Oscar Reflection | Best Picture & Best Director from the 78th Academy Awards

Written by Alexander Reams

Crash: 46/100

Brokeback Mountain: 76/100

Venice Film Festival, September 2, 2005. Ang Lee brought a new film to the Lido, entitled Brokeback Mountain, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger, Anne Hathaway, Michelle Williams, and Randy Quaid. Premiering to universal praise, and winning the festival’s top prize, the Golden Lion. This kicked off the Oscar campaign, but also the memes. After the hype from festivals hit the internet, the film became known as the “gay cowboy movie”.

A year prior, Paul Haggis premiered his latest film at the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival, Crash. The film received mostly positive reviews but was not considered an Oscar frontrunner sans the screenplay. The film would mostly go unnoticed until the summer? Yes, Crash was a summer release. Quite surprising given that most Oscar-fare doesn’t begin to roll out until mid-September/ October.

Then Oscar nomination day came, and Brokeback Mountain won the day with 8 nominations, with Crash following close behind with 6, both receiving nominations in the Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor categories, with Crash also receiving a Best Original Screenplay nom. Whereas Brokeback Mountain received a Best Adapted Screenplay nom. 

None of these nominations were really a surprise, especially after Lionsgate took advantage of home media distribution and used that as a major push for Crash. While these other films were slowly rolling out into theatres, Crash was already available to be purchased and seen at home, saving a trip to the theatre for moviegoers. Whereas Brokeback, along with their competition; Capote, Munich, and Good Night, and Good Luck (in both Best Picture and Best Director categories) were all being released in theatres around the same time. 

When you look at where race relations were in America at the time of the release of Crash, one can’t be surprised that the mostly white Academy would want to nominate the film that explored race relations (in the most white-person way possible) for as many awards as possible to make themselves feel good. The film itself is an Altman-ripoff ensemble film, exploring the lives of its incredibly stacked cast. A cast that includes (deep breathe folks),  Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillion, Michael Peña, Jennifer Esposito, Brendan Fraser, Nona Gaye, Terrence Howard, Ludacris, and Thandiwe Newton. Almost everyone here is serviceable, sans Don Cheadle, Matt Dillion, and Brendan Fraser. These 3 men were somehow able to take the very surface-level script by Haggis and Robert Moresco and add depth and reality to their pipe dream aspirations of solving race problems in America. 

When I looked at what inspired Haggis to birth this film, he was carjacked, and what is one of the inciting incidents? Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock are carjacked, except here it is by 2 black men, something the film never lets you forget. This leads to Bullock rationalizing her predetermined prejudices not to be racism because of this incident. Haggis uses the subtlety of a sledgehammer to tell you that even though the white people were carjacked, they deserved it, instead of analyzing the crime through both sides of the story, again, the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

On the flip side, a quiet, moving, decades-spanning romance film sounds right up The Academy’s alley. Until you find out the romance is between- two men. This was during the height of the rumored anti-gay movement within the AMPAS. Considering the New Queer Cinema movement had been exploding within independent films for the past 12ish years, one could assume that The Academy would move with the times and that one could be laughed at greatly for that. These folks have always been at least 20 years behind the times, these are the same people that waited 82 years to award Best Director to a woman (Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker). 

I digress, The Academy was destined to hate this film, even if this checks all of their so-called “boxes”. Even the plot of this film is something to hate, two men fall in love while taking care and driving cattle through the American west over a span of 20 years. Future Scorsese regular Rodrigo Prieto was the DP (Director of Photography) and shot it on gorgeous 35mm film See how much there is to hate? How boring it sounds? No wonder The Academy went against it, even though it won the BAFTA, Critics Choice, Golden Globe, and the PGA award for Best Picture. All precedents that (most) eventual Best Picture winners not only contend but win before winning the big one. 

Upon finally seeing both of these films 15 years after their wins at the Academy Awards in 2006, the hype had died down and I could temper expectations and after seeing both films neither one is deserving of the biggest award in the film industry. Both are tales that squander their potential. Crash could have been a film that actually analyzed the racial problems in America. Thoughtfully presenting ideas that audiences already know, but in a way that only film can present them. Brokeback could have been an intriguing romance that would break hearts all around and instead disappointed me by the lack of care I had for every character. 

Unfortunately the Best Picture and Best Director race that year was not as stacked as it could have been. In a dream year, Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins), Shane Black (Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang), and Terrence Malick (The New World) would have all been nominated in the Best Director category. With films like King Kong and V for Vendetta eking into the Best Picture category. However, this was before the time that the Academy would nominate a film about a giant ape and a film based on a…. comic book? The thought hadn’t even begun to enter the Academy’s mind that a comic book film could be “worthy” of a nomination in their prestigious little club. With the nominations we were given I would give Best Picture and Best Director to Munich (and director Steven Speilberg). However, with the Academy giving Best Picture to Crash we will forever have some of the Internet’s finest jokes and memes at their expense.

Crash Trailer

Crash is currently available to rent and purchase on most major VOD platforms.

