MCN Commentary & Analysis

Review: Irresistible

I love Jon Stewart. He is earnest and smart and funny and on the same side of politics as me.

But he’s not a very good director.

Not everyone has that skill set. And it shows in the most basic ways. How he frames a single, a two-shot, a joke. How he likes his films cut. How he manages the visual rhythm of his films.

I also watched a silly little film from a first-time director this week that had many flaws… but this person has a legitimate sense of how to direct a movie. A couple more films and they could be completely solid. But Stewart… you can feel his intellect in his directing. This has made for 2 interesting movies with some strong moments… but if you gave Frank Oz the script for Irresistible, the movie would improve by 20% before he made any of the script changes he would make. Oz happens to be one of the modern masters of farce on film. But any other skilled director would improve the film by 10% or more right off the bat.

And part of why this directing issue sticks with me is that Irresistible has the ambition of being a modern Capra film before it turns a bit on that idea. And it has all the pieces. Carell, check. Chris Cooper, check. Small town, check. Rose Byrne, check. It’s all there. But it’s doesn’t quite work the way your movie-loving brain wants it to… knows it should.

The film needs to be close to letter-perfect in creating the very familiar film genre. It needs to draw us into the pleasure of that genre. And I had no idea what the goals of the film were when I watched it (happily). I just knew that it was taking me down a sweet, old-fashioned road I had not expected. But pretty quickly, I was finding myself trying to feel that energy instead of being bathed in it by the film.

And then, Stewart adds more elements, which are funny at moments, but don’t fit in the film. Ultimately, he decides to take you somewhere you don’t expect… but it doesn’t work for 2 reasons. First, the turn is not incredibly well thought out. Second, we weren’t drawn far enough into the pleasure to be shocked in the way a story structure like this aspires to shock.

I don’t want to say more because I don’t want to linger in spoilers.

But here is an analogy. When Psycho came out in theaters, the idea that Janet Leigh didn’t even consider that the place she stopped for the night was creepy as hell and run by a psychopath was not a laugher. We hadn’t seen what was to come in a movie before. If you do a thriller/horror film in 2020, the red flags would seem so extreme as to be funny. Modern horror films are all built on the foundation of Psycho and others. But they have to be aware that everyone else is aware of “the rules” as well.

Stewart makes it clear in a variety of ways that he knows “the rules” and he wants to make sure you are not comfortable in making the assumptions people have made in such films for decades. It’s not a lack of intelligence or knowledge. He just doesn’t have the directing skills to do it like a master, seeing every moment connect to every other moment, from start to finish.

I will offer this one example, based on the TV ads and trailers you have all seen. Carell seeing Mackenzie Davis, arm deep in a cow’s ass. There is a lot going on in that beat, which happens very early in the film. He sees a woman much younger than him, but it still showing sexual attraction. But seeing her arm in the cow seems to freak him out. But what do we now know that will take us through the rest of the movie? Is he afraid of animals or excrement or is he just a city rube? How can he have fought so many political wars and still be shy around the kind of animal handling he has seen at a hundred state fairs with candidates? Will he still be attracted to The Girl? Why does the 69-year-old military guy have a 33-year-old daughter and what does that mean about him and how he feels about a 57-year-old eyeballing his daughter? And by the way, one possible love interest in the film is 41… how does that all fit?

And it isn’t this one gag that threw me off. How does a guy who is so prepared and professional… he is the guy who knows things… show up in a town and completely miss everything that is right in front of him. No wi-fi at the hotel. HA! He landed in town not knowing that there are places in America without easy wi-fi? Seriously?

Roger Ebert used to talk about how mediocre/bad horror movies needed characters to do stupid things to keep the threat alive. Likewise here. Characters have to do things that just don’t make a lot of sense in the effort to make them funny.

Genius filmmakers can make things I would never imagine work, so take this with a grain of salt. But the two ways to go, normally, with a character who is a fish out of water is to either make that character adept at overcoming problems or completely unable to overcome problems. The gray in between those things may be realistic, but it tends not to be cinematic… certainly not Capraesque.

