Sunday, February 24, 2019

Image = Oscars So What?!

The Academy Awards used to be THE event of the year – for both Hollywood and the filmgoing public, but the Oscars are now in a very bad way. Recently I have seen many people on social media say that awards are bullshit and it makes me sad. The Oscars are a 90-year tradition honoring greatness in filmmaking and they need to regain their former glory. The ratings for the broadcast have dipped dramatically in the past few years, and the Academy keeps trying to reinvent the wheel, to no avail. It is one thing to adapt to a changing culture, as in integrating more diversity in the nominees, but there is also something to be said for maintaining an institution.

I was upset when the Oscar ceremony moved from Monday to Sunday evening and increased the number of Best Picture nominees from 5 to 8-10. After a while I acclimated to the changes and they became the new normal. However, what has gone on in the past year is insane. Proposing a “Most Popular Movie” category, showing Cinematography, Editing & Costume Design during the commercials – and now going host-less. Fortunately, the Academy reversed their decisions on the first two changes and we have yet to see how the third will go. Hosting the Oscars used to be a great honor and now no one will touch it with a 10-foot pole. Oh how the mighty have fallen!

Inspired by Bill Maher, I would like to implement New Rules:

Stop misrepresenting nominees. 

Mahershala Ali is NOT a supporting actor in Green Book and he has been winning awards all season as such. This is unfair. Green Book is essentially a buddy movie and Viggo Mortenson and Ali are co-stars. Positioning Ali as Supporting Actor is a sly tactic to give both actors a chance to win. I’m a proponent of spreading the love and Mahershala is hogging all the acclaim this year. It makes me mad that young & hot Ali is probably going to win a 2nd Supporting Oscar tonight when the award could have gone to Richard E. Grant, who has waited decades just for the opportunity to be nominated.

Side note – the same thing happened with Alicia Vikander in 2015 with The Danish Girl. She was in every scene in that movie and won for Supporting Actress.

Stop giving (great) people owed awards for lesser performances. 

I have been saying for years that it is criminal that Glenn Close does not have an Oscar yet. However, I truly hope that she doesn’t win this year because she is owed by the Academy. The Wife is a terrible movie and Glenn has been so much better over the years. I have a feeling that they are going to bestow her this year though, which is frustrating because I believe it is Lady Gaga’s year.

Stop nominating foreign films in the Best Picture category.  

There are many film awards around the world, but The Oscars is all we’ve got. Adding foreign films & directors into the mix is a slap in the face for fantastic American films & directors. I am completely perplexed by all the acclaim for Roma this year. I don’t think I have ever hated a highly praised movie as much as I hate Roma. To me, the film is tedious and futile. My opinion aside, it makes absolutely no sense for this film to be in contention for both Best Picture and Best Foreign Film. Which makes me wonder, did Netflix buy all of these nominations, a la Weinstein?

Stop nominating movies just because they made a lot of money.  

Bohemian Rhapsody is not a worthy contender for Best Picture; I believe it was nominated because it grossed a ton of money worldwide. Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury is one for the ages, but aside from the re-creation of Queen at Live-Aid, Bohemian Rhapsody is a simple biopic. Whereas If Beale Street Could Talk is a gorgeous film and was basically ignored.

One more thing, Academy – How can you justify only 5 Director Noms?  

With 8-10 Movies and 5 Director noms, someone is going to get snubbed. And again, why are Cuaron & Pawlikowski in contention here? It is a disgrace that Peter Farrelly Bradley Cooper and Barry Jenkins are not nominated. The Favourite is technically a foreign film as well, so Lanthimos shouldn’t be eligible either.

Winning an Oscar indelibly changes the lives of its recipients and it needs to be respected as such. Academy – please remember this in the future when considering making changes and honoring the best of American cinema. This year is such a cornucopia of contradictions in nominations that predicting who will win is impossible, but here is who & what I believe to be the best of the year.

