My response to the Academy Awards (article)
For the most part, it was a dull affair, but then when isn’t it so? It’s been many years since an academy awards ceremony has excited me, and yet strangely I still find myself clamouring for the results, aching for my favorite and being crushed when they inevitably don’t win. The “awards season” is so long and overblown these days, that the Academy Awards themselves get diluted more and more with the passing months, as the Brie Larson’s make certain wins more and more self-evident resulting in distinct anti-climaxes when the envelope is opened. Of course I’m thrilled The Revenant didn’t get best picture, but with Carol out of the running all my hopes were for Mad Max: Fury Road, and it’s not a huge surprise that it was “only” gifted the tech awards, despite still coming in with the greatest haul. Carol, of course, received noting for its troubles, despite it being one of the best films of the last ten years, but I’m getting used to that treatment of great female films. All the talk tonight was of the missing black folk, and while I applaud their efforts, I disagree with Chris Rock’s criticism of Jada Pinkett Smith as being irrelevant. She was a worthy best supporting actress nomination for her work in Magic Mike XXL, but her problem there, of course, was not being black – it was being female in a hetro identified female film. Magic Mike XXL was a brave, strange, disarming film that received huge critical acclaim among the thinking film writers, and she was a key ingredient in that film’s success. I find it profound and telling that Chris Rock can see black discrimination, and yet is blind to the special discrimination reserved for women that is not the same, but exists. Jada Pinkett Smith endured the double humiliation tonight, of being told she was irrelevant, and standing only for her husband, when she had an enormous career success to celebrate. Chris Rock missed that entirely. As does everyone. All the time.
I’ve been remiss lately with my film reviews, primary due to hard work in theatre, but also due to a lack of inspiration. I’ll break a code of my own then, and talk about the academy awards and contribute to the 2015 film debate with some (hopefully) interesting insights:
Well, the best thing about this is that The Revenant didn’t win. Thank Christ, she claims ironically. I’ve now seen Spotlight seven times, and I can claim with great clarity that it is a laboured, dull screenplay whose great success lies in getting out-of-the-way of an important story. The only truly great character and performance in this film (besides the victims who are heart breakingly good) is Rachael McAdams who falls so far under the radar she is mercifully left to create a truly superb character virtually on her own. The scenes with her and her grandmother tear me to pieces and are easily some of the best character moves I’ve seen on screen all year. Mark Ruffalo who I adore, has been a thousand times better in almost everything else he’s ever done and Michael Keaton is so bad it’s a miracle he didn’t drag the film down with him. His Boston accent (unlike everyone else in the film) does not work, and he sounds ridiculous every time he speaks. But the film not only speaks on an important topic that remains relevant (particularly in Australia right now) but Spotlight is a gentle testimony to the importance of investigative journalism whose future is shaky due to the disparate nature of readership these days. Spotlight wasn’t the best film this year, but it carries sentimental weight, so I don’t hate that it won.
Ok, this hurts. It was not unexpected, but to give this macho dill two major awards for his films two years in a row is a slap in the face to women. Birdman was a story about a white male who was severely depressed because he had only been crushingly world-famous once in his life (this is a premise – I mean REALLY) and then give him the award for basically measuring the length of his penis on-screen in The Revenant that was laboured, tired, ludicrous, silly, boring, and worst of all, celebrated a foolish masculinity that never existed except in the imagination of white megalomaniacs is appalling. None of the black talk, the black faces on stage all meant to “rectify” the (in)famous slight, the slap in the face to Todd Haynes for making a truly great female film matters, when you celebrate someone who has not made a good film at all, but has followed process (that didn’t work) that celebrates a fantasy of masculinity. Frankly, Leo has been better – particularly when he wasn’t trying to be Jack Nicholson – in the past, and for all the talk of authenticity, indigenous recognition and meticulous scene planning, the film was a failure due to its narrative improbability (detoured off the path of the true story to its detriment) and became exactly what you’d expect from Iñárritu – an advertisement for itself. The Revenant was the very definition of “try hard” that in the end won all its awards because we all can’t bear the thought of the sulking that would go on after if it didn’t. It is a genuine social embarrassment that we took this film seriously at all.
Actor in a Leading Role:
Lets face it, Leo won this because no one can stand telling him again that he didn’t. Like Julianne Moore the year before, he won it for the films he hadn’t won it for in the past. Only one gets the feeling that Julianne would have wondered why she won for Still Alice, Leo has definitely drunk the cool aid on The Revenant assuming it totally deserved. The problem here, of course, is if he tries to find similar roles. And that would be a travesty.
