WEEKS TO GO
Sets The Tone
In the last four
years of Oscar, except one, there was a moment when the winner of the
ultimate prize became crystal clear. The moment I saw the trailer for
A Beautiful Mind, the die was cast. It had the size, the industry
muscle, and the emotion that made it undeniable
even able to hold
up against malicious attacks. (And even though I was not a fan of the
film, which felt to me like a muscular Movie Of the Week.) Lord of
the Rings: Return of The King won the Oscar the day after ABC signed
off following Chicago's win. (Chicago is the odd film
out, as many of us still believe that the race was very close and that
a late starting campaign for The Pianist needed another couple
of weeks to pass Chicago for the Best Picture win.) And the minute
I saw the third act of Million Dollar Baby last year, the entire
race had changed composition and the win was inevitable.
of us will see Munich for a few weeks. But after finally getting to watch
the trailer in Hi-Def Quicktime a few times, I have very few doubts. Munich
is a prohibitive frontrunner to win the Academy Award for Best Picture on March
film that "has to" win doesn't always win. Steven Spielberg has
already had this experience with Saving Private Ryan getting upset by the
lightweight Shakespeare in Love. At least this year, the soft sister that
threatens his win is also a film he also happened to exec produce
of a Geisha.
trailer has a lot to chew on.
it leads with the iconic Jim McKay footage of the Munich murders. But even
before the "They're all gone" line, Spielberg has slipped in footage
of his own as the suspects are taken away by German police, with cinematographer
Janusz Kaminski matching the archival footage.
we get a moment with Golda Meir, played by Lynn Cohen, in a performance
that has yet to turn up on the Oscar radar, but could catch a Supporting Actress
nod if there are a few good scenes. What this actress, a New York stage performer
heretofore best known for playing Miranda's nanny on Sex & The City,
does in just a few lines is very, very effective. "Every civilization finds
it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values."
is not a film about Israel or kick ass Jews. This is a film about America in 2005.
This film clearly intends to force its viewers to ask ourselves the question,
which continues to be asked throughout the trailer in less direct ways, "Have
we compromised our own values? Are we willing to take responsibility?"
team is assembled. Here again Spielberg's casting is universal. Bana, an Australian,
is the leader. Daniel Craig, a Brit, is the getaway driver. Irishman Ciaran
Hinds is the "clean-up" guy. German Hanns Zischler is the
document forger. And French ator/director Mathieu Kassevitz is the bomb
We get into
some of the wet work. And we have seen some of this stuff before. But it's really
good stuff. It's The Guns of Navarone and Day of The Jackal and
The Odessa File and Marathon Man and The Bourne Supremacy.
And in many ways, it is The French Connection and Patton and In
The Heat of The Night. Throw in a little Platoon and The Deer
strange to think of one's self as an assassin," says the 58-year-old forger.
yourself as something else then," responds the 37-year-old leader.
of Bana's crew seems to face the soulful challenge. But Bana, the father, the
husband, the hero, is where the focus of the heart lies.
competition is filled with worthwhile and potentially worthwhile movies. But the
film that threatens Munich is Memoirs of A Geisha, not necessarily
on quality, but on the basis of it filling the "beautiful epic" slot
that no other film really seems to fill. And the movie that could really increase
the danger for Munich is Syriana. If it can get nominated for Best
Picture, it could siphon off votes from the thematically related Spielberg movie.
The odd thing,
to me, is that my sureness about Munich somehow draws Memoirs of a Geisha
to it as its main competitor. They are natural opponents. Perhaps it is that both
films are from filmmakers whose films have won the big award before. Perhaps it
is that both carry the weight of a world of history and not just internal America
not that Sony is any more committed to Geisha than other studios are to their
films. Or even that I expect to love it. (I do expect to feel about Munich
as I felt about the best Frankenheimer, Friedkin, or if lucky, Coppola.)
It just feels like that movie
the place Academy members
always want to go.
you love Capote? Good Night, And Good Luck? Walk The Line?
Brokeback Mountain? Crash? Constant Gardener? Etcetera? Congratulations.
You could well see your film nominated. But it seems very unlikely that any of
these films can win against these two films.
race for the other three slots is very, very real and will likely be a bit of
a mystery - unless Walk The Line asserts itself strongly in the next two
weeks - until the very morning of the Oscar nominations.
back to The Guns of Navarone
. that film was nominated for Best Picture
of 1962. But it, The Hustler, and Judgment at Nuremberg were all
beat by West Side Story.
Even now, you could
get into a bar fight about which film any group of people would think
is best or even most important. And the last 23 years of Oscar don't
make a clear case for how the Academy will swing on "must wins"
with a strong film of opposing style in competition.
picked 13 examples and the only thing that is consistent is that none of the overtly
political films won.
is the closest to a political statement, but it beat the far more politically
charged M*A*S*H* (and Five Easy Pieces).
The Heat of the Night dealt with race, but Guess Who's Coming To Dinner
spoke to it more directly. (Also losing to it were Bonnie & Clyde &
of Fire beat Reds.
Fair Lady beat Dr. Strangelove and Becket.
In Love beat Elizabeth, Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line.
beat Erin Brockovich and Traffic.
beat The Pianist
beat Apollo 13.
beats All The President's Men, Network and Taxi Driver.
Man best Mississippi Burning and Dangerous Liaisons.
of the Lambs beat JFK.
Dollar Baby beat The Aviator.
factoid seems to lean towards Geisha. Yet none of these winners seem to have the
intimate epic feel that Geisha is going for.
against both films is the Academy's lack of international vision. There was a
brief period in which the Academy reached out with wins for Gandhi, Amadeus,
Out of Africa, and The Last Emperor. All four were biopics of well-known
people or, in the case of The Last Emperor, a person in a story that had
historic significance. And interestingly, two of the male leads, John Lone
and Robert Redford were not nominated. The number of other winners set
outside of the U.S. without an American in the lead role? Zero. Still, this factoid
seems to lean toward Munich, a real life story of historic significance.
Not a single
Best Picture winner in the last 25 years was without a lead actor for which to
campaign (though in eight of those years, the lead actor of the Best Picture winner
wasn't even nominated). That would make Geisha a first. Advantage Munich.
oh boy, is there a lot of death in the movies that have won. Only four of the
last 25 winners do not have death or war as a central part of the story. I'm sure
someone will die dramatically in Geisha, but Munich wins the body count
course, there is still room for another shift. Spielberg could make his film too
long or it could be perceived, as some fear, as anti-Zionist. Geisha could have
too small a heart. Or The New World could turn out to speak to the American
heart in a more profound way for a larger group than previous work by Terrence
even when, in many ways, it goes against convention. It
reads like an Eastwood film, deconstructing the political thriller the way Unforgiven
deconstructed the western and Million Dollar Baby deconstructed the boxing
does Gladiator beat Traffic and Erin Brockovich? How does
Rocky beat Network and All The President's Men? Or put the
opposite way, how much did The Thin Red Line take off of Saving Private
Ryan when Ryan lost to Shakespeare?
probably can't be beat by Geisha head-to-head. But watch out for Syriana
as the spoiler. And look to December 7, the date by which Munich and The
New World will finally be revealed to eager awards voters.
the meantime, let's keep fighting over the runners up
it's going to be a
bumpy, confusing ride. There will be a lot of "fucking Merlot" drunk
in a lot of hotel ballrooms before anything close to a consensus is drawn.