My picks for the Best of the Best of 2018:

BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee, Lady Gaga, Rami Malek, Regina King, Richard E. Grant, First Reformed (Original Screenplay), Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Adapted Screenplay)

Friday, February 22, 2019

Image = Bradley Cooper: From Actor to Auteur

Bradley Cooper
I have a theory that if a male actor in Hollywood is too good looking, he doesn’t get taken seriously. Examples of this are Colin Farrell (brilliant in Saving Mr. Banks) and Hugh Jackman (brilliant in EVERYTHING!). Most esteemed male actors are not empirically attractive and if they are, they get put into the category of Movie Star (Cary Grant, George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon). Paul Newman was an exception to this rule, but it was different time.

In the most non-offensive double standard ever – it is a very different story with actresses. They can be simultaneously beautiful and taken seriously. But even so - in many cases actresses do even better when they make themselves ugly for a role (eg. Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Halle Berry).

Bradley Cooper has been nominated 
for an acting Oscar 5 times and has not won yet. He has disclosed that when he started out, many casting agents wrote him off as a “pretty boy” and he was not taken seriously as a dramatic actor. After 20 years of acting in TV & film, Cooper decided to take control of his destiny and helm a major project. He wanted something daunting to transform his perception in Hollywood and took the biggest risk of his life in choosing A Star is Born as his directorial debut. Everyone Bradley knows advised him not to do it but there was something inside him that compelled him to remake this classic Hollywood tale for the 4th time. On The Treatment with Elvis Mitchell he said, “I always wanted to tell a very intimate relatable story about love & addiction, and I wanted it to be cinematic.”

Cooper spent 4 years of his life and put all of himself (quite literally) into re-creating A Star is Born in 2018. He could have played it safe and just simply directed actors, but he chose to co-write the script, co-star in the film (including altering the timbre of his voice which took many months), learn guitar and co-write the music for the film. I was impressed with the beauty of the film because it feels like an old-fashioned love story in many ways. And Bradley can passionately talk about every single frame of this film, so it is truly his work of art.

Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga in A Star is Born
It is always inspiring to witness someone follow their gut against the odds and have it pay off. Despite some mixed reviews, A Star is Born is a hit. It is one of the most nominated films of the year and it has also changed Lady Gaga’s life. Cooper could have opted for a safe choice for his leading lady, but he took a chance on Gaga and even if she doesn’t win the Oscar this year, ASIB has made her a movie star. There must be some real magic behind Cooper’s piercing blue eyes because even veteran film actor Sam Elliott said that working on this film was the most fulfilling experience of his career.

Cooper says his favorite thing about filmmaking is collaboration. He loves actors and even hired his friends from grad school on ASIB who “don’t work as often as they should.” He literally shared his good fortune with his friends. It is clear that Bradley Cooper is so much more than a pretty face. He is a multi-talented artist who has vision and integrity and A Star is Born is a stunning freshman endeavor. Now that Bradley Cooper has successfully been thrust into the rare
fied domain of filmmaker, the only question is: How will he challenge himself next?

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Image = Best of 2018 & Pre-Oscar Rants

2018 was not the most exciting year for film but it was an banner year for progress in Hollywood. Two of the most lauded films of the year are Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther – essentially just a rom-com and a super hero movie. What makes them unique is that they both made history featuring predominantly Asian and Black casts respectively – and oh yeah, they both also made a ton of money worldwide.

2 more wonderful things to note about 2018: 

1 – Documentaries like Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, RBG and Three Identical Strangers did record-breaking box office last summer. And I personally think that Fahrenheit 11/9 is the best work that Michael Moore has ever done.

2 – Small indie films such as Eighth Grade, Will You Ever Forgive Me? and First Reformed have had long theatrical runs and have received critical praise and been showered with both nominations and wins for countless awards. 

My 10 Best Movies of 2018:

Black KkKlansman
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Green Book
A Star is Born
Ben is Back
Won't You Be My Neighbor?
Fahrenheit 11/9
If Beale Street Could Talk
What They Had
First Reformed

The Best Film of 2018 is BlacKkKlansman because it is the
one that affected me the most. Spike Lee was unabashed in dealing with the real issue of racism in this country and I think he deserves the highest recognition for it. And BTW - because he is way overdue for it. Spike has only been nominated for an Oscar twice in his illustrious career – and never for Best Director. How is that even possible? In 2016 he got an Honorary Oscar for some reason but it is time he win a real one for Direction.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is my Favorite Movie of 2018. It is a small indie gem and Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant are both brilliant in it. I was hoping it would be Richard E. Grant’s year to (finally!!!) be acknowledged with awards, similar to Sam Rockwell’s last year, but it is not panning out that way. 

