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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Thankful for World Cinema: North Sea Texas

This past weekend the Belgian Film North Sea Texas opened in New York and Los Angeles. I was fortunate enough to watch this film in July when it screened at Q Fest in Philadelphia. Based on the plot synopsis I had hopes that it would be a good film, what I didn’t expect was for the film to be somewhat groundbreaking in the annals of gay cinema, and, yes, I feel that the way in which the film handles its subject can render it universal. However, the fact remains that it will be pigeonholed as such due to what it’s about. The way in which it’s groundbreaking is startlingly simple: it’s a positive, affirmative film that essentially says love conquers all. Now, on the surface you might think you’ve seen that done a thousand times, and you have for a film about heterosexual romance. It happens less often in gay-themed films, and is even more infrequent in gay-themed films about first love.

Now, cinema, for the most part, has evolved past the point that is excruciatingly illustrated in the documentary The Celluloid Closet, which deals with the depiction of LGBT characters in Hollywood films up to that point. However, film in general, even when titles mean well, are beautifully, sensitively crafted and acted; still gravitate towards the quasi- and flat-out tragic tales when it comes to gay or lesbian protagonists.

This is not being judgmental, these are facts, and it’s a case wherein films are attempting to reflect realities. The examples are plentiful such as: This Special Friendship (Les Amitiés particulières) even being French, and dealing with the specifically named and ridiculed boarding-school romance, this is tragedy. Then you have films that deal with repression like Brokeback Mountain, Far From Heaven or even The Hours.

Then there is the kind of film that I expected this one to end up being like: Wild Reeds (Les Roseaux Sauvages), which is a tale of first romance that is all too typical: best friends one fall for another, there is experimentation but only one feels an emotional attachment because only one of the two is actually gay. It’s a first love deception that is commonplace and fair game for dramas.

However, what North Sea Texas strikes upon, and what makes it work so well and so important is that it’s an idealistic tale. It reminds me of a debate I and a professor had about the Indian film Fire in college. His criticism of the film was that the revelation of, and the familial objection to, a sexual abuse situation was unrealistic. My assertion was “Why should it be?” If you’re trying to make a point be it societal, political or otherwise, there are times when the best way to make it is to seek out an ideal and illustrate it, rather than just illustrating that the problem exists.

Not to say there isn’t drama, conflicts or struggles in North Sea Texas but the resolution to the the dramatic question the film poses is an overwhelmingly positive and beautiful one, made even more powerful because of how rarely it is seen.

It is also an extraordinarily timely one. With equality issues coming to the fore in many countries around the world, principally the United States, it is extremely useful and reassuring to see an illustration of it “getting better” and not merely being told that. Furthermore, this is not merely an assertion I’m making based on my read of the film, but it is also included in the credits where the film is dedicated to the kids whose parents refused to allow them to participate in the making of the film.

North Sea Texas is a wonderfully rendered artistic film that should win over any and all open-minded fans of film, but any film has its target audience and for the audience targeted here there are few films that ever so firmly, staunchly and beautifully espoused its over- and underlying messages. Few films can really said to be of social significance beyond just being a film. This, I believe, is definitely one of them. It may take time, but this film is one that I believe will stand the test of time and become quite a milestone. You may even try to dismiss it as a fairy tale if you want, but that could well be the point. For who doesn’t deserve their happily ever after?