Posts Tagged ‘David Oyelowo’

By Amelia Solomon

It was a new year of hope and change, and then the biggest blunder of 2015 to date happened.  Okay, the second biggest blunder, if you count that little snafu where the United States “forgot” to send a representative to the Anti-Terrorism Unity Rally in Paris.

Maybe Biden and Kerry had post traumatic stress disorder from childhood games of Red Rover.

On the morning of Thursday, January 15th, the nominees for the 87th Academy Awards were announced.  Some of the nominations were expected, some were unexpected, and then others were given the infamous Oscar snub.  A snub by the Academy is nothing new.  In fact, it happens almost every year to someone.  For example, in 2013 both Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow did not receive Best Director nominations, even though the films they directed, Argo and Zero Dark Thirty respectively, were both nominated for Best Picture.  2014 saw Spike Jonze miss out on a Best Director nomination for Her.

My beard should make me a shoe-in.

With often only five nominees announced per category, it’s a given that not everyone will get honored.  But Hollywood doesn’t have its panties in a twist this go round for no reason.  This year was less about too many great films to choose from, leaving an unlucky person out of the running, and more about an obvious dismissal of works by African-Americans and women.

Where dreams come true. Or not.

Let’s break down the biggest offenses by category and then look at the numbers:

-The Best Picture category expanded from five nominees to 10 in 2009, in order to allow inclusion of pictures that picked up a nomination in a category like best writing, adapted screenplay, but wouldn’t have normally made it into the best overall picture.  This was also a way where smaller films, made outside the studio system, would have a chance to compete against the $100 million studio backed contenders.  So it’s surprising that this year the Academy only nominated the following eight films:  American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, and Whiplash.  What’s also interesting is that every single one of these films revolves around a male main character.  It’s true that the number of films featuring a female protagonist are dismally low, but this category should have included Gone Girl and Wild.  Both films feature female leads and both films were deserving of a best picture nomination.  Gone Girl has made $167 million and has an 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Wild has made $33 million, which is quite successful for an indie, and has a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  This isn’t about adding two films just because they had female leads.  It’s recognizing two films that have been both critically and financially successful and with two open slots, there seems no reasonable explanation for their omission.

It worked for James Franco in 127 Hours.

-The Best Director category this year includes Birdman, Boyhood, Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and The Imitation Game.  But where is Selma?  Selma has made $29 million and has a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Its story resonates with what has been happening in Missouri and New York recently.  It’s already proven its worth in various award circles where it was nominated for a Golden Globe for best motion picture drama and best director, won the AFI Award for movie of the year, nominated for best director for the Independent Spirit Awards, and won the freedom of expression award for The National Board of Review.  It’s placement in a multitude of additional film award programs is also not a fluke.  The film, directed by Ava DuVernay, were it to have garnered a best director nomination from the Academy, would have made history.  Ms. DuVernay would have been the first African-American woman to receive a best director nomination and only the fifth woman in the history of the Academy to receive a best director nomination.  But most importantly, Ms. DuVernay didn’t deserve a nomination because of her race or sex; she deserved a nomination because her film was one of the top films of 2014.  Whereas a film like Foxcatcher, lacked fine-tuning in terms of pacing and length, which is a misstep by the director.

Yes Ms. DuVernay really is a Director.

-The Best Actor category this year includes Steve Carell for Foxcatcher, Bradley Cooper for American Sniper, Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game, Michael Keaton for Birdman, and Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything.  Again, the missing film is Selma and the missing actor is David Oyelowo.  It’s another instance where an African-American didn’t make the list.  Oyelowo has already been nominated for best actor for a Golden Globe, for best male lead for an Independent Spirit Award, and for best actor for a Critics’ Choice Movie Award all for his role as Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma.  I’d replace Carell with Oyelowo in a heartbeat.  Visionary leader simply trumps creepy guy with a prosthetic nose every time, especially when the latter was only a supporting character.

This looks familiar.

