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.
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. The 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. Like 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.
Let’s cut to the chase. Steven Spielberg makes movies; he doesn’t direct films. While ranked near the top of Forbes’ Most Influential Celebrities, he isn’t even listed on The Guardian’s Top 40 Directors. Mr. Spielberg is certainly good at entertainment and suspense; there is no disputing that. Jaws has stood the test of time for a reason. As well, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Saving Private Ryan, Minority Report and much of the Indiana Jones franchise are full of excitement. However spectacle is not any substitute for vision or style, a talent exhibited by many of Mr. Spielberg’s contemporaries such as Martin Scorsese, Joel and Ethan Cohen, Paul Thomas Anderson and Terence Malick. Instead of bludgeoning the audience with a message, as Mr. Spielberg tends, these directors develop subtle details of text, background or character. Quite simply, they convey a personal vision. It is a risky business which at times invites censure – look at the current mixed reception to Mr. Anderson’s The Master for evidence – but a film is made for itself, no matter what a producer might demand. Mr. Spielberg is known for delivering his movies to the market, which is all well and good, especially for the studio…until he gets that itch and decides to fight the indifferent shrug that he knows posterity will award him. These attempts at style include The Color Purple, Schindler’s List, Amistad and now his latest, Lincoln. Instead of moments of artistry, the audience is assaulted: images of discarded limbs, Lincoln’s hand on everyone’s shoulder and achingly long dramatic pauses attempting to establish tension for things we already know. (Spoiler alert: The 13th amendment passes, the North wins the War, and Lincoln dies.) The end result is a movie (not a film) that is obscenely iconic.In the end, despite Daniel Day Lewis’ best efforts, the movie is tedious because Lincoln is not offered as a man, but a god – a patient one at that! – in a man’s clothing. In other words, Mr. Spielberg has forgotten that the magic of movie-making is in not showing the shark (the icon) until the last act. Instead he has us staring at the shark all movie long, until it’s no longer a thing to be afraid of – or admire – but another drawn-out moment, attempting to bully us into feeling a prescribed emotion. It gets to be so bad that, instead of wondering what might happen next, we’re wondering when the movie will finally end. Perhaps Mr. Spielberg can be convinced to do a Jaws prequel. As much as he might resist, we know his audience – and producers – would love know exactly what made that shark so mad.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film The Master is worth seeing. Like There will Be Blood, this film is not so much a narrative as a study in human nature. Utilizing the acting talents, to say nothing of the frightening expressiveness, of his actors Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, Anderson takes the viewer on a disquieting journey with commanding personalities through gorgeous images to…I’m not sure where. More than anything this film is a series of moments that will stay with you for days and days and possibly a lifetime.
Regarding the themes of the piece, there is of course the savage nature of Phoenix’s Freddie Quell and the brooding explosiveness of Seymour’s Lancaster Dodd, but it is the underlying repressed sexuality, the stark images of nakedness that haunt both of these men that seems to be a key to this film. These guys are not happy. Their sexuality seems to be tied very tight, in ruins, destroyed by some trickery of long lost love. This is not something these characters really want to address. They would rather stare you down – there is no doubt about that – or yell or punch you or make you a drink again and again.