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Entries in The Help (38)

Sunday
Feb122012

Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer on Black Artists and Image.

I know I've gone on and on about Viola Davis this year. It's no secret that I'm rooting for her in Best Actress. She's such an enormous talent and such an interesting woman and she keeps on reminding me of of both of those truths in different revealing ways this year. (I'm really going to be disheartened if The Help doesn't lead to better and bigger things. I don't want to see her play one more lame anyone could do this "best friend to the heroine" part like in Eat Pray Love.) Thanks to Mark Harris for pointing out this new interview from the Tavis Smiley show on PBS and thanks to Tavis Smiley for starting with the rough stuff. He basically begins by telling the actresses that though he is rooting for them he is uncomfortable about awarding black women for playing maids some 73 years after Hattie McDaniel's Gone With the Wind win and he was also uncomfortable with Denzel Washington's win a decade ago for playing a dirty cop in Training Day. The stars and the host really get into it (respectfully). Here's Viola's take.

That mindset... is absolutely destroying the black artist. The black artist cannot live in a revisionist place. The black artist can only tell the truth about humanity. Humanity is messy. People are messy. Caucasian actors know that. They understand that. They understand that when you bring a human being to life you show all the flaws as well as the beauty. We, as African American artists, are more concerned with image and message and not execution. Which is why every time you see our images they've been watered down to a point where they are not realistic at all. It's like all of our humanity has been washed out. We as artists cannot be politicians. We as artists can only be truth tellers.

The conversation blossoms from there. They talk August Wilson. They talk Fences. They talk Red Tails. They talk about acting as baton passing. It's great stuff and nobody pulls any punches.

Octavia's late interview response about the difficulty of convincing Hollywood to bankroll more black projects takes a nice turn, too.

Let me tell you the other thing. It begins with the ticket buyer. Dee Rees wrote an amazing film called Pariah. And if you haven't paid to see it at a theater near you, you're part of the problem.

It's inspiring that some people, and people as visible as Meryl Streep and these two, have singled out Pariah for praise. It's just too bad the movie had such extremely limited distribution and too bad it was saved until the one weekend of the year when no one would be able to pay it any attention during the Oscar glut. But bygones. It's one of my favorite pictures of last year and I'm hoping it gets a better life on DVD.

The complete interview which I've embedded after the jump is well worth a watch if you have half an hour. 

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Feb082012

Our Favorite BAFTA Tradition

I forgot to mention this goodie but with BAFTA hitting this weekend (we'll live blog) we're quite happy that this is an annual tradition now with BAFTA. Each year they hire illustrators to make Best Picture guides for their nominees. Look at this one for Drive

The scorpion jacket is an obvious image to go with but where this really wins me over is the little touches like the bold red splash, the clenched fist, the faint suggestion of an elevator (that glowing button) and that tell-tale glove hanging from the back pocket. It just such an instant recall of so much of the movie's indelible moments. 

The Help, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Artist and The Descendants after the jump

Click to read more ...

Friday
Feb032012

Randomness: Who Will Cher Vote For at the Oscars?

I'm working on a Madonna piece at the moment but couldn't resist popping in to share tweets from another legendary pop diva we adore who dabbles in the movies: the Oscar winning Cher. She regularly responds to fan tweets and this very random question about eating at McDonalds with Britney Spears 'would she?' gets a funny response. 

She recently answered a question of who she loved with working with "Meryl,Stanly,Kurty,My darling little girls CR&Nonie !!!" Yes, Meryl, who we've just been discussing, was name-checked twice this week. But then there's this...

Cher *just* saw The Help, one presumes at an AMPAS screening, and it sounds like for the first time.  She tweeted that she came out of the theater crying. But if she only just saw The Help one has to wonder whose names she scribbled down on the nomination ballots weeks ago. She must be way behind on her screeners.

