MCN Blogs
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

We've Got Spirit, Yes We Do

Well, well. The Spirits are wrapped, and I didn’t do too well with my predictions: I got 4 out of 11 right (Best Feature, Best Actress, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor). A lot of people thought Dustin Lance Black would get the Best First Screenplay award for Milk and they, as it turned out, were right. The Wrestler won Best Feature, Best Actor and Best Cinematography, which hopefully will ease the sting of the film being shut out of all but the acting categories by Oscar. Whether Rourke’s win is indicative of the likelihood that he’ll beat out Sean Penn tomorrow night for the Oscar is anybody’s guess, but my money is still on Rourke.
Not that I would gamble on the Oscars, of course. That wouldn’t be right.

Tom McCarthy took Best Director for The Visitor, one of the most tragically underseen films of the year. I love, love, love this movie. It’s exactly the kind of movie the Spirits should be awarding: it’s inventive and original, with a marvelously written script that’s long on great, natural dialogue and short on clunky, incoherent expositional boringness; it’s filled with interesting characters and bolstered by solid performances from all the supporting cast in general and Richard Jenkins in particular.
In other words, The Visitor is exactly the kind of movie no major studio would shell out bank to put in mainstream theaters because they think no one would go to see it. And hell, look at the films that dominate the box office every week … maybe they’re right. Who (well, besides total film dorks like myself) would say on date night, “Hey baby, you want to see that well-written drama about a guy who comes to his long-vacant New York City apartment to find it occupied by illegal immigrants?” A studio wouldn’t have the first clue what to do with a script like this, so they’d bring on four or five more writers to thoroughly screw it up.
If a studio had developed this film, they probably would have hired Michael Bay to direct and cast Steven Seagal in a comeback role as a professor/retired spy/secret martial arts master haunted by the murders of his wife and young child by a drug gang, and when he goes to his apartment in the city to mourn and regroup he finds it occupied by a recovering-crack-whore-with-a-heart-of-gold whose ex pimp/boyfriend is the guy who set up the hit on Seagal’s family.
Seagal would hide his big guns inside the drum to go stake out Central Park looking for the bad guys, pretending to drum enthusiastically, only to shoot up the park in taking out the bad guys. And then Seagal and the recovering crack whore would fall in love, get her kids out of foster care, and he’d go off in the sunset with her to build a new life, now that he’s killed everyone responsible for destroying the old one.
Fortunately that didn’t happen and The Visitor is what writer/director Tom McCarthy intended it to be, which is why it rocks, and why McCarthy deserves the directing award. And by the way, if you missed seeing The Visitor when it was in theaters, it’s available on DVD now and well worth owning. It’s one of the few films I could watch repeatedly and not grow tired of.
Charlie Kaufman took Best First Feature for Synecdoche, NY, proving that people who are not Rex Reed did actually understand and appreciate this intellectual rabbit-hole of a film. Good for Kaufman for making such an ambitious and crazily good movie his first time out; if more first-time directors had half the cinematic vision and balls Kaufman has, there would be a lot more interesting films on the fest circuit.
When I saw Synecdoche at Cannes, I was both dazzled and befuddled by what I saw. I was pissed that the fest had slotted a film that obviously required a lot of thought to keep up with it at nine in the morning at the tail end of such a challenging festival; I’d have far rather seen it the first time when I was fresh and not sleep-deprived, much earlier in the fest, and seen Indiana Jones or Changeling in the slot they gave Synecdoche. I’ve seen Synecdoche twice now, and could probably see it four or five more times and still miss things, but I do think it’s got a brilliant screenplay and an enormously talented cast, and that Kaufman is a genius who must be encouraged to use his formidable powers for good and not evil.
Woody Allen took the screenplay award and Penelope Cruz Supporting Female for Vicky Cristina Barcelona; I’m happy about Allen winning for the screenplay — Vicky Cristina is one of his best films — not just in years, but overall. But it’s so likely Cruz will win the Supporting Actress Oscar, and I was really hoping to see the Spirits recognize Misty Upham for her great performance in Frozen River, which has been largely overshadowed. Nothing against Cruz at all, I loved her as Maria Elena, but this was Upham’s one shot for an award, and I was rooting for her.
I must also confess to feeling a twinge of disappointment that Man on Wire won for documentary. Not that there’s anything wrong with that film, but I was really hoping the Spirits would recognize Ellen Kuras for her gorgeously shot, compelling film The Betrayal (Nerakhoon). Kind of a bummer. I hate it when everything that’s predictable for the win actually wins, especially at the Spirits. Shake it up a little bit, folks!
Now all that’s left is to get through the Oscars tomorrow night (please dear God, let whatever Hugh Jackman is doing look less corny than it does in that video). Being the Oscar Outsider, I don’t have to put on anything fancy to go stand on the red carpet; I get to watch from the comfort of home. I’ll be dressed in my warm jammies, nice fire going in the fireplace, cup of hot tea in my hand, probably no makeup, judging the way women far prettier and richer than I am are dressed and made up, and hopefully watching the “right” movies win the “right” awards. Then we can all move on with our lives and focus on more important things, like which films are screening at Cannes, and how great (or how crappy) the summer blockbusters are until September, when we’ll start talking about who might win next year’s Oscars.
Man, I love this job.

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One Response to “We've Got Spirit, Yes We Do”

  1. bunnybeth says:

    Penn’s win at the Academy Awards surprised me. I have not seen ‘Milk’ yet, but I figured that Rourke would get the award for his comeback.

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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