Off the Carpet: A 'Happy' Oscar season draws to a close
At the Independent Spirit Awards Saturday afternoon, John Cassavetes Award winner (and former In Contention contributor) Chad Hartigan told me something I didn't know: He wouldn't have made "This is Martin Bonner" if it weren't for Steve McQueen's "Hunger." He copped a few of the film's lines in his film, some of the camerawork, too. He was inspired, he said, by a filmmaker who could pull something that powerful off with such modest means, both financially and artistically.
That, to me, is McQueen's legend. That, to me, is the kind of thing that will endure. These nickel-plated notions of "importance" that people throw around during the Oscar season, straining to associate some arbitrary level meaning to the thing, they can frankly diminish the very fine achievement on display. "I fear all the talk about the historical importance of '12 Years a Slave' almost completely obscures its extraordinary artistic merit," Black List founder and CEO Franklin Leonard Tweeted after the Oscars Sunday night, and that's sort of what I was getting at with my piece last week titled "On Oscars and the personal gravity of art." The worst thing you can do is allow the Oscars to smother the movies.
So my hope in "12 Years a Slave" winning Best Picture at the 86th annual Academy Awards is that it is able to shrug off this whiff of politics, this notion of the Academy doing what they felt they probably should do rather than what they wanted to do. Because that's so demeaning, in a way, of what McQueen has accomplished in his short but powerful career in feature filmmaking. What lurks in the film is what endures, in the hearts of viewers, in the passion of those filmmakers like Chad who are inspired by the work. Not the Oscars.
All of that said, I'm very happy for Brad Pitt and Dede Gardner this morning. "12 Years a Slave" represents everything they care about as a production company, everything they want to put out into the world. It's interesting to see George Clooney winning Best Picture one year and Brad Pitt the next, and to see Leonardo DiCaprio also in the Best Picture mix as producer of "The Wolf of Wall Street." These are celebrities who have used their movie star status to influence the status quo in Hollywood, to make great films that they're passionate about and aren't necessarily safe bets. So bravo to them, and congratulations to Pitt and his team for getting into business with McQueen.
I'm elated for "Gravity" and its seven wins. It seemed early on that the Best Film Editing victory was a tell-tale sign, but that didn't pan out. It's obvious the Academy was just as mesmerized by Alfonso Cuarón's epic, universal tale, and to see him with an Oscar in his hand — the first Latino director to win the award — was a real treat. He earned it. And he shares in the editing prize, too, joining James Cameron on the list of filmmakers to win Best Director and Best Film Editing for the same film.
Speaking of which, the last film to win Best Director and Best Film Editing but not Best Picture? "Traffic," another film the Academy obviously wanted to award. The last film to win at least seven Oscars but not Best Picture? "Cabaret," which like "Gravity," lost to a film — "The Godfather" — that received just three Oscars, including Best Adapted Screenplay and an acting prize. In these terms, between these two films, it's fair to say the wealth was properly spread, despite a 7-3 split.
I'm happy for Fox Searchlight, which stuck to its classy campaign, never reached — even in that "It's Time" moment — and maintained an even keel. It's a team that deserves to be rewarded, frankly, and five years after "Slumdog Millionaire," they're bringing another one home.
I'm happy, too, for Lupita Nyong'o, and I'm proud to say the first place her name appeared all season was in the predictions sidebar of In Contention way back in June of 2013. Once the film arrived at Telluride, her place in the season was a foregone conclusion. And when she arrived on the precursor circuit, a star was born.
I'm happy for Warner Bros., which dominated the spread not just with "Gravity's" seven wins but with the two design trophies for "The Great Gatsby" and Spike Jonze's Best Original Screenplay win for "Her." Even as a detractor of Jonze's film, I was so pleased to see him holding an Oscar. His is a vital voice and with three nominations on the night, it was nice to see him walk away with one.
1997 | Crime | RSummary: Quentin Tarantino adaptats an Elmore Leonard novel into this story of a few increasingly desperate people scraping to get by.Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster
1993 | Sports | PGSummary: Emotionally powerful sports classic featuring Sean Astin as a skinny high school kid with big football dreams and the determination to make his way towards his dream team at Notre Dame.Director: David Anspaugh
Cast: Sean Astin, Jon Favreau, Ned Beatty
2013 | Comedy | NRSummary: Insanely funny comedy show created by Amy Schumer, who stars in brilliantly funny sketches about sex, city living, dating, and friendship.Director: Daniel Powell, Amy Schumer (creators)
Cast: Amy Schumer, Kevin Kane, Mike Houston
2008 | Science Fiction | PGSummary: Animated series continues the story of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker as they battle the Emperor Palpatine, Count Dooku and General Grievous, but also takes time to explore other smaller characters in the Star Wars universe.Director: George Lucas (creator)
Cast: Tom Kane, Dee Bradley Baker, Matt Lanter
2013 | Drama | RSummary: Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill have boundless energy in the story of a real-life commodities crook who earned millions through scummy small-time stock trades.Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
1995 | Mystery | NRSummary: Denzel Washington plays an out of work WWII vet who takes the wrong job and is soon neck-deep in a mess of politics, murder, and jazz in '40s Los Angeles.Director: Carl Franklin
Cast: Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals
Let Streaming Genie help you.