Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Once again, it's been a while (four months!) since i've blogged anything. My excuse? Incredibly bad health. In fact, right after Thanksgiving, i wound up in the hospital, for a week! The cause? Kidney stones. Actually only one, but of sufficient impact to cause a rupture in my system once it passed. The problem was there was a lot of bleeding, which wouldn't stop, so i had to be hospitalized.

So much has been happening! This year, the award season for films has been full of excitement. Last minute additions (films which were screened quite late in the season) suddenly crowded the field, especially David O. Russell's "American Hustle" and Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street"; these films also brought a real charge to American movies this year, in that there was critical controversy (these were the kinds of movies that people were fighting over) as well as box office success.

Though there has been a consensus in terms of the awards (Cate Blanchett as Best Actress for "Blue Jasmine", Jared Leto as Best Supporting Actor for "Dallas Buyers Club"), there proved to be a lot of interest in terms of independent films and foreign films. Another late-breaking entry was the Italian film "The Great Beauty", directed by Paolo Sorrentino. It used to be that the critics' awards were intended as a corrective to the usual Hollywood hype, but now it seems to be that the critics's awards are supposed to form a corollary to the Hollywood hype.

The New York Film Critics Circle was started by the film critics of the major newspapers (including the Herald Tribune, the World Telegraph and Sun, and The New York Times) because of what they regarded as the inanity of the Academy Awards: in 1934, there was the scandal of the omission of Bette Davis for consideration as Best Actress for "Of Human Bondage". Because Davis was a contract player at Warner Brothers, but she had done "Of Human Bondage" on loan-out to RKO, she fell between the cracks, though at the Academy meeting, there were protests and a write-in vote was allowed. The official nominees for Best Actress that year were Grace Moore for "One Night of Love", Norma Shearer for "The Barretts of Wimpole Street" and Claudette Colbert for "It Happened One Night". Colbert would be the winner, but there were sufficient write-in votes that Bette Davis came in second. (Ironically, though Davis was the ostensible cause of the formation of the New York Film Critics Circle, she would have to wait to be cited as Best Actress by the organization until 1950, for "All About Eve"; her Academy Award wins for "Dangerous" in 1935 and "Jezebel" in 1938 were not duplicated by the New York Film Critics Circle, which cited Greta Garbo for "Anna Karenina" in 1935 and Margaret Sullavan for "Three Comrades" in 1938. In fact, Davis's win for "Dangerous" is usually cited as an example of compensation, i.e., the Academy giving the award because they failed to recognize the same performer previously. That's often cited as the reason James Stewart won in 1940 for "The Philadelphia Story" because he didn't win in 1939 for "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", though the politics of the Academy Awards are rather more complicated than that. )

Over the weekend, Turner Classic Movies showed their new documentary, "And the Oscar Goes to..." (directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman), which was a rather standard issue promo, but it did go into the fact that the Motion Picture Academy was started as a union-busting organization.

It didn't go into the changes over the years, how it had been an organization of studio executives, but it became a membership organization for film professionals, which then were given the right to vote on the awards. But initially, the awards were given out by committee, a committee which consisted of studio executives.

But i've already given my take on the Academy Awards. I have to say: it's obvious that, though there have been attempts to broaden the membership base in the last decade, it's still an organization dominated by aging white men, and this was shown (again) this year, when so many of the notable black productions, which even had successful commercial profiles, were ignored ("Fruitvale Station", "Lee Daniels' The Butler", "Blue Caprice"). It's as if one film was acknowledged ("12 Years a Slave") and that's enough.

Yet there was a surfeit of really fine films this year. Every year, there are several film events and festivals: "Dance On Camera", "Rendez-vous With French Cinema", "BAM Cinemafest", "New Directors/New Films", culminating in the fall with The New York Film Festival. And there are year-round programs at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Film Forum, Anthology Film Archives, BAM, and other venues.

It's been very exciting, and i want to keep going to see more movies. But i've slowed down in the last four months, but i'm hoping to get back in action. One thing: this past year was so jammed packed during the last two months that many movies from earlier in the year were ignored. But there's a lot to write about, at least i'm back and going to try to post on a regular basis.


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