A couple years back, Dame Judi Dench was awarded Oscar honors for a Best Supporting Actress turn that encompassed a mere eight minutes of screen time, as Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love. With that in mind, I asked the sage proprietor of A Girl and A Gun to grace this Conversation. I suspect George's Globe-skeptical turn will prove equally scene-stealing. Whippersnappers, you're on notice.
I am pleased to have been invited by the cinetrix to join in, although I hesitate to do so. It just so happens that I don't watch television, except for an occasional film or sports event, and that many of the films up for various GG awards are not to my taste, and so either I haven't seen them (and don't intend to see them) or have and didn't like most of those few I did see. It seems the height of bad manners to join a group where there is a higher, and in some cases much higher, level of admiration for many of these pictures than I can muster; the other participants are knowledgeable people writing in good faith, and my mutterings about Leo D. and Clint's latest would be out of place. I don't think my tastes superior, just different, but they're the only ones I have and I cling to them. My own views about 2004's best films are here.
I will add a few thoughts about the renaissance of a genre which has never quite died out, I am sad to say: the biopic. The Aviator, Neverland, Ray, De-Lovely, Beyond the Sea, and Kinsey (none of which I have seen) are all biopics, and of other nominated films the aroma lingers over The Motorcycle Diaries, although lightly, and even more faintly to Hotel Rwanda (both of which I have seen, liked some of the former and most of the latter). The appeal of this format never fails to baffle me: take a known story about a celebrity of sorts, be sure to touch on all the best-known incidents, and if you can make the leading performer look a lot like the historical character (from what I can gather from trailers, they got within hailing distance on Kinsey and eerily close on Charles). I am told that we are now getting our biopics with more warts than in days of yore, but even so the rule seems to be, get the film to come round to the celebrity's side by the end. It was this last tendency which nearly scuttled Diaries, finding revolutionary nobility in the young Ernesto Guevara, and might have taken some of the sting out of Hotel Rwanda if it had not been so well played and taken so uncompromising a stand on what was happening in that country in 1994. Both films were also to some degree redeemed by virtue of the fact that they concentrated on a brief episode in the lives of their respective subjects rather than a major portion. Maybe that's also true of some those nominated I have not seen.
The protagonists of biopics do not need to be dramatically interesting or psychologically complex. A few years back, one of them was even a horse, for crying out loud, convenient I suppose because it was unnecessary for the filmmakers or audience to deal with Seabiscuit's inner life. (Still, I wonder: Did he bite his trainer sadistically? Did he lust after his stable mates?) All they really need to be is famous, satisfying our bottomless hunger for vicariously joining people with fame, often with money, frequently with great sexual freedom, going through their highs and lows with the fairly certain conviction that you are going to end on a high--justified, validated by history or at least shown to have been unfairly hounded, on balance having earned your celebrity. The contortions it requires to reach this end may be considerable (I'm thinking of the Ronald Reagan obsequies, a kind of biopic parody) but people love a "heart-warming," "inspirational" story that "affirms the human spirit," to which end they will swallow just about anything.
For what it's worth, of all the films up for any kind of award, I thought the best was Kill Bill Vol. 2, Quentin the T's eye-filling revenge drama with lots of Uma and not enough Carradine, Madsen, and Parks--there can never be enough of them. I see Madsen is featured in some sleazy looking new tv series about poker. I'm sure Jamie Foxx is a fine fellow, but I saw Collateral and I can't help asking: a year from now, what will stay with us, his respectable job of playing the hackie or Madsen's smug, sneering, unforgettable killer? Why are producers hiding this guy and frittering his talents in disposable dramas? Why isn't Parks wallowing in juicy character parts after this stunning comeback? Is QT really the only director who understands that Carradine can act? Of the nominated performers that I saw, two stand out besides Thurman: Cheadle for Hotel Rwanda, an honest treatment of a character who could have been turned preachy and false-heroic; and Church, up for a supporting role, which by the rules of the game is fair enough, I suppose, but really, Sideways without him would have been not much more than plonk. The guy was so perfect for his role (a tapped-out TV actor, Church was in that sense what he played) that I'm not sure it will be easy to cast him in something different. But he seems to have salvaged his career, which is itself a good story. Hey: maybe they'll make a biopic about him.