By SUSAN DUNNE and FRANK RIZZO, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
The Hartford Courant
February 24, 2013
The Academy Awards bring out the critic in everyone. It starts when the nominations are announced — "Whaddya mean, Ben Affleck wasn't nominated?" — and lasts long after Oscar night. That annual ritual takes place Sunday night and will be televised starting at 8:30 p.m. on ABC. (That's the actual ceremony; the red carpet fashion show starts at 7 p.m.) To give a little inside perspective to the glitzy festivities, we thought we'd ask a few Connecticut residents — people whose lives revolve around the entertainment industry — producers, directors, cinema managers, actors, costumers — about the Oscars and the 2012 movie year in general. What impressed them? What trends did they notice? Who should win? Who will win? Let's let the experts riff ...
Howard Baldwin and his wife, Karen, of Hartford are the former owners of the Hartford Whalers and they co-produced the 2004 movie "Ray," for which Jamie Foxx won best actor. They are both voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
"We both thought Ben [Affleck] should have been nominated for best director. It's pretty hard to nominate a movie for best picture and then say, well, the director shouldn't be nominated," he said. "I'm thrilled for him that he got the Golden Globe." Baldwin said he wished the Oscars, like the Globes, would divide the best picture nominees between drama and comedy/musical.
Baldwin added that the 10-picture, five-director nomination limit is a flawed setup. "It's pretty hard to make a good movie without a good director," he said.
He thinks best actor is cut-and-dried in favor of Daniel Day Lewis in "Lincoln" and best supporting actress probably will go to Anne Hathaway for "Les Miserables." He's less sure about best actress, although he admires Jessica Chastain's performance in "Zero Dark Thirty."
He is looking forward most to seeing who wins best supporting actor: the nominees are Robert de Niro, Christoph Waltz, Alan Arkin, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Tommy Lee Jones, who all have won before. "That will be fun. There are some real icons there. That'll be a mighty interesting vote," he said.
Baldwin says that the biggest obstacle any film faces when seeking a nomination, and an award, is awareness, and that is becoming more difficult. "Right now, television is so great. To see a movie, somebody has to get off their you know what and get into the car and go to the theater and park the car and buy the ticket, when no matter what you do in six months you can watch it on your 72-inch TV. It's a supreme effort, and when somebody scores on it, that's a great compliment on a film."
Jeanine Basinger, founder and director of the Film Studies Department at Wesleyan University in Middletown, votes with the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute when they come up with their annual lists of the best movies of the year.
"There are two locks, Daniel Day Lewis for best actor and Anne Hathaway for best supporting actress," said Basinger. For best actress, she is rooting for Jennifer Lawrence, whom she chose on her National Board of Review ballot. Jessica Chastain eventually won that award.
As for best picture, Basinger admits she's biased toward "Beasts of the Southern Wild," because almost every member of the production team went to Wesleyan. But she still defends it as "the freshest, the most haunting, totally original film" of all the nine nominees.
"This is the true hope of the future of filmmaking. We have all this new technology that enables people to make films away from the big technical centers in Los Angeles and New York, to put tools into the hands of everybody," she said. She was delighted to see its director, Benh Zeitlin, nominated. "It's a great tribute to the Academy that they are willing to recognize such a young man, working outside their own system, for the genius that he has shown, creatively and directorially."
While "Beasts" represents new school, she said, "Lincoln" celebrates what's best about classical filmmaking. "It was a very great example of the highest level of craftsmanship filmmaking out of Hollywood," she said. "It's made by old pros who can put together an old-fashioned kind of genre, a biopic, at a very high level. ... This is the establishment, and the creme de la creme."
James Hanley co-founded Cinestudio, Trinity College's prime venue for classic films, and co-runs it to this day.
Throughout the year, James Hanley noticed a running theme in a lot of movies: the ones based on real events, such as "Argo" and "Zero Dark Thirty," seemed less real than the ones that weren't, such as "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Amour."
"When you give an award for best picture, are you awarding the skills of the filmmaker in a vacuum, or are you saying this is a really good film on the subject?" he asked. "It's a sticky territory."
