Monday, March 17, 2014

Both Things

In 2004, 10 years ago now, "The Passion of the Christ" was released.  It was a film that no major studio was willing to touch, despite the fact its director's previous effort ("Braveheart") was not only incredibly financially successful, but won 5 Academy Awards.  

People in Hollywood were so against the film, it felt as if negative thoughts about it were written well before these same people even saw the film (or whether they ever did at all). 

Jami Bernard of the New York Daily News called it "the most virulently antisemitic movie made since the German propaganda films of World War II."

Hypocritically, now Hollywood is trying to (still) jump on that bandwagon.  There are multiple movies being released this year based on biblical stories.  "Noah," even boasts an enormous budget. Most people would admit this is in direct correlation to the gigantic success of "The Passion."  

The fact that this film is so controversial is something I simply do not understand.  I cannot help but find people’s over the top criticism of it to be in large part dishonest. 

A defense and 4 star review by the late, esteemed critic Roger Ebert, stood out in large part for being in the minority of open-mindedness (Ebert was no fan of religion).  "My own feeling is that Gibson's film is not anti-Semitic, but reflects a range of behavior on the part of its Jewish characters, on balance favorably…. A reasonable person, I believe, will reflect that in this story set in a Jewish land, there are many characters with many motives, some good, some not, each one representing himself, none representing his religion."  -Roger Ebert 

What we had was a film that in this writer’s opinion, is a masterpiece of film-making.  From cinematography to score to acting and direction, this is a film that should be celebrated.  To many Christians, it was and is.  But awards would not be forthcoming and we need not wonder why.  

Then Gibson would be arrested for DUI and he would start down a life spiral that some (myself included) wondered if he would be able to pull out of.  For many critics of Gibson and his film, the horrible things said by Gibson were almost inconsequential.  It was more a celebratory sentiment and still is.  A “look we told you so.”  And while Hollywood loves a comeback and seems willing to forgive nearly anyone over anything, forgiving Gibson is still not in the cards.  Which makes a few of his public supporters all the more touching in their outward show of support for a man, they say, we do not know.

Actor Jim Caviezel was a kind of collateral damage casualty for playing Christ in Gibson’s movie.  In 2004 Caviezel was a star on the rise.  Having attained acclaim for his performances in “The Thin Red Line,” “Frequency” and “The Count of Monte Cristo,” starring in one of the biggest money making films of all time would seem to be a good career move.  But until he showed up on television a few years ago in Person of Interest, Caviezel nearly disappeared. 

Gibson, for one, warned him.  Twenty minutes after offering him the role, Gibson tried to talk Caviezel out of taking it. 

"The next day, he said, 'I want you to be aware of what you are going to go through. You may never work again.'”

Distancing oneself from Gibson would have seemed solid career advice when things were at their worst.  But Caviezel brought up Gibson himself during this time, without being asked.

"Mel Gibson, he’s a horrible sinner, isn't he?  Mel Gibson doesn't need your judgment, he needs your prayers.”

Jodie Foster has been close to Gibson ever since they starred in “Maverick,” together. 

“I knew the minute I met him that I would love him the rest of my life.” 

While never excusing Gibson’s past behavior, Foster is staunch in her support for her friend. She has been criticized for it. 

Just one example is Salon.com writer Mary Elizabeth Williams, who wrote about Foster, “The movie icon continues to go to bat for her embattled friend. Maybe it's time to rethink the acclaimed actress."

Continually standing up for your friend while not excusing his behavior seems to me to be the epitome of a great friend.  Especially when few will do so publicly.

"He is kind and loyal and thoughtful.  And I can spend hours on the phone with him talking about life.”

“I know him in a very complex way.  He’s a real person; he’s not a cardboard cutout.  I know that he has troubles, and when you love somebody you don’t just walk away from them when they are struggling.”

Foster recently received the Cecille B Demille Award.  In receiving her award, Foster had Gibson as one of her guests at her table, along with her two sons.  In the closing remarks to her speech, Foster thanked, “And of course, Mel Gibson.  You know you saved me too.”

