Saturday, February 24, 2007

Oscarpalooza

Center Street, Healdsburg, Ca. 2007
S.O.L. is hit or miss with the Oscars.

The low-tide mark for S.OL. in the annals of the Little Golden Man came in 1997 when the insipidly shallow "Titanic" won for best picture, beating out one perfect film and a near-perfect one. We don't doubt the appeal of "Titanic" but calling this sappy, poorly written, sugary-sweet pile of poop culture a "great" film is like saying Dan Brown is a great religious philosopher. S.O.L. continues to have faith, however, that just as history will throw George W. Bush onto the top of the heap of worst presidents, so will "Titanic" eventually get drop-kicked out of contention on the lists of the best films ever made.

The fact that S.O.L. is apparently in a small minority of people who hate this movie served as further proof that perhaps the Oscars are just not for her.

As a writer, too, S.O.L. has found the festivities -- like the rest of the Hollywood machine -- giving depressingly short-shrift to the people who in our view have the toughest job of any of the thousands of people who contribute to a single film. Go ahead and stack 120 blank sheets of paper on the table in front of you. Imagine filling every one of those 120 pages with words. Imagine those words telling a complete story that's imaginative and compelling enough for someone to pay a large sum of money for the opportunity to make it into a motion picture. Got it? Now wipe the sweat off your brow.

While we've been tuning in more often in recent years, we're still very much underwhelmed by the whole thing which has become in S.O.L.'s view, just another glossy, toothless commercial in our overly commercialized culture.

This year's nominees did nothing to change our view. While we are a big fan of Will Smith, his nomination for the pleasantly diverting "The Pursuit of Happyness" is just plain wrong. We also do not see how "The Departed" was better than "The Last King of Scotland," or even "Blood Diamond" for that matter. Further, how does "United 93" get nominated for direction but not as best picture -- not that we think it deserved either.

The biggest fuck up by the Academy this year is the snub of Alec Baldwin who stole not one, not two but three films this year by S.O.L.'s count. In fact, for once we are not alone in our assessment. We defer to Stephanie Zacharek over at salon.com who we think correctly points out that Baldwin stole "Running with Scissors" from itself, so much so that once he is gone from the film (about halfway through) it deadens the effect of the rest of the movie.

When we think back to the films we saw this year, the ones that really stuck with us are "The Queen," "The Last King of Scotland," and the twin-bill by Clint Eastwood, who we have come to believe is now in his second great life as an artist. The first was as an actor. The current, as a director. We know he's pushing 80, but we would be not at all surprised when he starts his third movie life, though we're happy as long as he's practicing his current job.

We think the combo of "Flags of Our Fathers," (screenplay by William Broyles Jr. and Paul Haggis based on the book by James Bradley and Ron Powers) and "Letters from Iwo Jima" (Iris Yamashita based on a story by Iris Yamashita and Paul Haggis ) is epic filmmaking on the kind of grand scale that the Oscars used to celebrate, for better or worse. It is almost unfair, we suppose, for the Academy to have nominated both films as Best Picture (only "Iwo" got the nod) but we think they are not only equally deserving but when watched as one, single film (as we think they should be viewed) stand side-by-side with the greatest anti-war war pictures ever, and perhaps even the best films of all time.

S.O.L. was chagrined at how much she loved "Apacalypto" (in direct relation to how much she dislikes Mel Gibson) and she could not help but be impressed by the man as filmmaker, even as she is so thoroughly underwhelmed by the man as a,um, human being. However even this accomplished film does not hold a candle to the depth, grace, intelligence, insight, art, vision and humanity of Eastwood's two epics. The sign of great movie making, in S.O.L.'s oh so humble opinion, is the layers of a work that upon repeated viewings make the piece grow in meaning and definition. It is also the ability of to inspire without the seemingly knee-jerk compulsion of many recent directors to load their film's with two-by-fours over ideas.

S.O.L. does not think that Spielberg is as good a director as he gets credit for but we also don't think he's as bad as his critics claim either. However, his flaws as a whole filmmaker become clearer when comparing two of his most ambitious films ("Saving Private Ryan" and "Schindler's List") to these two new movies by Eastwood. All you have to do is watch and see where Spielberg falls back on familiarity of image and act (the girl in the red dress in Schindler's List; the bookends in "Ryan"), and then Eastwood pushes out to unexplored emotional territory - like the doomed Japanese service men in "Iwo."

Eastwood lets the people of his films guide the narrative. He lets the ideas and emotions speak through them and not at us. And in doing so he tells a remarkably moving, harrowing and boldly authentic tale about the realities of war and the ultimate cost paid by those who wage it, on both sides, and all the reasons, pro and con, given for its inevitability on the landscape of man.

Frankly, in this post-9/11 world, there just isn't any more important discussion to be had. Who would have thought that "Dirty Harry" would lead the way?

2 comments:

susie said...

Are you speaking in the third person as an homage to Elizabeth, the Queen?

Or is SOL a multiple of EMC?

Over here? We are amused.

S.O.L. said...

It's my blog-persona-non-grata. My style. Or should I say, our style.