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Posts Tagged ‘Academy Awards’

Is it time to address the elephant in the room? Probably.  The lack of glossy images will tell you this is a little more serious than my usual fair.  Can we appreciate the art and overlook the artist? This was a question Charles McGrath asked five years ago in his New York Times article Good Art, Bad People. I this he concentrated mainly on painters and writers but the same is true of any art, or is it? The article predates the current scandals that are engulfing the entertainment industry. This BBC article outlines the unfolding to the accusations against producer Harvey Weinstein. But this is where things get complicated. McGrath’s article talks of many artists including Hemingway, Degas and Picasso, these were visionary individuals famed for their art. But where a painter, sculptor or writer works largely alone on their creative process, film-making is collaborative.

Take The English Patient, winner of nine Academy Awards including Best Picture credited to producer Saul Zaentz; Harvey Weinstein is credited as executive producer. My understanding of the process: director Anthony Minghella, producer Saul Zaentz and Michael Ondaatje, on whose book it is based, worked together on adapting the story for the screen. Studio 20th Century Fox wanted big Hollywood names for the lead roles and wouldn’t fund the film without their choice of stars, I believe Demi Moore was suggested for the Kristin Scott Thomas role. Miramax Films (still at this time owned and run by Bob and Harvey Weinstein) stepped in to help fund, and to distribute the film. In short, one of my favourite films of the 1990’s would not have been made if not for Harvey Weinstein.

But it isn’t just a case of saying that Weinstein has been accused of bad things but he was behind a great film. If it were that simple and redemption came with great art we would be knighting him having been credited as executive producer on many beloved movies including Paddington, Good Will Hunting, Pulp Fiction and the documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, to name just a few. My argument is more complicated than that. There are over four-hundred names on the credits to The English Patient. While we can not and should not forgive peoples misdeeds because we like their art, we must remember that they are just one cog in a very machine.

Then we look back at the golden age of cinema. It is filled with stars who were less than appropriate in their treatment of their leading ladies. We have the draconian seven year contracts. Starlets forced to have cosmetic surgery. Legendary directors bullying their stars. Studio fixers breaking the law and covering up the crimes of others to protect the studio investment. Exploitative working hours in the trades behind the scenes. It would be impossible to work out which films had been ethically made.

The cog in the wheel argument may be harder to accept when the accused is on screen in front of us and not a producer in the background. I understand there is a film about sexual misconduct within the film industry that has been pulled from release because its star (who is also writer, producer and director) has been accused of misconduct himself.  As the situation snowballs, there may well be false accusations made along with all the real ones and we must to a certain degree give people their right to presumed innocence. This isn’t always easy but I am prepared to go forward with an open mind, I make no accusations, or assumptions about those people named in the article, I am simply commenting on what has already been reported. There are no simple answers, and there are sure to be more questions.

 

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The Dark Knight Rises may turn out to be both the biggest and the best film of the year. Every movie fan with a virtual soapbox to stand on will review it in one way or another, I may do so myself some time in the future, but for now I will not. Instead I have decided to do something different. I am looking at the key players in the movie and picking out my favourite of their movies or performances excluding The Dark Knight Trilogy.

Christopher Nolan: The modern interpretation of the term masterpiece refers a pierce of art (in any medium) that is receives high critical praise and is often considered the pinnacle of the artists career. But the original, true meaning is very different. During the old European guild system, an apprentice wishing to graduate from a guild and become a master craftsman or member of their guild would have to produce a Masterpiece. If successful, the piece would be retained by the master or the guild. Using this theory, Following (1998) is Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece. An ultra low budget mystery, crime, thriller with no star names. This led to him making Memento (2000), a simple revenge, thriller that is elevated to a superior mystery by the ingenious idea of telling the story backwards. Using the same criteria, it could be argued that Following was a practice run and Memento is the true masterpiece. Taken on its own merits Insomnia (2002) is a great movie, it just isn’t as good as the Norwegian original. It is a worthy and justified remake that is sympathetic to the story of the original but has its own individual touches. You know how movies come in two’s, this year there are two Snow White movies, a few years ago there were to giant asteroid movies, 2006 was the year of the Victorian stage magicians. Neil Burger’s The Illusionist was good, Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige was much better. Legend has it that after The Dark Knight took a billion dollars Warner Bros let Nolan make any movie he liked. What he came up with was Inception (2010) a little art house movie disguised as a big budget studio blockbuster. Inception may well be his best (non Batman) film, but for introducing me and most of the rest of the world to his work I am declaring Memento to be both his masterpiece and finest hour for Christopher Nolan.

