The 2017 Oscars – Picks and Thoughts

With the contentious year of 2016 behind us now, we finally come to this final week of Awards season, with the Academy Awards handed out on Sunday; putting a final statement on the year that was, cinematically speaking.  There was some good things to come out of this awards season.  After two years of controversy surrounding the lack of diversity in the artists and films nominated for the top awards, this year’s Oscars ended up being one of the most diverse in recent memory.  Four of the nine Best Picture nominees centers on characters of color, and each of the acting categories features at least one non-white actor among the nominees; three alone in the supporting actress category.  There was also the interesting inclusion of Mel Gibson, recognized in the Best Director category for his film Hacksaw Ridge, after years of being shunned by the rest of the Hollywood community for his previous toxic behavior.  But, if there has been a dominant story throughout this whole Awards season, it would be everything La La Land.  The Damien Chazelle directed musical has steamrolled through this season, seemingly untouchable in it’s front-runner status from the moment it first premiered.  When the nominations were announced in January, La La Land made history by tying All About Eve (1950) and Titanic (1997) for the most nominations ever at 14 total.  Depending on how the ceremony goes in a couple days, the movie could have a viable shot at breaking the record for most wins as well, although that could be a tall order for such an independent film.  Like previous years, I will share my picks and thoughts over the top categories of screenwriting, acting, directing, and Best Picture, and tell you who I believe will win, and who I think should win.  So, let’s shine up those Golden Boys and look at this year’s nominees.


Nominees: Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water); Damien Chazelle (La La Land); Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou (The Lobster); Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea); Mike Mills (20th Century Women)

I should point out that one of my picks for the worst films of 2016 is represented here (The Lobster) and thankfully it has no shot in winning, so we can quickly dismiss that one.  This category basically comes down to three top choices.  Taylor Sheridan is currently one of screenwriting’s rising stars, with his nominated script for Hell or High Water coming hot off the heels of his celebrated work on last year’s Sicario (2015).  His screenplay for High Water is a beautifully restrained portrait of the underbelly of the modern American frontier, and features some of the year’s most memorable characters as well.  But, Sheridan’s script is overshadowed this year by the more favored films that are also vying for dominance in the Best Picture category.  If this category is any indicator for how the night will go, Damien Chazelle’s screenplay for La La Land could ride the sweeping wave and add to that movie’s stellar awards total.  But, that’s only if La La Land has the momentum on it’s side, and that could be dying down after too much hype from the last month or so.  If La La Land doesn’t win this category, then the most likely winner would be Kenneth Lonergan for his tone perfect screenplay for Manchester by the Sea.  Lonergan is a highly regarded screenwriter, but he’s never won up to now, so this might be his long anticipated victory year.  And it would be a deserving win, because I don’t think any other script this year was as precisely tuned and full of sweet surprises.  If anything stands in La La Land’s way, it will be this veteran’s long overdue triumph.

Who Will Win: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

Who Should Win: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea


Nominees: Eric Heisserer (Arrival); August Wilson (Fences); Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures); Luke Davies (Lion); Barry Jenkins and Tarrell Alvin McCraney (Moonlight)

This is an interesting category this year, because every screenplay here ended up becoming a nominee for Best Picture.  And with La La Land and Manchester by the Sea dominating in the Original category, this one is far less predictable.  August Wilson took the unenviable task of re-imagining his stage play for the big screen with Fences, but the end result proved to be surprisingly effective.  Eric Heisserer’s Arrival is the most cerebral of the nominees here, but it’s also the one that is perhaps too restrained for it’s own good.  Luke Davies’ Lion is emotional, but inconsistent.  And the Hidden Figures screenplay is an engaging, if perhaps too conventional for this category.  Which leaves the screenplay for Moonlight, which very much looks like the front-runner here.  The only thing that might stand in it’s way is the often unconventional structure of it, and the fact that it leaves a few things unresolved by the end.  But, judging it against the others, it’s those imperfections that make it the far more exciting script in this category.  No other screenplay here or in the other category is as daring as Moonlight.  It’s subject matter is unique and relevant, and it features some of the most elegant character development we’ve seen all year.  The fact that it doesn’t restrict itself to conventional screenwriting standards helps it to stand out from the bunch, and that’s why it is deserving of the award.  The story behind the script also helps to elevate it’s status, as it was a passion project for many years for director Barry Jenkins, who poured years into the writing of this screenplay.  It’s the little indie movie that could, and the kind of success story that Hollywood loves to award.

Who will Win: Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight

Who Should Win: Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight


Nominees: Viola Davis (Fences); Naomie Harris (Moonlight); Nicole Kidman (Lion); Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures); Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)

Of all the acting categories this year, this is the one that is pretty much a lock.  Viola Davis, a much beloved actress of film, theater and television is almost certain to win this award on Oscar night, and it will be an award that’s very well deserved.  Her performance is heartbreaking and powerful in the film Fences; more than holding her own against Denzel Washington and then some.  But, her front runner status here has become somewhat controversial because many people view her role in Fences as more of a lead role rather than a supporting one, making it seem unfair to relegate her to the supporting category.  It’s a complaint that I see a lot of validity to, because not only is putting her performance in the supporting column here minimizing a performance that honestly could hold it’s own in the Best Actress category and give Ms. Davis an even higher honor for the year, but putting her in this category makes it unfair for the other nominees, whose performances are more traditionally of the supporting kind, and likewise feel much smaller to hers by comparison.  But, that’s Oscar politics for you.  The studio submitted Viola for the supporting actress category because they believe it will give her an easier road to victory, and it looks very much like that will be the case.  Of all the remaining nominees, the one performance that could spoil Davis’ night could be Michelle Williams for her short but sweet performance in Manchester by the Sea.  The always reliable Williams has one scene in particular that is particularly emotionally raw and captivating, and any other year it would have assured her an Oscar win.  But, if Viola Davis doesn’t win this year, it will be the night’s biggest upset.

Who Will Win: Viola Davis, Fences

Who Should Win: Viola Davis, Fences


Nominees: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight); Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water); Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea); Dev Patel (Lion); Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)

This category is also facing the same complaints as the supporting actress category.  Dev Patel’s nomination for the film Lion seems oddly placed in the Supporting category, especially since he is the lead in that particular film.  However, unlike Viola Davis in the Supporting Actress category, Patel is not a favorite in his own field, despite giving a deserving performance.  The category as a whole is actually a pretty competitive one.  Jeff Bridges may be the least likely to win, mainly because he’s the only past winner, and the performance is more or less a parody of himself (albeit a great one).  I’m really happy to see one of my favorite character actors, Michael Shannon, nominated this year, as he is often criminally under-appreciated in Hollywood.  And Lucas Hedges delivered a solid, star-making role in Manchester by the Sea, though a win for the first timer is highly unlikely.  No, the winner this year is looking more and more likely to be Mahershala Ali for his standout performance in Moonlight.  Ali, who has had a solid year overall with starring roles on critically acclaimed TV shows like House of Cards and Luke Cage, and supporting appearances in movies like Hidden Figures, has the momentum based on a body of work to back up his performance in the movie.  The acting in Moonlight is solid from top to bottom, but it’s Mahershala who stands out as the drug dealer turned surrogate father for the film’s main character.  Even though it is brief, his presence is felt throughout the film, even when he’s not there anymore.  Hollywood loves these kinds of powerful performances, and it’s enough to make Ali stand out from the field.

