I love this but it probably is cuter if you’re a parent. I love the Gravity and 12 Years a Slave ones the best.
Another generation had its unbearable lightness. In 12 Years a Slave, we repeatedly bear witness to an unbearable stillness. A few times, it’s a tableau of a group of slaves seen from the waist up, ostensibly awaiting instructions. Another few times, it’s a close shot on the thoughtful visage of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Once, it’s him calling for help as the camera pans up to a sedate U.S. Capitol building, pinprick-sized curls of smoke mutely confirming that the trading of flesh is just ongoing business as usual. Later, now famously, it’s a wide shot of him dangling from a tree branch by a noose, his feet scraping the ground just enough to survive, as we the audience wait to exhale.
Most often, the story’s stillness is represented by a twilight shot of unmoving Louisiana willows. Some may say that the meaning of those trees is that they are still somewhere in Louisiana, young by tree standards, and able to bear witness to atrocities that many Americans consider more distant than the era before gunpowder and printed books. I see the trees as part of the stillness. Of course, slavery was marked by spasms of unthinkable violence, and the film hardly ignores that, but the film’s motifs demonstrate that to live with slavery was to live frozen. In this film, in these 1840s, slavery is immutable, like malaria or fields that need plowing. It’s always been around; it will always be around. Sure, people like the character Bass, played by Brad Pitt, will speak of a day of reckoning, but don’t we have those people today, warning of unsustainability in whatever area? (And what a way to underline that point, by casting today’s most famous man.) Here, Northup has been dropped into a calcified situation, like a prehistoric mosquito set in amber.
Whether an artist is working in front of the camera, behind the camera, or in a recording studio, the film industry is perpetually the home of working ten or twenty years to become an overnight success story. In the case of Steven Price, the composer spent almost two decades rising up through the ranks of music departments, working on projects as varied as The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, I’m Not There, and Pirate Radio. After becoming part of Edgar Wright’s creative team on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, he wrote his first scores for Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block and Wright’s The World’s End.
All of this led to Price writing the score for Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, for which Price has already won a BAFTA and Critics Choice Award, and received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score. In celebration of Price’s BAFTA win and Oscar nomination, I recently spoke with Price about his work on what is universally considered to be the most ambitious film of 2013. Here’s what Price shared with me about the unique spirit with which Cuaron challenged everyone creatively, Sandra Bullock’s acclaimed performance serving as his muse, and crafting the score for Gravity.
Deadline’s Pete Hammond writes, I think, an interesting, well-examined look at Fox Searchlight’s billboard with the message “It’s time” written on it. This has become its own whisper campaign of sorts — Matt Drudge linked to it, very likely sending conservatives into a dizzy tailspin. What a Best Picture win for 12 Years a Slave will mean to the Glenn Becks and Hannitys of the world is “Best Picture by mandate.” They really need better outlets for their rage. This has all circled back to being Obama’s fault. Nothing has contorted the white entitlement in this country like two terms of President Obama. Worse, they feel somehow oppressed by his “fascist” regime. Now, it will extend into the Oscar race.
Something like an ad campaign, or criticisms therein, can sometimes derail an Oscar campaign. Sometimes ad campaigns can be utterly effective, like the “Some movies you feel” slogan for the King’s Speech. You really can’t force large swaths of mostly white voters to do the right thing. They chafe against that almost always. This is how we end up with the lowest common denominator choices for Best Picture. They end up picking Best Picture by the “kitten in a teacup” philosophy: it’s cute, it’s harmless, it has no baggage whatsoever. Give a movie baggage and you can derail its Best Picture campaign. It was easy to take this particular ad and make it a big deal. Know this: Anyone stupid enough to change their vote based on an ad campaign ought not to be put in the position of deciding Best Picture of the year.
But it works. Using a non-issue like this against a movie works — especially a movie that had frontrunner status foisted upon it way too early. It is no longer a cute kitten in a tea cup if the kitten is telling you how cute it is. Voters recoil, perception is everything. Welcome to the Oscar race.
It seems to me that there are some categories where voters will have likely seen most of the nominees. How hard is it, for example, to see all five of the Best Director contenders? Likely you’ve seen them: 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, American Hustle, Nebraska, The Wolf of Wall Street. If you haven’t seen those five by now you’re probably the wrong person to be voting on the highest achievement of the year in film. But giving you the benefit of the doubt that you really HAVE been that busy and that your television hasn’t otherwise been occupied by True Detective or the Olympics (are you kidding me?) – you will likely have seen all five in the next week before final ballots are due. But there’s less of a chance you’ll have seen the screenplay nominees.
4/5 of the adapted screenplays are from Best Picture contenders, and 4/5 of the original screenplays are from Best Picture contenders. You have to go back to 1998 to find a year when the Adapted Screenplay winner was not a Best Picture contender. And you have to go back to 2004 to find an Original Screenplay winner that wasn’t a Best Picture contender. It is even more difficult to not be represented in Best Picture now that the Academy has expanded to more than five nominees.
This year is full of great works in both the original and the adapted screenplay categories. Some of the writers are first time nominees. Strangely, most of the stories are true stories. Some of the original works are those of the author’s imagination entirely, cut from whole cloth. Others are faithful adaptations of well known, or little known, books.
