Archive | February, 2016

Behold the Thaw…

27 Feb

Hello. Even I wondered if I would ever write again. The enormity of loss suffered by my family in less than two years (one after another) took its toll on my ability to think about movies or writing for pleasure in a way that I could not have imagined.

The grip on my ability to function comfortably in this forum began last year just as the Oscar race hit its stride; after that, I witnessed a loved one’s downward spiral that monopolized much of my free-time and immobilized me to the point of despair though I still found occasional escape at the movies. More than once in the past year, I have contemplated posting something new, but, somehow, I always talked myself out of it. Then, in November, I realized I needed to stop fighting a need to rest and take care of myself. I thought I’d be back in form by the time the Academy announced this year’s nominees, but, wait, I realized I didn’t have much interest in this year’s outcome. Oh, I think some of the movies are just fine, but almost none of them inspire me, not the way Oscar nominees and winners have in the past. (Plus, I was and still am mystified about all the hoopla surrounding last year’s Best Pic, Birdman.)

Then, of course, there’s the matter of the Oscars and diversity. Oh dear. What to do? As has been  quoted elsewhere, the Academy’s membership is overwhelmingly white, male, and over the age of 60. This isn’t good for any of us. I think, right now, we all need a break from the Oscars, but I can’t speak for everyone, so I will only speak for myself. I still need to regroup before I throw myself back into the Oscar game full-force. I’m not boycotting, per se, but won’t watch just to watch.

That noted, I have some faves…. such as Bridge of Spies for Best Picture and Mark Rylance for Best Supporting Actor. The former has almost no chance of winning, and Rylance is waiting in the wings if Sylvester Stallone (Creed) runs out of gas in the last lap. Oh, I get it. My choice of Bridge of Spies for Best Pic dates me. It’s an old-school contender, but it works on almost every level, always a plus. Smooth, beautiful, meticulous. Of course, I’m sucker for a intricate Cold War thriller, especially when it’s based on a true story, such as this one. I liked it so much that even Tom Hanks wasn’t a distraction, For me, he’s been a deal-breaker for years, ever since Da Vinci Code. I also like Room and Spotlight, but Bridge of Spies would still be my top pick if I were voting.  (Meanwhile, I skipped Creed because I’m not willing to fork over good money to stare at Stallone’s reconstituted mug on a  40 foot screen.) Also, congratulations to Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight) on his third Best Supporting Actor nomination.

The nominations for Carol are good news as well, especially Cate Blanchett (Best Actress) and Rooney Mara (Best Supporting Actress) though, of course, both women are really worthy of Best Actress consideration. The decision to demote Mara, the less established of the two, to supporting status as a way of hedging bets is tiresome and one of the reasons Oscar is losing credibility. Another reason for me to skip this year’s ceremony.

Of course, the real find among the Best Actress candidates is Brie Larson, of Room, the likely frontrunner and good for her. I want to add a few more words about Room. If you are not familiar, and I’m sure most American moviegoers are not, Room, based on the novel by Emma Donoghue (who also wrote the screenplay), tells the story of a young woman who survives a teenage kidnapping while also raising her son, all within the confines of her kidnapper’s hidden lair, the “room” of the title. Though comparisons to the Jaycee Lee Dugard kidnapping are hard to dismiss, this Room is a fiction. What I love about this movie, and I applaud Best Director nominee Lenny Abrahamson, is the challenge of telling a story in a visually compelling way given the constraints of confining the bulk of the action to a single set AND working with a child actor, one who appears on screen almost every single second. For me, this is by far a greater accomplishment than, say, filming a wilderness epic, such as The Revenant, in which nature provides a vast, seemingly endless backdrop for one magnificent shot after another. Of course, to be fair, working in the bitter freezing cold is no picnic, but the Oscars are not necessarily an endurance contest, are they?

Meanwhile, cheers to Jennifer Lawrence for her slam-dunk in the truly inspirational Joy, as real-life entrepreneur Joy Mangano. For those who are counting, this is Lawrence’s fourth nomination–third in this category–in five years, but she just won three years ago; meanwhile, I wish I could extend hearty congratulations to Charlotte Rampling for snagging her first nomination in a most erratic career, stretching all the way back to the 1960s, but my early enthusiasm has soured into skepticism. Never a household name, at least not in this country, Rampling has certainly been a beguiling presence in all kinds of films in a variety of genres, some more successful than others. She makes a great smoky femme fatale in the right vehicle. Her 45 Years, in which a longtime married couple grapples–at last–with ghosts of the past, is earnest to the point of being dull. Dull in a way that only dull British films can be dull. Worse, in a year in which much attention has been paid to the Academy’s overwhelmingly “white” taste, Rampling stumbled when she spouted ill-advised comments about reverse racism or some such nonsense–remarks that she has since tried to qualify or clarify, but who’s listening? No one, I presume. For a real kick, skip 45 Years and dive into Swimming Pool, a French-English production, a sexy, spine tingling mystery, from 2003. Rampling earned Best Actress nods for both the Cesar and European Film awards for that one.

I have no preference for Best Actor. I didn’t love Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant, but I don’t necessarily begrudge him an Oscar either. His almost assured victory will make many people happy, so I’ll be happy for them though I’ll be glad when we see actors acting with other actors rather than in a vacuum. Among the other nominees, I wished I liked Bryan Cranston more as Dalton Trumbo, but his performance, though admirable, didn’t capture my imagination the way we like to think Oscar winners should.