Who Will Win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Who Should Win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight


Nominees: Isabelle Huppert (Elle); Ruth Negga (Loving); Natalie Portman (Jackie); Emma Stone (La La Land); Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)

The odds makers are looking at Emma Stone as the favorite in this category.  Her singing and dancing performance certainly shows her versatility as a performer, and it’s that kind of varied role that the Academy responds very strongly to.  At the same time, in between the singing and dancing, Emma doesn’t really do any more stretching as an actor.  The character is more or less close to her own persona, or at least the kind of character she usually plays in most movies.  I thought she showed more passion in her nominated performance from Birdman (2014) a couple of years ago.  Not to say she is terrible in La La Land, nor undeserving.  I’m just not so certain about her front-runner status.  Certainly, it’s better than Meryl Streep’s nominated performance.  Sometimes the Academy honors Mrs. Streep for some especially stellar work, and then other years, it seems like she’s shoehorned in just so they can throw more glory her way.  The latter seems to be true this year, especially considering other actresses like Amy Adams were left out.  But, even despite my gripes, Emma Stone looks to benefit from the momentum that La La Land is enjoying this awards season.  Of the nominees here, I think the strongest performance actually came from the most reserved nominee, Ruth Negga, whose tender performance in Loving is one that sadly has gone unheralded.  Another thing I would like to see is veteran actress Isabelle Huppert receive an award, given her very challenging role in the French thriller Elle.  Tough call, but my wish is to see underdog Negga come away a champion here, even though it looks like a near lock for Stone.

Who Will Win: Emma Stone, La La Land

Who Should Win: Ruth Negga, Loving


Nominees: Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea); Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge); Ryan Gosling (La La Land); Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic); Denzel Washington (Fences)

At the start of the race, Casey Affleck looked like a clear favorite in this category for his pained and emotional performance in Manchester by the Sea.  And it’s a front-runner status that I completely agree with.  Of all the nominees, Affleck gave the best performance of the year.  It’s rich, heartfelt, and feels 100 percent authentic, which is a hard trick to pull off even for the best actors out there.  Unfortunately, Casey’s personal life has gotten him into trouble recently, and it’s the kind of controversy that casts a dark cloud over the fine acting that he does.  With accusations of abuse leveled on him only weeks before the awards, it has led many to believe that the Academy might shun his nomination and vote for another nominee in order to avoid any blow-back their way.  But, if they do so, I think it would be the wrong move.  Affleck’s work should stand on it’s own, and if it is indeed the best performance of these nominees, then it should be recognized as such.  It wouldn’t be the first time someone with a questionable personal life has been honored by the academy (Roman Polanski, Woody Allen).  But, it appears that the once sure thing for Affleck is now fading away, and one of the other nominees now has a better shot at winning.  My guess is that veteran Denzel Washington has the best opportunity to come away a winner here; picking up his third career Oscar, and sharing one alongside Viola Davis in the same film.  Ryan Gosling could also sneak in, if La La Land‘s night goes better than expected.  But, one of two things is more likely; either Casey manages to win despite the controversy, or he loses to a beloved Hollywood icon like Denzel.

Who Will Win: Denzel Washington, Fences

Who Should Win: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea


Nominees: Damien Chazelle (La La Land); Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge); Barry Jenkins (Moonlight); Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea); Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)

Like many years before, this category usually lines up with the winner of the Best Picture category, and with La La Land favored so heavily, it also seems reasonable to think that it’s director, Damien Chazelle, is favored here as well.  If he wins, he would be, at age 32, the youngest Best Director winner in Oscar history, beating out Norman Taurog (Skippy) by a couple months.  That’s quite an achievement no matter what way you look at it.  His direction on La La Land is also the most audacious of the bunch; combining nostalgic old Hollywood musical numbers with a very small scale love story.  Those musical numbers alone show his great talent as a filmmaker and his willingness to take chances.  However, his direction is also the most inconsistent of the ones nominated.  While some of his direction choices are bold, there are just as many others in that film that could have been better, and it keeps La La Land from truly soaring like it should.  Of the other nominees, the other top contenders who could reasonably unseat Chazelle are either Lonergan or Jenkins.  Gibson, whose troubled personal life has kept him at a distance from Hollywood, should take this nomination alone as a positive sign of his recovery.  Lonergan’s direction on Manchester is beautiful in it’s straight-forwardness, but he’s more likely to be honored for his screenplay, which better represents his genius.  Jenkins on the other hand displayed beautiful, lyrical direction with his Moonlight, and it represented some of the best film-making of the year.  Audacious, but without the pitfalls that plagued La La Land.  Still, it’s unlikely Damien the boy wonder is going to come away empty handed here, and in turn, he will make history.

Who Will Win: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Who Should Win: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight


Nominees: Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea, and Moonlight

At this point, with momentum that has carried it all the way through the awards season without dissipating, it’s no longer a question of can La La Land can win the top award, but rather how big of a win is it going to have.  It already tied the most nominations in history.  My prediction is that it will fall short of the record number of 11 Oscars (held by Ben-Hur, Titanic, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), but will still win close to 9 or 10 total, which is still a staggering number in any year.  Of course, it will fall under the complaint of being an ego stroking film about Hollywood that the Oscars always seem to fawn over, but that’s the Oscars choice to make.  At least for the Academy, La La Land has proven to be a success with all audiences, so they have that cover.  But when compared with the rest of the nominees, does it really stand that much taller.  I have to say, the Oscars fared pretty well this year with their nominations.  There’s not a single film in this category that shouldn’t be there, and four of the nine nominees were on my best of the year list (Manchester, Moonlight, Hell or High Water, and La La Land).  But, La La Land is not my favorite of the bunch, and if I were to choose from these nominees, I would give the award to Manchester by the Sea.  It was my third favorite film of last year, and since my #1 and 2 are not in this category, Manchester gets it by default.  It’s also the most consistently strong of the nominees, but it’s strongest chance of succeeding will be in the screenplay field.  Of the remaining nominees, the very beloved Moonlight probably has the closest chance of sneaking past the La La Land onslaught and pulling the upset; but it’s chances are minimal.  Plan on seeing La La Land walking away the big winner in this Oscar ceremony.  It’s really only a matter now of knowing if the Academy decides to spread the wealth a little more during the ceremony, or just heap all the praise onto this musical hit, giving it a more prestigious place in movie history.

