Thursday, February 4, 2010

FOTM: "If we can't live together, we're gonna die alone."

Over it’s 80 plus year history the Academy Awards has gone through a great many changes. Everything from the venue and the way the awards are presented to the very categories themselves has changed and evolved along with the world of cinema. Every so often the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences sees the need for another category to be added to its annual honors in an attempt to pay recognition to yet another of the many facets of the creative process that go into making a movie. This may be anything from the addition of the Best Make-Up category when something like AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON comes out and changes the perceptions of what can be shown in movies to something like the addition of the Best Animated Feature Film category when everyone realized they were going to need a way to pay tribute to Pixar each and every year. Now that the Oscars have made the very wise decision to expand their Best Picture category I think it’s time they add yet another category to their annual ceremony, a category that already exists in another highly regarded group of Awards, the SAGs. I think it’s high time the Oscars add a Best Ensemble Cast category to their honors.

Just like a single actor or actress can make or break a movie so too can an entire cast. Unless you are dealing with a one man play having the right actors and actresses in each and every single role is essential to a movie’s success. If one actor is stellar and brings the house down it may mean great things for him but your movie is bound to suffer unless he or she can bounce off and react to everyone else they share the screen with. As someone who has made a movie that involves a large, diverse, ensemble cast I can say with absolute certainty that if just one of those elements is out of place, if one of those roles doesn’t work it can throw the entire picture off. Look at the great movies throughout the history of cinema. Humphrey Bogart can burn through the screen all he wants as Rick in CASABLANCA but it’s ultimately all for not without Ilsa or Sam. Michael Corleone’s rise to power is nothing without his father and brothers, each and every single one played impeccably by the PERFECT actor for their parts.

While I’m all for recognizing the best individual performances the acting world has to offer I think there really is something to be said for the way the Screen Actor’s Guild also recognizes the way individual performances connect to form a beautiful, brilliant, cohesive whole. I know that it may be years, if ever before the Academy realizes the need for such a category so what follows is what I would hope the Oscar nominees for Best Ensemble Cast for 2009 would be should such a category existed.

THE BROTHER’S BLOOM: This film walks a very fine line with equal parts drama, comedy, whimsy, heart, cunning, sadness and joy. If it were to falter and upset this most delicate and precarious of balances the entire film wouldn’t work, however Rian Johnson recruited a crack team of actors to play the likes of Stephen, Bloom, Bang Bang, Penelope, The Curator and the rest. Each character is a little slice of heaven played perfectly by actors that know how to maintain the right level of… everything to ensure that Johnson’s perfectly constructed little world never goes spinning off it’s axis.

HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: Over the past decade we have seen Harry, Ron and Hermione grow up and together as they face an ever changing, increasingly dangerous world. It is a testament to the casting geniuses at Warner Brothers that they picked 3 actors we as an audience would want to almost quite literally grow old with. The sixth entry in the HARRY POTTER franchise could have potentially been a disaster. While it serves as a bridge and a set-up to the conclusion of J.K. Rowling’s epic fantasy series it is ultimately about relationships. It is about boys and girls growing into young men and women and the inherent difficulties that go with such maturation. In my humble opinion HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE is the best entry into the series so far and the majority of the credit for such brilliance lies squarely on the shoulders of the three impeccable actors tasked with playing characters we have grown to know and love like family. In what was easily the most emotionally complex film yet they along with the likes of Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman and everyone else in between proved they were more than up to the task of grounding this fantastical series in the reality of humanity that ensures this series’ legacy will never die.

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS: This film is the very definition of an “Ensemble Film”. There really are no main characters. Instead each individual part forms a piece of the grand puzzle that is Quentin Tarantino’s WWII fantasy opus and the voters for the SAG Awards agreed.

STAR TREK: I honestly can’t think of the last time I saw a film this perfectly cast. Each and every actor perfectly embodies characters that have existed for decades all the while making them intrinsically their own as well. J.J. Abrams and crew had to make us fall in love with characters that we know backwards and forwards all over again. We not only had to buy each one of them as these iconic characters but we also had to completely buy the way they related to one another and the situations they were thrust into. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban and the rest did all that and more by turning in career making performances and knocking it out of the park all at the same time.

UP IN THE AIR: Somehow George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick are able to form this perfect little nuclear family one that takes their broken, empty characters and somehow makes them at least somewhat whole. I loved this movie from the moment it began till the moment it ended but what really drove it all home for me was when Anna Kendrick’s beau breaks up with her causing these three lost and adrift people to gravitate towards one another. Over the next twenty to thirty minutes we see this group of adults become a cohesive family perfectly displaying what the film is really trying to impart about priorities and importance. Without the perfect person in each of these roles (As well as they great supporting and bit characters) none of this would have worked and the movie would have never been able to soar to the great heights it achieves.


Adam said...

I think your idea is a valid one, and you bring up a good point. I don't know if the Academy will ever do it though. In some respects, that one seems to be the territory of the SAG Awards, and I'm not sure if the Academy wants to step on their proverbial toes, so to speak.

I've already said a ton about "Star Trek," so I won't bore you with another version of my speech. As for "Up in the Air," I'd argue that Clooney and Farmiga were perfectly cast, but Kendrick was a real fly in the ointment. Her performance was far too over the top and really lacked the nuanced touch that the other two brought to their own characters. Ironically, I thought that the scene where her boyfriend breaks up with her provided some of the worst acting that I saw all year. Fortunately, Kendrick has no chance in the Oscar race she's in, because Mo'Nique has it pretty much wrapped up, but I still think she's the sore thumb that's sticking out on that list.

Megan said...

I was actually really upset that Up In The Air didn't get nominated for best ensemble at the SAGs - every actor was nominated individually so it made no sense.

Adam, as a girl relatively close in age to the character Kendrick was playing - I loved her performace. You're also still in the minority about Star Trek...but I think in about ten years once there are a few more out in this vein you might be used to the idea and reexamine it.

However, I am still adamant that the Oscars add some kind of Stunt award, even if it's to the technical awards. I forget if it was the SAGs or the Globes that finally added that category this year and I think it has been long overdue. Stunt performers work their butt off and bad stunts can ruin a movie. It's insane the things stunt actors and coordinators can do and make look good and it should be recognized somehow.

Chris W said...

I agree on the stunt award. I think it was the SAGs that did it. That is one of those things that is so very rarely recognized plus it would be kind of cool because you might see action movies like THE BOURNE ULTIMTUM or CASINO ROYALE or something like that take home an award.