Bernardo Villela is like a mallrat except at the movies. He is a writer, director, editor and film enthusiast who seeks to continue to explore and learn about cinema, chronicle the journey and share his findings.
When I learned of the Child Actor Blogathon at Comet Over Hollywood, I had two ideas for it almost right away: the Jackie Searl spotlight and this one. Not too long ago I argued for why the Juvenile Award should be re-instated. In this post I will follow up on that notion to augment my case. It’s one thing to quickly cite who won while it was around and state it never should have left, it’s quite another to show you who would have had they never gotten rid of it. Now I have decided to illustrate that in three ways, including some omissions found when it was instated (it’ll make more sense when we get there, trust me). First, I will list the young actors who since the end of the award (after 1961) were nominated for an Academy Award.
These actors obviously, had there still been a Juvenile Award, would have won that. While on occasion they were awarded the prize, more often than not they didn’t have a realistic chance. Regardless, their nomination was deemed prize enough it would seem, but I disagree and as you will see there have been plenty of instances where the Juvenile award could have been handed out either in addition to or in place of the nomination.
Based on Academy Award nominations from 1961-Present:
2012 Quvenzhané Wallis Beasts of the Southern Wild 2010 Hailee Steinfeld True Grit 2007 Saoirse Ronan Atonement 2006Abigail BreslinLittle Miss Sunshine 2002 Keisha Castle-Hughes Whale Rider 1999Haley Joel OsmentThe Sixth Sense 1993 Anna Paquin The Piano 1979 Justin Henry Kramer vs. Kramer 1977 Quinn Cummings The Goodbye Girl 1976Jodie FosterTaxi Driver 1973 Tatum O’ Neal Paper Moon 1968 Jack Wild Oliver! 1962 Patty Duke The Miracle Worker
Mary Badham To Kill a Mockingbird
In 1996, when I was 15 and the young actors of the day where my contemporaries, I started making my own award lists. Being young myself at the time I wanted to recognize young actors where most awards excluded them more often than not. These selections reflect those that were my among my BAM award selections that were eligible and the Academy bypassed. Prior to 1996, I thought of significant performances that were worthy of noting and would’ve had a strong case for the Juvenile Award had it been around.
My 2004 winner was one where I was awarding a film from 2003, due to my stand on release dates, which is different than the Academy’s. Having said that I then had to factor in both my nominees and who the Academy would be more likely to pick and decided if they chose anyone it would have been Highmore.
Here’s another interesting case: my winner was in a TV film which the Academy would never honor. Then two more nominees were either shifted due to my interpretation of release date rules and one erroneously in my revisionist phase. That leaves two eligible: Dominic Zamprogna in The Boy’s Club and Joseph Ashton in The Education of Little Tree. Some people besides me actually saw the latter so I’d put that one up as a winner.
1996 Michelle Trachtenberg Harriet the Spy
Lucas Black Sling Blade
Michelle was my actual winner in 1996. Sling Blade in my awards was shifted to 1997 due to its release date. It being an Oscar nominated film make it a more likely retrospective candidate.
This section marks personal selections prior to my picking extemporaneous year-end awards.
1994 Elijah Wood The War
I recall watching E! and hearing there was some buzz being stirred by the cast/studio for Elijah. I knew it would never happen, but it was deserved buzz.
1979 Ricky Schroeder The Champ
David Bennent The Tin Drum
1972 Nell Potts The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds
Who Should Have Gotten One But Didn’t
I honestly almost scrapped this section. However, looking back through young nominees I noticed the discrepancy that some young nominees did not get a Juvenile Award while there was one. So I figured while I was at it I’d list a few notable performances that didn’t get recognized. Those that “didn’t need one” since they were nominated as in their respective categories against adult competition have denoted those with an asterisk.
1956 Patty McCormack The Bad Seed* 1953 Brandon deWilde Shane* 1952 Georges Poujouly Forbidden Games 1941 Roddy McDowall How Green Was My Valley 1936 Freddie Bartholomew Little Lord Fauntleroy 1934 George Breakston No Greater Glory 1931 Jackie Cooper Skippy*
So it’s been a little longer than I wanted it to be before I returned to this series and gave my first closer look at a title but here it is.
With Werckmeister Harmonies not only do you have Tarr fully embracing his new aesthetic but you also have him creating the trajectory of his remaining films. What can be found here is the opening salvo in the ongoing dialogue of his cinema. Some of the themes both visual and otherwise start here and you can feel them echoed in later works.
For example, the film begins with a shot of a piece of wood being added to the fire on an oven. Now, as it turns out here this is just the opening frame of a lengthy tracking shot, but the motif of wood-burning ovens, flames through the grate and things of the like reappear, most notably in the Turin Horse.
The opening shot is an intricate and quite a famous one. It is perhaps the most we will hear out of our protagonist. However, interestingly this protagonist is one whom for the most part is just a vessel with through which we can be shown the story, such that it is.
There are two significant and long speeches in the film and much like the only dialogue of consequence in The Turin Horse, the temptation to disregard it rather than trying to ferret out some semblance of meaning is compelling but erroneous. The first such extended piece of dialogue is right there in this opening tracking shot wherein Janos describes to bar full of inebriates the workings of the solar system. I read of a God Complex in one essay but the way Janos walks around observing the whale, being transfixed by it and assigning it no special significance, save for the wondrous work of God that it is, doesn’t quite mesh. I think the intent is likely to define Janos here for we will see little else throughout that does. He listens and does what he is told most of the time. Whether or not he does that to a fault is debatable, but what this is establishing is that he thinks on a simple matter and sees the wonder of it, much like a child would, and seeks to share his wonder. The barkeep lets him go on only so long before kicking him and everyone else out.
The second dialogue passage of significance is when the title the Werckmeister Harmonies is disseminated. It is a rant on musical theory on how the tuning of instruments and the regimentation of notes and octaves created something far more mechanical and less artful and organic than existed prior. On the surface it has nothing to do with anything else, save for the fact that it is this old man’s, Gyuri Eszter’s, obsession. However, it’s not the explanation that matters, but how he feels about it. He likens it to man tinkering with the work of God and here, yet again, we have a theological reference. Now, God here is being invoked in a more existential and cosmic way, rather than in a dogmatic way. It’s seemingly invoked as a larger ideal rather than a denominational claim, much like the the whale and the so-called prince, a dwarfish shadow-figure whose face is not shown threatens the natural order in the minds of many in the town, are.
As in much of Tarr’s work when he stayed shooting in black-and-white, moved the camera more and created a course the film is about decay. It’s about how we as human beings are always teetering on the edge of devolution and anarchy.
The sound of church bells in this film, much like in Satantango are ascribed and ominous connotation; similarly to that film a broken clock in a church starts working anew rather mysteriously. Much in the way many of the people, except Janos, interpret the whale in their own way. The allegory of the whale is perhaps the most powerful in Tarr’s filmography because for as large and imposing as it is, as much of a spectacle as it is, it can’t do anything. It does not do anything and neither does the feared Prince who evokes passion and creates followers. However, the people believe they can and do and that’s what causes them to react the way they do. The people want no change, in spite of its constancy, and when something threatens that they lash out.
The order the enraged mob seeks to be restoring is an illusion. It’s as much an illusion as film is, which could be why Tarr in this instance brought in two German actors, the wide-eyed, childlike Lars Rudolph as Janos and the formerly omnipresent Fassbinder vamp Hannah Schygulla; and had them speak their lines in German and then had them dubbed, and not necessarily in a way that syncs perfectly, because something it always off.
Uncle Gyuri Eszter, in his diatribe about the Werckemeister harmonies, states that what the struggle is as follows “the octave versus the note; the natural tune versus the manmade construct; the heavenly versus mundane; human hubris versus divine gifts.” And that’s much of what the struggle in this film is.
There are still mysteries to be unraveled. Many can assume, since we did not see him through much of the assault on the hospital, that Janos was not there. However, that long and significant tracking shot ends on him looking terrified after the violence stops upon the site of the frail old man who no one wants to harm. So one can wonder did he just witness it all, unable to stop it; or was he a party to it. Similarly is the account he reads in the church one he found or one he wrote himself. The film leaves them purposely vague. However, I think it correlates more with both his passivity and his folly that he was merely a witness. What is left unsaid the end that he was inactive in the assault and not the author of what he read.
When all is said and done he’s the perfect scapegoat. The society back to its so-called sense and must now restore order and the most logical scapegoat is Janos. They, meaning all the citizens, recognize neither God nor Man, so he must leave. The end of the film is uncle Gyuri Eszter going to see the whale. It is left out in the square on display where the madness began passive and immobile as it always has been.
It’s a film that’s really not about what happens, but why it happens and that answer is not nearly so nebulous people have willed it to be. They’ve assigned meanings based on their fears and ignorance and punished the guilty. In almost an eschewing of genre toward the end there is a helicopter, maybe verifying early rumors of military involvement, hovering in the sky behind Janos. It circles him quite bit, but it’s not going to try and barrel him over like the cropduster in North by Nothwest. It’ll just watch him and let him know that he’s targeted. He’s the odd man out because he embraced the whale and got the finger pointed at him and now he must go down the train tracks and out of town.
All that remains is delusion and lies, he’s told once and that’s the way it stays. It’s merely an illustration of that statement is what the film is. The people fear, they know nothing. They do not move on. The Prince is gone, the circus is burnt, the whale lies alone; an abandoned blasphemy and things go on unchanged.
In my recent Short Film Saturday post I talked of a perfect introduction to Bela Tarr. As I will discuss in these and other pieces that form the retrospective on his works, in light of my bestowing upon him the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award, such assimilation can prove to be rather difficult. My baptism in his works was one by fire. Therefore, it’s always hard to try and think outside of your frame of reference to try and ease someone else in.
I at first toyed with the notion of going through his works, which are not as numerous as last year’s winner (Spielberg), chronologically. However, if I were to start at the very beginning, and I likely will head there at some point, we would discuss films that pre-date the metamorphosis of his aesthetic.
Bela Tarr is fascinating for myriad reasons, but one of the most apparent is that rarely has a filmography featured so strong a departure in style. Tarr’s early works in the 1970s were in the zeitgeist, which was stark documentarianism. Cinéma vérité was the vogue amidst a wave of talented Hungarian filmmakers. Starting in 1982 he became increasingly more stylized.
Tarr was my doorway into the world of Hungarian cinema. It’s a culture I do like to explore periodically and have learned more about since being introduced to it through his eyes. What the chronological approach would seemingly negate is the veritable reason he won this award. It’s not that his earlier works aren’t good, there is in the scripting his essence. In fact, a title like Family Nest translated his insistence that all his films are comedy better than any others. However, his early films featured his voice speaking a seemingly foreign tongue. His real cinematic voice was not truly heard, did not differentiate itself, or make itself unique until his style broke off from its initial sensibility.
Some have referred to his hour-and-change rendition of MacBeth for Hungarian television, that was shot in two takes, and Almanac of the Fall as more transitional titles than ones that show the true power of his later style. However, if one watches The Prefab People and then MacBeth back-to-back it’s fairly staggering. You may not even realize it’s the same director. Whereas if you sample the Prologue from Visions of Europe you very soon know Tarr and if you see a famous tracking shot from Satantango, The Turin Horse or Werckmeister Harmonies you know it’s the same person.
