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Oscars 2012–Best Director

05 Feb

When we started trianglemovietalk, one of our goals was to try to capture the fun we have, and the fun everyone who loves movies has, just talking about film. And so here is the first of what will be our ongoing attempt to present trianglemovietalk in the purest form–talking. So, settle in with a hot chocolate and an old school copy of Movieline magazine, and enjoy the chat.

Doug: OK, the directing category…Break it down for me.

Sarah: For me, the way to break it down is to treat it like a multiple choice question and start to eliminate the obviously inferior choices. And, for me, the two obviously inferior choices are Midnight in Paris and The Tree of Life. These are the two that should not win. I’m kicking out the trash first.

Doug: I completely disagree with you about The Tree of Life and completely agree that Midnight in Paris should be off the list.

Sarah: Then what would you put in its place?

Doug: I don’t know, it just seems like the Academy sort of settled this year and didn’t go for any risky movies at all. It all seems safe and, let’s face it, the overall theme is nostalgia, which can be fun, but it’s all too comfy.

Sarah: Well, except The Descendants.

Doug: OK, but even The Descendants seems a safe choice. I like Alexander Payne as a director and The Descendants is an OK film. We can talk about this when we discuss the Best Picture category, but if the Academy felt compelled to put a film about dealing with a loved one’s death on the docket, they chose the wrong film. They should have gone with Beginners instead, which was way more perceptive and real in how dealing with a family member dying can affect you. Watching  Beginners makes The Descendants almost feel like a copout and dodge of the whole subject. Having said that, this might be an unfair comparison, but Alexander Payne seems to be the safe slice of life go to guy. When I compare him to say, a Wes Anderson, he just kind of pales.  Alexander Payne seems like the Kmart of the slice of life genre. Maybe that’s a little harsh…

Sarah (laughing): How about at least Target?

Doug: Yeah, that’s good. I’ll give him Target. Because I like Alexander Payne alright. I don’t dislike his stuff.  And I like Target. I get things at Target. I’m comfortable going to Target. But I’m not looking to Target to really inspire me.

Sarah: I think we’re saying Alexander Payne is slightly better than mediocre. When I look at The Descendants I can sort of say, OK, I can see it being nominated for some of the other categories. George Clooney, really nice job, some nice performances from some of the other actors. But when I look at Best Director, I’m normally looking for a few things. One of them, and here even though I ultimately didn’t like The Tree of Life, I have to give it this, is I look for something visionary on some level. I’m also looking for the director to get good performances out of the maximum number of actors in the film. And I feel like some of the performances in The Descendants didn’t really hold up. We got a great performance out of George Clooney, but I’m not sure I saw a whole lot of greatness out of too many other actors in the movie. And with only one great performance,  I start to wonder how much the director really had to do with it.   Maybe Clooney just delivered on his own.

Doug: I’m listening to you talk, and now I really know I can’t go with Alexander Payne for Best Director. Because I would say that on an individual level the performances from the main characters that really carried the film were actually quite good. But, in the end, the movie still didn’t speak to me on any real level.  It barely even seemed authentic.

Sarah: Well, yeah, and I know we kind of disagreed about that because I thought there was a theme there that spoke to me. Which is, whenever people are in an overwhelmingly bad situation, they will look to any little thing to avoid being overwhelmed. So, Clooney’s character focuses for three days on tracking down the guy his wife had the affair with to avoid having to truly deal with his wife dying. But, I agree that there was nothing epic about the movie, or visionary.

Doug: Again, OK. I wasn’t upset that I saw the movie. And we’ll talk about this in a Best Picture discussion, but Beginners was a far more insightful and poignant way to look at dealing with a loved  one’s death.

Sarah: I’d agree with you on Beginners.  I think when we get to the best actor category we’ll really have something to talk about there.  For now, I’ll just say that you know I don’t cry at movies, but Beginners almost elicited a tear from even me. I will say that The Descendants is one of the first times I saw a George Clooney performance and thought it wasn’t just George Clooney playing himself in that situation.  Like, when I saw Ides of March. Look, there’s George Clooney running for office. This seemed like a fuller performance.

Doug: But I would add one thing I really like about Clooney is that he seems spot on in choosing his roles. Maybe one aspect of delivering really good performances is recognizing up front the roles you are capable of delivering a great performance in. Clooney might be the best at that right now. I don’t think that’s a minor thing in talking about actors. Just like with people discussing Malick’s direction in The Tree of Life. It seems there are some reviewers saying, “It was beautiful visually, but…”.  As if a film being that incredibly beautifully shot is a minor thing. Film is, if nothing else, visual.