Silly Comment Game of the Day: Tell us who you think Cher nominated and who she is going to vote for? She loves The Help "you brought joy to my heart!" but her dear friend Mary Louise Streep is also in the running. Predicament

 

Thursday
Feb022012

Oscar Symposium Day 2: Invisible Art & Self Love

Previously on the Oscar Symposium... we discussed and defined the business of actors elevating their movies, spent time at "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"'s stale office party mingling with the nine Best Picture nominees (only one of which we all seem to love) and agreed that Brad Pitt deserves Best Actor. Eventually Nathaniel's second favorite movie of the year (The Artist) took quite a beating so he sulked off to lick his wounds.

And here we pick up for Day Two of our three day symposium...

MARK HARRIS: While we're waiting for our host... Nick raised a really interesting point yesterday in his persuasive case for Plummer, which is: Just what the hell is a supporting performance anyway? I like his definition (and Plummer would probably get my vote too, for showing amazing restraint in a part that could be played as one Big Moment after another). But I'm also drawn to performances like Jonah Hill's, in a role that exists purely to give Pitt's character a wittily contrasting somebody to bounce off of, and like Melissa McCarthy's (my favorite in that category, I'm not ashamed to admit), even though she's more a standout in an ensemble than a pure supporting actress. Do any of you feel that there are supporting performances this year that are miscategorized? The French clearly do, since when the Cesars nominated Berenice Bejo for The Artist, it was for Best Actress.

NATHANIEL ROGERS: I plead the fifth on category fraud. I've said too much over the years about that whole... nightmare.

KURT OSENLUND: I'm going to flip it on its head and go 'lead to supporting.' By which I mean, I think I'm one of the few who still believes Viola Davis belongs in the supporting category. I'll admit this is a complicated stance. I think it's the film/text that's guilty of cheaply attempting to make Aibileen a lead character, giving her a tacked-on coda of "closure" and trying to reduce the shame of taking a black women's story and still handing it, mainstream-style, to a white redhead. By extension, I think awards bodies are guilty for taking the bait. Ideally, I'd like to see Meryl walk away with Best Actress, Viola walk away with Supporting Actress, and Octavia sit comfortably with a nomination, for a performance that's highly enjoyable, but shrill and stereotypical and nowhere near as soulful as her co-star's.

My short answer to the 'supporting to lead' question would be that, this year, I actually think all of the supporting stars are placed where they belong.

NICK DAVIS: I don't think the ending of The Help feels tacked on. I don't even think it feels like closure: we have no way to predict Aibileen's next move, much less to presume its ease.  And from those opening minutes with all of her backstory and daily routine, and through all of Davis's impeccable playing of heavily weighted scenes, I think she's definitely a lead.  I know her screen time must be small compared to other leads, but at the very least, she falls squarely in that Marge Gunderson/Hannibal Lecter category where her charismatic impress is so profound from the lead/supporting borderline that it pushes her handily over.  It helps that even the blocking and costuming and editing and lighting choices keep conspiring to shift focus from Skeeter to Aibileen whenever they share a scene.  Emma Stone is just giving away those scenes, as markedly as Meryl all but erased herself in the Doubt standoff.  I wouldn't want anyone watching me act opposite Viola Davis, either.

MARK: At last, a fight! I'm going to strongly disagree about Viola Davis, who not only carries the emotional weight of The Help, but has considerably more screen time than past lead-performance winners like Frances McDormand in Fargo. Kathryn Stockett's novel isn't Skeeter's story, even if Skeeter is a storyteller -- it's told from the first-person perspectives of Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny. (So, if the movie were really true to the book, Octavia Spencer would probably have to be considered a third co-lead.) To me, Skeeter's "...and then I wrote the book" storyline feels as inorganic to what The Help is really about as the closure the movie gives Davis. The movie's emotional strength -- what there is of it -- lives in Aibileen's struggle; she's arguably even the title character. Yes, the movie is technically Skeeter's story, but only in the way that Training Day is technically Ethan Hawke's. So I'm happy Davis is where she is.

After the jump: The Help, Best Screenplay, and Masturbatory Movies

Click to read more ...