So next week when I do return and write about a specific film, I will begin after the break and then if I feel so compelled I will backtrack to the beginning and deal with his earlier works before he revolutionized his own style.
While in each post I will focus on the specific film at hand when you have a writer/director who insists on challenging an audience, on letting us “use our eyes,” a man who also is disinterested in stories in the traditional sense, you will have running themes. Throughout his career, especially after he broke the mold, his films were creating thematic dialogues. The culmination of which was his masterful dissertation in The Turin Horse. When you have running themes there will be parallels between films to be drawn. I will try to keep those to a minimum and focus on the title at hand.
While Tarr got me into chasing down Hungarian cinema, I knew pretty quickly he had a unique voice. However, I soon also found out that his voice could have only been developed in the Hungary’s film culture, on the arthouse end of the spectrum, of course.
Like any filmmaker, Tarr’s work as auteurist as it is, is a collaboration. As he worked towards his reportedly last film the pieces started to come into place to solidify his style. The editing of Agnes Hranitzky since The Outsider in 1981; Fred Kelemen as DP for some of his later projects starting with Journey on the Plain; novelist Laszlo Krasznahorkai had writing or co-writing credit on all of Tarr’s features starting with Damnation in 1988; composer Mihaly Vig has been on board since Almanac of the Fall in 1984. Together these people shared a commonality that helped to accentuate Tarr’s vision and bring it to the world such that it could not only be admired, but challenge the way it was intended to.
In the end, I got in my first revisit just in time to start this series on time. However, so as not to under-serve the challenge I’ve set for myself I decided on a true introduction piece to be followed by film-specific pieces. Tarr’s cinema is not one that is suited for “hit-me entertainment,” it insists you prod back and in deference to that fact, and out of respect, I will ruminate on Werckmeister Harmonies‘ mesmerizing and brilliant brutality a bit more.
To get a bit more of a glimpse into this creative mind, to see where he’s coming from. Here’s an excerpt from a piece he wrote called Why I Make Films, which he wrote during preproduction of Damnation:
Because I despise stories, as they mislead people into believing that something has happened. In fact, nothing really happens as we flee from one condition to another. Because today there are only states of being – all stories have become obsolete and clichéd, and have resolved themselves. All that remains is time. This is probably the only thing that is still genuine – time itself: the years, days, hours, minutes and seconds. And film time has also ceased to exist, since the film itself has ceased to exist. Luckily there is no authentic form or current fashion. Some kind of massive introversion, a searching of our own souls can help ease the situation.
Or kill us.
We could die of not being able to make films, or we could die from making films.
But there’s no escape.
Because films are our only means of authenticating our lives. Eventually nothing remains of us except our films – strips of celluloid on which our shadows wander in search of truth and humanity until the end of time.
I really don’t know why I make films.
Perhaps to survive, because I’d still like to live, at least just a little longer…
One recent tradition I have unintentionally started is that I will kick-off a new theme or series through Short Film Saturday. It makes sense since Short Film Saturday is my most frequent and longest running post. The theme that this short will correlate with is the beginning of a Bela Tarr retrospective. Another decision I have come to organically is that the winner of my Lifetime Achievement Award will be the focus of a series of posts the following year. It began with my Spielberg Sunday posts and this year I will look back on many of Bela Tarr‘s works. This short is actually one I had not seen yet.
Visions of Europe is a 2004 anthology film wherein various acclaimed European directors made short films about Europe, specifically their own corner. Bela Tarr‘s short acts as the prologue. As those who know him will attest the attributes of this short are not surprising: it is comprised of one long take and the haunting, soul-encompassing, cyclical score by Mihaly Vig. This short makes me want to watch the rest of the film and and is a perfect introduction to Tarr I feel.
This is the brief concluding chapter to a much longer series. If you would like to read the other posts in the series you can find links to all of them here.
Films from almost any period in time give off a certain feeling, a vibe. And if you weren’t there or at least don’t know of an eras circumstances you might not get that feeling. At least one can appreciate that the ’80s were a time of aesthetic experimentation and the images of the decade did have a certain warmth. There was no such thing as political correctness so characters were more honest and the scale wasn’t as big moneywise so a small film with big ideas had a chance, although the scale was growing. The ’80s will leave us with a lasting legacy good and bad as I have shown. There were great films I didn’t discuss in detail like E.T. or The Shining but they are movies that are ultimately timeless and aren’t marked but their era, notice I didn’t say dated.
While in the ’90s we were overwhelmed and barraged by violence and the mundane existence of suburbia and apathy. If there’s one thing that we learned from the 80s is that film is the only medium that can capture our dreams.
This is a recapitulation of a paper I did in college. This is part eight in the series to read other parts go here.
Gremlins, Ghostbusters, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Creepshow, Weird Science, Time Bandits, Splash, Big, Back to the Future, The Witches of Eastwick and My Stepmother is an Alien all of these films crossed genres to try and make something new and unique, and this was a staple of 80s filmmaking.
It has been said that nothing really original has been said after 1800. In film much the same conundrum exists in that there really are no new stories, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t crave films. More so than any other decade prior the 80s were expert at recombining genres and on occasion creating something new or at least different enough that everyone flocked towards it.
One of the great hits of the genremeld was Gremlins. Never before or since has there been such a perfect balance of the horrific and comedic. There’s no tongue-in-cheek here it wants you to laugh and gasp in the same breath.
In the film Gremlins we have two important things occurring: first, this is one of the first films of the Spielberg School. It was written by Chris Columbus while he was attending NYU he later went on to work with Spielberg on The Goonies. It was directed by Joe Dante a former Corman protégé who later in the decade directed Innerspace and Matinee. Plot-wise this film is very important in that it’s a great example of the ’80s habit of fusing genres. Many ’80s many horror films were unintentionally funny this one is attempting to be purposely funny and succeeding. It was also quite frightening mostly to young kids because the cute, little furry things mutate into nasty, putrid beasts.
