Friday, February 20, 2009

Finding a Silver Lining. The Oscar Symposium Wrap

On Day One of the annual Film Experience Oscar Symposium we grouched about the dull Best Picture race but got excited about Best Actor. By the time we hit Day Two we were deep in the doldrums of Oscar's unimaginative comfort zones, the lack of cocktail chatter movies as great as 2007's critical champs, and the public's disinterest in non-escapist fare. Will things ever change? Is the celluloid sky falling? So on Day Three we used "Poppy" (Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky) as avatar to guide us out of our despair.

When you're done reading, by all means return to the comments. Tell us your silver lining about this year's Oscar race, whoever wins or loses on Sunday night.


Noecito said...

My silver lining this year is that i'm watching the live oscars for the first time.
Besides a lot of nominated movies have moved me inside.
What more can you expect of movies?

Karl said...

The brightest silver lining for me is the pile of nominations for Milk -- I was really never sure this would happen (especially best picture). The film may walk away empty handed, which would be terrible, but even to have made this much of an impression gives me a lot of Harvey-style hope. I'm happy too for some of the unlikely first-time acting nominees like Melissa Leo and Richard Jenkins, whose inclusion proves that its still possible to break through the Hollywood smog. I agree with the symposiumista who was happy for the chance to talk about and debate all things cinematic -- the Oscars still give filmlovers a focus for a "season," and for that I'm glad.

John T said...

My silver linings:

1. Winslet will have an Oscar-how many decades have we been waiting for this? And a silver lining within a silver lining-if she loses again, it won't be to lesser performances like Hunt's, Connelly's or Swank's, but to talented thesps like Hathaway, Streep, or Leo.

2. Not Oscar-related, but I just want to say how ecstatic I am that my three favorite perfs of the year (Winslet in Reader, Ledger, and Farrell) all picked up Globes. Farrell in paticular, was so ridiculously wonderful in In Bruges (which may be one of the few movies this year that improves with every viewing).

3. Completely random, but Kevin O'Connell is making Public Enemies next year, and I think that means he'll have another shot at a trophy. I secretly hope with brilliant backstage talent that they will eventually get some sort of a standing ovation (seriously, hasn't someone like Thelma Schoonmaker and Colleen Atwood influenced your cinematic history as much as those directors and actors we adore?), but I think it's going to take someone with O'Connell's personal Oscar story to nab that standing ovation.

Terry said...

I'm all for Ed's suggestion to all support the off-beat performances and films... starting with Pheonix in Two Lovers. The support may be there but I wonder if the release date is too early... we need to be committed to backing these films and performances all year long!!!

Liz said...

Completely off-topic, but has anybody heard of the new Richard Curtis comedy that puts Emma Thompson AND Kenneth Branagh in the same film!?!

Bill Nighy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Nick Frost, Tom Sturridge, Gemma Arterton all star. How comes i've never heard of this film before?

Kent said...

Two questions:

1) How is Mickey Rourke going to win Best Actor? I'm still can't figure it out.

2) Why so much Slumdog love in almost all of its categories? It doesn't seem like a sweeper to me.

Please explain...

Katey said...

I think of nominations for people like Viola Davis, Melissa Leo and Taraji P. Henson, who will be able to parlay these nods into even better roles that show off even more of their talent. Call it the Amy Ryan effect. Meaning, of course, that all of these women will go on to play Michael Scott's girlfriend, and we'll love it.


Katey... is this an Office reference? (I had to look it up. I am ashamed!)

Kent ... good questions.

Rourke is just about the buzz. It's so loud as to be deafening. The statistics are just as kind to Sean Penn (maybe even kinder what with the biopic factor and all) As for SLUMDOG i think it's rather an obvious sweeper (it might miss one or two but anything less than 7 Oscars would surprise me at this point).

It's guild streak of wins is unprecedented (it's literally won them all... including costume design and sound) and when people love a movie that much they don't really stop to consider what it's "best" at. They just think of it as "best" period.

Janice said...

I think it's interesting how the symposium started with a discussion of how it's not been a bad year for movies, just the nominated ones, and ended with cries of american cinema is dying! Nonsense. the Oscars may be beside the point but they have been for years (last year being an exception). It's not the cinema that's dying, it's the Oscars themselves.

It seems to me that in the 1970's, after the death of the studio system (which at the very least insured that everyone got a chance to see the same films, even if they stifled creativity and alternative voices) there was a rise in "adult" filmmaking, then Jaws and Star Wars started the blockbuster era (which can't be blamed on the filmmakers as much as the studios); the 1980's seems to me like a bit of a wasteland, until the renewed rise of the "indie" movement and, yes, Miramax. (Yes there was a time when the Weinsteins were a very good thing, and some of the films they distributed raised the bar for moviegoing as I recall.)