How Gibson might have saved the notoriously media shy Foster, we can only guess.  But the feeling is not Foster’s alone.

A few years back, Robert Downey Jr.’s career was struggling from his constant battles with addiction.  One of the people that helped get him work when his career was at its lowest point, was Mel Gibson.  Now Downey is about as big a star as there is in Hollywood.  Downey too, won a prestigious award due to this career resurgence.  In winning it he insisted Mel Gibson be the one that presented him with the award.  Downey then took his allotted speech time to talk solely about Gibson.  How Gibson helped him when he was at his worst.

"I humbly ask that you join me - unless you are completely without sin, and in which case you picked the wrong fucking industry - in forgiving my friend of his trespasses and offering him the same clean slate that you have me and allowing him to continue his great and on-going contribution to our collective art without shame.”  -Robert Downey, Jr.

Speaking directly to industry people, Downey’s comments received a standing ovation.  A standing ovation from people who if they wanted to, could help revive the career of a man who was once one of the biggest stars in the world.  It seems few if any have called.

This took place in the same year "The Hangover 2," came out. A film in which Gibson was cast in a very small role.  The actors decided they did not want Gibson in their film.  That is their prerogative.  But to then have no issue acting alongside a convicted rapist in Mike Tyson, shows one example of the hypocrisy.

“I couldn't get hired and he cast me.  He said if I accepted responsibility-he called it hugging the cactus-long enough, my life would take meaning.  And if he helped me, I would help the next guy.  But it was not reasonable to assume the next guy would be him.”     -Robert Downey Jr.

Downey has not given up.  Just this year there are reports that he is using all his clout to convince the powers that be to cast Gibson in an “Iron Man” or “Avengers” film.  On that, we wait, while not holding our breath.  

During the Two And A Half Men, fiasco with Charlie Sheen, in which he was admittedly back on drugs and seemed to be acting like someone in his last days, he was asked where the best help had come during that time.  His answer: Mel Gibson and Robert Downey, Jr.

“They just offered love to me.”

2003 Interview
DIANE SAWYER: "What does the evil side want?"

MEL GIBSON: "It wants you, it wants you. People are capable of horrors, of atrocities. We're also capable of wonderful things, of good things and we have the choice. What do we choose, you know. And often, many of us, at different times, choose both things."



Friday, March 7, 2014

Ten Fantastic Performances That Were Not Nominated For The Academy Award (Part 1)


Mel Gibson   "The Beaver"

To be fair, Mel Gibson could have given a performance that Laurence Olivier and Marlon Brando would both come back from the dead to praise, and still no one would have wanted to give him any credit for it. The film was delayed while the latest backlash against him died down a bit.  In a weird way, knowing what we know about Gibson; that he is a very flawed, very complicated and talented man, makes this film more powerful.  It also caused many people to not even give it a chance.

One of Gibson's closest friends, is his co-star and director, Jodie Foster.  That she only thought of Gibson in this role, speaks volumes.

What Gibson gave her was a performance worthy of an Oscar Nomination.  If this was back when everyone loved Mel, he would have gotten that nomination.  Current Mel barely gets work that is not of his own making right now.  And I think only current Mel could have pulled this role off as well as he does.    



Gene Hackman  "Hoosiers"

When "Hoosiers" came out, Dennis Hopper got most of the acting accolades for his flashier role.  But I was also shocked to see Hackman did not get an Oscar Nomination for his role.  More than any actor playing a coach, Hackman as Norman Dale, feels the most natural, the most believable.  If he makes it look easy, that's also kind of the point.

In fact, Hackman was so good for so long, he was sometimes under-appreciated.  His performance in "The Conversation," has become at least semi-iconic.  No nomination for that one either.  


Natalie Portman  "The Professional"

Natalie Portman's first performance at age 12, was a pretty incredible debut.  In fact, all three main performances are pretty awesome.  The chemistry between Portman and Jean Reno helps elevate this film to one of the finest of its type.  This performance would not only fit right in as a nominee for that year's Oscars;  (Was Susan Sarandon in the nearly forgotten "The Client," really better than Portman that year?) it was good enough to deserve the award.



