Saturday, February 21, 2015

Will the Academy Engage in Narcissistic Navel Gazing - Or Deliver A Real 'Best Picture' Award?

A recent article on by Andrew O'Herhir observed:

If “Birdman” wins best picture on Sunday – and that’s where the smart money is coming down – that would be, to quote the inestimable Mark Harris in Grantland, “the third time in four years that people who make movies have given top honors to a movie about people who make movies.” (In case you’ve forgotten, and if there is any mercy in heaven you probably have, the earlier examples are “The Artist” and “Argo.”)

Self-regarding movies about the greatness and craziness and triumph and tragedy of those who make movies have become the new Oscar norm, replacing the suddenly outdated Oscar norm of comic-sentimental British costume drama draped over anodyne messages. The producers of “The Theory of Everything” and “The Imitation Game,” a pair of pictures conspicuously molded to that old Oscar-bait template, evidently hadn’t gotten the memo.

REALLY? So I guess my take that 'Imitation Game' was a shoo -in, e.g.

was a bit premature. Well, that's too bad. Because if the Academy is now on a navel-gazing bender it is likely to discredit their choice of  'Best Picture' and demean it as a less than objective selection. Just reading the passage above ought to send off alarms that while you (in the movie business) can be forgiven awarding top honors to a movie about people who make movies - you can't make it a habit. We refer to this as "artistic incest."

The Academy, then, needs to be more serious in its take this year. While Keaton is a good actor, and 'Birdman' is probably worthy of top honors I say the Oscar ought to go to Richard Linklater's film 'Boyhood',  (certainly if  'Imitation Game' is out of the running.) Why 'Boyhood'? Let's start with being 12 years in the actual making - an uncommon achievement for any film nowadays. Imagine the editing alone that had to go into cutting those millions of hours of film down to 2 hours and 45 minutes. 

Watching the film (which we did on pay per view last week) was an experience in itself, seeing all the characters aging naturally - including female lead Patricia Arquette. The kids' characters also age by those 12 years and their experiences are melded seamlessly into the whole. The effort alone - not to mention the acting - is Oscar worthy.

I therefore tend to agree with O'Herhir when he writes:

I can’t get super exercised about “Birdman’s” likely victory, honestly. As Harris has noted, it speaks to a widely shared experience in Hollywood, the attempt to create something beautiful and meaningful that runs off the rails into the swamp. It’s “a movie about someone who hopes to create something as good as ‘Boyhood,’” a reading both barbed and generous, and right on the money.

So why give the top award to a 'wannabe good' flick as opposed to giving it to the actual article? It would make no sense at all. But from past choices (e.g. 'Hurt Locker' over 'Avatar' a few years ago - despite Cameron's film setting new cinematic standards) we know the members of the Academy aren't always committed to acting sensibly. Politics, as Harvey Weinstein noted in an interview on CBS Early Show a month ago, also plays a huge role - and who knows how many Academy members can be bought off at the last minute by sundry blandishments and perks? (Including extra $$$ in those 'swag bags')

Let us hope they are this time!

On another note, the Best Actor Oscar ought to go to Eddie Redmayne for his incredible portrayal of physicist Stephen Hawking in 'The Theory of Everything' which we saw last night. The performance, including meticulously manifesting every one of Hawking's movements (and speech) as he develops ALS, is as worthy of Oscar glory as Dustin Hoffman's portrayal of an autistic in 'Rain Man'. If Hoffman merited an Oscar for his performance, so does Redmayne now!

Footnote: After watching 'Birdman' my assessment stands as given. Way too much obsession with acting kitsch and one guy's drama in attaining (Broadway)acting perfection following the end of his Hollywood career. Too much navel gazing, in other words. Janice, in fact, was ready to ditch the viewing after barely a half hour - so tired did she become at the over the top acting rehearsals and 'character exploration' rituals. The ending was also way too esoteric, and some of the scenes with Riggan flying around Manhattan (with his 'Birdman' persona) absoluotely surreal, like out of some LSD'ers bad dream. 

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