Who Will Win: La La Land

Who Should Win: Manchester by the Sea

So, there you have my picks for the top awards of this years Oscars, as well as my predictions based on how the odds look at this moment.  Like years before, I also have my rundown of all the remaining categories on the Oscar ballot:

Best Animated Feature: ZootopiaBest Cinematography: La La Land; Best Film EditingLa La Land; Best Production Design: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; Best Make-up and Hairstyling: Star Trek BeyondBest Visual Effects: The Jungle BookBest Sound Mixing: La La LandBest Sound Editing: Hacksaw RidgeBest Costume Design: La La LandBest Original ScoreLa La LandBes Original Song: “Audition” (The Fools Who Dream) from La La Land; Best Foreign Language Film: The SalesmanBest Documentary Feature: 13thBest Documentary Short: 4.1 MilesBest Live Action Short: TimecodeBest Animated Short: Pear Cider and Cigarettes

So, there you have my predictions and thoughts on this year’s Academy Awards.  In general, I am pleased with the nominees this year.  Some of my favorite films like A Monster Calls and Deadpool were left out, but it’s understandable given those two films more genre based roots.  While La La Land’s pack-leading momentum is not at all surprising, the sheer force of it has been kind of odd.  How did this independently made, small scale, sugary sweet musical with only two lead roles filled with actors not known for their singing and dancing get this close to being a record shattering Oscar favorite.  Some of the explanation may come from the Academy’s sometime ridiculous infatuation with it’s own industry, which also led The Artist  and Argo  to victory.  But, I would also argue that the current political climate in America today is also a motivating factor in La La Land’s success.  With a city and industry reeling from a disappointing result in last year’s election, and an uncertain future lying ahead for everyone, La La Land became a pick-me-up movie that both Hollywood and the country at large needed.  It is movie as medicine, and though the film itself is bittersweet in it’s tale of underdog artists struggling to balance life with their dreams, it nevertheless filled that gap that people everywhere wanted to fill after the struggles of 2016.  So, it will remain to be seen how much La La Land will take away from this year’s ceremony; and if the Academy will be generous to leave some for the rest.  In any case, it really won’t matter in the end, because if it wins 10, or 14, or no Oscars, La La Land as well as all the other winners at this year’s Awards will always be around and hopefully audiences in the future will view both winners and losers as worthwhile entertainment and see that, cinematically speaking, 2016 wasn’t such a bad year.

And the Oscar Goes To – Navigating the Politics of the Academy Awards

The Awards season once again comes to a close with the presentation of the Oscars in another week.  With it, the final verdict of the previous year in movies.  At least, that’s how the industry itself likes to put it.  For most of us on the outside looking in, the Academy Awards seems to be less reflective each year of how we responded to the movies they put out into the market.  None of last year’s top grossing films are up for Best Picture, and are instead relegated to the “minor” awards like Visual Effects and Sound Mixing.  For the most part, the movies up for the top awards are very little seen by the casual viewing public, and it often leads to many people watching the Oscars on TV every year feeling perplexed as to which movie is which.  There are a lot of factors that lead the Academy towards the choices they make every year, and sometimes they do lead to some short-sighted results.  Too often we have seen in Oscar history where one movie has won the award over another, and the loser has gone on to become one of the most beloved films of all times, while the winner has disappeared into obscurity.  Hindsight makes us see the folly in some of these choices, but looking back at the time in which it happened, it sometimes makes more sense how each of the big winners at the Oscars managed to get there.  Whether we like it or not, the road to the Oscars is defined by it’s own complicated politics; which can sometimes be as messy as the real political world.  To be an Oscar winner, you have to abide by many industry rules, impact the right people, and appear the whole way through like a champion.  And even still, winning the Award comes down to having the right amount of luck on your side, as well as the right timing.  All of this shows that just making a great movies isn’t enough to be gifted Oscar glory.

Looking at the whole of Oscar history, we’ve got to remember that the total number of winners that has ever been since it’s inception could just barely fill up the Dolby Theater in Hollywood where the Awards are held.   Most winners are just lucky to have their one and only, while an even smaller handful win it more than once.  Overall, it is very difficult to win an Academy Award.  Some of our greatest legends never won in their lifetimes, including Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant, and Peter O’Toole, and were only lucky to be gifted Honorary Awards towards the end of their careers.  Edward G. Robinson was never even nominated, and died shortly after learning of his Honorary Award; never getting the opportunity to savor his glory.  As much as many of us dream of one day holding one of those golden boys for our own, it’s highly likely that it’s a dream that will never come true.  But, it’s not a dream that can’t be achieved either.  One thing that does define all Oscar winners across the board is that it came from their hard-earned, passionate work.  Even if you dislike the ultimate choice of the winner each year, you can’t make the argument that the person won for doing a half-assed, lazy job.  Every Oscar winner pushed themselves harder than they would normally, and that’s something that garners the attention of the industry around Oscar time.  For filmmakers, it’s usually because they worked under some extreme conditions to complete their film, like David Lean filming in the Arabian desert with Lawrence of Arabia (1962), or Peter Jackson shooting three epic films simultaneously in order to win on the third with The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003).  And with actors, it’s transforming themselves completely for the performance, like Charlize Theron in Monster (2003), Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club (2013), or any winning performance by Daniel Day-Lewis.  Winners are lucky, but they don’t get the glory without something to show for it.

But, there have been many great movies and performances over the years that pushed the envelope and yet were completely ignored by the Academy.  How do some movies rise to the top while others do not?  That is where the politics of the Oscars come into play.  The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) is an organisation of industry professionals established to help advance the innovations in both arts and science in all industry fields.  As part of it’s mission, the Academy created an award to honor the highest quality film-making each year as a way to promote the many different advancements made in the medium for audiences everywhere to appreciate.  That award, first given out in 1927, would go on to become the Oscar, and has since become the highest honor anyone can receive within the industry.  In the 89 years since, the Academy has blossomed into a prestigious organization, with it’s membership made up of some of Hollywood’s most elite talent.  Individual Academy members can identify themselves as such, but the Academy itself keeps their full roster a closely guarded secret.  In total there are approximately 6,000 voting members of the Academy, and it is them who decide who ultimately wins on Oscar night.  It’s a democratic system, with balloting deciding the winner, but it’s also a secretive process, with vote totals never being made public.  The selection process of Academy members is also kept secret, so it is sometimes hard to know who’s voting for what sometimes.  We do know that actors make up the largest voting block of the Academy, so that’s why it’s a lot more common to see performance driven films do well at the Academy Awards.  But, even still, there is a belief that the representation of the Academy is not as reflective of the rest of the industry as it should be, nor with the rest of society, and that’s often why so many people call into question many of the winners they select.

