Friday, March 30, 2012

Earrings: Pre-Production Part 1

For the past several weeks, I’ve spoken to many of my friends around the blogosphere about the film I’m making next month. I’ve been hesitant to discuss the movie on my blog for a few reasons: 1.) Because the last thing I want is to come across with any shred of a oh-look-at-me-I’m-making-a-movie douchebag mentality, and 2.) Because for four and a half years, And So it Begins has been about movie watching, not movie making. But, because of the fervent support I’ve received from many friends (bloggers and drinking buddies alike), I figured what the hell, let’s rock ‘n’ roll.

In exactly two weeks, I’m flying to Los Angeles to shoot Earrings, a film I wrote last September. Earrings is a short that will be part of an assumed anthology. I’ve spent the past two years writing and reworking 10 short films that are (very) loosely connected. Earrings is just first in line. I’m going to spend as long as it takes filming all 10 shorts, and eventually release them together. But until then, Earrings will stand as its own film.

I’m not going to describe in detail what Earrings is about, because I still want some piss to be in this thing by the time you see it. But know that it concerns a young woman who is lost in her grief. It’s going to be dark and brutal and (hopefully) not very hopeful, which is exactly what I’m going for.

Enter Catherine.
photo by David Muller
Catherine and I have been good friends for a number of years, and when we met, we both had separate dreams of moving to LA and making it – her for acting, me for writing and/or directing. She has much larger balls than I do, which is why she’s been out there for two and half years already. I’m close to moving, but not quite ready. Earrings could change that.

It’s funny, in my original script for Earrings, I had a male as the lead. When Catherine showed interest in the project, I spent a month rewriting the film so it could star a female. Catherine and I have very similar outlooks on art. We thrive on the bleak, we embrace the darkness. For example, the second I walked out of Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I texted her and said, “You could do that.”

(Soon after casting, I sent Catherine this picture, and told her that the emotional and physical darkness of her Earrings character will be similar to…)

Catherine and I have been developing and tightening Earrings since December, and on April 14, we finally begin shooting. Pre-production has, thus far, been a complete blast. In addition to prepping for acting, Catherine has been essential in making sure the LA side of this projects runs smoothly. This means hiring supporting actors, putting together a small technical crew, scouting locations, and on and on.

I live visually, as if everything I see could be manipulated better if it was on the screen. Because of this, the best way I know how to direct an actor is through visually comparison, which is why I always rattle off a list of movies every actor should see before we begin filming. 

So, to give a little perspective on the type of character Catherine will be playing, last month I sent her Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Blue

Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers 

and Lynne Ramsay’s Morvern Callar – all films based around the sufferings of women. 

And it’s tweets like these, in which Catherine and I discused Juliette Binoche’s character in Blue, that are perfect evidence as to why I cast her:

To sum up this inaugural post, I’m extremely excited about this project. I am humbled and honored that so many of you have shown interest in it; it has only made the pre-production process that much more memorable.

I’ll be posting about Earrings often, at least twice a week. The posts will always show up on this main page, but I’ll continue to store them in the "EARRINGS" tab directly under the header on the top of this page.

If you have questions about the film, PLEASE ASK. If it’s story related, I may not be able to answer, but anything else is fair game. I’m overwhelmed with excitement to go on this journey and I’m grateful that I have such supportive friends who are willing to go on it with me. Thanks again.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

In Character: Danny Trejo

When you think about it, Danny Trejo’s story is a perfect Hollywood Cinderella fable. The street thug who was addicted to heroin, locked up for 11 years and found redemption in the form of cheesy, B-action flicks. And while those action movies remain Trejo’s bread and butter (the dude has 228 credited films to his name, according to IMDb), he has proved that he can cross over into more serious genres with restraint and honest humor.

Below, you’ll see some of the roles Danny Trejo is most known for – the rapists and the crooks and the thieves – but, hopefully, you’ll also see that the man can deliver fine, serious performances of remarkable self-control.

Five Essential Roles
Desperado (1995)
He doesn’t speak, he doesn’t smile, he doesn’t compromise – he walks, looks badass, and kills people with knives. Nuff said.

When Robert Rodriguez cast Trejo as the silent, deadly Mexican contract killer, Navajas, neither had any idea that they were second cousins in real life. Now, Trejo is a staple among Rodriguez’s filmography. Everyone (literally… everyone) knows Trejo as THAT GUY, much of which can be credited to his brief but notable role here.

Heat (1995)
I always enjoy a director (especially one I admire as much as Michael Mann) who completely reshapes a character based on the actor playing him. Mann was very familiar with Trejo’s crime-laden past, so when he brought the actor onto his crime epic, he told him to essentially play himself. Keep your name, keep your charming personality, add input organically, and so on.

