A SHARPER BLUR

Wide Range. Cultural Focus. Editor Patrick Neithard

Hollywood Grammar

 

 
Alfonso Cuaron accepts the Oscar for best director for "Gravity" at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California March 2, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Alfonso Cuaron accepts the Oscar for best director for “Gravity” at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California March 2, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Academy Awards


Patrick Neithard, Zurich, March 3rd, 2014

 

A 15-member jury has decided. The orbital-suspense “Gravity”, and not “12 Years a Slave” garners big at the Oscars 2014

 

Best Film “12 Years a Slave,” Best Directing “Gravity”

 

Ten nominations for “Gravity”, well, that was promising, and now we know. Seven golden statuettes has this Sci-Fi / Hi-Fi Thriller by Mexican Alfonso Cuarón received. That makes Cuarón the first Mexican Oscar winner. However, if you want to talk about surprises, “American Hustle” is this years surprising loser. Despite ten nominations in all major categories the 70’s crooks movie went empty-handed. The jury crowned “12 Years A Slave” for „best picture“, along with two other Oscars. Also nominated for best picture were the road movie about dementia, “Nebraska”, the high-sea piracy-story “Captain Phillips,” the real-bizarre bankers freak show “The Wolf of Wall Street”, the sci-fi comedy/drama “Her”, the catholic –bigot self search story “Philomena”, and the AIDS education drama “Dallas Buyers Club”.

 

Victory, Cuarón. Triumph of Technology?

 

One might be tempted to say that Americans have already been to the moon. And so, throughout this last nights we-are-family-like-designed 86th awards show the lost-in-space-movie “Gravity” crystalized as the big winner. And showed on what grounds Hollywood of today is building. There`s the grounds of reality (there`s television, too, now, a real competition) and on the other hand, there`s technology, even if that makes for expensive productions. In the case of „Gravity“ its costs are estimated to 100 million. To turn a shallow story in soundless space into something finally exciting involves technocratic consciousness plus a big hand full of expertise. It thus comes as no surprise why “Gravity” received the awards in all technical categories such as “Best Cinematography”, “Best Visual Effects”, “Editing” and “Sound”. No one denies that “Gravity” is a purely visual work of art. Still, in my eye it does not make for an aesthetic value. I`ll come to that. It was finally with the directing award – which also went to “Gravity“`s director Alfonso Cuarón honouring his craftmanship. However, it would have amazed if this space movie would have been awarded in the category „best screenplay“, as the story is simply too tepid, it`s a technological gem, yes, but one that chivalrously celebrates cinema, by means of being a purely audiovisual product, by means of being a product for an industry ( It`s a movie you don`t want to watch at home, and television has massively grossed with its numerous shows in the past decade) And it is with a hint of stomach tickle when seen on a large screen.

Aesthetically, within the meaning of a general experience, a film like „Gravity“ does not bear much content. Even if it hints vaguely at the failure of such great political projects like the real loss of lives, think Challenger catastrophy two decades ago. There would still be the right audience, and yet, it has been a while. And as for making another choice, say, going in another direction, thus being real science fiction – well, there`s Kubrick with “2001 – A Space Odyssey” with its imminent treats of machine versus human, and theres Tarkovski with “Solaris”. Both have set the bars, already in the last century, clearly much higher. With an narratively evoked precision creating great psychlogical suspense, that is.