Actress in a Leading Role:
Well, this was never going to go any other way, and that’s fine because Brie Larson is great in this film and has been great so many times in so many films. The best performance here was Cate, but I have sympathy for the Larson vote. Room had its problems, particularly in its narrative structure but so did the book, and I have so much affection for Brie Larson and Emma Donoghue that I’m cool with her beating Cate who was the real deserving winner here. That includes Charlotte who I adore – but I just didn’t love 45 Years – so I’m ok with it being all about Brie Larson this time round.
Best Supporting Actor:
Bridge of Spies
Well, this was probably the shock of the night, although I haven’t read much about it just yet. I’m kind of glad. As much affection as I have for Rocky, I didn’t love Creed, I felt it was overrated by the white guilt boy brigade and it certainly was problematic for the only white person involved to be nominated for an award. There was something nasty going on in the relationship between Creed and the Academy and I can get that they by-passed this all together. On the other hand, Bridge of Spies was a film that I didn’t expect to like, and subsequently loved, and I have to say Mark Rylance is so good in the role. That “do you think it will help” line delivered with impeccable timing on repeat and the complexity and depth he brings to a marginal character while extending each line out of circumstance into the enormous world of the character is worth the time and effort of the film itself. This was one of the great performances of the year.
Best Supporting Actress:
The Danish Girl
I haven’t seen this yet, so I can’t really comment on the film. I loved all the other nominees except for Kate Winslet who was fine, just in a crap movie that I didn’t care about one iota. I would have liked to see Rooney Mara get up, just because she engrosses me in everything she does, and I thought Rachel McAdams was superb in Spotlight, but for me the winner here was Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight which was a film I truly loved. I have a lot to say about that film – must get to my review on it.
Best Animated Feature Film:
I haven’t seen all the nominees in this category, so I can’t really comment except to say I enjoyed Inside Out, and think Meg LeFavre was horribly ripped off in the original screenplay category. This is a lovely, clever film that pretty much stars Meg LeFauve and was probably the strongest shoe-in of the night, outside of best score. This was too good to beat.
This category is the only of the improbable leaps Iñárritu took that arguably worked, but I would be comfortably contending that it didn’t. I felt the light was underplayed and obviously true to natural, proving as with so many devices used in The Revenant that effort, commitment and idealism can be horribly misplaced. The efforts in this film didn’t pan out in the results and there is no point celebrating them when they don’t work. Lubezki has been much better (Children of Men) and this would have been a great place to honour Ed Lachman and give some love to the astounding colours of the world of Carol. Argue with me if you want, but this category came down to another emphatic refusal of Carol.
Mad Max: Fury Road
I don’t have any problems with Mad Max winning anything, but wins in these categories does feel a little like a backhanded slap when the main awards weren’t coming their way. Oversimplified complaints such as this are useless, I’m aware, but for George Miller to walk away with nothing while Jenny Beaven gets up in front of Sandy Powell feels like some sort of sorry logistical maneuvering that it takes distance and perspective to recognise. These things are manipulated, and voters in the academy do have heard mentality, and choices like this become the stuff of social commentary. Good on Beaven, but I would have preferred to see Miller get up elsewhere and Carol claim the win here.
Mad Max: Fury Road
If I am wishy-washy about costume, I’m less so with production design particularly seeing as Judy Becker wasn’t even nominated for Carol, an omission almost as glaring as the (in)famous Todd Haynes one. Unlike the general white noise on the subject, I didn’t think this came down to The Martian vs Mad Max, both of which are worlds set in deserts, but found The Martian’s sets to be underplayed while Mad Max has the opposite effect, particularly in the opening and closing sequences. The ring in for me here was Bridge of Spies which I thought was a beautiful film, but dwarfed by the similar themed Carol which didn’t even get a look in. Happy here for Colin Gibson and Lisa Thompson.
Best hair and Makeup:
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant didn’t win this – thank god! The way that Domhnall Gleeson and Tom Hardy looked ridiculous in this film, with Gleeson coming off as a feckless leader badly painted up for the second time in the second half of 2015. Gash’s and cuts that heal in 24 hours are silly and belong to horror movies, while Fury Road was inventive, exciting and prone to individual character development. Congrats Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega and Damian Martin for a brilliant job well done.
Best Original Score:
The Hateful Eight
Probably the most predictable award on a unpredictable night I doubt anyone has a problem with Ennio Morricone winning his first Oscar, ironically for a Tarantino film that gleans from the spaghetti western. it was lovely seeing him make his way to the podium and even sweeter to hear him thank John Williams. Gave me a pretty serious “awwww” moment.