The result is Trejo’s first “normal” performance, a character that plays like a real person, not a hyperbolic action figure. It should also be noted that with Heat, Trejo proved he could exercise some serious acting chops when needed, as his cry for help while sprawled out on his bedroom floor marks one of Heat’s most emotional moments.

Con Air (1997)
Johnny 23
Who the hell can forget Johnny 23, the prisoner whose name is based on how many women he’s raped? (Although, it’d be Johnny 600 if they knew the truth).

A seemingly throwaway role in a seemingly throwaway action film, Trejo’s Johnny 23 isn’t much more than side screen fodder to marvel over, but he still manages to add a particularly high level of scum to the overall experience. He’s a slimy, pathetic convict, but one Trejo makes impossible to forget.

Animal Factory (2000)
Although Trejo has a brief role in Steve Buscemi’s rather good, horribly overlooked prison drama, mention should be made that he was one of the main people responsible for getting it made.

He had read the script, co-authored by his friend Eddie Bunker (who wrote the original source novel) and passed it along to Buscemi while he and Trejo were on Con Air. Buscemi, having worked with Bunker on Reservoir Dogs (Bunker played the small role of Mr. Blue) dug the material, and a movie was made. My point is, there’s a great amount of respect to dish out to a guy who transforms his stereotype from the go-to action badass to the go-to action badass/movie producer of passion projects.

In the film, Trejo plays an understanding member of a Mexican prison gang, and although he is outshined by Tom Arnold’s sadistic rapist, Mickey Rourke’s compassionate transvestite and Willem Dafoe’s bald head, Trejo deliverers solid work with the limited screentime he’s given.

Machete (2010)
While the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double feature Grindhouse was met with its fair share of detractors, I have yet to meet one person who didn’t enjoy the fake trailers within the two films.

And while I preferred the respective previews for DON’T and Thanksgiving the most (seriously, can someone please make these), Machete was the only trailer that spawned a glorious B-movie feature.

In the film, Trejo plays the titular Machete, a man who is out to exact revenge on the political assholes who tried to kill him. To do this, Machete does what most any revenge-seeker would do: says little, kills whoever gets in his way, fucks the wives (and daughters) of his enemies, and so on.

I have a certain amount of respect for movies like Machete – movies that are fully aware of how exaggerated and balls-out they are in their entertainment, and that never aim to be anything more. Machete marks Trejo’s first starring role, and while it’s a performance that carries a completely ridiculous film, there’s fun in watching Trejo and company owning up to the absurdity.

The Best of the Best
Sherrybaby (2006)
In Sherrybaby, that very little, very remarkable indie film starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Trejo plays the very rarest of Trejo characters: a completely normal, straight-arrowed guy.

There’s nothing sneaky or hidden or ruthless about Dean, he’s a recovering addict doing whatever he can to help his suffering friend. There are many striking things about Sherrybaby, most notably Gyllenhaal’s criminally ignored performance, but what I’m most taken by is the fact that writer/director Laurie Collyer gave Trejo a chance to do something completely different. There’s a scene in which Sherry literally throws herself at Dean, and the whole time, I was expecting Trejo to rip her clothes off and do something horrible. But this movie is above that. Instead, he holds her, he consoles her, he understands her.

For any Trejo fan, regardless if you’re only familiar with his action background, Sherrybaby is a must see. It presents a completely different side to an actor with seemingly little range.  It’s a quiet, tender and all-together remarkable performance.

Other Notable Roles
In Breaking Bad
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Reindeer Games (2000)
Spy Kids (2001)
The Salton Sea (2002)
Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)
Halloween (2007)
Breaking Bad (2009-2010)
Predators (2010)
Sons of Anarchy (2011)

Previous installments of In Character include:
William H. Macy
Campbell Scott
Kevin Pollak
Erland Josephson
Richard Jenkins
William Fichtner
Guy Pearce
Shea Whigham
Viola Davis
Gary Oldman
David Morse
Michael Shannon
Emily Mortimer
John Hawkes
Jeffrey Wright
Elias Koteas
David Strathairn

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What Bully’s Unrated Rating Means

Moments after news broke yesterday that The Weinstein Company would be releasing its new documentary Bully as unrated, I began Tweeting my ecstatic praise of the studio’s decision. And within seconds, many of my foreign followers began asking 1.) What does “unrated” mean, and 2.) Why is this a good thing. And that’s when I realized that people in different countries may not have the slightest clue what America’s movie rating system is, or the monumental effect it can have on a film. I am in no way familiar with any other rating system around the world, so why should foreigners be familiar with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA)?

Articles about the significance of Bully’s non-rating are a dime a dozen right now, but in this post, I want to describe what “unrated” means, why it is important and why the MPAA is as bad as you’ve heard.

