BAM Best Picture Profile: Central Station (1998)

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 (Any omissions will be fixed this year). 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.

Central Station (1997)

Central Station would be the first time the BAM Awards ventured to foreign soil to pick a Best Picture winner. However, maybe it’s more apropos to say that it ventured to soil foreign to the US. For I am a dual citizen of the US and Brazil. In fact, I first saw this film while visiting family in Brazil and I believe I later revisited it when I was back home.

It is so great, so big a hit and important enough that I did discuss whether or not it was the emblematic Brazilian film, first with regards to how the film was cast:

If you hire an amateur child from substandard living conditions you should, as Walter Salles did for Vinícius de Oliveira in Central Station, help improve their station in life. At that point you truly are picking a lottery winner rather than just casting a role.

Then about the film in general:

What of Central Station then? Central Station made quite a bit of money in the US. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actress. Brazil has more a pedigree on the high-end of world cinema than most would expect. What separates Brazil from most is the consistency of product and, of course, due to the dictatorship there was censorship and artists had to fend for themselves. Now, the government is more active in promoting the arts, the major studios have a presence in the country and so forth. Yet, the fact that Brazil has been up for the Oscar, is the only Latin American nation to win the Palme d’Or (O Pagador de Promessas) and has also scored at Berlin (Elite Squad) is not what is going to dictate the most Brazilian film. Those are just indicators of quality.

Therefore, what’s the quality of Central Station? It has memorable source music, it’s a heart-wrenching drama, it tells a tale of a letter-writer and poor illiterate boy. It crosses that divide and it check off a lot of the qualities I’m looking for in a film representative of Brazil. Not to mention that it’s named after the largest train station in the country, therefore it’s a metaphor for the country and the letter-writer hears many stories from people of all walks of life that are indicative of the country and its people. The blend that exists.

Central Station is one of a long list of, I believe, far more enduring films that didn’t win Best Foreign Language Film. It didn’t win because America had a momentary brain fever and decided to ignore the issues of suspension of disbelief and taste that had Benigni’s film win everything. I can’t say I didn’t fall under it at the time to an extent, but not such that I thought it should win.

However, thanks to that foreign language film nomination it did allow one of Brazil’s great actresses to be nominated for an Oscar and be seen on the world stage. Sure, I’m as cynical about the Oscars as anyone. Had it not been for my own opinion splitting with theirs so violently I wouldn’t have created my own awards, however, I still recognize that it’s a great show and of great significance.

Central Station is a moving an enduring film that has been renowned the world over. Although it may not have won many of the prizes it was up for it surely wasn’t a case of me reaching very far afield for a winner.

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Children in Films Blogathon: A Revisionist Look at the Juvenile Award

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:

Little Miss Sunshine (2006, Fox Searchlight)

2012 Quvenzhané Wallis Beasts of the Southern Wild
2010 Hailee Steinfeld True Grit
2007 Saoirse Ronan Atonement
2006 Abigail Breslin Little Miss Sunshine
2002 Keisha Castle-Hughes Whale Rider
1999 Haley Joel Osment The Sixth Sense
1993 Anna Paquin The Piano
1979 Justin Henry Kramer vs. Kramer
1977 Quinn Cummings The Goodbye Girl
1976 Jodie Foster Taxi Driver
1973 Tatum O’ Neal Paper Moon
1968 Jack Wild Oliver!
1962 Patty Duke The Miracle Worker
Mary Badham To Kill a Mockingbird

Personal Selections

Super 8 (2011, Paramount)

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.

2012 Rick Lens Kauwboy

This one is highly unlikely as Kauwboy wasn’t shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film prize. However, the fact that it was the official selection for The Netherlands did make it eligible.

My young actress choice last year, Sophie Nélisse, was a year off from the Oscar calendar but also a strong possibility for Monsieur Lazhar.

2011 Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Ryan Lee, Riley Giffiths Zach Mills, Gabe Basso Super 8

It figures that both the best young ensemble, and perhaps individual performance, of the past 25 years got overlooked. So they are all honored here.