But the real trouble comes when the audience doesn’t get a sense that the lead character is either in control or wildly out of control. In Irresistible, it often feels like Carell is just grinding it out. And when the moments come where Stewart is going to make a commitment one way or the other, he tends to punt. Or to reverse it the next morning. So as an audience, you are never fully comfortable committing to any idea.

Stewart finally gets decisive in the third act, as I have hinted repeatedly. But by then, you don’t trust the story. You don’t much care about the characters, whether because they keep flipping or because Stewart has hidden their realities to keep the surprises surprising. And the conceptual switch is a slap in the face… much in the style of some very great films. But this feels (almost) unforgivable when it doesn’t work like a perfect Rube Goldberg device.

Which brings me back to the director. He needed someone who is a master at complicated farce storytelling. Almost no one in this era does it well. And I would blame the producers in most cases, but the excellent producers of this film are the kind of producers who support the filmmaker’s vision, first and last. In this case, too much.

I don’t hate Irresistible. But I wanted to love it. And I tried to love it. I tried and tried and tried. I laughed out loud at jokes, realizing I was overdoing it in my very own living room. I wanted to go there with a guy who I so admire and love hearing.

Please. Next time. Write a script then find a great director to work with.

There is nothing more frustrating to me than a film that could have been everything and comes up short. One of Stephen Frears’ few missteps as a director, Hero, comes very much to mind. It too was a spin on Capra. I loved Dustin Hoffman as the truly angry variation on Gary Cooper. Geena Davis was perfect for her role. Andy Garcia was right for the real Gary Cooper guy. But it was all just a step too clever and cynical to take from an anti-Capra movie to a Capra movie. Back in 1992, when I first saw the film, I thought that it was something about Frears being British and not understanding Americana. But that thought faded over time. Frears understands people. But the script had just one too many tricks, trying to make Capra modern, but losing the emotional simplicity that is so key to Capra’s best films.

Anyway… I will still look forward to Jon Stewart’s next film. I will just hope that he finds a directing partner who he trusts and can share a project with fully. Or that he proves me wrong.

47 Responses to “Review: Irresistible”

  1. movieman says:

    Tend to agree w/ most of this although I liked Stewart’s first film as a director (“Rosewater.”)
    I also wanted to love this, but the most I could muster was a benevolent-smile-bordering-on-shrug.
    I liked Carell’s performance more than you, however. Actually thought it was his best “screen” work in quite some time.
    And Mackenzie Davis is always a delight: her bemused response to Carell’s half-hearted romantic overture was priceless.

  2. Bradley Laing says:

    Mr. Poland, at lunch today MSNBC had a lot news stories about COVID 19 cases rising. Is the summer movie season dependent on the COVID 19 cases outside of New York City and Los Angeles going down? Or is it dependent on those two cities movie houses being open?

  3. Hcat says:

    Love that you call out Oz’s featherlight approach to comedy. I miss his ability to build a comedy that has people acting outrageously but being able to have the actors sell it as perfectly reasonable response to what had happened previously.

    And agree with Hero, great cast, fun premise, but the flow never gained speed. It just moved in second gear the whole time. I would like to throw out Welcome to Mooseport (which seems like a cousin to Irresistible) as similarly having a stellar cast but didn’t know if it was a sitcom or a satire and landed as neither.

  4. Bradley Laing says:

    By Rebecca Rubin
    Warner Bros. has again pushed back the release date for Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet.” It’s the second delay for the highly anticipated tentpole, which has been primed to reignite moviegoing after lengthy cinema closures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    The movie, which cost $200 million, was initially slated to arrive in theaters on July 17, but was later postponed until July 31. Now, it will be released on Aug. 12.

    “Warner Bros. is committed to bringing ‘Tenet’ to audiences in theaters, on the big screen, when exhibitors are ready and public health officials say it’s time,” a Warner Bros. spokesperson said in a statement. “In this moment what we need to be is flexible, and we are not treating this as a traditional movie release. We are choosing to open the movie mid-week to allow audiences to discover the film in their own time, and we plan to play longer, over an extended play period far beyond the norm, to develop a very different yet successful release strategy.”

    The studio has also delayed the rerelease of Nolan’s sci-fi blockbuster “Inception,” in honor of its 10th anniversary, to July 31.