The System
The MPAA ratings system works like this:

G: Anyone can see it.
PG: Some parental guidance is suggested, but, really, anyone can see it.
PG-13: Some material may be inappropriate for kids under age 13 (basically, you can see a lot of violence, some consensual, missionary sex, and one use of the word "fuck").
R: If you’re under 17, you must be accompanied by a guardian to see the film.
NC-17: No one under 17 can see the film. Period.
Unrated: The film has no affiliation with the MPAA.

Bully’s Fight
When a film is finished, the director and the producing studio submit it to the MPAA so it can be issued a rating. As is most often the case, the MPAA watches the film, gives it a rating, and the film is released in theaters a few months later. On occasion, a film is given a rating it feels it does not deserve, in which case the filmmakers can do three things: re-edit the film to get the rating they want, appeal the MPAA’s decision, or stick with the rating they have.

The producer of Bully, Harvey Weinstein, who is, arguably, the most powerful man in Hollywood, didn’t agree with Bully’s R rating. Bully was rated R because the word “fuck” is said six times. That’s all. There is no blood, no sex, and no gruesome violence. Weinstein and Lee Hirsch, the film’s director, did not think mild language like this (and let’s be honest, six “fucks” is very mild language, given the subject matter), warrants an R rating. They want as many kids to see the film as possible, so they appealed the rating. And they had quite a net of support.

Nearly half a million people (including myself) signed an online petition asking the MPAA to consider rating Bully PG-13. And, I suspect, hardly anyone who signed that petition has seen the movie (I myself have not), but that isn’t the point. The point is that bullying is a very serious issue right now, and if the film is PG-13, then most any child could see it without parental supervision. Filmmakers, celebrities, and politicians all fell in line to support the cause, but the MPAA did not relent, ultimately slapping the film with an R rating.

And that’s usually the end of it. But when you’re facing a guy who has as big of an ego as Harvey Weinstein, then you can expect some serious action, which is exactly what we have here.
Harvey Weinstein

The Unrated Rating
Earlier I said a movie has three options when it is given a rating it feels is unjust: re-edit, appeal, or concede. But what we saw yesterday represents a fourth, barely-practiced option: completely disregarding the MPAA’s rating and releasing it in movie theaters as “unrated.”

Now, most of the questions I received on Twitter yesterday asked why more films don’t do this. If a movie doesn’t want to deal with the bureaucracy of the MPAA, why not simply release it as unrated? And the answer is simple: if a movie is unrated, then it is as ignored as a movie that is rated NC-17. This means: no TV spots, no movie trailers (shown in theaters) and no large distribution. Major movie theater chains like Regal and AMC won’t show unrated films (or NC-17 films), so, basically, if you want to see Bully in the movie theater, you’ll have to go to an independently-owned theater, or wait until DVD.

(Note: many trailers and TV spots end with the disclaimer that “This Film is Not Yet Rated,” which means it is under review by the MPAA. But once a film is officially unrated, its trailer is not shown in mainstream movie theaters, and its TV spots are not shown on television.)

Does Weinstein’s decision to have Bully be unrated hinder its audience? Of course it does, but by taking a stand, Weinstein could very well encourage other filmmakers and producers to ignore the MPAA’s rating. And if that keeps happening, movie theater chains may (and I say “may” with great caution) start showing unrated films, which means filmmaker’s wouldn’t be forced to re-edit their vision so often.

In short, Bully’s unrated rating is a progressive step to reminding everyone how absurd the MPAA is. Hearing a few middle schoolers use the word “fuck” six times is in no way worse than watching an innocent, 9-year-old black girl be speared to death for television ratings, or watching an 11-year-old boy anally rape another 11-year-old boy, which brings me to my final point.

Why the Rating’s System Fails
Okay, where to begin. First off, rarely do I take issue with the final result of an NC-17-rated movie. Shame, Crash (Cronenberg’s film), Lust, Caution, Bad Lieutenant (Ferrara’s film), are all NC-17 films I love, and they’re all films that deserve their rating. Usually films that are slapped with an NC-17 go through a re-edit to earn the R, and, usually, those films release unrated versions on DVD, as a means of restoring what they had to cut out of the theatrical release. Notable instances of this include: American Psycho, Eyes Wide Shut, Requiem for a Dream, Bad Santa, and on and on.
Other films, like Shame, say fuck it and are released theatrically as NC-17. Their box office take is limited, the amount of award nominations it receives is sparse-to-nonexistent, and (maybe) it has a hope of finding a life on DVD.

Where I take issue is in the very hazy line that occurs between what constitutes a PG-13 and R-rated film.

A few generally accepted (but mostly unwritten) guidelines: if your film has “fuck” more than once, it is automatically R. If your film has any nudity or mildly intense sex, it is automatically R. If your film has a shitload of violence, it can usually get away with a PG-13.

