Ang Lee

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Here is a photo of Ang Lee at 28 years old.

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Ryan and others have pointed out that Ang Lee is the only director ever in the history of movie awards to have 2 DGA awards, 2 Oscars for directing, 2 BAFTAs and 2 Golden Globes for directing, 2 Golden Lions and 2 Golden Bears (as noted yesterday by reader KT, and mentioned on Oscar night by Joao Mattos).

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I dig Richard Rushfield’s rumination on Hollywood’s love/hate with the king of the them all, Steven Spielberg (“Once again, the Best Picture prize slips from his hands. What does Hollywood have against its most successful resident?”)

Two Oscars ain’t half bad for the king of them all so I figure, hey, he can go down in the record books with the greats. Most times, the greats don’t win.  I thought Ang Lee’s prize last night was a glorious moment and a well-deserved win – he is a man who REALLY knows what matters in life and what doesn’t and to Ang Lee the film itself is the reward. He is the zen master and his mere presence seems to always throw the Best Director race in flux. At the same time, the Academy just doesn’t have a strong enough pair to really go all the way with Lee.

Sense and Sensibility was not nominated for Director. The same year Ron Howard won the PGA/DGA/SAG and then lost the Oscar to Mel Gibson for Braveheart.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon nominated for DGA, won. The same year, Steven Soderbergh got Best Director for Traffic and Gladiator won Best Picture.
Brokeback Mountain was nominated for and won DGA.  Lee also won the Oscar but Best Picture went to Crash.
Life of Pi, nominated for DGA, lost to Ben Affleck. Won second directing Oscar, lost Best Picture to Argo.

Ang Lee and Steven Spielberg are anything but losers. They are carving and shaping cinema. Both of them made movies that changed the way I see the world. I can’t say that about any other films in the Best Picture race with the possible exception of Zero Dark Thirty and Beasts of the Southern Wild. Winning the Oscar doesn’t define success, nor does it define greatness. Far from it. It is to the benefit of Academy voters that they get to call Ang Lee and Spielberg among their two time Best Director winners. It doesn’t make them better. It doesn’t improve their body of work.  The Academy improves their own history by picking great films.

John Ford won Best Director twice without winning Best Picture, The Informer (Mutiny on the Bounty won) and The Grapes of Wrath (Rebecca won) until he finally won both for How Green was My Valley.  George Stevens won best Director twice and never won Best Picture for Giant (Around the World in 80 Days won) and a Place in the Sun (An American in Paris won).

Ang Lee is only the third director in history to do that.

Steven Spielberg is now the fifth director in Oscar history to enter the race with a film with 12 nominations not to win Director or Picture. Lincoln is the only film with 12+ nominations to win just 2 Oscars.

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Ang Lee is the recipient of the Filmmaker of the Year award.

Ang Lee is widely regarded as one of the world’s great contemporary filmmakers. Along with Life of Pi, his films include Taking WoodstockLust, Caution; Hulk; Ride with the Devil; The Ice Storm and Sense and Sensibility. His film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and Best Director in 2001. He won the Oscar for Best Director in 2006 for Brokeback Mountain.

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“Unconsciously we all have a standard by which we measure other men, and if we examine closely we find that this standard is a very simple one, and is this: we admire them, we envy them, for great qualities we ourselves lack. Hero worship consists in just that. Our heroes are men who do things which we recognize, with regret, and sometimes with a secret shame, that we cannot do. We find not much in ourselves to admire, we are always privately wanting to be like somebody else. If everybody was satisfied with himself, there would be no heroes.”
― Mark Twain

As we march towards the Oscars and Hollywood readies itself to crown its new king, the director category sits there like the guests at the dance who didn’t bring a popular date. Every other member of every other branch, seven in total, but only six if you count the individual branches using the preferential ballot, picked Argo.  But the directors didn’t.

