"Now Listen to Me..."
Just some thoughts on current happenings:
Like most of you reading this, I watched the Academy Awards. In correctly guessing the winning results, it helps to know that the different branches of Academy members exclusively vote for the nominations in each of their categories. Everyone (in all categories) votes for the winners, potentially turning them into a popularity contest. This made 2013's envelope opening outcome fairly predictable. Summed up, Gravity received almost everything except in acting and the big important subject matter award.
12 Years a Slave, the Best Picture winner, is one of the few current movies I've seen.
There's no denying the importance of its subject or the quality of the direction, especially in achieving a perfect balance of harsh realism with a subtle and mature perspective. This keeps the less sensational narrative flowing smoothly (something that sets it apart from Richard Fleischer's Mandingo and Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained). 12 Years a Slave has, however, some glaring weaknesses. I wish more filmmakers who take on a true story would understand that these are much harder stories to tell, not easier. Instead, many rely on the truth of the events to substitute for character and story development. They fail to realize that these fact-based stories can have a dramatically stifling effect on the artist's creative ability to tell them. Aside from what little the straightforward premise allows, how much do we really know (or learn) about our central character who spent 12 years as a slave? Wouldn't any of us (black, white or whatever) pretty much react the same way if we found ourselves in similar circumstances? The scenes of Northup's prior upper-class background have a sort of lifeless, commonality about them including his final family reunion. And while they do offer a stark contrast to his experiences as a slave, that's about it. More skillful storytellers would have provided a stronger individual identity to these scenes of our central character's past. There also seems to be a fundamental flaw in the construct of this particular true story: Since Northup is not in his way supposed to be a slave, should we feel more sympathy for him compared to the others who, what?... Are supposed to be there? Lastly, there isn't a lot of gray in this film. Were white people really that kind and unprejudiced to Solomon in the North? In one scene, slave owner Edwin Epps (effectively portrayed by Michael Fassbender) demonstrates a strong personal attraction toward his slave Patsey (Academy Award winning Lupita Nyong'o) suggestive of his character's complexity. This idea, however, is disappointingly absent in, and therefore contradicted by, each of their following scenes together. What's Brad Pitt's Bass doing there anyway? He seems too good to be true like he wandered in from another film. Solomon leaving Patsey behind is realistically forceful but why do the storytellers have to abandon her as well? Her's was the far more distinctive character, driven to attempt suicide no less. Plus we aren't constantly reminded she's there by mistake. The issue is not whether one was born under more privileged circumstances, but the abhorrent and inhumane practice of slavery itself. The reasons for which are here left under-explored about a practice that was shamefully allowed to continue far beyond 12 years.
I also saw Blue Jasmine.
I think anyone who did knew Cate Blanchett would win regardless of what the others accomplished. It's the part. She's the whole motion picture and she's riveting, but I think the subject matter and other characters are made proportionately less significant. Besides, this kind of story was better told by John Cassavetes in A Woman Under the Influence. Blue Jasmine, by comparison, contained too many sadly predictable outcomes and repetitive personality traits that instead of endearing us to, or providing an understanding of, their characters, just became progressively annoying.
The other films nominated I haven't seen yet.
As to the show itself, I thought Ellen DeGeneres was (aside from an uncharacteristically misjudged remark to Liza Minelli) pretty amusing and a good host, but for my taste too nice and safe. She also spent way too much time with the twitter "selfie" and pizza bits.
Lastly on the In Memoriam segment (this is very important to me and has been over the years), I applaud the non-singing choice during the resulting classier segment and certainly didn't mind it happening afterwards. It also seemed like this year's montage was done in a comparatively simple and elegant style allowing for more people to be honoured. My own research on the subject of movie industry deaths, which started last year and continues, accounted for well over 100 departures indicating that the 47 included numbered less than half of those lost to us. Imagine that segment at more than double its length and perhaps some, including myself, can be a little more forgiving that many of those special to us were left out. Having said that, Bryan Forbes, Audrey Totter, Russell Johnson and Nigel Davenport are a few omissions I wouldn't have allowed to occur.
The recommended video release of the month is The Swimmer (Hidden Gem #1) on Blu-ray. To order from Amazon simply click on the image to the right:
The recommendation for those enjoying the Turner Classic Movies channel in the U.S. this March is Brief Encounter, one of cinema's greatest romance treasures which I will have more on soon. It is scheduled to air on TCM Tuesday, March 25 at 3:00am PST... (well perhaps you can record it).