Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dissecting the win

As the dust has now settled a bit on Sunday night's momentous event, I'd like to provide my own sort of postmortem on how Meryl managed to pull off the win, which is to say, how she ended up getting more votes than Viola Davis. Yes, everyone had a chance (in theory), but let's be real, we knew it was going to be one of these two. Most people predicted Davis to take it, myself included. We'll explore a bunch of ideas (several covered by Tom O'Neil from gold derby), a combination of which likely explain the outcome. Inevitably, shock among pundits and Davis fans prompted some interesting commentary on the web, which I address below. Fasten your seat belts.

Oh, where to begin? Shall we start with the “due” factor? As much as an actor could be for an Oscar win, Meryl was. But how could someone who already holds two trophies possibly be due for another win? The answer is based on the tremendous scope of her career. Meryl has been in over 40 films, 17 of which have earned her an Academy Award nomination. Had she won two years ago, she certainly wouldn't be due this year. But considering that the last win she had was for 1982's Sophie's Choice, and the subsequent 12 losses she had in between that span, one could argue it was time. And it's been time for a while. We need to remember that Meryl has been around a lot longer than Viola Davis, and is clearly very popular among Academy members, even if she rarely gets the ultimate prize. In his post-Oscar podcast on Monday, Kris Tapley from in contention questioned the validity of an actor's third Oscar being more “due” than any other actor's first. I argue that in Meryl's case, for the reasons I've already mentioned, she was more due than Viola, who was on just her second overall nomination. If anyone was due for her first win it was Glen Close for Albert Nobbs. Alas, the performance and film weren't nearly good enough and Close remains 0-for-6.

Historically it's been helpful for winners to play a real person. Recently we can cite Helen Mirren in The Queen, Marion Cotillard in Le Vie en Rosa, and Colin Firth in The King's Speech. Maggie Thatcher was as real as they get, unfortunately. I don't give a ton of weight to this factor, but I think people often mistake good impersonation for good acting. Meryl's the best at both, so we have to put that in her corner. On top of this, she is essentially in every single scene of The Iron Lady, a film, mind you, that was mostly panned by critics. She was able to carry that film and make her characterization the best thing about it. I'm not certain the same can be said about Davis's role as Aibileen Clark in The Help, a role many argue could've been in the supporting category. The truth is that The Iron Lady isn't as bad as some critics and champions of Davis would like us to think. We could just as easily argue that The Help is a tired, re-hashed white-guilt flick, written from the perspective of a white woman that perpetuates stereotypes of African Americans.

That said, it doesn't mean a movie like that can't be truthful and have excellent acting. Davis herself argued very intelligently to Tavis Smiley that the black community's over-focus on message in film is “destroying the black actor.” Meaning that as actors, they can't be politicians. The best they can hope is to tell the truth, and if a black character happens to be a drug addict, or on welfare, or physically abusive to his wife, then that's the story that needs to be told because “life is messy.” I applaud Davis for her insight into that issue, and although it doesn't make The Help a bad film, I don't think on the whole it does it any favors.

Which leads us more deeply into the touchy subject of race, a hotly contested issue in the Best Actress category this year. If during this awards season one happened to visit Awards Daily, he or she could quickly discern that the fact that Viola Davis is African American was the only perceptible reason Sasha Stone wanted Davis to win, and she had no qualms about expressing it. Of course she argued, at times ineffectively, that it was simply the best performance of the year, but a lot of people didn't buy it. With 12% of the U.S. population being black, three African American women have won the Oscar for supporting actress over the past six years. However, in the 84-year history of the Academy Awards, only Halle Berry has won in the lead category (for 2001's Monster's Ball). Is this acceptable? Who knows. I could argue that it's a travesty, which it is, but is it the Academy's fault? As if there isn't already a drought of good roles for women, much less women of color over the age of 40. The roles and performances have to be there to be recognized. African American actress Robinne Lee stated after Streep's win, “How inspiring would it be if we could be nominated in roles where we are playing kings, queens, politicians, writers, artists, dancers? We could soar.” I've no doubt! There's no shortage of incredibly gifted black actresses, but prominent blacks in the aforementioned fields have been tragically limited. The tide is changing, however, and I'm optimistic that film will catch up. I look forward to a great role that would cover life events of Maya Angelou, Condoleeza Rice, Toni Morrison or Marian Anderson.

So, was race ultimately a factor in the Academy voting against Davis? Well, the Academy is mostly made up of white men with an average age of 62. Guess who else is 62. You make the call. I'd like to believe that members instead voted for Meryl, rather than against Viola, but that's impossible to know. What is possible is that most just preferred Meryl's performance. After all, she won the Golden Globe, New York Film Critics' Circle Award, and the BAFTA. Davis won the SAG award, typically a pretty good barometer of the Academy, but I understand that The Help had at that point been far more widely distributed to members than had The Iron Lady.

