Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Carpet-Bagging: On the Eve of Venice

Things are about to get really interesting very quickly. The 2011 awards season is basically less than one day from being set into motion, with Venice kicking off their festivities with the premiere of "The Ides of March". This is one that many will be talking about, although I must admit that I'm still unconvinced. Some of the moments in the trailer didn't seem to quite congeal, and the intense thriller push from the marketing team seems to be working counter-productively. It ultimately gets me to the point of wondering exactly what the point is in this film. What are the stakes, if any? Nothing seems clear, which may just be the marketing. We'll have to wait until reviews surface, but I get the feeling I won't get what everyone loves about it.

What "The Ides of March" has on its side is that it's right up the Academy's alley. I haven't a doubt that they'll embrace this one, at least as far as a nomination. There are several films this year, however excellent they may be, that just don't fall in line with the Academy bias. I expect others to debate this claim, but I think "Carnage" is one of those films. Roman Polanski has had a prosperous history with the Academy, but his bad press in recent years has probably dispelled any possibilities of future Oscar success. I'd say Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz are both potent acting nominees, at least from the trailer. I still get the sense that this film was largely miscast, and by that I mean by 50%. That's a sizable problem.

I know I can't really speak strongly enough for or against films I haven't seen, but there are quite a few films from earlier this year that don't have a chance in hell of Academy attention. In a perfect world Juliette Binoche would be at the top of the Best Actress list for "Certified Copy", right along with Michelle Williams for "Meek's Cutoff". In fact both of those films are ones I'd love to see bringing home awards on Oscar night. Believe it or not, they are just too "artsy" for the Academy's tastes. They appreciate more concrete and feasible entertainment, rather than skilled and accomplished filmmaking.

Similarly you shouldn't be expecting much Oscar buzz around Steve McQueen's "Shame", Andrea Arnold's "Wuthering Heights", or even Nic Winding Refn's "Drive". Any director who delivers such an uncompromising and strong work in film shouldn't care about awards potential, because it just won't happen. In fact, I'm not totally sure "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" is an awards player after all, but I suppose it's the "least offensive" of the bunch. The Academy plays it very safely, despite the gripes from naive young minds at there not being more blockbuster work. If blockbusters weren't so painfully obvious, I don't think we'd have any of these problems.

The strange enough thing is that the main frontrunner for Best Picture this year isn't even debuting at a festival. "War Horse" is set for a late December opening in limited release, and that sets into doubt whether or not it's just a nominee or a winner. For the bulk of the past couple years, the Best Picture winner has come from a strong opening in one of these festivals. I don't think Spielberg has quite thought his strategy through on this one, but when has he ever thought things through? I suspect this film is ripe for a downfall, and I will love it as it happens.

I make no qualms about my indifference towards certain films that I simply don't like, despite public disagreement. I walked into this year under the promise to form my own uncompromising opinion of the films I saw. Perhaps the summer was the absolute worst time for that, as people are just looking for a good time. The fall is a much stronger area, because I find it to be far more exciting than the "explosive" summer slate. I thought "Meek's Cutoff" was the most appropriately epic film of this summer, as insane as that may sound. No awards play. Many thought it was boring. I don't care.

I'm actually surprised that there are certain films that just aren't piquing my interest. Alexander Payne, for example, is set to make his much awaited return with "The Descendants". After seeing the trailer, I can't see it as being quite as impacting as Payne's past works. It looks too light, and I quite honestly expected the director to return with a sense of urgency. I suppose not, but it looks nice enough I suppose. And then there's "A Dangerous Method", which is a film that I am still looking forward to, despite the sentimentality of the trailer. Perhaps Cronenberg-lite, but Cronenberg nonetheless.

As far as this week goes, I'm very eager to see what's coming through Venice this year, despite lack of awards play. I fell in love with Andrea Arnold's work on "Fish Tank", which may be one of the most internally affecting films I've seen in my short life. Similarly, Steve McQueen touched a part of my soul with "Hunger", and he's in a strong position to do such again with "Shame". I remain typically cautious, as always, but I am very excited to see most of these films. I can't wait to hear how people react to these films, but I suggest you take it with a grain of salt. The mass public has been known to be misguided at times.

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