Sunday, October 26, 2014

I hear the train a comin’: Awards season gets rolling

Scarlett Johansson is nominated for a Gotham Award for Best Actress for her role in Jonathan Glazer's Best Film nominee, Under the Skin.

Film awards season has a fairly nebulous definition. Most of the time, it is hard to tell you are in it until you are in the thick of it. Some might say it starts around the time of the fall festivals such as New York, Telluride, and Toronto. Maybe it begins after Labor Day, when the prestige movies of the fall and winter roll out. In reality, a number of year-end awards contenders premiere at the start of the year at the Sundance Film Festival or at Cannes.

However you define it, there is no denying its scope and influence. My personal fascination with film awards is their ability to highlight little-known, little-seen, and little-discussed movies and bring them into the mainstream. There are gems hidden in the art houses just waiting to be discovered and admired. This is where true efforts of cinematic genius reside, and if we do not go to them, it is unlikely they will come to us.

Late last week, the Independent Filmmaker Project revealed its nominees for the 2014 Gotham Independent Film Awards, the starting gun for the marathon to the Oscars. Limited to independent American films, the Gotham Awards spread their love to 24 different films across seven categories this year with Richard Linklater’s Boyhood leading the way with four nominations.

You can view all the nominees at this link, but I am pleased by the recognition for both Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette for their wonderful work in Boyhood and doubly excited by the nomination for Mia Wasikowska in the Best Actress category for her physically demanding, emotionally satisfying turn in Tracks. For our purposes, we will focus in on Best Feature Film and a slate of five movies that encompass a broad spectrum of stories and styles.

The Gotham Independent Film Awards nominees for Best Feature are:

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Love Is Strange
Under the Skin

I have written extensively about Birdman here, but allow me to reiterate: This is one of the best movies I have seen so far this year. Its technical prowess is just jaw-dropping, and the performances from a stellar cast never fail to amaze. Michael Keaton is also nominated in the Best Actor category and should win in a walk. This is pure filmmaking at its most resourceful, insightful, and downright grand. It has the added benefit of delivering an incisive social critique in the guise of a solid entertainment.

Linklater’s Boyhood is a labor of love – love of storytelling, love of filmmaking, and love of people. The famous 12-year film has found an adoring audience throughout its four-months-and-counting run in theaters and for good reason. It is relatable and unique, dripping with passion for the art form, and ultimately rewarding in the richness of its characterizations and the depth of its explorations.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is the latest film from popular auteur Wes Anderson. One might think it impossible to get more idiosyncratic than many of his previous features such as Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, or The Fantastic Mr. Fox, but this may be the apex of Anderson’s peculiar stylistic obsessions. Ralph Fiennes is great in the lead role of this hard-to-summarize adventure yarn, but I admired this film more than I was moved by it, which truth be told, could be said of my reactions to all of Anderson’s work with the exception of 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom.

On the other end of the scale, it would be almost impossible not to be moved by Love Is Strange, Ira Sachs’ beautiful, heartbreaking story of two older gay men who get married but are forced apart by circumstance. Alfred Molina and John Lithgow play my favorite couple of the year so far in this low-key drama with more concern for human relationships than with political posturing.

Finally, there is the Scarlett Johansson-led Under the Skin, an intimate sci-fi drama from director Jonathan Glazer that explores what it means to be human, what it means to be lonely, and what it means to be alive. Johansson is nominated for Best Actress for this role, which gives her well-known charm and sex appeal an almost eerie quality.

Birdman, Boyhood, and Love Is Strange are still in theaters, while The Grand Budapest Hotel and Under the Skin are available on DVD. I would urge you to check out each of them, as they all offer a worthwhile viewing experience that will transport you into realms you may never have imagined. I will be pulling for Birdman but would not be surprised if Boyhood walks away with the top prize. The winners will be announced Dec. 1.

1 comment:

mrenda said...

Good to see 'Under the Skin' get some critical love. I had the feeling that movie came and went, which is unfortunate, because it is a top-notch effort. Perfect in tone, great cinematography and I though Scarlett was spot-on in a subtly demanding role.