View from the Cheap Seats

Good Stories on Movie Awards Season, The Oscars and More

February 4, 2015 - 1:09 pm   |   by
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Now where was I?

Sorry, I’ve not been here. I missed a bit – I’ll admit it and it for sure wasn’t to do with health or disinterest or a lack in passion. I just had to do stuff. But now I’m back.

But I come with good stories. Specifically regarding how movie awards season works.  [Read on here...]

I learned a valuable lesson this year. I love the Oscars not for the telecast or the fashions or even really the stars. I want to watch because it’s American cultural history – a snapshot of our world at that moment the “Best Picture” award is given. And, like everyone else, I have my favorites and what I felt over time were disingenuous selections. Kramer vs. Kramer over Apocalypse Now? Dustin Hoffman in KvK over Peter Sellers in Being There? Sally Field over Bette Midler? And movies I find have no place alongside Casablanca, Gigi, In the Heat of the Night and Out of Africa such as A Beautiful Mind, The Artist and The King’s Speech?

I used to really care about that stuff.

Now I get it. These awards are not given to what will later be judged as the true best picture of that particular year. Remember, Raging Bull didn’t win “Best Picture.”

It’s all about the campaign. Here’s an example.

Early on in the fall I received a screener for the Warner Brothers’ prestige picture The Judge, starring Robert Downey, Robert Duvall and Billy Bob Thornton. I had already seen the movie in the theater and knew it for the dud it was. Robert Duvall is so precious to watch that I would nominate him for anything in which he appears. But this movie was so pedestrian that even could the acting legend save it; I would be hard pressed to nominate him at all since the movie was so crappy.

The Judge

And in my mind, the race to watch this year is that of “Supporting Actor.” You have Ed Norton, J.K. Simmons, Mark Ruffalo and Ethan Hawke plus several contenders like Tommy Lee Jones, Martin Short, Josh Brolin and others. All from cutting edge, potentially legendary movies. Then there’s The Judge and Robert Duvall.

First, I got the screener. For those of you who have never seen an awards screener, they come in a special package with a listing of who the studio feels should be nominated for any particular award, actually, it is now all contractual with the actors, directors and below the line specialists. So for The Judge it lists the producers to be nominated for “Best Picture,” Downey as “Best Actor,” and Duvall and Billy Bob in the “Supporting Actor” column. I blew them all off. The Judge was a wasted opportunity in my book.

But then I started getting calls, and emails and autographed posters and it was daily, non-stop. All campaigning for Duvall.

And sure enough, when the BFCA nominations came out, there he was. And he was there for every other awards show where nominations are given.

This isn’t against Robert Duvall at all. They should give him 20 Oscars.

You remember Albert Brooks in a terrific movie called Drive? He won every critics award but was shut out for an Oscar nomination  No I know how idiotic things like that happen. Last year, the same thing happened to Robert Redford for All Is Lost.

Now, for this year’s movies, there have been some dandies. Here are the mini reviews that I do on KRXO radio here in Oklahoma City.

Whiplash

Like the driving rhythms of the big band jazz music it celebrates, Whiplash is brassy, bold, inventive and terribly fun. We’ve seen the plot before – young musician works his fingers to the bone, in this case, literally, to make it to the top. This picture carries more exuberance than any picture I’ve seen in yours. It is my sincere hope that it finds a wide audience and, perhaps the fact that J.K. Simmons as a ruthless music educator is a lock for a best supporting actor Oscar might give this little movie the recognition is deserves.

The Homesman

The Homesman is the most underrated movie of the past decade. Tommy Lee Jones directs and stars in this elegiac, leisurely paced, matter of fact western that offers twists and turns at every step. Of special recognition is Hilary Swank. A friend of mine once said that there are actors that should be retired from Oscar consideration – I think Swank and Jones both fit into this category. Based on a book by Glendon Swarthout, who also wrote The Shootist this is a movie that will for sure find its audience. A little masterpiece.