 

Hollywood writes. History, and a little grammar; and if necessary, slick shows

 

This is already somewhat disappointing, so when the win for “Best Adapted Screenplay” consequentally went to “12 Years a Slave”, at the expense of “The Wolf of Wall Street”, the favorite in this category, I clearly had to take a breather. Transparency in the decision making process of the jury is rare. Additionally said, the two categories “Best Adapted Screenplay” and “Best original screenplay” stem from a time in Hollywood where filmmaking has been synonymous with the cinema of the author. Screenwriting itself had an uplifting impact on a director/writer. Writing alone however at times was a highly troubling job if one recalls the blacklisting of writers in the 1950 ties era of American Cinema. However today, it`s not mainly about whizz kids. It`s about an industry where cultural production is based on collective work. In terms of “Gravity”, if it were not simply a tad too much nodding towards techno, “Gravity” might be one of the best examples of a renewed purely future-oriented thinking in the American film industry. But as bulky as this may sound, it also suggests that an expensive production has ultimately to do with technology. Ultimately it is thanks to high skills of Alfonso Cuarón which held together what a studio crew offered. An Oscar in directing makes Cuarón a member of the royal league of this golden statuette. That makes a mark. All the way up there.

A selfie making history: taken by Bradley Cooper Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Jared Leto (that's his left eye peering in), Meryl, Ellen, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Lawrence, Channing Tatum and Lupita Nyung'o.

A selfie making history: taken by Bradley Cooper Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Jared Leto (the hair near Jennifer Lawrence), Meryl Streep, Ellen De Generes, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Lawrence, Channing Tatum and Lupita Nyung’o.

As said beforehand, the two historically grown and maintained different script categories sometimes lead to frowning, as nominations and wins do not always correspond with the concept. The best example is the nomination of Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight” in the category “Best Adapted Screenplay”. It is simply a blunder in the grammar of Hollywood. “Before Midnight” is the third piece of romance that is based on the flow of life itself. On the one hand somewhat a franchise, in its narration though (a couple meets at three stages of life, so far) it is as consecutively as morning, noon and evening. And a rewarding one, with its aim to look closely on love and its promises, its misconceptions (within the fictitious world of film) applied when moving forward in time. In the eyes of the jury however it is understood as based on the two previous films, and therefore understood as “adaptation of a screenplay.” What are the odds? With a technological movie like „Gravity“ taking over, and a historic movie like “12 Years a Slave” holding the pole position in the same category? „12 Years A Slave“ has not only been branded for months long before awards season, „12 Years A Slave“, the incredibly truthful reprodction of the story of Solomon Northrup, a noble man who was kidnapped into slavery, has been added to the mandatory curriculum of the american education system. It`s a socio-political relevant morality tale. And it`s the first afroamerican Producer / Director who has received this award.

From the earlier era to the Selfie

Judging by these surprising, partly inconsistent results, ( I would have expected other wins) this years Oscars might have shown a jury going unexpected ways. Less surprising was this years hosting effort: Ellen de Generes managed to bring everyone to the table, or for that matter, at least some in front of her cell phone camera making the first selfie ever at the Oscars and burning them down over there on Twitter. Pharrell Williams animated the front row with “Happy”. Pink covered the Judy Garland song “Somewhere over the Rainbow” from 1939. And Bette Midler lifted the deceased with “Wind beneath my Wings” to the sky (After all, they were stars). Talking about goddesses and gods, and being human. Sigh! Yes, they can, and Whoopi Goldberg`s fine irony when introducing “The Wizard of Oz“ („that was something that once existed every year“) had its laughs. Whether or not so much Memorabilia made Bugsby Berkeley and the deceased Judy Garland, mother of Liza Minelli, (Garland is the one with the red shoes from “Wizard of Oz”) have had a dance together in the skyes above Beverly Hills, one might wonder. Incomplete was the usual slideshow of these newly deceased. Neither screenplay professional Syd Field ( died November 2013) nor the french auteur cinéaste directeur Alain Resnais appeared in the slideshow. The latter passed away last Saturday. The arc of the show, which in parts linked memories of 1939 , where a glamorous era renewed Hollywood when switching from black and white to Technicolor, was thoughtful, with todays use of the selfie brought sparks of entertainment and laughter.