    .

    For now, Disney’s “Mulan” remake is expected to be the first potential blockbuster to open since theaters closed in March. The $200 million-budgeted live-action adaptation is scheduled to debut on July 24. But many industry experts speculate that date could be moved back again. On Wednesday, Disney amended plans to reopen Disneyland, which was set for July 17, as COVID-19 cases continue to escalate in California. Shanghai Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland Park recently reopened, and Walt Disney World in Florida is still on track to resume business on July 11.

  5. Bradley Laing says:

    —Keep your e-mails, written letters, text messages and answering machine messages from this summer. You will need them for your memoirs about the box office disaster that was the Summer of 2020.

  6. Bradley Laing says:

    —Also, keep your “to voice mail” messages and have a formal portrait done in a studio that uses glass plate negatives, ones that will last until you are ready to publish your book.

  7. Bob Burns says:

    Christopher Nolan can show his film in English theaters all he wants., provided they indulge his ego.

  8. amblinman says:

    I had no idea they were rereleasing Inception because it’s been ten years since we all pretended Chris Nolan is better than a superhero version of “Heat”.

  9. Bob Burns says:

    There are still no film ads anywhere on the film blogs I follow. I wonder if the studios are waiting to see if they can get a liability shield out of congress.

    They, the studios, must be looking at their liability for running ads that attract children to places they know are dangerous. Maybe they also care about killing people. Remember that the Joe Camel ads ended up costing the tobacco companies many hundreds of billions of dollars. At the heart of the tobacco cases was the fact that the cigarette companies knew their product was deadly, but marketed cigarettes to children anyway. And the cigarettes carried a warning from the surgeon general.

    All of the profits of every Christopher Nolan film together, many times over, will not cover the liability that Warner will incur if they are tagged with causing hundreds, or thousands, of deaths.

  10. movieman says:

    Now “Mulan” has moved.
    Again.
    Next stop Disney Plus?

    Mark Harris said it best when he opined on Twitter that there’s a better chance of Lindsey Graham coming out this summer than “Tenet.”

  11. Ray Pride says:

    $200-million-plus movies that are good seem likely to season on the shelf a while longer.

    It’s terrifying that the wretched Artemis Fowl would have had a theatrical release

  12. Ray Pride says:

    Even W#L?s has been stripped bare.

  13. Rams says:

    That’s right, put Mulan on D+. Put everything on streaming. The end of cinema. All singing! All dancing! All television!

  14. movieman says:

    Speaking of “all singing! all dancing! all television!,” that Eurovision Netflix movie w/ Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams is an unexpected delight.
    I’m really puzzled by the largely dismissive reviews.
    I think it’s David Dobkin’s best movie (confession: I always thought “Wedding Crashers” was a tad overrated), and compares favorably with Ferrell’s “Talladega Nights” and “Anchorman” (the first one).
    Yeah, it’s long (121 minutes) for a comedy (ike pretty much everything on Netflix), but I was never bored–and the credits are 10 minutes long, so there’s that.
    I never knew McAdams could sing; she’s really good, too.
    And it was the first time I liked Dan Stevens since “Downton Abbey.”

  15. Christian says:

    Hey, is there a separate thread where everyone shared their reactions to DA 5 BLOODS? Because I watched it last night and was blown away – another Spike Lee masterpiece.

    I’ll poke around some more.

  16. Rams says:

    The audience score for “Da 5 Bloods” is 54 on Rotten Tomatoes. The general Joe Popcorn crowd wasn’t exactly “blown away”.
    The critics’ score was 92. The distance between the two is interesting to say the least.

  17. amblinman says:

    “Rams says:
    June 27, 2020 at 5:19 pm
    That’s right, put Mulan on D+. Put everything on streaming. The end of cinema. All singing! All dancing! All television“

    I don’t understand this response. I don’t think anyone is rooting for theaters to go away. But it’s pretty clear they’re not opening for quite a while (summer is gone. Fall is next, then we are into 2021). As a consumer, you bet your ass I”d rather see Mulan on streaming now than “TBD”. I’d rather see it in a movie theater, but that’s not on the table as of now.