Structurally, this film is very tight. In the opening scene where the father (Hoyt Axton) buys a mogwai we are given rules, a trait common to many fantasy films, they are ‘don’t get them wet, don’t feed them after midnight and they hate bright light.’ The breaking of these rules end up being our act breaks and/or plot points. The first act ends in one of the most clear-cut fashions I’ve ever seen. Gizmo, the mogwai, gets water spilled on him in the 25th minute of the film and we see his progeny pop right out of him.
What a lot of people fail to notice is that there was actually a new creature invented for this film under the guise of an old myth. Gremlins were supposedly little monsters placed in machinery during World War II by the Germans. This creature comes from China according to this tale. It also allows for slight social commentary when Mr. Futterman complains about foreign cars and also while drunk he professes to believe in Gremlins in the classic sense. In the 1980s foreign cars truly bothered people enough such that the phrase ‘Buy American,’ was coined.
The Spielberg School was always very big on ‘in-jokes,’ which can be readily apparent to the audience but are often missed (i.e. Rockin’ Ricky Rialto has the same billboard lettering as, and similar artwork to, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Gizmo hiding behind an E.T. doll). There is also a cameo by animation director Chuck Jones.
The characters in this film are quickly established. We see Rand Peltzer, the father, haplessly trying to pedal his invention, Billy (Zach Galligan) signing a petition, Kate (Phoebe Cates) works at a bar for free and Mrs. Deagle (Polly Holliday) refuses to give a family more time to pay their loan. This film is funny and fun-filled and allusions to classic cinema are also play an important part in this story there is a clip from It’s a Wonderful Life and the Gremlins watch Snow White and in a hysterical turn they love it. There’s also mimicry of a popular film at the time Flashdance, and it’s great. The whole second half of this film is a wonderful mix of the hysterical and the creepy and sometimes both. Mrs. Deagle is thrown from her Stairmaster out the window to die in the snow. This shouldn’t be funny but it is. Then on the gross-out side we see a Gremlin melting in the sunlight. We also have the music of Jerry Goldsmith in this film who is wonderful composer who will turn out tunes just as hummable as Williams’s, but he specializes more in these fun types of films.
Gremlins was a big hit grossing $148 million on an $11 million dollar budget, and it’s easy to see why. It turns from a horror/comedy and there’s a lot of action thrown in. We laugh at what we shouldn’t. This is also one of the more tastefully done ‘horrors-on-Christmas’ films with a Gremlin getting chopped to bits while Burl Ives’s ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ is playing. I used to be deathly afraid of this film and it took me many years to gather up the courage to see it again. I’m very glad I did see it again though because, as strange as it sounds, this film is even whimsical in the way it handles its subject matter. As an adult, I don’t know who would be truly afraid of it but it does offer its fair share of the horror currency known as the “gross-out.” It’s so well handled in that regard I think we may be in suspense for a bit waiting for something else like it.
This is a recapitulation of a paper I did in college. This is part eight in the series to read other parts go here.
When discussing the 1980s no director stands out more prominently than does Steven Spielberg. Just looking at his repertoire of films from the decade and we can see his artistry was ever-expanding. He had blockbusters in the Indiana Jonestrilogy and also with the incredibly sensitive and heart-felt E.T. He also started to venture into uncharted territory. I truly admire directors who are always looking to change to make a departure so to speak, and Spielberg was always willing to do that. Even while E.T. was a success he had Poltergeist in general release, which was a supernatural horror film. It was E.T. that did it for him. It was his biggest hit to date and it allowed him to create his own production company, Amblin Entertainment.
After his second Indy film he started work on his first drama and it’s one of his better efforts called The Color Purple. There was much critical uproar over Spielberg handling a story about African-Americans. Regardless of that it’s a great film that works beautifully and like most of his films has a triumphant theme. His next film was also a drama but here we saw World War II from a difficult angle. In Empire of the Sun Spielberg beautifully documents the travails of a lost British child. This is Spielberg’s first wartime opus and the war is less involved in the events of this film than in other films and it works fantastically. The film received much critical praise including in the international media, which called this his most European film. After the third and final Indy film, for the time being, he did a remake called Always. Spielberg would continue to change from film to film doing whatever he wanted. He then went on to the much maligned but absolutely magical Hook in ’91. Then came Jurassic Park, which was in all likelihood what helped him start up DreamWorks.
Steven Spielberg was the ideal director for the 1980s. Most of the films I’ve talked about were Amblin Productions. Spielberg was producer of Young Sherlock Holmes, The Money Pit, An American Tail, Harry and the Hendersons, Innerspace, *batteries not included and Back to the Future Part II amongst others. All of these films are adventurous, family-oriented and fantastical in some way or another. Steven Spielberg’s worked has only improved and multiplied in the 90s. He was also the standard setter in the 80s whereas everyone was trying to emulate his style but none really could.
Lucas’ impact has already been noted with the Star Wars films and co-authoring the Indiana Jones series but stylistically few directors were more noticeable than Tim Burton. His first break into the big time was directing Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, a quirky film about a child-like adult’s search for his lost bike. The film surprised everyone and spawned a Saturday morning program. Burton’s flair for the quirky and unusual and his visual sensitivity got even more free-range in his next project, Beetlejuice. Not only is this one of the most original films I’ve seen but the cinematography, particularly in the after-world sequences with the sandworms, is fantastic. In Beetlejuice we follow the tale of a couple that has recently died and they try to scare the new residents of their house out. Michael Keaton delivers one of his best performances as the gross and irreverent title character and this film too was spun-off into a cartoon.
Oliver Stone is one of the best directors out there right now [as of this writing]. He’s very different from most directors at any point in time because he’s more willing to be political than most American directors. The film that put him on the map was Salvador, which deals with Panama at a time when Reagan looked upon all of South and Central America as his toys. He then had his two anti-Vietnam films being Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July, which are powerful and stirring accounts. I do believe that every good director has a bit of good fortune in their timing every once in a while. Spielberg released Minority Report when privacy and surveillance are big issues, and Oliver Stone came out with Wall Street a year after Ivan Boesky and Dennis Levine plead guilty of insider trading and just a few months after the stock market crash of 1987. Daryl Hannah’s pathetic performance aside, this one of his best films and it’s the most emblematic of the 80s, in a negative Oliver Stone-like way. Money leads to these characters downfall and it practically tears a family apart. We get Michael Douglas playing one of his most memorable characters, Gordon Gekko, delivering that fabulous speech, which Stone seems to know how to write, starting off “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” Gordon Gekko is the 80s captain of industry. Combine him and Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl and you have the ultimate cold-hearted capitalist.
The 1980s was more a decade of individual films than of directors. There weren’t a bunch of auteurs walking around but there were plenty of movies coming from all over the place. There were but a handful of powerful filmmakers, these were the foremost.
Work Cited and Footnotes: Otavio Frias Filho “Spielberg” pp. 214-220. Folha Conta 100 Anos de Cinema. Ed. Amir Labaki. Imago Editora: Rio de Janeiro, 1995.
-“Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” had probably the best set design I’ve seen on television.
-Despite the quality of the film, Beetlejuice, the cartoon series is one of the worst piece of junk I ever saw all the jokes were in pun form, who wrote that?
Note: This is a recapitulation of a paper I wrote in film school. It will be published here in installments. This is part three you can read part one here and part two here.
The 1980s were marked by the emergence of the computer into mainstream American culture. The increasing accessibility and availability of this tool made its impact on the entertainment industry in a very powerful way. In 1984 one of the most famous commercials of the year was Apple Computer’s ‘Big Brother’ a play on Orwell’s 1984. While unlike the 90s where computers would soon come to reside in well over half of America’s households, and the science fiction aspect and the improbability of the device was demolished; they were becoming a much more practical tool.
The key in revolutionizing computerized effect lay with one man. In 1977 George Lucas formed Industrial Light and Magic to create the effects for Star Wars. Working out of Marina County California his company soon started to work on effects for many films. Their first heavy volume of releases was in 1985 with Back to the Future, Cocoon, Explorers, The Goonies and Young Sherlock Holmes which with ‘The Stained Glass Man’ had the first fully computer generated character. The rest was history in 1986 comes Aliens which took the computer generated character to the next level and it’s been an ongoing game of “Can You Top This?” ever since.
The fact that the special effects craze came about in the late 70s and grew exponentially in the 80s is like kismet. This was a decade that was jam-packed with action films but also had an abundance of fantasy films still around. This new technology opened up possibilities for narrative never before seen and they were used, for example, a journey inside a human body in Innerspace. The kind of film that was in demand with the American public was also the kind of film that was well-suited to the new special effects technology.
Before the apathetic generation-x-ridden 90s when films of social dementia disguised as poetry like American Beauty would run amuck, the 80s was a decade riddled with myth and fantasy, here’s a sample: The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, The Neverending Story, Legend, Dark Crystal, Back to the Future, Flight of the Navigator and so on. Escapism being a large part of the cinematic formula coupled with the youthful audience allowed for these advances and this type of storytelling which is only recently beginning to creep back into being.
The shift away from fantastical storytelling that occurred in the mid-90s and lasted until about 1999 in a way has impeded the progress of CGI. While in some films it blends in perfectly and is breathtaking in others it sticks out like a sore thumb. Sure, there are films and studios that will be cheap, but had there been more constant works the floor of marginally acceptable CGI would’ve risen. The man who is always breaking the glass ceiling of CGI excellence is George Lucas, and he says he tries to push other directors with every film he does, hopefully people will follow suit.
The computer generated image is one of the few things from the 80s which was expanded upon in the 90s. The technology has some very practical uses such as digital stunts and extras. With this technology the director’s vision can more easily be realized where as if something doesn’t exist the way he sees it can be created. This is one of the 80s lasting legacies. When we’re looking back upon this decade we, of course, can’t forget some of the films that came out of the decade, but we must also remember that filmmaking was forever changed in this decade because ‘Special Effects’ became a term that we could apply to almost every film. A new cinematic tool was beginning to be fully realized and is still being perfected to this very day.
Footnote and Work Cited:
1. The Empire Strikes Back won an Academy Award for Special Achievement in Special Effects. The following year it was a category at the awards, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Drangonslayer were nominated.
2. Star Wars: Episode II- Attack of the Clones Dir. George Lucas. Feat. Hayden Christiansen, Ewan Macgregor, Natalie Portman, Christopher Lee. 2002, 20th Century Fox. DVD extra features.
It may seem hard to believe, but I compartmentalize such that nomination totals surprise me, at times winners have surprised me to because I thought I’d do one thing, but then as I thought and wrote it was clear my thoughts were different than intially assumed. However, I was not surprised that the highest nomination totals weren’t terribly high and that the win totals have been fairly split throughout. Again, compartmentalizing.