Green Book is a perfect movie across the board (casting, direction, script, tone, message, etc.) and director Peter Farrelly proved that he can do a lot more than toilet bowl humor. I truly don't understand the cultural backlash that Green Book has gotten. It has been compared in a disparaging way to Driving Miss Daisy because many feel that Do the Right Thing was overlooked in 1989. I agree with that observation but I do not necessarily think it was Driving Miss Daisy's fault. In addition, I have friends of color who refuse to see Green Book which makes me sad because I did not see any “white savior” scenario playing out. This true story of an unlikely friendship renewed my faith in humanity and the bridges we can build when we take the time to understand one another's differences.

With A Star is Born, Bradley Cooper spent 4 years and a great deal of sweat equity envisioning & creating this epic movie with a beautiful result and great performances all around. Cooper took on a massive challenge to elevate his status as a filmmaker in Hollywood. ASIB was made in the tradition of Old Hollywood and films of the 1970’s because it takes it’s sweet time to tell a story. It is strange to me that ASIB has not been winning anything all season except for the song “Shallow.” Earlier in the season I predicted it might win everything. Although Glenn Close has been sweeping up awards so far, I still believe that it is Lady Gaga’s year and I am hoping that ASIB's recently launched “For Your Consideration” ad campaign helps Gaga on Oscar night. Lady Gaga dug deep to play Ally and never looks or acts like Lady Gaga for one moment in the film, even when Ally’s star is indeed born.  

Ben is Back was the biggest surprise of the year. I usually don’t like suspense – but this film shines a light on the reality of addiction and we got to see a very different side of Julia Roberts. Great job by father and son director and star Peter and Lucas Hedges. It was incredibly well-done and deeply affecting.

If Beale Street Could Talk is a beautiful love story and incredibly well cast. Every single actor delivers and it is a brilliant debut by KiKi Layne. It shows a refreshing portrayal of a poor black family onscreen. I was deeply touched by the unflinching support of this family for each other no matter what. I would nominate Bryan Tyree Henry for Supporting Actor for that one unforgettable scene with the equally compelling Stephan James about the reality of being a Black man in America. All of the acclaim has fallen on Regina King, who absolutely deserves it, but it is absurd that Beale Street is not in the Best Picture category, that KiKi, Stephan & Bryan are not nominated for anything this year and that director Barry Jenkins was overlooked as well. 

What can I say about Won’t You Be My Neighbor? First, see it if you have yet to and before the Tom Hanks biopic A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is released later this year. Second, it is a balm for the soul in these troubled divided times.

Fahrenheit 11/9 should be required viewing for every American citizen, regardless of party affiliation. It tells the real story about how colossally the Democratic National Committee screwed up the Democratic nomination in 2016 and examines in painful detail what is actually happening when a zealot, like our current president, gains power.

Compared to other plays and movies I have seen about Alzheimer's recently, What They Had is a keen representation of dealing with Alzheimer’s and how it can tear apart a family. This film deals honestly with denial, fear and the tough choices a husband and adult children are forced to make when their matriarch falls ill. We need more films like this to educate people about the horror and reality of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

First Reformed is truly like no other film I have ever seen and a perfect showcase for Ethan Hawke’s unique talent. It is a modern commentary on the hypocrisy of organized religion being run by big business and a cautionary tale about climate change. Legendary auteur Paul Schrader, whose first screenplay was Taxi Driver in 1976, is nominated for Best Original Screenplay for the first time this year.

Other Observations from 2018:

Overlooked: Robert Forester & Michael Shannon in What They Had 
Biggest Disappointment: First Man
Worst Movie (possibly ever): Life Itself