Sarah: I know we’re headed for a showdown over Tree of Life before the month is out and that will probably be a whole separate blog so I want to get out of the way why Midnight in Paris, not only shouldn’t win for directing, but shouldn’t even be on the list of nominees. And that is that it is a trite little film. At least Tree of Life had a vision. Midnight in Paris had none. It took an hour and a half to get to the grass is always greener.

Doug: Absolutely. It was a complete lark for Woody Allen.

Sarah: An excuse for him to throw some literary and art icons together, film in Paris. It’s going to look awesome, right? How can I get F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway in Paris? I’ll write a little film around that. And there’s some fun in that, but just a little romp through Paris in the 20s.

Doug: Definitely fun, and I have a lot of fun going on Youtube to get my nostalgia and watch, say, old reruns of Three’s Company. They’re very fun. But they’re not getting nominated for Academy Awards.

Sarah: Plus, I don’t think Woody got a good performance out of any of the main actors. They were all just sort of tepid. So, you end up with kind of light hearted, mediocre fare.

Doug: The main performances were pretty bad. I’m just going to say it. If anything, the performances by the leads were actually distracting to the vignettes in some places. I would find myself thinking, “Cool, there’s Dali, who is he going to be talking to?” Then Owen Wilson would start jabbering and I wish Woody would have just shut him up. So, yeah, Midnight in Paris, out for Best Director. How about The Artist? Another nostalgic movie in a year of nostalgia.

Sarah: But you’re talking about a lot of the movies being safe. A silent picture in this day and age? I wouldn’t call that safe. To go silent, and black and white. You could say kind of risky. But then again, is that basically why it has been so popular, more just the novelty of it?

Doug: That’s the kicker. I saw a lot of good movies this year, a lot of them. But where are the classics? I’m having a whole lot of fun sitting in The Artist, but 15 years from now, is this a movie where I am looking at it as a classic? Maybe we’re just looking back and saying about The Artist, “That was smart.” There’s a lot to be said for smart. I’m not criticizing it. But…

Sarah: To go back to a director getting performances out of actors, that’s one thing I loved about The Artist. This is a hard movie to get great performances, I would think. Great performances that are believable. It’s a silent movie. You’ve got the movie within a movie thing. To get it just right the way Hazanavicius does. It could have gotten campy. But it really rises above that.

Doug: Agreed. It uses camp, but sparingly and in the best ways possible. We’ll talk about this, too, when we talk about the acting categories, but Berenice Bejo for Best Supporting Actress? This might be the one thing that actually annoyed me this year. How is this not a Best Lead Actress nomination? This is so clearly a lead role. You’re pushing me toward The Artist here. The Artist probably had my favorite single scene from a movie this year. The staircase scene really had it all. Everything about it, the visuals were a perfect throwback to the silent era. The hustle and bustle of the studio. He was coming down the stairs, she was going up the stairs. That really sort of summed up almost everything that was fun about The Artist.

Sarah: A very cool looking scene.  It was a great scene.

Doug: We’re nitpicking a lot, but this really isn’t the greatest year in the directing category. I know we have a big disagreement about The Tree of Life. To me, hands down, that should win for directing. This is the only directing job that potentially sticks out as a classic. It says something incredibly sincere and moving in a sarcastic era. But I’ll lay off that because I know we disagree on it, and it’s probably not going to win. If I have to stipulate that, are we thinking we’re coming down to Scorsese for Hugo and Hazavanicius for The Artist?

Sarah: I think so.

Doug: It would be a pretty slick trick out of Scorsese to win another Oscar, and do it after all these years from, basically, a kid’s movie.

Sarah: It would be. The thing I liked about Hugo is that it was almost like two separate films. The first half of the movie was entirely this great kids’ buddy pick, right? And then all of a sudden at the end, it’s still going to be fun for kids, but it turns into an adult drama.

Doug: I have to confess that Hugo is the only nominated film in the directing category that I haven’t seen all the way through yet. So, I have to ask whether you’re saying the second half of Hugo becomes an actual adult drama, or just has elements of adult drama, like almost all “kid’s movies” do now. I think even a lot of the straight animated movies are made almost as much for adults as kids anymore.

Sarah: It’s still a kid’s movie. It’s still a family friendly movie. It’s basically about this kid finding his place. That’s going to be interesting for kids. And it stays fun throughout. Definitely visually interesting. It’s still basically an adventure. But towards the end, this kid is basically rescuing the adults. But Georges Melies, at the same time, has to come to terms with abandoning what he loved and all that lost time. So there’s an emotional drama element that a kid could bypass. And if that had been the whole film, we wouldn’t be talking about it as a kid’s film. So, you get two films, in a way, pushed together. But done nicely, not disjointed, just different levels.

Doug: And it’s undeniable that the visual world that Scorsese created for Hugo is incredible. But going to your criteria of deciding if the director got great performances out of the actors, for me it’s a lot harder in a movie like Hugo to get a feel for that as opposed to, say, The Descendants. In a world as fantastical as Hugo, does the fun of the characters come more from the source material?

Sarah: And you have to wonder whether these performances really are all that good, frankly. Ben Kingsley’s character has a little depth to him, but these are characters that aren’t  all that fleshed out, frankly.

Doug: I think it might be easy to underestimate how tough it can be to get good, believable performances in more of a kid’s movie.

Sarah: True. Especially out of the kids. Hugo himself was a three dimensional character, but a lot of the other characters were more sketches. So, it’s hard to say whether Scorsese gets good performances or not. But it’s not like Midnight in Paris, where some of the main performances actually detracted from the fun of the movie.

Doug: I guess sometimes it can be an advantage or a disadvantage to know directors’ processes in getting a performance out of actors. But in The Tree of Life, if your requirement is going to be that a director has to “coax” a better performance out of actors, maybe you would say that did not happen. Malick rolls film all day and the actors go. As Brad Pitt tells it, you have some directors that meticulously tell you, stand here, do that, follow this direction. But Pitt says Malick doesn’t do that. Malick is like a butterfly collector. He stands there with his net and waits until he sees the most beautiful butterfly go by, and he captures it. Which to me, is just as much a skill for a director as making sure you get the performance up front. And there’s a lot that goes into capturing the right stuff from all that shooting. Editing, etc., some of the technical sides of things.

Sarah: Editing, for me, is a big problem in films a lot of the time. Even The Artist, for example. I was sitting watching it, and really enjoying myself. But then there was that myopic section at the end , where he was just sitting there  pitying himself for close to half an hour. And you couldn’t have edited five or so minutes out of that?

Doug: Exactly, take 15 or so minutes out and now we are talking a great movie instead of very good. And even not just the length of that segment. The Artist isn’t a complete lark, there’s certainly some depth to it. But overall, it’s a pretty jaunty movie and all of a sudden you have a guy with a gun in his mouth.

Sarah (laughing): Spoilers, but it’s a pacing thing.

Doug: It just wasn’t of a piece with the rest of the film. That section of the movie goes by, and then you’re sort of back into the movie you were watching the whole time.

Sarah: Right. It was disjointed and didn’t flow  there. I really didn’t have that problem with the editing in the other directing nominated movies. Although The Tree of Life, they could have cut out 2 hours and I would have been fine with it.

Doug (laughing): I think you would have been happy to see the evolution of earth scenes as a 20 minute documentary on the Discovery channel.

Sarah: Correct. And leave the whole rest of it out. I really felt like it wasted my time.

Doug: That really hurts, because I still think we’re talking about a very beautiful film that says something in a time where that isn’t happening a whole lot. I’m feeling like if you made me guess, I would be thinking that you would be leaning toward Scorsese for Hugo as Best Director.

Sarah: Hugo has a lot to be said for it. Visually it was a lot of fun. The performances fit and were good throughout.  Scoresese clearly had a vision and it was epic in a lot of ways. But part of me thinks that maybe it fits better as Best Picture. For me, it does come down to Scorsese and Hazanavicius for The Artist.

Doug: For me, it’s Malick for The Tree of Life.

Sarah: I know.

Doug: And I know we are so far apart on that one, that I feel like we didn’t discuss that as much. That’s what I think should win. But if you’re going to make me narrow it down to The Artist and Hugo as far as directing, I probably like The Artist a little better as a movie. But if we’re talking about achievement in directing, which we are, I probably have to go with Hugo. It seems like more of an achievement and step forward in directing. Martin can get his second Oscar.  And, so, are you going with Hugo?

Sarah: I think I would go with Scorsese for Hugo. There’s that pacing problem in The Artist. That could go more in the editing category, but it still speaks to the vision of the director, or should. Hugo felt like it was paced correctly, it fit together, it was fun, it was stimulating, it was uplifting, it had a great message. And it worked for kids and adults.

Doug: You’re talking about all the directing elements coming together. For me, in the directing category there can be certain aspects of the directing that stick out so far and above single elements of other films, that you can award the director for that. Which is part of why I think Malick should win for Tree of Life. It’s a truly original, singular piece of work. But if you don’t assign that to Tree of Life, as you don’t, you’re sort of left with a stack of good, solid movies and you just have to decide who did the best overall job. And while I don’t necessarily see any of the other directing nominated movies as all time classics, I could see someone saying the way Scorsese uses 3D is a big advance, or doing a black and white, silent movie in this day and age and pulling it off, is pretty edgy.

Sarah: Yeah, when you say that, I  think which ones of the nominated films here would you want to watch over and over again, I’m not sure there are any on the list that I would want to rush out and buy  for future viewing.

Doug (laughing): I’ve already watched The Tree of Life twice.

Sarah:  I could barely watch it once!

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