BAM Best Picture Profile: Sling Blade (1997)

Each year, I try and improve the site, and also try to find a new an hopefully creative and fun way to countdown to the unveiling of the year’s BAM Awards. Last year, I posted most of the BAM nominee and winner lists. However, when I picked Django Unchained as the Best Picture of 2012 I then realized I had recent winner with no write-ups. I soon corrected that by translating a post and writing a series of my own. The thought was all films honored as Best Picture should have at least one piece dedicated to them. So I will through the month of December be posting write-ups on past winners.

Much like my first selection, this film was one I first viewed on video and a year later than its initial release. Although, Sling Blade being a highly acclaimed film unlike my first choice, was a later-in-the-year release poised for awards season.

I have revisited Sling Blade again recently enough such that I didn’t feel the need to see it again to be able to write about it comfortably. One thing that bears noting is that since a fair amount of time has passed, and considering the trajectory of Billy Bob Thornton’s career; this is a film that deserves to be talked about and remembered. Trajectory more in terms of the kinds of roles and films Thornton has made more often since then. Sure, Sling Blade has its comedic and heart-warming moments but at its core there’s a classical dramatic arc to the story. He’s played a lot more straight comedies since this film than dramas or even dramedies.

All of that is meant to underscore the fact that Sling Blade may be one of the greatest “showcase” type films ever created. Actors often will, and at times are encouraged, to develop their own idea to showcase a side of themselves they can’t seem to in other films, or simply to prove themselves in a meaty role. They do happen, but few are this complete a film and as accomplished works by said actor in all phases he/she participates. In this case Thornton wrote, directed and starred in the film.

However, a film that exists merely to highlight one actor has a hard road to getting to “Best Picture.” What is needed is not only a great supporting cast, but also a great narrative. In story terms it’s not only a tragedy at its heart, but also a story of redemption and looking beneath the surface, there’s a Southern Gothic element.

The cast features great actors, both character and not, like Robert Duvall, J.T. Walsh and John Ritter, but it also features revelations like Lucas Black, whom was a virtual unknown since American Gothic was a very low-rated show; and the film incredibly impressive film debut of country-music star Dwight Yoakam.

What is also worth noting is that while more features than you realize are first born as shorts there’s not many you get to see, and fewer than are just a prelude. Sling Blade is one of those. I was lucky enough to find a copy of Some Folks Call It A Sling Blade and watched it and I was amazed that’s its really just the interview scene, one that’s emulated in the feature, and a great set-up for who Karl is and who he is perceived to be. You can watch it below:

If you can watch that and not want to see the feature if you’ve not there’s nothing else I can say to sell you on its greatness. I’ll close with perhaps the best one-line encapsulation of the film offered by Roger Ebert:

If “Forrest Gump” had been written by William Faulkner, the result might have been something like “Sling Blade.”

It’s sheer brilliance. Enough said.

BAM Best Picture Profile: Mulholland Falls (1996)

Each year, I try and improve the site, and also try to find a new an hopefully creative and fun way to countdown to the unveiling of the year’s BAM Awards. Last year, I posted most of the BAM nominee and winner lists. However, when I picked Django Unchained as the Best Picture of 2012 I then realized I had recent winner with no write-ups. I soon corrected that by translating a post and writing a series of my own. The thought was all films honored as Best Picture should have at least one piece dedicated to them. So I will through the month of December be posting write-ups on past winners.

This may prove, by the end of this retrospective, to be the one and only film I had to go back and watch over again. As I dusted off my ancient VHS I first realized that I’ve never seen this film in its proper aspect ratio, but rather have only in pan & scan. It’s sort of a testament to how old this film is by now, relatively speaking, and how young I was when I saw it. Now, I’m not about double back on this film. Granted it may not retain the luster that some of the Best Pictures I’ve revisited. In fact, some of the “retroactive” BAM Winners that I created (and no longer acknowledge because they weren’t truly picked at year’s end) are much stronger films.

However, this was what started it all. In 1996, I sat there and perhaps for the first time I paid close attention to Awards Season as the nominations were coming out. I was quite young (15) and I was very unaware to the process, critical buzz and the like. Regardless, I needed an outlet to express my opinions. Therefore, with the aid of ticket stubs, and I would suppose the IMDB (as this film was a rental that I had viewed during the year), or maybe even just memory; I started assembling my first nominations. Even back then I refused to bow to release dates and did pick a 1995 title as my favorite film of the year because of my lack of a reasonable chance to see it.

