Saturday, February 24, 2018

It Might Be You: Best Picture, 1982

We make a big deal of "precursors" in today's awards landscape, with a full nine awards ceremonies to go before we get to the Oscars: the BAFTAs, the Golden Globes, LAFCA, NYFCC, National Board of Review, National Society of Film Critics (NSFC), Critics' Choice Awards, SAG Awards, PGA Awards....and that's just if you're following Best Picture! To try to predict how this year's Oscars may turn out, those of us obsessed with awards look to these nine bodies to help us see which way the wind is blowing. In a year like 2017, that's proving especially difficult.

Here, let's look at the nine films currently nominated for Best Picture, and see which ones have already won a Best Film prize:

Call Me By Your Name: LAFCA
Darkest Hour 
Get Out
Lady Bird: Golden Globes (Musical/Comedy)NSFC, NYFCC
Phantom Thread
The Post: National Board of Review
The Shape of Water: Critics' Choice Awards, PGA Awards
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri: BAFTA Awards, Golden Globes (Drama), SAG Awards (Ensemble, which many consider the Best Picture equivalent at SAG)

It's a much bigger spread than usual. Compare that to 1982. Back then, there were only six awards besides the Oscars competing for attention - no PGA, no SAG, no Critics' Choice - but they all still played before the Academy Awards. No one dare compete outright with The Big One. Here's how things went then:

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: Golden Globes (Drama), LAFCA
Gandhi: BAFTA Awards, Golden Globes (Foreign Film - they used to put the Brits in this category and it's bonkers), National Board of Review, NYFCC
Tootsie: Golden Globes (Musical/Comedy), NSFC
The Verdict

It also looks fairly spread out, but Gandhi has the edge, having won over the British Film Academy, the Hollywood Foreign Press, the National Board of Review, and the New York Critics. And of course, what wound up happening Oscar Night?

A different time, but now, as then, people like to make a statement with their vote. Obviously you have to like the film, but as Attenborough and Kingsley averred in their speeches, a vote for Gandhi is a vote for world peace. What is the equivalent in 2017? What film not only represents the best in filmmaking, but the best of intentions? And will that combination result in an Oscar win?

We'll find out March 4th. Until then, let's look at the Best Picture lineup of 1982. After the jump...

Friday, February 23, 2018

All the Lies I Have Told: Actress, 1982

Meryl Streep famously won her second Academy Award for Sophie's Choice:

It's not hard to see why. The movie saw her speaking three languages, all in a Polish accent, while also physically transforming into both a starving concentration camp inmate and the heartbreakingly beautiful object of lust for the main character, called Stingo (the movie is, frankly, ridiculous). It's de-glam and sexy - something for everyone!

If there is an equivalent today, I have to believe it's Margot Robbie. For I, Tonya, the native Australian beauty affects an American accent, wears braces, dons a variety of wigs for unflattering frizz, and goes from ice princess to female boxer, with some age de-glam thrown in. It's a transformation, and Oscar loves that.

Thirty-five years later, Meryl Streep is back. Today she's a veteran whose Best Actress nomination is, increasingly, more reliable than tomorrow's sunrise. This year, fortunately, she got some of the best reviews of her career for The Post. I'm not sure who is the 1982 equivalent, but I think Sissy Spacek comes closest. Though Missing is only her third Oscar nomination, she was coming off a win for Coal Miner's Daughter and dominated the 1980s. There's a reason this is the fourth retrospective in a year to feature Spacek: girl was prolific.

Another veteran, and one very likely to take the prize this year, is Frances McDormand in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. A friend of mine explained the appeal of the performance this way: "Frances McDormand was an avatar for the cauterizing power of rage." Ok! I have to think that was part of the appeal of Jessica Lange's performance in Frances, too - beyond "just" being a biopic, Lange gives us fire and fury as a woman who doesn't behave as prescribed, and gets branded as crazy because of it. Do not underestimate a fearsome female.

Nor a romantic one. The high school comedy and the romantic drama are not the most respected of genres, regarded as being more "slight" (read: female-driven) than others. But sometimes there comes a movie, and a performance, that's so perfect, its worthiness is undeniable. This year, Saoirse Ronan helped lead Lady Bird to five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture; in 1982, Debra Winger helped make An Officer and a Gentleman into the third highest-grossing movie of the year (even Richard Gere admits she stole the show!).

Where does that leave The Shape of Water's Sally Hawkins and Victor/Victoria's Julie Andrews? These ladies landed their nods thanks to physicality, expressiveness, and their voice - or lack thereof. Hawkins plays a mute janitor, but you don't need subtitles to know what she's thinking; it's there on her face, in her posture. Andrews is anything but mute, but the way she adjusts the timbre of her voice and body language to appear more masculine, the way she fights and dances, make for an impressive showcase. These ladies are limber!