2009 Bill Milner Is Anybody There?

2008 Bill Milner and Will Poulter Son of Rambow

A slight wrinkle here from my original selection. Since the Academy set precedent of awarding tandems, why not do so here as well?

2005 Dakota Fanning War of the Worlds

2004 Freddie Highmore Finding Neverland

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.

2003 Jeremy Sumpter Peter Pan

2001 Haley Joel Osment Artificial Intelligence: A.I.

2000 Haley Joel Osment Pay It Forward

1998 Vinicius de Oliveira Central Station

1997 Joseph Ashton The Education of Little Tree

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.

My Girl (1991, Columbia Pictures)

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.

1992 Maxime Collin Leolo

I have since expunged them but for a time I did backtrack BAM Award to back before they started. Some of these picks reflect those findings.

1991 Anna Chlumsky My Girl

1990 Macaulay Culkin Home Alone

Say what you will, but you know if the award was around that this would have happened.

1988 Pelle Hvengaard Pelle the Conqueror

1987 Christian Bale Empire of the Sun

1986 River Phoenix Stand by Me

1983 Bertil Guve Fanny and Alexander

1982 Drew Barrymore and Henry Thomas E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

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

No Greater Glory (1934, Columbia Pictures)

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*

BAM Award Winners: Best Performance by a Child Actor 1996-2010

While the diversification of the Young Actor categories began in 2010 with a split created between Lead and Supporting Roles each category was unisex until the following year. So aside from semantical changes there have been quite literal changes to this category through the years. This post chronicles the years in which there was only one category where young leads, regardless of gender, could hope to get in. To view the nominees you can follow the hyperlinks in each individual year.

2010 Kodi Smit-McPhee Let Me In

2009 Bill Milner Is Anybody There?

2008 Will Poulter Son of Rambow

2007 Freddie Highmore August Rush

2006 Abigail Breslin Little Miss Sunshine

2005 Dakota Fanning War of the Worlds

2004 Ivan Dobronravov The Return

2003 Jeremy Sumpter Peter Pan

Peter Pan (2003, Universal)

2002 Haley Joel Osment Edges of the Lord

2001 Haley Joel Osment Artificial Intelligence: A.I.

2000 Haley Joel Osment Pay it Forward

1999 Haley Joel Osment The Sixth Sense

1998 Vinicius de Oliveira Central Station (Central do Brasil)

Central Station (1998, Sony Pictures Classics)

1997 Jena Malone Bastard Out of Carolina

Bastard Out of Carolina (1996, Showtime)

1996 Michelle Trachtenberg Harriet the Spy

BAM Award Winners: Young Actors

From 19962009 I had been satisfied with having but one category in which to honor the talented youths on film. This was one of the only places to honor them alongside their counterparts who are of age. In 2011, and perhaps more so in 2012, the nominating process became more difficult than ever as the talent pool seemed to be, if not the deepest ever, then one of them. Suddenly, I realized that I would have been eliminating people based on the size of their role and not on the quality of their performance. People like Janina Fautz in The White Ribbon and Billy Unger in You Again would be shutout of the nominating process. One of the benefits of creating your own awards is the ability to improvise.

Looking at the films and performances I’d seen I was able to create two new categories: I was able to make unisex categories for lead and supporting performances and one for ensemble work by youths, which seemed equally overdue. The goal in the 2011 awards was parity, meaning male and female lead and supporting categories and ensemble. This was achieved.

These categories have always been of great importance to me, not just because I was 15 when I started picking these awards but because youth performers are and have been greatly overlooked and under-appreciated and deserve some recognition. Especially when you consider that the Academy used to have a Juvenile Award and stopped awarding it.

UPDATE 2012: To venture even further away from negative connotations, I have decided to rename this post to remove the ‘child actor’ moniker, which to some can be seen as a slight. It’s a symbolic and semantical gesture, but no less significant for that. The group of categories and individual category names will be adjusted as necessary in the 2012 awards. Previous year will retain the same verbiage, but this post and future winners will not.

UPDATE 2013: To give each of the Youth Categories their due and for browsing convenience this post will act as a jump station to the new posts created for each of five youth categories, plus an additional post for the 1996-2009 winners.

Best Youth Ensemble

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Leading Role

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Leading Role

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Supporting Role

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Supporting Role

Best Performance by a Child Actor 1996-2010

A Nation’s Emblematic Film: Brazil

Now, I cannot for a second claim that my viewing of all of Brazil’s significant films in the history of the nation’s cinema is complete. However, making a watch list for myself is just one motivation for writing this piece. The others are: one, there are likely many coming across this piece who couldn’t name a handful of Brazilian films. Second, it’s really about thinking of films and culture in a different way. This really isn’t about naming what is the greatest Brazilian film of all-time, or any other nation that this series might focus on, but rather to open the discussion on a nation-by-nation basis about indigenous cinemas and cultural portraiture. If I had one film, and one film only, to show someone to say “This is Brazil and what you need to understand about it” what film would open that dialogue best, if not address all those points?

This idea came to me after a recent viewing of Vidas Secas (Barren Lives). I’m not sure that film is the representative choice but it gave me the idea, and made me think “At least I’ve seen this film now and my citizenship won’t be revoked.” What struck me as particularly Brazilian in the film was not only its locale (Brazil, like all large nations, can be quite regional but there’s seemingly something universally Brazilian about the northeast) but also the theme of persevering through hardships in that film.

Universal themes such as the ones mentioned above are just one of the watermarks of these films that can be discussed, aside from more specific traits like the migrant population and the era in the nation’s history. While the themes touched upon in the film are very Brazilian, it is a tale of being humbled, a thoughtful drama, which doesn’t have the joie de vivre that is so common in Brazil, and many other Latin nations, in spite of circumstances. Does that mean Vidas Secas can’t be the emblematic film? No, but others are worth considering, this one is still alive.

Films like Kiss of the Spider Woman, or any other foreign production, are not in the running. That specific example was clearly shot in Brazil by a naturalized Brazilian director but the way the script was written it could’ve been any authoritarian Latin American state in the 1980s, locality wasn’t the point of the film.

Fernando Ramos da Silva in Pixote, A Lei dos Mais Fraco (HB Filmes)

Another Babenco film Pixote is a better example thematically. However, once you factor in the unfortunate history the film has (A child of the favelas, Fernando Ramos da Silva [pictured above] was cast for authenticity, but was murdered at the age of 18, as he went back to live where he always had) makes choosing this film a bit sensationalistic and tabloid, not that I’m looking to have my selection propagandize, but the film and the aftermath are inextricable to me. Such that any symbolic honor not based solely on cinematic merit is difficult to bestow upon it. I could, and still may, write a whole other piece about the ethics of hiring impoverished amateur children as actors. This case, and that of Slumdog Millionaire, illustrate a cruel injustice in my mind: the bottom line is there are professional actors of all ages everywhere, if you do not want to be beholden to that child after the film, as you should be, hire one of them. If you hire an amateur child from substandard living conditions you should, as Walter Salles did for Vinícius de Oliveira in Central Station, help improve their station in life. At that point you truly are picking a lottery winner rather than just casting a role.

Vinícius de Oliveira and Fernanda Montenegro in Central Station (Sony Pictures Classics)

What of Central Station then? Central Station made quite a bit of money in the US. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actress. Brazil has more a pedigree on the high-end of world cinema than most would expect. What separates Brazil from most is the consistency of product and, of course, due to the dictatorship there was censorship and artists had to fend for themselves. Now, the government is more active in promoting the arts, the major studios have a presence in the country and so forth. Yet, the fact that Brazil has been up for the Oscar, is the only Latin American nation to win the Palme d’Or (O Pagador de Promessas) and has also scored at Berlin (Elite Squad) is not what is going to dictate the most Brazilian film. Those are just indicators of quality.

Therefore, what’s the quality of Central Station? It has memorable source music, it’s a heart-wrenching drama, it tells a tale of a letter-writer and poor illiterate boy. It crosses that divide and it check off a lot of the qualities I’m looking for in a film representative of Brazil. Not to mention that it’s named after the largest train station in the country, therefore it’s a metaphor for the country and the letter-writer hears many stories from people of all walks of life that are indicative of the country and its people. The blend that exists.