The X factor in all of this may have been Harvey Weinstein, or “God” as Meryl called him in her Globe acceptance speech. His production company is notorious for rabidly campaigning for Oscars, and when he picked up The Iron Lady last summer, we knew why. He pushed hard for Meryl, focusing on the “due” factor, considering it had been 29 years since she had won an Oscar. "Experts" have been giving this idea a lot of weight. Look at what happened with The King's Speech over The Social Network last year, and the inevitability as it felt of The Artist winning best picture this year, both Weinstein Co. films. I have to agree that I think this was likely a huge contribution to Meryl's ultimate win, and Harvey played it brilliantly.

Can we be mad at Meryl? Hell no, and I think very few people are. It's hard to be, especially after her somewhat self-deprecating and funny acceptance speech. While Anne Thompson at Thompson on Hollywood said she thought it was the best of the night, her “in contention” partner Kris Tapley called it a missed opportunity. Missed opportunity for what? To recognize Viola Davis? To apologize? To acknowledge director Phyllida Lloyd or even Margaret Thatcher? The Oscar race is very long. Meryl had in countless interviews and acceptance speeches up to that point made it very clear how fond she was of Viola, that she wanted her to win, how proud she was of The Iron Lady, and how many misconceptions she had about Thatcher before filming. We get it. I think Meryl, with her usual adeptness and gravitas, spoke of things that transcend film awards: family, friends, colleagues, collaborative art, joy. And above all, sincere and heartfelt appreciation. She hit it out of the ballpark if you ask me.

Finally (which, if you've read this far I'm sure is a welcome word), I want to address a few detractors who have fashioned obligatory “she's not that good” articles since Meryl's win. In particular, a piece in the L.A. Times by Charles McNulty entitled “My Meryl Streep Problem” gave me some pause. This sort of pseudo-intellectual concept of Meryl being a great mimic and having amazing technique but lacking emotional connection is nothing new. Critic Pauline Kael has said in a review of The Bridges of Madison County,

Once or twice you think that what's inside Streep's head
isn't 'I don't know what to do with my hands' or even 'I am
a woman who doesn't know what to do with her hands'
but 'My character is a woman who doesn't know what to
do with her hands.' Streep's controlling intelligence would
be even more impressive if she could make it invisible.

How the hell can they possibly know that? I'll tell you how they think they know, and it has nothing to do with her performance. Overwhelmingly, Streep impresses critics, casual movie-goers and fans (including yours truly) precisely for her ability to connect and make her characters believable. These naysayers can only make these comments because they've heard Meryl Streep speak in interviews and speeches, and have judged her to be a very intelligent woman. How else can one possibly claim to be able to distinguish between observing what they believe is someone thinking “I am a woman who doesn't know what to do with her hands,” vs “my character is a woman...” Give me a break. Apparently unless an actress is a slow-coach these critics can't suspend their disbelief. Or, it's just en vogue and enticing for readers to try to be the one who can put together a logical reason for their claim of Streep's overrated-ness.

Regardless of all this mess, I'm absolutely thrilled about Meryl's win and look forward to her upcoming projects. My God, if there's this much hullabaloo after her third Oscar win, imagine what people are going to say when she wins again in two years for August: Osage County?! I'll probably say she deserves it.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Three-time Academy Award winner Meryl Streep

I'm still coming down from the high of Meryl's surprising win tonight. After the first few awards were given out I started feeling that a major upset may be brewing. Kristan and Scooter were counting how many times I said, "you guys, I think Meryl might actually win." I believe the final tally was six. With cinematography going to Hugo I felt the precedent had been set. Best actress was by far the biggest surprise of the evening, thank Jeebus. Joe came home and encouraged me to include in my blog post that Meryl's performance was the best of the ten lead nominations. I can't say I disagree.

As we well know, this was Meryl's record 17th Academy Award nomination and third win. Comments quickly showed up on blogs suggesting that now that she's won for a third time she'll never be nominated again. I disagree. It's easy to say that ten minutes after she wins. The Academy's memory is historically fickle. Like I previously posted, the measure I have for Meryl is for her to ultimately set the record for acting Oscar wins, which would be a total of five. August: Osage County may be the perfect vehicle for that progression in two years.