Now, of course there are exceptions. Titanic shows Kate Winslet’s breasts but, because it shows nudity in an artistic way, and because it had the potential to become the most successful movie of all time (which it did), the MPAA gave it a PG-13 rating. Fair enough. Let’s dig deeper.
Marc Forster’s The Kite Runner contains a graphic, brutal scene in which an 11-year-old male bully rapes an 11-year-old male schoolmate on screen. Yet it is PG-13. The Hunger Games contains many death scenes in which teen, or pre-teen, children are killed by other teens for heightened television ratings. Necks are snapped, chests are impaled, and the crowd goes wild. Yet it is PG-13. The King’s Speech has roughly 10 instances of the word “fuck” in two very brief scenes, yet it is rated R. The “fucks” in The King’s Speech are in no way sexually derogatory, and are in no way offensive, they are merely blurted out in moments of frustration. Now, I’ve never known anyone who has raped and/or killed, but I know a hell of a lot of people who have said fuck out of frustration. So this is where I see a disconnect. (For the record, The Kite Runner was not a fiscally successful film, but, regardless, its rating still baffles me. Also, The King’s Speech is a movie I have never liked, but, similarly, its rating baffles me.)

The MPAA is a very secret organization. The names, ages, and genders of its members are kept anonymous, but, according to Kirby Dick’s excellent documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated (which is currently available on Netflix Instant), the MPAA, in 2005, was comprised of 10 people, the youngest of which was 45. And, to summarize this very lengthy argument, it is simply unfair how much power 10 people have over the entire movie industry. Independent films so often have to fight to make a buck while limiting the filmmaker’s vision. For example, does the sex in Blue Valentine (which is completely consensual) merit an NC-17 rating over the realistic, devastating violence of say, Saving Private Ryan? You tell me.
Is a school bully saying the word “fuck” six times worse than watching the liquidation of a ghetto by Nazi’s? I certainly don’t think so.

When you talk American movie ratings, you’re talking semantics, and unfair ones at that. The impact of The Weinstein Company’s decision to release Bully unrated is yet to be seen, but mark my words: if more studios and filmmakers follow suit, we could start seeing the quality of film’s drastically improving. It worked in 1968, and I don’t see any reason why it can’t work now.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Hunger Games

An hour and a half into Gary Ross’ The Hunger Games, the film finally catches up with its limitless hype by delivering a stellar scene of remarkable restraint. As the contestants of the titular game slowly ascend to their enormous battlefield, a countdown makes its way to zero, and then it happens. The sound cuts out, the camera pulls back, and two dozen kids spend 60 seconds of screentime fighting for their lives. Necks are snapped, swords are plunged, blood is sprayed – it’s barbaric desperation at its most effective.

And when the scene ends, we’re right back to where we started: with a painstakingly boring, sloppily paced mess containing fleeting moments of redemption. But I’ve obviously gotten ahead of myself.

In The Hunger Games, 24 young people (ballpark age range 9-21) are chosen by lottery to compete in a popular televised event in which, by the competition’s end, only one winner will emerge. To win, contestants must outwit, outlast and outkill any and everything that comes their way.  Now, I don’t take particular interest in watching a bunch of teenagers kill each other for television ratings (which is, for similar reasons, why I detested the exploitative piece of shit known as Battle Royale), and, from a critical standpoint, there isn’t a whole hell of a lot to work with here.

I’ve heard people say the cast is outstanding… are they really? Haven’t we seen Jennifer Lawrence and Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks and Wes Bently and Donald Sutherland and Toby Jones and Lenny Kravitz all deliver much finer work? Me, I found the actors to be struggling amidst the laughable dialogue that plagued the script. The timing and emotion exuded by the actors was on point, sure, but the performances aren’t what’s at fault here – it’s the game that needs reworking.
Basically, The Hunger Games spends an hour and a half setting up its premise, most of which was lost on me. I didn’t retain a shred of the vernacular the characters spoke in, nor did I care to. And, yes, once the game started, the film did pick up, executing its fair share of flashy moments. But then the inconsistencies kicked in, which is the main reason these huge franchise films tend to fail for me.

Sure, continuity isn’t exactly the first thing on the producers’ minds here – making money is. But take, for instance, the sound of a canon, which is consistently used to signify the death of a contestant. Someone dies, a canon goes boom, until, for whatever reason, it doesn't. People die, no more canons. Ten minutes later, someone else dies, and there’s the canon again. Did I miss something?

Also, the point of the games is to outlive everyone else. To do this, our heroine, Katniss, quietly sneaks around the jungle, never making a peep, using her street smarts to get ahead. That is, of course, until one of her friends dies, and she spends a good few hours screaming out her rage, picking flowers, and saying a prayer for the dearly departed. Huh? Isn’t the point to stay hidden and silent? How the hell is Katniss able to get away with this unanticipated burial? I’ll tell you why: because it makes for “heavy” cinema. It’s what the fans of Suzanna Collins’ book paid to see, so here you go.

