably does.

I don’t know what the status of Blues of Willadean is. The IMDb shows it as being in “post-production” rather than being in full-release mode, yet I saw the movie not as part of a random screening, but in its week-long engagement at a local cinema-complex.  As I recall, Shores was even on hand for some of the opening weekend festivities. On the other hand, a week isn’t much, and, to clarify, the movie was only promoted as a week long run, which to me indicates the run might have very well been a four-walled affair.  Four-walling, for those not so much-in-the-loop was a once staple of the movie biz, often a favorite of cheapie outfits looking for a quick profit. Rather than negotiate a percentage deal with exhibitors over a run of weeks or months, four-wallers simply rent the four walls of a theatre auditorium outright–for a specified limited run–and keep all the revenue themselves.  Of course, media saturation (print and TV ads) helps seal the deal, and, typically, the producer accomplishes this trick by hitting only one market at a time.  Keeps the overhead low. I’m pretty sure that William Castle, famous for gimmicky horror films such as The Tingler and the original 13 Ghosts in the 195os  and 1960s four-walled his films (per the book,  Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters).  Tim Burton’s take on Ed Wood also depicts four-walling as the z grade director latches on to one sleazy outfit after another.  Again, I can’t say for sure that the recent local run of Blues for Willadean was in fact a four-walled affair though that appears to be the case. To further clarify, this is not even an issue for me, not really. To me, this is just a sign that Shores is, at the very least, a shrewd independent filmmaker who is out there busting his hump, trying to help his movie find an audience, and there’s nothing wrong with that; after all, his Sordid Lives eventually developed a following (significant enough to make a TV spin-off seem like a viable proposition) without a lot of big movie studio machinery behind it;  for those less familiar, Sordid Lives, starring Bonnie Bedelia, Beau Bridges, Delta Burke, Olivia Newton John, and Leslie Jordan, among others, enjoyed a nice long run at the Highland Park Regent theater several years ago.

Blues for Willadean might be too fiercely idiosyncratic, too obviously the antithesis of popular or commercial filmmaking, to ever gain wide acceptance; it might even be too quirky, stagebound, and small-scale to find much favor with members of the Academy, but that does not mean that it’s not excellent in its own way, and that it’s not worthy of Oscar voters’ attention–and by that I mean the powerhouse performances of Beth Grant and Dale Dickey.  Maybe I’m not so far out of left field either. After all, Melissa Leo, who had long toiled in the biz without a lot of hype, broke through with the Academy, if not the mainstream, with 2008’s Frozen River, earning an Oscar nod for a gritty indie film about smuggling illegal aliens into the U.S. from Canada; two years later, Leo took home the Best Supporting Actress prize for the highly commercial The Fighter. I wish Shores all the best as he tries to market his film.

Oh, and speaking of Best Supporting Actresses,  I would be remiss if I did not write at least a line or two about Octavia Spencer, who filmed Blues for Willadean sometime between the release of The Help in the summer of 2011 and her subsequent Oscar victory earlier this year. Of course, she’s fine  as Willadean’s longtime bff though  “Lasagne”  lacks the color and excitement of Spencer’s  award winning Minnie with her game-changing chocolate pie; meanwhile, what about David Steen? Sure, he tries, but J.D. is a thankless role, and the odds are definitely against him in this company of formidable women.

Thanks for your consideration…

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