Monday
Jan302012

"Dream Big, Dream Fierce" This Oscar Season

The SAG Awards are receding in the review mirror, but the afterglow remains. How much power can emotional narratives have within our seasonal awards journey? Viola Davis has been a major actress for a long time within the showbiz community -- this very website first handed her two gold medals way back in early 2003 for her gobsmackingly great single scene in Antwone Fisher and her breakthrough year of smart character work in Far From Heaven and Solaris -- but it's only in the past few years that the mainstream has begun to learn her name and key in to her potent gift.  There's nothing like a 'who's that?' Oscar nomination (Doubt), A List friendship (Streep) and a big fat juicy hit (The Help) to boost your profile.

So I wasn't surprised but was definitely delighted to see her receive a standing ovation when she walked up to accept Best Actress for The Help.


Perhaps the standing ovation is an annual occurence and I've merely forgotten.

In some ways our relationship with the awards circus is a long one with deep pockets of memories, held grudges and fond crushes. In other ways it's as if we're goldfish swimming round the bowl and we're surprised by that little plastic castle every time.

But I think the true indicator that Viola Davis is the likely winner of the Best Actress Oscar is not the win itself with SAG, which has a much wider more diverse voting body than Oscar, but the crowd response. Reducing co-stars to tears is probably no great achievement. They were in the trenches with you so naturally Jessica Chastain, Octavia Spencer and Cicely Tyson were crying their eyes out. But making Zoe Saldana and Angelina Jolie all misty? Boosting Dick Van Dyke's mood when he was already high on life? 

What is going on here? (More after the jump)

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Jan292012

SAG Live Blog: Bridesmaids, Silent Stars and The Help

6:30 I was writing an (unrelated) short little note about Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy moments ago and am suddenly thrust onto a red carpet with fast talking E! reporters uttering inanities while stars explain who they're wearing. These are things old spies never have to think about. But tonight is not about the spies. It's about bridesmaids, silent film stars, time travelling writers, Hawaiian land barons and maids. The first four things I hear are two engagement stories (good news for Bridesmaids or mere coincidence?), one ode to George Clooney via The Good Wife herself. Then Octavia Spencer --  love that bun (is there are name for those high buns on steroids?) -- announcing that she's robbed Cougar Town of Josh.

Which begs the question: Is anyone in Hollywood not friends with Octavia Spencer?

6:37 Armie Hammer on his wife's bakery. He's not the baker, he's the, uh, taster. The reporter or his wife I can't recall calls this "out of the closet taster?" which he confirms. I'm not making this up. 

I'm an out of the closet taster and Elizabeth is the master baker: lemon pies, tiramisu, many cupcakes. Let's just say we now have the most special red velvet recipe there is. 

For some reason when he's talking about food it sounds utterly filthy. I'm having a flashback to Rock Hudson talking about recipes in that one movie. 

6:40 Rose Byrne is wearing a sparkly jumpsuit and reminding me that she is Australian. I always forget the she's Australian and that jumpsuits exist. The latter by choice.  Although she says Scarface was her inspiration and I can sort of see Michelle Pfeiffer circa 1983 in this look. The BEST part is when she leaves the reporter who is going to commercial and Glenn Close (Damages reunion!) looks her jumpsuit up and down... more than once. She doesn't know what to make of it until...

No, she definitely doesn't like it. Hee.

6:53 Viola Davis is talking about her new daughter. I didn't realize she had adopted. Somewhere I missed that. She sounds happy and nervous and she definitely isn't completely comfortable in her Jimmy Choos. Since we're talking about feet, I feel the need to share this photo.

Regina King tweeted "toes done" an hour ago.

I did not retouch this photo so either her camera phone has some issues or her feet are sunburned. Ouch. Put some aloe vera on that. If feet horrify you I apologize. But, true story, it's how I remembered it was time to live blog.

This live blog is brought to you Regina King's pedicure.

7:02 Jonah Hill says everyone can't believe he was Oscar nominated. To his credit he says that he can't believe it either so he understands.

7:08 Michelle Williams, who clearly does not like talking to reporters about her personal life, does a pretty good job of pretending to be okay with it whilst astrally projecting herself away. I'm reasonably certain she was floating somewhere over Montana whilst Guiliana was inundating her with questions about child rearing.

much more after the jump

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Jan292012

SAG Predix: Will They Really Give "The Help" 3 Prizes?