Now one final point, which, incidentally, isn’t really the film’s fault.

The Hunger Games goes to great lengths to execute its content with accuracy. This includes kids having their necks snapped, getting speared in the gut, being mauled to death by beasts, and so on. All of this is shown on screen, and all of this is issued as appropriate under the film’s PG-13 rating.  Whoever does not see a disconnect here is blind. The new documentary Bully has been slapped with an R rating because the word "fuck" is spoken exactly six times, and never with a sexual connotation. Now, show me one middle schooler who hasn't said the word “fuck” six times, and I’ll show you a liar. Show me a middle schooler who has speared an innocent little girl to death, and I’ll guide you to an institution to psychopathic juveniles.

My point is, not only is The Hunger Games an unevenly paced, mostly boring franchise film (and I do say "mostly" out of pure fairness, because the movie does have its moments), it’s one that is given the benefit of the doubt, simply because it is making Hollywood hundreds of millions. And please, all due respect, but spare me two things: don’t tell me I’d like the movie more if I read the novel, that’s a laughably flimsy argument that I can shit all over. Lastly, stop comparing The Hunger Games to the Twilight films. Is Hunger Games better? Of course, but what the hell kind of praise is that? C-

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Glengarry Glen Ross: An Actor’s Breakdown

Throughout The Week of Mamet, I’ve realized that while many people may not be incredibly familiar with Mamet’s work, most have seen (and loved) Glengarry Glen Ross, James Foley’s 1992 film, the screenplay of which Mamet adapted from his 1984 Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play.

Glengarry Glen Ross has come up several times over the past week, usually in relation to its flawless, how-the-fuck-was-this-not-nominated-for-an-Oscar script, but also because of the remarkable performances it contains.

For the Mamet Awards, I said Al Pacino delivered the best performance of the bunch. Having just finished my latest showing not but five minutes ago, I found that I was most drawn to Ed Harris’ desperation. So for this post, I'm going to discuss the six most featured actors – their best scenes and their best single line deliveries.

I’ve had a blast dedicating And So it Begins to Mamet for the past week, and there have been several inquisitions as to if (and/or when) I’ll do another week-long marathon for one specific director. All’s I can say is: ask and you shall receive, you wondrous lot of inglorious bastards.

Alec Baldwin, as Blake
Best Scene: Well, shit, Baldwin’s best scene is THE scene, isn’t it? Brought in to shake up the “worthless pieces of shit” that are of the employ of the film’s dodgy real estate office, Blake is a tell-it-like-it-is prick who seems more concerned with humiliating the employees than encouraging them. Why? Because he’s been in the real estate business for 15 years, and his watch is worth more than your car. His single scene in the film represents as searing a delivery of dialogue as you’re likely to find. A five minute tour de force.

Best Quote: “’FUCK YOU’ that’s my name. You know why, mister? ‘Cuz you drove a Hyundai to get here tonight, I drove an $80,000 BMW, THAT’S my name.”

Alan Arkin, as George
Best Scene: Yes, I love when Arkin’s George gets a little fire in him after being interrogated by the police, but take particular notice of Arkin’s interaction with Ed Harris in a donut shop. The scene lasts for three minutes and Arkin fails to mumble out anything more than an occasional “Yeah,” “Huh,” “Hmm.” He agrees with everything Harris says (the jumpy editing that cuts to whoever is speaking adds to the scene’s effectiveness). George is a pathetic, complacent shelob, and Arkin plays him to perfection.

Best Quote: “Where does he get off, talkin’ that way to a workin’ man?!”

Ed Harris, as Dave Moss
Best Scene: As Arkin and Harris’ epic exchange (which has so far taken us from their office to Moss’ car to a customer’s house to Moss’ car to a donut shop to Moss’ car) finally comes to a close at the local bar, Moss relents what he’s been driving at: he and George steal their office’s new leads and sell them to a competitor across the street. They split the profit 50/50, and go about their business. But as the conversation evolves (and no one makes a conversation evolve like David Mamet) we realize that Moss isn’t even going to be involved in the theft. Instead, he threatens George to boost the leads, and if George doesn’t then Moss will rat George out… for something he hasn’t even done. It’s a vicious exchange of rat-a-tat-tat, the entire time of which, we’re wondering, “Why George?” Why:

Best Quote: “Because you listened.”

Al Pacino, as Ricky Roma
Best Scene: So many to chose from, but for me, I love watching Pacino’s slicker than hell Ricky Roma go into a panicked frenzy when Jonathan Pryce’s James Lingk shows up to the office unannounced. Roma has literal seconds to foil up a plan with Jack Lemmon (in which Lemmon is to play a client of Roma’s, thereby distracting Lingk from whatever the hell he is there for). Lingk, as it turns out, must cancel the very profitable transaction he had with Roma the night before. And just watch Al Pacino here, doing his thing, spinning game the way very very few actors can. The debate the two have over what is strictly defined as “three business days” is priceless in its desperation.

