Sunday, January 15, 2017

Completing (almost) the nominations puzzle; Silence and Lion

Friday I took a trip to Memphis to see two of the last pieces of my Oscar puzzle. At least in terms of Best Picture. "Silence" and "Lion." I still need to see "Hidden Figures" (that will probably happen on Tuesday) and for Best Actress, "20th Century Women." Part of my confusion over who might or might not get the 5th slot in the Best Actress category would surely be cleared up by seeing the performance. Right?

Then, on the 24th a new batch of films will be brought to my attention and the 27 Days of Oscar begins! (This is when I watch one nominated film a day (sometimes more) for 27 days and write about the process.)

I feel more pressure than usual to watch the foreign films and the documentaries first. I plan to publish my annual foreign film piece at Awards Daily, and to be honest, there is really nothing keeping me from watching those films as quickly as possible. I've written on this site about how this is not my job, but right now, it's the closet thing I have to one. What will Oscar season be like without scrambling? Let's be honest. I'll always scramble.

I've had a few friends ask my about my opinion of Martin Scorsese's "Silence" and I thought I should let the film marinate in my head for a couple of days. "Lion" was a different story. I knew exactly how I feel about it as the credits rolled. The first act of the film is brilliant.  The cinematography (Greig Fraser), direction (Garth Davis) and acting (Sunny Pawar and Priyanka Bose are fantastic!).

This is the story of Sunny, a five year old Indian boy who gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of miles away from home, separated from his brother and mother after accidentally falling asleep on a train.

About 40 minutes in I was really upset that I hadn't seen the film before making my top 10. Then we get to the present day. Sonny (Dev Patel) has been adopted by an Australian family (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham), going to University, and falling in love (with the always great Rooney Mara).

Again, the acting is great. Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney's clear all 3 of them have fully formed characters, but the 2nd half of the film comes across either over edited or with holes. Sure, we get why Saroo is tortured by his past but the film seems to take exits and accelerations that come out of nowhere, and no amount of tears/emoting can justify that for me.  I would have liked to see something happen between that initial adoption and the scene where suddenly Sonny needs to know where he came from. It's too far a leap to work on an emotional level, even if intellectually it makes perfect sense.
Will Garth Davis get a nomination for Best Director. I honestly don't know. I wouldn't think so, unless they only watch the first part of the film. But the Academy often includes a foreigner in this category, and as much as I hope it is Paul Verhoeven for "Elle," that's probably  not happening.

I was beyond excited to see "Silence." The trailer was simply stunning. Big themes, grand shots, intense action. But that's not exactly what the film is, and that's perfectly fine. In retrospect I almost feel as if they wanted us to think it was going to be another "The Revenant."

I knew from the first scene of the film that this was going to be nothing like "The Revenant" or any other film I've seen in quite some time.  No one makes a film like Martin Scorsese. It not only feels like a Scorsese picture, but also a passion project. Which we all know it was.

In the first scene we get the tone and the plot.  Two Jesuit padres, Rodrigues and Garrpe (expertly acted by both Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) meet to discuss traveling to Japan to find their mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) and discover if he has abdicated, denouncing God, and living a life in Japan as a fallen priest.  They take the journey to Japan, finding other Christians along the way on their search to the truth.

Scorsese is not afraid to give us long, thoughtful scenes...light on the bells and whistles. This is the Scorsese that I prefer, allowing the themes to take center stage, showcasing great performances. Especially from Yosuke Kubozuka as Kichijiro (a fantastic character, powerless over his sin, always following Rodrigues, Gollum like, with a desire for forgiveness) and Issey Ogata as the Inquisitor, the perfect balance of humor and terror.

The film is long, but length isn't the problem I had with it. There are moments that are risky and absolutely pay off. When the silence is broken near the end of the film, my heart stopped. Only Scorsese (and maybe Friedkin in the opposite spectrum with the devil in "The Exorcist") can use those images of Christ, so boldly, and bring about such powerful emotions from the audience.

It's very hard not to spoil the fate of Ferreira, but had Scorsese taken the mystery of the outcome a little farther as well as the question of the Jesuit's right to be there in the first place we might have had a more dynamic film. The questions are there. But they only dig (for me at least) on the surface. When we discover whether or not Ferrera has abdicated or not it doesn't have the weight it should because Neeson plays him almost on the fence. Neeson seems uncomfortable with the role (reminiscent of "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace," sad to say) and where I can see that this uncertainly of his faith works to some extent, I felt it took away from a bolder choice.

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