-The Best Adapted Screenplay category this year includes Jason Hall for American Sniper, Graham Moore for The Imitation Game, Paul Thomas Anderson for Inherent Vice, Anthony McCarten for The Theory of Everything,  and Damien Chazelle for Whiplash.  The biggest misses in this section were female screenwriter Gillian Flynn for Gone Girl and Nick Hornby for Wild.  Both Gone Girl and Wild were successful books, revolving around strong female characters, and were extremely successful films.  In order for this to happen, the writer who pens the adaptation must know what they’re doing.  Inherent Vice is a trippy comical farce, but it’s all over the place, lacking a clear plot and making sense only half the time.  Whiplash is about a young Jazz drummer who dreams of becoming the next Charlie Parker and his abusive college band teacher.  It’s a simple story, with lots of tension, but the locations are simple, there are few characters and it most certainly did not come derived from a novel with two points of view, told in both the present and past, or from a memoir relying heavily on flashbacks to enhance the current situations.  In other words, both Gone Girl and Wild were difficult books to adapt and that is the mark of a best adapted screenplay.

The Cool Girl Speech. Enough said.

There were many other misses in this year’s Oscar nominations, but overall the above mistakes highlight the fact that both deserving African-Americans and women were passed over.  It doesn’t matter if some films weren’t nominated because the screeners didn’t get sent out in time, which is really a reason being touted in the blogosphere.  Or maybe the reason is because 12 Years a Slave won last year, and the members of the Academy already awarded a film about African-Americans.  I certainly hope that’s not the reason, but I don’t doubt it.

Damn you, US Postal Service.

It’s also a shame when the conversation about how DuVernay and Oyelowo deserved nominations gets twisted.  Somewhere along the line it gets lost that they deserved the nomination not just to make history, and because they are African-American or a woman, but it’s because their directing, their acting, and frankly the film was that good.  The only reason race and sex comes into it is because the public is trying to understand why they weren’t commended.  The one explanation that makes sense is this is what results when the people who do the picking are mostly male and predominantly white.  But it’s important to remember that change doesn’t happen from the outside, it comes from within.  So the best thing anyone can do is not get discouraged, support these films, and go and make yours; in other words keep trying to affect change.

Remember when Congress was only white men?

 

 

Advertisements

jackreacher-mv-11Jack Reacher is the main character in a popular book series written by Jim Grant, under the pen name Lee Child.  The series includes 17 books in total, with the most recent released in September 2012.  The film Jack Reacher is based on book nine, titled One Shot.  Distributed by Paramount Pictures and made by Tom Cruise‘s own production company it, of course, stars Tom Cruise as the lead character, Jack Reacher.  If you miss the Tom Cruise of Top Gun, A Few Good Men, and the more recent Collateral, see this film.  Cruise, who reached his 50 year milestone this past summer, is on top of his game.  He plays the good hero, with an edge, infallibly.

Jack Reacher is an ex-military police investigator who served with several distinctions.  But now he lives off the grid, and only comes forward when he learns that James Barr, an ex-army sniper, has been arrested for the killing of five innocent people.  Reacher knew Barr in Iraq and investigated him for the unauthorized murders of several independent contractors.  According to Reacher, Barr confessed to him about killing the contractors, but was never prosecuted because the Army chose to look the other way.  Reacher promised Barr that if he ever did anything like that again he would come for him.

When Reacher arrives in Pittsburgh and meets Helen, the attorney defending Barr, he gets more than he bargained for.  Originally convinced Barr was guilty, he agrees to be Helen’s lead investigator and stay open to the fact that Barr could be innocent.  After a barroom brawl gets staged to run Reacher out-of-town, he realizes Barr is being framed and he sets out to uncover the truth.  This is not a spoiler because, if you are paying attention, the opening scene gives the viewer a clue as to whether Barr is guilty or innocent.  The mystery lies in who really killed these five people and why they committed such a heinous crime.

jackreacher-mv-12What follows is your classic action-thriller genre film with just the right amount of plot twists to keep you guessing and action sequences to keep you in a heightened state of anxiety.  Reacher has a penchant for “borrowing” cars and conveniently ends up in a Chevrolet Chevelle SS during a police chase.  I only cringed when he took a hit from another car and damaged the front end, not because I worried Reacher would get caught (we all know the hero always evades the cops in the car chase scene), but because it is a crime to bust up such a beautiful classic car.  Cruise, who usually opts to do all his own stunts, did his own driving in this film.  Maybe that’s why he looked like he was having a little too much fun.

