For Your Consideration: Feb. 20, 2015

It’s a very special weekend, everybody: we have finally reached the end of the season of famous people giving shiny statues to other famous people. Who will triumph at the Oscars? “Birdman?” “Boyhood?” “The Imitation Game?” We’ll find out on Sunday night. But right now, we’re combining our Academy Award celebration with this weekend’s OTHER major event: yes, I’m talking about the release of “Hot Tub Time Machine 2.” Come take a step back through Oscar history with us, won’t you?

– Ethan

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004)

Cast: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Wilkinson, Kirsten Dunst, Elijah Wood, Jane Adams, David Cross

Available to rent or purchase from iTunes, Amazon Instant and Vudu, on disc from Netflix

10 years ago, Michel Gondry’s modern masterpiece only managed two Oscar nominations – Best Actress for Kate Winslet (deserved, though she somewhat pales in comparison to Jim Carrey’s unrecognized, career-best work opposite), and Best Original Screenplay. For comparison, “Finding Neverland” got six nominations that same year. So it goes. At least, in the best victory of the night that was otherwise dominated by milquetoast offerings like “Million Dollar Baby” and “Ray,” Charlie Kaufman took that screenplay award. The writer’s branch has always been the most daring part of the Academy when it comes to nominating genuinely great, oddball work, and this time even the rest of the membership couldn’t ignore the dazzling inventiveness and melancholy of Kaufman’s sci-fi-rom-com scenario.

– Ethan

“Ed Wood” (1994)

Cast: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, G.D. Spradlin, Vincent D’Onofrio, Bill Murray, Mike Starr, Max Casella, Lisa Marie

Available to rent or purchase from iTunes, Amazon Instant and Vudu, on disc from Netflix

20 years ago, Tiny Ethan was glad to be not yet old enough to recognize cinematic injustice. But I’ve had plenty of time since to make my distaste for “Forrest Gump” known, so we won’t linger on that. One of the few categories that wasn’t taken over by Zemeckis’ saccharine juggernaut was Best Supporting Actor, where Martin Landau was deservedly recognized for his work as aging film star Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s paean to the titular “worst director of all time.” This was something of a career award, the kind the Academy so dearly loves to dole out, for Landau: he’d come up with the Actors Studio decades earlier in New York City, befriended James Dean and Steve McQueen, and had two previous nominations (“Tucker,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors”) among his many workhorse credits. But Landau is also fantastic in “Ed Wood:” an appropriately Z-movie take on Norma Desmond, delusional and fierce and sympathetic, a former great at the end of his rope. It’s quite possibly the best acting performance ever put forward in a Burton movie – challenged, I think, only by Depp in the same film.


“The Godfather, Part II” (1974)

Cast: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, John Cazale, Talia Shire, Lee Strasberg, Michael V. Gazzo, G.D. Spradlin

Available to rent or purchase on Amazon Instant, iTunes and Vudu, on disc from Netflix

40 years ago, the first and only sequel ever to take Best Picture triumphed over one of the toughest (if a bit top-heavy) fields in Oscar history. I mean, how do you vote between “Godfather II,” Coppola’s other masterpiece “The Conversation,” and “Chinatown?” Some of the other choices might have been easier, though: Coppola’s father Carmine winning for Best Original Score was a decent way to make up for the controversy surrounding Nino Rota’s score for the original two years earlier; meanwhile, despite Fred Astaire standing as a sentimental favorite for his turn in the star-packed “The Towering Inferno,” Robert De Niro’s far superior performance won over in Best Supporting Actor – despite the actor, Hollywood royalty now but largely unknown at the time, never speaking a word of English in the film.

– Ethan

R.I.P. Eli Wallach

As has been widely reported, we have recently lost one of our most prolific actors of stage and screen: Eli Wallach, perpetual journeyman and character specialist, passed away Tuesday at his home in Manhattan, at the age of 98.

Is it odd to mourn a man you never met? To feel a sense of not just regret, but tangible loss upon their passing? It was only a year ago that I grappled with this question with Roger Ebert, a significant role model whose example I would often consult for both professional and personal guidance. It happened again with Philip Seymour Hoffman, a sobering and tragic case of talent, success and even love not being enough to quell personal demons.

Eli Wallach was neither of those things to me. He was a man who quietly, diligently, capably went about his job for over 60 years. He was in a number of productions – whether on TV, film, or the stage – that I saw and quite liked; he was in a great many more that I’ve not yet had the fortune to see. He lived, by all accounts, a long and fulfilling life, with a stable and loving family: he had a wife, Anne Jackson, who collaborated with and challenged him on stage; two daughters, a son, and three grandchildren; and, as it would happen, a nephew, a certain A.O. Scott.

And what else is there to say? Not that I mean there wasn’t much more to Wallach’s life, from his five years in the Medical Corps during WWII to his collaborations with the likes of Lee Strasberg, Tennessee Williams, Sergio Leone, and Francis Ford Coppola, or the countless other details that made up Wallach’s life that I will never and have no reason to be privy to. But that is, more or less, a summary of Wallach’s presence in my private little bubble. Is it so foolish, or perhaps simply unnecessary, then, to feel just so dreadfully sad that this man is no longer out there, somewhere, in the world?

Do I love him as Clark Gable’s sidekick in “The Misfits?” Sure. Do I adore him as the slippery, weary villain of “The Magnificent Seven?” Absolutely. Would I watch “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” several dozen times just to watch the practiced way the mischievous Tuco, a bumbling idiot in any lesser film, always knows enough to keep one eye on the door? I could, and I have. Affection for his screen work isn’t an entirely satisfactory answer, though – Wallach never was (nor really ever intended to be) the kind of electric performer who blew you away with his raw talent. He was a workhorse who created solid, lived-in characters; maybe he wasn’t the poster-boy for Strasberg’s Method but he was the proof that it was more than attention-grabbing behind-the-scenes stunts. There was perhaps never a more worthy recipient of an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement: he may never have really turned in a single, star-making performance, but it was always a pleasant surprise to see his face when he popped up.

Is that all there is to it? Did Wallach simply ingratiate his way into my life with a distinctive mug and a knack for being watchable? By just seeming like a nice old man who loved what he did?

Honestly, I don’t really know the answer. I just know that Tuesday evening, Eli Wallach passed away. And that’s too bad.

R.I.P. Gordon Willis

It is a great misfortune to report that Gordon Willis, one of the true titans of American cinematography, passed away on Sunday in Falmouth, Massachusetts. I haven’t seen any cause listed, but he was 82.

Willis will generally be defined by his prominent collaborations with three major directors: Francis Ford Coppola, Alan J. Pakula and Woody Allen. Willis essentially set the aesthetic for an entire generation in masterpieces like “The Godfather” and its sequel, “All the President’s Men,” “Annie Hall,” “Stardust Memories,” “Pennies from Heaven,” and, of course, his luminous, transcendent work in Allen’s “Manhattan.”

His most famous images undoubtedly come from the latter, and rightly so: Allen and Diane Keaton sitting in the shadows under a sparkling, almost spectral Queensboro Bridge is a dream of a dream, all of pop culture’s impressions of New York City distilled in one shot. But at the end of the day, I have to say my personal favorite of Willis’ films might be another Allen collaboration, “The Purple Rose of Cairo.” The silver screen lost its literal silver many years ago, but I think Willis’ stunning work on Allen’s Depression-era fable evokes the shimmer and sheen of early film better than a 1980 color film has any business doing. If you needed someone to visualize the beautiful, terrible power of cinema, you couldn’t ask for any better than Willis.