Monday, February 22, 2016

Oscar Week 2016: Is Inaritu advancing Admiration Film Direction?

There was a point in time when audiences clamored to see a John Huston film or Frank Capra picture. The director was the star, just as much as Humphrey Bogart or Katherine Hepburn. , Steven Spielberg's visionary Jaws (1975) changed the face of direction, and birthed the modern blockbuster, which in many instances rendered the director interchangeable.

Spielberg has maintained  his status as respected auteur over the years because he has expanded his role in producing film and television. Spielberg's name has become a brand. Hollywood took this model and turned the studio system into an even larger machine. Now blockbusters (largely super hero films at the moment) "Rule the school" -I tried to channel my best Stockard Channing as Rizzo,

Spielberg is still a visionary in many ways, but as the rise of the blockbuster seemed to create fewer opportunities for auteurs to rise in the studio system or make a larger mark on cinema. Movie goers have been going to see films less and less because of the director.  There are some exceptions to this over the past few decades (on a mainstream level) Scorsese, and Cameron come to mind.  Alejandro G. Inaritu. may be added to this list after these past two years.

Inaritu is one of the most ambitious directors working today, and many admire the great depths he takes to create cinematic experiences. This ambition translates to passion, something Inaritu talks about when describing his direction, the experiences he tries to capture.  I think he talks in cliches, for example "Pain is temporary, film is forever." All I have to say that is "good grief." 

I get what honoring Inaritu means for this category, he seems to be bringing back the importance the director had in the film making process years ago. People are looking beyond the problems with his films, and seeing their ambition.  There are numerous problems with The Revenant.  The film is too long, and could have been cut down by an hour. While the film is long, the script is thin, not short, but thin. For a 2 and 1/2 hour film I developed no emotional connections to the characters, and the journey DiCaprio 's should have made me feel more connected to his experience, rather than just provide visceral moments. The film is also over acted, more on the Tom Hardy end, and I often could not understand what he was saying.  The film is coasting on ambition, which is where Inaritu is getting the most credit.

On a postive note, The Revenant's cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki is beautiful Inaritu's touch on the visuals involve making sure that they always shot with natural light.  I would argue that only shooting in natural light was a bit insane, but again ambition trumps sanity. In years past this argument might have torpedoed the films chances to win Best Picture, but this film only seems to derive strength from the challenges of the filming.  There is this one two punch from Inaritu and Lubezki which also happened with Birdman last year.

Lubezki is about to win his third Oscar (in a row) for this film, and I would argue that he is the auteur taking film innovation to the next level.  Lubzki's work in Children of Men, Tree of Life, Gravity, Birdman and The Revenant is possibly the most innovative Cinematography in modern cinema by one man. Lubezki is getting the credit he deserves, three Oscars is nothing to sneer at, but the name most people are talking about outside of DiCaprio is Inaritu. 

Inaritu is bringing the director's vision for his art back to forefront. Inaritu is likely to win a second Oscar, for a second year in a row. There are only two men who have won back to back directing Oscars, and they are John Ford who won for How Green was my Valley and The Grapes of Wrath and Joseph L. Mankiewicz who won for A Letter to Three Wives, and All About Eve.  One of the main differences here is Ford's second direction win did not have a Best Picture win attached, Rebecca won Best Picture that year. Mankiewicz had the same experience with his first directing win, All the King's Men won Picture.  If Inaritu wins Best Director, and The Revenant wins Best Picture, he will be the first person to win back to back Directing Oscars with corresponding Best Picture wins. This adds to his cache.

I have mixed emotions about this year, on one hand I get The Revenant as a Best Picture winner, and Inaritu winning director, the size and scope feel like picks from the Academy.  I would like to see the director's vision have more meaning and be an important part in bringing mainstream audiences to the movies. I just wish the director we were talking about were George Miller or Todd Haynes.

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