In the past 40 years of Academy history, Chariots of Fire is lone Best Picture winner that trailed its competition with the 4th highest nominations tally overall.  Argo stands in line behind 4 other films this year with only the 5th highest total.  With that 8th nomination, a directors nod, Argo would have tied with Silver Linings Playbook and Les Miserables, giving Affleck a realistic chance to win.  But there was a reason Argo was left off the Best Director list.  No one has adequately come up with a good enough reason to satisfy his fans.  “It was a fluke,” some say. “It was just a quirk of weird timing in a weird year.” But the truth is that the directors branch knew Argo was a frontrunner and they knew everyone expected them to nominate Affleck.  We were all surprised when he wasn’t on the list.   Probably he split up the vote along with Bigelow, Tarantino, Anderson and other strong directors in a strong year.  Affleck’s unexpected absence ended up working in the film’s favor and now, inexplicably, Argo is the film to beat.  No film has ever won with the fifth most nominations.

If the names that replaced Affleck and Bigelow had been bad choices, lazy choices I could see condemning the Academy.  But you have to admire a group that picked Benh Zeitlin and Michael Haneke, stepping outside the box to reward visionary auteurs.  How can you complain about that? For once, the Academy has proved itself more daring than the critics.  Whoda thunk it?

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Yet more good news for Life of Pi:

The Motion Picture Sound Editors (MPSE) today announces that Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee will be the recipient of its 2013 Filmmaker Award to be presented at the 60th MPSE Golden Reel Awards on February 17, 2013 in Los Angeles. Lee, whose latest film Life of Pi is currently in theaters, was selected for a body of work that has demonstrated superlative artistry and has advanced the craft of filmmaking.

“Ang Lee is a fascinating innovator,” said MPSE president Bobbi Banks. “He continually breaks ground through the use of the latest technology both visually and sonically.  That continues with Life of Pi where his use of Dolby Atmosguides audiences into the emotional intimacy of the sound experience. The Motion Picture Sound Editors takes great pride in honoring his contributions to world cinema.”

Marshall Flores writes: Irrational, circular, and transcendent – these three adjectives can describe many things: the conundrums of the universe, the mathematical properties of numbers such as pi. They also apply to the following short story, which I will use as a preface and frame for this review.

I know two people who had a long distance friendship. It was probably wholly inappropriate, but sometimes you find yourself drawn to someone even if you end up subverting many social norms that pertain to relationships. In any case, it was a close friendship that eventually couldn’t hold. Conflicts turned into total disconnect – ultimately, the friendship silently disintegrated. After one and a half years, one attempted to reconcile with the other. The catalyst: Life of Pi.

A film adaption of the Man Booker Prize-winning novel by Yann Martel, Life of Pi offers an introspective take on the mysterious, beautiful nature of life. A marvel of storytelling and visual resplendence, it tells the tale of Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, a young, religious teenager who, after a tragic shipwreck, is suddenly thrust into a harrowing journey on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean – a journey replete with spiritual motifs as well as extraordinary (and often dangerous) encounters with nature. Life of Pi is not only a parable for survival and the resilience of the human spirit; it is also a meditation on the mercurial, madcap, but ultimately glorious disposition of life in this universe. It is one of the very best films of 2012.

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The sky had gone uncharacteristically grey the day I was to drive to L’Ermitage in Beverly Hills to interview Ang Lee. Rain dotted the glass on my windshield. Rain in Los Angeles almost makes it feel like a real city. I was driving over the hill way over Laurel Canyon, out of the comfortable reality of “the valley” and into the strangely uncomfortable unreality of Beverly Hills — shiny black cars with tinted windows — the world you can’t see behind the windows is left to your delusions about the good life.

Interviews aren’t my favorite thing in the world but this wasn’t just any interview. This was Ang Lee. You can count on one hand the most influential directors of the last twenty years, the ones didn’t take their lead from the Big Four — Lucas, Spielberg, Allen and Scorsese — but instead forged their own unique path, inventing their own school of cinema. David Fincher is one. David Lynch is another. And then there’s Ang Lee.

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