Oscars: Best Director

My latest, on the Best Director nominees, is now up at Capital New York.

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20 Responses to Oscars: Best Director

  1. april says:

    But, Sheila, when are we gonna get to the Documentary Short category? There are only a couple of days left, and “God Is The Bigger Elvis” is crying out for your review!!!!

  2. sheila says:

    I haven’t even seen it – it doesn’t premiere til April!

  3. sheila says:

    Loved the Maureen Dowd piece. I’ve been aware of Dolores Hart for some time – she shows up occasionally if you’re tuned in to Elvis news and am excited to see the documentary. She doesn’t have that much to do in Loving You, but she is much more central in King Creole, and is beautiful in it.

    I honestly don’t care about the Oscars. I don’t give a shit who wins. At least not in any serious way. It honestly doesn’t mean anything. Cary Grant never won one. I don’t care.

    But I am excited to see Dolores Hart in her habit strolling down the red carpet!

    Elvis is everywhere! Elvis-related projects nominated for a Grammy and an Oscar!

    • april says:

      I hadn’t heard of it until the Maureen Dowd column, but my first thought was, “OMG… Does Sheila know about this film???” It really is amazing how much Elvis stuff is out there when you’ve become, uh, *sensitized* to it…

      As for the Academy Awards, I’m with you to a point. I agree that they don’t mean anything, but I am and have always been a sucker for the spectacle and sentiment of the ceremony. As a result, Oscar night is about the closest I come to a religious observance, but it is not uncommon for me to have forgotten by the following morning who won what. Only that my favorites did not win, often because they weren’t even nominated. This year, for example, I’m firmly in the “Tree of Life” camp… and I don’t expect it to win anything.

      I will, however, be thinking of you during the Documentary Shorts portion of the evening… And I’ll be hoping with all my might that Delores Hart gets to go up on stage. hahaha

      • sheila says:

        It’s really really rare for me to really INVEST in “who wins”. Like, I really wanted Mickey Rourke to win. It really MATTERED to me. I got swept up in it.

        But in general, I don’t care about who wins.

        I love the ceremony too. I love the speeches and the dresses and the emotions. Going to a party on Sunday night and it should be fun!!

        Yeah, looks like this might be The Year of The Artist, and I’m a bit bummed about it. I’m in the Hugo camp, although – Jeez, I loved Tree of Life too, and Midnight in Paris, and Moneyball …

        I liked The Artist, too. I found it very entertaining and enjoyed it. But compared to Hugo? Or Tree of Life? In terms of complexity?

        And yes: I so hope Dolores Hart wins an Oscar (after all this time!!) and gets up on that stage in her habit and says something nice about Elvis. They were good friends and she still has sweet home movies of a party he threw for the cast of Loving You at his house in Hollywood (very very rare for him to socialize with Hollywood people) – and he’s playing the piano and she’s sitting next to him playing the clarinet, and you can tell they are good friends. He felt comfortable with her, liked her a lot. She has said that she was glad she knew him when he was “so innocent”.

        I love her spirit, and her faith, and also how committed she still is to keeping up on movies!

        • sheila says:

          Also, I come from a very nun-heavy family. I love nuns.

          • sheila says:

            Would love to hear more of your thoughts on Tree of Life, april.

          • april says:

            So as not to hijack this thread any further, I posted some thoughts about Tree of Life over at your review of the film. I’ll be anxious to hear what you think.

            PS – I think nuns are pretty great, too. Especially the formers. :)

        • sheila says:

          Well, I grew up around awesome nuns. The most brilliant women I’ve ever known. So I don’t prefer formers – I grew up with women who were an incredible example of a lived faith, they were adventurous and learned and hilarious. Great examples to me, as a child, of how to live life. But then, I’m Catholic.

          • sheila says:

            Losing “Reply” space – for some reason I can’t comment over on Capital right now. April – beautiful, thought-provoking comment from you. I just LOVE how this movie really challenges you – not just as a viewer, but as in how to TALK about it. It really demands that you consider these deep issues, take them on, see how they fit. I definitely saw the ending as pretty straight-up Christian. I don’t know Malick’s beliefs but it wouldn’t surprise me to find out he was religious (I have felt that in his other films as well). There were those who had big problems with the ending – I really need to see it again. I only saw it that one time. I didn’t have a problem with it – I actually found it quite emotional – but I may need to have another look. What an incredible film. So glad to hear your thoughts about it.

