Sunday, January 8, 2012

Academy Awards Best Picture Revisited: Far from Heaven (2002)

So I decided to be a rebel today.  The past few weeks I have been talking about films that have been either nominated or won the Academy Award for Best Picture. What about the films that missed out, or should have been nominated?  2002 was a great year for film, and while there were some great solid films nominated this year I would like to focus on the brilliant but snubbed film, Far From Heaven directed and written by Todd Haynes.

Todd Haynes first film Poison was released in 1991 and was an adaptation of Jean Genet's "transgressive" novels.  Haynes first film won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance, and was cited by B. Ruby Rich as one emerging films in New Queer Cinema.  Haynes continued to go against the grain with his 1995 film Safe.  Safe is about Carol White, a San Fernando Valley housewife who develops an an intense allergy to her suburban life.  Safe was Hayne's first collaboration with Julianne Moore, and the allergy was seen as an allegory to the AIDS epidemic of the 80s.  Haynes third, Velvet Goldmine (1998) film took a different direction from his first two films and paid tribute 1970s glam rock focusing on Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Lou Reed.  Then came Haynes second film with Julianne Moore, Far from Heaven.  Heaven and Safe are my favorite Haynes films (ironic they both star Moore); she is in a way his muse and has brought to life some of his best work.

Haynes fourth film is masterful; he weaves an intimate tale that shows his respect for 50s melodrama, and disdain for suburban life.  Heaven is influence heavily by the melodramatic films of Douglas Sirk.  Far from Heaven centers around two plots, one of them is Cathy (Julianne Moore) and her marriage to her husband Raymond (Dennis Quaid) which mirrors the relationship of Jane Wynman and Rock Hudson in the Sirk film All that Heaven Allows.  Haynes also used the close relationship of Cathy and her housekeeper Sybil (Viola Davis) which resembles the relationship between Lana Turner and Juanita Davis is Imitation of Life.  In order to put his touch to the film, and make this melodrama more modern Haynes adds the concepts of homosexuality, and interracial dating into the mix.  These are two topics that would have taboo and would only be used as subtext in a Sirk film.

Watching Far from Heaven today felt like viewing a beautiful piece of art.  This film's direction and writing create a masterful blend of the traditional 1950s melodrama and modern cinema.  Haynes knows film, and is brilliant bringing the subtext to life.  Haynes brilliant team includes a wonderful acting ensemble with Julianne Moore in her Academy Award nominated (should have won) performance, Dennis Quaid as her closeted husband (snubbed by the Oscars), Patricia Clarkson as Cathy's best friend who adds new levels to such a subtle performance, and Dennis Haysbert who plays Kathy's gardener and someone whom she considers to have strong feelings for.  Then there is the costumes from Sandy Powell, the beautiful cinematography from Edward Lachman, and of course the flawless score from the legendary Elmer Bernstein.  This was a phenomenal film that should have been one of the five films films nominated for Best Picture.

The five films nominated for Best Picture this year were Chicago, Gangs of New York, The Hours, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and The Pianist.  Chicago was the second musical nominated in the post Moulin Rouge era.  Chicago, the film, added the razzle dazzle that the Broadway show lacked, and was a solid, and deserved its spot on this list.  Gangs of New York is my least favorite Scorsese film nominated for this award, Diaz was bland and the script was weak.  While Day Lewis was solid in his role, he did not do enough to save this film.  The Hours is better than some think, it was actually listed as one of the worst films of the year by Time Magazine.  I am torn about this film and its place as a Best Picture nominee, while I love the editing and acting, some things are over the top and not in the best way.  Two Towers is the weakest of the three Lord of the Rings, but is a great film that belongs on this list.  While films about the Holocaust are almost always honored at the Oscars, The Pianist deserves its place in this category because of the beauty, and grace added by Polanski's directing, and Brody's performance.  Of the five nominated films I would replaced Gangs of New York and The Hours.

One of the films that would have replaced these two would have been (of course) Far From Heaven.  Picking the fifth film is a bit trickier.  there were numerous films that could have filled the fifth slot.  Spike Jonez film Adaptation about a film about making about Orchid's is brilliantly quirky.  Steven Spielberg had two great films this year, Catch me if you Can, and Minority Report.  Sam Mendes had adaptation of the graphic novel Road to Perdition, and Alexander Payne had the wonderfully dark comedy About Schmidt.  Of all the films listed I would pick Adaptation, while quirky this film delivers on every level like Far From Heaven.

I was glad I watched this film today.  I stumbled upon it while I was at work and on Netflix.  I had not watched Far From Heaven in years, and watching this film today reminded me of the beauty of well made films.  I may just have to change my pattern and watch more films the Academy overlooks, because they tend to be my favorite.

(My Five Best Picture nominees 2002: Adaptation, Chicago, Far from Heaven, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and The Pianist)

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