    So yeah, bring back movie theaters once its safe and until then I’m all good with streaming all the things if the studios decide that’s how they bridge the gap.

    Isn’t the point to see the art or did we all sign up to be movie dorks because we love overpaying for shitty popcorn?

  18. YancySkancy says:

    The critical and audience disparity in reaction to Da 5 Bloods is indeed “interesting,” as Rams says. I really enjoyed it, and it seemed to me to have enough action, vigor and timeliness to it to strike a chord at this particular time in history. I don’t half wonder if the anti-BLM crowd is deliberately creating accounts to down-vote it, the way a bunch of butthurt Ghostbusters fanboys supposedly did with the all-women reboot. On the other hand, some friends whose opinion I respect didn’t care for it at all, so there’s that. I hope Delroy Lindo at least gets remembered for it and gets a big push for Best Actor of 2020 (or 2020-21, or however they end up configuring the eligibility period).

  19. Rams says:

    No one ever forced you to pay for “shitty” popcorn. Oh, I’m sure Netflix is rooting for cinemas to go away. That’s quite clear. Some anonymous person reported on a recent permanent closure of a theatre due to mainly a lease expiring along with the virus.
    His last comment was “there is no cinema without movie theatres”. That is my battle cry. And if you don’t like it, TOUGH!!!

  20. Dr Wally Rises says:

    I adored Da 5 Bloods. Lee is a warmer and funnier filmmaker than he’s given credit for, and, surprisingly, this ends up being a stirring paean to familial bonds and a hymn to fatherhood.

    And a second viewing shows that nearly everything that happens in the second half is foreshadowed in the first.

  21. Amblinman says:

    “Rams says: June 29, 2020 at 10:54 am
    No one ever forced you to pay for “shitty” popcorn. Oh, I’m sure Netflix is rooting for cinemas to go away. That’s quite clear. Some anonymous person reported on a recent permanent closure of a theater due to mainly a lease expiring along with the virus. His last comment was “there is no cinema without movie theatres”. That is my battle cry. And if you don’t like it, TOUGH!!!“

    Oh… okay. Good talk.

  22. Stella's Boy says:

    Rams is a bit of a troll. Not sure if it is a bit or not but they frequently rant about people wanting all cinemas to close. And their Netflix hatred runs deep. Bit of a nuisance that one.

    Watched Da 5 Bloods last night. In some ways it is exceptional and among the best work Lee has ever done. Angry and exhilarating and poignant and powerful. There is some bravura filmmaking on hand and plenty of reminders of what a unique, amazingly talented director Lee is. The cast is incredible and it is joyous to see Delroy Lindo get to shine in a great part. For the most part I am a big fan of it. But it is also highly problematic, and this recent piece in the NY Times from a Vietnamese author echoes many things I’ve seen Asian-Americans write about the movie: “the Vietnamese appear as the tour guide, the sidekick, the “whore,” the mixed-race child, the beggar and the faceless enemy, all of whom play to American desires and fears” and “as I watched the obligatory scene of Vietnamese soldiers getting shot and killed for the thousandth time, and as I felt the same hurt I did in watching “Platoon” and “Rambo” and “Full Metal Jacket,” I thought: Does it make any difference if politically conscious Black men kill us?” It’s a compelling piece. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/24/movies/da-5-bloods-vietnam.html

  23. Rams says:

    I will not lower myself to be a name caller. So if that is your game, fine. Netflix is anti-movie theatre. Maybe not in my lifetime, but their zero sum business model will someday implode. They already are succumbing to soft core porn to shore up their numbers. Their top ten list everyday is extremely entertaining. “Baby Mama”?!? The subscribers will soon realize that all of the Disney stuff has been jettisoned. They judge something as a view if you’ve watched two minutes of it. If speaking the truth is a nuisance, so be it.

  24. Stella's Boy says:

    Very big of you. But you will accuse people, with zero evidence, of hoping for the complete and total death of movie theaters. And your hatred of Netflix is a little bizarre and extreme. Trust me, we all get it. You don’t like them. Move on please.

  25. amblinman says:

    RAMS: I couldn’t think of what to get my mom in law for her bday next week, so with your help I purchased a year of netflix for her – and signed your name. She will have no idea, but I’ll hug her and recommend Ozark season 3. And then we’ll have birthday cake.

    Thanks!

  26. Rams says:

    Oh, but you should have bought her a year of Peacock. My God, it’s ET Forever!! Oh, and D+ has Hamilton the Great! And there’s a new Melissa McCarthy “movie” coming to HBO Max. Oh, by the way Netflix is capitalized. The room where it happened. L obviously jangled somebody’s last nerve. Bravo Brando’s Godfather!!! Happy Birthday!!!

  27. leahnz says:

    ‘da 5 bloods’ is a mixed bag — some of it’s outstanding and the perfs are generally good but it’s uneven and in parts poorly written and muddled, ham-fisted, cliche and doesn’t ring true in spite of some good acting and direction, makes me wonder about the four credited writers and exactly what the story is there (re: stella’s comment, perhaps if you’re making a movie with a major vietnam theme/setting and characters, perhaps have a vietnamese writer on the team to add complexity and stave off some of the worst impulses/cliches on full display in this piece?)

    “this ends up being a stirring paean to familial bonds and a hymn to fatherhood”
    really, a hymn to fatherhood? one of the nicest bits is ——- SPOILERS ———
    the shot of i think it’s otis and his daughter at the end, but paul is a dreadful domineering abusive pycho to his lovely son and i found the pat ending with the letter a cheap, convenient narrative fix that doesn’t ring true after magat’s true colours shine thru again and again. if this is seen as some ode to fatherhood i guess i’m afraid to see what y’all relationships with yer pops is like, i found it dreadfully painful

  28. Dr Wally Rises says:

    Leah, my relationship with my Dad is wonderful and he’s my hero,, thank you so.much for bringing my family into a movie blog to offer a nose-in-the-air rebuke to a member of this community who has the temerity to see a movie in a different light than yourself, and making things personal.

    I’d say that I’ll pass your comments on to him but to be honest, but that would involve caring and taking personal affront. That may be your style, but not mine.

  29. movieman says:

    I greatly enjoyed “Hamilton,” and strongly advise anyone who doesn’t have Disney Plus to sign up for a free trial just to watch it. Truth be told, it’s neither fish nor fowl: not a “movie,” but a digital record of two live performances (seamlessly spliced together). In that respect, it’s not appreciably different than any number of “videotaped for posterity” stage musicals you can find on PBS’ “Great Performances” series. What distinguishes it, of course, is that it’s f***ing “HAMILTON.” The score/book are fantastic, as are the performances by the original Broadway cast.
    Since we may never see a cinematic translation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s theatrical juggernaut–and may never get the chance to see it live onstage again–don’t look this particular gift horse in the mouth.

    Also very much worth seeing this weekend is “The Outpost” which is arguably Rod Lurie’s strongest film to date (certainly his best since “The Contender” two decades ago). I thought it compared favorably to similar-ish war flicks like “Black Hawk Down” and “Hamburger Hill,” and found it impressively immersive–even though I had to watch on my laptop screen.
    One of the most pleasant surprises was Scott Eastwood who gives his first genuinely good performance. (Clint’s boy proves that he can actually headline a film: who knew?)
    It also marks the first time I’ve liked Caleb Landry Jones–an actor I usually find irritatingly mannered–since John Boorman’s “Queen and Country.”

    Good stuff!

  30. Rams says:

    I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the Disney free trials are supposedly history. With all of the “free” stuff, how do these streamers make their money anyhow? Plus the on and off cancelling.

    “…may never get a chance to see it live on stage again…” My, haven’t we slammed the door shut on our panic rooms for good. I think things aren’t looking particularly good today, but the great Vivien Leigh once said, “tomorrow is another day”.

    I actually saw “Hamburger Hill” in the day, and I’m sorry to say I remember it not being “all that”. But, I always respect everyone’s opinion.

    And the sun will come out tomorrow. It’s only a day away. Haven’t the movies or Broadway taught you anything?

  31. Christian says:

    A friend on Twitter just posted his Best of the Year So Far. I replied with a few choices of my own, but only now, several minutes later, did it occur to me that today’s July 1, and the year is exactly halfway over. A good time for a Best of the Year So Far post.