I’ve since gotten a bit more strict about that rule, but the spirit of it remains the same. So being my first Best Picture, from my first award slate (one if I recall correctly had about 25% or less the total eligible titles this year will likely have), sure, there was reticence to revisit it. However, I long since stopped engaging in revisionist history. It’s a snapshot. I still like the film, moreover, I still know exactly what it was that had me respond in so enamored a way then even though the surprise, and to an extent, some of the thrill is gone.

Mulholland Falls (1996, MGM)

Back then I was far more actor-oriented and there are many in it I tracked closely at the time (Nick Nolte, Melanie Griffith, Chazz Palmentieri, John Malkovich) some I’ve since come to know better (Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Connolly, Treat Williams, Chris Penn, Stephen Baldwin, Ed Lauter). Perhaps more noticeably I realize now that many behind the scenes names are know more well known to me Sally Menke (Editor most known from Tarantino’s works; May she rest in peace), Haskell Wexler (Legendary DP perhaps best known for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and Lee Tamahori (Director who broke out with Once Were Warriors)

While the film may not be technically a noir tale, its got many of the elements that I was just recently introduced to and starting to become enraptured by so that most definitely captured my imagination. Aside from the titillating aspects, it’s also the multi-pronged plot wherein Hoover (Nolte) was squared off against the the military and FBI in the interests of solving a case that has personal significance for him. He goes rogue, for lack of a better word; and it’s not like he’s a by-the-book kind of guy as the film takes its name from how he and his team deal with the organized crime element in LA.

Mulholland Falls (1996, MGM)

I enjoyed, and still do, many of the performances. And upon revisiting it not only remembered many of the lines I connected with but the line readings (“They brought me a film” as Malkovich says as he’s sick and “You broke my heart” as Melanie Griffith says to close it out; to name a few).

Aside from using film itself as a storytelling element, the narrative also starts with a simple case and opens up into a more complicated, entangled mystery much bigger than the players involved. The professional and personal co-mingle and the characters take justice into their own hands. All these things and more are what I connected to.

In conclusion, it’s not that I regret this choice, as I’ve stated it was most definitely true and correct at the time (and that’s the least you can ask) but it’s one, perhaps the only one, that I feel really dates me. It is still a solid, entertaining mystery that I believe can pack a punch on first-viewing.

Shyamalan Week: BAM Best Picture Profile – The Sixth Sense

Introduction

The Sixth Sense (1999, Touchstone Pictures)

Here’s another one where I’ve decided on a different tact as opposed to the pre-existing text I’d written. I don’t recall what the assignment was but I originally wrote a comparison between The Sixth Sense and American Beauty as they were best picture nominees. I’ve decided to edit that such that I only discuss The Sixth Sense and why it won the BAM Award for Best Picture of 1999. As I recently stated in the site’s first official piece on Django Unchained all the Best Picture winners should have write-ups and to that end, those that do not yet will get their due in December. However, since I decided to focus on the work of M. Night Shyamalan this week, I may as well post it now.

Overly-Cautious Warning: If you’ve never seen this film stop what you’re doing right now and go see it. I do spoil it eventually in this analysis.

The Sixth Sense (1999)

The Sixth Sense (1999, Touchstone Pictures)

When I first saw the trailer to The Sixth Sense I knew I wanted to see it. I thought it was going to be one of “My Movies,” meaning no one but me would like it. There was a sneak preview a week before the nationwide release. My family and I got our tickets early via Moviefone. Thank goodness we did because there were many people walking up to the box office wanting to see it and being turned away because it was sold out. That was a good sign.

The film spent five weeks at #1 at the box office. I then started to hear the Oscar buzz stirring. After the Golden Globes and SAG Awards it didn’t seem likely it would do much at the Oscars. It didn’t. That doesn’t make it right, though. However, that’s why I had started the BAM Awards in the first place.

The Sixth Sense starts slowly but builds upon detail, one thing that give it a boost is amazing ensemble acting. The role of Cole’s mother is played by Toni Collette, an Australian actress. She had her Philly accent down so well I believed it was authentic at the time. She’s a very caring, playful mother but there’s also anger, fear and worry in her performance.

The Sixth Sense (1999, Touchstone Pictures)

If you want character development this film is definitely for you, it’s not a concept-only piece. It has a strong and fairly high concept, but there is a lot of character to it. You are thrown into the life of Malcolm Crow (Bruce Willis) immediately. There is a confrontation in the first few minutes. This confrontation ends up being pivotal in the rest of the story. Then a year later he meets a boy named Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment). From that moment forward there is rarely a moment when one of them isn’t on screen.

