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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Ready, Set, Oscar!

The Oscars are a little over an hour away, and I reckon I shall do that old-fashioned live blog things again, so that my thoughts do not need to be burped out 140 words at a time.

Last year, I was passionate about the MIA Oscar for Straight Outta Compton, which was a great movie that was left looking for stray drops of wine in the discarded bottles from the Oscar party.  This year the feeling's a bit different, because I'm not a big fan of Moonlight, or at least the half of it that I endured before walking out.  And Moonlight is considered a lock to win the Adapted Screenplay award, and near to a lock for Supporting Actor. And the movie didn't do it for me. My one lasting impression is of repeated overly artsy shots of people emerging in the frame out of focus and then, belatedly, does the focus puller decide to actually start pulling the people into focus.  I wasn't engaged by the story.

Moonlight isn't along in being a critical darling that I didn't cozy up to.  I wasn't engaged by Arrival. I wasn't engaged by Silence.  I wasn't engaged by 20th Century Woman.  I wasn't engaged by Rogue One.  There are lots and lots of nominations for movies that didn't engage me.  Which isn't anything new, I guess.  Remember all the nominations for Sideways?  Mostly slept through that.

And talking about movies that didn't engage me, there's also Birth of a Nation.  I wonder what would have happened if Nate Parker hadn't had trouble digging out of the imbroglio over his acquittal on rape charges many years ago.  There's a long, long history of movies that everyone loves amidst the snowy slopes of Park City that aren't near as beloved by the time they finally make their way to movie theatres.  There's an excellent chance that a Birth of a Nation might have been another Happy Texas, a Sundance darling from some twenty years ago with a 54% viewer score on Rotten Tomatoes.  There's been so many movies on the subject that have been so much better than Birth of a Nation, including the quite recent Twelve Years a Slave.  And Roots.  What would my Twitter feed have looked like if Birth of a Nation had come and gone and faded without Nate Parker helping it along?

Also caught up in the Birth of a Nation imbroglio:  Casey Affleck, the Best Actor nominee for Manchester by the Sea, who settled civil suits about workplace sexual harrassment.  Have read articles in LA Times and elsewhere speculating if the two deserve to be treated differently.  So much about the movies to unpack that has nothing to do with the movies themselves, but hasn't it always been thus.

With the exception of Captain Fantastic, I've seen pretty much every nominated everything. There was Moonlight, which I made a point of seeing as part of a multiplex double features, but there were few movies making it to the final ballot which I avoided seeing at all because I just knew what I'd be getting myself into.

I guess La La Land will win Best Picture.  Which I guess I won't complain about.  But sitting here thinking on it, I'd love to see Hidden Figures surprise all of us.  I liked it more than most of the other Best Picture contenders, maybe even more than La La Land.  I didn't like it as much as Manchester by the Sea, but I can't support Manchester because the use of music in the movie is appallingly bad.  And Hidden Figures is so quietly good.  So it's not 100% true, because the Kevin Costner character didn't actually exist, and there weren't segregated bathrooms for one of the lead characters in the movie to use.  But it's so quietly good that you can miss how well it's made.  Start with good casting.  Add one under-appreciated director because he gets out of the way of his good cast.  This is so totally NOT what Barry Jenkins was doing in Moonlight.  If I have to take sides in today's political climate, I'd rather root on Hidden Figures as a good movie and rebuttal to the current regime.

Best Actor is supposed to come down to Denzel Washington for Fences or Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea.  I am unreservedly in Team Affleck for this.  I like Denzel Washington a lot, but the quiet unshowy control of Affleck's performance in every frame of Manchester by the Sea, the layers upon layers of hidden story, did more for me.  Fences doesn't give enough for Denzel Washington to work with.  Everything is anticipated.  The infidelity can be seen from 1:45 away when the character is praised for being so faithful.

Isabelle Huppert?  Her performance in Elle is an acting class that can be dissected and debated and admired for many more hours than the movie itself.  The movie doesn't exist without her performance.

How do you give La La Land a dozen Oscars when even a bad movie like Silence has stunning cinematography, when there's a Jackie to contend with in Costume Design, a Fantastic Beasts for Production Design, a film like Hell or High Water that relies on editing to find its own rhythm?

I keep meaning to sit down and memorialize my own Ten Best list for 2016, but there's just the one Oscar day when I actually sit down to talk about movies.  But it's reasonably safe to say that Hacksaw Ridge, He'll or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land and Manchester by the Sea would have pretty good odds of making the list.

But of course, it's a typical Oscar year, and the Best Picture of the year may well be one that isn't in the running.

And that's OJ: Made in America.

Which I hope will win for Best Documentary.

But I think is, far and away, the best, most urgent, most relevant piece of filmmaking to come out in 2016.

So there's this really famous guy, and there are a lot of people who are going to stand by their man no matter what.  Donald Trump said, likely correctly, that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose his voters.  OJ probably did worse than shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue.  OJ: Made in Amerca makes sure we know that.  Gruesome, bloody, hard-to-view pictures of the crime scene, of the blood and gore, are not lacking. If you're trying to understand Donald J. Trump, it may not be possible to do so without understanding Orenthal J. Simpson.  And if you're trying to understand Simpson, I don't think it's possible to do better than Made in America.

I could go on for such a long time talking about OJ: Made in America viewer end through the prism of a 2016 election that could never have been anticipated when Ezra Klein started in on his documentary.  But the "shoot someone in middle of 5th Avenue/brutally killed two people in Brentwood" is such a distillation that I'm not sure another 3800 words in my blog post could add to what the one comparison does to start the gears turning.  And however your gears start to turn, this brilliant near-to-eight hours of documentary filmmaking will probably anticipate and react to.

In an ideal world, perhaps there could be a tie between the Made in America and the flawed but powerful 13th from Ana DuVernay, which is kind of like the essential appendix or exhibit attached by hyperlink to Ezra Klein's movie.

So 20 minutes until the festivities begin.  Catch you at the Oscars.

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