One thing that we know about the Academy is that their voting block tends to skew a little older, and is more predominantly white.  This led to some controversy in the last couple years with people crying foul over the lack of diversity among the nominees; even going as far as some calling for a boycott of the Awards ceremony.  While I don’t believe that the Oscars left out minority nominees on purpose, it nevertheless was an indication of the unfortunate downside of having such a closed off organization in charge selecting the choices.  It ultimately led to current Academy president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs (who is African-American) to revise the standards and qualifications for membership, in the hope to bring more diverse perspectives to the Academy.  But even with this change, there is still the danger of the Academy holding something of an elitist position in determining who is most deserving of the industries top award.  Sometimes, generational differences have caused a rift between what the Academy wants and what the viewing public values.   You see groundbreaking films like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Raging Bull (1980), Fargo (1996) and The Social Network (2010) lose out to more traditional competition like Oliver, Ordinary People, The English Patient, and The King’s Speech respectively, and it’s all believed because the Academy didn’t recognize the changing attitudes of the times and instead went with what was safe.  The more cynical view is that the Academy tends to reward standard fare over the more groundbreaking, because it gives them a lower bar to cross when they make their own grand statements to win an award for themselves.  You can make the claim that this is why smaller, independent films succeed at the Oscars so often, with some notable exceptions that couldn’t be ignored (Titanic and The Lord of the Rings).

But, the make-up of the Academy is only one obstacle in the labyrinth of trying to win an Oscar.  One major factor that comes into play is the ability to look like a winner.  While the selection process of the Academy Awards is closely guarded secret, their ultimate conclusions have more than often proved to be very predictable.  Some of the time, many Academy members tend to neglect their privilege and see very few of the actual nominees that are up every year.  Even with all the publicity surrounding the films and the numerous screeners that are shipped out to Academy members, a few movies will fall through the cracks, which then leads to Academy members turning to what we call “bellwethers” in the award season in order to make a choice.  These tend to be all the previous awards given out in the season leading up to the Oscars, including the Golden Globes, the Critics Choice Awards, all of the Guild awards, and even the prestigious film fest accolades that each film has collected.  This gives the voting member a better idea of whether or not the movie or the performance is Oscar worthy or not.  So, if you’re looking to win an Oscar, the best thing you can do is to win as much of these bellwether awards as you can.  It may not always work, as there have been a few curve-balls in the past.  Adrien Brody won his Oscar for Best Actor in The Pianist (2002), having won no prior award up to that point; losing out to the favorites that year with Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt and Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York.  But, with exceptions, the vast majority of Oscar winners had made it to the final ceremony with a lot of previous wins under their belt, and the golden boy was just the final piece of their collection.  To become a winner, you have to look like a winner, because it’ll make the Academy feel all the more confident in their choice.  One hopes that the wave that Oscar winners ride through Award season will have lasting power beyond the final ceremony, otherwise it just looks like only hollow hype.

Though the Academy takes into account how an Oscar nominee fares throughout the season, they also take note with how the nominees reflect back on the Academy in the public eye.  One thing that us outsiders notice around Awards season is the constant hurdles that an actor or filmmaker must go through in order to put the best face forward after becoming a nominee, otherwise they may lose their shot at winning.  In many ways, this is the most political that the awards season gets.  Many nominees are forced to play by the academy’s rules and be on their best behavior in order to convince the voters that they are not only talented, but also made of good character.  The last thing that the Academy wants is to court controversy, so they often hold their nominees to a higher standard.  Hopefully, the Academy ultimately judges winners based on the work itself, and not by looking into the personal lives of the nominees.  It is unfortunate that sometimes nominees do fall victim to Academy bias.  Sir Ian McKellan is believed to have been overlooked for his performance as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings (2001), because of his outspoken support of gay rights at the time; another indicator of the Academy showing a slow adaptation to changing values.  There is also the risk of an actor’s less than flattering work overshadowing their nominated work; such as the case with Eddie Murphy, whose critically panned Norbit (2007) was released to theaters just as he was making his case for an Oscar for his performance in Dreamgirls (2006), which he lost in what some believe to be a direct effect.  Since then, people have termed these kinds of negative films as the next “Norbit.”  Whether or not it’s true, the Academy still is not happy when you break their rules in the process.  Melissa Leo nearly thought she lost out on her Oscar for The Fighter (2010) when she violated Academy rules with self-promotion in publication ads throughout the industry.  Still, she won, and the academy more than often does reward for art over personal behavior, such as with no show George C. Scott in Patton (1970), or the fiercely independent Mo’Nique with Precious (2009) .  But, still there are unmistakable concessions to the Academy that most nominees must live by and often times can’t escape.

Finally, there is one other factor that plays into a person’s chances to win an Academy Award and that’s the ever crucial element of timing.  The Academy often has been accused of terrible timing with their choices, because too few of them ever look that good years later.  But, when you’re only allowed one choice in every category each year, you are usually bound to make a choice that won’t please everyone.  The only times you do make the popular choice is when it’s obvious to everyone else.  There are often some years where there is such a clear favorite that any other choice would be foolish.  But, when it’s not, the key to winning is to hope that your stock rises at just the right moment.  You can see that through some of the bellwether selections, but oftentimes, a curve-ball is thrown into the mix.  George Clooney looked like a sure thing in 2011 when he was up for Best Actor for The Descendents, but then a little French film called The Artist began to gain traction late in the season and by Oscar night, Clooney saw his sure fire win go to little know Jean Dujardin, the French comedic actor who stars in The Artist.  Sometimes, however, being overlooked for so long is one way to garner sympathy from the Academy in order to ride a wave towards a win.  The Academy tends to go out of it’s way sometimes to right past wrongs, sometimes in short-sighted ways, awarding leeser films because of how they robbed an actor or director of an award in the past.  It’s not always a bad thing.  I don’t know of anyone who was upset when Martin Scorsese finally won an Oscar after 5 previous nominations over a 40 year career with The Departed (2006), or Leonardo DiCaprio finally winning an award last year for The Revenant (2015).  Sometimes, the mood of the industry also influences who they choose to win.  In many cases, they reward a movie because of what it has to say, and use the win as a statement to the rest of the world.  The academy may be slow to adapt sometimes, but every now and then, they reward risky films like Midnight Cowboy (1969), or Platoon (1986), or movies with a passionate statement on society like last year’s Spotlight (2015).  It’s all about matching the mood of the Academy in order to win, and even this can prove to be as unpredictable as anything else.

One sure fire thing that we’ve recently learned about the Academy Awards is that they greatly value movies that reflect well on them specifically.  Many have accused the Academy of vainly rewarding movies that flatter the industry, and it’s not difficult to imagine this being true.  With The Artist (2011) and Argo (2012) winning back to back like they did, and La La Land poised to be this year’s big winner, it seems pretty clear that the best way to succeed at the Oscars is to appeal to the Academy’s own sense of self worth.  But, it’s not always going to be the case.  Most movies, filmmakers, and performers walk away winners on Oscar night because they had all the cards fall into place for them at the right time.  Sure, there is a lot of political wrangling to make that happen, but there’s no denying that all of it is a long process that everyone would want to go through, all for the glory of the win.  The only issue for the Academy is whether or not they do a great service for the industry by taking so many precautions in their selections.  As we’ve seen before, what seemed like a logical choice at the time ends up not bearing fruit in the years since.  Hindsight is a problem for the Academy, and it often leads to many shakeups within their organization to determine how they can best keep up with a world and industry that is changing so rapidly.  For the most part, despite their flaws, they still have the final statement to make on the industry within every calendar year, and it’s a distinction that won’t leave them soon.  We may not agree with their choices every year, but we are nevertheless fascinated by the significance of the Award, and the impact that it has left on film history.

Tinseltown Throwdown – Love Story vs. The Fault in Our Stars

Valentine’s Day; a long time traditional holiday celebrating the act of love and expressing love to others.  Everyone around this time of year is either preparing something special for their loved one, or are sending many valentines out to those that matter to them as an expression of their appreciation.  Either way, this is the season when romance is at the forefront and Hollywood knows very well how to focus on this time of year.  Romantic movies often are prepped for early February in order to take advantage of the date night crowds that you’d expect would be turning up at all the local theaters.  They usually run the full spectrum from romantic comedies, to romantic tragedies, to opposites attract romances, to puppy love romance.  Sometimes there is even romances from unexpected places, like between two robots in Wall-E (2008) or between a man and his AI assistant in Her (2013).  One or more of these will usually end up coming out around Valentine’s Day each year, although this year isn’t giving us much to look forward to with Fifty Shades Darker.  The unfortunate thing with romantic themed movies generally is the often difficult balance of tone that makes or breaks many of them.  Romantic movies, when done right, can touch audiences of all types, but when they are not (and this happens a lot) it can be infuriatingly off point.  Too many romantic films will tend to be too sentimental, or not have enough sentimentality, or in some extreme cases, fall into some really bad taste.  You often see too many romance that are too corny for their own good, and it’s usually the fault of lazy writing, or mistakenly believing that audiences will feel as strongly about these themes as the filmmakers do.  And that’s when you fall into the worst kinds of romantic films the pretentious kinds.  And if there is sub-genre of romance that falls victim to pretension far too often, it’s the ill-fated romance.

Hollywood loves to exploit il-fated romances in movies, because it’s a mostly sure fire way to illicit tears from their audience.  It’s the kind of movie that establishes a perfectly compatible couple falling deeply in love, destined to live the rest of their lives together, and through plot contrivances both small and grand, pulls the couple apart and dooms them to forever wonder how things could have been different.  When people go to see a romantic film, their hope is to see love triumph in the end, so when a movie denies them this, it creates an even more intense response to the story and characters within the film; hoping for any sign of hope.  It’s not always a bad thing for movies to exploit this in a romantic movie.  Perhaps the greatest romantic film ever made, Casablanca (1943), concludes it’s story with it’s ideal couple split apart at the end, and as the movie states, it’s for the benefit of the world that they remain apart.  Doctor Zhivago took the ill-fated romance to even more epic heights, with lovers torn apart by suffering and having their happy ending undone by the systems that overpower them.  And of course, there is Titanic (1997), which is the quintessential ill-fated romance.  But, even though those movies succeeded, it was largely due to the fact that they were telling larger than life stories where finding eternal love would be put more to the test.  Hollywood sometimes makes the mistake of thinking any tragedy in a romantic film will guarantee cinematic gold, and that’s when we see more of the ill-fated romances that fail to live up to that goal.  One particular sub-genre of this type has been romances centered around death, and in particular, the inclusion of terminal illness into a relationship.  There have been two famous romantic films in particular, from two very different eras, that has played around with this plot device, and it’s led them to varying degrees of success both commercially and critically.  Those movies in question are 1970’s Love Story, and 2014’s The Fault in Our Stars.

“I fell in love with him the way you fall asleep; Slowly, and then all at once.”

On the surface, both movies have little in common, plot-wise or with tone.  Love Story, directed by Arthur Hiller and starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw, is an opposites attract connection between a rich, aristocratic young Harvard student who falls in love with a working class girl that he met at the school library.  They quickly fall in love, admiring each other’s intellect over their social status.  After getting married and starting their plans for the future, Ali MacGraw’s Jenny suddenly becomes incurably ill, and their fairy-tale romance is over just before it could ever take hold.  The Fault in Our Stars, based on the novel from best-selling author and popular internet vlogger John Green, begins and ends with the aura of death weighing over the minds of it’s characters.  It is about two teenagers, Hazel (played by Shailene Woodley ) and Augustus (played by Ansel Elgort), who are both dealing with terminal cancer, and end up falling in love after meeting at a cancer patient support group.  Though both are unrelated, they nevertheless follow the same formula of milking audience sympathy through the presence of tragic illness.  You would think that it makes both movies pretentious and cynical, because it’s such an obvious ploy for tug at the heartstrings of their audiences.  But, I do have to say that what ends up separating the two is the fact that one movie plays this card better than the other.  You would think that it’s the elder of the two, since it’s the movie that actually wrote many of the cliches that we find in so many ill-fated romances today, but no.  The Fault in Our Stars actually is the better of the two, and that’s only because it does a better job of being more honest with it’s intentions.   Love Story, on the other hand, is so heavy handed in it’s delivery, that it undermines any sympathy that it was ever trying to mine from it’s audience.

“Someday you’re gonna have to come up with the courage to admit you care.”

I’ll just come right out and say that I think that Love Story is a terrible film.  I don’t think I’m breaking new ground with that statement.  The movie was largely panned across the board when it was first released too.  But, it was also a huge box office hit as well.  That’s the only reason why we still talk about this movie today.  It may have been pandering and obscenely cynical in it’s intentions, but it was effective.  It’s like what we see with movies like Transformers (2007) in the action film genre.  Those films continue to become lazier in their storytelling and more shameless in their pandering to the audience with every new installment; enough to enrage anyone who wants to hold up film-making to a higher standard.  But, as long as they continue to make money, the less they’ll be willing to try harder.  Love Story is the Transformers or romantic movies; a big, aggressive pile of mediocrity that somehow has prospered and has left it’s mark on the industry.  Since it’s release, Hollywood has continued to look around for their next Love Story, and it created the awful trend of making pandering romantic films that never earn the right to bring their audiences to tears.  How many times do we see death or illness shoehorned into a romantic movie, just for the sole purpose of eliciting cheap sympathy points.  You can blame Love Story for inspiring most of those junk food Nicholas Sparks novels that we’re inundated with every year.  But, out of Love Story’s legacy, we also get a movie like The Fault in Our Stars.  Stars is by no means a perfect movie either, since it does it’s own fair share of pandering as well.  But, there is a sincerity to it that helps it to rise above.  It’s tonally more consistent, it’s characters are more authentic, and it more importantly never tries to pull the rug out from under it’s audience.