Only two more awards shows to go before we reach Oscar night. One of them is tonight. SAG sometimes surprises (remember 2002 and 2003?) and sometimes goes total consensus. Let's take a stab at this... which is easier to do with statues with sharp corners. LIVE BLOGGING HAS BEGUN!

Best Actress
Nominees: Close, Davis, Williams, Streep, Swinton
Will Win: Viola Davis because the most voters have seen her film and because she's great in it.
Will Win: Meryl Streep because she's Meryl Streep and it's a biopic and actors are crazy about those and because it's a virtuosic impersonation.
Will Win: Michelle Williams because she's the new "Best of Her Generation" actress everyone is excited about and because it's a biopic and...

Okay. Yikes. I suspect it's a tight three woman race. I'd like to believe that Viola's box office and general narrative will differentiate her just barely enough. On the other hand actors rightfully worship Streep and she might win this with ease and she's definitely the most likely winner for voters who haven't seen all their screeners. I mean if I was voting blindly I'd always vote Streep (not that I'd vote blindly). On the other otherhand (we've grown a third arm) perhaps the vast voting body of the guild will have a heatwave for Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe.

Best Actress has the odd and slightly unpleasant distinction of being filled with performances that are mostly significantly better than the film housing them (though this is not to say that all of the films are terrible). Given that rather specific sandbox, I'd argue that Davis does the most successful job of working against her film's limitations. As technically great as Meryl Streep's work is, it just can't vault the hurdle of "why was this film even made other than to win Best Actress awards?" None of the other films, not even My Week With Marilyn leave quite the same "why does this exist?" aftertaste. But then again, films made solely to win awards no matter how shamelessly obvious about that they are,  have never been exactly shunned by awards bodies so that might not matter at all. Plus after taste is hard to notice while you're still eating which is why some distributors wait till the last possible second for voters to see movies they want votes for.

Okay, okay: Streep.

Best Actor
Nominees: Bichir, Clooney, DiCaprio, Dujardin, Pitt 
Will Win: George Clooney for his movie star charisma. He seems to be just sailing through this awards season with ease as if his performance towers over the competition. Strange.
Should Win: Brad Pitt for his movie star charisma and how it completely suits his character and his film and for the simple matter that he gave two incredible performances in the same year, one of which is this one right here. It's always a pity when career peaks happen and awards bodies are only vaguely paying attention, temporarily blinded by other flashy objects in the same room. 

Best Supporting Actor
Nominees: Branagh, Hammer, Hill, Nolte, Plummer
Will / Should Win: Christopher Plummer. Like Clooney he has no competition for the win in his category. The main difference being that his performance easily reveals why that is.

Best Supporting Actress & Best Ensemble
Nominees: Bejo, Chastain, McCarthy, McTeer and Spencer 
Nominees: The Artist, Bridesmaids, The Descendants, The Help, Midnight in Paris 

Octavia Spencer and Melissa McCarthy are, like Brad & George, friends and competitors both. But more importantly they're also both in awesome female ensembles. Voters have shown in the past that they don't mind giving acting prizes AND the ensemble to the same film but won't they want to throw Bridesmaids something instead of possibly giving The Help three of their five prizes?

I'd love to predict a Bridesmaids win in ensemble and I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility especially if voters do the old "vote for the film you'd most like to have been in" (in which case this is Help vs. Bridesmaids vs. The Artist) but as SAG has settled into its [ahem] 'precursor duties' they've strayed further and further from thinking about ensemble and moved right into thinking about Oscar so a win for a movie that's not up for Best Picture might be beyond their imagination now (in which case this is The Help vs. Descendants vs. Midnight vs. The Artist)
Will Win: Melissa McCarthy (repeating the Emmy surprise?) and The Help... though maybe i have it in reverse and wouldn't that be fun.
Should Win: These categories are killers, so many good performances. But If I was voting I'd throw Ensemble to Bridesmaids and Supporting to... god, who knows. This is why I still haven't finalized my own awards.

ON TO THE SAG LIVE BLOGGING