When Jeremy Irons won an Oscar for his icy but humorous performance in "Reversal of Fortune" (1990), he thanked David Cronenberg at the end of his acceptance speech. He had a very good reason; in Cronenberg's unforgettable medical drama "Dead Ringers" (1988), he gave a stunning performance, or a pair of stunning performances, as the peculiar but prodigious twin gynecologists who are threatened by real emotions and then plunged into the self-destructive chaos where the only exit for them may be becoming one again, as they were conceived at first in their mother's womb.
The Academy Award winners for the past thirty years have followed consistent molds, primarily in the categories of Best Actress, Best Actor, and Best Picture. It is a very simple set of templates that I will explain with excessive evidence. This is not to say that the Academy Awards are a conspiracy run by some secret society, although that idea would be quite fun. Rather, at the very least, there is a subtext to American culture that plays out in the ideas and ideals in American cinema, and it plays out consistently. At the very least, I'm illustrating some unwritten ideals in American culture. Whether or not they are healthy or corrupt, they are there in us. So, "Best Picture" is not a great movie; rather, it is a great movie that fulfills the mold.
I've seen scenes in this movie multiple times in multiple movies, yet I've never seen this movie before. Andrew Niccol's "Lord of War," is the story of the rise and decline of an arms trafficker (Nicholas Cage) and takes many predictable narrative steps. It is a list of cinematic clichés, from the personalities (even the names) of the characters, to the moments of suspense and surprise, to the preposterous ethnic stereotypes. It contains everything short of a protagonist dangling from a cliff or a racing bus driving through a fruit stand. Further, there is very little character development, very little revelation, and most of the characters are caricatures. Nevertheless, the final product is a thoroughly original, provocative satire that explores a violent decade of global peace and haunts you with an almost silent sinister laugh.
Based on the current trends in Hollywood films, we tend to think of the movie industry as some sort of giant Business Corporation, with board rooms all over town constantly analyzing projection charts and planning the next sequel to another obscure comic-book hero flick (in 3-D). Then five years ago "United 93" came along and defied most of the usual reasons for a film to be produced in the first place. It surely wasn't made with the idea of losing money but you could anticipate this wasn't going to be your typical drama/action-adventure movie (or a blockbuster for that matter). It was never even going to help sell great amounts of movie candy (though I can recall attending a screening of "The Passion of the Christ" years ago, and seeing people entering the theater with the usual giant containers of popcorn and soda, so I guess some moviegoers can eat through anything). We knew beforehand that "United 93" would be tackling a difficult subject worthy of scrutinizing, after watching it we come to understand this was one of those few "necessary" films.
How long does it take for a good movie to convince you to watch it? Ridley Scott's "Matchstick Men," announced itself in the first scene, presented its product in the second, introduced paperwork in the third, and closed the deal in the fourth. The two hour long "Matchstick Men" sold in me less than seven minutes.
Q. I spoke to a Japanese person who saw "Lost in Translation," and she agreed with me that the film took a heavy-handed, anti-Japanese stance. Of course, the story was about two strangers in a strange land who didn't have the ability to plug into the culture, but the movie showed Japan with few, if any, redeeming qualities. From the hotel greeting committee to the talk show host to the prostitute, the film offered us caricatures of Japanese stereotypes, and it was a little hard to watch them -- they distracted from the honesty of the film with their shallow rendering and low humor. Do you think that this was purposeful, or even necessary? (Roy Lambrada, New York NY)
"Chicago" waited 27 years to make the transition from stage to screen, but finished strong, winning 13 nominations Tuesday as the 75th annual Academy Awards nominations were revealed. After last year's best-picture nod for "Moulin Rouge," the movie's front-runner status signals a rebirth of the movie musical.
It was a year when more movies opened than during any other year in memory. A year when the big Hollywood studios cast their lot with franchises, formulas, sequels, and movies marketed for narrow demographic groups--focusing so much on "product" instead of original work that they seemed likely to be shut out of the Oscars, as they were essentially shut out of the Golden Globes. A year when independent and foreign films showed extraordinary vitality. A wonderful year, that is, for moviegoers who chose carefully, and a mediocre year for those took their chances at the multiplex.
Q. I am surprised that you were critical of Robert Zemeckis for giving away the plot to "Cast Away" in the trailer for the movie. While I share your disgust at this marketing tactic, Zemeckis is not doing anything different than what Shakespeare did at the beginning of "Romeo and Juliet". I guess that it proves that audiences haven't changed in 400 years. (Hugh Kearney, Clearwater FL)
Q. Is it me or is John Cusack the most underrated actor in American movies right now? He has never received an Academy Award nomination, nor has he starred in any blockbusters (he did have a supporting role in the Nicholas Cage vehicle "Con Air") but he seems to lend quality to everything in which he appears. Why do you suppose he fails to capture the recognition he deserves? (Tim Tremain,
Q. After seeing "Forrest Gump," I got into a big argument with my friend Sarah about how they made Gary Sinise's legs disappear. She claimed he just tucked them under, but I contend that if you are going to involve special effects wizards extensively in a film, they are going to be more hi-tech. Which one of us is right? (Lydia Smith, Winnetka)
Things might be easier, John Sayles sometimes thinks, if he were just starting out--if he had no track record. Then investors might be quicker to roll the dice by putting money into one of his movies. But he's made eight films, establishing himself as a leading (but not often profitable) independent director, and that makes it harder. That's why the success of his newest film, "Passion Fish," comes as such a relief.