My Superbowl: The Academy Awards & Me, 2012

I’m not going to lie to you. I didn’t see everything this year. I didn’t even come close. In fact, I saw more things that were made in years before this year than in this current one. I went to the Film Noir Festival and the TCM Film Festival (which you can read all about here and here). I did the Reel Grit Six Shooter up at AFI, various stuff at the Cinefamily and a grip of stuff at the New Beverly, not to mention the Egyptian.

IT’S BEEN A GREAT YEAR FOR CINEMA. Just not necessarily new stuff.

Truthfully, if you wanna read that list, hop on over to the illustrious and welcoming Rupert Pupkin Speaks, where he has been gracious enough to provide a space for me to babble on about my favorite films that I watched this year that did not come out this year.

However, since I stayed up WAY TOO LATE last night to be utterly disappointed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and their idiotic and exasperatingly schizophrenic choices of what are apparently the “best films made in 2012” and their acting milieu, I think I need to post my list too.

My friend Ricky says that his choices are always right and the best. My friend Ricky is an egotist.

I will only go so far as to say that these are the films, actors and theatrical engineers that I enjoyed full-throttle. The individuals that gave me ear-gasms, eye-gasms and brain-gasms. ME, not anyone else. While I would argue vehemently for the inherent quality of any (and indeed all of these films) I believe quite deeply that everyone is entitled to have a differing opinion when it comes to the cinema. If we did not, damn, life would be boring. While I heavily believe that the Academy made gigantic errors in their picks this year for “bests,” I am always more than happy to have healthy debates and discussions on any films as long as they stay respectful of other people’s opinions.

It may seem hypocritical for me to state that I think that the Academy is just flat-out WRONG in one sentence and then happily move forward to chat about being able to agree to disagree on filmic opinion in another, but I believe them to be different arenas. Being that I am in training to become a film archivist, the Academy bears a certain responsibility and it has dropped the ball in the last few years…big time.  While we sit here, fully aware of the changes taking place in our cinematic landscape (35mm to digital, 3D and VFX technologies, etc) there is a large responsibility to history that the Academy bears and I don’t think that they know quite  how to handle it at this juncture in time.

See, this historic responsibility is bisected, with one arm towards the Industry Professionals and the other towards the outside public. What I see here and now is an inability to balance the two, and it’s difficult for them and for us. It is difficult for them because the Business  is their “meat and potatoes” but the PUBLIC is their “bread and butter.” So how do we set this table properly? Everyone needs to stay pleased, everyone needs their money. So how do we maintain a decent set of nominations? It’s not like there weren’t good movies this year. Lord knows, there were great ones. But I really feel like a good chunk of the things that were stuck up on the screen for the year were there to pacify people, to make people happy, and not for representative means.

The Academy Awards are actually important. No one seems to think so. They laugh them off, get screeners, free films, whatever. Sure. At least they do around here. I know how that is. I live in Hollywood. For heaven’s sake, I spent an entire summer archiving all the screener VHS tapes we had gotten from the Academy as a “summer project.” My mom needed to give me something to do. I ended up watching Mike Leigh’s Naked (1993) that way. I might’ve been a bit too young to watch it at that point, but y’know…

In any case, I think it’s odd that people don’t think voting on cultural history is important. Yes, Virginia, that Footloose LP that I got as a kid from the Academy IS cultural history, dammit. So what do we have this year? We have some good stuff and some not so good stuff. Some things that people like and some stuff that I think people think they should like. Some things that I find remarkably offensive and in poor taste and some things that are probably pretty decent but speak to how starved most people are for the kinds of films that used to fulfill people’s entertainment “hole” on a regular basis and make them happy in an unspeakably pure and lovely way.

The Academy was created to house things as the best films of the year. The ultimate examples of filmmaking. Even the nominations should be that way. And these nominations are not that. It is disappointing to say the least. I like my moving image history satisfying. So, on that note, I’m going to give you my favorite films and performances of the year.

Here they are:

Favorite Animation:

OK, so on this one, I totally agree with the Academy’s nomination and I hope this baby wins. I don’t think I could’ve enjoyed this more if I’d tried. Unless I’d gone to see it…5 or 6 more times. I wish I had. I really really loved this movie and I really really want to own it. If you love Sergio Leone and you have even a smidgen of a sense of humor, I believe you will love this. If not, you might have no soul. I would check.

Favorite Supporting Male Performances:

Patton Oswalt in YOUNG ADULT. While the film had a few problems, I liked it over-all, and HIS performance put me over the moon. It's not just because I like him either. He's a DAMN fine actor and this is the BEST he has EVER EVER been and I simply adored BIG FAN (2009)

Since I saw the announcements this morning, a record has been on repeat in my head: ALBERTBROOKSWASROBBED.ALBERTBROOKSWASROBBED. *This* snub makes me more unhappy than any of the others. His performance here created the term "Oscar-worthy."