Best Quote: “You wanna learn the first rule, you’d know if you ever spent a day in your life: You never open your mouth, ‘til you know what the shot is. You fuckin’ child.”

Jack Lemmon, as Shelley “The Machine” Levene
Best Scene: Glengarry Glen Ross is full of lacerating moments in which its characters are forced to deal with situations they didn’t anticipate. None, it must be said, is more difficult to watch than Kevin Spacey’s puny manager catching Lemmon’s seasoned vet in a lie, a lie that will certainly cost Levene serious time in prison. And, in four short minutes, Lemmon seamlessly goes through every step of the grieving process: denying his guilt, getting angry with Spacey’s wit, bargaining with money for his life, finding himself depressed by what is to come, and ultimately accepting his fate by simply slouching over in his office chair. The fact that this performance did not merit an Oscar nomination is beyond shameful.

Best Quote: “Now listen to me you put me on that fuckin’ board and I want three promising leads for today and I don’t want any bullshit about ‘em and I want ‘em close together because I am gonna close them all. And that’s all I have to say to you.”

Kevin Spacey, as John Williamson
Best Scene: Lemmon’s best scene captures Spacey’s best moment in the film as well, but for a completely different reason. Once Williamson catches Levene in a lie, he lets the old man talk it out. He lets Levene offer him money and beg and plead for mercy. He even lets Levene throw his daughter’s illness in his face as a final Hail Mary attempt at pity. Why? In my opinion, to fuck with him. Williamson has no intention of letting Levene get away with what he’s done, but he lets the poor bastard keep on talking just for the hell of it. Keep in mind that, in 1992, Kevin Spacey was a nobody in the film business, and to have this much power over one of the most talented actors of all time (who was Spacey’s mentor, by the way), is quite an accomplishment.

Best Quote: “Will. You. Go. To. Lunch?!”

The Week of Mamet:
Monday March 19

Thursday March 22

Friday March 23
The Mamet Awards

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Mamet Awards

When Colin and I first discussed working together on a David Mamet-related post, we were at a loss on how best to do it. Then, in a subtle gesture of brilliance, he proposed we create awards based entirely around Mamet’s body of work.

What followed was two weeks of drafting and narrowing down nominations before coming up with winners, all of whom make Mamet what he is: a man of unique vision and razor sharp wit.

Some of these categories are familiar, while others are amusingly Mamet specific. Enjoy!

Best Picture
Glengarry Glen Ross (Alex’s winner)
House of Games
The Verdict
Colin: Here it is, the biggie. I own 24 movies where Mamet is credited as writer, director, or both, and whittling them down to five was almost impossible. In fact, of the 24, only four (Hannibal, Ronin, About Last Night and The Untouchables) were easily discounted.

I’m going to hate myself for this. Naming the best means, therefore, that the others aren’t. Can’t I award a five-way tie? No? Well, all right then. The winner is… House of Games. Or maybe it’s The Verdict. But then again, I loved Spartan. State and Main? Awesome movie. The Spanish Prisoner! That was fantastic, too.

Alex: If you’ve been keeping up with The Week of Mamet on his site, you’re aware of how much I love Glengarry Glen Ross. I’d like to say there was a close second, but that’d be lying (which is saying a lot, given how much a enjoy practically every single movie Mamet has been a part of). But Glengarry Glen Ross is in class of its own. Flawless acting, superb, restrained photography, and one of the finest scripts ever produced for a motion picture. A masterpiece.

Best Director (of a film Mamet only wrote)
Brian De Palma – The Untouchables
James Foley – Glengarry Glen Ross
Stuart Gordon – Edmond
Barry Levinson – Wag the Dog
Sidney Lumet – The Verdict (Colin and Alex’s winner)
Colin: Not, in truth, the strongest of categories. Mamet's dialogue is the key, not his expansive vistas and stunning special effects. The Verdict, though, is a comprehensive courtroom drama tale of redemption that got a near career-best performance out of Paul Newman – and, when you're talking Paul Newman, you understand that career-best is pretty damn nifty indeed. Bob Rafelsen (The Postman Always Rings Twice) put sex back where it belonged – on a flour-covered kitchen table – and De Palma coaxed an Oscar-winning performance out of Sean Connery. No laughing at the back, please.

Alex: While I do love Glengarry, Colin’s right, Mamet’s, more so than Foley’s direction, is what makes that movie what it is. So I’m going with Lumet, for the opening scene of The Verdict alone. Newman, playing pinball, lit in shadow, drinking heavily. The man is acting, with his shoulders. Ingenious.

