Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Last minute FYCs, and thoughts on H8teful, Saul

Oscar nomination balloting closes this Friday, and even in a season as scattered as this, it feels like some highly deserving contenders are still getting the short end of the stick. Dig deep, Academy! Lack of consensus is only exciting if you get imaginative instead of voting in default mode. You could do a lot worse than giving this handful of long shots a good hard look:

Creed for Best Picture
I was actually saving this FYC for Sicario, but after a strong guild showing thus far, I figure I should send my wishes to a more needy but equally deserving contender. This is one of the most satisfying mainstream entertainments of the year, and for it to have been overlooked by the Globes, BFCA, and PGA (where I had harboured hope for it) is disappointing to say the least. But it's not too late for the Academy to do right!

Denis Villeneuve for Best Director
As with 2013's Prisoners, so much of Sicario's effect is owed to the direction, elevating a screenplay that, taken on its own, is no great shakes (though still good; no offense to Taylor Sheridan). Villeneuve's command of sight and sound rivals the suspense masters of old. His thriller has had a great week with the guilds so far, but if he squeaks into the DGA next week... The thought of it is too tantalizing to entertain!

Jacob Tremblay for Best Actor
There are those who would argue Tremblay is less of a fringe contender than he appears, having scooped a SAG nod in the highly nebulous Supporting Actor race. But I would almost prefer he didn't get nominated at all than take up a spot there. How anybody could deem him anything less than the co-lead of Room is beyond me. And what a staggering, revelatory lead performance it is. By similar extension, I could stump for Paul Dano to be nominated here as well.

Sarah Paulson for Best Supporting Actress
Speaking of co-leads masquerading as supporting players, the biggest victim of Rooney Mara's campaign has been Carol's stealth MVP Sarah Paulson. This is a lesson in illuminating a full-bodied character despite the hindrance of having only a handful of scenes, and sharing all but one of them with either of the film's two leading ladies. The tragic thing is, even if AMPAS corrects the Weinstein Co.'s unscrupulous ploy and puts Mara in Best Actress, there hasn't been enough discussion about Paulson so she'd likely be overlooked anyway.

Inside Out for Best Editing
I find it unbelievable (yet also depressingly believable) that animated films never manage to break through into the visaul craft categories. Stop-motion marvel The Nightmare Before Christmas got a visual effects nomination back in '94, but that's it. Cartoons require editors too, and when their timing is as damn-near flawless as Kevin Nolting's work in Inside Out, why shouldn't they be nominated? I'm sure he has the ACE Eddie sewn up (in its own ghetto category), but I wish the editors branch would help kill the stigma surrounding animation. On a related note, I could waste my breath pushing for The Good Dinosaur in Best Visual Effects, but the effects branch long since doused that pipe dream; It didn't even make their final 20.

Ex Machina for Best Production Design
The recent ADG nomination for Mark Digby gave me a momentary glimmer of hope, but then I remembered that the Academy's art directors branch never goes for contemporary films, unless they boast really obvious fantasy elements. Nothing about Ex Machina takes an obvious approach, opting for tasteful, stylish minimalism in every frame, and much to the film's benefit. That subterranean luxury home starts to feel like a sterile prison cell after a while, with a living, breathing wilderness tempting us just through those enormous windows.

Son of Saul for Best Sound Editing
Honestly, I could write a Son of Saul FYC piece for just about every applicable category (Actor, Screenplay, Cinematography, etc.), but the place it has the least chance of turning up is here, and it's a shame. With the camera following the titular death camp sonderkommando around so closely, many of the horrors of Aushwitz are experienced aurally for the viewer, constantly flowing in and out of earshot as he moves around. It's deeply unsettling but artful work.
While we're on the topic of Son of Saul, I have to say that it's incredible. I'm in no rush to see it again, but it's absolutely incredible. The year in film has been, for me anyway, a big heap of mediocre topped by a tiny pile of masterpieces, and this is one of them. That it comes from a first-time director is remarkable. Laszlo Nemes' use of focus and (as discussed) sound to keep the atrocities of the Nazi death machine in the periphery, while centering closely on the excellent Geza Rohrig, achieves a sort of brutal poetry, capturing humanity at its most awful and its most beautiful all at the same time.
I can't claim to be has impressed with Quentin Tarrantino's latest ego trip The Hateful Eight, although it's dominated far more of the cinematic conversation these last two weeks. To be clear, I don't hate the film entirely, but I have no love for it. I find myself constantly stranded in the middle ground on his work, with most others gravitating toward one of the poles of 'love it' or 'hate it'. Perhaps people have trouble reconciling Tarantino the skillful storyteller with Tarantino the creator of cruel, narcissistic stories. The Hateful Eight finds him simultaneously at his tension-building best and his sadistic worst. On the one hand, something has to said for his ability to hold a viewer through more than three hours of a gross narrative -- Morricone's score and Richardson's photography keep finding ways to invigorate a limp plot -- but on the other hand, to what end? Very little happens, and that which does did not require 3 hours. The craftsman is to be admired, but the author is to be admonished.

As a palette cleanser, I finally took up many a trusted critic on their 'top ten list' recommendations of the Sundance breakout Tangerine; You know, that microbudget transgendered comedy shot entirely on iPhone? I'd recommend giving it your business too, but only because writer-director Sean Baker is a talent who seriously needs a budget. I think I like the idea of this film existing more than the actual film itself.
I tried so hard to get into it, but I just could not do it. It has a good script, and co-stars Mya Taylor and Kiki Rodriguez are something special, but those technical limitations -- in tandem with some editorial/music choices that do not gel with me -- kept pulling me out. I'd love to see what this guy can do in a more polished format.


  1. Yup, felt the same about 'Tangerine.' And as a Tarantino lover, I really had a hard time enjoying 'Hateful Eight', and I think you may have praised it slightly higher than I did.

    Still awaiting 'Son of Saul', though I appreciate your highlighting the soundwork.

  2. "How anybody could deem him anything less than the co-lead of Room is beyond me." I think he's definitely a co-lead. But so are Casey Affleck, Hailee Steinfeld, Julia Roberts ("August: Osage County"), Tatum O'Neal, Haing S. Ngor, Timothy Hutton, etc. I'd nominate him for Best Actor. However, even if he DOES get nominated, there's no way he can beat Leo or Fassbender. He DOES however have a shot at winning Supporting Actor. Personally, I'd love to see him win and if getting nominated in Supporting will do it, I say so be it.

    1. I have to agree with Awards Nazi here, not that there is a difference which Oscar you get (lead/supporting), but to be nominated in the proper category would be better than winning in a category that you were, in many ways, demoted to. It sort of like saying, "hey, you were great, but not great enough to win what you should be going for," in my opinion

  3. While I am annoyed with the whole lead-in-supporting argument, I do agree that there is some merit to it. Last year, I was annoyed when people gave Serkis nominations for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in Supporting Actor when he was clearly and obviously the lead. To me, it's better for someone to get recognized in any Oscar category than to be completely forgotten in the "right" category.