Weekend Reel Reads is a regular feature that gathers lengthier stories related to the world of film criticism you may have missed during the week. If there's anything you think would be ideal for future installments, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As prognosticators crunch the numbers in an attempt to determine who'll take home prizes at every Oscar ceremony, there's other data to be sifted through from years past. Slate ran an updated breakdown of the kinds of people and entities who've been acknowledged by Oscar winners over the past decade. Some of the findings from Nathaniel Rogers and Chris Kirk's tabulations? The Academy doesn't get thanked as much as you'd expect.
"First is best, of course. Agents may battle for top billing on their clients’ behalf, but they rarely get it themselves on Oscar night—just one acting-Oscar winner recently, Tilda Swinton, thanked an agent before thanking anyone else. Last in the speech is also special; if you can’t get top billing, make sure you get the 'And … ' spot that in a film’s credits might be reserved for the biggest star of all. At last year's ceremony Christopher Plummer ended with a gorgeous, self-deprecating tribute to his wife, Elaine, 'who deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for coming to my rescue every day of my life.'"
Often, when we hear tales of the old studio system, the emphasis is on those who had ultimate power and lorded it over their contracted employees. But, as Farran Nehme describes, there was one actress in particular who refused to be manipulated by the system. Mary Pickford deftly navigated the theater-film divide, and Nehme's final anecdote her ability to weave her dual careers together brings it all back to this weekend.
"The theater season didn't start for a few months, so she remained at Biograph, where she was not under contract. One can deduce from Griffith's subsequent conduct that he was miffed. He'd just hired two promising sisters, Lillian and Dorothy Gish, whom Mary had known previously and introduced to him. In the perpetual way of bosses, Griffith played the newcomers against his recalcitrant star. He began one day of shooting with the gallant sally, 'Pickford, why don't you get a nice costume like Gish's?' He ordered them upstairs to swap dresses. They knew what was going on, of course, and Lillian told Pickford that it was all right, she liked Mary's dress better anyway. Once back on the set, though, Mary's blood was up: 'It's too bad, Mr. Griffith, that you can't get a good performance without trying to come between two friends.'"
The success of "Amour" during this year's awards season has been a curious one in the European film community, given the recent slashes in public film financing. Jason Farago writes in The New Republic about the precipitous decline in enthusiasm for the programs and how they were adversely affected by the global financial crisis five years ago. Farago also traces Haneke's rocky relationship with filmmaking in his native Austria, what prompted him to seek different options in France and what the future might bring for both himself and his peers, regardless of how many trophies the film takes home on Sunday.
"It’s now been more than four years since the crash, and the European crisis is finally finding its way to the big screen. Yesterday Never Ends, by the Catalan filmmaker Isabel Coixet, follows two lovers whose relationship has been upended by Spain’s economic collapse. In Greece, where support for filmmaking has been cut to nothing, the new film To the Wolf portrays a semiapocalyptic country where rural families scrounge for food when they’re not counting up their debts. There will be more. I suspect, though, that we’ll look back at Amour as a crisis film as well, and that in ten years’ time it will stand as a tragic monument to a cultural apparatus now being dismantled. Its loving portrayal of the expiration of two old Europeans may have universal appeal, enough probably to pick up a gold statue or two this Sunday. But Amour is also an allegory of demise, and in his own austere way, Haneke may have read the very system that enabled his career its last rites."
The roles of movie stardom have shifted dramatically over the past two decades and Mark Harris at GQ may just have those reasons pegged. Taking two recent would-be above-the-titlers as examples, Harris shows how some of the same rules still apply, but they're being implemented in different ways. Stars can't be in it just for the money – it's an artistic balancing act as well. But there's also a delicate push-and-pull between being likeable and being enigmatic.
"At the beginning of last year, there were two particularly strong candidates to become a one-namer: Channing Tatum and Taylor Kitsch. For one thing, they were the right age: Tatum is 32; Kitsch is 31. That works, because, with rare exceptions (Travolta in the '70s, Cruise in the '80s), we don't usually want male movie stars to be in their twenties. We'll watch them, we'll like them, we'll go to their films, but being handsome (or pretty) and devoid of life experience—the age at which your clear, healthy, unlined face is a map of nothing but optimism untouched by personal history—that's not quite the look of a movie star. Stardom is something you have to grow into. The beginning of your thirties is a good time to make the jump, and it should be a jump, an ascension, an unexpected upsurge that makes people feel that even though they've seen you before, they're now seeing into you for the first time."
Kate Aurthur's father, Robert Alan Aurthur, helped pen the script for Bob Fosse's semi-autobiographical 1979 film "All That Jazz," picking up a Best Original Screenplay nomination for his work. Sadly, he passed away before the film was released, so when that year's ceremony arrived, a young Kate went in his place. Her recollection of that night is both a genuine, personal story and a loving tribute to a lost family member. For those who remember the 1980 Oscars just for the winners, it's a fresh perspective on the entire film industry, as seen through a child's eyes.
"I pictured marching up to the podium with Fosse and my mother after our surprise victory, and perhaps uttering a few moving sentences about my late father. (Thank god we didn't win.) My hopes did not dissipate when my mother and I were escorted to our seats at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. We were seated in the front row, and I was on the center aisle, only feet from the stage. The person with my equivalent place on the other aisle was Mickey Rooney, who was experiencing a career resurgence at age 59, and was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for The Black Stallion. My mother, perhaps seized by nostalgia, uncharacteristically made me go up to him and say hello; he was very nice."