Enough of now, let's talk then. The 1982 nominees, after the jump....

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Love Lifts Us Up: Original Song, 1982

Lord, I just want to take a break from writing for a short time. Fortunately, we can take a music break, as this is Best Original Song!

Culture critic Joe Reid calls the 1980s the greatest decade for this category. He may be right: from "Fame" in 1980 to "Under the Sea" in 1989, with some karaoke standbys and Bond themes in between, the 80s are rife with riches in the Original Song category. 1982 is no exception, with lyricists Alan & Marilyn Bergman taking up three slots, and the standards "Up Where We Belong" and "Eye of the Tiger" among the nominees. The eagles did fly, right into a win:

(This is just a bizarre video, from the dead silence greeting Yes, Giorgio to the uncomfortable PDA between Nitzsche and Saint-Marie)

Oddly missing is Victor/Victoria, which boasts several original songs and won for Best Adapted and/or Song Score. Where is "Le Jazz Hot"? Whither "Crazy World"?

Anyway, the nominated songs after the jump - and while we're at it, you'll also get the songs nominated for the 2017 Oscars! So have a listen, won't you?:

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Steers and Queers: Supporting Actor, 1982

Louis Gossett, Jr., made history at the 1982 Oscars by becoming both only the second African-American man to win an Academy Award (Sidney Poitier was first) and the first to do so for Best Supporting Actor.

(Ok, can I just point out: no, Susan Sarandon, two of those roles could not have been played by women. Preston does one scene at the end of his film in a dress. Fun "drag race" joke, though.)

Supporting Actors come in many forms and flavors. Here are a few of them, taking into account not just 1982's crop, but also the current batch of nominees for the 2017 film year.

The Movie Thief: Though his on-screen time is relatively brief compared to the rest of the cast, his character is unforgettable, the one you leave thinking about. It also helps if he has a big scene, like a monologue or a musical number. For the latter, take Charles Durning's sidestepping guv'nor in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas; for the former, Woody Harrelson's sheriff in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri.

The Tough Love Father Figure: He's not fighting the protagonist, he's making him/her/them a better person - but he's gonna do it with discipline. When his eyes brim with tears at movie's end, that's the cue for the audience to lose its mind. Take Louis Gossett, Jr.'s, drill sergeant in An Officer and a Gentleman or Willem Dafoe's motel manager in The Florida Project.

The Best Friend: There for the protagonist to connect with the way he/she can't with a romantic partner; also there to help hatch and execute any harebrained schemes alongside the hero/ine. Take John Lithgow's trans bestie to Robin Williams in The World According to Garp or Richard Jenkins' gay bestie to Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water.

The Guy You Can't Trust: A worthy adversary, he's not just the charmer - he's the snake as well. Take James Mason's high-powered defense attorney in The Verdict or Christopher Plummer's megalomaniacal billionaire in All the Money in the World.

The Co-Lead: Well, almost - I mean, you can make the argument. He gets just as juicy an arc - and almost as much screentime - as the supposed protagonist. Hell, the movie ends with him! Take Robert Preston's nightclub singer/manager in Victor/Victoria or Sam Rockwell's dim-witted cop in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri.

The 1982 contenders, after the jump....

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

True Story: Adapted Screenplay, 1982

I used to have an Oscar Season Reading List, made up of books whose upcoming adaptations had some buzz surrounding them. This was during college, 2007 - 2010, and it forced me to jump ship from my usual pulps and whodunnits and explore other genres, forms, and writers. Nominated titles included Atonement, No Country for Old Men, Oil! (There Will Be Blood), "The Bear Went Over the Mountain" (Away from Her), "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", Doubt, Frost/Nixon, The Reader, Push (Precious), Up in the Air, The Accidental Billionaires (The Social Network), True Grit, Winter's Bone and The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Hugo). Unnominated titles included Public Enemies and Revolutionary Road.

Eventually I became frustrated with bringing expectations from my readings to the movies, and so I've more or less stopped that. Still, it's worth trying again, especially when it comes to a year like this one - or indeed, a year like 1982. Because you never know just where the inspiration for an awards-worthy screenplay can come from....

Like a novel, preferably a best-seller - after all, if people want to read a story, other people probably want to watch it. In 1982, The Verdict is one of those courtroom thrillers that would sell at any airport; Sophie's Choice is a doorstop of a novel about a post-War love story and secrets of World War II Europe. In 2017, Call Me By Your Name is a gay-themed novel about memory; Mudbound is an epic about the post-war South.

