Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Now That The State of the Union Is Over

Now That The State of the Union Is Over, I Must Now Turn My Attention To Something Truly Important:

The SAG Awards

My reading of my General Grant play went pretty well on Sunday night. Many re-writes have been requested, but the general level of response was very heartening. I will let you know when there is another reading.

However working with the General Grant piece brings me very close to the problems of biopics, such as the Ray Charles and Howard Hughes pics that have been nominated for the SAG Awards (where I get to vote) and of course the Oscars (where I don't).

Basically, in a biopic, you are somewhat compelled to stick to the facts of the story, even where good drama would be better served by another result. For example, how many filmgoers (and Republicans) would have been happier if DeCaprio came out of his room at the end of The Aviator and just kicked the crap out of Alec Baldwin? Would have made for a much better movie. Who wouldn't have wanted to see a hot love scene between Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet in Finding Neverland? However, since the film is based on real events, you can't do it.

Because of that, it is hard to make a great biopic. I know biopics have won Oscars. How do you vote against Gandhi? It's hard to do, though.

I have seen all 5 Oscar nominees (Ray, The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Million Dollar Baby and Sideways) and 5 of the 6 SAG Award nominees (I have not seen Hotel Rwanda yet). Generally, I thought they were all B-plus films. None of the films have an overwhelming "right" to the Oscar -- like a Lord of the Rings or Titanic. None of them would be an embarrassing "Driving Miss Daisy" sort of choice.

With that in mind, this is how I voted.

Best Actor --- Jamie Foxx. His Ray Charles is amazing, and you think you are watching a documentary for long stretches of time. Foxx is quicksilver, switching emotions in a heartbeat, and you get the sense that Ray Charles was the same. The script hit a lot of wrong notes, by the way, and Foxx was forced to play some of them, but all and all he transcended the material.

I could have also voted for DiCaprio, who, if such a thing is possible for a guy as famous as DiCaprio, is the most underrated actor of this generation. I think audiences, especially audiences raised on reality television, are comfortable with how relaxed and intimite DiCaprio is in front of the camera. On the whole, the producers, directors, and writers in Hollywood have not caught up with it yet. More than Tom Hanks, even, I think that DiCaprio in the one who will have the dark side, the Hitchcock side, of Jimmy Stewart's career. It is DiCaprio who should do the remakes of Rear Window and Winchester '73.

Best Actress -- Kate Winslett. I liked Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind a lot, and I think it measures favorably with any of the movies nominated. I thought Carrey was fine, but for some reason the Academy does not like Carrey. If Nicholas Cage had done the part, he would not have been as good as Carrey, and the movie would have received a Best Picture nod. What I liked about this movie was that it was a romantic comedy that could only be a movie. Most romantic comedies are better off as TV shows, or plays. I actually thought Kate's performance in Finding Neverland was better, but it wasn't nominated. It is impossible to believe that this is the same actress who did Titanic. Or even Sense and Sensibility. By the way, while we're talking Leonardo and Kate, has anyone ever given a worse performance in a major motion picture than Billy Zane did in Titanic?

The SAG Awards have a TV component, and I was able to vote for Hilary Swank's performance in Iron Jawed Angels, a movie I caught one night completely by accident, while I was flipping channels. If you are able to see it, you should. Also a biopic of a sort, but very very good.

Supporting Actor --- Thomas Haden Church. Sideways.
Supporting Actress --- Virginia Madsen. Sideways.

I thought that Virginia Madsen's performance in Sideways was the most compelling I saw all year. I am not sure if she should get the credit, or the screenwriter. Either way, I have met, a trillion gazillion women like the character Virginia Madsen played in Sideways. A little milage on them, but not the end of the world. Life has some promise, but it could go either way. Usually when you see a woman with that sort of history on the screen, she is played as a nut. The basic strength and dignity of Madsen's performance was something I had never seen in a character like that before. This category is the only one I have a real rooting interest in. I hope she wins, and I hope she wins the Oscar, and I hope as a result, we can see more women like her on screen.

I thought that the best performance by a supporting actor this year was by Jamie Foxx in Collateral. He held that movie together, and made a lot of ridiculous premises believable. But since I have already voted for Jamie Foxx, I thought I would give Church the nod. I just enjoyed the hell out of him. Who wouldn't?

The SAG Award goes to the "Outstanding Performance By The Cast of a Motion Picture," and as a lawyer applying that standard, I think that "The Aviator" wins. I thought that DiCaprio was only slightly less than Foxx, and that the overall cast of "The Aviator" was much stronger.

I said earlier that I did not see an "A" movie all year, and that all the movies were "B-plus. An "A" movie would have to be ambitious, something that could only be a movie, and meet its ambitions. "The Return of the King," for an example is an "A" movie. (I'm one of those funny ones who thought that "The Two Towers" was the best of the three.)

"Million Dollar Baby" and "Sideways" were pretty perfect, but they had small ambitions. Sideways had a lot of positives, but the gorgeous photography of the Napa Valley that I was expecting never happened, and I am having a hard time getting around it. "Million Dollar Baby" had an ambitious theme, but not very many cinematic values. I did not enjoy the first 30 minutes of "Finding Neverland" that much, for no particular reason.

Both "Ray" and "The Aviator" had large ambitions, which they did not always achieve. "Ray" had no cool airplane sequences. "The Aviator" had strange skips and cuts. It felt compelled to shout out references to things that may have made good history, but did nothing for the movie (a common problems in biopics).

Also, by voting for the "Aviator," I spread the wealth a little bit more, and I think that reflects the way I felt about the year in general.