Barbra Streisand’s tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch was one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen (or heard). I’m still crying from this sweet, deeply touching performance which is officially the highlight of the evening.
Hamlisch and Streisand were great friends and collaborators since she began her career. He was as much responsible for her success as she was.
Streisand’s delivery of that old chestnut, “The Way We Were” was a masterclass in what makes a performance a transcendent experience.
True, her voice has gained warmth and huskiness over the years, but that makes it all the more beautiful. She sang the entire song with pianissimo phrasing, and direct, emotional honesty.
I don’t even know what to do with my emotions right now. Mr. Hamlisch wrote one of the most moving musicals in history. He and Ms. Streisand are both legendary artists who’ve given the world beautiful music.
We were lucky to have Mr. Hamlisch in our live, and we’re even luckier to have Ms. Streisand…enough of that, back to more crying
I CALLED IT: Hathaway won for her craptastic performance!!!
Audra McDonald & Soledad O’Brien
Juan Diego Florez & Sacha Baron Cohen
Rolando Villazon & Mr. Bean
Marina Poplavskaya & Meryl Streep
Anna Netrebko & Salma Hayek
Natalie Dessay & Rachel Dratch
Deborah Voigt & Nancy Grace
Yes, here we are again, that special time of year when Hollywood pats itself on the back for being…well…actually I don’t know. But award season is upon us, and we must all come to terms with that. Grab a fistful of Valium, hunker down and pray for daylight.
Every year I tell myself, “This is the last time I watch the Golden Globes and the Oscars.” Yet, every year, I come running back for more. (The Golden Globes was fairly painless this year, but we needed more Tina and Amy.) It’s sort of like a bloody car crash: you know you shouldn’t look, but there is a certain morbid fascination.
My bottom line on award shows is this: It’s preposterous to suggest that, out of all the wonderful films that come out each year, there is one film that is empirically better than all the rest. I have never understood this. How, for example, does one compare a film like “Silver Linings Playbook” to something like “Zero Dark Thirty?”
“Playbook” is sweet, exuberant comedy written and directed by the estimable David O. Russell. The story follows a man (a refreshingly winning Bradley Cooper), newly released from a mental institution, as he attempts to put his life back together. The unassuming story quietly sneaks up on you, with the plot unfolding at its own leisurely, deliberate pace allowing the viewer to drink in the wonderful, messy, compellingly human characters, beautifully rendered by a stellar ensemble cast. It is a superb work with the kind of rueful happy ending that doesn’t make you choke on your own tears.
“Zero Dark Thirty,” on the other hand, is a tight, absorbing, intricately plotted drama and character study that focuses on the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. As directed by the virtuosic Katherine Bigelow, the film is a seamless blend of fact and fiction led by a luminous Jessica Chastain in a performance that is an intense, steely tour de force. The film is audacious in its scope and ambition. With its raw, brutally honest depiction of forced interrogation tactics, the film forces its audience to contemplate unpleasant truths such as the wages and moral costs of war, revenge and torture.
Both films are excellent, but couldn’t be more different. They succeed on their own terms.
The same applies for the acting awards. Each year, there are dozens of astonishing performances by an array of wonderfully gifted actors, but the Academy insists there is ONE performance that comparatively rises above the rest. To be honest, every year I feel all the nominees deserve the award. Great acting is a highly personal, intangible business. To compare one actor’s work to another is reductive and an insult to the artform.
I wouldn’t venture to guess who the winners will be this year, but I do have a few thoughts. The best picture award could easily go to “Les Miserables,” as it is the kind of pseudo-art-house, high-minded drek that the Academy usually goes for. I doubt “Zero Dark Thirty,” one of my picks, will take home the hardware because “The Hurt Locker” was named Best Picture in 2008 and, as we all know, politics often trumps art.
The one category that I’m somewhat certain about is Best Supporting Actress. I’d wager that Anne Hathaway will be the winner this year since Hollywood seems to be having a serious love affair with this supremely annoying actress, and she was passed over before in a much better, much more compelling performance.
I can’t say the suspense is killing me. Usually my pics for Best Picture are not even mentioned. Kirsten Dunst was snubbed last year, not even receiving a nomination for her miraculous work in Lars Von Trier’s “Melancholia.” Then again, it’s ridiculous to think that a masterpiece like “Melancholia” is even in the running when it comes to the Academy Awards. Hollywood likes to lavish its love on middle-of-the-road dollops produced by the Weinstein Company (think “The King’s Speech” and “The Help”).