José Mojica Marin in À Meia-Noite Levarei a Sua Alma (Anchor Bay)

I think perhaps what is most important about addressing this question is deciding why certain films, or series of films, are being selected. It truly becomes a bit existential for me (and a tad corny) because the search is where the value is. Take for example the Coffin Joe films, after having seen a box set of his works I watched the documentary about him. In that film his frequent screenwriter made a very astute observation, which is that José Mojica Marins did something he thought was impossible: he created a Brazilian horror personage. All the other archetypes are decidedly American or European but this blend of religion, existentialism, patriarchy, propagation and misogyny is the perfect Brazilian horror type. In one singular, virtually indestructible entity Marins encapsulates and exaggerates virtually every possible aspect of the male psyche in Brazil and twists it to horrific effect. Does this make his films the most Brazilian? It’s not entirely out of the question. It certainly makes his films worth mentioning here, but hearkening back to how I introduced this question; no, I wouldn’t show someone Coffin Joe and say “This is Brazil.” I would show them Coffin Joe and say “This is horror” though.

A Opera do Malandro (The Samuel Goldwyn Company)

Now, with regards to the aforementioned regional aspect to the country, I and most my family have our roots set in Rio de Janeiro, though we’ve since scattered quite a bit. With that in mind, most of us recognize and appreciate the musical diversity of the country, but our affections are usually for Samba and MPB (Música Popular Brasileiro) above all else. Few artists represent these genres and Brazil as well as Chico Buarque. That brings me to A Opera do Malandro, which is a musical based on an album he wrote. It wasn’t Buarque’s only foray into musical entertainment, he and many stars wrote a version of the Town Musicians of Bremen (‘Os Saltimbancos’) that is a standard. Yet, here his tale is a cinematic adaptation, period piece, a sort of Brazilian noir, which represents a kind of Brazilian, (the Malandro), akin to but nor quite a wise guy back in a similar era here. So it doesn’t quite pass the universality test.

Alexandre Rodrigues in Cidade de Deus (Miramax)

Perhaps, the most accomplished work in the history of Brazilian cinema is City of God. This is a film that was a hit domestically as well as internationally, it earned box office success and critical acclaim. When writing about it I have likened it to the great films in history. Again this selection isn’t about greatness but representativeness. So while this film and the Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad) movies are great dramatizations of societal problems and brilliantly map out “How’d things get this way?” they don’t paint a portrait of all of Brazil, which I’ll admit is hard to do, but as endemic as corruption in police and politics is, and as large as trafficking and crime syndicates in favelas have been, they are localized stories cinematically. So we move on to other choices.

Marepessa Dawn and Breno Mello in Orfeu Negro (Janus Films)

Perhaps, some symbolic stories are the last two that need to be discussed: Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus) and Dona Flor e Seus Dois Maridos (Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands). Now, the former has had international success. However, it is a co-production with France, which I could even let slide but the fact of the matter is its the transposition of a Greek myth to (at the time) modern day Rio. Therefore, as Brazilian as it is with Carnaval and Samba Schools, it’s still rather European too. As for Dona Flor, its incorporation of Magical Realism and its colonial/post-colonial commentary made indirectly through her husbands and the fact that it’s based on a novel by one of Brazil’s greatest authors (Jorge Amado) make it a great candidate. However, Amado is Amado. As much of the director’s voice as can be added is but if you know anything about his work any of them bear his mark a bit too much to be truly emblematic of a nation in the encompassing sense I’m trying to choose said film within, which rules out any films based on Nelson Rodrigues‘ plays.

Leonardo Villar in O Pagador de Promessas (Lionex Films Inc)

So even as I began to outline and write this piece I realized there are big films from Brazil that I have not seen. At least two would be candidates for this honor The Given Word (The Given Word) and Menino de Engenho (Plantation Boy). There are likely others as well but those two are likely the ones with a universal quality combined with indigenous uniqueness that would qualify it here. For now, based on what I’ve see it’s Central Station, but I’m quite eager to continue searching and if you have any suggestions yourself please feel free to comment below!