Thursday, January 9, 2014

A FEW CONTRARIAN NOTES ON THE CURRENT MOVIE AWARDS SEASON

During this season, entertainment news and movie websites are absolutely consumed with awards dissertation. Today, The Establishing Shot will be as well. And there will be more to come throughout these next few months. However, it seems to me that too many of the discussions are off-topic. Here then, are a contrarian’s thoughts on all the awards chatter.

The problem with THE WOLF OF WALL STREET isn’t the language, sexism or racism. It’s the movie's length.

Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoyed Martin Scorsese’s profane and provocative latest. And Leonardo DiCaprio may give his best performance ever in it. But why must every Scorsese film now come in at three hours? The story here is quite simple – Wall Street is full of immoral scumbags – so there’s no need for the excess of time. It’s not the language and vulgarity that is the overkill. If anything, it’s the clock.

The problem with New York Film Critics Circle provocateur Armond White isn't new. It's been enabled for years.

The NYFCC awards ceremony is not the place for White to express his differences of opinion regarding the winners chosen by the majority of his colleagues. If the divisive critic did indeed catcall director Steve McQueen upon his win for 12 YEARS A SLAVE, then such immaturity should get him thrown out of the circle. In fact, why didn’t the circle do so when he's made such outspoken statements at the ceremony in years past, like when he hosted?  


Jennifer Lawrence isn’t the big story in AMERICAN HUSTLE. Amy Adams is.

Grant you, Lawrence gives a hilariously strident performance as Christian Bale’s tempestuous wife, but it is Amy Adams as his lover that should be getting most of the accolades. As David Poland of MovieCityNews.com points out (http://bit.ly/1dA9jdN), “Amy Adams gave us a fully formed, adult, layered, likable, unlikable, sexy, broken, scared, fearless, powerful, loving, lying, needy, winning woman. And she deserves to win—not just to be nominated for—to win Best Actress this year… on the occasion of her fifth nomination.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. 


Bruce Dern is wonderful in NEBRASKA. But why isn’t there more talk about his co-star Will Forte?

Forte is the glue that subtly holds Alexander Payne’s film together. He’s moving, witty and just as heartbreaking in the role with the true arc in the story. Dern is fantastic, yes, and deserves all the acclaim he’s getting. But so does Forte, and my bet is the Academy won’t even remember to nominate him come Thursday, January 16. And that will be a shame.

12 YEARS A SLAVE shouldn’t be chastised for its portrayal of violence, it should be chastised for its lack of slave portrayals.

It's a good movie. And the violence is harrowing. But the more worthy criticism is in its failure to fill out the story with more characters of color. Other than lead Solomon Northup (Chiwotel Ejiofor), only two other slave characters register – the ones played by Lupita Nyong’o and Alfre Woodard. The rest of the black faces are mostly background ones and they're given no real screen time. Meanwhile, the white characters (played by Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, Brad Pitt and Garrett Dillahunt) dominate the supporting cast. Didn’t Solomon have relationships with more of his fellow slaves, and not jut slave owners, during those 12 years?


There are so many great performances in the Best Actor race, but why are Joaquin Phoenix and Christian Bale practically being considered also-rans?

Most critics and pundits are predicting Oscar will nominate Dern, Ejiofor, Matthew McConaughey, Robert Redford and Tom Hanks. But not Bale, who was a thousand miles from anything he’s ever done before in AMERICAN HUSTLE? And the resplendent Phoenix, who had to convince us of a man’s great love story with his computer while being the only actor on screen? This year, the Academy needs to make room for 8 nominees, including Leonardo DiCaprio too.

I’m hopeful Ellen DeGenerese will host a good show, but how big a role will the telecast make for special Academy honorees Steve Martin, Angela Lansbury and Angelina Jolie?

If you’ve seen the videos of their acceptance speeches at the special ceremony held this past November, you know that these articulate artists should get some valuable screen time come the main ceremony March 2. But I’ll bet the show’s producers clog the proceedings instead with superfluous dance numbers and painful Best Song production numbers that nobody really wants to see.

Why is AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY being advertised as a sweet family comedy when it’s one of the bitterest stories ever penned?

The ads with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts making heartfelt commentary about the story strikes me as utterly wrong, considering screenwriter Tracy Letts adapted his scathing Pulitzer Prize-winning play with most of the bile intact. (Sadly, he lopped off a good hour of his play, which strikes me as a mistake since it undercuts secondary character screen time for Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch and Dermot Mulroney.) No bones about it, this is a mean and nasty comedy. And it should be sold as such. 


Even with the T. Bone Burnett adapted musical score and moody cinematography, isn’t the greatest conceit in INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS really the script which makes the misanthropic musician and his tagalong cat one-in-the-same?

On the surface, the Coen Brothers’ latest is a dark, brooding road picture with a hard-to-like lead. But taken as a metaphor, it has a cheeky and buoyant flair while it chronicles the similar problems befalling both Llewyn and his feline companion Ulysses. Read this article by The Atlantic’s Tim Wainwright (http://bit.ly/1ck3jc2) and tell me it doesn’t paint the whole movie in a different light.


The buzz seems to be all around AMERICAN HUSTLE and 12 YEARS A SLAVE right now, but come Oscar ballot time, isn’t GRAVITY going to be looking like more of the true heavyweight? 

GRAVITY is the odds-on favorite to win the Oscars for visual effects, two sound awards, cinematography and original score. Plus, it’s one of the two leading contenders for the director award, the production design award, and Best Actress. If Academy voters give it five or more statues, wouldn’t it be logical for them to award the most prized film with the Best Picture Oscar too?

There could be some interesting surprises that could change much of the chatter come January 16 when the Oscar nominations will be announced. (An unexpected and well-deserved Best Actress nomination for Adele Excharchopoulos from BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR, perhaps?) Or will the nods merely reinforce the buzz that has been talked about for months. We shall see. So stay tuned here at The Establishing Shot for thoughts on what it all means. Contrarian or not.

3 comments:

  1. A lot of great points in your list! I wish the actors category was wider but seeing as an Academy Member told Scorcese he should be ashamed of himself for WOWS, I'm not sure if Leo has any chance of being nominated even if another person was scrapped from the ballot for his place.
    Definitely interested to see if Gravity gains more momentum as we get closer to the Oscars.
    I haven't seen Nebraska yet but from the trailers I'm surprised Forte has picked up some recognition.

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  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Katy! What did you think of the Oscar nominations?

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    1. I figured for some of the best picture nominees - all except Dallas Buyers Club. It hadn't earned nominations as a film except performances - that was a surprise over Saving Mr. Banks or August: Osage County. Several performances I haven't seen yet but I'm happy for Matthew/Leo mostly.

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