Foxcatcher

A National Enquirer story given a New Yorker treatment. And with an OU connection to boot – all seen through the eyes of Bennett Miller who, after Capote and Moneyball is slowly, quietly become one of America’s finest writer directors. This is a true crime story, to be sure, but it’s really about society and the American class system. Not to be missed

The Imitation Game

Blah, blah, blah. This WWII story, perhaps one of the most important of the 20th century is told with such sense of windbagedness that it almost becomes irrelevant. Everybody acts wonderfully, the story is told with great care and even it’s most lurid moments are so sanitized that you think you’re watching with the Queen. Not bad at all, some really like it and I certainly appreciate its intentions but, yawn.

Selma

I got this one not at all. Actually, it’s no better than a CBS TV Movie starring Ben Vereen and Art Carney. John Frankheimer’s Wallace mini-series told the story more effectively. Sort of ridiculous dialogue, plot miscues and absolutely nonsensical scenes. Let’s not mistake this exploitation picture for the real event. Let’s opt for a re-viewing of Malcom X instead.

Nightcrawler

A massive indictment of the American media. We’re talking comparisons to Network here. Jake Gyllenhall plays what turns out to be an obsequious male component of the Faye Dunaway character in that classic 1976 Sidney Lumet film. Satire is on the plate here and it’s a full course meal.

American Sniper

An all American flag waver, and yet another tribute to the skills, the incomparable skills of Clint Eastwood as a consummate filmmaker. This movie was rushed into production and there are times that it is apparent, but one has to marvel at its construction, pacing and sense of purpose. So what if the fake baby is a tad too obvious? Steven Spielberg had been scheduled to direct and one can only imagine the sentimental slop he would have made of this material

Inherent Vice

The fist movie you’ll ever walk out of with a contact high. This loopy, paranoid, sexually deviant nod to both the California coast at the time and the classic Raymond Chandler private detective story is one for the ages in the eyes of this reviewer. There are those I’m sure who would call this “Incoherent Vice” as the plot details remind us of the Bob Segar classic Night Moves. Working on mysteries without any clues.”

Birdman

So original, fast and thrilling, one is prompted to watch it twice a day. With its rat a tat tat soundtrack, a frenetic show stopping performance by Michael Keaton and a whole slew of maniacs running around backstage like they were in a third rate touring company of Noises Off, you’ll need to take a downer after the final credits. There’s more energy, creativity and insight into the dynamic business that is show than any 100 movies. A keeper for the ages.

Still Alice

TV movie claptrap. After magnificent contributions to films from Short Cuts to End of the Affair to especially Far From Heaven this is for what Julienne Moore wins an Oscar?

Into the Woods

Sublime. This film adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical is a treasure and a box office hit to boot. Of the perfect cast, Emily Blunt hits the highest note, but it’s all good, all wonderful.

Here’s my general state of the union messaging regarding the release of classic films on home video – we’re living in a renaissance. It all, I’m sure, comes down to the bottom line – these titles are selling, however, it always does take somewhat of a leap of faith in the constant struggle between art and commerce, to do the right thing by these sometimes lost pieces of the world cultural puzzle.

Indie BD Labels

New on Blu-ray and DVD

The fine folks at Olive Films have gone into overdrive, releasing a slew of rare classics that come to us as a gift from heaven.

Here are just a few, the rest will be at www.olivefilms.com

Track the Man Down, from 1955, is a splendid and totally lost crime film, directed by R.G. “Buddy” Springsteen (who was, by the way, Dale Robertson’s favorite director ever.) This picture stars Broadway legend George Rose and British music icon Petulia Clark and it’s a monster find.

The Woman They Almost Lynched, is a western directed by the late Allan Dwan and starring these champion “B” actors Joan Leslie, Brian Donlevy, Audrey Totter and John Lund.

The Weapon, a 1956 thriller directed by Val Guest with Steve Cochran, Lizabeth Scott and Herbert Marshall

World For Ransom, which is somewhat of a minor classic, directed by legendary filmmaker Robert Aldrich and starring Dan Duryea and, yes, Nigel Bruce. World For Ransom is an absolute must see.

