NAIMA LETT – BLOG – HOLLYWOOD CHRISTIAN
Making Sense of this Year’s Awards
© 2014 Academy Award Nominations
MAKING SENSE OF 2014 AWARDS SEASON
If you’re like me, you’re trying to make some sense out of this year’s awards season. A few films lead the pack, but it’s hard to nail a conclusive winner.
For example, the Golden Globes® were a “beautiful mess”, as concluded by funny lady co-host Tina Fey. Many of you dialogued with me LIVE on Facebook and Twitter.
In addition to some folks obviously being a little tipsy and others making daring fashion choices, 12 Years A Slave won Best Dramatic film, American Hustle won Best Comedic Film, Gravity won Best Director and Her won Best Screenplay. Huh??!!! Gone are the days of Titanic and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King sweeping up all the awards. This year is Up in the Air!
I voted for the SAG Awards®, and when the Academy Award® nominations were announced at 5:38 AM PT Wednesday, I was up. Actually, I was getting ready to go speak at Fuller Theological Seminary for the “EATFE Goes To Hollywood” Conference (EATFE being the evangelical caucus of the Association of Theological Field Education), followed by speaking on a panel at ACT ONE in Hollywood. Woo hoo! There’s also the Producers Guild, Directors Guild, Writers Guild, Independent Spirit Awards and several other awards, so we’ll see.
MY 2 CENTS ON THIS YEAR’S FILMS
So here’s my brief insight on the BEST PICTURE ACADEMY AWARD® nominees summarized by my “one-word” reactions. Feel free to agree or disagree with me. These are my thoughts and opinions as one who makes films, watches tons of films and is invited often to critique films and judge film festivals, and as one who is a faith leader and cares about the influence and impact we make as artists in our world. I could write tons, but I’m going to limit this post to short summaries.
12 YEARS A SLAVE
12 Years A Slave is the “must-see” film of this awards season. Produced by Brad Pitt (Curious Case of Benjamin Button shout out) and based on a true story, this film is such a raw and disturbing portrayal of our American history that it’s haunting. The images stay with you. It’s impossible to leave this film and not want to dialogue about what one experiences. To me, that’s film-making at its best. Recent Yale graduate actress Lupita Nyong’o is unforgettable, and so is leading actor Chiwetel Ejiofor. Unfortunately, director Steve McQueen is not very personable which hurts during popularity/voting contests. But special congrats to fellow Georgia actress Kelsey Scott portraying Solomon Northrop’s wife. We were in Governors Honors together. Go forth, Lady!
The 70’s fashion and wigs are fun and authentic, and the movie visually looks good, but I think American Hustle is in the awards race because folks adore actors Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner. I personally like David O. Russell as a director, but I did not like this film. I tried. While the actors are likeable, there was not one character that I connected with in the movie, and that’s hard. Every story, even if it’s loosely based on a true story, as this one is, needs a hero or anti-hero that we identify with or root for or hope for. I couldn’t find one. I tried. I really did. After so much hype around the film, I was disappointed. But apparently others really like it, as evidenced in the fact that it keeps winning awards.
OK, real talk: It took me some time to sit down and watch Captain Phillips because I didn’t want to see another film portraying men of color as the ultimate evil to be feared and gunned down in the world. But the film was nominated for so many awards, and we received the screener in the mail, and I finally had to concede that it’s based on a true story. If men of color don’t want to be portrayed in such light, maybe pirating commercial ships off the horn of Africa with automatic weapons should come off the things-to-do list. Either way, this film takes you on a ride! From beginning to end, and we know the end because it actually happened a few years ago, we’re involved in the action and psyche and dangers and survival. On a side note, I do find it interesting that Tom Hanks did not receive a nomination for playing the hero, but Barkhad Abdi sure did receive a nomination for playing the villain. Here’s to our Academy!
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
Also based on a true story, Dallas Buyers Club is a story of fighters. That’s why Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto have been winning awards in the acting categories. For example, McConaughey lost 50 lbs and went from 185 to 135 pounds to portray a Texas electrician who contracts HIV and fights to survive. We could relate in that Kevin lost that kind of weight when we battled cancer, you know? The movie is graphic, definitely not for kids, and not for some adults. The story is told in a candid, no-holds-barred style.
