Monday, February 27, 2017

On the Oscars 2016

The Oscars started at 2:30 am here in Zagreb, so I was asleep through what sounds like an interesting live show. I saw a clip of the major gaffe at the end. I thought Warren Beatty turned in his most genuine and interesting performance since McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman, 1971). He was mortified, humiliated, stripped of his youthful, sexed-up charm that he fought to hold onto well into his 60s. It wasn't his fault, but he did look more than ever like his Clyde Barrow, the impotent rebel grown old, now revealing his impotence and none of his rebellion. This was painful. Live television, everybody!

I'm in the minority of people who didn't love the entirety of Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016), but I thought the first third gave us a few things we rarely see outside of long-form cable dramas: a portrait of the abject misery that is childhood; truly ambiguous relationships that veer between the erotic, the platonic, the paternal, the fraternal, the pragmatic, and the romantic; black people behaving on their own terms, both hurting and loving each other; beautiful black bodies photographed on their own terms. A film-theorist friend was fascinated by the movie's use of silence, and I can see that, but I prefer the rock-and-roll-head Martin Scorsese's use of silence in Silence (2016), an intellectual portrait of Catholicisim, a study of how even the most noble among us are made terrible by institutions, larger forces of commerce and politics, the vain hope that physical suffering has some meaning, the inability to conquer god's earth or to conquer oneself. If I have a chance, I'll teach it. I think it's the most important long-form narrative movie of the last few years. It should have been nominated for everything. I hope you see it.

I haven't seen The Salesman (Asghar Farhadi, 2016), but I will. Farhadi's acceptance speech in absentia touched on a truth I sometimes think film studies scholars are too cool to acknowledge. There is something extraordinary about hearing a moving story in a language you can't understand. Fellini hated subtitles, but an English-dubbed La Strada (1954) -- which itself was dubbed into Italian -- wouldn't make me cry. Real life doesn't come with subtitles, the Middlebury College's language program advertises, but movies do and movies are wonderful for just that reason. In an era in which Americans, and pretty much everyone in the world has grown to hate children who speak languages different from their own and whose pigmentation is a little darker, a good foreign-language film may be the best service "culture" can give us.

I'm glad Moonlight beat La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016). I like movies which rely on the audience's willingness to accept imperfection; I don't like movies that rely on the audience's willingness to accept mediocrity. I feel less cynical than I did last year.





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