On the other hand, little Jacob Tremblay, all of nine years old, NOW, should be in this race for his blisteringly good performance as Larson’s son in Room, a little guy who experiences a whirlwind of emotions as everything he’s known in his five brief years, his stability and security, is ripped from him in ways he can barely comprehend. He was originally considered a Best Actor shoo-in though I’m surprised that, per Rooney Mara, a Best Supporting Actor nomination didn’t manifest as compensation for what would have been a longshot in the leading category, anyway. True, Best Supporting Actor would have been a letdown–and dishonest as well. Still, it’s interesting to note that yet again, as has been noted in the past, the Academy seems much more receptive to child actresses than to child actors, per the nominations for Kiesha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider, 2003) and Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild, 2012). 

In the Best Supporting Actress race, kudos to the Academy for finally, FINALLY, recognizing the great, great, great Jennifer Jason Leigh–for Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight.  The actress who rose to challenge after challenge during the 80s and most of the 90s in the likes of Miami Blues, Last Exit to Brooklyn, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, Georgia, and Washington Square, without a single nod from the Academy, even with scads of other accolades along the way, has finally found herself on Oscar’s shortlist. Ah, the magic of Tarantino strikes again. Alas, I don’t see a win in  Leigh’s immediate future, what with most of the buzz divided between Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs), Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl–also splendid in multi-nominated Ex-Machina) and the aforementioned Mara. Oh, and a shout-out to Rachel McAdams, snagging her first nod for Spotlight.

Personally, if I were voting, I’d have been hard pressed to ignore the great Helen Mirren as Best Supporting Actress, going for the gusto in Trumbo,  all the while immaculately styled and coiffed as legendarily snippy, jingoistic, and ruthless Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, as famous for her poison pen as for her love of hats. Of course, Mirren already has an Oscar, for 2006’s The Queen–as does, for that matter, Winslet (2008’s The Reader)–but my guess is this year, Mirren might have been too good for her own good, what with another acclaimed performance–leading, not supporting–in The Woman in Gold. Maybe voters were just overwhelmed, and Mirren split votes with herself. On the other hand, performers have been known to snag dual nominations in one year. Along that same line, I could have easily imagined Cate Blanchett as a Best Supporting Actress nominee for her richly nuanced turn as Lady Tremain, the so-called Wicked Stepmother in Kenneth Branagh’s lavish, live action adaptation of Cinderella.

And that brings me to the only entry in the only category in which I have any emotional investment–okay, besides Inside Out for the animated feature award. At any rate, I am rooting, whole-heartedly, for costume designer Sandy Powell, the costuming genius behind Cinderella. It’s easy, for the uninitiated, perhaps, to write Cinderella–and Powell’s work in it–as just a pretty princess fantasy, but that’s almost too easy as Powell’s designs, intricate and multitudinous as they are, actually help tell, and even sell, this particular story, which is very much character driven, and that’s where Powell excels, everything from the stepmother’s drop dead 1940s femme fatale inspired wardrobe to the splashy cleverness of the step-sisters’ wild outfits to the finery worn by the prince and his officers. Then, of course, there’s that lavish ball gown, possibly the most luxurious costume of its type since Irene Sharaff’s spectacular creations for Deborah Kerr in The King and I. Oh, and Sharaff won in her category that year (1956-57). Then, if all that weren’t enough, Powell tops herself with the floral splendor that is Cinderella’s wedding dress.

A year ago, just as Cinderella was hitting screens, Powell seemed like a slam dunk for this year’s trophy. Of course, Powell is already a three-time champ, most recently for Young Victoria but also The Aviator and Shakespeare in Love.   She’s been nominated a dozen or so times, beginning with 1993’s Orlando (a standout), followed by 1997’s The Wings of the Dove. When she won for Shakespeare in Love, she was simultaneously nominated for The Velvet Goldmine, a fictional recreation of the 1970s glam-rock movement. Coincidentally, Powell is also competing against herself again this year, thanks to her work in Carol, a 1950s period picture that looks every bit as luxe as anything presented by producer Ross Hunter and/or director Douglas Sirk during the same era. Think Magnificent Obsession, All that Heaven Allows, or Imitation of Life–maybe even the non Hunter-Sirk The Best of Everything. Some prognosticators believe Powell is more likely to win for Carol, and that’s okay, I guess, but Cinderella, with costumes produced and/or supervised for hundreds of extras, may very well be the greater achievement. I’m sure Hollywood’s legendary costume designers would approve, beginning with grand champ Edith Head and on to Dorothy Jeakins (Oscar’s very first award winning costumer), the aforementioned Irene Sharaff, along with Jean Louis, Walter Plunkett, Orry-Kelly, and Adrian, natch. I’ll be ecstatic if Powell wins for Cinderella, but I’ll likely cheer if she wins for Carol as well. And why not? Carol is fabulous. That noted, I’m not in a mood to bet against the likes of The Revenant or the Mad Max movie.

All of that is fine and well, but I’m actually going to do something novel on Oscar day. I’m going to go see one of the nominated flicks, and that would be Brooklyn, up for Best Picture, Best Actress (Saoirse Ronan), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Nick Hornby). No, I haven’t seen all of this year’s nominees though I have seen quite a few; however, this is one offering that I truly wanted to see but just haven’t caught up with yet. Now, I have a chance, and I’ll catch up with the winners later.

Let the thaw begin!

Thanks for your consideration…

Powell at Variety.com

Powell in People

 

 

 

 

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