Sunday, October 15, 2017

Changing lenses: Gearing up for the 90th Oscars

This weekend I decided to getaway to the small town of Coffeeville, MS for dual purposes. First: to relax—to get away from everyday life (and SEC football!) and secondly: catch up on a couple of Oscar-y movies that I missed this summer that would hopefully jump start my Oscarwatching season.

Things didn’t quite begin as I had hoped. On Friday night , I watched the Sundance breakout, “The Big Sick,” starring Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan, directed by Michael Showalter. I enjoyed the experience. It was completely original, entertaining, and funny. Zoe Kazan is really good. Same with supporting players Holly Hunter and Ray Romano. They are good. The film is good. But not great.

We are heading into the depths of Oscar season for the 90th Oscars and I haven’t been feeling it. Last year we had two fantastic films vying for Best Picture: “La La Land” and “Moonlight,” two films so wonderful that I still don’t know which one I truly prefer. Not to mention “Hidden Figures,” “Jackie,” and “Manchester By the Sea.”

Where are these movies? Am I missing something? Is it just too early? Granted, I haven’t seen much yet…but I am usually at least intrigued by the Oscar talk of my peers who have had the opportunities to see films such as “Darkest Hour,” “Lady Bird,” and “Call Me By Your Name.”

“Darkest Hour” seems like a bore. “Lady Bird,” should excite me, right? Nope. And then there is “Call Me By Your Name.” I’m less enticed by hot straight guys playing gays than I was back during “Brokeback Mountain” times. I’m sure I will be moved and titillated, but now I keep thinking….aren’t we past the “aren’t these straight actors brave” crap.

 I’m doing my best to will myself into excitement. That’s why I started with “The Big Sick,” but, as much as I enjoyed it, the idea of that being the film Amazon pushes for Best Picture after last year’s brilliant “Manchester By the Sea??” Not a good sign.

Maybe the greats are coming next year. As a country we are in what I consider the darkest times of my life, politically, at least. And while I often take a stance of detachment for my own personal mental, emotional and spiritual safety, I’m expecting the artists of the world to question these times with daring answers. But the films of this year were developed in a world where Hilary Clinton was supposed to be the first female President, even if they were edited, marketed and released in this unfortunate Trump reality.

OR…maybe the great films are here and I simply need to have patience and keep looking.

Sure…last year there was “La La Land” and “Moonlight” but there was also “Swiss Army Man” and “Sing Street.” In years past my favorite films have been the likes of “Paranoid Park” and “Inherent Vice.” Two of my favorite films of all time: “Donnie Darko” and “Mulholland Drive” were not even nominated for Best Picture. The reality is: last year was the exception to the rule.

2017 started with a critical bang with Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.” When it was released I feared it wouldn’t have legs to make it all the way to a Best Picture nomination, but now it seems like a slam dunk.

Any year with a film by Kathryn Bigelow should be an exciting one, but the state of journalism and film coverage killed “Detroit’s” chances. In a holdover from criticism of “La La Land,” Bigelow was chastised for making a film that no one else seemed to be interested in for decades simply because she was white.

I was hesitant to do much more than wade in the kiddie pool of controversy last year in regard to race with “La La Land” v/s “Moonlight,” but this really took things to a whole different level of absurdity. The real problem with “Detroit” was that it wasn’t as good as either “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” Was that due to the subject matter and/or Bigelow’s race? Maybe I’m completely off base here, but I don’t think so.”

Considering Darren Aronosfky’s “Black Swan” might have unseated “Mulholland Drive” as my favorite film of all time, I was thrilled with the prospect of “mother!” making it into the Oscar conversation. I thought it was a brilliant piece of filmmaking. Infuriating, hilarious, shocking and beyond entertaining, yet taken down by Cinemascore and box office.

I personally believe that “Wonder Woman” is the best superhero movie in ages, and I would love for it to be nominated for Best Picture. But with an ending that seems to have bothered many, I think it will go the way of “The Dark Knight” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Almost, but no cigar.

Then there is Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk.” When I left the theater I was shocked that I had just seen another WWII film that seemed wildly unique. “A war film like no other” is a declaration that is somewhat hard to believe. But that is what Nolan has achieved especially in terms of scope and cinematography. It is his best work (although I wonder if I should give “Memento” a revisit sometime soon!) and if it wins, that will be fine.

This summer, I kept trying to get myself to the theater to see “Baby Driver” but unfortunately things kept getting in the way. Then everywhere I turned people were talking about it. EVERYONE, not just cinephiles. Strangely enough, that turned me off even more. Finally seeing it yesterday, I totally understand why this transcended beyond the arthouse. I was completely in from start to finish. Although the ending was a bit predictable (and really only one of 2 options Wright could have taken) I couldn’t quite see where it was headed thanks to the non stop action, smart direction, fantastic acting and fun!

So, that’s two films I love. Not bad for October! That being said, can we please keep “Get Out” and “Baby Driver” in the conversation? They both deserve Best Picture nominations, and at this point, from what I have seen, one of them deserves to win.

OK, OK.…maybe I shouldn’t get too ahead of myself.

So, what’s next:

Of course, I’ll see all of the films everyone is talking about. Yes...I’m not going to skip “Darkest Hour” because the idea of it winning Best Picture, sight unseen, after “Moonlight” makes me a bit nauseous.

I’m also planning to attend the “Indie Memphis” Film Festival for the 3rd year in a row. I have used it in the past as a bit of an Oscar launching pad/catch up. But, this year, there are no Oscar movies. None. I’m beyond excited about the 4K restoration of “Suspiria,” and very hopeful that the “Secret Screening” will be something along the lines of “Call Me By Your Name,” but this is yet another sign to me that this year is different.

I have to start looking beyond the usual suspects with completely different lenses-- the Awards Wiz glasses of old! I’ve picked out two day of films at the festival that may not make it into awards awards conversation, but might make it into my top 10 nonetheless.

I’m also going to cover some of the long list Foreign Film entries. That’s new for me. I generally wait until the nominees are announced to delve into that category. Angelina Jolie’s “First They Killed My Father” is on Netflix. Can’t get easier than that.

Although I have to spend the next month programming the LGBTQ films for the Oxford Film Festival (submission deadline is November 15th) I do hope to intersperse some earlier releases as well as new releases as they come out.

I still haven’t seen “Trainspotting 2,” “The Beguiled,” “A Ghost Story,” or “Good Time.” I know I need to see “Blade Runner 2049” on the big screen and have yet to watch the original.  Even though “Battle of the Sexes” isn’t generating much buzz anymore I know I will enjoy it and hope to see that asap!

So many movies, so little time. But, it will happen. The movie watching, the controversy and most importantly the excitement.  

It always does.

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