Sunday, February 24, 2008

Daylight Award: Writer

Choosing the best writing is a very subjective business for me. I am only impressed by writing in a narrow selection of genres, particularly comedy, and most specifically dark comedy. It is easier to concentrate on the script in films with less action and more dialogue obviously, so I may be giving short shrift to some great screenwriters in other genres. But, these are MY awards so I get to pick my favorites! I struggled with this for a few days because I really think Charlie Kaufman is my favorite modern screenwriter. He is beyond brilliant. The way he turns Hollywood and the traditional screenplay on it's head in Adaptation and Being John Malkovich was bold and worked perfectly. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind may be the most romantic screenplay in history and yet completely unconventional and mindblowing in it's approach. BUT, I cannot give Kaufman the award for "Best Writer of this generation"! What? Yep. Really? Uh-huh. Are you serious? I am. Because when I think of the longevity of the best writing, the combination of quantity AND quality, the award should clearly go to......

Daylight Award for Best Writer(s) Of This Generation:

Joel and Ethan Coen

They are writers, producers, and directors. Every film they make is their vision from the page to the final cut and what a resume'! I have already mentioned O, Brother Where Art Thou? as one of my favorite films and it was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards. Fargo won the award for Best Original Screenplay and No Country For Old Men won Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay this year. Other great screenplays:

Blood Simple
Raising Arizona
Barton Fink
Miller's Crossing
The Hudsucker Proxy
The Big Lebowski

Few others have written more original material as groundbreaking, influential, or amazing as the Coen Bros. And their direction is among the best as well.

Coming soon, the Daylight Award for Best Picture!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Daylight Award: Director

Who is the best film director of this generation? I know there are plenty of new directors who have taken over the industry in the last ten or twenty years, like Wes Anderson, PT Anderson, the Coen Brothers, Sofia Coppolla , Alexander Payne and the list goes on. Of course it is tough to nail down the best director because there are so many different kinds of movies being made, influencing one another and showing talents in different areas of filmmaking. It would be easy to compare the visual stylings of some directors as it would be the ability to draw out great acting performances for others.
For me when I think of a great director I think of someone who expresses their vision uniquely, taking a script and making it their own. The greatest do this: Welles, Hitchcock, Renoir, Fellini, Ford, Kurosawa, Lean. I love Woody Allen and he is certainly one of our greatest directors but I don't think of him on the level of these others. In terms of comic writing he may be the best ever, but in terms of directing he has played it pretty straightforward most of his career. Of course Annie Hall is a masterpiece and probably the greatest comedy ever made. But when we think of the images of Vertigo, or Citizen Kane, or Lawrence Of Arabia we are thinking of great directing.

The nominees for the greatest director of our generation would need to include Scorsese who is now a living, breathing icon of Americana. Francis Ford Coppolla has not made a great or even relevant film in many years but he can rest on the laurels of the first two Godfather films forever. Robert Altman has not given up directing either but most of his best stuff is behind him.

The best director is the most obvious. His films typically are the highest grossing which is why he wasn't taken seriously for so many years and still gets overlooked when his work is the most thought provoking and interesting. He has reached every age group and inspired audiences around the world. His visual styles have become his trademark and still stretch the imagination three decades after his first film.

The Daylight Award for "Best Director of this generation" goes to:

Steven Spielberg

Among his accomplishments:

-5 films in AFI's top 100, more than any other director, living or dead, including 2 in the top 25.

-Two time winner of the Academy Award for Best Director (Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan)

-Two of the highest grossing films of all time (and both number one after their original release) E.T. and Jurassic Park.

-One of the greatest thrillers in cinema history, Jaws. (2nd only to Hitchock's Psycho)

-The greatest action/adventure film of all time, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

-The greatest war film ever made, Saving Private Ryan.

-The greatest holocaust film ever made and one of the greatest films period, Schindler's List.

-Arguably the greatest children's fantasy of all time, E.T.

-The best black drama ever made, The Color Purple.

...and we still have Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Empire Of The Sun, Amistad, Minority Report, and War of the Worlds! The new Indiana Jones comes out this May and who knows what else in store?

What makes Spielberg the best is his unique vision borne from the influences of other great directors. I heard him say once that he watched certain films before making any of his own which included The Seven Samarai (Kurosawa), The Searchers (Ford) and Lawrence Of Arabia (Lean)
You can see touches of these artists in Spielberg's films but he has taken them beyond what any of them probably imagined.

Monday, February 11, 2008

And the award goes to...

It is Hollywood award season and although I have no use for the sycophantic, self-obsessed nature of entertainment awards and self-congratulatory ceremonies I would like to pick some winners of my own. But like my "greatest films" list I will not be picking anything for just 2007 or even just the last decade, but the bests of my generation.

For the first category I will choose the top actors.

A brief synopsis of the storied history of film acting can mostly be confined to the British and American schools. In the early days, since film was mostly an American medium the best were former stage actors, most notably John Barrymore, but soon the Shakespearean talents of British actors rose above them (most notably in the person of Sir Lawrence Olivier who was THE Shakespearean actor of both stage and screen.) But as the 50s dawned a new kind of acting took over and it was to put the Americans on top again. Marlon Brando's performance in A Streetcar Named Desire, and later in On The Waterfront, changed acting forever. Although there had been great American actors before him, like Spencer Tracy and James Stewart, it was Brando who took us out of the melodrama of Hollywood's "Golden Years" and paved the way for the more complex and realistic form of thespianism still used today. Many other great "method" actors followed him like Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro, and strong personalities like Jack Nicholson. DeNiro became the Brando of his generation but he has long since ceased giving us any new voices worth celebrating.

In my opinion the torch has passed once more to the British side and even some to the Australian. We have seen the best roles performed by the likes of Geoffrey Rush, Jeremy Irons, Clive Owen, Colin Firth, Daniel Craig, Christian Bale, Anthony Hopkins, Ralph and Joseph Fiennes just to name a few. Even Australians like Russell Crowe have won Oscars over their American counterparts. Of the great actresses the same is true: Miranda Richardson, Kristen Scott Thomas, Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Emily Watson, Judi Dench, and Brenda Blethyn just to name a few more.

Over many years I have come to view two particular actors, one male, one female as the best by a mile in their craft. The range of their acting ability puts them in another realm from all of the others and as the pattern is going it is obvious that neither is American. One is English and the other an Aussie.

My "Daylight Award" for "Best Actor of this generation" goes to.....(drumroll)

Daniel Day-Lewis

He picks the roles he wants and only acts every three or four years now which says alot about value to the directors he gets to work with. He won an Oscar ages ago for My Left Foot but has amazing roles in Gangs Of New York, In The Name Of The Father, and There Will Be Blood for which some are saying he will win another Oscar. His Bill the Butcher from Scorsese's Gangs Of New York is the best villain probably ever in a movie for my money.

My "Daylight Award" for "Best Actress of this generation" goes to....(more drumrolling)

Cate Blanchett

She continues to astound me with her range. She can be masculine (as her impression of Bob Dylan in I'm Not There, or at times as Queen Elizabeth in both films about the English queen) or extremely feminine (like her comic performance in Barry Levinson's Bandits or the New Jersey girl in Pushing Tin). Although Meryl Streep may be the best living actress, like DeNiro, her best work may be in the past, while Blanchett is getting better as we speak.

Next Daylight Awards: Director, Writer, and Picture. Stay tuned.....

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Super Bowl Postscript

I got to at least once!!! (In reference to the part in parentheses below)

Best Super Bowl I have seen in quite a while!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Sci-Fi Postscript

How on earth did I fail to mention the Planet of the Apes series?
Some smart aleck would say that apes have already taken over so what's so depressing about the movies? I would counter with, "yeah, most humans do seem lobotomized, anyway" and then proceed to display my big crescent shaped scar.
Happy Super Bowl Sunday everyone! The day most American males act like apes anyway. Me included. Go Giants! (See, I'm not even a Giants fan but I hate the Patriots so I will jump up and down like a "damn, dirty ape" every time Eli throws a TD...and hopefully I get to at least once.)