The Oscar tracking pages are now open in all the acting categories.
As is usually the case this time of year, they are still sparsely populated, but with Cannes in full swing new names pop up almost daily. It was tough to pick out on any standout names from the across-the-board raves for the Coens' Inside Llewyn Davis, but some names were definitely singled out for praise when Asghar Farhadi's The Past hit the town.
You will find those names and more possibilities on the charts:
Frances Ha is the type movie experience I’m hoping for every time I plunk down my ticket money. It knows exactly what it wants to do and how it wants to do it and as a result it grabs you by the sleeve and pulls you right in. It is Noah Baumbach’s finest film to date and the big breakout due for Greta Gerwig for some time now.
Frances (Gerwig) is a dancer who shares a Brooklyn apartment with her bestest buddy Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Pushing thirty and stalled professionally and personally, she is right at the age when spending her nights flitting around the city getting wasted with her girlfriend stops being cute and starts being a cause for concern. When events transpire to threaten Frances' holding pattern the wheels quickly come off her cushy existence.
With this film Baumbach has not expanded his style so much as smashed it into a thousand pieces and arranged them into a collage. Frances Ha leaps in and out of scenes with abandon, staying only long enough for a quiet moment or a snippet of dialogue. Baumbach will pile up a dozen tiny moments in a row before settling down for a complex five-minute scene. It’s an exhilarating way to capture Frances adrift in her own life. I know an Oscar nomination for best editing is a pipe dream, but it deserves one. Same goes for the film’s striking black and white cinematography, which fearlessly calls to mind Woody Allen’s Manhattan and then proceeds to earn the comparison with its time capsule-ready portrait of present-day New York.
Less immediately noticeable than the bold style is the change in tone from Baumbach’s previous films, no doubt due to the influence of Gerwig, who cowrote the screenplay. The merciless edge of his writing is somewhat softened here. France Ha is no less perceptive than Squid and the Whale or Greenberg but it is a gentler, less acidic voice. Frances is too endearing to stay angry at even with her maddening, self-sabotaging behavior - not something that could be said of Baumbach’s other protagonists.
That the film is consistently funny as hell also deserves mentioning.
Even with the beautiful craft and the sharp writing the headline here is Gerwig’s performance. The film’s distributor would have to drop the ball big time for her to not feature in the discussion of the year’s best performances. The supporting cast is aces too, particularly Mickey Sumner as Sophie and Adam Driver who delivers a brief but devastating take on posturing Brooklyn cool.
Any complaints? Maybe things get tied up a trifle too neatly in the closing moments. To continue with the Manhattan comparison, Frances Ha never finds the surprising power Allen found in the final scenes of his New York opus. But this is just me being stingy with the masterpiece label. My primary reaction is one of admiration and joy. Frances Ha is heading for a prominent place on my list of the year’s best films.
First off - I love that Alexander Payne had the cojones to shoot Nebraska in black and white, even though that's a huge turn off for the average Joe Popcorns of the world.
Second - You can tell instantly that this is up to Payne's standard of sharp writing. The usual smarts and observation. "God musta changed his mind or something' is such a perfect line. That doesn't guarantee another Sideways/Election masterpiece - it could very well turn out to be another B+ Descendants level production - but Payne never phones it in.
Third - He doesn't get to do much in this clip, but knowing what I know about Payne's gift for handing actors roles they can shine in, I'm ready to write Bruce Dern's name into the supporting actor ballot right now.
We recently passed the 1/3 mark of this new decade, so I figure why not take stock of the current best of the decade rankings. By this time last decade we had already seen The 25th Hour, Talk to Her, City of God, Almost Famous, The Royal Tenenbaums and In the Mood for Love - to name just a few that featured prominently in the best of the decade retrospectives.
This is where I see the standings so far:
Best Films 2010 - Present
1. A Separation
2. Black Swan
3. The Social Network
5. Moonrise Kingdom
6. I Am Love
7. Beasts of the Southern Wild
8. It's Such a Beautiful Day
9. Frances Ha
10. The Master
You can't expect all the choices from your end of the lists to maintain their order as the years roll on. Some films gain in standing, others lose ground. So far my lists (2010, 2011, 2012) are holding pretty stable. The only real movement is Farhadi's A Separation, which finished second in 2011, climbing into the top spot. The power of that film continues to grow and grow.
Next up: Richard Linklater's Before Midnight, which will qualify as a disappointment if it doesn't bump The Master off this list.
Unlike most Oscar pages I'm not posting predictions based on speculation but only tracking those films which have actually been seen by audiences. From way out here in Spring, we have three acclaimed little films with big potential jockeying for the indie breakout position.
Big box office aside, I'm marking Gatsbydown as a bust outside the visual categories. I did however toss in Shane Carruth on the director's page because, odds be damned, he deserves to be in the conversation.
