Like so many of us, I was shocked and saddened to learn of the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. To be felled by a drug overdose and to pass away at such a young age certainly is tragic. Granted, we frequently are hit with headlines regarding the demises of famous and often beloved movie folk. But this one somehow seemed different.
These days, when it comes to the Academy Awards, documentaries too often are shoved aside. The media spotlight is on the celebrities, the high-profile feature films, which films or actors were nominated and which were overlooked, and who likely will walk off with Oscar.
Sometimes, an actor who once upon a time earned a certain celebrity but has long since disappeared from the limelight makes a triumphant return to center stage. Such is the case right now with Bruce Dern. These days, Dern is back in full force playing a grizzled, alcoholic senior citizen in Alexander Payne's NEBRASKA. Dern's letter-perfect performance earned him a top acting prize at last spring's Cannes Film Festival. He now is winning best actor awards from film critics' groups, and the question of the moment is: Will he walk off with the Best Actor Academy Award?
What do films like ALL IS LOST, GRAVITY, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, and WORLD WAR Z, among so many others, have in common? Sure, all were released theatrically in 2013; however, even though their characters and the specifics of their storylines differ, all are linked in one major way.
Each day, it seems, a new film critics group or other such organization announces its Best Film and Best Actor and Best Actress choices for the just-concluded year. Then we have the Golden Globe awards which, let’s face it, is the equivalent of a Triple-A championship baseball game. Now we have the Academy Awards which, as Ed Sullivan used to say, is the “Really Big Show” that is the motion picture industry’s equivalent of the World Series or Super Bowl.
One film that is drawing attention at award nomination ceremonies is PHILOMENA, the story of a real-life Irish-Catholic woman named Philomena Lee. The film relates the story a teenager in the 1950s, who met a young man one evening at a fair and wound up having a one-night sexual encounter with him—her first time having sex. She never saw him again.
For decades, the behind-the-scenes lives of the famous have been fodder for celluloid “exposes.” In recent years in particular, filmmakers have been attracted to tales of illicit romances during times in which strict codes of social conduct were supposed to be adhered to. The latest example is THE INVISIBLE WOMAN, which is directed by Ralph Fiennes. THE INVISIBLE WOMAN charts the evolving relationship between an older Charles Dickens, who also is played by Fiennes, and a young woman named Nelly Ternan.
Usually, at the end of each year, a handful of high-quality Oscar-caliber films arrive in movie theaters. But this was not the case in 2013. Rather, a wealth of films that for one reason or another have been deserved acclaimed have opened theatrically. PHILOMENA, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, NEBRASKA, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, AMERICAN HUSTLE, MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, HER, and AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY have followed PRISONERS, GRAVITY, ALL IS LOST, and 12 YEARS A SLAVE into movie houses.
While soaking in the coverage on CNN of the death of Nelson Mandela, I was not surprised to hear the deservedly respectful quotes from diverse political figures. Certainly, Barack Obama’s declaration that Mandela “no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages” is ever-so appropriate.
The silent film era from the start of the 20th Century through the end of the 1920s was a rich time in American entertainment. Rich, poor, immigrants new to our nation—they all sought out the new and wondrous moving shadows which looked so clearly like real life. By the mid-teens, the Hollywood studio system and movie companies in Chicago, New York, and parts of New Jersey, as well as Florida and Maine, were churning out thousands of short films and feature-length entertainments for mass consumption.