Cruise, who served as Executive Producer on the film, surrounded himself with a great ensemble cast.  The British-born actress, Rosamund Pike, plays Helen.  Although her chemistry with Cruise is palatable, it is never tested.  Her character is all business and she never strays from her main goal of defending Barr.  Her father, played by Six Feet Under’s Richard Jenkins, is the D.A. and her main legal adversary.  His role is small, but he is one of the top-five character actors in the business today, and he delivers just the right amount of suspicious behavior concealed in fatherly concern.  His partner, Detective Emerson, is acted by the same David Oyelowo, who turned heads in this past autumn’s indie, Middle of NowhereRobert Duvall rounds out the cast as an old-time gun aficionado who befriends Reacher and serves as his back-up during the climax, which takes place at an old rock quarry.  Although Duvall only turns up in the fourth quarter of the film, his performance is priceless and he delivers one-liners like, “Get her number and let’s go,” that only he could do properly, with the possible exception of Clint Eastwood, and only prior to the RNC chair debacle.

Jack Reacher is both directed and written by Christopher McQuarrie.  His previous screenplays include Valkyrie and The Usual Suspects.  His director resume is quite short, with only one previous feature film under his belt.  In the wrong hands this film could have turned out like an 80’s action flick that you’ve only heard of because you were looking for something to watch on a cable movie channel for free.  The dialogue is often cheeky and if it was being delivered by an action-hero like Schwarzenegger or Stallone, I’d roll my eyes.  But Cruise knows how to walk the thin-line between schmaltz and funny.

No matter what you’ve read in the tabloids about Cruise’s personal life this past summer or how you feel about Scientology, you’ll want to pat him on the back after seeing this film.  I couldn’t think of a better role for Cruise to play to reinvigorate his career and remind us why he is a star.  It is roles like this that he should be recognized for and remembered for when reflecting on his acting history.  With 16 other books in the Jack Reacher series, the door is open for a sequel and it could be a bankable franchise for Cruise.

Middle of Nowhere is an aptly titled film.  The most obvious meaning the prison where the protagonist Ruby, wonderfully acted by relative newcomer Emamyatzy Corinealdi, visits her husband Derek, played by Omari Hardwick.  Derek is serving an eight year sentence for a non-violent crime.  The correctional facility is located in Victorville, California, and any Angeleno will tell you that is in the middle of nowhere.  But like any good film, the title has a deeper meaning.  It is a metaphor for the state of Ruby’s life.

A devoted wife and still very much in love with her spouse she voluntarily stalls the trajectory of her life, and waits for Derek.  Four years into his prison sentence he is up for parole.  Meanwhile, Ruby has made ends meet by forgoing med school and working night shifts as a nurse.  She travels all night and makes multiple bus transfers to get home to her sister and help babysit her nephew.  But it all comes crashing down on her, when she learns during the parole hearing that Derek may not have been as devoted to her as she was to him.  It is at this pivotal moment, that the viewer becomes struck with the realization that Ruby is trapped and a lost soul.  Unfortunately for Ruby, it takes her longer to come to this level of consciousness.

That is, until she meets Los Angeles bus driver Brian, played by the Royal Shakespeare Company trained David Oyelowo.  Like any good love interest, Brian has a wound too.  He is recovering from a divorce and in similar fashion to Ruby he is screaming out for somebody to love him.  There is a beautiful scene where after a date at a dance club, Ruby goes back to Brian’s place.  But they just stand in the middle of the room and hold one another, as if they have never experienced human touch.  Brian is persistent and he breaks down Ruby’s walls, freeing her of her past life with Derek and allowing her to finally go somewhere.

The film written and directed by Ava DuVernay won the Best Director Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.  DuVernay started out as a Publicist in Hollywood and Middle of Nowhere is the second feature film she’s directed.  I was lucky enough to stumble upon a surprise Q & A after the screening with actor Oyelowo.  He shared that DuVernay first wrote this film ten years ago and the version on the silver screen now is the result of almost a decade of hard work.  Any writer can appreciate that, because they know each project is a journey.

When asked what drew him to the character of Brian, Oyelowo explained, in his refined British accent, “….I loved the opportunity to get to play the complications of what we as human beings have to endure, when it comes to love.”