Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Academy Awards are now on their last half hour, and the thing seems to be moving pretty fast. A lot of surprises. Tilda Swinton won Best Supporting Actress; Marion Cotillard won Best Actress. Another surprise: Robert Elswit won for Best Cinematography for "There Will Be Blood". I was glad the song from "Once" won.

"The L Word" had its showdown, the trial of the Rose Rollins character; Kelly McGillis played the prosecuting officer. Plus there was another one of those disastrous dinner parties that always seem to pop up on TV shows; this time Marlee Matlin's character was the hostess. It's funny, last year, "The L Word" episode that ran opposite the Academy Awards was really hot, this one wasn't hot at all, it was ok, but rather plot-heavy.

"Freeheld" won Documentary Short, and "Taxi to the Dark Side" won Documentary Feature. Worthy choices. (Best Foreign Film was "The Counterfeiters".)

But this is the end of award season, and the start of the new season: the first week of March will bring the Whitney Biennial and the press screenings for New Directors/New Films.

Oh, well: a while ago, the Best Adapted Screenplay went to the Coen Brothers for "No Country for Old Men"; Diablo Cody just won Best Screenplay for "Juno". So some things are as expected. But the other day, got some books that i ordered, for some reason, when we moved, i couldn't find the first two novels by Iris Murdoch, "Under the Net" and "The Flight from the Enchanter" and i just wanted to read them again. And i do know why i wanted to read them again; like some of the novels of Mary McCarthy (particularly "The Company She Keeps", "A Charmed Life" and "The Groves of Academe"), these are stories in which the discussion of ideas is integral to the plot. And i'm still interested in that, in trying to find a way to "dramatize" ideas.

Daniel Day-Lewis was very amusing in his acceptance speech: he ended by acknowledging his three sons. Three! His eldest son is Gabriel whose mother is Isabel Adjani, then there are his two sons with his wife Rebecca Miller. Initially, there was a lot of contention with Adjani: he refused to accept any responsibility. He acknowledged that he was the father, but he wanted nothing to do with his son. But in the past few years, he has reconciled with his son, just as he was the person who decided to bring Arthur Miller's retarded son (who had been placed in an institution) back into the family. So that was an interesting moment.

Joel and Ethan Coen won Best Director. What's strange is that on this project, the two of them took credit for writing and directing (on many of their projects, they split up the credits). And "No Country for Old Men" won Best Picture.

So some surprises, and some as expected. But in a way it was all anticlimatic, because the drama of the past few months was the writers' strike, and the changes that everyone is looking at in terms of the media.

Is the idea of "drama" (by that i mean acted and written stories) outdated? And is the theatrical model outmoded? I was thinking that today when i was reading Kent Jones's piece on "Zodiac" in Film Comment (i admit that i passed over the article, waiting until i had seen the film), and many of the points he was making about the film were very much determined by the idea of concentration which that particular film requires. And that concentration is a theatrical construct.

But that concentration dissipates when the film is seen in other ways, as part of home viewing on television or streaming on a computer. And other factors become prominent.

I also watched "The Jane Austen Book Club": i had liked the novel (it's a very clever entertainment, perfect for its designated audience) and i was curious. The casting was ok, though everyone is younger than in the novel. But it's the kind of film which is well done, but you can watch it with no real attention: it moves along, it's agreeable... the acting is mostly good, but only a few of the actors really try to go further than a kind of moderate television involvement. (Even Kathy Baker, who used to have a knack for finding moments of genuine intensity, is putting on the sit-com charm; it works, but it doesn't go far enough.) Emily Blunt and Kevin Zegers seemed to try to go further in their parts, and Hugh Dancy was dashing, but Maria Bello, Amy Brenneman, and Jimmy Smits were perfectly fine, but just not really compelling. I hate to say this, but it was as if the years of television work made them facile, and that's what they do for this film.

But i think this was Robin Swicord's first work was a director, certainly it was smoothly professional. But she's another person (Tony Gilroy is another, with "Michael Clayton") who has spent years as a Hollywood screenwriter, and she's now directing.

Ralph Nader announced his plans to run for president (again). One thing: during his interview on CNN, there was... how do i say this? The way he phrased some of his answers, he seems tone-deaf to the fact that the Democratic nominees are a woman and an African-American man. If he is not checked in this, if he continues in some of his statements, he will come across as sexist and racist, and his campaign will self-destruct. Also: he seems to have no interest in addressing the Republican nominees, in trying to debate their ideas. This also looks patronizing, as if he is treating the white-male establishment of the Republicans as sacrosant.

This is a very interesting political season. But let's hope that the energy that seems to have emerged for the Democratic Party really lasts and can actually bring some needed change.


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