Ryan Gosling

Reality Bites; Film Should, Too

A scene from Warner Bros.’ “Gangster Squad,” which will be removed from the final cut due to its likeness to the July shooting in Aurora, Colorado.

We fear bullets. We fear emptiness. We fear life. We fear death.

But in an age of overwrought political correctness, astronomically ridiculous all-inclusivity, and children who get medals simply for “participating” in a little league game, our biggest fear seems to be insensitivity.

A month ago in Aurora, Colorado, a gunman entered a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan’s fantastic conclusion to his three-part social parable also known as a Batman trilogy. He opened fire, killing twelve people. That’s a reality.

The fiction of the films, however, are so much more than an glorification of violence. Nolan speaks to us on readily understandable levels of cinematic comprehension, albeit begging, in his own right, for small scale social revolution filtered through a pair of black tights and a pointy-eared mask.

The media began a connection between the film and the shootings, often calling the incident the “Batman Movie Massacre” or “The Dark Knight Tragedy;” headlines seeking to link a very tangible act of terror with the impressionistic experience of going to the movies.

In the weeks prior to the shooting, Warner Bros. Pictures was running ads for its period film, Gangster Squad, as it was set to be released in late September of this year. The film boasts an impressive cast including Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, and Sean Penn. From the looks of the trailer, it’s a beautifully shot film with impressive sets, costumes, and explosive action. Near the end of the trailer, we see a few armed men enter a movie theater from behind the screen, tearing through it and opening fire on the audience. At no point during the trailer (the first time I saw it was prior to the Aurora shootings in a packed theater) did anyone seem to show any sort of concern for the victims of the onscreen shooting. Nor did they seem alarmed when the trailer ended without the perpetrators being apprehended for killing anyone in that theater. The film is fiction, and the audience accepts that.

Following the Aurora shooting the ad was pulled. The film was placed into “release limbo,” and reshoots were deemed necessary out of respect for the victims of the Aurora shooting. The scene (which was gorgeous, at least from what I could gather from the trailer) is cut from the film, replaced with something completely different (hey, Monty Python) when the film sees release in early 2013.

Not only are the film’s Oscar chances severely dashed (early year and mid-year releases hardly ever see a nomination), but an entire artistic endeavor was compromised for nothing. Are we to the point in our society that we can no longer accept fiction for being fiction, and must begin distorting fiction to make us feel better about our reality? Although Fox News viewers would have you believe otherwise, the majority of the American public is smart enough to understand the difference between a news report and a scene staged for a film. A reshoot will not bring back the victims of the Aurora shooting, nor will it make the memory of the shooting any less impactful.

Life and death happen. If anything, movies are the first ones to tell us that. If cinema didn’t contain death, it would be entirely too difficult to suspend our disbelief. We engage with films because of their likeness to our reality. A world without death is a world not grounded in reality and difficult to accept. Bullets kill people. Sometimes in a movie theater. That’s part of life. It happened. And to compromise a film’s plot and an artist’s vision simpy because it coincides with our “reality” at any given moment does not, in fact, erase our reality.

Perhaps HBO Films should have shelved the release of 2001’s Wit ,a brilliant drama revolving around one woman’s battle with cancer, because countless millions are infected with the disease worldwide. Perhaps we would have forgotten about World War II if Saving Private Ryan never saw the light of day. Perhaps your 90-year old grandmother with Alzheimers will remember who you are if you don’t watch Away From Her. Ignoring reality in cinema is propaganda. And, in this case, an insult to the victims in Aurora.

But maybe, just maybe, you’ll actually remember to go see Gangster Squad now because Warner Bros. has successfully associated it with the tragedy, sending news outlets clamoring to the sets of reshoots to inform you that you’re being compromised.

And the day we start compromising escapist fantasy, ladies and gentleman, is the day we truly die.

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Hues of Beautiful Tragedy; “Blue Valentine” Fabulously Emotionally Disturbing

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“Til Death Do Us Part”– five simple words that strengthen healthy marriages and unhealthy ones often discard; that most have come to associate with a binding love that can only be found within the socially-relegated importance of such a union.  Either way you look at it, the phrase is a grim one which equates love with life; unlike the physical body that remains after death, love thrives on physical existence, ultimately ending just as life does. But Derek Cianfrance’s exquisite Blue Valentine flips such a notion entirely on its head in a gloriously depressing fashion. What happens, then, when ‘life’ slips away from the physically existing? When cold, lifeless disinterest and bitter resentment reside where the pulsating breath of love once drew air? In a film that functions as a true testament to editing as the most important tool a filmmaker has, Cianfrance attempts to answer that question through a silky-smooth positioning of chronologically-displaced  sequences depicting the destruction of a singular marriage; all to glorious and emotionally-disturbing effect.

What could have been a simple examination of the marital vitality preceding a bitter end essentially becomes a beautifully juxtaposed presentation of the deaths of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) before their marriage ever had a chance to live.  Physical death of the two protagonists is not the focus here, seeing as both Dean and Cindy technically exist throughout the entire narrative, but even the opening sequence is heavily laced with death as its most prominent subject; the search for the family’s lost dog ends with a grim discovery, one that prompts Cindy’s realization that, at least internally, she died long ago. Cianfrance expertly chooses to drop us into a point in their lives that reeks of domestic  decay, a family (that now includes a young daughter) with a backstory we assume to be as rocky and troubling as the morose, stagnant existence we’re initially introduced to. But what really drives the film’s emotional impact is what we’re shown next, and how Cianfrance chooses to show it to us.
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Scenes of the couple’s innocent courtship proceed what we’ve already come to know as a lifeless union, making the whole thing entirely more depressing; shots of innocent courtship, smitten glances, harmless flirtation (you know…the works of young love) all resonate with a beautiful simplicity and shocking poignancy that legitimizes this relationship as one that we would believe to be entirely perfect if we weren’t already shown what it would lead to, yet the burden of what we already know weighs such charming scenes down like a ton of bricks. Such reverse sequential positioning allows the disturbing emotional pain of this damaged relationshp to manifest itself not when we are observing scenes of marital dysfunction, but rather when we are presented with an uncorrupt, budding relationship as new, pure, and wholesomely innocent. Scenes of happiness are expertly recontextualized to represent something bitter, becoming harbingers of doom in themselves aside from what’s literally presented as melancholic, reminding us that the disturbing bit of what we’ve seen before stemmed from genuine purity and goodness;  of coupled bliss tarnished by what we can only assume as marital indifference and personal distraction. The most devastating scene of the film comes towards the middle, when we see Dean sweetly courting Cindy with his talents as a singer and ukulele player; the innocent quirkiness of it all could have registered as saccharine overload in a different film, but here we’re treated to a devastating look at a moment when awkward chemistry turns into a moment of genuine passion, bearing the bad news of what’s to come with its mere implication as a pure foundation for what we already understand to be a dark future.

Stars Gosling and Williams deserve nothing short of monumental praise for their performances; Williams completely detaches herself from, well, herself in every sense of the word to create an entirely original portrait of a character whose repressed internalizations become of too little importance in the face of raising a child with a man she no longer loves;  Williams’ shining moment comes in a scene of “passion”, if that’s what you want to call it, where the couple drunkenly engages in sex as an exchange of physical release as a reward for mutual toleration versus the only intoxication they once knew; that which came with the other’s presence. Gosling ages himself 30 years not in physical appearance but by embracing the dark stoicism that only comes with lifelong burdens of personal tragedy, encapsulating all the pain and struggle of a man twice his age within his performance.  
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But ultimately what pushes the film to the brink of perfection is the wisely-omitted would-be crutch of a concrete reason for the pair’s tragically beautiful demise; typical  foundation would have certainly given grounds for such a narrative to exist in the first place, but herein lies the genius of the script’s interplay between juxtaposed narrative perspective and settings; depiction of reason gives credibility to personal projection (and therefore judgment), something the film’s strong ambiguous balance between memory and current occurrence never allows room for. We see happening and we see reaction, yet we’re never endowed with a biased perspective from a character angle; the beauty is that the film plays exactly as we assume such protruding events would personally manifest whether such devastating love has already been experienced or is on our horizon. We don’t have the pleasure of peeking into what our lives may become and as a result can ultimately only look to memory and harp on personal tragedies, thankfully unable to view the pain of the tragically-corrupted before its founding innocence and purity force us to bitterly regret what’s already been destroyed by our own hands.

 Cianfrance, along with the help of the gloriously perfect performances by Gosling and Williams, has created a disturbingly beautiful and altogether poignant portrait of one of the messiest situations one can only hope they’ll never experience…outside of this cinematic masterpiece, that is.

Someone’s Hot For Oscar; Predicting the Academy Award Nominations

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To begin this year’s Oscar predictions with continued harping over last year’s pitiful excuse for an Academy Awards ceremony would be to completely demean the conspicuously-outstanding American cinematic offerings 2010 served up. But to hell with that, I’m in the mood for bitching, and Kathryn Bigelow and Sandra Bullock still personally owe me for the distress they caused in my life around this time last year.  I’ll most likely be taking my tears and backhanded compliments elsewhere this year, particularly casting shade on what, if the Golden Globes are any indication, could potentially turn out to upset even last year’s Oscar telecast as one of the worst in the AMPAS’ longstanding (and long-respected) history.

The problem I’ve had with the Academy for quite some time now is their increasing insistence on insulting their many followers, not unlike myself, who somehow find it within themselves to hinge what is basically their entire lives on a single telecast that’s gradually making its way down from being the precipice of artistic recognition to a night full of industry favors upheld by a “we need to like you so people like us” nomination process. If last year taught us anything, it’s that giving into societal agendas and journalistic ideals of catchy headlines (First Woman Wins Best Director!) for free press has apparently turned into the Academy’s game.  I mean, absolutely no one but a casual moviegoing public who didn’t see much more than the commercially-friendly The Blind Side could possibly even begin to consider Sandy’s performance as 2009’s crowning achievement of female performances.  The fact remains that Sandra Bullock is a crowd-pleasing, widely-appealing ‘star’ and not a gifted actress. She’s an essential part of what makes Hollywood a business; she’s marketable, relatable, likeable, and just rubs America the right way in general, making it easy for the AMPAS to align themselves with her.

All bitching aside, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that this year’s race to watch out for is Supporting Actress, a category that’s generally one-sided and ultimately locked months before the nomination process even begins. No clear frontrunner has emerged amidst a group of women whose performances are as brilliant as they are ambiguously fitting for both the Lead and Supporting categories (I’m looking at you, Lesley Manfield and Hailee Steinfeld). Both could fall into either category depending on how the Academy chooses to dole out the nominations this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they give both potentials a spot in the Supporting category to make room for some powerhouse players in the Lead category (I’m thinking Moore, Kidman, Williams, and even Swank as an outside pick have a shot this year).  Amy Adams is the only definitive lock at this point, with Melissa Leo potentially creeping in as the category’s alternate. The case of Mila Kunis, on the other hand, is one that has me scratching my head a bit; Her work in the film clearly pales in comparison to what she’ll potentially be up against, seeing as she’s the obligatory “let’s fit the seeming frontrunner into as many categories as possible to up its tally” acting nomination this year. Her’s is neither a girthy or substantial role at all with literally not much for her to work with. A sufficient turn, but nothing Oscar-worthy. I do love me some sweet lips, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like her role is one which is enhanced by  the atmospherics and diegetic emphasis placed upon it, not necessarily by the output of Kunis herself. It’s a role anyone would have been nominated for if they were casted in it simply because of the containing film’s momentum going into the nominations, it just so happens Mila was lucky enough to get it. You can’t forget about Helena Bonham Carter either, although something’s telling me she could be the surprise snub (although rightfully so) of the Awards this year.

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Keeping up with the ladies of 2010, Lead Actress should prove no less exciting than Supporting Actress will be. Annette Bening and Natalie Portman have been locks for months now, and not a thing will change that by come tomorrow morning. I’m confident in placing Kidman as the third in line as of right now, with Moore trailing just behind her. The fifth spot, however, is a complete toss-up. It’s hard to say who exactly would “fit” in with the typical awards season momentum going into the nominations (seeing as not one other performance has consistently garnered accolades across the circuit), but at this point I’m most inclined to say Michelle Williams (interchangeable with Lesley Manville or Steinfeld, if one or both are not placed in Supporting, with Moore as the other alternate here as well) is the likely holder of the fifth spot. I’d be entirely unsurprised if Jennifer Lawrence or even Hilary Swank made their way past Williams despite their earlier-in-the-year releases losing the majority of the buzz they’d garnered. This fifth spot becomes entirely crucial to Portman’s road to a win on Oscar night as well, seeing as a win is most likely for her if both Leading Ladies from The Kids are All Right snag spots (Bening is a lock, Moore is up in the air) as the Academy could likely split if this is the scenario.

The men’s race has been pretty low-key this year, seeing as veteran mainstays (Jeff Bridges, Robert DuVall) each gave expert turns in crucially-timed-and-released pictures that pandered directly to Oscar voters. James Franco is likely to sneak into the fifth spot based on the director’s namesake on his performance’s containing film alone, trailing just behind Jesse Eisenberg and Colin Firth for their respective turns in Lead roles. Supporting male is, for the second year in a row, the least enticing of all the acting categories this year. Christian Bale obviously leads the pack in terms of buzz coming off of his crucial win at the Globes, and putting your money on Geoffrey Rush as a potential nominee wouldn’t be a bad idea either. The rest of the slots are a complete toss-up, and it’s anyone’s guess as to who could potentially fill the rest of the slots, ranging anywhere from Jeremy Renner in The Town to even Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right.

Best Director should also prove to be an interesting race albeit a tad predictable in terms of the nominations. I can’t see anyone other than Darren Aronofsky, David O. Russell, Tom Hooper, David Fincher, and Christopher Nolan even coming close to snagging a nomination slot aside from the slight chance that The Coen’s might edge out Russell.

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The now-all-inclusive Best Picture race is proving to be a tad more exciting than last year’s as well, with about 11 or 12 of the year’s best films all realistically vying for the coveted 10 slots. Black Swan, The Kids Are All Right, The Social Network, The Fighter, The King’s Speech, Toy Story 3, and True Grit are all definitive locks and that’s no surprise to anyone; it’s the remaining 3 slots that have me stumped. I can absolutely see the Academy pandering to the Indie crowd they sort of drastically alienated over the past two years and giving both Another Year and Blue Valentine (I can dream, can’t I?) some love, and placing Inception atop the package as a finishing touch to please the masses. A long outside guess has me thinking The Town or 127 Hours could sneak in there as well.

But if the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that the AMPAS are growing increasingly more liberal with their classification choices in many major categories (ahem, going as far as to consider Kate Winslet’s performance in The Reader as Leading and placing The Blind Side alongside Precious and An Education in the Best Picture category) and that’s ultimately what I think this year’s major categories will come down to as well; how the Academy decided to classify certain performances over others. But I can’t say I’ll be surprised at any of what unfolds tomorrow morning, just elated that neither Kathryn Bigelow, Sandra Bullock, and Kate Winslet will be  without cause for celebration come 5:30 AM.

PREDICTIONS

Best Picture

Black Swan

The King’s Speech

The Fighter

Inception

The Kids Are All Right

The Social Network

True Grit

Inception

Blue Valentine

Toy Story 3

Outside Shots: Shutter Island, Another Year, Winter’s Bone

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right

Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole

Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right

Outside Shots: Hilary Swank Conviction, Jennifer Lawrence Winter’s Bone, Hailee Steinfeld True Grit

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

Robert DuVall, Get Low

Jeff Bridges, True Grit

Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network

Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine

Outside Shots: James Franco 127 Hours

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Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams, The Figther

Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech

Melissa Leo, The Fighter

Mila Kunis, Black Swan

Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

Outside Shots: Lesley Manville, Another Year

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Christian Bale, The Fighter

Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right

Andrew Garfield, The Social Network

Jeremy Renner, The Town

Best Director

Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan

Christopher Nolan, Inception

David O. Russell, The Fighter

Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech

David Fincher, The Social Network

Outside Shots: Mike Leigh Another Year, Martin Scorcese Shutter Island, The Coen Brothers True Grit