One of the best ways to learn is to spend time in the company of those who know their passion, their experience, those who write with authority and intelligence and can make room for the passions and the visions of others. If there one thing I will have taken away from this week or so spent with you all, it’s the reward of being overwhelmed by the generous spirit of the writers who’ve assembled here. I feel like I’ve had a rare chance to learn so much from what everyone has brought to the Tree House this year, and I hope those who are following along feel the same. And thank you to Jim for devoting so much of his most recent post to the spirit and legacy of Bingham Ray, who was such a positive and challenging influence on the culture of the movies, both in this country and internationally.
It’s technically my last at-bat, and I’m going to do my damnedest to not let my focus fly too far out of whack. I want to talk about a couple of the many thoughts I’ve had while reading these wonderful posts and simultaneously try to address some of the moments of the year that meant the most to me, even when they might not necessarily have come from my favorite movies of the year. I fear I’m going to have to split this up into two posts in order to do so, so I beg your forgiveness and indulgence in advance.
But since the writing of this post happens to coincide with Hollywood’s second-biggest day, I suppose a diversion into the trivially important will be necessary. How about that surprise showing for Meek’s Cutoff in the Oscar nominations that were announced this morning?! Wow! 13 nominations! The pundits sure didn’t see that one coming! Actor noms for Thanapat Saisaymar and Al Dunkaccino? Who says the Oscars aren’t in touch with art and commerce?
Bizarre fantasy aside, the real nominations that were unveiled managed to raise a few eyebrows and cast the Oscar race in a slightly different light than it had been in the couple of weeks leading up to the revealing of the actual contenders. Those who had written off Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close had another thing coming to ‘em this morning, as did anyone (perhaps some of us Treeks?) who figured Terence Malick and The Tree of Life were just too left-field for the allegedly crusty-skewing Academy membership. Hugo led all comers with 11 nominations, include Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay and is the dominant force in the technical categories-- no one from its cast was honored—and The Artist collected 10, including Best Actor and Supporting Actress nods for Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo. (And yes, the dog was snubbed.) Which, if numbers are your thing, makes the final stretch all about these two love letters to the movies, and not the slugfest between The Artist and The Descendants (five nominations) that the Golden Globules seemed to forecast.
One of the biggest surprises, I suppose, is The Tree of Life, which managed three nominations, for Best Picture, Director and Emmanuel Lubezski’s cinematography. Say what you will about Malick’s movie (and we have, and we will), but one thing you certainly can’t say is that it was directed, like certain other nominated movies may have been, with both eyes on Oscar. (“Terry, you’re a shoo-in for Best Special Effects!”)
I’m guessing that of all the folks who heard their names or movies called out this morning there probably isn’t anyone happier in Hollywood today than Melissa McCarthy (and, by extension, Sheila O’Malley, but she's in Brooklyn) or, on the other end of the spectrum, as bummed as Albert Brooks, but in a funny way. ("I was ROBBED. I don't mean the Oscars. I mean literally-- someone stole my clothes and shoes.") As for Alan Rickman, well, sometimes there just ain’t no justice.
Congratulations are certainly due to J.C. Chandor, who was nominated for writing the screenplay for Margin Call, the superb, chest-tightening Wall Street disaster movie which he also directed. And speaking of screenplay nominations, Asghar Farhadi managed to score one to go along with A Separation’s Best Foreign Language Film nomination. The movie is probably presumed to be the preemptive favorite in that category, though the foreign language voting has often been volatile and unpredictable. Certainly the nominations alone are a great boost to this movie’s profile and may, as Sheila hoped in her post, increase awareness of the reality that exists for all Iranian filmmakers, not just the ones who score big at Hollywood award ceremonies.
But I’d wager the most surprised man in The Business (and certainly in his home country of Mexico) right now is Demian Bichir, who managed the relatively Herculean feat of bagging a Best Actor nomination that probably no one predicted for a performance in a movie that relatively few outside the voting community even remembered, Chris Weitz’s East L.A. nod to Bicycle Thieves entitled A Better Life. I would have bet on Jeong-hie Yun to knock Meryl Streep out of her spot before I would have ever even imagined that Bechir would be among the anointed five actors. Did Universal put a lot of money in trade paper ads for him? (I’m asking sincerely, because I’m generally unaware of the level of campaigning that goes on for any movie.) Or is it simply that the right people just happened to see this movie on DVD after it debuted digitally in October? (A Better Life was released theatrically at the end of June and grossed a paltry $1.7 million by the time it vanished from theaters, and I wasn’t even sure if it had been released on DVD yet.) Bechir’s recognition could be the Oscar industry equivalent of that one tiny spermatozoa pushing through and finding that one egg, and all the good stuff which comes as a result. One suspects that Michael Fassbender might be feeling like he was mugged though. (I wonder if he has a Twitter account.)