Gary Oldman  "Immortal Beloved"

Gary Oldman is one of the finest actors working in film, and has been for his entire career.  Just as Hackman IS a high school basketball coach, Oldman IS Beethoven to me.  For such an expressive actor, Oldman in this scene, makes simply putting his (best) ear to the piano, to feel the vibrations as he plays, both beautiful and heartbreaking.



Jim Caviezel   "The Thin Red Line"

The balance of underplaying with enough expressions to fill up a silent movie.  Caviezel is so strong as Private Witt, and develops such good chemistry with Sean Penn as 1st Sgt. Walsh, that Witt became the closest thing to a main character there is in the film.  Adrian Brody was supposed to be the main character, but for Malick, Caviezel was just too good.  This is even more impressive with the fact that Brody himself is no slouch; winning an Oscar a few years later.

This scene is one in which Caviezel essentially wrote himself.  Malick asked him what he thought of Sean Penn.  Caviezel replied, "One day he is your best friend and the next day you get nothing.  He is like a rock."
 
And when Penn would chide Caviezel on set for his faith, asking if he was still chasing the light, well Malick put that response in the script too.
 

Anthony Perkins   "Psycho"

Seriously?  One of the most iconic performances in the history of cinema.  One that made Perkins struggle with being typecast the rest of his career.

Perkins wasn't alone entirely.  That year's Oscars is more embarrassing than most, when you look back on it. "Psycho" was not nominated for best picture, not best score, not best screenplay.  




Christian Bale  "American Psycho"

This film seemed just a few years too soon to be appreciated properly.  A precursor to later films like "Fight Club."  Bale is one of our finest actors.  Don't forget the man almost never gets to use his own speaking voice.  He helps create a character in a film that at some times feels like a murderous Jim Carrey,  and in another moment tries to contain his inner rage and embarrassment in his business cards not being as nice as his colleagues.

 
Anthony Hopkins   "Shadowlands"

In 1993, Hopkins was so good, something had to give. For his role as C.S. Lewis in "Shadowlands," Hopkins won the coveted BAFTA award for Best Lead Actor. He also won the National Board of Review Award, the Los Angeles Film Association Award and the Southeastern Film Critics Association Award. But his Oscar Nomination that year was for his role in "Remains of the Day," leaving the better performance to not be voted on by the Academy. Tom Hanks would win for "Philadelphia." As good as Hanks was, Hopkins was better, twice.



Nicolas Cage   "Raising Arizona"

Nicolas Cage is such a curiosity.  To the extent the television show "Community," recently had a class at Greendale, that asked the question, "Nicolas Cage, Good or Bad?"  Some people think he overacts all the time, but I would argue he is one of our very finest over-actors.  In much of "Raising Arizona," as screwball a screwball comedy as the Coen Brothers will probably ever make, he is actually holding back much of the time.  This is to great effect as he plays off everyone around him, while still being able to vamp when necessary.  Every decision, every expression is spot on.  It is a great comedic performance.  And alongside the more Oscar ready, alcoholic role in "Leaving Las Vegas," his finest work.    



Gene Wilder   "Young Frankenstein"

We have probably seen all we will ever see of Gene Wilder on screen.  When he was in his prime, there was no better comedic actor.  Nominated for "The Producers," he was also not acknowledged for any of his other great performances.  "Young Frankenstein" is as much a success because of Wilder, as it is Mel Brooks.

Wilder co-wrote the script (the concept was also his idea) and gives not only a hilariously funny performance, but one with some inner rage too.  Maybe Wilder will get an Honorary Academy Award, like Steve Martin just did.  This seems to be the way great comedic performances get (eventually) recognized.

And if you think, wait, Al Pacino was in "The Godfather Part II" that year.  Jack Nicholson was in "Chinatown."  Dustin Hoffman was in "Lenny."  Yes. And Art Carney won the award for "Harry and Tonto." Surely Gene Wilder would have looked just fine in that list of nominees.