Now we seem to be back in a slump again - at least the Oscars are, with safely boring middlebrow fare that matters to almost no one. Meanwhile filmmaking is as interesting as ever, judging by the conversations the last twelve months. Let's not let one awards show skew our perspective on that.

the thing that has really changed of course is that experiencing movies en masse, in a crowd, disappeared decades ago. Tastes have really fractured and there's something for everyone - and I do blame audiences for fitting themselves into niches and not reaching outside their comfort zone. (And I take "fanboys" to task for this esp - women, or devoted cineastes like Nat, etc - are more likely to see Sex and the City AND TDK, but not the other way around.) And to studios for taking advantage of this and encouraging niche thinking and niche behavior.

That said, we can watch films on the internet, on DVD, we can rent at the library, Netflicks, we can subscribe to the Film Movement and get indie films. I think I agree with Nathaniel that the people who write about films - both the "amateur" bloggers and the "professional" critics need to take more chances, to write about and champion films they really love, and to not forget about those early year favorites in the December glut.

And although funding the next year or two will be harder to come by, the technology gets smaller, lighter and cheaper and film-making is becoming a possibility for more and more people. That's something to be celebrated, I think, even if we have to accept the drek with the diamonds.

I also agree with Katrina and what she implies about a subtle sexism in the way AMPAS votes. I also agree that AMPAS doesn't snub all genres, just certain ones as we all well know. (Time to give the Holocost a rest, perhaps? Pick another war or atrocity? History is filled with them.)

Oh, and thank you for answering my question on the Slumdog/Moulin Rouge comparison, Nathaniel - it made my day, seriously.

The Know Nothing Know It All said...

My silver lining is uncertainty in 3/4 acting categories. When was the last time it was this contentious, especially in lead? 2001 (Berry/Washington) is the most recent example I can think of when neither lead actress NOR lead actor were set in stone. Usually in the lead categories, there's a clear frontrunner in one (or both).
Best actor is a tight race between two very worthy contenders.
Best actress will likely crown Winslet, which would be great because she's overdue. But I could still see Streep winning. Hathaway, not so much (how many people really saw "Rachel Getting Married" if it only managed one nom?) Also, there are rumblings of a Melissa Leo upset, which I don't think is going to happen, but is more likely than Hathaway winning simply due to the semi-surprise corresponding screenplay nomination for "Frozen River." But that doesn't even guarantee a win for frontrunners. Ask Julie Christie.

gabrieloak said...

Karina's incessant pimping of everything Wrestler makes me hope it wins nothing on Sunday.

I am not entering an Oscar pool due to the cancellation of my yearly Oscar party due to my friends' parental fatigue so I have no pressure at all to pick who will win this year. This is a refreshing way to watch the Oscars this year. As long as Hugh keeps taking off his clothes while singing and dancing I'll be happy.

Kamikaze Camel said...

My silver lining is the two noms for Frozen River and the generally "quite excellent" acting categories. Give or take a Taraji Henson and a Brangelina, they're pretty much all stellar.

Arkaan said...

Silver lining?

1. We had a year where we got exceptional films from international auteurs (Reygdas, Akin, Techine, Cantet, Honore). We had some old pros return to the forefront (Demme, Stanton, van Sant). For that I'm happy. We had to huge hits that were also classics of their form (WALL.E; The Dark Knight)

2. We had a year of optimist: whether hard-fought (Rachel Getting Married), complex and difficult (Happy-Go-Lucky), or just plain joyous (Slumdog Millionaire, WALL.E).

3. What Janice said. What movies are losing now is the communal feeling. When I go to a film and I'm paying ten or twelve dollars, I don't like seeing commercials (trailers excluded, obviously). I don't like dealing with jackasses who let their cell phones ringing, talking (I had people during a Slumdog viewing who were debating the answers to the questions before Jamal responded. Sweet fucking christ, you'd think it was an audition to the show for them). So when, if I think I'll like the film, it's two movie tickets to actually just up-and-up buy the film....

But we're also dealing with a time when distractions are greater. Television combines the great elements of fiction (the possibility of rich detail, expanded storytelling over months and years) and films (the physical detail), while providing the second (or third) act for so many great performers. Then there's video games, the internet, etc etc.

Then there's the audience, and yes, let's be honest - we're dumber. There once was a time when Last Tango in Paris was actually a major hit. It's modern equivalents take in less than a third of what it made.

Will it improve? Who knows.

Carl said...

The silver lining for me is twofold. First, "The Reader" coming up with six nominations was a pleasant surprise, as it was one of my favorites, on reflection, in 2008. Second, that the actual races do not appear to harbor any upsets that will cause folks to tear their shirts in mourning. The angst over "Crash" is somthing I am happy to see not repeat.