          • april says:

            Not sure where this is going to appear, given the funky “Reply” structure, but I hope you do watch it again, Sheila… It’s such a joy to “talk” to you about movies that I love. I think the main thing that enabled me to let go of a specifically Christian interpretation of the final scene was realizing that in the statement that forms the prologue, it is to “the nuns” that the original (false) dichotomy between nature and grace is attributed:

            “The nuns taught us there are two ways through life: the way of nature, and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow. Grace doesn’t try to please itself. It accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. It accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself, and get others to please it, too. It likes to lord it over them, to have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy, when all the world is shining around it and love is smiling through all things. They taught us that no one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end. I will be true to you, whatever comes.”

            However, Jack has not been able to find his own redemption in either the mother figure who so overwhelms nature with grace that at times she is literally able to float off the ground, or in the father figure who takes nature-without-grace so far that he is unable to muster even the tenderness exhibited by the dinosaur toward a smaller, weaker version of itself. Rather, it is the middle brother who calls to Jack, “Find me,” and it is to him that I think Jack says, “I see it was you, always you were calling me” just before the scenes in which he exhibits compassion first toward the boy who was burned in the fire and then even toward the father that he has previously wished dead and even contemplated killing.

            Although the brutality of the Brad Pitt character is a more obvious impediment to Jack’s becoming who he needs to be, the ethereal quality of the Jessica Chastain character is also something that he has to overcome. I think this occurs via the whole sequence that deals so beautifully with Jack’s emerging sexuality, and the fact that he cannot individuate without separating from some aspects of the innocence she represents. To me, there is an obvious parallel between this element of Jack’s struggle and the Christian dilemma that has to do with how humans must come to terms with internal impulses and external realities that are decidedly un-Christian yet cannot (safely) be denied.

            I think if the ending were intended to be “straight-up Christian,” it would be much clearer that grace-in-opposition-to-nature is the correct choice, and that “no one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end.” But there are bad ends, and it is not the mother who leads Jack onto the beach — it is the middle brother, the one who has accepted what both parents offer, and somehow found a way to assimilate both nature and grace into his character. As a result, he is the one who throughout the film is able to love and trust and be tender, and then finally even to die, without having to endure the kind of suffering that Jack experiences as he struggles endlessly to choose between the two.

            Or, as is stated in the VO toward the end of the film, “The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by. Do good. Wonder. Hope.” Christianity may be one way that people come to this understanding, but I don’t think (and I don’t think Malick is saying) that it’s the only one.

        • sheila says:

          I also don’t think it’s the only way to come to that understanding – but I have a feeling that Malick does. Just the sense I got. I did not grow up in a legalistic Catholic family – it is all about “do good” “wonder” – and that is true for many many people of faith. It’s just a sense – Malick never explains himself, and I love that about him, but that ending sure felt Biblical to me. I think that’s a reason why a lot of people had problems with it – I will definitely see it again, I can’t WAIT to see it again. It was overwhelming when I saw it at the screening. Absolutely overwhelming.

          Religion does much damage to people’s psyches – and to me the film was a journey through that damage to the other side. A redemptive side. A place of forgiveness, compassion, and hope.

          Shrug. No right answer.

          Just what I got from it – or – what I felt Malick was getting at. There’s a difference. I’ve felt it in his other films, and he’s too good to be on-the-nose. His outlook is too loving and too wondrous to be legalistic.

          • april says:

            I’ve been looking around for stuff about Malick; from what I’ve been able to find it sounds like he was raised Catholic, was a philosophy major at Harvard, and quit his PhD program at Oxford over a disagreement with his advisor that had something to do with his take on the work of Wittgenstein. Different articles say different things about his current religious beliefs… Most of these seem to have more to do with the beliefs of the person who wrote the article than anything Malick has actually said himself, so as far as I’m concerned that’s still an open question.