So what was the most fun I had at the movies this year? The most gobsmacked by its construction? The most delighted intellectually? Oh, yeah, it made me laugh too. The answers to all these questions are Django Unchained What it does is that it takes what Tarantino did in Inglorious Basterds brings it to the US, shines a harsh light on our uncomfortable subject, then flagellates it, makes us laugh about it, think about, condemn it and root for good to triumph (as we know it will), and what’s best makes the point of making it an antebellum tale. It was hair-splitting that kept Django from getting other awards throughout the day, but this one was in the bag from when I was done watching it.
The Best Picture field has quite a few foreign films in it too, but here was another year where a foreign film set the standard early, held it for a long time and got nicked at the end of the year. I suggest you look into all these films to see which interest you as they are very different, and my winner is not likely to have the greatest mass appeal. The winner is The Turin Horse
Last year, started a real shift in how I treat this award. Basically, it stopped being about the IMDb and what critics and others said about the film and more about what smaller film, deserving of a wider audience do I think needs championing – thus next year this category may have a slightly different name.
This kind of ties into why I skipped on Worst Picture and Most Overrated. I could still tell you some for the past year, but I spent many of the wee hours nominating last week and all day today posting these winners, I want it to be all about positive things. Aside from philopsophical topics that’s what it boils down to.
So what film here deserves championing the most? Kauwboy. I am lucky and grateful to have seen it, but while it may have had festival and Academy screenings here to the best of my knowledge it does not have US distribution and is in my top 10 of the year.
All the men in this category had singular visions and are very deserving. However, only one can get this honor. In the past I delayed the creation of a lifetime achievement award because the director was still quite vital. I won’t exclude someone for getting that honor now that it exists, however. When there’s a director-picture split there should be a justification. Here there will be a quasi-split (you’ll see what I mean) and I think Béla Tarr earned it for having a more precise, exacting vision that’s greater not only than the sum of his ouevre but also of his aesthetic.
Bavo Defurne North Sea Texas
Christopher Nolan The Dark Knight Rises
Quentin Tarantino Django Unchained Béla Tarr The Turin Horse
Joe Wright Anna Karenina
They might not all be in films that bring the biggest fanfare with them but these ladies all did spectacular jobs in varied ways. Ultimately, what this boiled down to was two ladies who did two very different things: one didn’t have as many cuts to work with and had to convey many emotions quickly and clearly, another due to the mind’s eye approach of the narrative had to quickly and visually communicate. However, the task assigned to Keira Knightley not only felt bigger to me but she steered the journey so magnificently; it’s literally breathtaking.
Erika Bók The Turin Horse Keira Knightley Anna Karenina
Magaly Solier Amador
Tilda Swinton We Need to Talk About Kevin
Noomi Rapace The Monitor
As likely as Daniel Day-Lewis is to continue to win Best Actor trophies this was by no means a blowout. Denis Lavant plays a plethora of characters, McConaughey is better than ever in Killer Joe; in The Perks of Being a Wallflower Logan Lerman reminds us all what he’s capable of and then Dane Dehaan broke through big time in Chronicle. However, there’s impersonating a figure, doing an impression of them and then theres inhabiting them, which seems to be what Daniel Day-Lewis does. It’s astonishing.
Dane DeHaan Chronicle
Logan Lerman The Perks of Being a Wallflower Daniel Day-Lewis Lincoln
Denis Lavant Holy Motors
Matthew McConaughey Killer Joe
Hugh Jackman Les Misérables
Samantha Barks Les Misérables
Sally Field Lincoln
Gina Gershon Killer Joe
Anna Gunn Sassy Pants Anne Hathaway Les Misérables
First thing that needs mentioning is that Sassy Pants is on netflix now, so stream it. It’s hilarious. Also, if you’re in for a weird time go for Killer Joe. Samantha Barks is unforgettable singing my favorite Les Mis song, however, here is one place where I will not be any different from any other award show between now and the Oscars, the winner is Anne Hathaway who more than deserves it. What an astoundingly great performance.
I love to see Leonardo DiCaprio really hooked into a part, when he’s a live wire he’s something special and he’s that here. Him in this form is about all that can sway me away from picking Sam Jackson in this category.
Mikkel Boe Foesgaard A Royal Affair Leonardo DiCaprio Django Unchained
Samuel L. Jackson Django Unchained
Matthew McConaughey Bernie
Eddie Redmayne Les Misérables
All these performaces are very strong as well, especially Ryan Simpkins’, however, if there’s one invocation I cannot disregard it’s that of Anna Chlumsky. That is who Sophie Nélisse reminded me of in a lot of ways and that’s why she takes it, aside from the obvious fact that she’s the conscious of a very tough movie for a young actor to be that intrinsic in.
Ryan Simpkins Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life Sophie Nélisse Monsieur Lazhar
Yle Vianello Corpo Celeste
Natasha Calls The Possession
Ane Viola Semb Magic Silver
Rachel Mwanza War Witch
Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Leading Role
This is another spectacular class, where quite literally any of them could’ve taken it. Quite honestly, it’s one of the decisions I most lamented having to make because I saw early on it was going to be a very strong category. Each of these actors is perfect for the role they’re assigned, however, the one who not only maximes the role and helps make his movie click above all others is Rick Lens.
Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Supporting Role
Another reason that existed to create these Supporting categories for young actors is that there are times when a young actor is given a very tough assignment in complex film, such is this case of this winner Jeanne Disson in Holy Motors. She only has one scene but there’s a lot of subtext she’s playing and she has to get emotional in it at one point; emotional but restrained. It’s a truly great turn by her.
Isabelle Allen Les Misérables
Marie-Ève Beauregard Monsieur Lazhar Jeanne Disson Holy Motors
Ashley Gerasimovich We Need to Talk About Kevin
Bailee Madison Parental Guidance
Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Supporting Role
This year really redeemed my decision to create equal categories for young performers. There were enough really good lead and supporting performances such that all but one of these categories expanded to six nominees. Drew Barrymore’s performance in E.T. has often been cited as a standard not just for Young Actors, but also for actors round about her age. This year I was reminded of that standard on a number of occasions.
