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Frank J. Avella's
March 2008 Film Column

Opposite Photo:
Javier Bardem in
Oscar Winning
No Country for Old Men

Post-Oscars/The Theatre Scene

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 is for!

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 outright.”

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 both.

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 significant past.

Theatre Bits

Tracy Lett's August: Osage County

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 ‘n’ Roll

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

The Seafarer
Photo Credit Joan Marcus

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
Photo Credit Joan Marcus

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 production.

Young Frankenstein

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 celebration.

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, Company).

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.




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