Posts Tagged ‘Joaqum Phoenix’

FilmoToDieFor_cover

The arts are a strange affair, and one of my all-time favorite films, To Die For, is by the same director as my absolute least favorite film (Gerry).  I’ve complained previously about the latter, and Damon still owes me for my wasted time.  But Gus Van Sant was a living legend in 1995, when he pulled off the most gut curdling satire of media whoredom I had ever seen.

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The Unacknowledged “Master”: director Paul Thomas Anderson
& a film that’s not about Scientology

Jennifer A Epps

Paul Thomas Anderson is my favorite film director who isn’t Scorsese. And even then, it’s getting very close. When I ambled out into the light after the L.A. native’s sixth feature, the psychological period epic The Master, I felt like I had just seen one of the greatest American films in a couple of decades. If you haven’t heard much about it, however, that’s because it isn’t nominated for any Oscars in the Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, or Best Score categories – in all of which cases it was robbed, in my humble opinion. It did still, nonetheless, receive 3 Oscar nominations for the work of each of its principal actors (Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams). The acting was so rich and full it was impossible not to notice, but the Academy has treated the success of The Master’s cast as some kind of fluke, as if they could all just give spectacular performances without the words, story, and characters P.T. Anderson supplied them with in the first place, or the nuanced direction he gave them to guide them through some challenging and unusually-paced material.

One hears a lot about Kathryn Bigelow being snubbed by the Academy this year, and the question of whether this was in reaction to how she depicted torture in Zero Dark Thirty. One also hears about Ben Affleck, Quentin Tarantino, and Tom Hooper being left out of the Best Director category while their films were all nominated for Best Picture (though obviously when there are only 5 directors nominated yet 9 Best Picture nominees, there have to be some exclusions). What’s given little attention, however, is how severely Anderson and The Master were overlooked by the Academy (and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association) in the top categories. In fact, Anderson was not even part of the “directors’ roundtables” assembled by various news agencies early in the awards season. The reason for this perhaps is that Anderson’s work is so stubbornly idiosyncratic. The Master is even more uncompromising than There Will Be Blood; both of these surprising films exist in alternate universes of filmmaking with scant interest in building a story along familiar lines, cutting where audiences expect a cut, or scoring a scene in a way that sounds like other movies.

This weekend, there’s a chance for the British Academy to take a stand for originality at the BAFTAs, as The Master is nominated (once again) for awards for all three of its principal actors, as well as for Original Screenplay. And next weekend, the Writers’ Guild could recognize Anderson’s screenplay at the WGA Awards. However, I’m not sure anyone is holding their breath at this point, since there’s a little thing called “momentum”, and The Master seems to have lost that, while other, more commercial fare, has surged ahead.

But it is important to note that the title of this review is not strictly accurate. The Master, and Anderson’s impossibly fertile talent, is not completely ‘unacknowledged.’ For one thing, Anderson took home the second highest award at the Venice Film Festival, the Silver Lion, for Best Director. The Venice jury also awarded the Volpi Cup for Best Actor to both Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix. And apparently, the jury also wanted to award The Master the top prize at Venice, the Golden Lion, for Best Film, but new rules limited the jury to no more than two awards per film, no matter how exceptional the film. (The third award The Master picked up at the City of Canals was from the critics, the FIPRESCI award for the best film in competition.)

The Master has been a critical darling at home, too. Early in the awards season, it picked up a boat-load of trophies from critics’ associations across the U.S. Its wins are noted in the table below. That won’t help anyone in their Oscar pools, but it shows how far apart the critics and the Academy are. And it is worth keeping in mind when The Master is released on DVD on Feb. 26th, two days after the Oscars.
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