Oscar the Grouch

Not too long ago, we used to have Oscar parties. We’d sit around watching the show, placing bets. In all reality the telecast was just audio-visual wallpaper–an excuse to hang out with friends and family. I remember attending a few of those Oscar benefit galas the university would put on.

All in all, the Oscars are rather inconsequential because it’s truly about industry politics.

If I was a card-carryin’ Academy member today, I’d have thrown out the politics and voted completely against the grain. Sure they got a lot of things right. For example, nominating Thomas Newman for Best Original Score for The Good German. Finally. After countless minimalist scores like American Beauty and Finding Nemo, the youngest Newman does his uncles and father proud by harkening back to his family’s rich history of composing music for Hollywood by composing a rhapsodic, atmospheric score that sounds a lot like his father’s and uncle’s work. His score is the best of 2006. Speaking of scores, it’s wonderful that they finally acknowledge Italian composer Ennio Morricone for Lifetime Achievement. Cinema Paradiso is still one of the best film scores ever.

Also, the costume category is spot on. I’m pulling for Marie Antoinette because Milena Canonero rocks my socks, ever since Dick Tracy. I can’t wait to hear from Cherilyn and Ron about this category. Ron’s costume designs lean toward more on the Dreamgirls side while Cherilyn’s costume designs lean toward more The Devil Wears Prada side. Another reason why I liked Marie Antoinette; the costumes just seemed like a combination of my two costume designer friends. Accurate, yet somehow, contemporary.

But then where’s Brad Pitt and Ben Affleck for Supporting Actor? Bill Condon for Director? No Jack? These guys turned in great stuff in 2006. Leo gets nominated not for The Departed but for Blood Diamond? No Best Foreign Film nomination for Volver? Was the Academy too worried it might start looking like the Latin Grammys? How about Emily Blunt and Anika Noni Rose for Supporting Actress? And how about that Best Song category? I love Dreamgirls, but really, three song nominatons? Only “Love You I Do” truly deserves the nomination. “You Know My Name” from Casino Royale and “Real Gone” from Cars rocked the multiplexes. So did “Family of Me” from Over the Hedge and “Hit Me Up” from Happy Feet. How could they have snubbed the entire Curious George soundtrack?

Call me crazy. Was The Queen really that good to garner a Best Picture nod? Hellen Mirren was great, of course. But didn’t the movie felt a bit like a BBC mini-series? As much as I love Little Miss Sunshine, Alan Arkin wasn’t all that. I love that movie for its quirkiness and sure, it grows on me after repeat viewings. But how can those two movies be better than, oh say, United 93? As solid as Babel might be, it is a bit flawed and a tad shallow. I hope The Departed gets it, even though Little Miss Sunshine won the SAG and the Producer’s Guild Award which is a good indication that it might take home the little naked golden man.

I’ve been keeping this all in ever since the nominations were announced. Now that it’s here, I just needed to get that out of my chest. Thankfully, it’s cued on our EyeTV and we can just watch the highlights while we enjoy a night out.

I know it’s all politics. The biggest thing I learn from the Oscars every year is watching how all those industry professionals “play the game.” It’s all smiles and nods, fake thank yous and thousand watt smiles. I hate that part of the industry. But even Scorcese’s got to play the game. Are they really awarding the best of the year, or do they have shallower motives?

After all, last year’s Best Picture winner was . . . Crash.

Cinematic Storytelling: Women On the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Pedro Almodovar was introduced to me early in film school and I instantly fell in love with his aesthetics. It’s just the way he composes and choreographs his films. When I saw Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, I was inspired at the possiblities. I learned mise en scène–an often ridiculed term by the average moviegoer but for filmmakers, it is perhaps what makes a film truly a film. Mise en scène isn’t just visual style, it’s what a shot is composed of that helps tell the story, from the color palette of the scenery and costumes, down to the blocking of the actors and overall direction.

