Oscar Ruminations

Done and dusted for another year, with, of course, what they’ll be remembered for this time around being the cock up at the end. They got it wondrously wrong. But they, being the Oscars, did get it wondrously right in another regard. As Karl Quinn wrote in the Age, before the event, ‘In a year with many worthy contenders, hands down the most intriguing category…is best actor. It’s the easiest to call and potentially the most difficult.’

Like myself, Quinn was rooting or for Casey Affleck. His incredible turn in ‘Manchester by the Sea’ should have been a no-brainer. The two other front runners, Ryan Gosling (‘La La Land’) and Denzel Washington (‘Fences’), were both worthy, but really not in the same league. I can’t comment on the perceived also-rans, Andrew Garfield (“Hacksaw Ridge’) and Vigo Mortensen (‘Captain Fantastic’), having not viewed either production.

The issue was the actor’s own troubled back story. The younger Affleck was accused of sexual harassment by two women who worked on his controversial movie ‘I’m Still Here’. He vehemently denied the accusations, but chose, for whatever reason, to settle out of court. The point is, of course, that he was never found guilty. Many, though, despite the precedents of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, felt this should have still disbarred him from consideration. It was noted that Brie Larson, a sexual assault survivor and advocate, pointedly did not clap in presenting him with the award (couldn’t the Academy have been a little more sensitive in their choice to pass over the gong or, conversely, did they need to be?)

Now Afflect may well be the most unsavory actor, in real life, in the history of filmdom, but of course he has never been convicted of what Quinn refers to as ‘moral turpitude’. And his performance in the Kenneth Lonergan offering will last far longer in my mind than either Gosling’s soft shoe shuffling in ‘La La Land’ or Washington’s motor mouth effort for ‘Fences’. Rightly, the majority of the around 6200 voters in the Academy agreed and he took delivery of the gong.

I can’t say I was enamoured of ‘La La Land’. The bright opening traffic jam sequence was a show-stopper and it did gather some pace towards the end as it built to a musical climax – but the bulk of the film, apart from the short time John Legend was on screen, was quite plodding. To me Emma Stone, although serviceable, hardly lit up the screen.

We now know ‘Moonlight’ was crowned Best Film, but again, not having watched it, I am in not position to scribe on its ascendancy over all comers, or not – the same being the case with ‘Lion’ and ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ too. ‘Arrival’ bored me to tears, so much so I was contemplating walking out long before it reached its dull conclusion. I do know many others had it, though, at the apex of their best movies for 2016. ‘Hell or High Water’, with Jeff Bridges in fine form, on the other hand, was a hoot from go to whoa. I adored it as a rollicking cinematic adventure of the best sort. ‘Fences’ was a very competent film but took some time to get going. But once DW’s character, as Pittsburgh garbageman TroyMaxson, had his tawdry secret out in the open, ‘Fences’ really picked up a head of steam.Viola Davis was sensational as his wife, as was Michelle William’s supporting role in ‘Manchester by the Sea’, both thoroughly deserving of an award. I suspect the former gained it as she had more screen time. ‘Fences’ also possibly suffered for its staginess – it was an adapted Broadway hit. ‘Hidden Figures’ was perhaps the most Hollywood ‘writ by numbers’ of the nominations I saw, but none the less enjoyable for that. Now that he is in his mature years, Kevin Costner is a far more interesting actor than when he was required to play the Great American Hero. And you can argue until you’re blue in the face about it, but I reckon its deviance so much from historical fact cost it. Still, it was a great yarn of when, despite its flaws. America was truly great.

Has there ever been a sadder movie than ‘Manchester by the Sea’? Has there ever been a sadder man than Casey Affleck’s Lee Chandler? He carries a pain no man should be burdened with. During the course of the movie he tries to shake it, but just can’t get on top of it. For Lee it is always one step forward and two back. Once we are informed of the source of the problem we understand his retreat into himself; his hair-trigger rage and lashing out at the world; his desire to have others inflict physical pain on him. He fled his home to drown himself in the anonymity of the big city, but is recalled when family tragedy strikes. There he finds himself responsible for his nephew, a man-boy who seems to have his small world at his feet. He is not happy to be lumbered with this broken uncle. It’s a fine performance from Lucas Hedges as Patrick – also nominated for an Oscar. Together they eventually make some progress and if we watch carefully, we may fleetingly see a smile from Lee – just fleetingly, mind. Lee’s misery is infectious – it affects those around him on screen and we, the audience, off. How can it not? No man would cope with the weight he has to carry through life. ‘Manchester be the Sea’ is film-making at its finest – the flintiest heart would melt before it.

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