He pointed to the controversy surrounding the screenplay of "Lincoln"; Tony Kushner changed Connecticut's vote on the 13th amendment to heighten the suspense. He said "Argo" also embellished the truth, adding a chase on an airport runway. Hanley's problem with "Zero Dark Thirty" is its opening, which has harrowing voices coming from the burning Twin Towers.
"From the very beginning, you're throwing down something that is emotionally so powerful that anything that follows, you can do what you like as long as you catch the guy," he said.
"Beasts of the Southern Wild," he said, "has a visceral reality to it that somehow the other films don't quite have," and he said Quvenzhané Wallis deserves best actress for centering her performance in that kind of reality. Even "Django Unchained," while it "exists in a universe you don't take seriously," Hanley said, makes one thing feel very real: "the brutality of owning human beings."
Hanley said if he had a best picture vote, he'd give it to "Silver Linings Playbook." "There are so many characters in that film, and they all seem right," he said. But he'd give best director to Michael Haneke, creator of "Amour." "Haneke ... gets the whole nature of aging, how people deal with their lives as they age. It makes you feel uncomfortable. ... It's something that needs to be on screen."
As for best actor? "Denzel Washington. I felt a visceral connection with him and his character. ... Daniel Day Lewis was magnificent but it has a kind of deliberately theatrical quality."
The Italian-born Toblini is a costumer, honored this year by the Connecticut Critics Circle. His work at Hartford Stage includes "Bell Book and Candle," "The Tempest" and "Breath & Imagination." He spoke of the nominees for best costume design.
"The costumes in 'Mirror Mirror' are just plain self conscious, cartoony and as unsexy as it can be. The actors in 'Snow White and the Huntsman' look like a bunch of figurines from 'Forbidden Planet' and as much as I love those, this is a very distance-free Dungeon and Dragons affair.
" 'Les Miserables' gave us a good balance of feel for the period and character interpretation. These costumes helped in telling the story without desperately begging for attention.I loved the look of the men in 'Anna Karenina.' Impeccable tailoring and very handsome uniforms. The direction of the movie was very theatrical and called for a creative interpretation of the period, but the result seemes to me a bit too fashiony and remains slightly behind the rest of the art direction. 'Lincoln' is the best faithful reconstruction of a period. Daniel Day Lewis makes a fantastic Lincoln and I felt I had a good insight of 1860's America watching it. I give my vote to 'Lincoln.' "
Actor Jefferies, a Texas native, has become a Connecticut fixture over the years with many performances at Hartford Stage ("Streetcar Named Desire," "Night of the Iguana"), as well as Hartford's TheaterWorks ("The Year of Magical Thinking") and Westport Country Playhouse ("Suddenly Last Summer").
When asked about the nominees for best actress, Jefferies went straight for Naomi Watts who co-starred in the film "The Impossible." "I think she is one of our exciting actresses working in our era and I don't say that lightly. What I also love about her is the diversity of roles she plays."
When asked about another nominee, Quvenzhane Wallis for "Beasts of the Southern Wild," Jefferies says "I'm not for children getting awards. I think perhaps they could receive a special award but to give the best actress Oscar to a seven-year-old? I'm sorry, no."
Tresnjak is the artistic director of Hartford Stage and now staging the musical "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder," which premiered last fall at the theater and is opening at San Diego's Old Globe with performances beginning March 8. The show is slated for Broadway next season.
"My favorite movie of 2012, both foreign and all-around, was 'Amour.' I was not surprised to see it nominated for the best picture of the year, something that rarely happens with a foreign movie. The movie, set largely in the apartment of an old couple, is largely structured like a thriller. It made me think of 'Rosemary's Baby' or 'Repulsion,' two movies that are also set in single spaces. But the intruder that moves into this apartment is, quite simply, old age, infirmity, disease. Jean-Louis Trintignant adds another triumph to the long list of utterly uncompromising and fearless performances. It's the finest acting of 2012 and he should have been nominated. And Emmanuelle Riva is touching and unforgettable — an ingenue who has gotten old and is falling apart.
"For best director, 'Amour' and Michael Haneke. Is there a more confident film director working today? There isn't a false note, from the opening shot to the last haunting image. Frankly, no other director, nominated in the category, has achieved that. I also love how much faith he has in both his actors and us, the audience. The camera observes the two leads calmly for long, unnerving periods. And we are left to draw our own conclusions about the choices that they make."
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