Local Cinephiles Handicap the Oscars

Posted on 23 February 2011

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By Clare Walla

Three-hundred-sixty-five days of production, nearly 1,500 films, hundreds of thousands of cast and crew, and over 6,000 votes from members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—but in the winner’s circle, it all comes down to one.

This Sunday, February 27, televisions across the United Sates will be tuned into The Academy Awards ceremony, broadcast live from the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, Calif., as many wonder who will take home one of those coveted, gold statuettes.

While Sag Harbor may be one of the furthest places in the continental U.S. from the star-studded streets of Hollywood, ties to the film world are peppered throughout our little seaside village.

So, without further ado, here are some of the voices from our community to weigh-in on the nature of this year’s nominees.

As an organizer for the Haywall Summer Film Series at the Silas Marder Gallery in Bridgehampton, Sag Harbor resident Hilary Hamann is familiar with the art of selection. And she thinks this year’s nominees for Best Picture adequately reflect the best of what this year had to offer.

“What is so great about this year’s selections is that they demonstrate a mature contentment with the small, local, regional,” Hamann wrote in an email. Referencing her four favorite nominees, “Black Swan,” “The King’s Speech,” “The Fighter,” and “Winter’s Bone,” she continued: “Ballet is regional, as is royalty, as is the boxing ring, as is the world of the girl living in the Ozarks. None of these films sensationalize their subject matter. They investigate the soft underbelly of these places.”

While she praised Darren Aronofsky’s directorial expertise on “Black Swan,” and lauded director Debra Granik’s ability to create raw, almost realistic footage for “Winter’s Bone,” ultimately Hamann hopes “The King’s Speech” will take top honors.

“I think the director’s choices here were impeccable—subject matter, performers, direction, etc.” she added.

Screenwriter and Sag Harbor resident Bill Collage—who will pen the upcoming films “Tower Heist,” “Moby Dick,” and “The 10 Commandments”—agreed with Hamann’s praise for Aronofsky, though he took it a step further.

“The best film of the year for me is ‘Black Swan.’ It’s unbelievable visual story telling. Darren Aronofsky is the genius of our era. This was a great companion piece to [his previous film, 2008's] ‘The Wrestler.’ He did something low-brow, then something high-brow,” Collage said, explaining that Aronofsky has a great ability to tap into the troubling side of human emotion from different angles.

While no one seemed poised to push “The Social Network” to the top slot—even though it nabbed the Golden Globe award for Best Feature – Drama last month—Collage did give it credit in the writing department.

“I think the social relevancy of ‘The Social Network’ is on full display,” he said. “Beyond the characters and the story, I think [Aaron] Sorkin gave the audience a challenge that’s very rare in most films.” The film cuts back and forth between two significant aspects of the story and, as Collage pointed out, there are no subtitles to orient the viewer.

“That kind of faith in the American filmgoer is kind of cool,” he added. “I haven’t seen it since ‘Syriana’ [in 2005].”

He believes “The Social Network” should win for Best Adapted Screenplay, and “Inception” (written and directed by Christopher Nolan) should win for Best Original Screenplay.

“‘Inception’ is top-notch,” Collage added.

But of course, as is the nature of art, not everyone agrees.

“Art is a subjective thing,” said Murphy Davis, artistic director at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor. Case in point, Murphy said he actually walked out of “Inception,” and although he really enjoyed the performances in “Black Swan,” ultimately Davis shrugged and said the movie was “eh.”

“The films that affect me the most are the films that speak to the human spirit,” Davis noted. In fact, he said his four top films would be “The Fighter,” “The Social Network,” “True Grit,” and the film he thinks should take the cake: “The King’s Speech.”

However, he reiterated, “The awards are voted in by Academy members, and because it’s a human voting system, the members will have a human response,” he said. “They’re voting on their guts. Who knows what affects us and why?”

It is partially for this same sentiment that Academy member, and Bridgehampton resident, Anthony Harvey (who directed “A Lion in Winter” and “The Glass Menagerie”) doesn’t give too much weight to the final outcome of the Academy Awards. In fact, to illustrate his thoughts he goes back to 1968.

Harvey’s film “A Lion in Winter” was up for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director for Harvey, and Best Actress for Katharine Hepburn. However, Hepburn chose to stay home in New York rather than attend the ceremony because, as Harvey put it, she didn’t like awards ceremonies.

And as luck would have it, she won.

“I called her that night and I said: You’ve won!” Harvey recalled. “And she said, ‘Oh, for God’s sake, I’m asleep—just put it in a parcel and send it to me.’”

Harvey continued, “Eight or nine years later, I was at her apartment in New York for dinner and she was looking in her cabinet for chocolates, or something, and there it was, still wrapped. It hadn’t even been engraved.”

Harvey is still amused by the story, and said he sympathized with Hepburn’s point of view.

“She though all the other nominees were just as wonderful as she was,” he said.

As for this year’s Best Picture contenders, Harvey said they’re all great films. “Being nominated is a pretty good honor in itself,” he said.

By law he’s not allowed to reveal what his pick for top honors would be. But, Harvey did say one of his favorite films this year was also “The King’s Speech.” For what it’s worth.

The Bay Street Theatre will be broadcasting the show live on Sunday, February 27, beginning with Joan Rivers’ annual red carpet commentary at 6:30 p.m.  There will be raffles, champagne specials and a cash bar.  Entrance is free.

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