It’s appropriate that the Oscars fall halfway between the holiday season and tax time. They can be just as exciting as the former, and just as frustrating as the latter. Here the show is again, inevitably, ready to serve up another round of glitz and pomp Feb. 26.
Like the Super Bowl, the Academy Awards is a night that’s just as much about what goes on around the edges as the action at its center, and like the big game, it’s best watched in a large group. I recommend putting on your best duds, getting out of the house and going to a watch party. Many movie houses host them, including Circle Cinema in Tulsa.
Prepare by going to AMC’s annual Best Picture showcase, where for a reasonable price you can view all of the nominees for the main prize. The theater chain has not announced details as of this writing (nor have the nominations been announced), but the event usually happens the weekend before, and is a great chance to catch up on a large number of good films.
How good is Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson, easily my favorite documentary of 2016? Well, it’s receiving the relatively rare honor this month of joining the illustrious library of the Criterion Collection immediately after its release (usually the company releases older, classic films). And yes, it absolutely deserves the red carpet treatment. A collection of unused footage that Johnson has shot for other films over the course of 20 years, Cameraperson asks the audience to situate itself in the place of a documentary cinematographer to figure out on the fly what to capture on film and what to leave out. The clips are strung together in dizzying fashion, but rhythms slowly emerge over the course of the film. It’s an original, absolutely thrilling experiment, and worth seeking out.
The Criterion release includes a making of the feature that’s more interesting than most as Johnson and her editors dive into the logistics of choosing which clips to put where and how to make a coherent whole out of seemingly disparate parts.
Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea is one of the films sure to gobble up a number of nominations for the Academy Awards, and it’s easy to see why. The film, in many ways a classic melodrama, bristles with a tension and nervous energy that strain nicely against the somber tragedy at its core. The story of a hard-luck janitor who receives custody of his teenage nephew upon the death of his brother, the film unspools slowly and never hurries to play its narrative cards. What results is a slow burn of deep, unspoken emotion.
Lonergan’s script sparkles, as does the beautiful cinematography, but ultimately the movie belongs to Casey Affleck as Lee, a man unable to beat his own demons. Affleck’s performance exists in silences and stares, and it is a marvel to behold.