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 
Reader Idea Post


  1. God, I fucking love Glengarry Glen Ross. (Swearing totally necessary.) Jack Lemmon is, without a doubt, at his best here. How he didn't get an Oscar nod is anyone's guess.

    And The Verdict. Damn it, Newman should have won that year. Same with Lumet.

    (Also, I find it amusing that you two put basically the whole cast of Glengarry Glen Ross under Supporting Actor. Maybe you should have done a Best Cast category.)

  2. Just your line-up of Best Supporting Actor makes me drop everything and watch Glengarry Glen Ross right now. So many great names there.

  3. A quality week's entertainment, Alex. Loved every word of it.

  4. Love, love, love this post! While I still need to see Redbelt and Edmond, I must agree with Alex in regards to the worst use of Mamet-speak, I cannot think of a single actor/actress who pulled it off poorly.

    Also, The Spanish Prisoner not nominated for Best Picture? Crazy talk, I say :)

  5. @MovieNut14 The Supporting Actor bit was my idea, an attempt to be cute, I suppose. Either way, really glad you love that film as much as I do. Lemmon's last scene is so revelatory: hard ass prick to pathetic weak man in a millisecond.

  6. @SDG Have you seen it? Priceless shit. Every spoken word is poetic.

  7. @Colin Thanks for all your help, Colin! Great idea of yours that turned into a very entertaining couple of weeks.

  8. @CS Ha, it was Spanish Prisoner or Spartan, literally neck and neck. I watched both last night and made a gut call.

    Either way, thanks for your kind words, really glad you dig the awards. Edmond and Redbelt... can't recommend them highly enough.

  9. This is such a great idea for a post. Two of my favourite writers working together. I am ashamed to say that I have not seen many films with Mamet involved. I have seen Glengarry Glen Ross though, and I love it. That is a smart script and a fantastic ensemble cast. I think Lemon and Pacino shine out - but Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey and Alec Baldwin in one of the best cameos ever, are all superb too. Thanks for making me aware of a heap of his films. I have made a list. Look forward to what you guys come up with next.

  10. Awesome article! I love everything that came out off Baldwin's and Pacino's mouth in Glengarry Glen Ross, it's such a great use of profanity if I tuned in in the middle I might have thought I'm watching Scorsese's films.

  11. This was enjoyable to read.

    I've seen, really, only one Mamet film ...

    And of course it's Glengarry Glen Ross. A masterpiece it is.

    ... Hey, Alex ... Woody Allen week in the near future.

  12. @Andy Buckle Thanks buddy! We had a blast doing this, really glad we were able to give you a few movie Mamet ideas.

  13. @Sati. Ha exactly. Those two spit bile laced with venom. Perfect delivery through and through.

  14. @Sam Fragoso Ohh now you're on to something. Woody could make for a GREAT week-long marathon. Good recco.