The Academy’s Most Popular Award

Hollywood’s Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences is occasionally on the mark with their annual Best Picture – Casablanca (Curtiz, 1943), Midnight Cowboy (Schlesinger, 1969), Annie Hall (Allen, 1977) & No Country for Old Men (Coen Brothers, 2007). no-country-for-old-menHowever these awards have more to do with Hollywood politics and marketing campaigns – such as Harvey Weinstein bullying on behalf of the dreadfully mediocre Shakespeare in Love (1998) – and much less to do with the art of film-making. shakeAs a consequence, the Best Pictures ends up consistently falling short. This isn’t just an issue with which film wins, but which are nominated and has been a problem right from the start of the Awards in 1927. The most apparent has been in the exclusion of most of the great foreign films in ages past, failing to nominate Passion of Joan of Arc (Dryer, 1928), M (Fritz Lang, 1931), La Regle de Jeu (Renoir, 1939), regle-du-jeu-05-gSeven Samurai (Kurosawa, 1954), Wild Strawberries (Bergman, 1957), Breathless (Godard, 1960), Aguirre, Wrath of God (Herzog, 1973) and The Sacrifice (Tarkovsky, 1986) and City of God (Meirelles, 2003)…to mention only a fraction. cityofgodThe Academy is flawed at its core, responding to the topicality of the film – social movements above all – and less to the work itself. “Best Pictures” are often predicable and dull, lacking in both vision and inspiration…and this year is no different. Here’s my list of the Academy’s most glaring mistakes.

Not even nominated                  Winner (Soon to be Forgotten)

1933      Duck Soup (McCarey)              Calvalcade (Lloyd)GROUCHO MARX

1946      Gilda (Vidor)                                Best Years of Their Lives (Wyler)

1952      Singin’ in the Rain (Kelly)            Greatest Show on Earth (DeMille)

1958      Vertigo (Hitchcock)                      Gigi (Minnelli)

1968      2001: Space Odyssey (Kubrick)  Oliver! (Reed)2001_-a-space-odyssey-large-picture

1979      Manhattan (Allen)                        Kramer vs. Kramer (Benton)

1982      Blade Runner (Scott)                   Gandhi (Attenborough)

1989      Do the Right Thing (Lee)              Driving Miss Daisy (Beresford)Do the right thing

2003      Elephant (Van Sant)                     The Lord of the Rings (Jackson)

2013      The Master  (Anderson)               Argo (Affleck)themaster

That’s Show Biz.

The Edge: Of Good Writing

Screenwriting is a most inconsistent proposition. While there are many films that have great scenes and characters, the work is often lacking in its overall story. Paul Thomas Anderson‘s films, including The Master, fall into this category as does the work of many modern screenwriters/filmmakers, such as Gaspar Noe, Terence Malick, Pedro Almodavar, Jim Jarmusch, and that other Anderson, Wes.  I posted recently on Andrei Tarkovsky’s film The Sacrifice, and his struggle with story-telling.  This too is an issue for many of the great auteurs: Francois Truffaut, Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni and, even my favorite, Werner Herzog; it’s the image, the motion, the atmosphere first and everything else after that. This is not say that the story arc of Hollywood should be subscribed to in any way. There is nothing so painfully innocuous as to be dragged along through the introduction, conflict, rising action, climax, denouement and all the pain-in-the-ass red herrings in the films of Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg, Jimmy Cameron or Clint Eastwood.But there is a middle ground out there, something between the poetic image and the Hollywood ride. It’s as hit and miss as the rest, although there are diamonds in the rough. One film that comes to mind is Greg Motolla’s Superbad (written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg); as stupid as this movie can be, the story is true, the characters honest. Another surprising film is Lee Tamahori’s The Edge, written by David Mamet. This film is typical Hollywood, “Jaws with claws” as it was dubbed; however it is well-written. The story structure is effective – except for a weird denouement/climax #2 – and the arc is clear. The characters are engaging, even as types, and interact in an interesting way with both each other and their environment. The message is loud – We must face our demons! – but it’s a good film. And the bear is great. Really.