I liked how Meryl and Viola Davis embraced before Meryl went up on stage, and thought it was super classy how she mentioned her husband, Don Gummer, before anything else. Meryl took advantage of the moment, and recognized that it was unlikely that she would ever be in that position again. She chose to thank her "old friends, new friends," and didn't really mention much about The Iron Lady, aside from mentioning her hair/makeup partner J. Roy Helland, with whom she's worked on every one of her films since Sophie's Choice in 1982 (coincidentally her last Oscar win). She had certainly mentioned director Phyllida Lloyd several times in previous wins and interviews, and having finally won again at this point in her career, I don't consider it a sin of omission.

This is not the end. She is 60% of the way to history. For now, however, I'll savor the flavor. I could not find her acceptance speech online yet, so if you see it below, it was added after this post's completion. I'm sure there is a lot more I could write about this but I wanted to post while my mind was fresh on the matter. Congratulations, Meryl!

The 84th Annual Academy Awards: Meryl Streep's... by YouL00K

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My Oscar predictions

Whoa, it's been a week since I last posted. But really, there isn't much to say. A bit of a lull has set over the awards season; it's sort of the calm before the storm. I figure I might as well list my Oscar predictions today. I'm only going to name the top eight awards because that's all I really care about. Of course I'll be filling out a ballot for my friendly annual season competition with Kristan and Niccole, but I won't bore you all (further) with those. Like my SAG predictions, they're all pretty safe bets, and I'd be surprised if any of them ended up different. Here goes:

Picture: The Artist
Director: Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist
Actor: Jean Dujardin for The Artist
Actress: Viola Davis for The Help
Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer for Beginners
Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer for The Help
Best Original Screenplay: Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris
Best Adapted Screenplay: Alexander Payne (et al. (?)) for The Descendants

I think there are small chances for upsets in actor, actress, director and original screenplay. Duh, I want Meryl to win, and yes, she has a chance, but I think it's Viola's year. However, like I've posted before, if Meryl is going to break the record for acting Oscars (4), I think this year would be a good start. August: Osage County should be a great awards vehicle in two years and then there's always the lifetime achievement factor, which I don't think will happen to Meryl for at least ten years.

Why the big focus on Academy Awards? Because that's the measure we've had for 84 years. Meryl has left a mark on the film industry, and therefore American culture, with her consistency of quality performances over the years. I just want this reflected in the history books, and what better way for that to happen than to not only hold the record for nominations, but wins?! I suppose that's why I'm typically more interested in her film work than TV or stage. Sunday night could be a good step. My next post (barring something monumental over the next three days) will either be applauding Meryl as a three-time Oscar winner, or telling myself "I told you so" about Viola Davis. Again, fingers crossed so hard they're turning white(er). It's winter in Minnesota, after all.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Streep officially cast in "August: Osage County"

I am figuratively shitting my pants with delight at this news. It's all over the web that Meryl and Julia Roberts have been officially cast in August: Osage County, with filming likely to begin this fall. Here I was going to blog about having seen The Iron Lady for the second time, and there was a notice in my email from Meryl's forum about an update for August. So thrilled! As previously blogged ad nauseam, I've seen this play and it is amazing, so when I read a year and half ago that Meryl and Julia were "rumored" for the project, needless to say I was, well, jazzed. I cannot wait to see how this film turns out. No doubt Oscar bait from the Weinstein Company that will likely be released late 2013. Get it, grrrl.

Just a tad about Iron Lady last night. I had promised to play board games with Joe if he would see the movie with me. Rather even exchange I think. I liked the movie more the second time, probably because I've read so much bad press about it (and by press I mean pea-brain, oft mean-spirited bloggers) since the first time I saw it opening weekend. The film just isn't as bad as people would like to think it is. A masterpiece? No. And I second my original opinion that some of the transitions from present to past are predictable, but the film flowed much more nicely than I remember. Even Joe, who gives his nod of approval to precious few things (love you babe!), enjoyed the film, and Meryl's performance especially. She truly is spectacular in this role. It was nice to notice so many more nuances in her character this time around. Well-deserved of all the accolades she's receiving this year.

Which leads me to the third topic of this post (my cup runneth over!): Meryl's lifetime achievement award, or honorary Golden Bear at the the Berlin Film Festival yesterday. There was a sweet presentation by Jake Gyllenhaal, with whom Meryl starred in 2007's Rendition. I didn't realize that he and Meryl's son Henry were friends. Anyway, congratulations, Meryl. Check out the award presentation below.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

She's the greatest ever. I can say it.

I wanted to link an article I read today that tackles the question that is regularly, and by now mundanely, posed about where Meryl Streep stands in the pantheon of Hollywood acting history. After having so fastidiously followed news, blogs, interviews and promotional stints that pertain to Meryl during this film awards season, I've far too often read detractors tirelessly debunk Streep's label as possibly the greatest actress of all time. What I take issue with in particular is when people say that her roles or characters are too technical, too cerebral or just an impersonation. These quips are old news as far as I'm concerned. They're simply rationalizations for putting another actor's performance ahead of Meryl's.