            The thing that fascinated me even more than this, though, was how closely the narrative in Tree of Life follows Malick’s own history, at least on the surface. In addition to a very strict and rulebound father and a mother to whom he was *way* devoted, he grew up in central Texas with two younger brothers, one of whom was a classical guitarist and who went to Spain to study with a master of some sort. Apparently as a result of not feeling like he was talented enough, this brother at some point broke all of the bones in both of his hands. Their father wanted Terrence to go and see if he could help the brother, but Terrence refused. The father then decided to go himself, but by the time he got there the brother had killed himself. Can you even *imagine* what THAT must have been like, for all of them? Jesus…

            So the death at the center of this whole series of memories, which I assumed occurred in Vietnam, may actually have been the suicide of the middle brother. That puts a whole different spin on things, doesn’t it? I have no idea what to make of it yet, but it sure doesn’t jibe with my thought that the middle brother is set up as the one who has mastered the “nature versus grace” problem. Dang, now I’m gonna have to watch it again, too…

      • sheila says:

        April – my God. Wow.

        I must see this movie again and soon. I need to focus on that other brother. I can’t wait.

        This is emotional stuff – one of the most profound movies to come out since … what … Reds? I don’t know – there’s no comparison although that one comes to mind.

        Impossible to talk about without getting personal.

        That’s why I love Malick’s sparse resume: every single film is personal. He makes the movies he wants to make.

        WOW, April, right??

        • april says:

          Wow, indeed… lots to think about!

        • april says:

          You’ve probably seen this already, but Roger Ebert posted yet another review of Tree of Life this morning — not his own, but a great review nevertheless. It’s here: http://blogs.suntimes.com/foreignc/2012/03/the-tree-of-life.html

          I thought it was so interesting that this review highlights many of the very same scenes and sensibilities you and I have talked about, yet describes Malick’s vision as one of “unequivocal secularism.” Talk about a film that’s open to interpretation – hahaha! Notably, however, the reviewer does not deal *at all* with the final scene…

          Watched Days of Heaven last night, and was surprised how complementary to Tree of Life it felt to me. I haven’t sorted this out yet — I’m still just totally overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the imagery — but I’m thinking that the same thing that was missing from Days of Heaven is what lies at the heart of Tree of Life… Gotta let this percolate a bit, but unless you tell me you’re tired of talking about this film, I’ll let you know what it turns into…

          • sheila says:

            I maintain my opinion that this is a very spiritual piece of work – and more than that, Judeo-Christian. I am not hostile to that idea – I suppose if you were, you would be resistant to labeling it as such. I am not interested in labels, because they tend to diminish – and I think his work is really philosophical and contemplative in nature. But then – as I have explained – that is my experience of religion (as evidenced by my family and its traditions – not at all legalistic, but more contemplative). So I am not closed to the idea at all.

            Days of Heaven is the most beautiful film ever shot. I found it lacking in terms of plot, and urgency – the characters did not drive the thing and I found it hard to click with them – but I don’t think that was Malick’s point – therefore, the film is successful. But certainly the beauty is totally arresting. I felt totally SATED after watching the movie for the first time – and I cannot imagine what it is like to see it on the big screen. I think it is meant to be seen that way. It has to be positively overwhelming.

          • sheila says:

            I reviewed Days of Heaven somewhere on my site- I think the voiceover of Linda Manz, such an amazing young actress, is key to the whole thing. I was a bit in love with Linda Manz as a young girl (her participation in the TV movie Orphan Train solidified my regard for her) – and, to me, she feels like she is not an actress at all, and that voiceover – with its weary James-Agee realism – feels like it comes from another time. Her voiceover just MAKES that film. You feel like you are watching a film that was actually made during that time period (even though that would be impossible).

  4. george says:


    It is fascinating that all these directors, only one of whom is on the more energetic side of 50, have taken up, and all been nominated for, engaging in some degree of nostalgia even for things never personally lived or experienced (Nancy Lemann… see, I remembered). I wonder if there’s something afoot here, something more than coincidence. I’m kinda hoping there is.

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