Let’s examine tone for a moment, especially with regards to how each movie deals with the theme of tragedy in their respective stories.  For most of it’s run-time, Love Story is just about the act of love, and not about the external forces that bring them together.  We see that the characters love each other, but nothing is ever understood from that.  We are never shown why it’s so important for these two to be in love.  The movie just seems to be one big windup to the inevitable tragic conclusion, and that’s why it feels so cheap.  A lot could’ve been mined from the story to make the tragedy more poignant, like having the couple maybe doubt their relationships before ultimately growing closer together again through tragedy.  But no, it’s all fairy-tale romance and then sadness and despair, with nothing in between.  Basically the movie’s message is that life is not fair because fate tore two happy people apart.  The Fault in Our Stars deals with the specter of death in a different way by putting it front and center.  The characters are not blind-sided by tragedy; it’s an everyday reality that they all have to deal with.  It’s the time that they have before the inevitable that becomes the driving force of their love.  For Hazel and Augustus, love is not about defying the odds and making the world notice how much they adore one another.  It’s about being there through the hardest days of your life and knowing that you are not alone.  How is it possible that a romance between teenagers has a more mature attitude towards love than the movie about two college aged adults.  Stars has it’s tug at the heart-string moments too (some cringe-worthy) but it earns most of them.  And that’s because it’s more upfront with it’s tone.   You know that the couple at it’s center is doomed, and they know it too.  For them, it’s a love about the precious element of time, and not wasting it consumed with grief and believing that life isn’t fair.

“You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don’t give it the power to do it’s killing.  A metaphor.”

The characterizations do a lot to help define each movie as well.  I for one despise the character of Oliver Barrett IV, played by Ryan O’Neal in Love Story.  This preppy, rich white boy is about as mature as a whiny child, and any attempt by the movie to make feel sympathy for him fails in a big way.  He loathes the privileged life that his wealth and name has given him, and yet he still views himself with an air of superiority.  He doesn’t ask for a dime from his father, but feels persecuted when his university doesn’t give him a head start over other students with financial aid.  Ali MacGraw’s Jenny is not much more likable; claiming to be independent minded, and yet she’s submissive to the desires and choices made by her eventual husband.  The fact that they are also intellectual snobs also contributes to the loathsomeness of their characters, and it all ends up making me feel lees involved in their story arc overall.  Truth be told, both Love Story and The Fault in Our Stars are romances between a bunch of privileged white people, but Stars never adds this underlying bogus sense of persecution that Love Story adheres to.  What I do love about the characters in Fault in Our Stars is the fact that they always cherish the fact that they’ve made it through another day.  Life has been unfair to them, but they don’t lash out because of it.  What makes Hazel and Augustus appealing as characters is the fact that they try to always put the most positive spin on things.  They use gallows humor a lot in the story, and it’s done in an endearing way.  Whether it’s Augustus joking about his one leg, or Hazel saying she’s so excited that she can hardly breathe, it shows that these are two people defined by their situation and that they are not ashamed of the cards they’ve been dealt, making them much stronger overall.

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

There’s also the fundamental flaw of pretension that also makes Love Story a loathsome film overall.  The above quote is what the movie is most known for and it is a notoriously awful statement about love that essentially spells out the cynical motive behind this movie.  It’s the kind of statement that’s supposed to be a fix-all to every hardship that that the characters deal with and intends to reinforce the idea that love conquers all.  But, it’s not the case.  Love is powerful, but it needs support, and it’s a support that shouldn’t be dismissed as unimportant.  After driving his wife away after an argument, Oliver goes out searching for Jenny, only to find her waiting for him back at home.  He says he’s sorry, but she answers with the above statement.  It’s as if to say, you did something bad, but you don’t have to answer for it because we have love and that’s what makes it all better.  It’s enough to make me scream at the movie to say, “That’s not how love works!!”  Love is about finding the common ground between you and your partner, and helping to bring out the best in one another.  Here, Jenny just put adoration over common sense, not asking Oliver to change but instead conforming to what he wants out of her.  It doesn’t surprise me in the least, that this movie was written by a man and told from the man’s point of view.  Fault in Our Stars is also written by men, both in the source and screenplay, but it gives the point of view to the female voice and allows her to have her own say.  Most insultingly, Love Story concludes with Oliver repeating the words to his father, as if to say, “you couldn’t understand our love, so saying sorry means nothing.”  If I was Oliver’s father, I would have slapped him for saying that.  That’s the rage that this movie has put me in.  Contrast this with a moment in Stars between Hazel and her mother (played by Laura Dern), where the mom explains how she intends to live with grief and that it should be a feeling that Hazel should share.  It’s a touching moment that reinforces the idea that love is all about understanding, and it is the antithesis to Love Story’s cynical and selfish view.

So, despite it’s long-lasting legacy, Love Story is far from a great romantic film.  It’s a cynical, formulaic piece of junk food that hit all the right buttons in order to become a success.  The Fault in Our Stars plays by the formula as well, but with far less cynicism.  It has charm, wit, and a fair share of genuine heartfelt moments.  That’s why when stacked up against one another, there is no contest between which is the better film.  I think the best thing about The Fault in Our Stars is how it goes out of it’s way to more honest with it’s audience, as opposed to Love Story.  It doesn’t try to sneak tragedy into it’s story and instead puts the theme right up front for the audience, letting them know that it will only be a matter of time for these characters.  I also admire the fact that with a story centered around characters that are doomed to die young, it is a surprisingly cheerful movie for the most part.  You despair in the fact that Hazel and Augustus only have a short time together, but you are also inspired by the fact that they made the most of that time.  Compare that to Oliver and Jenny, who spend most of their time together complaining that the world doesn’t understand them, and then lament the fact that life hasn’t been fair.  You found each other; that should be enough to tell you that some things in your life has been good.  Both movies unfortunately stand out as being the quintessential love story of each of their respective generations, both of which are among the most self-indulgent that we’ve ever seen in our culture; the baby boomers and the millennials.  But, Fault in Our Stars succeeds because it runs contrary to the attitudes of it’s generation and shows to it’s audience the ideal of what love can truly be, which is hope and compassion in the face of hate and tragedy.  That’s ultimately what makes The Fault in Our Stars a better love story than Love Story, and it’s the ideal kind of date movie that should be watched on any Valentine’s Day.