Here’s a category where truly any one of the picks would have been a very valid choice, which just reinforces my belief that the nominating process is the most important, but citations aside, and upon further reflection, the most impressed I was this year was with Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu. In a film like Boy you expect the lead to be strong and have a lot of dramatic turns and situations foisted upon him, you do not expect that from the younger brother character and for him to rise to the challenge in a manner stoically belying his years.
Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu Boy
Sebastian Banes In the Family
Kyle Breitkopf Parental Guidance
Peter DaCunha The Barrens
Pierce Gagnon Looper
Daniel Huttlestone Les Misérables
Best Youth Ensemble
In years past there have been splits between Youth Ensemble and Best Cast. The best way to explain that is to use the sports analogy of comparing a whole team (cast) to a unit of the team (Defense), a team may be the best overall but not the strongest in a given unit.
Where with Best Cast I assessed that the adult players are vital due to the fact that they play key figures, the younger performers carry the film and there are more doing so that it would seem if you were to just read the synopsis. Both main characters Pim and Gino are represented at two ages, the younger age being a short, but vital tone-setter; but then there are also the girls in their lives who are necessary foils in a film of this nature. They too are very good and written better than you usually see.
Again the decision for North Sea Texas to win here is based on depth and prominence. Monsieur Lazhar has very strong stand-out performances by the kids, as is evidenced in the individual nominations, however, they split time and don’t shoulder as much as the cast of North Sea Texas does.
Ane Viola Semb, Johan Tinus Lindgren, etc. Magic Silver
Émilien Néron, Brigitte Poupart, Jules Philip, Seddik Benslimane, Marie-Ève Beauregard, Sophie Sanscartier, Vincent Millard, Louis-David Leblanc, Gabriel Verdier, Marianne Soucy-Lord Monsieur Lazhar Ben Van den Heuvel, Nathan Naenen, Noor Ben Taouet, Jelle Florizoone, Nina Marie Kortekaas, Mathias Vergels North Sea Texas
Bailee Madison, Joshua Rush, Kyle Breitkopf, Cade Jones, Mavrick Moreno, Madison Lintz, Justin Kennedy, Jade Nicolette Parental Guidance
Nick Romeo Reimann, Fabian Halbig, Leonie Tepie, Manuel Steitz, Javidan Imani, Robin Walter, David Hürten Vorstadtkrokodile 3: Freunde Fur Immer
Jean Texier, Louis Dussol, Harold Werner, Nathan Parent, Clément Godefroy, Théophile Baquet, Ilona Bachelier, Thomas Goldberg, Grégory Gatignol War of the Buttons
This was a year blessed with incredibly deep casts. What needed taking into account was how deep did the casts run and how strong was each individual performer in said role. Though a tale of coming of age and sexual awakening, North Sea texas does have a rounded cast with key adult players that needed to be on point to fill in the the world that was being created, and they to a person, more so than any other film, did that.
Fellag, Sophie Nelisse, Emilien Neron, Marie-Eve Bearegard, Vincent Millard, Seddik Bensilmane, Louis David Leblanc, Dranielle Proux Brigitte Poupart, Jules Philip Monsieur Lazhar Ben Van den Heuvel, Eva van der Gucht, Thomas Coumans, Katelijn Damen, Nathan Naenen, Noor Ben Taouet, Jelle Florizoone, Nina Marie Kortekaas, Mathias Vergels, Luk Wyns North Sea Texas
Keira Knightley, Aaron Johnson-Taylor, Jude Law, Kelly MacDonald, Olivia Williams, Emily Watson, Matthew Macfayden, Oskar McNamara, Alicia Vikander, Eros Vlahos Anna Karenina
Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Straithairn, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Cross, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gulliver McGrath, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill, Tim Blake Nelson, Lucas Haas, Dane DeHaan Lincoln
Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Samantha Barks, Sach Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter Eddie Redmayne, Elizabeth Allen, Daniel Huttlestone Les
There are a number of ways to look at Best Original Screenplay. One can parse out the originality and go one way, look at the visual treatment and go another or one can take a very textual approach. One of these films is very quiet in terms of dialogue, two are quite eloquent, but one is intimate, another bombastic. Both the eloquent films treat flashbacks very well, one takes more time in them and is more creative chronologically; while another hums along mostly in the present of the tale. Of all awards this one is splitting hairs more than most others – because both top two also have statements to make. However, when you consider one’s Bergmanesque approach and its dramatic rendering of a perhaps dry deposition setting it has to go to Patrick Wang for In the Family.
Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard The Cabin in the Woods
Quentin Tarantino Django Unchained
Leos Carax Holy Motors Patrick Wang In the Family
Laszlo Krasznahorki, Bela Tarr The Turin Horse
I often have a little struggle in parsing original from adapted. I believe I vary from most awards in that if characters aren’t original, though the script be not made from source material, then I consider that an adaptation. We all have notions about James bond, Batman and the like. To work with them, no matter how out of the canon you take it, you still start with characters that are established.
I only had real knowledge about one of these sources, ultimately, it comes down to how well a vision is translated on screen, how concise, visual and exact is the script’s treatment of the subject matter. Though all these scripts are deserving the most surehanded approach came from Bavo Defurne’s handling of North Sea Texas.