I know that’s two words, but this film truly is an experience. We saw it in 3D, and I literally felt like I was spinning with Sandra Bullock. I’m still spinning. Do you know those sensory rides that you get on and it feels like you’re on a roller coaster? That’s how this feels. And because I’ve just spent the last 5 sentences telling you how a movie feels surely tells you that film is DIFFERENT and will likely win awards. How many films do we physically experience? How many make our stomachs drop – for real? Tears float in space. Temperatures fluctuate. Faith is questioned. If you haven’t yet, go ahead. Take the plunge. Experience space.
This is the only film that made the list that I haven’t seen yet, and I’ve seen a LOT of films. Sorry. I saw most of my screenings in November and took December off and picked up again in January, and Her’s screenings were done by January, so… I guess I’ll have to find it before March 3rd when the Academy Awards air.
Nebraska is an incredibly human and simple story loosely based on real characters pulled from the life of screenwriter, comedic sketch artist Bob Nelson. This is Bob’s first produced feature film, and he scored two-time Academy Award-winner Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants) as the director. Now, that meant waiting 10 years for his film to be made, but Bob would definitely say that it was worth the wait, now that his black and white film has garnered 6 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. I heard Bob speak recently and he told the story of how director Payne “toughened” up the script, which essentially meant he sprinkled profanity throughout. I think it would’ve made just as much sense without those additions, mainly because the actors Bruce Dern and June Squibb are priceless.
I started to choose delightful as my one word, but that’s because I think Judy Dench in the leading role is delightful. That doesn’t however describe the film. The film, based on a true story, is provocative and meaty and brings up so many issues about the Catholic church and when to get angry and when to forgive. It’s not marketed as a faith-based film, mainly because faith circles would probably say it points out corruption, but I personally think there should be much conversation surrounding this film in and out of faith communities. Through it all, we see a woman who endures hardship from her church but does not lose her faith in God and finds her way towards forgiveness, which is the epitome of Christ-like-ness. Is it not?
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Based on a true story too, The Wolf of Wall Street dusted up LOTS of controversy. During the Golden Globes, several references were made to the fact that the movie broke the record for number of F-words in a film (over 500). That’s one of the reasons I describe the screening I saw as excessive. Excessive language, excessive drugs, excessive sex. It was so over the top, which was a bit much for me, I’m not going to lie. I usually research films before I see them, but this was a last minute screening that I got in with a long line of folks who were turned away. That’s the only reason I didn’t walk out. It was like 3 hours of debauchery, but everyone does not respond the way I did. At other screenings, when folks asked me what I thought of Wolf and I said “excessive” or “debauchery”, responses were like, “Can’t wait to see it!” So, I’m guessing my reaction has more to do with my spiritual sensitivity. Let’s just say I took a loooonnnngggg break from screenings after this one. LOL!
These last 3 films that I include are not nominated for BEST PICTURE, but I wanted to give some insight as to the reason I think WHY.
Blue Jasmine is classic Woody Allen and Cate Blanchett looks to be sweeping up Best Actress awards (and rightly so, her work in the lead role is brilliant), but the film is most likely “too blue” for BEST PICTURE. I was so depressed when I finished watching it. REMINDER: Films that usually win awards have some element of hope. (Previous BLOG: Our Award Films Need More Hope).
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY
This is one explosive, dysfunctional family that we want to watch. Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts turn in authentic and nuanced performances as women who have been hurt and so they hurt others. The language is raw, the conversation real, and the pain is visceral. There’s a reason this play won so many awards and why the film is following suit. But it was shut out of the BEST PICTURE race, most likely because it feels normal and Academy Award Best Picture films usually have to be a little abnormal, different, off… you know? Like spinning in space! :=)
LEE DANIEL’S THE BUTLER
I’m foregoing the one word here because I don’t exactly have one. I have ten: “The actors did what they could with what they had.” I’m really not trying to be mean. I’m very supportive. Our friend David Oyelowo did his thing. So did Forrest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey. But the script and/or the directing just wasn’t cohesive enough to keep the interest going. At some point in the story, I just stopped caring about what happened next. Is that a screenplay issue? Or directorial issue? Or both? Many are upset and saying the film was snubbed, but I don’t know. Every awards season, I’ll see at least 20 films, and most of them, the craft is just excellent. Folks are competing at the top of their game. The Butler’s director is a mastermind at marketing and producing, and I’m really hoping at some point he becomes brilliant at directing, cause in this film there’s something…well, missing…???
WHEW! WE MADE IT!
What are your thoughts?
Which films have you seen?
Which ones would you vote for?
Who do you think should win?
Lots of love from the LaLa,
Rev. Naima Lett, D.MIN, ABD
The Hollywood Christian®
Author of coming release Confessions of a Hollywood Christian®
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