Jim says... Alfonso Cuaron creates magic, and he deserves respect
Maybe it’s how we’re wired as intelligent apes, but we do love our rules. If we didn’t have them, we’d make rules that we have to have rules.
In movies, it’s, “we have to care about these people… there needs to be a backstory… believability… larger themes… a three-act narrative arc… and acting, dear boy!”
It harkens back to the birth of the “talkies,” when movies were expected to be plays writ large. And to a large extent they still are. The serious ones, anyway.
Maybe it’s why something like Gravity gets so little respect from “serious” critics. Alfonso Cuaron failed on all those counts.
Instead, he did something not everyone can do. He created an utterly alien environment, using technology that was unavailable as recently as a few years ago. He takes you into space (realistically enough according to those who know), tosses two people at you with the barest of introductions, and literally throws a spanner into the works.
It’s about the experience. I don’t need to know whether Sandra Bullock’s character was a high school prom queen or science fair nerd, or whether George Clooney is a motormouth because he’s compensating for “mommy issues.” As a viewer, I’m thrown directly into a life-or-death situation, with no familiar reference points for my brain to anchor itself.
Starting with the unbroken 17-minute opening shot, every moment in Gravity is a new experience, a place I’ve never been, infused with urgency. It is both spectacular and claustrophobic. And for someone who sees roughly 200 movies a year, that’s saying something.
The snide response is, “big deal, what’s the difference between that and the latest theme park ride?” The same could have been said about the original King Kong (except film critics didn’t exist as we know them today). And yet Willis O’Brien’s movie was a game-changer. The audiences knew it, and they didn’t need someone with a degree in film studies to tell them why.
Usually, when someone delivers a spectacle, he’s dismissed as a hack, playing with toys. But Cuaron was born of the indie film world, his Y Tu Mama Tambien being the consummate Independent Spirit Award winner, a completely human story, intimately told on a minimal budget.
There’s a palpable sense of betrayal among the chin-scratching cineaste crowd that he went on to do a Harry Potter movie (Prisoner of Azkaban, the best one, to my mind), and now has joined the evil empire of technology to create what sourpusses see as soulless commercialism and others see as magic.
And maybe that’s the thing about FX, it’s just a tool. In the hands of a Michael Bay, you may get a big, noisy dumb thing, the 3-D IMAX version of a black velvet painting. There is never a minute in any Transformers movie when I feel like I’m there.
But Cuaron proves that in the hands of an artist, you can create something beautiful and riveting. You get an experience.
Scorsese would understand. It’s the magic act that movies started with, and what he was trying to make us remember in Hugo.
Liz says... Martin Scorsese needs to win for all the years he didn't
Just to prove how fallible the Academy Awards really are, consider this: Martin Scorsese, the guy who made Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and Gangs Of New York, didn't win an Oscar for Best Director until The Departed (2006).
That's 40 years, give or take, since he started out as a filmmaker.
And that's ridiculous. The Departed won four Oscars, including Best Picture that year. Upon being handed his Oscar, Scorsese, long accustomed to being overlooked by the Academy, joked that the presenters might want to double-check the envelope.
Scorsese's nomination this year for The Wolf of Wall Street brings his Best Director nominations to eight. (He has a couple of other noms in there for writing and producing/Best Picture, too.)
He nabbed a Best Director nomination for Raging Bull (1980), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) Goodfellas (1990) Gangs Of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004) and Hugo (2011). A lot of people felt he also deserved a nomination for Taxi Driver (1976) and The Age Of Innocence (1993); at the Cannes Film Festival, the BAFTA Awards and other spots far from America, Scorsese has indeed been recognized for earlier films such as Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974) Taxi Driver, King of Comedy (1982) and After Hours (1985).
His Oscar track record includes this sort of detail: Raging Bull, a movie named the very best film of the decade by various film organizations and publications and a film that's always in the Top Ten of the AFI's 100 Years - 100 Movies list, got eight Oscar nominations.
Scorsese lost that year to Robert Redford and Ordinary People.
Likewise, Goodfellas was nominated for six Academy Awards, but Scorsese didn't win Best Director — that went to Kevin Costner for Dances With Wolves.
Gangs of New York earned 10 Oscar nominations; Scorsese lost Best Director to Roman Polanski for The Pianist.
The Aviator (2004) had 11 nominations, losing Best Director and Best Picture to Clint Eastwood and his Million Dollar Baby.
Scorsese should win Best Director for The Wolf of Wall Street this year, for all the right and all the wrong Oscar reasons. To wit:
The movie is, even as we type, picking up momentum. It's just become Scorsese's biggest box-office hit, having surpassed the $300 million mark (and beating his former box-office biggie, Shutter Island.)
The Wolf of Wall Street is a masterpiece of manic energy and social commentary, a big, shiny mirror held up to contemporary mores. It's not a pretty picture. The blackest of black comedies, the movie is a hard look at the rotten heart of various systems, financial and judicial among them, and it's an indictment of a materialistic American Dream. The film has sparked outraged accusations that Scorsese is glorifying greed and excess. Let's just say you'd have to really covet the lifestyle of real-life fraudster Jordan Belfort to see it that way.
The Wolf of Wall Street is a brilliant film in story, performance and visual and emotional impact. Scorsese deserves to be awarded a Best Director statue for the right reason: merit. And for the wrong reasons, too: because he should have won a half-dozen directing Oscars by now, because he's long overdue for another, because it's his turn, and because he's a filmmaker of global renown, something his Americans colleagues finally seem to have noticed.