“I cannot tell you how thankful I am, for our little infinity.  You gave me a forever, within the numbered days.  And for that I am eternally grateful.”

Lawrence and Me – Personal Journeys That Our Favorite Films Take Us On

When I started writing this blog nearly 4 years ago now, my hope was to share my knowledge and opinions on a wide range of topics related to all things cinema.  And for all these years, I have expanded this thing into an extensive body of work.  I run twelve different series of articles on here and to date I have reviewed 50 plus films for this site, as well as covered exciting public film exhibitions within the Los Angeles community where I live.  Conventions, festivals, art galleries; it’s all an effort from me to all of you, my readers, to give you an open look into my passion as a fan of cinematic art.  And believe me, I have enjoyed this journey we’ve taken together.  If I didn’t have this blog, I probably wouldn’t be doing all the same things.  I’d still be watching new films every week, going to all these film festivals, and attending these conventions, but this blog also gives me even more of a purpose to.  I’m not just a participant, but also a reporter, using this site to share experiences with those out there who otherwise would’ve missed out on them.  Now truth be told, I am still an amateur at best, but this site is also an unfiltered expression of my own passion.  I write on this site, because it is something that I take pleasure in.  And even if my readership may still be limited to friends, family, and the always welcome curious newcomer, I feel honored to have at least built something that other people can appreciate.  The reason, you might ask, why I am waxing nostalgic all of a sudden, is because with this article I have now reached 200 posting on this website.  For a milestone like this, I tried to think about what would be the best subject for the occasion.  And for #200, I thought it would be fitting to talk to you about my all time favorite movie, Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and how it has shaped my life ever since I first saw it nearly 18 years ago.

For a lot of people, their favorite movies usually end up being something tied to their childhood, or perhaps a discovery in their adulthood that changed their life forever.  I’m a child of the 80’s, an era where there was no shortage of influential movies that I could have latched onto.  So, why did a movie released 20 years before I was born make such a difference in my life?  It might have been just because it was the right movie at the right moment for me.  From early childhood, I was already a keenly aware observer of the aura of cinema.  It was mostly started by my passionate love of Disney movies.  I was the kid in school who had seen every Disney animated classic up to that point, and knew them all by heart.  I was also the kind of know-it-all kid who wanted to share all of my fandom with everyone else; probably to level of obnoxiousness.  Still, it was a passion that spurned me on to pursue more knowledge and expand my expertise.  Once I became a teenager, I started to move beyond just Disney fandom and actively take interest in movies of all kinds.  I became more interested in film history, and found myself watching channels like HBO and Turner Classic Movies more than I was watching the Disney Channel.  The yearly run-up to the Academy Awards interested me more than before, and ever since turning 13, I have not missed seeing a single Best Picture winner in it’s first run in theaters ever since.  But, even though I was aware of my interest in film at the time, what I lacked was the knowledge of what to do with it.  I was certainly not the only person who loved movies this much; but I felt that there was something about them that was calling out to me specifically and pushing me towards something else.

And then there was the summer of 1999.  I had just finished my sophomore year in high school and was looking for that one thing that would guide me towards what I would do with myself going into adulthood.  At the same time, I was trying to catch up on my film history knowledge as well; more specifically, I was trying to see every movie that had won Best Picture at the Oscars up to that point.  This particular summer, a golden opportunity came to my hometown of Eugene, Oregon.  Columbia Pictures was showcasing a traveling film fest, spotlighting movies in their catalog that had recently been selected for the American Film Institute’s Top 100.  The fest came to the last remaining old movie house theater in my town, the now re-purposed McDonald Theater, and was playing a dozen of these films the way they were originally intended to be seen; on the big screen.  The opening film of this fest was Lawrence of Arabia, and it was an opportunity that I didn’t want to waste.  I was just old enough to start seeing movies on my own, so my parents allowed me to go by myself to the theater to see it.  For an older movie, the screening was still surprisingly popular, and it ended up being a packed house.  I, at the time, was only expecting to be entertained for 3 1/2 hours and have another title crossed off my Oscar watch-list.  What I got instead was a trans-formative moment; the closest I’ve ever had to a religious experience in my life.  I was stunned by how much this movie drew me in.  The flawless use of editing, music, performance, and most importantly visuals to tell this story.  It was at that point that I no longer had just a love for film.  Now I had a love for film-making.  I had seen the pinnacle of what cinema can accomplish, and now my obsession had changed from wanting to see every movie to wanting to understand how they were made.  I returned home that evening almost in a daze.  It took me a few weeks more to put into words the impact that that afternoon in the theater had on me.  And then it dawned on me what I needed to do.  I had to become a filmmaker.

I don’t know if things would’ve been different if I had seen Lawrence of Arabia for the first time on television as opposed to on a big screen in a theater packed with other people like myself.  I may be sitting here today writing about a different movie or a different subject entirely.  Lawrence might not even have become my favorite movie.  But, it did because it was the one movie that put into focus everything that I was trying to understand and steered me in the direction that I have followed ever since.  In my senior year of high school, I enrolled in my first ever film class; an elective course that mixed a film history and literature curriculum with film making projects.  In addition, I joined the school newspaper and became it’s film critic.  After graduating, I spent my college years broadening my film knowledge further.  I sought out films of all kinds; especially the ones that are not widely available like international, art house, and independent flicks.  While working towards my Bachelors Degree in English at the University of Oregon, I also earned a certificate in film studies, giving me not only a broader knowledge of the film arts, but also the skills to write more articulately about them.  And while attending college, I also lucked out in getting a job at a movie theater, where I could watch as many as 80-100 films a year, if I so choose.  But, my goal in life was not just to learn about movies; it was to participate in making them.  That is why I wanted to spend my graduate years in a formal film school environment.  In my last year at the U of O, I applied to three different film schools, and was accepted to every one.  I ended up choosing to attend my top pick overall, which was Chapman University in Orange, California.  There, I got my first real taste of actual film-making, and was able to make friends and acquaintances of some truly talented and impassioned future filmmakers like myself as well as professionals, many of whom have helped me to become a better student of the art-from overall and given me encouragement that have I always appreciated.  I graduated with my Masters Degree in Screenwriting and since then have been trying to make a life for myself in the movie capital of the world, and all because of that one afternoon that I decided that I wanted watch Lawrence of Arabia for the first time.

