Awards season has arrived! A deluge of quality films will fall almost daily between September 1st and December 31st. In order to qualify for consideration of an Oscar, a film must run one week in New York City and Los Angeles. So you could buckle yourself into a theater seat for the next three months and still not see everything. Do bring a snack and a pillow. Seriously, the amount of hype around, what seems to me like, over a hundred award competitions, makes choosing what to see a difficult task. Some of these films will sneak into town and leave without notice just to qualify. Others will mount non-stop public campaigns to draw the attention of the professionals eligible to vote in the nominating process. Money is key here, and as you would expect, quality often gets loss in the media hype.
We can blame disgraced Harvey Weinstein for creating the template that dominates the process leading up to the most important film award in world: the coveted. genitalia-free, gold OSCAR statue.
Weinstein invented the now standard template for influencing the Oscars. His award game-plan was to begin with the The Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Golden Globes. Membership hovers around 200 voting members (yes, 200!). The average age of a voting member is somewhere where between 50 and 100. Members are wined and dined throughout the year as they are the first of the three important competitions leading up to the Oscar nominations. Spirit and Screen Actors Guild awards are the other two. The supposedly indie film-motivated SPIRIT awards has approximately 2500 members (at last count). The most important, in terms of actual membership is SAG-AFTRA, with approximately 40,000 eligible voters. Neither Spirit nor SAG-AFTRA create the frenzied spectacle of stars and glamour that Weinstein promoted as the Golden Globes competition. The principal place where campaigns, by film producers and actors, are carried out is in the “trade” publications, Variety, and the Hollywood Reporter. They are now joined, in the digital media age, with Deadline, which has an awards season, print edition because of the income generated by $$$$advertising$$$$. Actors with clout, now as a standard part of their contracts, negotiate a clause that enumerates how much money will be spent on media buys during the awards season. “Promotion” could mean anything from wine and dine to who knows what… And then there is the expense of the competition itself!
This is where critics have a role to play. I take that role seriously. Over the next five months, I will do my best, here in print, and in the digital version of WestView (which can fill in the time gap between the monthly publications), and on my blog, to focus on films of merit, be they narrative or documentaries, made in in the U.S. or outside.
You will have this wealth of films on a wide variety of screens from multiplex to small art houses. Some will sneak into town and some will be splashed all over the media. It may take months for them to return (if!), so be prepared. I will highlight smaller films of merit that you should be aware of this time of year. Please read the paper, check the digital edition as it gets updates, and read my Reel Deal blog.
Let’s Go to the Movies:
director Wash Westmoreland
A popular cliché is that behind every great man is a woman that holds him together. Both Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton did break that role and became equal partners with their husbands, having as well, independent creative and political identities. But, even today, they remain the exception in the public view despite the gains made by women’s liberation. Culture and tradition take time and hard work to catch up. The Wife, adapted from Meg Wolitzer’s novel, tells the story of how one hugely awarded, male writer was completely dependent on his wife, who actually wrote the works that have his name on it. Here, we meet not an ordinary couple. He is about to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. She silently accompanies him to the award celebration and is expected, by him and an unknowing public, to sit in the audience and smile. We see her on screen, finally, implode. Life will never be the same for either. This is not a new story.
Glenn Close is perfectly cast and at the moment seems to have a lock on an Oscar nomination and possible win. Everything about The Wife is craft perfect. Director Bjorn Rung takes Jane Anderson’s adaption of the book and casts it with a touch of near genius. As her husband, Jonathan Pryce plays the narcissistic, yet totally dependent, acclaimed author. He exhibits complete blindness to what he has done to his wife. Max Irons (son of Jeremy) is the conflicted son, seeking his father’s approval for his own writing. The production design (Mark Leese) is eye pleasing and historically accurate. Ulf Brantåsm, the cinematographer, seamlessly captures the right tone for this storytelling. You would be mistaken if you think The Wife falls into what is called a woman’s film genre. You would be wrong! Yes, it is a woman’s story, but it is a story that every person with a partner should see. It tackles how to have a collaborative relationship that does not limit one person while elevating the other.
Also on the screen this month is Collette, directed by Wash Westmoreland. Colette’s husband puts his name on her writing until she finally broke loose from the relationship and heterosexuality. Unfortunately, Collette is miscast. Keira Knightley is just too British and tall to be believable as a precocious, saucy, seductive and diminutive French Colette.
director Stephen Maing
This movie asks the question, “Is there such a thing as a Good Cop?” Meet 12 NYC police officers who prove “yes.” Who, despite their Union and the Brass and a Mayor who speaks loud but appears to fear the police and their Union, stand-up. The difference between the Mayor’s pontifications and actual police practice instituted at the highest level is shocking. The Mayor says (as does the Police Chief) that police officers have no arrest quotas! But theses 12 active duty police officers step collectively and say “NO,” stating they will not respect the quota system that has replaced in language, but not practice, racial profiling. The 12 officers, mostly of color, mostly men, represent the groups most subjected to profiling. Although the LGBT community is named as a community targeted (mostly those of color and those who are gender variant), no one from GOAL, the LGBT police organization, stepped forward to join or support the 12. I would like to know why! The 12 speak of how they were/are subjected to discipline and punishment because of their refusal to respect a forbidden quota system. Shocking? Yes! The 12 are asking for the public to support change. Please see this important documentary that comes at a time when, as a result of the Obama and Bush administrations, the militarization of local police forces, and the providing weapons of war to use in local communities, is rampant. Personally, I want peace officers to make our streets safe, not acting as soldiers of war. I am speaking up based on what I learned from this documentary, I hope you will too.
Note: This is a HULU documentary. While it is playing in theaters, (where you will find yourself, as I did, sitting with an audience, that looks like the New Yorkers targeted by this internal quota policy) you can also, if you subscribe to Hulu, watch at home. There is a 30 day free trial subscription to the streaming channel which also produces the award wining series The Handmaid’s Tale.
Plan ahead: the New York Film Festival starts at the end of the month. I suggest you look now at the programming and book early. The docs are sizzling, including subjects Steve Bannon, and FOX News creator, master propagandist Roger Ailes.
Film Forum has reopened with a fourth screen. I suggest you go and watch the experimental documentary, In the Realm of Perfection, about tennis legend and New Yorker, John McEnroe. It’s a doozy!
History Note: Printed Matter is hosting: Film Culture 80: The Legend of Barbara Rubin on September 15, 2018. Barbara Rubin was the young woman who had the most influence on Andy Warhol and made him see himself as a filmmaker.