According to Martin Scorsese, for years after making Goodfellas producers would ask him if he could make another movie with the same aggressive quick-cutting style he used during the final act of that film. Scorsese would explain that it was a device used to evoke a mind addled on cocaine, not something you could apply with a trowel to an entire film. Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is an example of the film Scorsese was trying to avoid making. Luhrmann dives into the spectacle of Gatsby’s lavish, hedonistic revelries with all the eye-popping visual extravagance one would expect from the director of Moulin Rouge. But the film that surrounds it is such a series of exclamation points that the party sequences barely stand out. By the end we are left numb. The romance and tragedy of Jay Gatsby's beautiful dreams are drowned out in Luhrmann’s cacophonous procession of orgasms.
It’s baffling that a visual stylist as gifted as Luhrmann doesn’t trust himself to do more than create a illustrated cliff notes of the classic novel. The film imports large chunks of the Fitgerald’s prose in voice over to communicate information we should be getting through the images and performances. He goes so far as as to show actual passages from the book right there on the screen, as if highlighted to remember for the exam. One might imagine that the use of an opulent, artificial visual style would be a perfect fit for the story of a man who himself built up an opulent, artificial image to show to the world. But at some point the material needs to breathe so we can look past that façade. Luhrmann's attempts to dig deep are half-hearted compared to the glee with which he skims the flashy surface. How is the audience supposed to lean in close to pick up all the subtext simmering under the surface when the movie won't stop shouting in our ear?
Luhrmann has made a film, not for those who understand and love the novel, but for high schoolers who want to watch the night before the big test while Facebooking and texting. This Gatsby plays like it fears it will lose our attention if scenes play out in anything but easily digestible nuggets. It seizes on any bit of action from the book and pumps it up to ridiculous extremes. What was a tense car ride into Manhattan in the book is here absurdly inflated into an action scene that belongs in The Fast and The Furious: Jazz Age. In an effort to be heard over the din the performances throw nuance overboard and give us simplified versions of the famous characters. Carey Mulligan’s Daisy vacillates between bubbly charm and wispy uncertainty without really giving us any notion of what drives her. Tobey Maguire’s Nick is a series of reaction shots that don’t add up to a character (an inexplicable framing device invented for the film showing Nick in a sanitarium doesn't help). Joel Edgerton does the best out of the supporting cast, finding a smidgen of dimension in his barrel-chested, rich boy bully. Isla Fischer as Myrtle and Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker are striking presences but their reduced parts in this version doesn’t allow them to be much more than that.
Then there’s Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby. He is clearly giving it his all here, but he never fully gets his hands around the character. All the parts are present. The "old sport" upper-crust affectations, the aching vulnerability under the polished persona, the oblivious determination that he can rewrite the past to his liking. Yet in this incarnation all of it feels so effortful. You want a Gatsby who feels like all those parts exist in the same person without a second thought. It’s the difference between a strong actor doing his best and the perfect actor making it impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. If I’m making The Great Gatsby sound like the 50 megaton bomb, I should correct that. It’s actually manages to be affecting during the few times it settles down long enough to stage something resembling a “scene”. And although the visuals are foregrounded out of all proportion, that doesn't mean we should gloss over the fact that Luhrmann still has an astonishing ability to stage visual wonders.
No, it’s not a terrible film. Just a profoundly disappointing one. It's always disappointing when all the pieces are in place and the production misses the mark with such gusto. Baz and company clearly went into this with the intention of honoring the source material and bestowing upon it a new relevance with today’s audiences. The fundamental problem is that Luhrmann tried to force Gatsby to his style, rather than adapt his bag of tricks to Gatsby. This method worked so well with Moulin Rouge because with that film the spectacle and the meaning were one and the same. When applied to Fitzgerald’s masterwork the result is a film that keeps the audience on the outside, admiring the fireworks from a distance. Verdict: 4 out of 10
I'm about ready to call it. 2013 is shaping up to be the biggest year for film since 1999. In that year it was one brilliant, game-changing film after another - Being John Malkovich, Magnolia, Election, The Iron Giant, Topsy Turvy, The Matrix, South Park, etc.
This year there are two films I've already written into my top ten with ink (Upstream Color and Frances Ha), one film right around the corner that I am anticipating more than any in the past five years (Before Midnight), and a slate of hugely promising films about to premiere at Cannes, including the Coens' Inside Llewyn Davis and The Past, Asghar Farhadi's follow up to his undisputed masterpiece, A Separation.
It seems like every day a thrilling new trailer drops. It's getting tough to keep up with all the excitement. Just this week we got Paul Greengrass's Captain Phillips, Alfonso Cuaron's long awaited Gravity, and Sundance hit Fruitvale Station.
Throw in the long list of films we haven't seen footage from the likes of Steve McQueen, Martin Scorsese, David O. Russell, Bennet Miller, Jean Pierre Jeunet and Spike Jonze among others and you start to understand why I'm so excited. I don't want to jinx it, but my gut is telling me that 2013 is one of those rare jackpot years like 1999 or 1957 or 1939 when great films are exploding all over the place like fireworks.
The trailer for Lee Daniels' The Bulter certainly looks like it has the potential to be one of the biggest groan inducing flops of all time, but it will be all be worth it so we can watch Fox News and the rest of the right set their hair on fire over the Reagan material.
They are going to lose their minds when they get wind of this. It's gonna be hilarious.