    Who wants to play along?

    I’m sure I’m not the only one here who’s seen far fewer new releases than usual this year; only seven titles in my case. Here they all are, ranked: theatrical new releases and streaming. Doesn’t mean I liked all of them. I’m just trying to fill out the list.

    1. Da 5 Bloods
    2. Beanpole
    3. Young Ahmed
    4. The Whistlers
    5. The Vast of Night
    6. The Trip to Greece
    7. Color Out of Space

  32. leahnz says:

    lol, dr wally maybe you could address the point of how ‘5 bloods’ is a hymn to fatherhood rather than extrapolate some horrendous personal affront from my comment about how one can view the dreadfully abusive depiction of fatherhood in 5 bloods as a hymn

    (‘mr jones’ best film of the year so far)

  33. Dr Wally Rises says:

    As a general principle, it’s never a good idea to engage with anyone who uses the acronym ‘lol’ online in the course of a debate,, especially when the topic of conversation isn’t even remotely humorous.. It’s usually a dead giveaway that they are doing the exact opposite of laughing out loud.

    Binging my family and personal relationships into a movie blog was unpleasant and unwarranted of you. And doubling down shows your lack of grace and empathy.

    And there I think we’d best leave it.

  34. leahnz says:

    er, dr wally, to clarify:
    i don’t know you or your pops or your family or a single thing about you, you are words on a page and my comment re a hypothetical relationship with your dad was just that, hypothetical – not bringing your ACTUAL family and dad and ‘personal relationships’ into anything, this is patently ridiculous and you grossly misunderstood. i’ll say ‘my bad’ that you took it that way – I don’t talk about anyone’s family here, ever (unless someone instigates a personal post about something IRL)
    also ftr: i don’t give a sparrows fart if you care to “engage” with me — and there was no “debate”, debate requires people responding to points raised, which you did not/have not, focused instead on my “nose-in-the-air rebuke”; fascinating wording btw, so graceful and empathetic a description of my opinion of a movie, a personal nose-in-the-air rebuke of you…
    i think you’ll find i use ‘lol’ pretty much never, and did so in this instance because i actually laughed at your reply given it was so unexpected in the taking the thing about you pops so LITERALLY – and then the passing my comment onto your dad thing, that’s just super weird, who says/does that. slightly uncomfortable laughter. SULOL

  35. movieman says:

    I’ll play along, Christian.
    I usually loathe those midway-through-the-year “best” lists, but 2020 ain’t anyone’s idea of an average year, is it?

    These are my absolute favorites so far, ranked according to their “release” dates:

    The Gentlemen
    What Did Jack Do?
    Beanpole
    Martin Eden
    Sorry We Missed You (possibly my #1 pick overall–and definitely Ken Loach’s best since “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” maybe even “Sweet Sixteen”)
    The Traitor
    True History of the Kelly Gang
    Crip Camp
    Beastie Boys Story
    The King of Staten Island
    Da 5 Bloods
    Wasp Network

    P.S.= I like your choices, too: (esp. “Young Ahmed,” “The Whistlers” and “The Vast of Night,” all of which are solid runner’s-up for me).

  36. Bob Burns says:

    A S Hamrah makes a good point. The videos of George Floyd and the BLM protesters are the transcendent best cinema of the year.

    In comparison, they make the upcoming film about a fat cat white director, by a fat cat white director fatuous.

  37. Bob Burns says:

    Someone kicked Hamilton out of the Oscars. I wonder which publicist engineered this? I thought it deserved consideration for a cinematography nom, for making a filmed play, or in the future operas, cinematic. Did someone guess the number of jellybeans in a jar wrong?

    The Academy takes another step toward the popularity of the National Book Awards. They are going to define themselves down to nothing much more than a club championship, or a celebrity pro-am.

  38. Glamourboy says:

    With Hamilton out of the way, I believe this makes TROLLS WORLD TOUR as the Oscar front runner.