Brokeback Mountain Trailer

Brokeback Mountain is currently available to rent and purchase on most major VOD platforms.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Oscar Reflection | Best Picture & Best Director from the 84th Academy Awards

Written by Alexander Reams

The Artist: 42/100

There are some serious holes in my Best Picture and Best Director filmographies and I was given the idea to go through and watch them. I have seen most of the post 2010 Best Picture winners but I even have holes there. The latest film in my Best Picture/ Best Director journey in order from newest to oldest is Michel Hazanavicius’s 2011 film The Artist. This film took home both awards at the 84th Academy Awards. 

When looking back on The Artist, seeing it as a best picture winner seems obvious. It’s a movie about the movies, and Hollywood loves that. However that does not mean the film itself is good. Unfortunately that is the case here. The Artist is a great showcase in how weird/ experimental movies can still thrive in modern film society. However the film has major plot issues. Any attempt at trying to appeal to the audience’s emotional state fails spectacularly and in hilarious fashion. Jean Dujardin winning Best Actor for his performance is just one of many examples where The Academy fell for the Oscar bait hook, line, and sinker. There is very little substance to his performance, and even in the more somber moments of the film, I could never take what was going on screen seriously.

The Artist, while having great cinematography and costume design, is a failure on every other aspect of filmmaking. As well as very frustrating when looking back on what was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director that year. My picks for Best Director and Best Picture that year would have been Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life for Best Director and continuing with The Tree of Life winning Best Picture.

The Artist Trailer

The Artist is currently streaming on HBO Max, Netflix, Roku Channel, and Tubi.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Mortal Kombat (2021)

Written by Alexander Reams

79/100

Mortal Kombat is the latest video game to be adapted into a film. However this is not the first time we have gotten a Mortal Kombat film. Back in 1995, before Resident Evil fame, Paul W.S. Anderson made the first Mortal Kombat film. The 1995 film has since achieved cult status. While I have not seen the film, I find it hard to believe that it is better than the film we have received this year. I found that well filmed action sequences, brilliant special effects, and an entertaining score to be more than enough to make this film very much worth a watch. 

The fight sequences look straight out of the video game. While the footage I have seen from the 1995 film looks dated and pinnacle 1990s, the 2021 film looks so much more sleek and brutal at the same time. That is something that I feel no one can disagree about the film. The brutality is truly something to behold on screen. Simon McQuoid might be a first time director but he clearly has an eye for action and it shows throughout the fight scenes, especially one at the very end. 

You don’t go into a film like Mortal Kombat expecting a mindblowing script or profound themes that you would find in a Terrence Malick film. All I wanted was good cinematography and well choreographed fight sequences. Benjamin Wallfisch’s score was one of my favorites of his and one of the biggest surprises in the film. In the end my expectations were wholly met with this film and then some.

Mortal Kombat Trailer

You can currently stream Mortal Kombat on HBO Max.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter.

Sundance 2021 Review: Ailey

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

75/100

Editor’s Note: NEON has made it’s second acquisition at the Sundance Film Festival with Jamila Wignot’s Ailey. Described as the moving and intimate portrait of dance legend Alvin Ailey. The film debuted on Saturday to both critical and audience acclaim, being celebrated for its sensorial, rich story that traces the full contours of this extraordinary artist’s life and his connection to the present dance company that bears his name.

SYNOPSIS: Alvin Ailey is one of the most important choreographers in the history of modern dance. In 1958, at just 27 years old, he founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Ailey’s vision was of Black bodies unshackled and overflowing with feeling: Confidence… sorrow… joy… pride… beauty… possibility.

Ailey is a sensorial, archival-rich story that traces the full contours of this extraordinary artist’s biography and connects his past to our present with an intimate glimpse into the Ailey studios today, where we follow innovative hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris as he conceives a new dance inspired by Ailey’s life.

Using never-before-heard audio interviews recorded in the last year of his life, we experience Ailey’s astonishing journey in his words, starting with the textures of his childhood in Jim Crow Texas. Raised by a single mother who struggled to provide, Ailey knew hardship, but his life was rich with culture and love. He brings us into his world of blues and gospel, juke joints and church. And he tells us about the blush of young love and the awakening of his gay identity.

Ailey’s story is one of sacrifice. Possessed by his ambitions, he dedicated himself to his company. He endured racism and homophobia; addiction and mental illness; and the burden of being an iconic African American artist. In 1989, he tragically succumbed to the AIDS epidemic.

Thirty years later, Ailey’s dream lives on. Where other modern dance companies were built to showcase their founders, Ailey saw his own as bigger than himself. Throughout his rich journey, our film interweaves Rennie Harris’ present-day rehearsal process to show the enduring power of Ailey’s vision. In Harris’ creative process, Ailey comes alive for a whole new generation: His faith in the transformative power of dance, his grand embrace, his expression of complete freedom.

Review: A beautiful film by Jamila Wignot who showcases Black joy through the life and legacy of legendary choreographer Alvin Aliey. Through archival footage, testimony from friends and colleagues as well as his own commentary we get to learn more about Alvin Ailey the man. Fundamentally Aliey’s art was about the Black experience and he was never afraid to say so. 

