Oscar Chatter with Matt and Kristin: Best of Writing, Cinematography, and Art

Kristin: I’m still fighting off this unnerved frustration of seeing 50/50‘s Will Reiser being denied a nomination, but here’s what I think considering the nominees: It’s a tough call in this category, because most of the contenders are strong. I have not seen A Separation, so I cannot comment on Asghar Farhadi’s script, but I was very fond of the little Sundance film Margin Call that quietly slipped itself into the running. J. C. Chandor’s script is smart, well-thought out, and brought down to the level of those who don’t speak financial jargon. On the other hand, there’s Woody Allen’s writing for Midnight in Paris, which is witty and light-hearted, much like the film. I would sign off Kristen Wiig and Mumolo for Bridesmaids, although it’s neat to see the a comedy among the dramas in the writing department. Comedy rarely receives credit for how difficult it is to act, much less to write for actors. That leaves Michel Hazanvicius’s original screenplay for The Artist, which could also do something here. My guess is that Allen or Hazanvicius will win the trophy, although Allen certainly won’t be appearing at the ceremony as usual.

MattHow I wish I would have had the pleasure of seeing A Separation; it only recently arrived to a theater near Madison. My favorite for this category is Midnight in Paris; I love the way Allen took larger than life characters and brought them to life. As Gil met these famous artists of the past, I felt I was meeting them too. And who among us hasn’t met an annoying pseudo-intellectual like Paul? Allen writes great characters. I understand he had a lot of historical material to draw upon, but he wrote them in a way in which I understood some of them for the first time.

As far as The Artist is concerned, I felt this was a bit of an interesting nomination for a film that included such a small amount of dialogue. The screenplay is only forty-two pages long and contains mostly directorial notes. They say the screenplay should serve as the blueprint for a film; Hazanavicius’ script takes that approach quite literally. To me, the magic of The Artist lies in the visuals, the acting, the staging, and, quite ironically, the sound. The screenplay seems inconsequential.

Kristin: I’ve seen all of the nominated except for John Logan’s screenplay for Hugo. Although coming up with something wholly original means writers have to start from scratch, I consider the Best Adapted Screenplay category more difficult for two reasons: first, there is a far heavier competition in this category, because more films are based off books, comics, historical events, etc., today; second, there are grievances to deal with considering the author, family involved, and staying true to the original story while still making it workable for film format.

Having read most of Michael Lewis’s Moneyball, I hold a special appreciation for writers Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin as well as Stan Chervin for transforming a baseball statistics book into a an interesting sports story for sports fans and nonfans alike. I felt like parts of Ides of March were cliche, and its script not quite as smart as some of the other competition, such as The Descendants. I believe that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a triumph in converting from book to film at large, possibly could have been brought to an even higher level by making it more understandable for the masses.

MattFirst of all, The Ides of March seems to be a very strange choice for this category. While enjoyable, I didn’t find it anything out of the ordinary. Characters say their lines which move the plot along; in short, there is a lot of plot, but little story. As far as Hugo is concerned, I have not read the book, but I found the film to be a fabulous, mythic retelling of reality.

I have to agree with Kristin about Moneyball; it does take something special to make a movie about sport’s statistics exciting, especially when that sport is one as dull as baseball. (I probably just lost everyone [don’t judge]; I LOVE football.) Moneyball‘s script is a great example of the hard work it takes to bring a film to the screen. The writing of a film is no less a collaborative effort than the actually production of that film. With great characters and fantastic dialogue, Moneyball is my choice for this category.

Kristin: There isn’t a doubt in my mind that the most deserving of the nominated is Emmanuel Lubezki for his gorgeous and harrowing work in The Tree of Life.

Matt: It took cinematographer Wally Pfister four Oscar nominations before finally snatching the award for Inception. Emmanuel Lubezki is on his fifth nomination. Those previous nominations include such films as The New World and my personal favorite of his work, Children of Men. Lubezki’s floating camera in The Tree of Life gives a real immediacy and intimacy to the events we witness. The real and surreal are equally delivered with breathtaking beauty. Lubezki needs to win the award for this category.  

The Artist‘s cinematography does what it must do in order for the film to work, in that it emulates what a film of the late 1920s would look like. I appreciated the fact that it does not rely on editing to portray the information necessary to the scene. Guillaume Schiffman packs a lot into the frame, something film critic Jim Emerson explains in greater detail here.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is, without a doubt, beautifully shot. Jeff Cronenweth, like his father, is a good cinematographer. It is difficult, however, to judge how much of his work rests on his own talent and how much is due to frequent collaborator David Fincher. You know a Fincher picture by its visuals from the first shot onward, even though he has used several different DPs throughout his career. For a Fincher picture, the DP doesn’t seem to matter as long as he is good. As for Cronenweth, he shouldn’t despair; Roger Deakins has been nominated nine times without a single win.

Kristin: Each of the nominated films in this category had incredible sets. To pick just one and say that it’s been than the rest is proving difficult for me to do, but I will say that Midnight in Paris served as a favorite of mine in this category because the locations of where it was filmed made me feel like I got to take a trip to Paris with Owen Wilson. Every scene held some kind of beauty and intrigue, taking Wilson to places he read about in books or learned about in a class. My vote is for Midnight in Paris.

