Dennis - It is wonderful to be back here in the tree house with you fine people and I very much look forward to the conversation!
Your comment about the Golden Globes ("to claim disgust or irrelevance when it comes to these flashy events") made me laugh at the outset because I admit with no shame that I adore awards shows, and I love them for the reasons many others hate them. I love the speeches with the tears and the incoherence, I love the red carpet and the pretty dresses, I love the quick glimpses of camaraderie and togetherness which shows it really is a community of people no different from, oh, the small-town theatre in Waiting for Guffman, yet on a higher scale with bigger salaries. These are just creative people who are very lucky to get a chance to do what it is they love to do. On the flipside, I have a difficult time collating art into "best" or "favorite", so the investment in such-and-such a movie "winning" is irrelevant to me, and the crows of "so-and-so wuz robbed" the following day make zero sense to me. Robbed? From what? A completely subjective award? I'm with Dustin Hoffman who said in his Oscar acceptance speech that he refused to believe that he was better than Jack Lemmon, and the other nominees. People dislike earnestness in actors for some reason and snicker when actors show solidarity or honest emotion in such moments. I don't. I wish there was more of it. I love awards shows when they get messy, unpredictable, and emotional. I say bring it on. This is art, not a Power Point presentation at the Marriott.
I've seen a lot of movies this year, and most of them involve Elvis Presley, which should be a surprise to no one who reads me regularly. I covered both Tribeca and the New York Film Festival for Capital New York. I got a chance to see a lot of great things (some of which have not received distribution yet), and I can only hope that these films find an audience, like Michael Cuesta's Roadie, starring Ron Eldard in one of my favorite performances of the year, and Flowers of Evil, which made it to my Top 10 List.
Celebration is the name of the game for me, and I am very glad you framed it that way, Dennis.
My "way in" to films is usually through performance. That is no secret. You can have the most beautifully framed shot, but if the acting isn't interesting or engaging, I can barely remember the movie. To give you an example of how far I take this, I honestly felt that Rob Corddry should have been nominated for something for his performance in Hot Tub Time Machine in 2010. If I were Queen of the Universe, he would have gotten a Best Supporting nod, at least. That's some of the most alive acting I saw that year, hands down. This year, I felt the same way about the entire cast of Bridesmaids, Rose Byrne and Melissa McCarthy in particular. The detail of those performances, the underlying subtext of each character's through-line, the interactions, the improvisation ... all of that made Bridesmaids the feast of Acting Glory that it was. These are the movies I remember, that I will watch again and again.
Which leads me to Tree of Life, Dennis. I sympathize with your feeling that you might be "missing" something and I have often felt that myself when it comes to other movies. Tree of Life moved me on a profound level (I saw it at a screening with my co-Tree-House-pal Steven Boone coincidentally), and yet it was not at all about the acting (although Brad Pitt was wonderful and heartbreaking). I'm a big Malick fan, although I do not agree with his persistent belief in Lost Innocence, one of his pet themes. I don't believe in innocence at all, at least not in the way it is portrayed in New World, but I know that Malick believes it. His purity of belief is somehow compelling to me, even though I disagree with it, and his films give me the space to argue with them, scoff, roll my eyes, succumb, and then scoff again. I appreciate that space I am given. It seems a rare and precious thing in the movies. In my review of Tree of Life, I wrote, "Grace is a difficult concept to put into words, yet you tend to know it when you see it, or when you feel it... There is grace in the divine or religious sense, but there is also grace in the physical sense, as in the movements of ballerinas or stallions. Grace is also present in the silent feelings between people—the ties that bind us to each other, however painful or unresolved... That is one of the things I thought as I watched the violent creation of the universe, billions of years before any of us showed up. If I had to try to define it, from my own experience, I would say grace is what you find in those brief moments when a sensation flows over you that tells you, 'This. Here. Right now. Is perfect.' But that's not really a definition, is it? That's the problem with, and the beauty, of grace. Tree of Life isn't about grace so much as it is a pure representation of it." I stand by that.
In terms of favorite moments of 2011? Here is a brief list.
I love the first conversation between Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska as Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre in Jane Eyre during Jane Eyre's first night in Thornfield Hall. The scene is a masterpiece, taken nearly word for word from the book, and it crackles with intimacy and suggestion and intensity, with spaces left for long intense pauses where they size each other up. Michael Fassbender has had a big year with Shame and A Dangerous Method, but his best performance in 2011 was as Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre.
I love the scene in The Descendants when Matt King (George Clooney) informs his daughter, played by Shailene Woodley, that they will have to take her mother off of life support, and she leaps into the pool, the camera catching her underwater as she swims forward, her face grimaced in a silent scream. That is my favorite shot of the year. It is what movies can do that live theatre cannot, and is a beautiful use of the medium.
There is a small quiet moment in Midnight in Paris when Marion Cotillard looks up at Owen Wilson and makes the observation, "You look so sad." Owen Wilson has always had a sadness flickering on the periphery of his goofy persona, something that is evident in most of his roles, even Starsky and Hutch. It is one of his most unique and hard-to-pin-down qualities. Midnight in Paris does not make a fetish of his sadness, but in that moment, even though the conversation was light and friendly, he did look sad. Existentially sad.
I love the look on Meryl Streep's face, as Margaret Thatcher in Iron Lady, as she flips through her husband's clothes in the closet. Her eyes are unfocused, almost fearful. She leans down to smell one of the coats. She is not sure where she is, or when she is, and every gesture and expression in that small silent scene suggests her disorientation.
When her stepchildren show contempt for her at the tennis club, Rose Byrne in Bridesmaids gets a brief look on her face of panicked grief overlaid with manic social jollity that is one of the best acting moments of the year.
In Asghar Farhadi's extraordinary A Separation, a man (Peyman Moadi), in the middle of a stressful life situation, gives his Alzheimer's-stricken father a bath. The old man sits passively in his wheelchair as his son sponges him down, lifting up his arms, stroking his back. The scene plays out in real time, with no closeups and no edits. The son is focused on the task at hand (as he is in every area of his life), and yet suddenly he breaks down, laying his head on his father's shoulder, weeping like a small boy.
Kirsten Dunst, who has always been an effervescent personality onscreen, was a revelation to me in Melancholia. The whole film was a revelation. (I dislike Lars von Trier's films, but was swept away by Melancholia.) In the opening wedding scene, her smile is genuine enough that a casual onlooker would be fooled, but when she thinks no one is looking, shadows flood her eyes. Her nighttime nude embrace of the approaching Melancholia planet in the sky is eloquent in terms of what depression actually feels like, and such a potent and strange image that it felt like it was burned into my cornea.
Juliette Binoche looks into the camera (or bathroom mirror) in Certified Copy, and puts on red lipstick, hoping to be attractive to the man across the table out in the restaurant. There are moments that are good, moments that are even great, but perfect moments you can count on one hand. That is a perfect moment.
Moments like that are why I go to the movies.
Sheila O'Malley is a playwright, actress and freelance writer who blogs with passion at The Sheila Variations.
See also: THE SLIFR TREE HOUSE v.2011 #1: INTRODUCTIONS AND AN OPENING SALVO