Frank J. Avella's
March 2008 Film Column
Javier Bardem in
No Country for Old Men
Some Post-Oscar Thoughts
Marion Cotillard in La
Vie en Rose
Marion Cotillard’s deserved
win for La Vie En Rose proves that Academy
members actually watched the film. It also proves
(along with Daniel Day-Lewis’ and Javier Bardem’s
awards) that, sometimes, AMPAS actually does award
the best of the year.
After the lowest rated Oscar ceremony
in history (ironically, it was also the shortest
in recent memory), much was written in the print
and cyber media challenging that the Academy has
moved too far away from rewarding popular films
and is now in danger of becoming a more exclusive
and cliquish group. It has been suggested that members
heed this year’s low ratings and think about
being more inclusive of studio film fare next year.
This argument basically asks the
Academy to nominate money-making movies at the expense
of rewarding quality films and filmmakers. To those
who actually believe AMPAS consider this, I argue:
that’s what the People’s Choice Award
Furthermore, the alleged Academy
snobs happen to be top cinema craftsmen and women.
Yes, many have retired, but it doesn’t take
away from their accomplishments. And let’s
not forget the Oscar is a peer award, which is why
it is the most respected of all film awards.
Yes, year after year bloggers
complain-bitch and piss-moan about the unfair choices
the Academy makes. Toss me in that group of grousers.
I will never forgive them for the Crash
over Brokeback Mountain debacle. But I
will also vehemently defend their right to continue
to make their choices based on merit. Some members
may not actually follow that rule, but most take
their roles very seriously and attempt to award
the best in cinema.
A friend recently devil’s-advocated
me about why I feel the Academy Awards should be
taken seriously, citing the blunders of the past
(fill in your ludicrous choice here) as examples
of an imperfect voting body. After giving it a good
think, the answer became obvious: because the awards,
each year, create a collective filmic dialogue that
might not otherwise exist. Certainly not with such
prominence and such intensity.
Yes, Oliver won the Best
Picture Award over The Lion in Winter while
2001: A Space Odyssey wasn’t even
nominated. Yes, Citizen Kane lost to How
Green Was My Valley. Yes, Chariots of Fire
beat Reds. And yes, after eight nominations,
Peter O’Toole has yet to “win the bugger
Each year Oscar season reminds
us of these horrific facts and, in doing so, keeps
the cinema discourse alive among filmlovers as well
as movielovers as well as the next generation of
Javier Bardem in
No Country for Old Men
And let’s remember for each
(subjectively) bad choice, they have, in the last
few years alone, also chosen American Beauty,
Million Dollar Baby, The Departed
and No Country for Old Men for Best Picture.
Not too shabby.
No one will ever completely agree
with AMPAS’ choices, but we will be free to
debate…to argue…to dialogue. The Oscars
provide us with a proven portal that ensures the
future of film will include a knowledge of it’s
Tracy Lett's August:
Broadways has been booming with…fantastic
plays for a wonderful and welcome change! Tracy
Letts’ stirring and epic August: Osage
County, direct from Chicago’s Steppenwolf
Company, is the Tony frontrunner and with good reason.
It’s a fantastic exploration of the implosion
of an American family. And, while it is not the
modern-day Long Days Journey Into Night,
some critics have called it, it’s a damned
exciting evening in the theatre and it features
stellar acting, including a bravura performance
by Amy Morton, who deserves every award out there.
Tom Stoppard's Rock
Tom Stoppard’s sprawling
and mesmerizing, Rock ‘n’ Roll,
dazzlingly directed by Trevor Nunn, is both intellectually
stimulating and grandly entertaining. Sinead Cusack,
Brian Cox and Rufus Sewell are marvels of risk-taking
thespianism, while Alice Eve, playing smallish but
pivotal roles, steals every scene she is in.
Jim Norton, Sean Mahon,
Conleth Hill, David Morse
and Cirian Hinds
Conor McPherson doesn’t
quite break any new ground with The Seafarer,
but he does script a pretty hypnotic meditation
on salvation. And the ensemble work together magnificently.
Ciaran Hinds, as the mysterious Mephistophelesian
figure, delivers his eleven o’clock monologue
with a chilling grace that will rattle any audience
member with a soul.
Crimes of the Heart
The revival of Beth Henley’s
Crimes of the Heart, is enjoyable and features
a trio of fascinating performances as well as crisp
direction by Kathleen Turner.
And the Broadway revival of The Homecoming,
is worth seeing for a handful of intriguing performances,
although I am not a fan of this particular Pinter
work, nor do I feel it’s, in any way, a timely
In the land of musicals, one original
show stands above all the others…okay above
Young Frankenstein (which is a mess that
stands pretty high on the list of misconceived Broadway
messes), since there are very few new musicals opening
this season. In the Heights is a vibrant
new work (transferring from off-Broadway). Lin-Manuel
Miranda, the shows star and composer/lyricist, takes
us on a tireless journey through the streets of
Washington Heights where we meet a potpourri of
diverse Latinos who are trying their best to get
along in this world and better themselves in every
way. And while the show’s book is somewhat
substance lacking and the songs are sometimes too
schmaltzy (which contradicts the musical style they’re
written in), Heights is a joyous and worthwhile
The Sondheim/Lapine revival of
their masterpiece, Sunday in the Park with George,
is absolutely riveting and should be seen by anyone
who gives a damn about the creative process. And
while I had some issues with the (lack of) power
of the Act One finale, I found the production (admirably
directed by Brit newbie Sam Buntrock) very satisfying.
Jenna Russell manages the impossible as Dot. She
makes you almost forget the indelible impression
the great Bernadette Peters placed on the role over
two decades ago!
Kudos to Sondheim for, of late,
allowing directors to take risks and reconceive
his work in provocative ways (Sweeney Todd,
City Center Encores! recently
revived Applause, the early seventies musical
based on the classic film, All About Eve.
The musical originally starred Lauren Bacall as
Margo Channing, the Bette Davis role onscreen. While
the show does feature a few good songs, most are
forgettable and the book isn’t up to the great
dialogue of the film. That said, it isn’t
a bad show and this presentation was certainly enjoyable.
One of the chief problems with this production was
casting Erin Davie as the seemingly sweet but, ultimately,
ruthless Eve Harrington. Compared with the miscast
but sparkling Christine Ebersole as grand diva Margo,
Davie was simply cipher-esque…uninteresting.
Ebersole, on the other hand, gave Margot more heart
than she deserved and was able to bitch-out when
she needed to. Kathleen Marshall’s direction
was adequate, at best.
With Cry Baby, A
Catered Affair and the LuPone Gypsy
on the horizon, perhaps musicals will make a triumphant
comeback. We shall see.