Friday, September 14, 2012

The Oscar Buzz Begins with "The Master"

Joaquin Phoenix

Sports fans have seasons when players fight each other for the championship. You can keep your baseball and football. I will take movies any day. Every year I get a thrill out of watching the best of the best compete for the top prize: the Oscars. At 84, the ceremony remains one of the most culturally revered American awards to be given to film on a yearly basis. While it isn't strictly given to movies released in the fall, I consider September to be the ultimate start of the Oscar Buzz. What better way to begin the competition than with revolutionary director Paul Thomas Anderson's latest The Master, starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams: a big Oscar nominated pedigree coming off of the director's most praised film There Will Be Blood? 

It has been said many times in many ways, but Anderson is one of the most respected directors working today. From Boogie Nights to today, he has challenged cinema with one of the most confident, artist voices. Some would say it is on par with Kubrick, but that would not do justice for the man whose last film opened up with an extended scene of Jonny Greenwood score and no dialogue. He is ambitious and there is no which way about it.

With a limited release in theaters starting today, I figured that it was time to take a look at the first real film that screams Oscar Buzz: a film that is so prestigious that just a simple trailer can convince us that it is superior quality to everything else. In reality, this could be true as there has been little of merit to consider Best Picture nominations. But when Paul Thomas Anderson makes a film, it deserves some credit.

His films have earned the following Oscar nominations:

Boogie Nights

Best Supporting Actor: Burt Reynolds
Best Supporting Actress: Julianne Moore
Best Original Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson


Best Supporting Actor: Tom Cruise
Best Original Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson
Best Original Song: Aimee Mann - "Save Me"

There Will Be Blood

Best Picture
Best Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
*Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis
Best Adapted Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson
Best Art Direction: Jack Fisk, Jim Erickson
*Best Cinematography: Robert Elswit
Best Film Editing: Dylan Tichenor
Best Sound Editing: Matthew Wood, Christopher Scarabosio

Winners marked by *

Even the lead actors are no Oscar fresh meat. Their nominations include:

Joaquin Phoenix

Best Supporting Actor: Gladiator
Best Actor: Walk the Line

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Best Actor: Capote
Best Supporting Actor: Charlie Wilson's War
Best Supporting Actor: Doubt

Amy Adams

Best Supporting Actress: Junebug
Best Supporting Actress: Doubt
Best Supporting Actress: The Fighter

As you can see, there is a strong cast at the helm here. It is unfortunate that Paul Thomas Anderson himself has not won an Oscar, as his work is often regarded as some of the best around. Of course, it isn't bad when you have movies that have garnered 14 nominations all together and produced Daniel Day-Lewis' best role to date.

What I am hoping with The Master is a change to all of this. I want to see the director who is held to high regard get some accolades. I am unsure as to how good the movie can be, but when the competition isn't really going to be that threatening (Lincoln, Les Miserables), this stands to be the year of Paul Thomas Anderson. The year when he finally gets it and we can finally stop calling him a nominee. This is of course if the movie is as great as the trailers make it look:

If not, I worry not that Anderson has lost his touch. I believe that he is confident enough to bounce back. However, if he does end up getting undeserved praise, this may be the next the Departed in which they gave director Martin Scorsese the award simply because they hadn't. Now Anderson's work has only produced one Best Picture nominee, but that is still enough to say that he was unfairly robbed (though of all films to be robbed by, No Country for Old Men isn't the worst).

I would also like to see Joaquin Phoenix get some traction off of this. The trailer alone features him doing weird facial deformities and there is something endearing about it. At very least, I would love to see a nomination for Phoenix, who is supposed to be delivering a stellar performance that makes you forget about the trainwreck mockumentary I'm Still Here (though I admittedly loved it) and consider this the comeback of the year. Of course, this is most likely, as all except Punch Drunk Love and Hard Eight have produced acting nominations. The other two, Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman, will stand an easier chance of getting nominated, as they are critic darlings.

Most of all, can we not ignore Jonny Greenword for composition again? Just take a closer look at the music:

He was taken out of the race when he did There Will Be Blood for using previously existing music. It was nonsense that cost him a deserved nomination and an even more deserved win. It seems that alternative 90's rockers are making big strides with music scores in the past ten years, especially with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross taking home a trophy for The Social Network. Greenwood's work on There Will Be Blood predates them by three years and added a haunting tone to an already well done piece of work. It may sound like clanging noises at first, but it grows on you. With what I've heard from The Master, it feels like a psychological meltdown, which fits with the tone of the supposed Scientology inspiration. 

Philip Seymour Hoffman
Mind you, I will be happy if this film wins. However, it is what I feel is the one movie that hits all of the beats for the Oscar Buzz without making it seem derogatory. I am expecting it to be challenging, entertaining, and provide some delusional and bizarre performances. Most people aren't expecting it to be better than There Will Be Blood, and I wouldn't blame them. It is hard to strike lightning twice. However, the reason that I love Paul Thomas Anderson is not because of There Will Be Blood, but the character development in Boogie Nights. He did an unthinkable act when he turned a rogue team of porn stars into a captivating drama. I want to get to the heart of the characters in The Master, and I hope that is what comes from the film.

Will I get it? I don't know. However, there isn't many more clever ways that the Oscar Buzz could have started than with a film like The Master. Do you agree that this is the first real front runner for Best Picture, or did Paul Thomas Anderson hit his peak and is now skidding to average work?

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