One of the glories of Sheila’s post is that it reminded me of what the movies can mean to real people, whether those people are sitting in the audience, directing their latest on an iPhone while under house arrest and enduring tortures we probably can’t imagine, or perhaps the ones on screen whose lives are the subject of a documentary film that seeks to remedy perceived injustices, to change those lives for the better.
Surely not even Wim Wenders’ celebrated 3D dance film Pina can withstand the momentum of Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory in the Best Documentary category, given the level of vocal support in Hollywood for the West Memphis 3 and the efforts to filmmakers Joel Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky to record for posterity the event of these gruesome murders and the apparent subsequent miscarriage of justice in their aftermath, efforts which helped lead to the eventual release of the accused killers. Amy Berg’s documentary West of Memphis, shown at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, apparently sheds new light on the investigation into the case as well as the defense and the appeals process surrounding Damian Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Miskelly. The Park City screening also afforded the unlikely, conciliatory appearance together at Sundance of Echols with two of the parents of his alleged victims, Pam Hobbs and Mark Byers. (An emotionally unhinged Byers emerged, in Berlinger and Sinofsky’s Paradise Lost 2: Revelations, as a circumstantial suspect in the slayings himself, though now new DNA evidence and testimony is pointing convincingly in other directions.) It is good to know that sometimes they’re not just only movies. Give credit to the Academy for recognizing that.
If The Artist reigns supreme at this year’s Academy flogging, whatever. It’s hardly the best movie of the year, but it’s a good, sincere movie. Yes, it’s overrated, but I look at that list of nominees and I find precious few titles that aren’t. I was lucky enough to see it last weekend at the Vista Theater in East Hollywood, and if you New Yorkers ever get a chance to visit Los Angeles, the Vista is a place you should visit. It sits on the exact site where the mammoth set for D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance was constructed, and it’s about a block away from the site where some of the earliest American movies were made and distributed. I’m always aware of the ghosts swirling around this ornate, lovingly-restored theater whenever I go there. But when we saw The Artist there this past Saturday night, I stood for a moment in the back of the theater and watched the audience, surrounded by all the art deco design on the walls and ceiling, staring up at the 1.33: 1 Academy ratio black and-white image, and for a moment it was easy to imagine that I had been transported back to the ‘20s, the time in which The Artist takes place, when the great movies that had been made in the very Hollywood neighborhood I was now in were still captivating audiences on their own. That was a dose of magic that went beyond the movie’s simple nostalgia and straight to the transcendent, and it happened quite separately from any kind of coronation of Oscar quality.
A question for you all: What movie from this year do you think a wider audience would enjoy if they only had the chance or made the effort to see it? My only restriction on your answer is that the movie you choose cannot come from the list of the 100 top box-office grossers of the year. Mine? The sublime outrageous Irishness of Brendan Gleeson and John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard. I would love it if this movie made some money and became a beloved touchstone, even in the sort of limited way that In Bruges, directed by McDonagh’s older brother Martin, eventually did. Oh, and more people need to experience the genuinely delightful, and genuinely creepy Troll Hunter. Trust me.
Dennis Cozzalio is the proprietor of the blog you are now reading as well as
the gatekeeper of the Tree House. Come on in and grab a brew. Don’t cost nothin’.
TREE HOUSE #13: SPIRITS AND INFLUENCES
TREE HOUSE #12: THE MOVIES MUST MOVE US
TREE HOUSE #11: REVOLUTION AND SHOW BUSINESS
TREE HOUSE #10: MESSAGE FROM THE MANAGEMENT
TREE HOUSE #9: WHERE'S MARTIN YAN WHEN YOU REALLY NEED HIM?
TREE HOUSE #8: RARIFIED REACHES
TREE HOUSE #7: BOMBAST, BIG BUDGETS, BREAKFAST BURRITOS
TREE HOUSE POST #6: DISCOVERY THROUGH A SECOND LOOK
TREE HOUSE POST #5: PEDIGREE "BETTER THAN" HYPE?
TREE HOUSE POST #4: CHURCH OF THE MULTIPLEX
TREE HOUSE POST #3: FESTIVAL FAVORITES AND NETFLIX NUGGETS
TREE HOUSE POST #2: AGONY, ECSTASY AND THESPIAN PRIDE
TREE HOUSE POST #1: INTRODUCTIONS AND AN OPENING SALVO