But, stepping away from the impact that it left on me, I’d like to look at exactly why this movie ended up being the one that changed my life.  Lawrence of Arabia, despite it’s universal praise, may not exactly be to everyone’s taste.  It’s 3 1/2 hours long, about a little known historical period in time in the early 20th century, and centered on a protagonist who is both narcissistic and dangerously naive.  And yet, what director David Lean delivered became the cinematic epic that all others are now judged by.  What he did was take this history lesson of the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks in World War I, a campaign that one character describes as “a sideshow of a sideshow” in history, and made it into a story biblical in both scale and theme.  And this was accomplished through a perfect execution of it’s presentation.  The 70mm widescreen photography alone is unmatched in the history of cinema.  David Lean and cinematographer Freddie Young not only pushed the cameras to the limit of their capabilities out there in the unforgiving Arabian desert locations, but they also managed to invent new techniques on the fly that filmmakers today have them to thank for.  Lawrence for example was the first ever film to capture the mirages on film; a distortion caused by extreme heat that is commonly seen by the naked eye, but is near impossible to capture on film.  Using extremely sensitive telephoto lenses, we got the first ever mirage captured on film, used to spectacular effect to introduce Omar Sharif’s Ali into the movie.  High definition blu-ray technology has been a blessing to this movie recently, giving us a full appreciation of it’s spectacular visuals, but even still, this is a movie that must be seen on the biggest screen possible.  It’s why I fell in love with the first time.  I still remember the goosebumps I got when I saw the establishing shot of the Wadi Rum valley where Anthony Quinn’s Auda abu Tayi made his camp.  This was the movie that convinced me that anything was possible in film, because it showed how cinematic language can be transcendent, that it finds the beauty in the most unexpected details, and make a “sideshow” feel like the greatest story ever told.

But, in the years since watching it the first time, and after gaining a broader knowledge of film-making in general, I have also come to appreciate the movie beyond just the wonder of the spectacle.  At it’s center, Lawrence of Arabia is about a singular journey of one man’s self discovery.  T.E. Lawrence (played in a career-defining performance by Peter O’Toole) is one of history’s most celebrated figures, but at the same time, also one of it’s most enigmatic.  We don’t know exactly what drove this well-educated Englishman to spend so many years embedded among the various tribes of Arabia and help them to both drive out their Turkish oppressors and form a unified nation under the rule of King Feisal of Mecca (played by Alec Guinness in the film).  Not only that, but he did so in defiance of his own home nation, who sought to claim Arabia for themselves after deposing the Ottoman Empire.  The movie examines what would drive a man like him to do something like that, and what the film ultimately finds is that nobody really knew what drove Lawrence’s ambition; not even himself.  Lawrence, in the film, is a man driven by passion and a desire for accomplishing the impossible.  But at the same time, we also see that he’s a person who dangerously tests his own limits in a kind of perverse self mutilation.  He playfully puts out matches with his own fingers, and reveals that the trick is not minding that it hurts. Overall, he is a man who’s incapable of putting his own self preservation ahead of his desires.  While it can sometimes enable him to accomplish inhuman tasks, like when he miraculously saves a lost companion in the desert, it also drives him towards a dangerous path of being swallowed into a hell of his own making, as the film’s more disillusioned second half brilliantly portrays.  It’s a remarkable character study of a truly enigmatic man, and it’s that exploration that I find so fascinating and reflective in my own journey as a film student.

Because of my need to test my purpose in life and strive to succeed in a career in film, despite all the odds placed in my way, I can understand a little more about what drove Lawrence so deep into the desert.  We are all driven by a little bit of our own madness sometimes, but it’s how well we manage our ambitions and focus our madness into creativity that enables us to do great things in life.  I certainly am no where near as lost in the wild as Lawrence was, but there’s something in his character and story that I identify with.  I could have chosen a different avenue of life; taken a steady 9-5 job in some office cubicle back home in Oregon and just lived an average life where I would have been safe and content.  But instead, I have followed my passions which have taken me away from home and have allowed me to get ever so much closer to living out my dreams.  Of course, it hasn’t all been without risk (substantial student debt and all the dangers that big city life throws at me), but had I not taken those risks and accomplished something out of it, would I have been as content as I am now.  When Lawrence decides to challenge all rational and cross the impassable Nafud Desert, he never stops to think about the cost; only the final destination.  It’s reckless, but once it’s accomplished, he becomes a hero to all around him.  Will I ever achieve something like that in my life time?  I don’t know, but it’s better to test my limits than to try to live by them and do nothing.  I never thought that 4 years ago that I would have it in me to write a blog every week, and yet I took a shot at it and here we are, 200 articles later.  The same with attending film school and working in the film industry; I never would have known if these were right for me or not had I not taken a chance and applied my name for acceptance into these institutions.  The journey still has a ways to go, and there are regrets over time about some roads not taken, but the final destination is something that I still have on my horizon.

So, this is why Lawrence of Arabia is my all time favorite movie.  It pivoted me towards a purpose in life and represents the ideals that I want to live up to as a student of film.  I hope to one day write a movie that has even just a little bit of the wit and impact that Lawrence has.  Robert Bolt’s screenplay is often one that I quote with regularity and respect with awe for it’s sheer, simple brilliance.  It’s amazing how the screenplay deftly answers some of the more existential questions with the simplest of answers.  For example, when asked by a reporter, “What attracts you Major Lawrence to the desert?” he answers, “It’s clean.  I like it, because it’s clean.”  That right there is a fundamental screenwriting magic trick; using a non-sequitur to explain the un-explainable, and it’s beautifully delivered with delicious sarcasm by Peter O’Toole in the movie.  But, apart from that, Lawrence is also a movie that helps me to understand the limits of ambition and the need for understanding.  There is a strong theme throughout the movie spotlighting the failings of misunderstanding, and how lack of intelligence leads to disorder and hatred.  Lawrence went into the desert not only to learn more about himself, but to understand the world, and it’s an example that I have to tried to live up to myself, broadening my understanding of how the art of film is differently reflected in the larger world as a whole.  Lawrence of Arabia is more personal to me than any other film that I have seen and that’s why I always claim it as my all time favorite movie.  I’m sure that everyone else has that one movie that speaks to them too, and in many ways, a person’s favorite film can reveal a lot about who they are.  Sometimes it’s a personal attachment to the main character that defines a person’s favorite movie, or the message it delivers that they hold so dear.  But the one thing that every favorite movie has in common is that it plays a role in molding us into the people that we are.  Lawrence of Arabia solidified my purpose in life; to play a part in the growing legacy of cinema, and whether I am making a film, or writing about them, it’s a purpose that I still live out every day.  As I look ahead to the next year on this blog, my hope is to expand it further and make it even better; maybe someday try turning it into a vlog and starting up sponsorship to allow my readers more input into what I write about.  Anything is possible at this point.  As the movie states, “Nothing is written, unless you write it.”