Best Actor
Gene Hackman – Heist
Nigel Hawthorne – The Winslow Boy (Colin’s winner)
Dustin Hoffman – Wag the Dog
William H. Macy – Edmond
Paul Newman – The Verdict (Alex’s winner)
Hawthorne (left)
Colin: In a category that includes a thief and a con-man movie producer, it’s rather funny to think that my winner should be the only virtuous one of the lot. Arthur Winslow spends everything he has in order to clear his son's name. The crime? Stealing a couple of shillings. In this day and age no one would bat an eye. To Hawthorne's Winslow, though, his son's innocence is worth everything he has, including his health. Hawthorne is simply wonderful, although he’s stern, there’s a father's-loving twinkle that is never far from his glassy eyes. He may have only starred in one Mamet movie, but Hawthorne handles not only the cadence of Mamet but also Rattigan's original prose with consummate ease.

Alex: This is tough, because Macy’s Edmond performance is the best thing he’s ever done. But Newman is simply too perfect to ignore.

Best Actress

Colin: Mamet simply doesn't write for women; it's his big failing.
Me: Sadly, I am in complete agreement with Colin here.

Best Supporting Actor 
Alec Baldwin – Glengarry Glen Ross
Alan Arkin – Glengarry Glen Ross
Al Pacino – Glengarry Glen Ross
Jack Lemmon – Glengarry Glen Ross
Ed Harris – Glengarry Glen Ross
Kevin Spacey – Glengarry Glen Ross
Colin: Jack Lemmon. Glengarry Glen Ross was the first time he'd used his bumbling, accident-prone character for pathos as opposed to the laughs he usually got. He earned his nickname “The Machine” a long time ago, one feels, yet it’s getting further away each day. You can't fail to sympathize with him as a man many years his junior tells him to put the coffee down as if he were a naughty schoolchild.

Alex: Fucking hell. I’m at a loss. Ask me today and I’ll probably offer up a different answer tomorrow; they’re all that flawless. Pacino. Gotta do it. If you pay attention in the scene where Jonathan Pryce walks into the office unannounced, a frenzied Pacino takes gum out his mouth and slams it under his desk. But the gum doesn’t stick. It flies off, noticeably landing near Pacino’s feet. Most actors would say cut and ask for a retake. Pacino? Fuggedaboutit.

Best Supporting Actress 

Colin: See Best Actress above.
Alex: There are definitely some to choose from here (Emily Mortimer in Redbelt, for example), but, again, Mamet simply doesn’t write for women.

Best Screenplay
House of Games (Colin’s winner)
Glengarry Glen Ross (Alex’s winner)
The Winslow Boy
Colin: The only nominations I chose here were limited to only those that Mamet himself wrote and adapted for the screen. In some places (American Buffalo and Oleanna) their stage roots are obvious. Both might have been better with a little more air in them – the former, in particular, is almost clamped to the spot – so I turn instead to the movie that was my introduction to the great man, and that is House of Games. A twisty turny movie that not only pulls the rug out from you but then tries to sell it back to you at double the price. Lindsay Crouse’s psychiatrist is turned this way and that… and enjoys every minute of it. Joe Mantegna pulls the strings, and Crouse dances.

Alex: Glengarry Glen Ross. Period… you fuckin’ child.

Best Performance by a Mamet Wife 
Lindsay Crouse – House of Games
Lindsay Crouse – The Verdict
Rebecca Pidgeon – Heist (Alex’s winner)
Rebecca Pidgeon – State and Main (Colin’s winner)
Rebecca Pidgeon – The Spanish Prisoner
Pidgeon in State and Main
Colin: As well as favoring the same troupe in his films, Mamet also has a penchant for giving meaty roles to his wife of the time. Neither, I'm afraid to say, had any reason to keep their schedules free come award season. Crouse, who first caught my eye in Slap Shot (not a Mamet film, although the amount of swearing might have suggested otherwise) reached her zenith as the psychiatrist Margaret Ford in House of Games where she was teased and manipulated into coughing up some serious dough. Wife number two, Pidgeon, fared little better. Still, her State and Main character, Annie was as cute as a button, and her perpetual perkiness appealed. Go you Huskies!

Alex: Am I the only person who thinks Rebecca Pidgeon is one of the best looking women to ever be featured on a movie screen? Anyway, her cold, determined, ruthless femme fatale in Heist kills it (or me) everytime.

Best Use of Mamet-speak 
Alec Baldwin
William H. Macy – (Colin and Alex’s winner)
Joe Mantegna
Campbell Scott
Julia Stiles
Macy in Spartan
Colin: No real argument here, is there? Mantegna is great, of course – he should be, he's been in so many – but Macy can do the Mamet-speak stutter like no one else. A quick mention to both Alec Baldwin (for not only Glengarry Glen Ross and State and Main, but also The Edge) and Julia Stiles, who got her first taste of Mamet playing the female lead in a London stage version of Oleanna, and would have been a darn sight better in the film version Debra Eisenstadt.

