Thoughts on the Oscars

oscars-620x349Jokes about Presidential assassinations are never funny, ever. Blithely asking after a crass, inept joke, “Too soon?” makes a tasteless joke even worse.

Seth McFarlane was mediocre at best. The Oscars are for people who love film, not to garner ratings. Let’s be honest about that for a change. If you want ratings, watch “Two and a Half Men.” There are far more boob jokes there if that’s what people need. The show should be a celebration of film and all who toil in it – everyone. And it should be a class act.

The Oscars set was beautiful. Whoever designed it did a masterful job of making it nearly 3-D in some moments on our 2-D set we were watching. Unbelievable.

Ang Lee’s win seemed like a default because Ben Affleck wasn’t nominated. In some respects, maybe they should have just left this category unrewarded if they’re not going to nominate the director of the Best Picture winner.

I liked Life of Pi, I really, really liked it, but it was a film more about the amazing use of CGI and the brilliance of those artists and storytellers than that of narrative film, which Ang Lee dropped the boat on (pun intended) when he decided to bookend Life of Pi with where the main character is today.

Best Cinematography should have gone to Roger Deakins for Skyfall. Life of Pi was all about CGI, Skyfall was all about marrying beautiful and thoughtful imagery from what was placed before the camera when shooting to match the storyline.

While we’re on this subject, drowning out the Visual Effects winners with the Jaws theme was really dumb. Maybe the orchestra shouldn’t have been down the street in the Capitol building with just their headphones on.

Emmanuelle Riva should have walked off with Best Actress. She was brilliant in Amour.

Best Supporting Actor should have gone to Phillip Seymour Hoffman who gave a master class in acting in The Master (again, pun intended).

Adapted Screenplay should have gone to Lincoln. There was no more literate and poetic script written this year and Tony Kushner was robbed. Argo was good, but it was no Lincoln. However, it was a great year for writers and that just makes my heart sing.

A salute to the losers at the end of the telecast was wrong-headed and tasteless. Why not beat them with a stick on their way out as well? Extremely unfunny.

It was nice to see the entire cast and chorus from Les Miserables sing so we didn’t have to listen to many of the actors from the film try to sing again for very long.

Finally, The Oscars are NOT The Tonys. I have a special place in my heart for both shows – I just don’t like to see them blended together into a bad stew.

This year, I’m going to let my hair grow out and then color it blonde. I may have a chance at winning next year!

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Best Films of the Year: 2012

hr_The_Perks_of_Being_a_Wallflower_8-560x827Here’s my movie round up for 2012, which was a far better year for film than last year.

1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Total surprise here, but this was a movie that was filled with memorable performances from a young cast including Emily Watson, Ezra Miller, and in particular, Logan Lerman. This movie was unsettling, incredibly moving, and will sadly be left in the dust during Oscar time.

2. Lincoln – I saw Lincoln twice in a weekend just to listen to the words from Tony Kushner’s literate screenplay and the extraordinary actors who gave them their due. Not too often do we get to revel in language on screen, and Spielberg managed to get himself out of the way and keep the camera still.

3. Beasts of the Southern Wild – An amazing blend of raw acting, locale, story and myth told with such sensitivity that, at the end, was a wonder to watch. I loved the father, the girl, and especially the scene when she reaches the bar and navigates through a maze of people the world has left behind and forgotten. An extraordinary achievement.

4. Zero Dark Thirty – A hard-core piece of film-making for sure and even though you know what happens at the end, you are still on the edge of your seat all the way through. The torture scenes are very difficult to sit through, but I found myself moved by how unjust torture, for any reason, is. Jessica Chastain should win the Oscar for this performance, and the many others she had last year.

5. Magic Mike – What could have been just another sex-ploitation romp through the world of strippers became fun and riveting due to the story, and Matthew McConaughey’s performance in which he just lets it all hang out. You have to hand it to Channing Tatum as well for anchoring the film with an understated performance.

6. Argo – Ben Affleck’s riveting film of the Iran Hostage crises, which manages to be funny, sad and surprising given the storyline. Performances are terrific throughout, but it’s the recreation of the seventies milieu that was a resounding success. This should win for Art Direction in my book.

7. The Master – While the film as a whole was ultimately unsatisfying, the performances, cinematography and compelling story made it highly watchable and engrossing. Unfortunately, I have to find someone to care for in a movie, and in this one, most everyone was a mess on some level and certainly unlikable. You have to hand it to PT Anderson, however, for his sheer nerve and willingness to go there.

8. Silver Linings Playbook – Jennifer Lawrence steals the picture just barely from Robert De Niro who gives his best performance in years. Speaking of messes, everyone is a mess in this movie, but they’re entertaining in their messiness, and the final scenes at the dance contest are terrific. Kudos to David O. Russell for crafting a fine film and turning romantic comedy on its head.

9. Cloud Atlas – A huge disappointment at the box office, but I predict that this film will become a cult classic as people engage with it on a personal level. Very theatrical in its devices, and very much a roller coaster ride through time. I loved the ride.

10. Life of Pi – For one, I want to congratulate the CGI Tiger creators who did amazing work on bringing to life this story for film – and kudos, once again, to Ang Lee for making the unbelievable believable again. I wish he’d left out the bookends because they were superfluous to the film, but everything in the middle was absolutely beautiful to watch.

Biggest disappointments for 2012 for me were Les Miserables, The Hobbit and Brave.

To The Wonder: Terrence Malick

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Wow. Terrence Malick’s new film, To The Wonder is screening at The Venice Film Festival. Two of my favorite directors in one weekend with new films. I wish I could hop a plane to Europe!

There are two films that were very important to me in my life, and remain at the top of my list: Days of Heaven and The Deer Hunter. I saw them both in 1978, my senior year in high school. Films have been imprinted on my brain ever since.

I’d never seen a narrative film told visually, with hardly any dialogue up until then, and I realized what cinema was supposed to achieve. The cinematography by Nestor Almendros (and finished by Vilmos Zsigmond) is captivating in its use of natural light. Never before had I seen nature, or a house, or even a locust used as another character.

The fire and storm of love between the three adult characters is matched by the prairie fire towards the end of the film. What little dialogue there is falls to the haunting voice of Linda Manz, a young girl who bears witness and tries to make sense of all that has happened in her short time on earth. Her voice-overs are illumined by a deeper understanding of life lived, even for one so young as she.

Days of Heaven was sadly the last film for twenty years for Terrence Malick and his legion of film geeks and followers. I’m included in the former. I saw The Thin Red Line with a USC Film Professor, who on our way out of the theatre said, “That’s the film Steven Spielberg wishes he could make,” given that Saving Private Ryan had been released in the same time period. I agreed, simply for the fact of the prologue among the villagers that set up the thesis for the entire film.

The Tree of Life (apparently there is a six-hour (!) cut, which I’d happily sit through) seemed truncated to me. There were brilliant passages, gorgeous cinematography (again), but something was missing, and that was Sean Penn’s connection to the flashbacks. I wanted to see his story, and how he’d navigated his life following his family’s life, and the loss of his brother. I wanted to see how nature versus grace manifested in his life.

I’m looking forward to Terrence Malick’s sudden burst of film-making. Knight of Cups is next on the horizon and another one, apparently. But I’m looking forward to To The Wonder, and to see how he defines and discovers love.