David Cronenberg started making movies before the Oscar machine morphed into what it is today. There have always been great movies and “Oscar movies” and the market for “Oscar movies” has always existed. But there was a time that I can actually remember, back in the 1980s for instance, when great directors were celebrated for their work and no one cared whether they won an Oscar or not. Or maybe I should say, I never cared. It felt good not caring.
Now, it seems as though the Oscar race is a validation process to determine artistic worth: it never has been and it never should be. I should also probably say — to me — because there are still many out there who have long since dismissed the Oscar race and would laugh at the notion that anyone would have ever judged cinematic greatness by that barometer.
This year, there are already two directors whose work will be written about for years to come but will have probably no chance at shimmying up the Oscar pole. The first is Terrence Malick, whose Tree of Life won’t hold the attention of even twenty Academy members probably — the film would do best hanging on a big wall at MoMa where art lovers could gaze upon its beauty but no movie goer would have to try to figure it out to the tune of $20.
And then there is David Cronenberg, a director whose work has never shied away from the extreme but whose work consistently pushes the bounds of normalcy while digging down deep into his characters. Like the other Davids, Lynch and Fincher, Cronenberg takes care how each shot fills the frame. But Cronenberg’s films aren’t even in Lynch of Fincher territory with the Academy; as in, they give them the obligatory Best Director nod on occasion to show that they still care about visionary cinema. But Cronenberg? Totally and completely ignored.
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They were never going to acknowledge films like Scanners, Naked Lunch, The Fly, or even Crash. But The Dead Zone, Dead Ringers, A History of Violence and Eastern Promises were certainly worthy of consideration. So what is the problem? Why is Cronenberg not on their radar? Is it because his films aren’t reliably emotional with a traditional narrative and payoff? Is it because his films are too cold? The old standby: warm and fuzzy is the way to go to woo Oscar. Or is it that they’ve just written him off as someone in the horror genre and therefore unworthy — lest we forget the era when the Academy DID have balls and they nominated The Exorcist for Best Picture.
I am going to go for the genre discrimination with this one. Although it is bothersome to use the term, as it immediately categorizes the thing and therefore deselects it from consideration. We do know that two genres specifically are often ignored — horror and comedy. Horror could include The Silence of the Lambs, though some think that it’s simply a thriller. It definitely includes the scariest film of all time, The Exorcist.
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Can the film have a “human element” if it dwells in the supernatural? It absolutely can. Strictly speaking about Cronenberg, both The Dead Zone and Dead Ringers are quite moving. Did Martin Sheen not deserve a Best Supporting Actor nomination for having delivered one of the most memorable villains in film history? Did Christopher Walken not deserve one? That film was given the short shrift undeservedly, as it has managed to retain its greatness still, after all of these years.
Melancholy, haunting, sweet – The Dead Zone is probably my favorite Cronenberg film. The supernatural elements are driven by the film’s well drawn characters, and the performances Cronenberg got from the actors.
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Moreover, although it really is asking too much, there is much empathy and emotional catharsis in The Fly – and only a really great and intelligent voting body would have recognized Goldblum in that role — of course they never would. To their minds there is something infantile about horror — it’s movies for kids and teens and not adults. Finally, Viggo Mortensen was nominated for Eastern Promises and William Hurt got a nod for A History of Violence, which shows the Academy is edging a smidge closer to recognizing Cronenberg.
Mortensen teams up once again with Cronenberg for A Dangerous Method, which looks to be Cronenberg’s most Oscar friendly film yet — on paper anyway. With a screenplay by Christopher Hampton (based on his play The Talking Cure, which was based on the book, A Dangerous Method), Viggo and Oscar darling Keira Knightley, we might see the first big play for Oscar in Cronenberg’s long career.
I dug up an old review for Hampton’s play, and with all of that sex talk it looks to be right up Oscar’s alley — http://www.curtainup.com/talkingcure.html:
<blockquote>The Talking Cure seems to skate over the intellectual issues. It is a potted, encyclopedic and ultimately unsatisfactory guide to psychoanalysis. The discussions between Freud and Jung are either intentionally humorous as Freud has a rather jokey manner or it’s because dreams about huge logs, which Freud says represent Jung’s penis, inspire laughter. The early scenes between Jung and Spielrein are good, the wordless love scene is lyrical and erotic but later scenes are so sentimental, almost melodramatic that I felt a bit as if I were watching a bad version of Jung with the Wind. Ultimately, the play tells us more about Jung’s affairs than his ideas, the freedom he searches for in his sexual affairs. This sexual history has to be the least interesting aspect of Jung’s bequest to the science of understanding the mind. </blockquote>
I couldn’t find a good review of the play, but that doesn’t mean much. Hampton had a crack at fixing things for the screenplay and with Cronenberg’s help, it could turn out to be something wholly different.
In the end, I am hoping for another great work from Cronenberg. If Academy members are open-minded enough, perhaps they too will start recognizing films and directors who have been kept out of the Oscar race for far too long simply because they aren’t in the right genre. If so, A Dangerous Method, if it’s good, should see nominations for Mortensen, Knightley and here’s to hoping, finally, Cronenberg.