Films of a supernatural nature like this one often have underlying messages and present real questions. These movies, like horror fiction, are generally frowned upon. This may be another reason it didn’t win at the Oscars. If that’s so, it’s not justified.

In my estimation, Haley Joel Osment is not a supporting actor in this movie, he is the lead. Just like Joseph Cross wasn’t a supporting actor in Shyamalan’s previous film Wide Awake. Bruce Willis like Rosie O’Donnell prior sold the film. While Crow starts and ends the movie, a vast majority of it is dealing with Cole and his issues. You can argue Crow is a lead based on perspective, but if you’re talking screen time and, more importantly, who faces and ultimately overcomes their obstacles it’s Cole.

The Sixth Sense (1999, Touchstone Pictures)

Osment’s performance is incredible. The best acting is when you believe it’s happening and he sold it to you and you bought it because it’s real. He’s genuinely afraid. He’s shy and awkward when necessary and his suffering reaches off screen and wrenches your guts. In one scene when the thermostat drops and his breath vaporizes, I felt cold. Osment’s performance would not have been so amazing if not for the brilliant script. The script is nearly Hitchcockian in both its detail and the way Shyamalan is seemingly tossing elements up and plucking them down at exactly the right moment. The ways Shyamalan got everyone to believe Bruce Willis was alive then allowing hindsight to show he definitely wasn’t is both amazing writing and directing.

The Sixth Sense (1999, Touchstone Pictures)

The Sixth Sense has subplots, even aside from the obvious ones which are the tales of the spirits that Cole sees. One example is the characterization of a secondary player: Tommy Tommasimo, played by Trevor Morgan, isn’t just a bully. His performance is typical of a bully when it has to be, but in his character’s cough syrup commercial it’s commercial acting and satirical. It also gives the audience good comic relief. Tommy in the end of his narrative is comedic and dejected. He becomes and inside joke between Cole and Malcolm. Another storytelling interlude goes as follows: In a classroom scene where the school grounds were the sight of hangings. His teacher denies the fact. Then Cole starts to yell calling him by his boyhood nickname. It’s very intense and serves as momentary comic relief as well. We empathize with Cole for it, and who wouldn’t want to know their teacher was called ‘Stuttering Stanley’? We see the hanged bodies later and perceptive viewers are awed, those who miss the connection will be frightened regardless. It works on two levels.

That’s what most of the brilliance of the script and the film is: connection. Cole’s mother is cleaning and she notices some spots shining in the pictures. All we see her do is questioningly look at it. Later, when Cole tells her his secret she believes him deep down. The proof is given after. That too is a subplot. It’s a movie of such intricacies but it works because of its intimacy. There aren’t too many characters in it. The movie deals realistically with the supernatural. There is a psychologist involved with the boy. Cole at one point is in the hospital and the doctor questions his mother about the bruises on his body. This is a societal critique, but a subdued one and a welcome one. Both her and the therapist are in the room and disgusted by these accusations. They don’t see each other. We don’t know that though.

The crumbling marriage of Malcolm Crow is also a pivotal part of the puzzle. This also works brilliantly as an illusion. The best illusions are the ones we believe to be true. He and his wife never speak to each other anymore. She is with another man and Malcolm never quite chases him down. What’s crucial is when Malcolm comes to the restaurant late. She signs the check says “Happy anniversary” and leaves. This is so key because we think she is talking to him. She wasn’t and what’s best is the way all the pieces fit together and nothing is really out of place.

The Sixth Sense (1999, Touchstone Pictures)

The film also expertly foreshadows after re-viewing The Sixth Sense you see how it was set up all the way through the movie and you wonder how everyone took the bait, but we did. The ending was a shock. Nothing in The Sixth Sense seems forced or out of place. It all comes together in the end and it moves me. Cole asks, “Grandma says the answer is ‘everyday.’ What’s the question, Mama?” His mom is on the brink of tears and puts her hand on her chest, “Do I make her proud?” This is something we can all identify with. I got teary-eyed just thinking about it. I went to see it again with my cousins in Brazil. They all loved it. It’s truly a universal movie and now fourteen years on this films has not waned in my eyes, not in the slightest. It’s tremendous.

The Awards

The Sixth Sense was nominated for 10 BAM Awards, and won seven.

The wins were in the following categories:

Best Picture

Best Director

Best ActorHaley Joel Osment

Best Performance by a Child Actor – Haley Joel Osment

Best Supporting Actress – Toni Collette

Best Score – James Newton Howard

Best Cast

The Other Nominations were for:

Best Original Screenplay – M. Night Shyamalan

Best Cinematography – Tak Fujimoto

Best Supporting Actor – Bruce Willis