This is not to suggest that Meryl's performance in any film is automatically best, but we need to be fair. People complain, for example, that an accent Meryl may employ in a role is too technical. I say that we can't get distracted by this skill. We can't dissect the quality out of a performance because of a British actor's ability to sound Texan. If we look past the makeup, the wigs and the accents and understand that they're there to add to the character and not make the character, we can see how well Meryl is able to do what she does.

What does she do? For me, as I said in my inaugural post of this blog, she convinces me that who I'm watching is a different person than who I know is playing the character, accent or not. My disbelief is suspended, however momentarily, by her craft. Her versatility is what is such a big draw for me. I get a kick out of seeing whether or not I can be "fooled" by a performance. Meryl does that for me time and time again. I have therefore indulged in her glorious canon of screen work and inevitably compared it to that of the other "greats." Of course, it's impossible to quantify because we'll never all agree on the measures. According to my measures however, Meryl reigns supreme.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"Mr. Banks" rumored to include Meryl

There are a few articles out today that include rumors of Meryl being involved in the Walt Disney film Saving Mr. Banks. She would play Australian P.L. Travers, who wrote Mary Poppins and sold the rights to Walt Disney to make the movie (which she evidently disliked because of the lame animation sequences). Tom Hanks is mentioned for the role of Walt, although I feel it would be less of stretch for Mel Gibson, if you know what I mean. I don't think Tom has ever been in a film with Meryl before, so it would be a good matchup. Plus, Meryl would no doubt get to try her hand at an Australian accent again, which makes me think she would lean toward the role.

Disney hasn't even technically acquired the film, which has apparently taken fourteen years for this "black-listed" script to even get this close. I don't fully know what that means, but if Disney does get it, I hope it isn't too Disney-ish. Emphasis on the "ish." Don't get me wrong, I love Disney animation, but their live-action feature films are typically so fucking sugary they make me feel straight. Maybe they're taking it super seriously though with hopes of getting the likes of Hanks and Streep.

I don't take this news too seriously. I can recall info back in the day about Flora Plum, Dirty Tricks, First Man and several others that don't immediately come to mind. I even place August: Osage County in this category, even though we have some recent info on it that makes it seem more likely than any of the others, aside from Meryl herself saying she's doing Mommy & Me once Tina Fey is done with the script. Time will tell of course. Regardless, Saving Mr. Banks is an interesting concept and I look forward to hearing more in the near future. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A turning of the tide?

As I scour blogs and news feeds about Meryl and the Oscar race, I'm starting to realize that it's not a foregone conclusion that Viola Davis will walk away with the award for best actress. Now, I'm still picking her but there is a lot of support for Meryl and some interesting cases have been made. In particular, I came across this article by Tariq Khan over at gold derby. Five great reasons are given for why Meryl might actually be the frontrunner. The most compelling one for me was that some may be giving too much weight to Davis's SAG win, with the explanation that more guild members had simply seen The Help.

If this is indeed the case, I may be in for a surprise come Oscar night. I'm torn between the idea of film being a measure of social consciousness (an argument to make Davis only the second African American winner in this category), and my love of Meryl's incredible canon of work (an argument to award her a third statuette). I'm going to look at it as a win-win situation for me, but if I'm being honest, I'd be happiest if Meryl won this year, again in two years for August: Osage County (if it's f-ing made), and then broke Hepburn's record of four wins by being awarded a fifth Oscar way down the road as a sort of culmination of the best career an actor can ever dream to have.

If (and likely when) Davis, or anyone else wins, it will be deserved. But so would Meryl's performance if she ultimately came away with it, and it's OK to root for her. I'm over being pragmatic about Meryl having a better chance in a couple years if she loses (again) this year. I'm all in for 2012.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Is this a big tease?!?!

Ok, I know I'm a consummate pessimist, but even I have to volunteer a bit of optimism with recent news. Another article came out this evening with information on the possibility of August: Osage County moving forward. Apparently with Tracy Letts finishing the screenplay and Meryl and Julia's schedules opening up, a September shooting schedule may be feasible. This would be a perfect timeline to complete shooting and have the film edited in time for a late 2013 release! More Oscar bait for Harvey Weinstein, especially with these two ladies.

I've posted about this before, and of course I'm not getting my hopes up too much (a fine pessimist I'd be if I did), but I fucking loved this play when I saw it two years ago and if Meryl eventually plays Violet Weston, I'll literally be doing cartwheels. If a timetable for this film truly comes to fruition, and if shooting is to begin by September, we should know more rather soon I would think. Ahhhhh!