Dear Don and Vinny,
It is often said that TV is a writer’s medium, theater is an actor’s medium, and film is a director’s medium. I’ve always found this statement to be a tad misleading, and have never agreed with it completely. While it rings true to a certain degree, it’s impossible to deny that every master of these rich and varied art forms, whether as writer, performer, or director, wields an indispensable power over their respective audiences in separate yet somehow similarly centralized ways.
The stage is unquestionably a different animal altogether, and some of the best onscreen talents honed their skill through theater roots. Impossibly gifted thespians like Meryl Streep or Ralph Fiennes paved their path to the silver screen in the wings of the stage, and we have seen many more like them follow suit and make the leap, like this year’s Best Actress front runner Viola Davis. In the same regard, actors like George Clooney and Michelle Williams gained prominence on TV before transitioning into movie stardom, and subsequent Oscar recognition.
Before George landed ER, he landed…E/R
I think that by and large, while directors do have more control over the fate of a film’s final cut, the chance of any film being talked about and as a result, seen by a wider audience, is still in the hands of the performers who breathe life into the screenwriter’s words. How many terrible films have we sat through simply because it was the latest vehicle featuring a beloved movie star? (I’m looking at you, Julia Roberts.) How many small, independent features have we sought out simply because we heard the performance(s) were phenomenal? It’s no wonder why the acting branch of the Academy makes up the largest percentage of the total voting body. Films may be referred to as a director’s medium, but now more than ever, we in a world driven by celebrity culture. Just ask the local moviegoers who forked over their valuable pesos to watch The Tree of Life during its Philippine run. Chances are, there were quite a number of them who weren’t even aware who Terrence Malick is and were pulled in primarily by Brad Pitt’s name on the marquee. There’s a reason why even generally unknown actors or up-and-comers like Adepero Oduye and Felicity Jones land on the cover of Vanity Fair. Most people go to the movies to see portrayals of memorable characters more than stylistic nuances of acclaimed directors. I myself am guilty of this. Although, in David Fincher’s case, I dare say that I would make an exception. I’m still a little sore that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo didn’t garner more nominations this year when in 2008, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Fincher’s weakest film for me, scored a total of 13.
The only sequence I really enjoyed in Benjamin Button
I raise this point because I feel that it has been too long since we’ve enjoyed celebrating a film that took home the Big Five Academy Awards, i.e., Actor, Actress, Screenplay, Director, and Picture. The last time a film was nominated for the Big Five was in 2004 when Million Dollar Baby elbowed its way into the race and scored statuettes for Hilary Swank’s performance, Clint Eastwood’s direction, and the coveted Best Picture gold. But, the last time a film won all Big Five Oscar trophies? That was all the way back in 1991 for the highly-deserving The Silence of the Lambs. This makes me wonder about the state of films in general. Yes, there are more films being made now thanks to the advent of new technology, which has made the filmmaking process cheaper, swifter, and accessible to a variety of new voices who are unafraid of pushing the envelope in terms of subject matter and/or visual actualization. Yet with this influx of smaller films, risk-taking films, has variety also somehow derailed the focus of many filmmakers or diluted the quality of studio pictures in general?
How long will we have to wait until we once again see a film that is an indisputable success in every big category? A film that, like Silence of the Lambs, is universally acclaimed by critics and audiences alike, performs well at the box office, and is talked about long after the convoluted awards season hype has dissipated? A film that will break the mold that has somehow been set by the Academy for far too long now?
Judging from this year’s nine Best Picture nominees, it could take a while.