The documentary showcased how his childhood, in Texas, influenced by blues and gospel was part of his genius. Ailey often said that “blood memories” were the anchor for his dance. These “blood memories” were part of his history and the history of his parents and his parents parents and so forth. This is just a fraction of what Ailey was able to capture in his choreographies. Ailey was also a trailblazer. Who saw a future in dance when he was 12 and saw Katherine Dunham dance in LA. It was the first time he saw a Black dancer on stage and that touched something in him and he just knew his future. 

Ailey’s story was not without struggle and he kept a part of it hidden. He often talked about the physical, emotional, financial, and personal sacrifices dancers have to make in the process. But hid his AIDS related illness. Ailey struggled with the idea of being known as a Black choreographer. Ailey simply wanted to be a choreographer and showcase all the aspects of his genius and not just what the industry expected of him. He described his creative process as bringing movement into an empty space. Ailey certainly accomplished this and spoke truth to power through movement. 

What he did was universal and reverberated across the United States and outside of these borders. It was pure magic! Ailey’s choreography opened the world up to who he really was showcasing Blackness and Black joy. His goal was to search for truth in movement and this documentary showcased that he achieved his truth. 

Director Jamila Wignot’s Statement:

Nothing prepares you for the experience of Ailey—the emotional, spiritual, aural, and visual overwhelm the senses. As a filmmaker, I am drawn to stories about artists like Alvin Ailey—innovators who tenaciously follow their own voice and in doing redefined their chosen forms. Ailey’s dances—celebrations of African American beauty and history—did more than move bodies; they opened minds. His dances were revolutionary social statements that staked a claim as powerful in his own time as in ours: Black life is central to the American story and deserves a central place in American art and on the world stage. A working-class, gay, Black man, he rose to prominence in a society that made every effort to exclude him. He transformed the world of dance and made space for those of us on the margins—space for black artists like Rennie Harris and me.

I am inspired by subjective documentary portraits like Tom Volf’s Maria by Callas and Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, and by the poetic cinematic approaches of films such as Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight and Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven. My aim was to blend these influences into a sensorial, poetic documentary portrait.

Recommended.  

Ailey is currently playing the Sundance 2021 Film Festival.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.

Episode 94: Rescreening The Thin Red Line

“I film quite a bit of footage, then edit. Changes before your eyes, things you can do and things you can’t. My attitude is always ‘let it keep rolling.”

Terrence Malick

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor Rescreen Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line and provide a First Impression on their next Rescreening episode title, Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon.

The Thin Red Line Trailer

The Thin Red Line is currently available to rent and purchase digitally

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Episode 90: Rescreening Margaret

“Filmmaking, like any other art, is a very profound means of human communication; beyond the professional pleasure of succeeding or the pain of failing, you do want your film to be seen, to communicate itself to other people.”

Kenneth Lonergan

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor Rescreen Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret and provide a First Impression on their next Rescreening episode title, Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line.

Margaret Trailer

Margaret is currently available to stream on HBO Max

Drink in the Movies would like to thank PODGO for sponsoring this episode. You can explore sponsorship opportunities and start monetizing your podcast by signing up for an account here. If you do please let them know we sent you, it helps us out too!

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The New World

Written by Taylor Baker

100/100

“There’s something I know when I’m with you that I forget when I’m away. Tell me, my love. Did you wish for me to come back and live with you again?”

Captain Smith

Almost 15 years ago this was my first Malick film. I must have been in my last year of middle school or thereabouts when this picture floored me and wracked my young mind with feeling I was unequipped to fully collate. I didn’t know how to put it to words then and I scarcely can now. It echoed itself in a way I hadn’t seen before in movies. It was poetic in it’s rhythm but classicist in it’s structure. It was a work of literature, yet it was visual. It was pregnant with feeling, but if you zoned out just a but you would miss morsels of nuanced dialogue. Yet if you did zone out you would still feel it’s pulse, perhaps even more.

The New World marked itself on my journey of loving stories in a personal way, that one normally speaks of love with. I still feel those emanations from the screen and speakers today, and am lavishly happy to see how well it hasn’t just held up, but marked itself as a milestone of the film medium. Malick’s filmography more than any other seems to benefit by being judged by feeling rather than any other criteria. Something that only Master-craftsmen can achieve. Not to mention his ability to write dialogue that is unceasingly worth quoting.

“Killed the God in me.”

Pocahontas

Snow drifts bleed into slight white flowers dotting branches, ladders lead toward the empty vast sky, men eat men, men betray and war with one another, and love exists in the cracks between.

Malick conveys the yearning to feel unrestrained and undefined in a bid to be consumed by love again. Then it ends like all things do, with a cemetery, water, and trees reaching toward the sky.

“I touched her long ago without knowing her name.”

John Rolfe

Taylor Baker originally published this review on Letterboxd 06/26/19

Discussed on Drink in the Movies Episode 43.

This entry is specifically regarding The New World: The Extended Cut available to rent from multiple sources.