Recently, the Academy has gone to great pains to appear young and hip often embarrassing itself in the process (remember when Hathaway and James Franco hosted the Oscars?). Instead of focusing on such a pathetic, dubious goal, what if instead the Academy actually tried to accomplish something that mattered and became a force for championing brave, new, artistically daring cinema that actually has something to say. That actually sounds like a plotline from one of the Best Picture nominees…
Somewhere, buried deep inside the bloated, stultifying film adaptation of Les Misérables, is a story of oppression, suffering and salvation. If you can find it, kudos to you because I sure couldn’t.
Cameron Mackintosh’s juggernaut of a mega-musical is now wearing concrete shoes, weighed down by inept direction, literal-mindedness and bad acting. When it’s good, it’s boring, when it’s bad, it’s unwatchable.
Oh how I kept waiting for this film to move me. I expected the singing to be sub-par (as is the case with most movie musicals today), yet it’s the acting and the execution that make this pallid movie such a drag.
Apparently, Hugh Jackman - this century’s sad answer to Gene Kelly - felt compelled to bring Les Miz to the screen, making good on a project that had been years in development, only to continuously fall apart over casting and budgetary issues. I wish Mr. Jackman had let that bee in his bonnet go silent, because the film he and director Tom Hooper have come up with is the pits, a kitschy, lugubrious - and at 2 hours and 37 nauseating minutes, over long - dirge, relentless in its excess.
As directed by Mr. Hooper at his most lackadaisical, the film is a noisy, disconcerting piece of overblown hokum. Hooper films his actors in a farrago of queasy, claustrophobic close-ups as they employ the more is more method of acting. When Hooper doesn’t have a musical number or performer to zero in on, his direction becomes a frenetic jumble of cross-cuts and swooping camera angles. You get the sense that the director doesn’t have any faith in the material or your attention span.
Hooper’s decision to regurgitate virtually every note of the score on screen is also a curious misstep with unfortunate consequences. The interim scenes of dialogue-driven recitative feel perfunctory and mind-numbingly endless. And while I applaud Mr. Hooper’s one innovation, to film the singing live, the paucity of musicianship and strong voices on screen make the whole affair seem strained. In attempting to achieve intimacy and verisimilitude, Mr. Hooper has, paradoxically, made every song seem deeply artificial and laughably grandiose. He has over inflated material that wasn’t very subtle to begin with.
This is not to say that Les Miz couldn’t have been successfully adapted to the screen, but it would need to be seriously rethought to approximate the stage show. Alas, Mr. Hooper hasn’t made any changes or offered any ideas that might show an understanding of the differences between film and theater. Instead, he has merely placed a frame around the characters, and situated them in photorealistic environs, saliva, gaping mouths and all.
The cast is uniformly disappointing. Anne Hathaway can be an adequate singer, but her “I Dreamed a Dream,” pitched entirely on one high-strung level, doesn’t stir the emotions because her overripe emotionalism, and the proximity of the camera are far too distracting.
As for Mr. Jackman, the less said the better. I have never been a fan of his wobbly, steely voice, which was dismaying in Oklahoma! and is even worse here. His approach to the music exposes every slight deviation of pitch and, true to form, he takes great expressive liberties with his singing — sometimes prolonging, sometimes rushing phrases. His bleached tone tends to obscure the notes he is singing. At times, I thought he might be trying to talk-sing, but his inelegant phrasing made no sense musically or dramatically. His natural strengths - effortless charm, irresistible charisma - are oddly muted in a role that calls for stoicism and introspection.
Curiously, Russell Crow is the only person giving a believable, consistent performance that’s scaled for the screen. His voice may lack refinement (and any discernible technique), but he handles the music ably enough, and sings the material as written without any of the fussy, melodramatic flourishes that afflict the rest of the cast. (This is the first time I’ve seen Les Misérables where Javert’s only number, “Stars,” became the highlight of the show.)
Even watching the most talented members of the cast becomes an enervating experience. As madame Thénardier, Helena Bonam-Carter is uncharacteristically wan and gets no support from her co-star, Sasha Baron Cohen, whose scenery-chewing shtick has never felt more exhausting. As the idealistic Marius, Eddie Redmayne whips his whole body while attacking certain phrases, as if physically willing his larynx to cooperate. (I never does.) A trilly Amanda Seyfried is appropriately doe-eyed and vacant in the thankless role of Cosette. And as Eponine, the lovelorn street urchin, Samantha Barks is stymied, forced to rein in her usually impressive voice to accommodate Mr. Hooper’s style.
Quibbles with singing aside, the gravest sin of this movie is how boring it is. The stage Les Misérables zips along with breathtaking exuberance. The three-hour running time flies by as the show grabs your attention and keeps you engaged. Paradoxically, the film Les Misérables seems to lumber on and on with no end in sight. A little pathos goes a long way, but some decent direction would have gone even further.
There’s a carbon monoxide leak in my house…can I sleep with you?