  39. Rams says:

    “Hamilton” won its awards. Tonys, Pulitzer Prize et al. For instance, “Lawrence of Arabia” deserved its cinematography awards because it was a MOVIE. With the Oscars welcoming streaming into its arms, many people have already predicted the ratings will be in the toilet. I really think they should just cancel the whole thing next year.

    I also saw Universal recently pushing the dvd and Blu-ray of “Trolls World Tour”. Are you f**king kidding me?

  40. Glamourboy says:

    I’ve heard the Blu-ray of Trolls World Tour is the shit. Apparently, the director’s commentary, the cast interviews, the deleted scenes and the special feature, “Journey of the Trolls,” narrated by Scorsese, is out of this world.

  41. YancySkancy says:

    Haven’t watched Hamilton yet; greatly looking forward to it. But I did wonder how fair it was for it to be up for Oscars. There’s a bit of a precedent, with James Whitmore’s Give ‘Em Hell, Harry in 1975 and, to some extent at least, Olivier’s Othello in 1965 (neither of these seen by me either). I’ll be interested to see the extent to which Hamilton is reconceived for cinema, especially performance-wise. Do the actors modulate their performances for the camera or simply recreate their stage work? I know there are close-ups and camera moves, which might be enough for me to think it qualifies enough as a movie to get Oscar consideration. Thoughts?

  42. Rams says:

    To be fair, “Othello” was filmed with modified sets, and it wasn’t an established production in a broadway or west end theater. “Hamilton” was filmed in the Richard Rodgers Theatre with the original cast and set. I’m sure there were adjustments made for the sound and close ups et al. I’m afraid I’m becoming an island in a stream these days. I’m not so sure AMPAS knows what a movie is these days. Can you imagine what “The Sound of Music” would look like if it was an “original” on a streamer today? Or how about “2001”? It bears repeating” “We had faces then, it’s the pictures that got small.”

  43. Bob Burns says:

    the argument I would make is that Hamilton’s cinematography advances the theater-film genre. One could make a similar, probably better argument about comedic cinematography…. that it should be looked at alongside, as an equal, to actor-driven drama cinematography. But, in most things, the Academy, and the awards community generally, restrict their criteria to that which one uses to judge the genre of actor-driven drama. rosebud fixation.

  44. YancySkancy says:

    Bob: I’ve long thought that the Academy’s cinematography branch favors self-consciously “beautiful” shots and neat fx over the less flashy virtues of smaller films that have great but unobtrusive camera blocking and moves. Many such smaller films are indeed comedies. To be fair though, lots of comedy filmmakers favor rather bland, even lighting, as if anything too beautiful will distract from the humor. But a lot of it is simply underappreciated. I watched a few scenes from Chaplin’s Modern Time that someone posted in a Facebook forum the other day, about 10 minutes of highlights. The rap on Chaplin is that his films aren’t visually inventive, that he mostly just points the camera at himself and dazzles with his performance and physical dexterity. But I was struck by how the camera was always in just the right place for maximum effect, and the shots were never bland. The camera moved with Charlie (the great skating sequence, for instance), and everything looked great without calling attention to itself or being too bland, but no Chaplin movie ever got a Cinematography nomination. Still, back in those days when there were separate categories for B&W and color (up through 1966, IIRC), comedies and intimate dramas that lacked flashy visuals had a better chance at getting nominated, I think.

  45. Bob Burns says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful response, Yancy. I don’t have any real problems with the choices the Academy has made with cinematography for some time. That branch has been better than most about avoiding awards for the most popular film of the moment. I would argue that awarding cinematography that best serves the story should lead to more variety of genre, and would be more interesting…. Lesnie vs Deakins, for example. Apples vs oranges.

  46. YancySkancy says:

    Bob: It’s definitely true that the Cinematography branch has gotten better over the years with their choices. It’s one of the few categories that usually offers at least one pleasant surprise every year when nominations are announced.

  47. Bob Burns says:

    It’s pretty clear that we aren’t gonna have theatrical this year. Broadway canceled the year and NY is better at fighting the virus than the rest of the country. At this point it’s not at all certain that they will be able to open Dolby. If they do host a show, I suggest that they do an unawarded Oscars…. films from the past that did not receive awards. We are all watching films from the past, so…..

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