Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
Betsy Speicher

Academy Awards

2 posts in this topic


What are your opinions of this year's Academy Award contenders?


Thanks for your question. Here are some of my thoughts on some of the films that are nominated in various categories this year. Since there really isn’t the space here to do a proper analysis or review of any of these films, I offer this in the spirit of just sharing quick estimations of the films I have only seen once. With the exception of "Brokeback Mountain"—the film that will most assuredly win Best Picture—I am not going into any detail. Also, since I personally know some of the filmmakers whose films I am mentioning, I want to say that despite the fact that in some cases I did not care for the work at hand, I know them to be talented filmmakers in their own right. That being said, here’s what I have to offer:

This year, for me, I was haunted by the lines from "A Tale of Two Cities":

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way . . .”

Certainly, it was the best and worst of times when it came to a number of widely heralded films. "Brokeback Mountain" and "Capote" are the best examples of this. Both are technically superior, serious films that failed to move me very much, if at all. "Brokeback," an overblown, nicely acted, anything BUT love story, just did not ever add up for me as a movie. One reviewer, Jeffrey M. Anderson, in his review, “Molehills and ‘Mountain’,” put it this way:

“Virtually everything that has been written about Ang Lee's 'Brokeback Mountain' calls it a groundbreaking piece of work, mostly because it's the first film to marry the Western with a gay romance, but also because it comes at a time of great controversy for gay couples. Unfortunately, these honorable intentions are not enough to make 'Brokeback Mountain' a great movie, or even a good one. Though it may be a radical idea to combine two such opposing genres, the actual result ought to have some merit, and the movie is too tame and too clumsy to be worth much outside its 'groundbreaking' status…. Lee botches the all-important setup with his ham-fisted direction. Rather than using the mountainside itself as a physical, visual playground for the men's lust, Lee simply shoots a series of pretty postcards…. Lee instead aims for something mythic, along the lines of 'Titanic,' and fails to get at the basic, ground level human element. Since Lee has neglected to build erotic tension, the big sex scene lands flat. The boys simply jump on one another while spending a chilly night together in a beat-up tent. It's a rough, angry pounding, and it's more terrifying than it is romantic or erotic, as if Lee himself were afraid of the scene…. In 'Titanic,' the lovers occupied a cozy center spot within a large, historical disaster, and director James Cameron could further the story by juggling back and forth between the two. In Brokeback, Lee is plunged into a single storyline with no interesting background; he responds by hammering the same notes over and over…. Of course, these criticisms fly in the face of popular opinion; 'Brokeback Mountain' is a booby-trapped film, designed to appear like an Oscar winner, and to be viewed without question….”

In addition, after the initial mountain sequence ends, we're catapulted (very slowly!) into “skipping-stone” mode, with just the hairstyles, graying mustaches and poorly applied makeup to tell us how much time has passed. Despite the long running time (134 minutes), "Brokeback Mountain" can only manage to capture highlights and very few (and in my mind, essential) details of the lives of its characters. For instance, when Ennis cannot connect with his growing daughter, it means very little because we have no idea who she is as a character.

Ironically, for a film that is being touted by everyone as a great step forward in legitimizing gay relationships as a proper romantic choice for some people, it’s a film that never examines the urge to be gay, the personal experience of being gay, or whether the love between two men can and should be considered the same as the love between a man and a woman. Of course, these are not questions that the writer or the director are interested in. We already know their stand from the very outset. One reviewer (Fernando F. Croce) also stated that, “ …Lee can't tell the difference between criticizing oppression and turning out an oppressed work. The time-spanning narrative might as well have ended in 1982 with the release of "Making Love," because that's about how far back the movie sets gay cinema.”

However, for the sake of argument, let’s say that all the filmmakers really wanted to do was make a convincing love story between two characters that happen to be men. Even in that narrow context, what we are presented with is a bond that is, as far as we are shown, carnal at best. Never do we see any kind of “spiritual” connection between these two men. To be specific, the incidents that we are shown (and the emotions that are revealed in the scenes) leading up to the two men sleeping together, simply don’t make sense (which, incidentally, is also true of the short story upon which the movie is based). Nor did I understand why the characters are both able to (and clearly choose to) lie to themselves and to everyone they know. Ang Lee’s less-than-linear approach to revealing such important tidbits did not serve this story well in my mind. Another reviewer (David Poland) echoed my sentiments in this regard as well:

“My huge objection to this film is that it answers the questions it chooses to pose with great ease and alacrity. The harder questions are not far from the surface. And if this weren’t a gay romance, we would expect those questions to be answered…. The only circumstance that really stands in <the lead character’s> way is the fact that the film starts in 1963. Never mind that Stonewall took place in 1969 and this dusty duo is still whining about their tragic fate into the late 1970s. They are, after all, in the west. But for me, this dramatic excuse that seems to want to excuse the lack of choice made by these two very strong, very focused men, is a complete cop-out. If these men want to be together so badly, why not risk it? The West is, pointedly, the home of Matthew Sheppard and Brandon Teena. The threat of violence, not any of the moral issues of being in a marriage in which there is real love and tenderness or really considering one's person choices. In fact, I am a little shocked to think back to the idea that sexual preference is, for at least one of the characters, his central driver. The frustration for me as a viewer is that the movie doesn’t have the courage to really examine that issue. We do get the classic ‘he’s secretly gay, so he makes his wife flip over on her belly’ shtick. But is he demanding anal sex? What is it about the male-on-male sexual experience that has so bewitched these men? We don’t know because it’s all too precious to really discuss or even to explore in any meaningful verbal way. The more I think about the film, the more frustrating it gets. Jake Gylenhaal’s character, when off on his own, comes across a sexually aggressive woman. Great. How does this play into his secret life? Is she a willing partner at first and then turned off by more demands? Does their sex life tail off after she gives birth? Is it good but not enough...bad because it’s a girl? What is he looking for?…. And, damn it, lines like, 'You just don’t know how much I need it!' don’t turn the trick. And the argument that it is still a dangerous world for gay men even in big cities, but especially in rural areas, doesn’t make me feel like the story was well told, but more so that it would have been a real challenge and far more compelling to put this film in modern day. Do you think it is easy for men to come out now? Do you think cowboys like riding with gay counterparts now? My God, even after getting a divorce, one of the characters can’t move forward into this life. The last 15 minutes or so of the film does, in a quiet way, <try to> bring the perspective of the other characters into play... finally! But too little, too late.”

Ultimately, the film’s log line says it all: “Love is a force of nature.” Well, then, romantic love has now been reduced to a tornado watch or a deadly virus that spreads without the desire or ability to stop it. Lovely. Plus, all the political jargon we hear daily about the fact that this film has done what no other film has done is, frankly, a falsehood. Maurice did it much bigger and better almost twenty years ago. But in 1987, the timing was against that stronger, deeper, more passionately told gay love story. The world (i.e., the political landscape, audiences and the media machine) was just not ready for it. And that’s the way it goes in the film business.

As for "Capote"--a movie that never really gets off the ground for me--it is a film that comes off as a story told in “highlights,” with some eloquently shot details thrown in on occasion. Scenes always seem to start in the middle of something and end before they should. Too much happens off screen for my taste and we’re supposed to just “get” that Capote was incredibly funny, clever and tortured by his job writing “In Cold Blood.” While putting in a good "estimation" of Capote, I never really knew what was going on in Philip Seymour Hoffman’s head in any given scene. Catherine Keener was wasted (what, in fact, is she nominated for?). With the exception of the killer’s performance in the scene where he recounts the murders, nothing much resonated after the credits rolled.

"Mrs. Henderson Presents" is a choppy, bad attempt at telling a poignant story through one silly event after another. It came off as a never-engaging collection of hokey bits.

"King Kong" is a hodgepodge of some amazingly good and bad elements. I liked Kong, the score and some of the effects. Too long, too muddled (and generically anti-man in it’s message), it failed to make much more than a stirring statement for not bringing large, wild animals to the Broadway stage (I mean, what were they thinking?).

"Narnia" was extremely well done for the most part and an involving ride. Unfortunately, the pacing was a menace in some sections of the film (especially where the religious metaphors were being played out). Utilizing too many shots at certain moments and taking too long to get to the next important event sometimes slowed the momentum of the story and diluted the cinematic hold the film had on me. But, as a children's book come to life, I was impressed (albeit more than moved) by this big, lush movie.

I have not seen "Munich" or "Good Night and Good Luck."

As for some of the “best times” this year:

"Crash" is a riveting film and one that was, at first, difficult to watch. But once I got past the “impending violence” feeling of the initial scenes, I thought that this film had a lot to say about racial prejudice and the power of those convictions in the face of death. Everything from the cinematography to the score made this, I think, one of the best films of the year.

"Memoirs of a Geisha" is undoubtedly my favorite film experience of the year. One of the best written, acted, shot, and edited stories in a long while. Beautifully paced and directed. I did not read the book upon which it was based, so I cannot comment on whether it was successful as an adaptation. But as a movie experience, I cannot recommend it enough. I also thought the score worked magnificently with the visuals.

"Walk the Line" is a fine movie with some powerful and sharply drawn performances (Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon are stellar). Not a perfect film, it has a lot going for it (and that’s from someone who’s not a fan of Johnny Cash’s music). The father/son relationship was not resolved enough for me (and I don’t mean in terms of a happy ending). But the relationship between June Carter, Cash, and his addiction was movingly drawn. There is a terrific little speech delivered by Cash’s first producer (Sam Phillips) early on in the movie that was better than anything written this year.

"Constant Gardener" is another very well done film, with a complex script and a compelling story. Add in a stirring score, terrific cinematography, editing and great performances (especially by Rachel Weiz) and it’s a worthwhile experience.

"Transamerica" is a good story with some memorable performances. A little “chintzy” on the production side, overall I found this an interesting film with some very good acting. All in all, it’s a very satisfying little movie.



Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0