Oscar History

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Middleburg Day 2: James Ivory & Various Fantastic Women

See Day 1 ICYMI

Friday. Another day in Virginia's horse country, two more fine films, and meeting a lifelong personal idol...

James Ivory speaking at the Salamander Resort in Middleburg, VA

James Ivory Legacy Award
The morning began with a moderated interview with four time Oscar nominee James Ivory. He was in Middleburg to receive this year's "Legacy" award. Speaking of legacy... when will the Academy come around to acknowledging that he's one of the most deserving artists out there for their annual Honorary Oscar pickings?

The film critic Janet Maslin was doing the interviewing but unfortunately didn't leave much time for audience questions. Still, I finagled my own personal interview with him that day. Ivory is in great shape at 89, thank god, mentally and physically. The only thing visibly slowing him down was that he had recently injured his foot so he was using a cane. Clips were shown from both Howard's End and A Room With a View but strangely none of the other films. Among the interesting anecdotes he shared was that A Room With a View came into being primarily because he wanted to take a trip to Italy. He also revealed that he and Luca Guadagnino had originally planned to direct Call Me By Your Name together. (Ivory was actually on set regularly during the shooting of A Bigger Splash since the two were planning Guadagnino's next feature). Ivory spoke with great affection and admiration for both of his late creative partners, the writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and the producer Ismael Merchant (also his off screen partner), and explained that they were very much an equal trinity in terms of the decision making, comparing them to our government. 'Ishmael was Congress. Ruth was the Supreme Court. Which makes me President.'

Somehow despite all these years of watching Merchant/Ivory films, I hadn't realized that this team that was so synonomous (for a time) with prestigious British cinema weren't originally from there. Ivory was born in California, Merchant in Bombay, and Jhabvala in Germany. More on Ivory later once I transcribe our interview. 

A Fantastic Woman
As I exited the theater after Chile's stunning Oscar submission had ended, I passed Daniela Vega in a stunning dark dress with white trim. She was strutting to the front of the audience to deserved applause. I wanted to stay but another screening time loomed mercilessly 15 minutes away. The moment had me flashing back to one of two fantasy sequences in the movie, a dance number where Vega's downtrodden character "Marina" is suddenly lifted extravagantly, even magically to the camera in a disco dancing flourish. The actress freezes staring into the camera. Sebastian Lelio and his editor hold the pose two beats past where you'd think they cut it; they're forcing you to see her. This feels both like justice given the way she's treated in the film, and like a redundancy because who can look away from this bewitching woman? It's a mark of the movie's success at excoriating transphobia and binary thinking that so many of its character want to look away. In one of the movie's toughest tetchiest scenes the ex-wife of Marina's dead boyfriend confronts her contemptuously in a garage:

I don't even know what I'm seeing when I look at you!' 



Dee Rees monologue-length responses to the after movie questions about Mudbound suggest that she's thought about her epic so long and hard she could probably recite it frame-by-frame. Dee Rees was in town to receive the "Visionary" award. At the Q&A I liked her swift responses to  loaded and less specifically Mudbound questions best. When asked why she hired so many female craftsmen (among the major department heads on Mudbound only the costume designer and production designer are men) she was adamant that it not be defined as tokenism. 'If you see a man on a movie set, it might be his first day on the job,' she explained, adding 'if you see a woman, she had to beat 50 other talented people to be there' That's food for thought in an industry struggling very loudly with sexual harassment. It's obvious that more gender parity in the workplace would help a lot.  Rees futher explained that the people that gave her her big breaks in Hollywood were all men; she was determined to be a woman that did that for other women. 

I liked the picture though Murtada is correct that it feels rushed given its long, eventful, and multi-headed saga. Faithful readers know that I like my movies tight and short but Mudbound probably could have used and extra 15 minutes (and it's already 2 hours and 15 minutes long). The MVP for me was Mary J Blige, who was stunningly restrained as a midwife perpetually in fear of losing her eldest son (Jason Mitchell) and so wary of fate that she will only even take joy in tiny bites. The whole cast is good, though, so the Gotham Awards ensemble prize is a nice gesture. Will we see it pop up in the SAG Ensemble nominations? We just might. I reckon the biggest threats there are Shape of Water, Darkest Hour, and The Post.

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Reader Comments (5)

Can MJB possibly overcome what Janelle Monae couldn't last year.

October 21, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

I'm rooting for James Iveoy winning best adapetd screenplay this year!

October 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBoy Piranha

Daniela Vega's dance number totally deserves a spot in your Film Bitch Awards.

October 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Nice set of write-ups - thanks.

Small thing: James Ivory's only a three-time Oscar nominee!

That still from Mudbound is beautiful.

October 22, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Daniela Vega is superb dancer! Daniela Vega in a Beautiful dark dress with white trim looks Gorgeous.

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