The two main precursors for the screenplay category are the Writers Guild award and the Scripter. Unfortunately, several key films in the race weren’t eligible for the WGA, like John Ridley’s 12 Years a Slave and Steve Coogan’s Philomena. Not being eligible for the award meant that they did not go up against the WGA winner, Captain Phillips. However, all three screenplays were represented at the USC Scripter Awards, where John Ridley’s adaptation of Solomon Northup’s memoir, won. All three were again represented at the BAFTAs, where the screenplay for Philomena triumphed.
NPR Talks to John Walker, editor of 12 Years a Slave:
“And we see him hanging, and doing this surreal dance with the tiptoes of his feet in the mud,” Walker says. “And we aren’t plying you with music, and we aren’t making big comments — and we’re not that close.” The physical distance allowed the filmmakers to not just show Solomon dangling from the tree in agony but also to see the other slaves, forced to carry on with their tasks all around him. ”To me, it always felt like it was sort of a great way of realizing the casual nightmare of it all,” Walker adds quietly. He says he didn’t really have a hard time working on such scenes of brutality. What was hardest was when Northup’s freedom is eventually restored. ”I was in tears in the cutting room when I saw that come in,” he says. “There wasn’t a single shot of that family reunion that wasn’t heartbreaking.” Perhaps those big emotions are — partly— why some people are afraid to see the film. It’s made less than $50 million in the United States. But most moviegoers who’ve seen it are happy they did. 12 Years A Slave is the best-reviewed film of the year, according to the website Rotten Tomatoes. (It sent McQueen its own award, the Golden Tomato.)
Tom O’Neil Skypes with his editor Paul Sheehan post-BAFTA.
Matt Zoller Seitz will be reading from his book The Wes Anderson Collection at Skylight Books in Los Angeles on February 20, 7:30pm.
Behind ‘American Hustle,’ a world of passion, humanity and clarity [LA Times]
Will American Hustle sweep the Oscars? [Bloomberg]
Alfonso Cuarón On ‘Gravity,’ Creationists, and Bonding with Sandra Bullock Over Divorce [Daily Beast]
Alfonso Cuaron on Gravity being named Best British Film:
“I don’t need to set the record straight,” Cuarón told reporters. “There’s a series of rules that make a film eligible for BAFTAs as a best British film or not. And ‘Gravity’ definitely has all the requirements, except a couple of Mexicans that came here — legally, I have to say … . And a couple of American stars. The rest is a film that was completely shot in this country, developed in this country.”
We here at Awards Daily plan to walk the voters through this painful process of having to make a choice – and the even more painful truth that they have never, will never see all of the movies. Not to worry. AwardsDaily is here to help. We shall do our best to provide you with the best voting primer on the web starting with the hardest/easiest category of all: Best Picture.
For this category you have to have working knowledge of the preferential ballot. You will probably already have much experience with this, given that they changed that shit up in 2009 to usher in The Hurt Locker for Best Picture. Two years later, the solid ten became a random number between 5 and 9. You picked five, the Academy nominates more than five. For three straight years that number has been nine. So all that process of changing things up did was make for one less Best Picture contender in the race, and allow voters the luxury of only choosing five. Maybe the only five they saw all season.
Going in you have to know some things.
1) Rank your picks from the one you like the most to the one you like the least. If you want a film to do well but can’t bring yourself to vote for it as number one just make sure you place it higher on the ballot. Do not leave any slots blank or your ballot might get tossed.
“I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”
There is a scene in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave when Solomon Northup is recognized by one of the white people who knew him as a free man. “What is your name?” He is asked. His name is the only thing that has come to matter for that film this year. It is the reason Steve McQueen has been killing himself to help publicize the movie – committed to bringing the novel to classrooms, it is the reason Brad Pitt initially wanted to tell this story, and it is the thing that has brought screenwriter John Ridley to tears every time he’s talked about his experience writing the film. A name is something free people take for granted — but a name like Solomon Northup was too easy to forget for too long.
Has there ever been a year like this one where one movie keeps winning Best Picture but not Best Director? Not even the DGA? Certainly not the BAFTA who took the compromise route of putting Gravity in for Best British Film and having it win there (mais bien sur). Let’s look at it, shall we?
You can’t really count the Critics Choice, or the BAFTA because one is too recent and one changed their dates as to render them not a precursor. We can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that no split like this one has occurred since those awards bodies factored into the race. So we are talking more about the Golden Globes, the DGA and the Oscar.
Seems this year the complaints about the BAFTA’s outdated 2-hour delay between actual event and edited broadcast have grown louder than ever, so maybe one of these years before long the ceremony will be broadcast live. Until then, the clips after the cut could be the first and only parts of last night’s proceedings that many of us are ever likely to see.
BEST SOUND EDITING IN FEATURE FILM – SOUND EFFECTS AND FOLEY
GRAVITY (WARNER BROS.)
BEST SOUND EDITING IN FEATURE FILM – DIALOGUE AND ADR
CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (COLUMBIA PICTURES)
Foreign Language Film
Live Action Short