Matt: Midnight in Paris really immerses you in the world of 1920s Paris. Nothing about any of the sets felt contrived. The art direction sucked me into that world, and like Gil, I was pretty depressed when I had to leave that world and come back to the 21st century. In Hugo, I especially enjoyed the recreation of Melies’ sets for the film. The automoton was pretty fabulous as well. The Artist had an interesting challenge in that they had to recreate several 1920s film sets. I would be okay with Harry Potter getting some recognition in this category; however, I’d have to go with Kristin on this one.

******************************************************************************************************************

Matthew Roth is an aspiring filmmaker from the Madison, WI area. While his passion is narrative film, he currently shoots and edits promotional and event videos at Inframe. In his free time, Matt enjoys researching and discussing film over a cup of coffee or meeting up with fellow film junkies through Craigslist. Be sure to check out his most recent short film Memoria.

Advertisements

AEOS Review: Margin Call

The Oscar-nominated script for Margin Call is nothing short of deserving for the honor of being nominated in the Best Original Script category.

Rookie director J. C. Chandor, who also wrote the detailed screenplay, somehow manages to gather a high-talent cast to tell the story of Margin Call, Kevin Spacey heading them.

Now I’ll be the first to tell you that when it comes to the financial jargon, I’m as lost as they come. After viewing Margin Call, however, I realized that the heart of the film doesn’t lie in the language in which the business players speak, deal, and trade, but in how each employee on the chain deals with the current card dealt, a card in which Margin Call‘s case is ugly.

You already knows there’s a problem from the get-go when an all-too-familiar cast that might has well been from Up in the Air (2010) appears through the elevator doors bearing empty boxes, tapping employees shoulders and directing them to another room for a chat. Paul Bettany, who seems to thrive in whatever role he’s cast, warns younger employees Peter (Zachary Quinto) and Seth (Penn Badgely) not to watch the firing that is about to take place.

Eric Dale, played by the ever versatile Stanley Tucci, has just been let go from the company, and tries as he must to let others know there is a certain project he’s in the middle of that must be looked at, is ignored until Peter attempts a “thank you” speech before the elevator doors close on Dale.

The key turning point happens immediately after, when Dale hands Peter the flashdrive with the unfinished project and gives the warning, “Be careful,” as the elevator doors close perfectly in sync with Peter’s mixed look of confusion and curiosity.

Thus, a plot is born as Peter discovers the ending to the unfinished project, and makes a phone call that turns into one meeting after another until the CEO (Jeremy Irons) is present at an 2 a.m. executives meeting. Only one resolution seems probable, although Sam (Kevin Spacey) sees that one option as more dooming than necessary. There’s give and take as characters discuss, reflect, and react the remainder of the film.

There’s a lot of takeaway from Margin Call, and perhaps that’s why the screenplay resonated so well with Academy voters to nominate it. One theme lightly hammered in by Irons’s character is that of the physicality of the situation. In trading, they’re dealing with numbers, not tangible money. Yet when he regards money’s role, he calls it pictures on paper. There’s a whole lot of green passed around throughout the film, be it to trade or act as severance to “tie up the loose ends.” And then the other side to consider is that of the problem. As viewers, we don’t physically see the problem, but we hear about it, we understand it, and yet all we see is the actors viewing the problem on a computer screen, and then the domino effect as the problem reaches higher on the chain of command.

Margin Call‘s other high point comes from the story’s themes subtlety delivered through well-casted characters. Simon Baker is pitch perfect in his role, utilizing smarts, a pin-stripe suit, and a bit of professional slimyness similar to his role in The Devil Wears Prada (2006). Spacey, be it playing the hilarious and altogether psychotic boss in Horrible Bosses (2011), or playing the everyman deemed “soft” for not wanting to pull the plug in Margin Call, balances quite well the different emotions his character Sam is forced to meet with throughout the film. Jeremy Irons suited the role of the calculating, single-minded, rich CEO, while Penn Badgely bore the youthful presence on screen, who didn’t think much past how much money he or anyone else was making.

The majority of the film takes place in an upper floor of a New York City skyscraper. There are multiple shots of the city brightly lit at night, almost giving the city and the building a minor role in the film. My favorite scene is right near the end. The news has just been delivered: while most employees will be dumped, at least financial hope remains for those who successfully sell 93% of their holdings. The office is abuzz, and Paul Bettany’s voice stands out while the scenes of phone calls being made, the inside of the office, the color and life of the city serve as background. He’s fully composed, checking sellers off his list, convincing buyers to accept his offers.

One complaint I do hold is the B story regarding Sam’s dog. The analogy was present and meant to evoke a thoughtful response, but I felt like it wasn’t paid enough attention for us to draw more of a conclusion than that of Chandor attempting to be metaphorical, especially when the sound of digging and breathing lingered into the credits.

Margin Call reminded me much of last year’s The Company Men in watching suits deal in the business world whether losing their jobs or acting out whatever action necessary to grasp tightly onto them. While the lingo of Margin Call similarly reflected that of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010), the heart of it touched on the idea that minor details that slip through the cracks are, in time, not so minor. Even closer did the film reflect that not money, but the ruthlessness needed to hold onto money, is the god of the market and its workers.