Meh – I didn’t get too excited about any of these nominees. Of course I loved The Hunting Ground, and while I thought Gaga’s performance was a little overwrought, that’s kind of her, and those tragic gorgeous people coming onto the stage and introduced by Joe Biden gave me all the right sorts of responses, so I found myself wanting a win for her. I also happen to love the Weekn’ds Fifty Shades of Gray song and I was thrilled my personal favourite film got a nom when it was always destined for a hate fest. As for Writing’s on the Wall, I found it lackluster and never got on board for it, though I have a soft spot for Bond songs that I do think have forged their own identity throughout the decades. Whatev’s.
Mad Max: Fury Road
This was one of the few categories I felt The Revenant had something to say, but I am glad to see Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben Osmo get up, because Fury Road blitzes everything in these categories.
Mad Max: Fury Road
As before, the sound in Mad Max was unequaled. This was the standout film this year. Congrats to Mark Mangini and David White.
Mad Max: Fury Road
This is an area where I’m truly thrilled The Big Short didn’t win, with all its bullshit flashy easy-to-make machismo (how many films exactly like this do we have to sit through before we realise we’re on repeat?) and its simplistic childish editing. Fury Road isn’t just radically cut, it forges new territory with its editing, creating a new picture. Pace and style have as much to do with the editing here as direction, and something very exciting was obviously going on between Margaret Sixel and George Miller, another super wife and husband team. This was always a no brainer in terms of who should win, but editing is still the most important underplayed award there, and lets face it the academy seem pretty dumb, so this could have slipped into the wrong hands. But it didn’t – the right person won on the night and hopefully Margaret Sixel will be seen for her brilliance after this little spotlight.
That this stupid film which managed to make me dislike Oscar Isaacs was nominated for anything irritated me. Fembots are not thrilling unless they’re being examined ironically, and it just adds to the anemic roles for Gleeson in 2015. I like him, so I hope he makes better choices in 2016. Oscar Isaacs was so stupid in this film I’m finding him hard to look at anymore, and I wasn’t keen on his Star Wars effort either. Bad year for these actors, and a truly bad film this one, with its childish misplaced philosophy and school boy fantasy nonsense. This award really belonged to Star Wars which should have won something. And I wouldn’t have hated a Mad Max win here either – that missing Theron arm!
Best Foreign Language Film – Son of Saul
Best Doc Short – A Girl in the River – The price of Forgiveness
Best Live Action Short – Stutterer
I haven’t seen this, nor many of the nominees, so I can’t comment here, but I watched as much as I could get my hands on, and I am glad Stutterer got up.
I didn’t love Amy – I thought it simply rehashed old footage we’d seen a million times thereby committing the very crime it was seeking to redress. But I didn’t see all the others, but to my mind the Josh Oppenheimer vehicle The Look of Silence, which I have yet to see would have been the best here, based on what I know of that film and its sister film, The Act of Killing. I’m actually a bit sad for Oppenheimer here.
The Big Short
With laboured lines like “Why are the confessing?” “They’re not confessing, they’re bragging,” I felt this film had a self-satisfied superiority it never earned through its writing, editing and directorial styles. It was too bling, and too disrespectful of the audience with its assumptions that the banking crises exists because we haven’t all seen The Big Short yet, and therefore too stupid. It was an easy piece of cake to eat, faked being intelligent and used the very machismo it pretended to examine to sell its sleazy snake oil. I have seen this film five times now and hate the writing more and more with each viewing. Like Ex Machina, this one smacks of naive film making that only white men can get away with. This was absolutely Phyllis Nagy’s award, and the fact that she didn’t win for Carol emphasises how little the academy understand about film making.
I would have liked to see Meg LeFauve get up here, but mostly I’m just thrilled shitty writing projects like Ex Machina and Straight Outta Compton (which chose to make a hero out of a wife beater by ignoring facts) didn’t win. Spotlight is many things, but a great writing project it aint, but it had to win more than one award to justify that best pic gong coming its way and this was probably the least offensive. Unlike others, I didn’t think Mark Ruffalo’s part was well written, and consistently at key moments of revelation, McCarthy and Singer write the female investigator out of the room (she’s too often off-screen when breakthroughs happen) for them to be taken seriously as good writers, but at least Spotlight got in the way of something worse getting up. For that I’m grateful. Why Tarantino wasn’t nominated here is beyond me, and I would have liked to see him win.
And that’s it!
These awards are consistently disappointing, but Mad Max: Fury Road may have missed the biggies, but it was still the clear winner on the night. That has left me with an Academy Awards that I don’t hate – first time in many years – and a good feeling about what might be possible for film making now. I missed Todd Haynes and I understand about the huge problems for women with his conspicuous absence, but its difficult for me to be entirely bereft when Mad Max, such an unambiguously feminist film, gets so much love.