 

That, with a win for “12 Years a Slave” and „Gravity“, there are clear indications that the Academy reflects on values both historic, systemic and within the contemporary. And yet, Hollywood doesn`t seem to know precisely which way it should go. Perhaps because the industry is progressing massively, and perhaps because its productions are mainly rooting in the fictional. However, diversity is not fictional. It cannot be allowed to be just nodded at. Perhaps the signs are now also an opportunity and responsibility. In a visually dominated culture with its countless images and counter designs diversity must remain an instrument. (Which almost speaks for decisions that are not always understandable) The Academy Awards ensures surprises. Take Spike Jonze for example. After several nominations, he won the first Oscar last night, „best original screenplay“ for “Her”. It`s protagonist (Joaquin Phoenix as a birthday cards writer) falls in love with the female sexy voice of a computer operating system (Scarlett Johansson). Things we all know. Things, in suspense, much closer to the every day. Jonze has written, produced and directed the possibilities within life`s close proximity. Making the genre of auteur films not just yet indispensable, Jonze operated at a distinctive 23 Million Budget.

 

Cate Blanchett best actress

 

Relationship movies are still the core business in Hollywood, however in the past decade, it stands in tough competition with television. It is obvious that the bars to receive nods by the Academy Awards have been raised, in parts toughly so. And so, surgically nearly disfigured women from earlier generations were allowed to speak. Here is how that happens: They come to the stage to present these miniature image content movies on Hollywood`s productions. And I`m not talking awards presentation. The claim to stay on top of the world has made them victims of an industry proclaiming a certain type of cheeks, an overall facial expression, and the like. Hollywood would do good to reach deeper into diversity and a respectful attitude towards generations who have gone the walk beforehands. When Hollywood presents itself in short movies, as appetizers, it shows a treacherously bold face: “American heroes”, its males are jacked even now, they`re adventurous, daring. Contrary to this, “Studies of biographies” are obviously still „female“, letting „the female itself“ still remains directed by men. In short, the division of roles into a gendered inequality remains. Women, for a while only seen as young and successful, are having an especially hard time surviving, while a little wrinkle around the eyes in a men`s face is said to be fascinating, as „grown into manhood“. „Authenticity“ in women of American film means youth, invisible Makeovers, agility, being of ageless youth. And although already 45, this time the Academy Awards crowned as best actress Cate Blanchett for her role in Woody Allen`s Blue Jasmine.

Cate Blanchett`s Win for Blue Jasmine

As mentioned beforehand, tearjerk movies rarely make it to the Oscars these days. With television shows, able creators and staff writers dig into long term development of character with an arch embedded type granting narrative depth. Plus, with phenomenons such as binge watchers on the retrievers end, the audiences have become picky. As opposed, a 90 minutes feature film is for the extremly skilled. Big, capable, experienced actors with inexhaustible development and growth potential are required. Actors who want to meet these requirements, need more than just agents. They need substance, and a pinch of luck to spice it up in order to have uninterrupted success. Cate Blanchett, last night, won the Oscar for best actress for the role of an abandoned mid-forty housewive, the sad and “Blue Jasmine”. Being 43, she openly accepted the Oscars „for the women in this business“. Yes. It`s important. „Women today“ all over the world still fight for wage equality, equal economic chances while often delivering the same amount. Women also are identified and seen by men. But the choice for this role was hers for more reasons: Being Blue Jasmine shows a woman who slides into desperation (alcohol, tablets) while she desperately tries to grasp at remainders of what gives ground beneath her feet: a structure, established by a man, a stage on which „Jasmine“ had one specific role: Be this man a worthy spouse, buy nice things, represent the patriarch. Being a society lady. Now imagine what 20 years living this role might do to a brain, especially if the loss is not just the loss of the status „wive to/married to/ divorced riched from“ but rather, the loss of her credibility, after her husband failed to keep the structure( he commited fellonies in this case). It`s a credible portrait of a woman who knows nothing but her own social status. Brought to life by a tremendously gifted actress. I would suspect it takes life experience, age, an inner maturity to carry such an in-depth portrait through all its angles, turns, ups and downs. One might hope that the ageism raging through the world of the past decade ends. Sandra Bullock („Gravity“), Meryl Streep („August Osage County“), Amy Adams („American Hustle“) and Dame Judi Dench („Philomena“)have been nominated as well. Sometimes, awards are just for one to win. They had to be satisfied with the nomination.