Tom Stoppard (Leo Tolstoy) Anna Karenina Bavo Defurne (Andre Sollie) North Sea Texas
Stephe Chbosky (Stephen Chbosky) The Perks of Being a Wallflower
William Nicholson (Claude-Michel Schoenberg, Alain Boubil, Victor Hugo, Herbert Kretzmer, Jean-Marc Natel, James Fenton) Les Misérables
Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan (Ian Fleming) Skyfall
The difficulty in deciding this category was balancing the disparate intentions of each score. Each of these films are in different genres, thus, their scores had different tasks at hand and clearly all of them exceled. What it came down to is trying to quantify which score most exceled for what the intentions of the film were, regardless of musicality. When one thinks of The Turin Horse two sounds come immediately to mind: the wind and the score.
Adriano Cominotto North Sea Texas
Mike Shinoda and Joseph Trapanese The Raid: Redemption
Helge Slikker Kauwboy
Christopher Young Sinister Mihály Víg The Turin Horse
What this category ended up being about in large part was non-linear communication of the narrative. No film did better with that than We Need to Talk About Kevin, which qualified for this year because I didn’t have a realistic chance to see it in 2011, per the Titus Conundrum.
Joe Bini We Need to Talk About Kevin
John Guerdebeke Keyhole
Mary Joe Markey The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Melanie Oliver Anna Karenina
Els Voorspoels North Sea Texas
There are two films here that truly hinge on their sound design, one is indicated by the title and the other is The Woman in Black. Sinister also used its sound to great effect, but ultimately The Woman in Black was the most consistent, and well thought out design of them all.
Sinister The Woman in Black
Similar to my thoughts on black and white photography fully exploiting the latitude that gives you in something like The White Ribbon here Deakins exploits color wherever and whenever possible. There’s fire, ice and water, neon in the sky, chinese lanterns and much more; it’s a visual smorgasbord you can make yourself a glutton on.
Roger Deakins Skyfall
Benjamin Kasulke Keyhole
Fred Kelemen The Turin Horse
Seamus McGarvey Anna Karenina
Anton Mertens North Sea Texas
I had to do my due diligence and re-listen to these songs before deciding on a winner and it may just be the most varied best field ever. There were some awesome covers this year that would normally be eligible, but to not open pandora’s box and have another nomination sweep like The Chorus did in 2005 I eliminated songs that were not, to my knowledge, original; otherwise, Les Misérables would sweep and have an unfair advantange.
After a great and informative Twitter chat with Larry Richman, at some point between last year’s awards and now, I came to a new way of thinking about these nominees. All the nominees occur within the body of the film, meaning there are no end credit songs and all have some intrinsic value to the film. However, when factoring the quality of the song (where two were nearly neck-and-neck) plus how important the song is within the narrative construct of the film. The winner is clearly…
“You Are the One” Ricky Koole Kauwboy
“The Big Machine” Mark Duplass Safety Not Guaranteed
“Giving It All” Troye Sivan Spud
“Skyfall” Adele Skyfall
“The Thunder Buddy Song” Mark Wahlberg and Seth Macfarlane Ted
The short story “Trucks” first appeared in Cavalier, a men’s magazine, in June of 1973, which probably means that no one actually read it, or very few people did anyway. It was later published in Night Shift, King’s first collection of short stories, in 1979. This was King’s first venture into automotive horror. It’s not a sub-genre many of us ever consider but as King demonstrates in Danse Macabre it certainly exists.
“Even such a much-loved American institution as the motor vehicle has not escaped the troubled dreams of Hollywood…” (Danse, 163-4) From this tone we can see we’re usually not going to be dealing with masterpieces even within the genre. He then goes on to discuss a movie starring James Brolin called The Car. “The movie degenerates into a ho-hum piece of hackwork before the end of the second reel (the sort of movie where you can safely go out for popcorn refills at certain interval because you know the car isn’t going to strike for another ten minutes or so).” (Danse, 164).
We later are given a sense of what would be a better tale and King makes reference to Spielberg’s Duel (164) but ultimately concludes that to find other interesting car stories one should look towards stories and novels (164).
So, if King was not actually told to do this story because it was the one that De Laurentiis was willing to buy from him, perhaps he thought he was better off going into territory that hadn’t been handled all that successfully in the cinema.
King’s tale is very short and obviously needed to be expanded upon in order to make it into a motion picture. While the short story isn’t perfect, there are areas in which it is much more successful than the film. First off, we get no moments of comedy in the tale, unless we’ve seen the film, and I like the way the characters interacted in prose better.
In the short story there was more of an emphasis on waiting it out and also on speculation of impact. The characters discuss how much food they have stored and start to fill jugs with water; these issues are not addressed in the film, it’s as if everyone knows they’ll only be trapped for two days at most. The impact of these trucks taking over may have plays itself in the mind of the narrator and occasionally through dialogue. When there is a debate over pumping gas; the issue of being slaves to the machines comes up. Billy imagines people all over the country pumping gas into driverless trucks. He imagines an escape to a cave a digression to near pre-historic times. The inability for the trucks to reproduce and the contrast of whether or not they were currently being assembled at that moment was also postulated.
Where the story is similar in some places is meaningless because of the way King approached the short story. He starts with the people already stuck in the truck stop. Even if the studio would require the cockamamie comet excuse later on, fine but it is much more frightening without such an outlandish set up; a set up might I add that doesn’t logically lead to machinery working and thinking on its own. Another way in which the short story is superior is in the ending. Here’s the way it ends: “Two planes leave silver contrails etched across the darkening eastern horizon. I wish I could believe there are people in them.” (Shift, 142). And it’s over. They’re stuck and it doesn’t look like they’re going anywhere. It’s a great ending, but obviously not one many film production companies will want to have, so King had to change.
Stephen King has always been a fan of the unknown and while he knows it’s difficult he occasionally likes to leave things opaque like in Dreamcatcher. It may have been better if he had been allowed to do that with this film.
In fairness to the film, the characters were more drawn out than they were in the short story. It was just a case of having too many and not having enough time to deal with them all.