Alex: Yep, it’s gotta be Macy. Baldwin is marvelous in Glengarry, Scott nails Mamet’s cadence in The Spanish Prisoner (why can’t he be in more Mamet?), Mantegna is… Mantegna, and Stiles is perfect in Edmond, but Macy… that man IS Mamet-speak.

Worst Use of Mamet-speak 
James Belushi
Debra Eisenstadt (Colin’s winner)
Clark Gregg
Val Kilmer
Rebecca Pidgeon
Colin: Yes, Debra Eisenstadt. Whatever happened to her? Methinks she took the metronome advice a little too literally. This was still a narrowly-won award, however, with Clark Gregg another deserving winner.

Alex: This is really the only instance in which Colin and I could not disagree more. I honestly cannot think of an actor who has butchered Mamet’s way of speaking, and to say Gregg is bad… huh? Gregg’s performance as a serial rapist of elderly women in The Shield (he starred in an episode Mamet directed) represents some of the finest television acting I’ve ever seen.

Best Ricky Jay Performance in a Mamet Film
Ricky Jay – Heist (Alex’s winner)
Ricky Jay – House of Games (Colin’s winner)
Ricky Jay – Redbelt
Ricky Jay – The Spanish Prisoner
Ricky Jay – State and Main
Jay in House of Games

Colin: I have a friend who does card tricks. Good ones, too, not your run-of-the-mill, anyone-could-do-that nonsense. He says that Ricky Jay is one of the top three of card magicians worldwide. It’s easy to see why Mamet, who loves a good con, would enjoy working with someone who’s able to fleece someone professionally. Jay’s characters tend to be charismatic, quotable types (his worried father in State and Main being perhaps the nicest), but again I come back to House of Games and Jay’s part in the whole swindle. Is he the bad guy? One of the good guys? Or both?

Alex: Another very tough category. But I’ll go with his swift, sympathetic turn in Heist. The way he voluntarily jumps in front of a moving car to get the attention of the police is hysterical. Inversely, the look on his face when he realizes his innocent niece is in serious danger – heartbreaking.

Best Con
House of Games
The Spanish Prisoner
Wag the Dog

Alex: Some of these cons are for monetary purposes, others are to ward off attention, at any rate, you’re crazy if you think Colin and I are going to go into great detail about any of them.

Best Scene
Glengarry Glen Ross – Always. Be. Closing. (Colin’s winner)
House of Games – The poker game
Lakeboat – “Drinking? Don’t talk to me about drinking”
Oleanna – The end
Redbelt – “There is no situation you cannot escape from.” (Alex’s choice)
Colin: I hesitated for a little, simply because I absolutely adore the pure comedy of the Lakeboat scene, but I will go with the flow here and praise the genius of Alec Baldwin’s scene-stealer of a cameo. “PUT THE COFFEE DOWN.” “What’s my name? Fuck You, THAT’S my name.” Special mentions, though, must go to the tension-filled poker game that kicks off House of Games, and the shocking end of Oleanna. Gotta love Mamet.

Alex: As I wrote yesterday, I strongly feel that the best scene of Mamet’s career is the therapeutic sequence in which Chiwetel Ejiofor grabs hold of Emily Mortimer and forces her to deal with her problems. It’s devastating, yet oddly endearing.

Best Use of Profanity
No nominations, no winners. Only priceless lines of dialogue.

Colin’s Picks 
“Only, and I am telling you this, Don. Only, and I am not, I don't think, casting anything on anyone: from the mouth of the Southern bulldyke asshole ingrate of a vicious nowhere cunt can this trash come.” – Dustin Hoffman, American Buffalo

(Ed Harris, Glengarry Glen Ross): “What’s your name?”
(Alec Baldwin): “Fuck You. That’s my name.”

“Oh my, oh my. Go sell chocolates you Heidi-motherfuckers, go sell cuckoo clocks, we got your gold!” – Ricky Jay, Heist

“You need to set your motherfucker to receive.” – Val Kilmer, Spartan

(William H. Macy, State and Main): “How are we coming with the dead horse scene?”
(David Paymer): “You can’t actually kill the horse.”
(Macy): “Aw, fuck me.”

Alex’s Picks
“I’m not gonna die, cuz today, I’m a gonna kill the mothafucka.” – Anthony Hopkins, The Edge

“You stupid, fuckin’, cunt.” – Al Pacino, Glengarry Glen Ross

“How the fuck are you?” – Tim Allen, Redbelt

“I can’t find the fucking pharmacy.” – Emily Mortimer, Redbelt

“Shut your FUCKING MOUTH!” –Val Kilmer, Spartan

The Week of Mamet:

Thursday March 22

Sunday March 25 
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