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Other Voices

By Other Voices

A Brave New ‘Wood?

I started paying attention to the Academy Awards in 1996. I was 15 (that makes me 23 now) and I had not one clue about the theatrics that goes into such a ceremony. . But the more I watched, the more it became clear to me that these six months can be as crazy as a political election. The behind-the-scenes intensity. The studio rivalries. The sheer insanity of the propaganda glorious.

It’s Christmas time for those in the fraternity. And I eat it up. Nothing could be more exciting and interesting to me. The film industry is a fascination. And that fascination’s time to shine is Oscar season.

A year out of film school, Los Angeles was the obvious place to go. As an aspiring screenwriter, I have conflicting feelings about notions of writing about movies rather than simply writing movies. But each and every time I sit down in front of my computer to hammer out a piece, I find that I love chiming in with my opinions on the latest release or the awards prospects of the most buzzed film on the block as much as I love typing a slug line and rattling off a thirty page first act. Almost.

So what assumptions are left to believe in after the 2004 Oscar season? Are we fools not to concede that the assumptions that have guided our sense of the progress of each Academy Awards race are almost irrelevant? Or at the very least, in a state of transition?

Midway through the 2004 season, I wrote a piece entitled “Evolution of the Game” for that addressed this issue. In essence, I observed an Academy that was stomping out some of its old, clichéd tendencies. This Academy membership saw no issue with not only affording a fantasy film its Best Picture prize for the first time in its then 76 year existence, but with voting it a sweep of historic proportions to boot. This is an Academy that brought down the barriers of sexism a little more with the induction of its third female Best Director nominee. This Academy was tilting away from long-held racial stubbornness, nominating minorities in the 2003 and ultimately 2004 seasons on a scale not normally approached and awarding Oscars to two African-American actors in the same year,

And then last season saw The British Academy, the Hollywood Foreign Press and numerous guilds made Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator the frontrunner through most of the season. That is, until the DGA seemed to change the course of things when they awarded Clint Eastwood for his boxing drama, Million Dollar Baby, rather than finally awarding Martin Scorsese after six prior nominations.

The Aviator took five awards at the Oscars, but the AMPAS gave the big prize to the film that had received not one single major Best Picture precursor (though The National Society Of film Critics might disagree) – a first ever. They went with the change of tide that Clint Eastwood’s buzz-wave created late in the fall. They established a new standard of sorts for release patterns in this brand new world of Oscar’s timeline.

This year’s ceremony gets shoved a week later than last year, but we’re still operating on that one-month-less schedule that Warner Brothers took advantage of in 2004. They teased with Million Dollar Baby, holding out until the weeks that have come to matter buzz-wise, revealing their hopeful and then holding it in limited release until after the nominations announcement, the last major film of the awards season to come to town. Could the film have seen $100 million otherwise? Who knows?

The last legitimate Oscar contender to release this season looks to be the film everyone has chalked up as a lock, as well as the one film we know very little about at this stage, Steven Spielberg’s Munich. It seems like it will be a cinematic exercise that will take an unflinching look at themes like justice and vengeance with the backdrop being the horrific events of the 1972 Munich Olympics. It could be a film that speaks volumes on our current state of affairs. But more, Munich might be a barometer for a string of Oscar hopefuls that will make their statements, bold or subtle, on today’s political climate.

2004 brought films like Fahrenheit 9/11 and Dogville that made their respective comments on politics and the country’s sense of nationalism – in an election year no less – and ultimately they were straightforward and direct in their indictments. This year, these tendencies have turned into a number of vibrant stories that should come across with a touch more understatement, dependant on the stories more so than the agendas.

George Clooney has two films in the mix – Stephen Gaghan’s Syriana and Good Night, And Good Luck. Gaghan’s film, which stars Clooney, said to be in the stylistic vein of Traffic, looks at the CIA’s efforts in the war on terrorism. Clooney’s directorial effort looks to be a true and honorable deification of Edward R. Murrow’s integrity in the face of freedom of press violations at the hands of McCarthy era politics.

Sam Mendes’ Jarhead, based on Anthony Swafford’s Gulf War memoir, is sure to be seen as one of the most relevant films of the season. Meanwhile Steven Zaillian will take a crack at Robert Penn Warren with All the King’s Men, the Pulitzer Prize and Oscar-winning (the first time they made it) story of political corruption that would speak to any generation.

Fernando Merielles’ politically charged The Constant Gardener has already been released to both close the summer movie season and introduce the fall awards season while former screenwriting Oscar nominee Andrew Niccol will soon sport a satirical look at gun-running with his writing and directing effort, Lord of War. And who knows what sort of politically inclined sentiments of seize and conquer Terry Malick can weave into his look at the Pocahontas story, The New World?

These are the stories that deserve to be told. They are the tales that have something rather definitive to say about the world we live in. Politics and the Academy have always had an interesting relationship. From Vanessa Redgrave’s statement against “Zionist hoodlums” to a variety of presenters and winners speaking out against the war in Iraq, the threat of agenda has always been seething under the surface of any given Oscar ceremony. This year’s crop of hopefuls gives the AMPAS every opportunity to speak up on any number of hot button topics, and it puts me on the edge of my seat.

Be sure, we’ve got the typical Oscar fare on the way as well – everything from James Mangold’s Walk the Line to Rob Marshall’s Memoirs of a Geisha. In addition to all of this, we’ve got another yarn about drifting souls from Cameron Crowe, Capote’s last great story from Bennett Miller, a tale of personal politics from Stephen Frears, a song-and-dance party from Susan Stroman, a Dickens classic from Roman Polanski, a tale of the inevitability of violence from David Cronenberg, and a large-scale fantasy extravaganza from the director of Shrek.

And don’t forget the monkey movie!

But the big story is the level of immediacy that may be presented by topical product being released by filmmakers like Clooney, Gaghan, Malick, Zaillian, Spielberg, Niccol and Mereilles. An Academy that awarded Michael Moore and Errol Morris in back to back years isn’t likely to flinch at the controversial now.

Perhaps the “game” is finally evolving.

Welcome to 2005 Oscar season.

September 1, 2005
E-mail Kris Tapley

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon