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Musings and Ramblings

* (Sept / Oct  2011) "ALL THIS AND WORLD WAR, TOO!" by Adam Hughes
* (July / Aug 2011) "THE SNOB" by CEJ



84TH ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS -
A SURPRISING AND REFRESHING RETURN TO BASICS - OH YEAH!!!



     Kinda surprised at myself to be writing something of this sort - y’know, the “Post-Oscar” review “op-ed” thing.  I mean, EVERY newspaper and online web-a-zine already has one.  Twenty-four hours ago I had no intention.  And in the middle of banging out a series of new articles (to be posted this upcoming weekend by the way) for our own March / April 2012 “online mag” issue, how one chooses to use their early A.M. keyboard-bangin’ time is pretty important.  But hey, call me corny, I was genuinely moved by this year’s Oscars.  You see, I think my particular “hook” or “angle” (if you will) on the “Post-Oscar” thing is that … I’m not a big fan of awards shows in general.  Didn’t watch the Oscars last year, and there was a chunk of maybe three years some time before in which I also didn’t bother.  And no, it ain’t the “nose in the air movie snob” thing.  Hardly.  I’ve been accused (rightly so) of loving some genuine cinematic dogs over the years: cheesy “Z” grade fodder hardly worthy of being called “guilty pleasures”.  For me it’s about the craft of the film medium.  Sergio Leone - the director of THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY and ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, once said of his love of his profession, “I was born in the cinema … almost”.  And I always dug that because I can relate.  But when awards season comes along, you know as well as I, the attendant bruhaha of the various ceremonies can often be damn near enough to kill off even the deepest of loves.


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     Amongst the most effective of those aforementioned “killers of cinematic love”?  Well, from the film fan’s stance - the gossip and almost sport-like dissing / trashing of various celebrities' what? - hair, significant other they may have brought to the ceremony, or a delight in the rehashing of their on-stage flubs?  Hey, just not interested in that stuff.  And the Red Carpet “Who’s wearing what by whom?” thing.  I could really give less of a s**t.  Sorry.  From the industry POV, and it’s bestowing of awards upon it‘s own?  Well, nine times outta ten it’s hard not to see much of that (even in the independent world) as a combination of cinematic “Popularity Contest” and “Sermon-ette“.  “Sermon” in the sense of the bestowing of every honor in creation on an “important” film with a “message the world must know”.  And while I’ve no problem with the “message” film (hey, some of my best friends are “message films”), and while I also understand a certain necessity for Red Carpet “glitz-i-fying” (gotta pull in those Nielsen ratings or there’ll be no Oscars) you just feel somewhere over the years, somewhere along the line, it all somehow became more of an “event” in and of itself and less an honoring and love of the medium and craft of film making.
 
Minghella's Oscar winning THE ENGLISH PATIENT ('96)

 
  What determines whether a film is “important” or “dumb entertainment”?  I’ve always thought of it as “Well, Tom Shadyac probably can’t do an Anthony Minghella film as well as Minghella; but Minghella more than likely couldn’t do a Shadyac film like Shadyac”.  Who?  The late Mr. Minghella (he passed away in 2008) was the director of such dramas as THE ENGLISH PATIENT (which took home nine! Oscars including Best Picture back in 1996), THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY and COLD MOUNTAIN.  And Shadyac directed a number of comedies including Jim Carrey’s LIAR! LIAR! and Eddie Murpy’s THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (which also took home an Oscar in '96 - for Rick Baker's sensational character make up creations). 



   Shadyac's Oscar winning NUTTY PROFESSOR ('96)


      My point? - As much as I love the Minghella films (they’re stunningly well made, and emotionally and psychologically gripping), I dare say if you’d just lost a loved one, or recently suffered the end of a long term relationship, one of the Shadyac films would at that time prove more “important” to you emotionally and psychologically, while one of the more artsy Minghella films could likely make you near suicidal.  And by the way, those “less important” films like the Shadyac comedies, or the Robert Downy Jr. SHERLOCK HOLMES movies, or actioners like DRIVE and HAYWIRE have just as much technical and craft artistry worthy of acknowledgement as your GANDHIs, ENGLISH PATIENTs and KRAMER VS. KRAMERS, don’t you think?  That’s all I’m sayin’.  At any rate this year’s Oscars seem to have remembered that.  Did you notice how so many of the winners (and even presenters) tended to pay tribute to, harken back, and “give props” to the masters which came before?  I really dug that.  Perhaps some was scripted.  But more than enough was impromptu and admirable.
 


Hmmm? Who's that familiar looking cameraman in HUGO?

      First of all, you’ve gotta admit, whether you dug HUGO or THE ARTIST personally (and there were news stories of audience members demanding their money back because they didn’t realize THE ARTIST was a silent film?!?), both were technically magnificent.  Each taking home five Oscars, both were also wonderful love letters to the origins of film itself.  Martin Scorcese has always been the world’s biggest movie geek.  The man is a consummate cinematic “tech head” who loves craft and technique, and loves using them to the highest artistic degree in the telling of a story.  In fact his homages to various classic film techniques and styles often become major characters in his work.  SHUTTER ISLAND is a “living museum” exhibit dedicated to the look, tone, vibe and craft of the 1940s era thrillers of Val Lewton (CAT PEOPLE, THE BODY SNATCHER, ISLE OF THE DEAD, BEDLAM); and HUGO is a similar “walking and talking museum piece” thematically dedicated to the early in-camera FX techniques of  cinema pioneer Georges Melies.  A “No duh?” conclusion there as Ben Kingsley actually plays Melies in the film. 


