OSCARS recap (2015)

February 23, 2015

oscars6 Greetings again from the darkness. “Stay weird and stay different” is the main takeaway from this year’s Oscars presentation. Not only was that the heartfelt and emotional plea to kids made by Adapted Screenplay winner Graham Moore (The Imitation Game), but it also describes Best Picture winner Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

The Academy seems to suffer from a multiple personality disorder in trying to decide what to do with the ceremony. Is it a formal and dignified event to honor the nominees? Is it a celebration of the artistic and historic sides of cinema? Is it an opportunity to entertain the tens of millions of TV viewers who tune in each year? Not knowing the objective makes it very difficult to be successful, which leads to a too-long mish-mash of all three approaches further muddled by the 30-second political statements offered up by millionaires whose words probably carry less weight than they believe, but more than they should.

As a movie lover, what draws me to the telecast is the celebration of cinema, so my favorite segments included: the brilliant opening number entitled “Moving Pictures” as performed by emcee Neil Patrick Harris, with an assist from Anna Kendrick, Jack Black, numerous costumed dancers, some terrific special effects, and clips from many iconic movies; the beautifully sung melody by Lady Gaga as a tribute to the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music – with an appearance from Julie Andrews; and the first time ever that each movie nominated for Best Picture (all 8 of them) went home with at least one Oscar.

Of course there were also segments which I did not enjoy so much: an ultra-creepy John Travolta pawing at Idina Menzel’s face a year after butchering her name on stage; a lackluster Birdman parody by Neil Patrick Harris that paled in comparison to the recent work of Fred Armisen (Indie Spirit Awards) and Sesame Street (with Big Bird); the cut away shots to Michael Keaton chomping his chewing gum like a junior high kid; and the multitude of lame jokes (and absurd pre-show predictions) by Mr Harris that could have been excused if not for the poorly timed zinger directed at the dress choice of an award winner who had just moments before disclosed the suicide of her child.

Emotions always run high in a room full of artists, and the live performance of “Glory” from Best Picture nominee Selma was quite impressive … from the infamous bridge setting, to the vocals of Common and John Legend, to the dozens of folks who joined them onstage (Note: they were given much more time than the other live performances of nominated songs). Also registering high on the emotional meter were: Patricia Arquette’s call for pay equality, Eddie Redmayne’s pure joy at winning Best Actor, and the excitement, pride and perspective shown by Ida director Pawel Pawlikowski  towards his home country of Poland.  On the other end of the emotional spectrum, how does it make sense that sourpuss Sean Penn tries to crack wise with an ill-timed joke, while “comedian” Eddie Murphy reads the list of nominees like he is checking inventory at Home Depot?

On a personal note, my favorite film of the year was Boyhood, and while I am not upset that my second favorite film of the year won Best Picture, I do wish director Richard Linklater had received more accolades for his unique and extraordinary project. It was nice to see two screen veterans and professionals like Julianne Moore and JK Simmons take home their first Oscars, and I was ecstatic to see so many awards go to Wes Anderson’s beautiful The Grand Budapest Hotel and the frenetic Whiplash. We should all welcome the notice given to international talents like Emmanuel Lubezki, Alexandre Desplat and the previously mentioned Eddie Redmayne.

Alejandro Inarritu was the big winner of the night for his ground-breaking work on Best Picture winner Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and on one of his trips to the stage he articulated a point of which I fully agree. He talked about how in the world of art, “works can’t be compared”, and when he has completed a project, it is that moment when he feels like he has succeeded. That is the heart of why the Academy remains confused about how to treat this event. The work of one actor cannot be objectively compared to that of another. No movie can fairly be determined superior to another. By their nature, works of creativity and art impact each of us differently, and the real test is … were we moved? Were we touched? Did the work cause us to think? Each of these things is more important than a shiny statuette … unless it’s one of those Lego Oscars, which, regardless what was contained in the $160,000 swag bags, were the absolute coolest item given away at the Dolby Theatre!

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BOYHOOD (2014)

July 3, 2014

boyhood Greetings again from the darkness. The trick here is to convey enough without ruining anything. No, it’s not a movie filled with twists and mystery, but rather it’s a journey unlike we have previously seen on screen. Director Richard Linklater is known for his fascination with time as a key element in movies. Of course, that’s obvious in his “Before” trilogy (the same two characters from 1995-2013), but think also of Dazed and Confused, School of Rock, and Bernie. The passage of time is crucial in each, but Boyhood takes it to a whole new level.

Linklater and the 4 main characters have congregated and filmed a few days each year … for 12 years. We watch a fictionalized family mark the passage of time. You might be familiar with director Michael Apted’s excellent “Up” documentary series, where he reunites with his same group of people every 7 years. In Linklater’s experiment, we watch Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, Richard’s real life daughter) progress from adolescence to college age in under 3 hours. If you are a parent, you have experienced the quick passage of time when it comes to watching your kids grow. It’s incredibly emotional to watch a young, fresh faced Mason grow into a college aged young man right in front of us.

Linklater certainly got lucky with the two kids he cast at young ages. Their development and commitment to the project is the heart of the film. And if that weren’t enough, we also see Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as their mom and dad through the years. Although they are separated when the film begins, we witness the changes each go through in their own lives. This is evolution, not creation. We don’t get a new actor at each stage, instead we witness the transformations of all four.

Patricia Arquette’s character is a solid mom, while at the same time attempting to figure out her own life. Her less-than-stellar choices in men have quite the influence on Mason and Samantha … the most dramatic being Ted (Steven Chester Prince) who sinks deeper into frustration, depression, alcoholism and anger. It’s a thankless role, but it’s a guy we have all known in life.

So the film is about parenthood, childhood, adulthood, and family relationships. It’s about the moments in time – the snapshots that become the fiber of our being. The shaping of people is an ongoing process and adult drama plays a role for all ages. As character flaws are exposed, choices are made that have a lasting impact.

The passage of time is relayed not just through the kids looking older, but also through the usage of technology, music and pop culture. All 4 of the main actors are excellent, but Patricia Arquette and Ellar Coltrane are truly exceptional. Though the film is not a traditional narrative, it would be wonderful if both received some awards attention. They are that good.

A nod of appreciation should go out to IFC for taking the risk on such an unusual project. Linklater offers up an experiment WITH time, rather than an experiment IN time. Most studios would not be patient for 12 years, but their risk clearly pays off with something that must be experienced to be understood. My hope is that many will give this one a shot, and feel appreciative of all those involved for their willingness to put up funding … or just as importantly, their time.

watch the trailer: