Category Check 2014: 2 down, 6 to go

All right! Some computer problems have finally been put to bed and I’m happy to return for an update on the overall progress of the Oscar Quest.

Having now completed the Best Actress and Best Actor categories, I find that I still have a long way to go. Updating each of the six remaining checklists, I’ve realized that the Big Eight categories are far less interconnected than I originally thought. I’d anticipated that most of the Best Director nominees would be multi-category juggernauts, and indeed many were, especially when one factors in the craft categories. However, true across-the-board nominees tend to be the ones I had seen already, and my recent conquests barely made a dent in most of the remaining fields: I’ve only checked off 21 of the 123 remaining Best Actor nominees and a mere 10 of the remaining 127 Original Screenplays. To be sure, by finishing Best Director I made much more overall progress than I did by finishing Best Actress, but the fact remains that I’ve now seen over one thousand movies with major Oscar nominations, and I still have several hundred to go.

This prospect is daunting and exhilarating at the same time. With six diverse and extensive categories remaining, it’s clear that unless I should wind up in traction or under house arrest in the near future, finishing the Oscar Quest will mean five more summers of heavy film viewing. Frankly, though, I’m glad to have so much still ahead of me! I don’t doubt for a second that each of these categories has brilliant, fascinating, and downright perplexing nominations in store, just like those I discovered on the Best Actress and Best Director Quests.

Last year, I posted individual profiles of all seven remaining categories. I doubt there’s any need to replicate such detail, so I’ll confine myself to a link to last year’s overview, a quick update, and a few sundry thoughts.

Best Picture – 27 down, 43 left

Here, of course, we do see a lot of Best Director overlap. I won’t conceal that I am saving this category for last, and that I’ll probably tackle it right after I finish the penultimate category. I’ll be curious to see the different facets of this category that are revealed as I peel of each screenwriting and acting category. This is the only category left in which I’ve seen all the winners, but I do still expect some remarkable filmmaking from among the remaining contenders! I’m particularly looking forward to two longtime holes in the DVD universe (Ruggles of Red Gap and The Magnificent Ambersons) and two disaster spectaculars (Airport and The Towering Inferno), all of which I hope to catch on the big screen!

 

Best Actor – 21 down, 102 (including 10 winners) left

Though I typically think of Best Actress as the real “one-shot” performance category, Best Actor also has its fair share of films nominated exclusively in that category. Given that many of my favorite Best Actress performances (Testament, Séance on a Wet Afternoon) came from such low-profile films, I’ll eventually take on this category with an open mind and high hopes! Sight unseen, I’m particularly anxious to see the non-winning work by several of the category’s winners, such as Rod Steiger in The Pawnbroker, Jeff Bridges in Starman, and Denzel Washington in The Hurricane (1999).

Best Supporting Actress – 10 down, 82 (including 9 winners) left

Supporting Actor and Actress are a fascinating mixture of moonlighting stars, rising or fading legends, true character actors, and complete outsiders. As I’ve said before, I often know so little about the nominated performance that I’m looking forward to the film first and foremost. However, I’m especially keen to see the Oscar-nominated work of actresses I know for completely different reasons: Billie Burke in Merrily We Live, Paulette Goddard in So Proudly We Hail, and yes, Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted.

Best Supporting Actor – 13 down, 104 (including 12 winners) left

With a total of 305 separate nominees, Supporting Actor represents more separate individuals than any other acting category. Again, it’s a spendid mix of the famous, the familiar, and the unknown, with several of my all-time favorite performances included among the ones I’ve already checked off. I hardly know how to start narrowing it down, but I’d say I’m most excited by the truly great character actors, like Thomas Mitchell in The Hurricane (1937), John Lithgow in The World According to Garp, and Arthur Kennedy in The Trial.

Best Original Screenplay – 10 down, 117 (including 9 winners) left

Original Screenplay is the youngest and thus the smallest category among the Big Eight, and yet it still has the most left for me to see.  That just shows how exceptionally idiosyncratic the category is. As with Best Actress, the category defines a minority of commercial films (around the world as well as in Hollywood), and the best work often comes from the most marginal movies. I have a huge array of anticipated and totally unknown titles before me, but I’m especially looking forward to the robust contingent of international films, including Rossellini et al’s Paisan, Duras’ Hiroshima, mon amour, and Jackson & Walsh’s Heavenly Creatures.

Best Adapted Screenplay – 18 down, 78 (including 1 winner) left

As this is also something of a shadow Best Picture/Director category, I have fewer remaining in this category than any other and it will likely be my next target. Many of the titles still outstanding come from those pesky 2nd Academy Awards, in which multiple works were under consideration for each individual. I don’t know if I can expect to find all of them, but I’ll do my darnedest! Meanwhile, as with Original Screenplay, I look forward to catching up with many of the foreign offerings: Amedei & Fellini’s Rome, Open City, Bertolucci’s The Conformist, and Hodge’s Trainspotting.

That should do it for now!  I’ll post sporadically in the coming weeks and months, including comments on the 2013 Oscar race and the season that will intervene between now and the start of the next category.  And if all goes according to the current plan, I’ll be back next spring for Best Adapted Screenplay!

Advertisements

The Best Directors of Them All

ishot-1059

Who, or what, should the greatest director be? It’s hard for anyone to stand out amidst such a diversely brilliant field. There are masters of the camera, of performance, and of design. Some filmmakers’ genius is to capture reality, while others invent entire worlds from scratch; there are humanists who probe the depths of human nature and there are visionaries who explore new ways to see the world and tell stories. Nobody can do everything better than everyone else, but there are a few who, for my money, epitomize what is truly great about cinema and the artistic vision.  I’ve already provided my long list; now, here are the best of the best of the Academy Award nominees for Best Director.

#1

ishot-58 Continue reading

Cliff’s Picks for Best Director

Here they are, the best of the best!  As with my votes for Best Actress, I’m going about this in two ways.  First, the old-fashioned method: I’m casting my vote by year in all 87 races for Best Director.  Lots of fun, and full of impossible choices: Wilder or Hitchcock? Wellman or Reed? Altman, Lynch, or Jackson?  Second, to accommodate the overflow from such strong years (and get rid of the races I could do without), the second column contains my top 87 Best Director nominees of all time, drawn from the entire pool of 426.

Finally, the third column, just for reference, contains the list of actual recipients of the Academy Award for Best Directors.  I’ve shaded in gold the instances where my pick and the Academy’s pick align. Your thoughts, either privately or down below in the comments section, are more welcome than ever!

Now, without further ado:

In image form, for those who want to see the whole list at once:

ishot-1054

Continue reading

86 Best Director Omissions

Best Director Omissions 2

Once again, having surveyed all those honored by the Academy for excellence in directing, I’m ready to offer my own humble assessments of the field. But as I did last year, I’m pausing before casting my personal votes to consider the vast terrain of filmmaking outside the 214 filmmakers and 426 films in this column of Oscar history. The Directors Branch has frequently made inspired decisions, nominating the likes of Gillo Pontecorvo and Terrence Malick as well as Frank Capra and Woody Allen. I’m not a big fan of the word “snub,” though I concede its convenience as shorthand. Oscar nominations are a compliment to those who receive them and by no means an insult to those who don’t. Nonetheless, there’s only so much room in the finals each year, and the directors that cram into those five spots invariably squeeze out other admirable visions. I don’t begrudge the Academy voters their choices; I can see the merits in nearly every nominated effort, whether or not it’s my cup of tea. Still I guarantee that if I had the power, somebody would be making way for one of these personal heroes.

As with last year’s Best Actress Omissions, I’ve restricted myself to the period covered by the Academy Awards (1927 to present) and only one film per filmmaker. Even with those strictures, though, I found it difficult as always to whittle the list down to just 86, or an average of one candidate per year in the Oscar race. Many of these are among my absolute favorite films of all time, though I also considered some of the films I consider to be the most impressive directorial visions ever realized. The list ranges from rare misses by Oscar favorites (Wilder, Kazan) to those who never would have had a prayer at a nomination (Paley, Cocteau) except through the divine intervention I’m suggesting. They also wound up falling quite evenly among the decades and across a wide spectrum of production—unlike last time, feature animation and documentary are fair game.

Continue reading

425 and Done: Robert Altman for Short Cuts

ROBERT ALTMAN FOR SHORT CUTS (1993)

ishot-2397

The competition (Cliff: 5 for 5!)

Steven Spielberg for Schindler’s List

Jane Campion for The Piano

James Ivory for The Remains of the Day

Jim Sheridan for In the Name of the Father

——————————————–

I need to get into the habit of promising “in the next couple of days” when I end these projects, as I seem to have a refractory period between the viewing of my very last film and writing about it. Reluctance for it all to end, perhaps? Sheer exhaustion? Or the challenge of grappling with the great work I choose to save for the finish? I suspect the latter most of all, as I keep mulling over Short Cuts in terms of everything Robert Altman ever directed and every film the Academy ever nominated for Best Director. I’m still swimming around in the world Altman created, but rather than ruminate forever, I suppose I ought to get words down and draw this quest to a close.

I’ve explained at length my reasons for saving my favorite director’s Last Great Film for the end of my Best Director project. After engaging with dozens of different directorial visions over the past month, Altman’s film seemed to have sneakily lain in wait just for me. I’d played out the movie countless ways in my head over the last several years, but I couldn’t have anticipated the moments featuring Alex Trebek, Captain Planet, or the 1960s Batman TV series that seemed to speak directly to me. Before I get too solipsistic, though, I know that these sensations were just symptoms of another rich cinematic reality Altman had put on the screen, one enmeshed in another time and place (medflies, smoking, photo kiosks) even as it connects directly to mine.  Altman’s eternal project is to create a piece of reality, replete with details and hidden connections only we can appreciate but also extending far beyond the edges of the frame.  As I sat down for the beginning of Short Cuts, I was struck by how long I’d gone without seeing an Altman film for the first time, and how wondrous it was to see his familiar technique moving in strange and new ways, tracing a new world to explore.

Continue reading

The End of Another Quest

I sure cut this one a bit closer than last time!  But of course I got there in time to see Robert Altman’s Los Angeles epic unfold from start to finish, with a wonderful pre-screening conversation with Altman’s widow, Kathryn Reed, and co-writer, Frank Barhydt!

2014-06-08 00.39.012014-06-07 19.48.21 2014-06-07 19.49.12 2014-06-07 20.08.16 2014-06-07 20.08.232014-06-07 23.14.48

Thoughts on the film to come tomorrow, followed by some final musings on the Best Director category and my overall picks.  But first, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

9 Down, 1 to Go: Steven Soderbergh for Traffic

STEVEN SODERBERGH FOR TRAFFIC (2000)

Screenshot_020_large

The competition (Cliff: 5 for 5!)

Stephen Daldry for Billy Elliot

Ang Lee for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Ridley Scott for Gladiator

Steven Soderbergh for Erin Brockovich

NOTE: dark blue text denotes individuals who won Oscars for the film being discussed, while light bluee indicates those who were nominated.

——————————————–

This must unfortunately be a capsule review, as I’m flat out of time to head off to Westwood for the conclusion of my Best Director Quest.  But apart from the elusive Drag and the swiftly approaching Short Cuts, the film viewing is done!

Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic shows off the director’s famously versatile talent, breathing rich meaning into every frame of even slightly subpar material.  Stephen Gaghan‘s screenplay has some strengths but some considerable weaknesses, including the incredibly contrived Michael Douglas storyline that seems like it’s trying to cram too much political discourse into one perspective.  I have it on good information that Simon Moore’s teleplay for the original British miniseries is the superior work, and I look forward to catching up with it sometime soon.  But Soderbergh intelligently uses a prodigious expertise with editing (thanks to Stephen Mirrione‘s colossal efforts keeping everything straight) and cinematography (finding nuance in the at-first obvious visual schemes for the separate storylines) to probe the heart of each character’s experience.  I was a particular fan of Catherine Zeta-Jones’ rudely awakened drug lord wife and Benicio Del Toro‘s Oscar-winning turn as the morally beleaguered Mexico undercover agent.

 

THE VOTE

Despite Soderbergh’s estimable work on both this and the intriguing Erin Brockovich, and the interesting range of choices offered by Ridley Scott’s spectacular Gladiator, Stephen Daldry’s charming Billy Elliot, I have to hand this one to Ang Lee for his opulent period drama Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon–perhaps not the finest wuxia film ever made, but certainly the most simultaneously sweeping and subtle.

And now, off to see Short Cuts!  If you’re in the neighborhood and can make it over in the next ten minutes, drop by!