"Nick Nolte. Warrior. Um, I love this film to bits If you wanna know how I really feel, check out the piece I wrote all about it, which was right before this. I REALLY loved this film. Even more than that, Nolte's performance was the best he has given in years. Multi-faceted and just gutting, it was an amazing feat of acting. I bawled and would do so again.

Favorite Lead Male Performances:

John Boyega, ATTACK THE BLOCK

Tom Hardy, WARRIOR

Gary Oldman, TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY

Favorite Female Performances:  It’s been a rough year for the ladies. All the female performances I liked were…second fiddle and not there for very long. Not that this is a new trend (it’s not) but where are the juicy roles for women? I know there were films out there that people argued were very good for women, but those same films, while they were “good for women” also set them back quite a bit. My mom said that Meryl Streep was good in The Iron Lady. I didn’t see it. At this point, I’m going to give my favorite performances to one film I have seen (and adored), one film I haven’t seen but love the actress and trust other people’s judgement, and one that I am seeing next week and will probably absolutely LOVE TO BITS. I wouldn’t usually think it was ethical to pre-favorite a film performance, but with the paucity of chunky, decent female performances this year, I’m going to do it anyway.

I loved this film and I loved Ellen Page in it. SUPER was an uncomfortable and realistic film with gritty, gutsy goodness that I just ate up hungrily. She gave a fantastic show and I REALLY loved her.

I love Tilda. I need Tilda. My life would not be the SAME without Tilda. I have not seen this film but somehow I KNOW she was exquisite. I have neverevernever seen her do wrong. I believe in her. We Need to Talk About Kevin is is a film I desperately Need To See.

I finally get to see MARGARET this upcoming weekend. I bite my thumb at the powers that be who refused to let this film be released and sat on it for so long. It totlally looks like my kind of film. And Anna Paquin looks like she gives a hellova performance. If she doesn't, well, I'm wrong. But I've seen the trailer, chatted with people about it, and I know my taste. I think her placement here will be justified.

Favorite Music/Score: 

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy— Alberto Iglesias

Attack The Block–Basement Jaxx

Drive–Cliff Martinez

FAVORITE FILMS:

I saw this 5 times theatrically and then more times than I can count via a screener. I also spend most of my time listening to the soundtrack obsessively. This film has most assuredly taken over a good chunk of my existence, as most Winding-Refn films do. No shocker there!

Saw this in the theater 4 times, I think. Would love to have seen it 4 more times. More movies like ATTACK THE BLOCK, I say!

I love you Takashi Miike. This movie blew my brain so far outta my head I had to pick the bits of my skull off of the wall of the theater. I simply love this movie more than words can describe. It is intellectual, visceral, VISUAL. So great! What a cinematic triumph. MORE!!

It seems like I'm really obsessed with this film, but I actually just really liked it. It is one of the better films, but I'm not as obsessed with it as I am, say, with DRIVE or ATTACK THE BLOCK. However, it fascinates me as it delves into intellectual areas that I *am* obsessed with AND it's an incredibly well-shot and well-acted film.

The minute I read the book, I loved it. The instant I heard it was being turned into a film by Scorsese, I went insane because I knew it was going to be FABULOUS and it was. Simply FABULOUS. I cried the ENTIRE way through it because I loved it so very very much and it was such a gift to my eyes

Saw this twice. First time in ages a film has made me excited to read the book it came from because the story was *that* great and I knew that the book would contain just as much depth! Saw it twice in the theater, thought it would lose something the second time but I was desperately mistaken. The sign of a great film is that it retains its greatness as well as gaining more with each separate viewing. This has those qualities.

And the winner is…

This morning, at the asscrack of OMG-it-is-way-too-early-o’clock-in-the-morning, the nominations for the 81st Annual Academy Awards were announced. Why they announce it at such a time, I will never know. But it is a time that a very dear friend of mine has made a habit of being up for, each year. “Why do that?” one may ask, “The information is not going to change within a few hours. Why not get that extra few hours of shut-eye?” Perhaps he does it because he wants to be the first to know. His dedication to the cinema is one of the strongest I have ever known, so this would not be unthinkable. Perhaps he does it because he wants to see if his guesses were right. Perhaps he simply wants to see if the movies/actors/film stuffs that he loved so dearly during the year get recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Frankly, it’s probably all of these things and more. However, there is one thing that prevails above and beyond all these other things-something that speaks to me in a very similar way regarding this particular social institution- and that one thing is ritual.

I’ll tell you something about ritual.  Ritual and the cinema go together like…well, popcorn and soda?