Wally Pfister: Cinematographer/Director of Photography Wally Pfister started out as a cameraman for a Washington news service before being given his first break by Robert Altman. He then enrolled in American Film Institute where a film he worked on was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. Like so many great filmmakers, he received his first break as a Cinematographer from Roger Corman. Most of his notable works have been on Christopher Nolan films, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight finally winning for the movie that truly is his finest hour, Inception.

Christian Bale: Where do you start with Christian Bale? A child star in Empire of the Sun who found real fame in his late twenties. Noted for his extreme physical transformations for the movies The Machinist and Rescue Dawn, in I’m Not There, it is a tossup between him and Cate Blanchett as to who is the best “Dylan”. In 3:10 to Yuma, The Prestige, The Fighter, Public Enemies and Terminator Salvation he gives more subtle and low key performances than his co stars, it is therefore a surprise that his finest hour is probably his most showy and over the top performance, Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.

Anne Hathaway: Many people know Anne Hathaway from her film début The Princess Diaries and can’t see beyond that. I first saw her in Havoc or Brokeback Mountain (saw them both around the same time) where despite all the praise going to Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal I thought the best performances came her and Michelle Williams. I was impressed enough to go and see The Devil Wears Prada and enjoyed it, but her finest hour is Rachel Getting Married. A family drama about a young woman who is released from rehab to attend her sisters wedding. A truly an amazing performance, her character is ultimately a miserable, selfish, narcissistic bitch but she also comes across as vulnerable, funny and sometimes even likable. 

Tom Hardy: I have seen many movies featuring Hardy and remember a great buzz about him around the time of Star Trek: Nemesis, but to be honest I really didn’t take notice until Bronson. Since then he has been brilliant in everything I have seen him in. as for his finest hour, it could easily be Warrior where his performance is monumental or Inception where he offers some great comic relief within an ensemble, but it has to be Bronson. 

Gary Oldman: How do you pick the finest hour from the thirty year career of an actor as talented as Oldman? Far more varied than you would think Oldman is at his best when he is wild and out of control, look back at Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy, Stansfield in Leon and Beethoven in Immortal Beloved. That is why it may come as a surprise that his best performance may well be his most low key and economical performance, George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. 

Michael Caine: Gary Olman’s career may be long but Michael Caine has been around for ever, certainly since before I was born. Many of his most notable performances came in the mid/late 60’s and early 70’s and include: Alfie, Sleuth, Zulu, Get Carter and The Ipcress File. He reinvented himself in more comic roles in the 80’s such as: Educating Rita, Without a Clue and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Outside Christopher Nolan movies, the pick of his 21st century movies are The Quiet American, Children of Men and Harry Brown, but for his finest hour, you need to go back to the 60’s for his iconic performance as Charlie Croker in The Italian Job.

Morgan Freeman: Freeman found fame relatively late in life. In his early fifties and after thirty years in the business, in a two year period he appeared in Driving Miss Daisy, Glory, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and The Bonfire of the Vanities. He makes a lot of movies, therefore there is a certain amount of crap in there too, but the highlights are very high, the include: Unforgiven, Se7en and Million Dollar Baby. His finest hour is probably The Shawshank Redemption. 

Marion Cotillard: A captivating actress who has been brilliant in every film I have ever seen her in. For many people she if best known for her Oscar winning portrayal of Edith Piaf in La vie en rose. Others will know her from her English language movies: Public Enemies, A Good Year, Big Fish and Nine. She was also memorable in Midnight in Paris and Inception. Although deep down I know her finest hour was as Edith Piaf in La vie en rose, I still go back to where I first saw her, Lilly, the long suffering but high maintenance girlfriend in Taxi (and its first two sequels).

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: The former child actor found fame as a teenager in the TV show 3rd Rock from the Sun. his most notable movie appearances from this time is probably 10 Things I Hate About You. He went on to appear in: Havoc (along side future Dark Knight Rises co-star Anne Hathaway) and earned acclaim in Mysterious Skin Stop-Loss and The Lookout. In recent years he has impressed in 500 Days of Summer, 50/50 and Inception, but his finest hour is still the high school noir Brick. 

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