2014 Ingmar Bergman Lifetime Achievement Award: Meryl Streep

This award is named after Bergman because when I was set to establish an award of its type his last film blew me away and was nominated for many awards. The idea then is that it’s not a parting shot but rather recognition of someone still very much at the top after many, many years.

August: Osage County (2013, Weinstein Company)

Meryl Streep

In what is usually something I like to consider a norm, Meryl had quite a year in this one where I decided the time had come to honor her so. Back in January the nationwide release of August: Osage County hit theaters and I went to see that and her performance there nearly earned her a second BAM Award nomination this very year. Then, of course, there is her BAM Award nominated turn in Into the Woods. These three roles broke a long string in her filmography which for one reason or another did not compel me to watch them.

However, what Meryl Streep having a year such as this does remind you of is the many years and many roles prior that stood out for so long.

Manhattan, Kramer vs. Kramer, Sophie’s Choice, Silkwood, Falling in Love, Heartburn, A Cry in the Dark, Postcards from the Edge, Defending Your Life, Bridges of Madison County, Before and After, Marvin’s Room, …First Do No Harm, Dancing at Lughansa, Music of the Heart, Artificial Intelligence: A.I. (Yes, she is in that, too! Look it up!), Adaptation., The Hours, The Manchurian Candidate, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and many more.

One thing I’ve had occasion to discuss both this year and in the past is my interludes of revisionism. That impulse is not one I feel any longer, however, this is the one chance at anything like it. Clearly one musn’t sit about feeling the need to award Meryl Streep, but it is the very award culture that at times obscures the nearly unparalleled accomplishments some have made. So take a moment and reminisce on these titles, on the scenes, and wonderful little moments therein, and that should bring on more sincere gratitude. This award, as it is meant to be, is not a salvo. I’m quite sure we’ll see much more of her and for that we should all be thankful.

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Review- Midnight in Paris

Carla Bruni and Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris (Sony Pictures Classics)

I always feel it a necessity to state my general stance on Woody Allen prior to getting into a review of any of his works. I feel this is appropriate so you know where I am coming from and thus so you can take my review with a grain of salt should you need to. Fans of Woody Allen seem to come in two camps: First, those who believe he’s slipping and hasn’t done anything really worthwhile in the past 15 to 20 years and blind followers, while I skew more towards the latter I believe I am somewhere in the middle. I believe Allen has peaks and valleys like many prolific filmmakers but I have really enjoyed his recent works.

Lately, Allen has been globetrotting a bit and he writes and shoots frequently enough such that there are threads of philosophy and narrative choices that run through many of his films but conversely he has periods akin to painters. His break from being tethered to New York City in and of itself has breathed some new life into his recent works.

As you familiarize yourself with a filmmaker you expect certain things, with Allen it had been New York, art deco, Jazz (or another genre whose heyday is past), plain title cards, longing of some kind, etc. When minor changes to the formula are applied to the same voice it can be rather interesting.

What is perhaps most interesting in Midnight in Paris is that Allen attacks head on an issue which many of his detractors (at least of his recent work) cite him for, which is his nostalgic love affair with the past. Rather than having it be an idiosyncrasy of a character (or group of them) that we must either accept or reject it becomes central to the protagonist’s, Gil (Owen Wilson), struggle and part of why he is not understood.

By openly addressing this and applying it to a younger character one of Allen’s motifs is revitalized because he can’t be cited as someone whose “lost touch” with modernity. He’s found here a new way to funnel his voice into a modern setting. Another one of the frequent attacks on Allen’s work is that his scripts are in lieu of therapy. Truth be told it is for a lot of people and it’s more identifiable with him because he’s a personality and is more known. He’s always been a personal filmmaker and this may be his best and most coherent addressing of any hang-up he’s covered.

While I don’t think it’s on par with things like Manhattan or Annie Hall this film does have the inventiveness and flair from that era of his career. A majority of the reason why is that in this film he embraces Magical Realism and allows for facile time travel and creates time-space paradoxes and is not concerned about factual truths but emotional ones which affect his characters.

In a film where a slew of historical figures, who we all have preconceived notions about, appear the casting has to be spot on and it’s nailed on the head repeatedly whether it be Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Picasso, Dali and so on. Even funnier are how Allen writes these personalities and how they perform the parts.

It’s without question one of his best concepts in quite some time. Though not running any longer than most of his films the episodes in the past do get a tad lengthy and there is a bit of drag in the second act but not enough that it hurts the film greatly.

It’s also, clearly as the concept implies, one of Allen’s more visual recent ventures. The dialogue is strong while not being audaciously witty. The conclusion is expected but earned and sweet.

You can say what you will about Allen’s recent track record but I have nothing but admiration for an artist who continuously pushes himself to new horizons regardless of their results. However, Midnight in Paris is an unqualified success and a bold new step for this auteur and is therefore highly recommended.

9/10