We all have our ways of interacting with the screen, but the important thing is that we do it. In a world where Netflix is the rule and not the exception, I wish to argue for the beauty of the cinematic experience and all it entails, and not just for the visual content. It is as much part of the film as the narrative itself. I am not the first to suggest this, of course. In essays written for the seminal film journal Close Up, a quarterly published between 1927 and 1933, there was a particular concentration on the experience within the theater. In no uncertain terms, the writers in this magazine sought to underscore the consequence of the folks sitting next to you just as much as they worked to point out the influence of the actual visual stimulae.

closeup1

One writer, Dorothy Richardson, even went so far as to describe the cinematic experience in religious terms. She calls the audience an “increasing congregation,” and the employees religious figures like bishops.  More importantly, she labels the interaction between said congregation and the movie screen “prayer.”  Richardson wrote that the theatrical experience was one of “universal hospitality,” welcoming anyone and everyone to come into the pews. This depiction of cinema as both communal locale and religio-cultural spawning ground only makes the ritualistic aspects of attending an actual theater to see a film even more pronounced.

Thing is, its expensive. I know that. And right now, that’s hard. But when you have places like the New Beverly Cinema, where you can get two movies for $7 most nights, and concessions even cheaper…well, its silly not to go at least every once in a while. If you’re in LA, that is. But I refuse to believe that there isn’t at least ONE theater in most places that most people could afford to go to every once in a while. Because, see, I also believe that we can’t afford not to. The minute that we start fully staying at home, the moment we lose our sense of the “universal hospitality” of a movie theater, the VERY MINUTE we forget what it’s like to be bugged by the laugh of the guy two rows over or the slurping sound of the teenagers making out behind us, or the bawdy drunks who snuck their liquor in………then we lose ourselves and we lose a piece of history. And we are stuck with Netflix. ONLY. Do you really want that?

Pardon my language, but what a boring fucking concept! Not to mention the fact that we will then lose all ability to see the brillilance of a film like the recent Let the Right One In, with its exquisite shot structure and blackest-of-black nights against whitest-of-white snow on a big screen. The experience, while still nice on a small screen, would be just that- “nice.” In a theater, with people, larger than life…its beyond incredible.

I’m not willing to part with that. Are you?

Now what does this have to do with this morning’s announcements?  Well, if nothing else, religion has a hellova lot to do with ritual. In fact, since I’m not sure where I am on the actual Higher Being issue, I think that sometimes a good cinematic experience can be just as spiritual to me as a good night in synagogue, since I feel drawn to both in a very deep way. But to a certain extent, that could also be considered cultural. But that’s neither here nor there. Back to Oscar.

Oscar is a holiday for me. And more than that, it’s a ritual. I have preparations. I have guacamole. I spend the day getting ready, watching the red carpet, getting all prepared. Like it was some weird form of Christmas. It’s like my Superbowl. My Personal Day.  And I DO like to celebrate it

So many people I know “don’t believe in awards shows, man, they’re such a pile of crap.”

And you know what? Sometimes, um, they’re not the best. Ellen kinda sucked as a host. But remember this?

crystalYou can’t tell me that that wasn’t AWESOME.  I mean…can you? Honestly?

So while I’m aware (or have been told) that “award shows don’t really mean anything” and that the industry is JUST THAT- an industry, I still love the show and it means something to me. I grew up with my Grandmother voting on the damned things. First time I saw a lot of movies was through screeners that we got. OK, ok,  so I saw Naked when I was a little too young, but I got the Footloose and Flashdance soundtracks on vinyl, when they used to send out vinyl!

Ritual. It has to do with history and with precedence. It has to do with importance and belief. It has to do with a process.

All of the above terms would apply to my experience with film, I believe, and what place Oscar has in my life. This will be the first year that I can remember where I have seen practically every film nominated (for most categories, too) on a big screen.  That fact alone makes this year extraordinary. Clearly, this is more than slightly due to my amazing housemate Cathie, but even so…good job me!

Throughout my film education, I have had many love affairs with many different directors, writers, cinematographers, genres and time periods. As I have gotten older, I have learned that what my love affair truly consists of is a undying lust for the experience of cinema. Writing about film does that for me, reading about film does that for me, sitting near the front or IN the front row of a movie theater does that for me.

So you don’t have to get up at 5:30 in the morning to find out if Mickey Rourke got nominated for The Wrestler if you don’t want to, and you don’t have to even watch the awards. And, to be perfectly honest, I’m not certain how I feel about the Hugh Jackman-host thing. But I would implore you to do one thing- think about the fact that for the last 81 years we have been celebrating what the industry has considered the Best of the Best of what the Big Time Cinematic Industry has produced.It may not all be good, it may not even be passable at times, but its an interesting reflection of where we are and where we’ve been.  And that ritual, in and of itself, is worth at least a few moments of your time.