Truth is stranger than fiction - thus, the non-fiction book. Missing, based on The Execution of Charles Horman, relates the story of the disappearance and murder of Charles Horman in Chile, and the implication of our own American government in its subsequent coverup. And if you want to count autobiographical fiction, Das Boot, about the exploits of a German U-boat, is based on a novel written by a war correspondent who went aboard U-96 in 1941. 2017 offers two true tales of its own: The Disaster Artist, about the making of cult hit The Room, and Molly's Game, which is terrible.

They don't even have to come from books - they could be other films! Victor/Victoria is based on the 1933 German film Viktor und Viktoria; actually, it's the fourth version of that story, following the 1935 British film First a Girl and the 1957 German remake. Logan is inspired by the X-Men comics, yes, but it's mostly our understanding of Hugh Jackman's performance in 8 films over 17 years that informs the film.

In 1982, truth took the prize:

And what will happen in 2017? No idea, we'll talk about that next week. For now, a closer look at the nominees of 1982...

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Unexpected: Director, 1982

"I was certain that not only would E.T. win, but that it should win. It was inventive, powerful, wonderful. I make more mundane movies." Words famously uttered by the very honest Richard Attenborough, reacting not just to Gandhi's win for Best Picture, but to his own triumph in being named Best Director.

I have a great many friends who would agree with Attenborough's self-assessment, but we'll talk more about that later. I do wonder, though, what the late Attenborough would think of this year's Best Director lineup. Who among them is putting out inventive, powerful, wonderful work - and who is more mundane? Who are the Attenborough and Spielberg and etc. of 2017?

I think the Attenborough of 2017 is Dunkirk's Christopher Nolan - and no, it's not because of any mundanity. It's because we have a fixture of the cinema being given his due by playing to his strengths for a passion project 20 years in the making. For Attenborough, his British sensibilities and historical epics experience employed for a biopic of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi. For Nolan, his unorthodox approaches to blockbuster storytelling enhance what could have been an otherwise straightforward telling of the evacuation of Dunkirk.

Who is the Sidney Lumet of 2017, the one making films for grownups? I should think that's obvious: Paul Thomas Anderson, whose Phantom Thread manages to be much larger than its intimate focus on a complex relationship would suggest. Inversely, Lumet takes a big underdog-vs.-Archdiocese courtroom thriller like The Verdict and never loses sight of the fact that, at heart, it's an intimate recovery drama. These are men who can focus on the macro and the micro in a single shot.

Whither the Wolfgang Petersen, rarely misstepping despite the unique challenges of his film, with an ear for surprising humor and a real sense of claustrophobia? Specific, yes! And also - that man is Jordan Peele, who makes social satire within a horror framework look as easy as a sprawling epic set within a submarine. You laugh, but you also can't escape a sense of dread, thanks chiefly to the sound design: Get Out with its spoon hitting the teacup, Das Boot with its propellers churning overhead.

How about a Sydney Pollack, so good with actors, maybe not offering the most visual pizzazz, but showing that directing is more than flash and dollies and whatnot, that performances and chemistry and a consistent handle on a tricky tone are just as important. Duh, Greta Gerwig; Lady Bird, like Tootsie, is hilarious and emotional and realistic, with a looseness belying its sturdy structure.

Which means the Spielberg equivalent is Guillermo del Toro, who also made a fantasy drama unapologetic in its sweetness, one that not only wears its cinematic influences on its sleeve, but recreates indelible moments from those films to further its sense of wonder.

Whew! The nominees of 1982, after the jump....

Friday, February 16, 2018

Ben and the Other Four Gentlemen: Actor, 1982

And now we come to Best Actor.

The Biopic: This man existed, and this actor nailed it. Ben Kingsley as Gandhi in Gandhi, Gary Oldman as Churchill in Darkest Hour.

The Breakdown: His performance is a slow burn as he realizes the shit he's got into - and it's satisfying to him lash out near the end. Jack Lemmon in Missing, Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out.

The Transformation: Trust me when I say you've never seen him like this. Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, Denzel Washington in Roman J. Israel, Esq.

The Legend: Whether he wins or loses, he's a respected thesp who gets nominated often. Peter O'Toole in My Favorite Year, Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread.

The Guy Who Only Needs a Single, Uninterrupted Take of Something to Make Critics and Audiences Fall All Over Themselves in Exultation: Paul Newman giving good speech in The Verdict, Timothée Chalamet staring at a fireplace in Call Me By Your Name.

And it looks like this year, as in 1982, the Biopic will reign triumphant. But who knows? We'll find out soon enough - until then, let's take a look at the 1982 performances after the jump!