Off the Carpet: Kicking the habit, seeing the light
I haven't started to look at the 2012 awards season in terms of "the year of" because it's a fool's errand. That kind of thing just bubbles up and hits you one day and it becomes clear that, however inadvertently, the season's awards product hovers around similar ideas and notions, or at least that they can be molded around same.
However, after taking in Robert Zemeckis's "Flight" for a second time last night as the 50th annual New York Film Festival drew to a close, I started to note some things. The spirituality of the film, which I was aware of initially but which really began to stand out a second time, remained intriguing. And it struck me as somewhat poignant that it served as a bookend to the fest with opening night presentation "Life of Pi," a film very much about the search for faith and its power when it takes hold, whatever one might put one's faith in.
"Flight" screenwriter John Gatins was quick to go into all of that at the Stone Rose Lounge closing night party overlooking Columbus Circle. He was working through a few things when he wrote the script and the notion of "there are no atheists in foxholes" led to "there are no atheists on crashing airplanes" and that took him on a whole other journey of reflecting his flawed protagonist's faith through a variety of prisms throughout the script.
The film is also, of course, about addiction, and along with "Smashed" and "The Master" (which is its own can of worms as it pertains to "faith"), marks the year of the alcoholic in some ways. But what each film has done with that very general character trait is singularly impressive. And I suppose "Silver Linings Playbook," for all its insistence on an appeal to Prozac Nation, fits nicely on that boat as well.
"Argo" depicts a nation in diplomatic crisis. "Lincoln," in civil crisis. "Hitchcock" tells a story of an icon undertaking the Sisyphean task of going against the established grain with a soon-to-be horror classic. "Les Misérables" is in some ways about escaping the shadow of the past. Ditto "Anna Karenina," while "Amour" details the deterioration of life. Conflict is the essence of drama and is to be expected in cinema, but that having been said, 2012 really does feel like the year of the struggle on celluloid.
How all this will play out with the Academy will be interesting, because in my opinion, there is a lot to appeal to the membership, a lot to chew on. It's a diverse and solid slate of films members will be presented with in the next few months and the time capsule they choose in the form of five-to-10 nominees will be an intriguing reflection of the year, I have no doubt.
The New York Film Festival, meanwhile, enjoyed a healthy and momentous golden anniversary this year. I regret that I was unable to take in the amount of foreign language film contenders that I was hoping to, but I did play a little bit of catch-up. In addition to the highlights -- "Life of Pi," "Not Fade Away" and "Flight" (I missed secret screening "Lincoln," which I'll finally see this week) -- I caught up with Michael Haneke's aforementioned Palme d'Or-winning "Amour." It is a moving experience featuring a pair of wonderful performances from Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, but it was Riva in particular who knocked me backwards. Hers is the best lead actress performance I've seen all year.
The fest also brought what is, to my mind, the best lead actor performance of the year, from Denis Lavant in Leos Carax's vibrant and glorious "Holy Motors." I called the film "a bunch of nonsense" on a recent podcast, and to an extent, I stand by that. But it nevertheless features a lot to unpack and is so brazen that it really can't be considered anything less than one of the films of the year.
Exiting program director Richard Peña is leaving a wonderful 25-year legacy with the fest and, as he told the audience last night, he looks forward to sitting out in that audience and seeing what incoming director Kent Jones, as well as Rose Kuo, Robert Koehler and the rest of the team have in store going forward. I felt lucky indeed that this transitioning moment was my first real exposure to the festival.
With that, we move forward into the season. A handful of titles are still left to show their hand, the usual few late-bloomers idly waiting (though hurriedly finishing) as the others have their day. We'll see what they have in store soon enough.