Oscars 2013 Surprises: The Good, Bad and Ugly

The 2013 Oscar Award Nominations were announced at 8:45 (EDT) this morning, some of which were sadly predictable (12 nominations for Lincoln), some happily not (No Best Director for Tarantino, Bigelow or Affleck) and some more good, bad and ugly than the rest.

The Good: This is apparently the year of Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild and Michael Haneke’s Amour.amour6

The Bad: Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master wasn’t nominated for Direction nor Cinematography, despite the fact that it is certainly one of the most visually striking films of the past several years. themasterThe Ugly: Jafar Panahi’s This is Not a Film wasn’t nominated for anything. The failure to recognize this film for its cinematography and profound social commentary underscores the mind-numbing ignorance of Hollywood. ThisNotFilmLike every year, it is best to just breathe and remember that the Oscars are not so much about recognizing filmmaking as they are about promoting the Hollywood machine. The idea is to get more people to pay their $12 at the theatre – $26 with drink and popcorn – and leave it at that. Baa.

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.