Coming soon from Olive are titles such as Without a Clue, one of my favorite comedies, with Ben Kinglsey and Michael Caine (if you haven’t seen this one, you’re missing a delight); Billy Wilder’s infamous Kiss Me Stupid with Dean Martin; The Night They Raided Minsky’s, with Jason Robards and Britt Eckland and Best Seller, starring James Woods and Brian Dennehy.

Twilight Time This company is absolutely firing on all cylinders, putting out so many lost and deserted classics to pristine Blu-ray that it defies imagination.

First of all, I have to personally thank my friends at TT for releasing what I think is a lost masterpiece of 70s comedy – The Fortune, directed by Mike Nichols and starring no less than Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty. How can this be lost? No idea but it’s damn funny – I saw it in the theater like ten times. If you don’t know it, The Fortune as good as you would hope it would be.

Another personal favorite – Otto Preminger’s Bunny Lake is Missing an absolutely terrifying thriller from the early sixties that features a rare, non showy lead role for Olivier, which would make this worth watching even if one weren’t trying to figure out the ending. This is a must see.

Also among Twilight Time’s new releases are the Elvis Presley/Don Siegel western Flaming Star, The Twilight Samurai, the animated masterpiece When the Wind Blows, Stanley Kramer’s massive Judgment at Nuremberg, which still shocks after some 50 years and John Frankenheimer’s Birdman of Alcatraz, which features perhaps Burt Lancaster’s greatest role along with, wearing hair, Telly Savalas.

Remember Twilight Time movies are in stunning, restored Blu-ray and only 3,000 copies of each are made. Go to screenarchives.com and, as well, like twlighttimemovies on Facebook.

I must also include a “must see” from screenarchives.com

Redwind Productions in association with Cinerama brings us for the very first time, a lost and remastered 70mm treat – Michael Todd Jr’s Holiday in Spain, which stars Peter Lorre, Paul Lukas and Denhom Elliot. Wow! Originally titled Scent of Mystery, this movie was released in Smell of Vision. Sounds like John Waters’ Polyester! This movie has been considered lost for 50 years!

Warner Archive sort of settled down their rampaging release schedule, turning instead to some of Warner Brothers’ early DVD releases and fixing their aspect ratios and other restorations – titles here include The Man With Two Brains.

Other new releases include some Spencer Tracy/Jimmy Stewart early talkies, including The Murder Man; The Wild Affair a comedy with Terry-Thomas and Nancy Kawn and Born Reckless, with Mamie Van Doren!

Go to warnerarchive.com – their new releases come up every Tuesday

Here’s a personal favorite from SHOUT! factory – the complete 1968 Live at Boston Garden James Brown concert as depicted, in part, in the singer’s new biopic, Get On Up. I got to see the “Godfather of Soul” twice and met him once and am an unabashed fan. How about this? In Oklahoma City, we have an actual living, breathing Bittersweet!

Also from SHOUT! is the complete series of Sergeant Bilko/The Phil Silvers Show – this series was lost to me – the reruns never played when I was a kid – but they’re hilarious.

And I must also mention UHF, cult movie of all cult movies, starring “Weird” Al Yankovic and produced by Oklahoma’s own Gray Frederickson. This movie was filmed in Tulsa.

Visit shoutfactory.com for other titles.

Finally, Flicker Alley has released a honest to goodness true oddity – Search for Paradise and Seven Wonders of the World, both made for Cinerama, the three projection wide screen process which was also employed by How the West Was Won and 2001. These Blu-rays have extras out the wazoo and are for sure keepers.

Flickeralley.com – I must, before we move on, mention a new novel called The Long and Faraway Gone, written by my friend Lou Berney and set all in Oklahoma City. Seriously, how does one tell a good friend they have written one of the great books of all time? Without it sounding sycophantic? This book has already won rare raves from both Publishers Weekly and Kirkus and is already the Amazon “Book of the Month” for February. I promise you will love this book. I’m holding out for a decent part when the movie is cast!

Until next time, see you at the flickers!

- Bud Elder

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