No one in my business has a crystal ball. No one really knows what they’re talking about even if we pretend we do. There are a few things worth noting, however, from today’s Film Independent nominations. The Spirits gave a big boost to two films that really could use it – Cary Fukunaga’s uncompromising, brilliant masterpiece Beasts of No Nation, and Charlie Kaufman/Duke Johnson’s equally brilliant, uncompromising masterpiece Anomalisa. Both films represent the very best in independent film because they represent the true independent spirit. Both were put together on a wing and a prayer – with Anomalisa raising much of its funds through Kickstarter and Beasts of No Nation finally getting picked up by Netflix after every studio in town passed on it.
The Spirit Awards have leaked or simply are on their website prior to their announcement this morning. They have really redefined what film awards mean with these, honoring films that are experimental, trying different rollouts and all but helping the film industry thrive and adapt. Tangerine, Beasts of No Nation, along with Carol (two Best Actress performance nominations!).
Beasts of No Nation
Sean Baker, Tangerine
Cary Joji Fukunaga, Beasts of No Nation
Todd Haynes, Carol
Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, Anomalisa
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
David Roger Mitchell, It Follows
The Oscar race hasn’t really changed now that The Revenant’s been seen. It has confirmed its place, especially if you were thinking of it as a nominee for Best Picture, but perhaps not the winner. For a film to win Best Picture usually means you can sit anyone down in front of it – cashier, stripper, teacher, princess, president, security guard, nanny – and they will get it if not love it. That’s because thousands of people vote to call it the best. How can you get thousands of people to agree your movie is good? What Alejandro G. Inarritu is going for with The Revenant is to make a piece of art more than a general crowdpleaser. And while the review embargo has not yet been lifted, there are a few things that can be discussed.
You can check all of the boxes for nominations — especially in the tech categories. The cinematography is beyond anything I’ve ever seen because I don’t know if any crew has attempted anything like this, ever. You might have to go back to the 1970s, when filmmakers were still kind of, sort of allowed to experiment on this scale. The score is also breathtaking. The art direction (Jack Fisk) is subtle because nature is really the art director here but it is nonetheless authentic, very McCabe & Mrs. Miller looking. Tom Hardy is as strong as expected for a supporting nomination. The sound design of the film is probably going to be one of the hardest contenders for Star Wars to beat. But really, more than anything, The Revenant is two things – a love letter to the natural world that we have all but destroyed in our thirst for more “things” and the bravest, hardest thing Leonardo DiCaprio has ever done.
Ian McKellen performed a one man show recently here in Los Angeles wherein the actor spoke about the many actresses he’s worked with over the years. McKellen is such a great storyteller, which is why rare appearances like these are so memorable. Here he is on Maggie Smith.
The Big Short is so worth seeing. If you ever find out the real life character Christian Bale plays in this film you will marvel at his brilliant portrayal. You’ll think he’s great anyway, but in this case the more you know, the impressive it gets. By the way, the stripper used as an example of someone who was sold bad loans at falsely lowered interest rates is nothing compared to what those guys really did – selling the same loans to immigrant nannies, for instance. That’s left out of the movie but it is one of the most insidious things they did.
Something hit me while watching Creed, and in ruminating on the upcoming Star Wars movie. They’re bringing back 1970s nostalgia to remind us what movies once were. In thinking about these films I wondered why everything seems so different now. Movies aren’t really the culture quakes they used to be. In the science of evolution we know that with little competition a species can thrive and quickly evolve. With lots of competition that evolution is slower. Movies only have ever had one major thing competing with them and that was television. Now, there is much more competition. That competition is seeing its own golden age and it is starting to look like that golden age is about to leave the greatest generation of cinema behind.
In his November 19th column, Peter Bart theorizes as to why “Good Films Are Failing at the Box Office in Awards Season.” Bart wondered why a movie he enjoyed so much (it was Burnt) was failing at the box office. He offered up a few theories. But really, it’s this that we should all be paying attention to:
The current crop of movies seems somehow diminished by the media fixation on the present “golden age of television.” The water cooler conversation — online version — focuses on binge-watched digital shows, or even an evanescent YouTube act. During the summer, the kids put that all aside, and respond faithfully to their must-see Marvel Comics movie opening. But come fall, their parents aren’t as ready to leave the house.