As a director, subconsciously or not, you’re always trying to create the perfect mise en scène. It finally sunk in when I was introduced to Pedro Almodovar’s work.

Definitely a hit-or-miss director by all means (I loved All About My Mother but didn’t really care for Bad Education) Almodovar can tell a story purely through visuals. His screenplays are engaging, odd, quirky and always full of coincidences and chance happenings. To add to his writing talents, Almodovar is a pure exhibitionist–always showing rather then telling. For directors, that’s key.

Here are just some shots that still linger in my head . . .

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Ivan work as a voice-over actor who dubs foreign films; the same voice he uses to sweet talk all his women are the same ones he uses in his work.  During this fabulous dream sequence, shot in grainy black & white, it visually brings home the idea of Ivan as a ladies’ man, holding the mic and speaking to girls who pass by through the mic. I love the structural patterns in the back.

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This is an interesting shot of Ivan’s ex-wife, Lucia, who is mentally unstable. As she “descends” down the stairs and growing curious of what’s happening upstairs, she starts to get trapped in the structural steel bars of the staircase. Genius.

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The Mambo Taxi! Now, the screen capture doesn’t do it much justice but I’ve never seen such a burst of color in a film before. Not since Dick Tracy. That was heavily stylized. Here the style is much more organic, and it works. You remember the mambo taxi and all its coincidental stops it makes throughout the course of the movie.

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It almost seems like all the props in the frame are meant to be there. I mean, a beach ball on a rooftop? But it works. Love the colors.

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Neat phone conversation. Love the patterns on their dress, and the backgrounds. Also, Pepa’s red phone throughout the course of the film becomes such an iconic prop. Is it because of how it simply pops on screen? How often it’s used by Pepa? It’s been thrown around, out the window, shattering glass, etc. I’ll never forget it how such an ordinary prop has become such a character in a film.

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The gazpaucho drink. That awfully dated pink dress. Those hideous eyelashes. Lucia is just a basket case.

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Ah yes, the traveling head. Love how Almodovar creates this shot of just Lucia’s head as she glides on a peoplemover near the end of the film. Creepy and completely mental.

The funny thing is I would have never picked up this movie have I not attended film school. You hear the title, you go, oh great, another foreign movie about strong women. But I love it. It just had such an affect on me early on in film school and to this day I think about what goes into a frame, and how much of what you put in the frame can tell the story without having one actor say a word.

Rock Me Amadeus

I always thought Amadeus was overrated. Last week at the local CostCo, which seems to have all these wonderful classic DVDs for an unbelievably low price lately, I bought the Special Edition Director’s Cut and decided to give it a second chance.

Immediately after the purchase, I just wanted to peruse the DVD. You know, skim through the scenes, check out the special features. I found myself captivated and sat through the whole movie. It was F. Murray Abraham’s Academy Award-winning performance as Italian composer Salieri that just kept me watching. And to think film buffs have turned this guy into a joke because he won the Oscar and disappeared. But his performance truly deserves recognition.

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He just gives such a textured, and layered performance. You hate the guy because he’s a jealous twit and despises Mozart. Yet you can’t help but root for him because his passion for music is so rich. He just wants to be as talented as Mozart. But he’s not. It’s the classic case of sympathizing with the antagonist but here you’ll never know it mainly because F. Murray Abraham’s solid performance never gives in to the cliched trappings of a villain.

Then came the scene where a bed-ridden Mozart (Tom Hulce) dictates musical composition to Salieri, helping him finish his masterpiece, Requiem. Both composers, struggling to create this absolute opus; frustrated and inspired all at once. It’s a tour de force performance by both actors, like an operatic duet of sorts.

I’m in awe. Mostly of my stupidity.

I should probably take a second look at the movies I’ve deemed overrated. First West Side Story, now this. I’m realizing that these two movies have wonderful elements in them that make them such worthy entries into the art form. Yet if there’s one thing that stands out with the movies I’m rediscovering so far, it’s the amazing performances of the actors.