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Daily Reads: Julianne Moore’s Best Performances, and Bordwell on ‘Birdman’

Daily Reads: Julianne Moore's Best Performances, and Bordwell on 'Birdman'

Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential
news stories and critical pieces to you.

1. Julianne Moore’s Best Performances. Julianne Moore finally nabbed her Best Actress Oscar, but it’s at least partially an apology that she didn’t already have one for earlier, better films. Bilge Ebiri of Vulture writes about the Moore performances that should have won.

“Safe” (1995)
In Todd Haynes’s somber, unnerving psychodrama-cum-horror movie, Moore played a woman whose environment was slowly killing her. It’s a beautifully strange performance in a beautifully strange movie — one that requires the actress to subtly register and react to practically everything around her. Watching her is like watching an exposed nerve: We can’t tear our eyes away from this person whose fragility is slowly consuming her.

Who won that year: Susan Sarandon, for “Dead Man Walking.” A terrific turn from the great Sarandon, yes. But interestingly, “Dead Man Walking’s” stock appears to have declined in the intervening decades, whereas the Oscar-snubbed “Safe” feels like more and more of an American masterpiece with each passing year. Read more.

2. The Films That Influenced “The Duke of Burgundy.” Peter Strickland’s “The Duke of Burgundy” is an early contender for Best of the Year status, and Strickland wrote about the films that influenced “Duke” at Sight & Sound.

“The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant” (1972). Nobody could be both as caustic and tender as Fassbinder. There is the obvious all-female world of Petra von Kant, despite the mention of male appendages to provoke jealousy. But what stayed with me from that film was the dynamic between von Kant and her assistant, Marlene. The unravelling of the sadomasochistic codependency is similar to “The Duke of Burgundy” in that we assume it’s a dysfunctional employer/employee scenario only to later realise that Marlene gets off on her mistreatment. Read more.

3. 10 Things Learned from the Oscars. We all knew Hollywood loved itself before it rewarded “Birdman,” so what did we learn from the Oscars? Time Out New York’s Joshua Rothkopf says:

Never mind that impatient orchestra playing you off. Impressively, director Pawel Pawlikowski, winner of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for “Ida,” paid zero attention to the syrupy strings threatening to play him off. He just kept going with his speech, to the delight of the crowd, until a second orchestral cue rose up — which he pretty much ignored as well. That’s the way you do it. Really, how often is this going to happen in your life? Are they going to call security? Read more.

4. How to Fix the Independent Spirit Awards. The Independent Spirit Awards celebrated their independence by rewarding most of the same films and performances that the Oscars did. Jason Bailey of Flavorwire tries to find ways to keep them from being just another dry run for the Oscars:

Lower the budget ceiling. The qualification for Independent Spirit Award consideration is simple: “Cost of completed film, including post, should be less than $20 million.” And there was a time when that number made sense — before the mid-budget movie went the way of the dinosaur. But now, that’s just too big a figure, since the new Hollywood budget model is that every movie either costs over $100 million or less than $20 million. This writer is a huge booster of “Birdman,” and while its spirit is certainly independent, it’s also a high-profile picture stuffed with movie stars. Yet it qualifies, because it cost $16.5 million. So drop that number. Making it, say, $10 million would’ve kept “Love Is Strange,” “Whiplash,” and “Boyhood” in this year’s Best Picture race, while dropping the over $10 million “Birdman” and “Selma” (both Oscar nominees for Best Picture) and making room for, say, “Dear White People” and “Obvious Child.” Read more.

5. Little Change in Hollywood. There were plenty of terrific speeches at last night’s Oscar ceremony, but things aren’t exactly changing. Alison Willmore of BuzzFeed explains:

Instead of change, the Academy Awards gave us self-aware jokes — “Tonight, we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest… sorry, I mean brightest,” Harris announced at the top of the evening. Later, when the audience clapped for “Selma” star and non-nominee David Oyelowo, whose name Harris mispronounced multiple times, the host said, “Oh, sure, now you like him.” The awards themselves might have been lacking in diversity, but the ceremony strived ferociously to compensate with its choice of presenters and reaction shots in the audience. Read more.

6. Technique, Intention and Structure in “Birdman.” Riggan Thompson, Michael Keaton’s frustrated actor in “Birdman,” complains that the New York Times Drama critic includes nothing on structure in her notes. David Bordwell was more than happy to take a look at the structure of “Birdman” in response:

The film feels a little odd—“quirky” is the official term—but its blend of comedy and drama is constructed along familiar lines. The major characters have goals. Riggan wants to prove he can do something valuable, while paying homage to Raymond Carver, who encouraged him when he was starting out on the stage. Riggan is also disturbed by his failures as a father and husband; mounting this play about love would seem to be an act of penance. The protagonist’s search for authentic success and psychological stability might remind you of “8 ½” and “All That Jazz,” which also endow their protagonists with flamboyant fantasy lives. Read more.

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