Early cinema magician Melies 

     As a lover of both Scorcese and Melies it was therefore nice to see HUGO snatch up the bulk of (appropriately enough) technical awards including Art Direction for the legendary Dante Ferretti (THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN, BRAM STOKER‘S DRACULA) and Francesca Lo Schiavo, the Visual FX Oscar for Bob Legato (APOLLO 13, HARRY POTTER & THE SORCERER’S STONE, AVATAR), Joss Williams, Ben Grossmann and Alex Henning, Sound Editing & Mixing, and it’s stunning 3D Cinematography.  HUGO’s cinematographer, Robert Richardson, has impacted the way modern films look more than he’s given credit for.  Since he first introduced that “high heat / humidty” diffusion look in movies such as JFK, NATURAL BORN KILLERS, CITY OF HOPE and THE DOORS, it’s become a filmic cliché’ in music videos, TV episodes (especially sci fi themed ones such as THE OUTER LIMITS and the short-lived STEPHEN HAWKING‘S SCI FI MASTERS) and even other features - perhaps most effectively “borrowed” in Spike Lee’s harrowing urban procedural CLOCKERS.   



   Contemporary cinema magician Richardson



      In the acting category I don’t think anyone would deny Meryl Streep’s deserved win for her chops in bringing to life former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in THE IRON LADY.  Even those who felt the film itself was politically unfair to “Maggie” admitted Streep captured her persona magnificently.  Streep constantly reminds us that one of New Jersey’s biggest cultural imports to the world isn’t that gang of dunderheads with names like “Snooki” and “The Situation”.  It was perhaps more wonderful however to see “old school-er” Christopher Plummer finally get a statue for his work as the elderly father who finally comes out as gay to his son in BEGINNERS.  Also truly wonderful and amazing that his talent and craft have kept him a popular forefront performer through generations of stage and screen. 


                In the acting category I don’t think anyone would deny Meryl Streep’s deserved win for her chops in bringing to life former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in THE IRON LADY.  Even those who felt the film itself was politically unfair to “Maggie” admitted Streep captured her persona magnificently.  Streep constantly reminds us that one of New Jersey’s biggest cultural imports to the world isn’t that gang of dunderheads with names like “Snooki” and “The Situation”.  It was perhaps more wonderful however to see “old school-er” Christopher Plummer finally get a statue for his work as the elderly father who finally comes out as gay to his son in BEGINNERS.  Also truly wonderful and amazing that his talent and craft have kept him a popular forefront performer through generations of stage and screen.

Plummer - long overdue Oscar recipient (2012)

     From classics like THE SOUND OF MUSIC, to comedies such as THE RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER (one of my personal fave Plummer roles), quirky thrillers like 1979’s little seen THE SILENT PARTNER (Plummer as one of filmdom’s scariest psychotic villains ever!); and through to STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (as the Shakespeare-quoting Klingon Gen. Chang) and his hilarious vocal performance as villainous airship explorer Charles Muntz in Disney/Pixar’s UP, Plummer has defined the “consummate actor”.  Truth be told I sure wouldn’t have minded seeing another fave “old school-er”, Max Von Sydow (nominated in the same category as Plummer for EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE) also take it.  But since 1969 (when both Barbra Streisand - FUNNY GIRL, and Katherine Hepburn - THE LION IN WINTER, both won for Best Actress) there just aren’t two-way Oscar ties anymore.  Too bad.


Spalding's moving rendition of Armstrong's "Wonderful"

      As a life-long fan of film music it was impressive to see composer Hans Zimmer (RAIN MAIN, THE LION KING, GLADIATOR, INCEPTION, RANGO, SHERLOCK HOLMES, the Christopher Nolan BATMAN films) decide to withdraw his name from nomination consideration this year.  Nominated almost every year of the last decade he chose to “sit this one out” in deference to the recent death of his former manager, and to just “observe”.  He did more than that, taking the reigns as the show’s Musical Director.  For the last decade the Oscar theme was provided by the late Jerry Goldsmith (PATTON, PLANET OF THE APES, THE OMEN, AIR FORCE ONE, MULAN) and the Musical Director seat filled by composers as varied as Bill Conti (ROCKY, FOR YOUR EYES ONLY), Quincy Jones (THE ANDERSON TAPES, THE COLOR PURPLE) and Michael Giacchino (THE INCREDIBLES, UP, STAR TREK, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL).  Zimmer added a nice “world music” flair by featuring not only the orchestra but a small rhythm-section ensemble of “world beat” soloists.  The Cirque du Soliel performance may have been a bit much.  But the “In Memoriam” montage sequence, accompanied by a soulful rendition of Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” by Esperanza Spalding and The Southern California Children’s Choir was particularly moving.  Good moves Mr. Zimmer.  Very good moves indeed.

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