 

Lupita Nyong`o Best Supporting Actress

 

Lupita Nyong`o won the golden boy as supporting actress in “12 Years a Slave,”. Ever since her nomination, she was the darling of all style gazettes. And seeing her acting reminded me of Halle Berry, who, as another african american won an Oscar 12 years ago for her role in Monster`s Ball (by the German/Swiss director Marc Forster). Yes, there are double standards: While in real life the inner life experience of the most abusive, physical, emotional, mental states is granted and accepted as a fact, the portrayal of such is far too seldom accepted into an awards win or nomination. Acting today happens with the incorporation, with every fibre. Acting is not skin deep only. The other nominated actresses in supporting roles were Julia Roberts (opposite Meryl Streep) in “August: Osage County,” Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle”, Oscar newcomer Sally Hawkins in “Blue Jasmine” and June Squibb “Nebraska”, a newcomer, already in her eighties. Again, one win, five nominations. “12 Years a Slave”, the cautonary tale on how far mankind has once gone, and what one side has endured in silence, and, on the opposite side, what might have moved another figure to defile, to beating and to torture, both is shown expertly, quietly artful (Steve McQueen is also a price winning 1999 Turner Prize video artist). There is existence beyond antiquated 1970ties blaxploitation.

Inequality, is real. Discrimination and hypocrisy found themselves even up onto the Obama presidency, where a Peace Nobel Prize was awarded beforehand the presidents taking term of office. Culture has the responsibility to innovate where things become calcified, to point at, without fingers (there`s cameras to use, there`s actors without masks to engage in). Essentially moving forward at times needs a close look at double standards and the like. Let`s hope that “12 Years a Slave” is therefore just a good beginning in a series of expected substancial pieces of art, creating a culture of both tolerance, equality, and equanimity. The expolitation of afroamericans as in blaxploitation, slapstick and Django Unchained has received a clear, responsible counterweight growing beyond sweetened-up, transfigured dramas like 2011`s “The Help”

 

“Dallas Buyers Club” Starving for Oscar

 

Here`s a hint at the men of this year. Yes, they hunger dangerously for an Oscar, as seen in Matthew McConaughey performance as an AIDS patient in the 80s AIDS drama “Dallas Buyers Club”. While necessary medication had not been provided for within the U.S., McConaughey`s main character became an outlaw in order to smuggle medication. While Jared Leto in the supporting role as his transsexual friend occurs in the same film and has been pocketing the Academy Award, shows how vastly requirements for roles differ. (Wearing Bigoudis is not exactly hard work, but Bradley Cooper (support) had a well earned nomination along with Christian Bale (Best actor) and Amy Adams ( Best Actress) in „American Hustle“) Physical transformation is commonplace, even to the detriment of physical health, as seen in „Dallas Buyers Club“. While hormonally acquired muscle packs may just inflate over time after performing in historical movies (think „300“ or Gyllenhaals „Prince of..) the loss of mass for a role shows how rigorous actors can be when it comes to reputation, for the sake of authenticity. The last timean actor hungered this much was when Tom Hanks played the main role in the HIV drama “Philadelphia” (1993), where two rea-life stigmatised roles found together. One being an HIV patient, the other, Denzel Washington becoming the victims attorney. My personal favourites this year would have been Michael Fassbender for his supporting role in „12 Years A Slave“, and I have to admit, both Leonardo DiCaprio (Wolf of Wallstreet) and Chiwetel Eijofor („12 Years A Slave“) were my favourites. Satires and Dramas, both live within Hollywood`s Grammar.

 

 

© A Sharper Blur, Patrick Neithard, Zurich Switzerland, all rights reserved. 

 

 

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