Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Will "Blue Jasmine" Spice Up the Oscar Race?

Cate Blanchett
*I would just like to say thank you to everyone who has been reading my work. As of this piece, I have published 100 entries. Quite a milestone and I hope to do a lot more as the months drag on.

For most cinephiles, the gift of a Woody Allen movie every year comes as a mixed bag. Sometimes it produces gems, and others end up awkwardly. That is the pain of releasing a film annually, though it has resulted in some exciting prospects, including Vicky Christina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris. With Allen's latest film, Blue Jasmine, he tackles a new place and a new coast: San Francisco. With an eclectic cast and a new location, is it possible for the savant to strike inspiration once again from someplace new?

I could easily put myself in the Woody Allen camp of liking his movies. However, as a recent piece by Jordan Hoffman suggests, I am not even at the halfway mark with his films. I have seen most of the classics, including the best Best Picture winner Annie Hall, but I am not at the point to be able to dissect his work as a whole. This may simultaneously make me excited and also unaware of his biggest blemishes. I am even late to the party with seeing his films theatrically, as the first one I saw was Midnight in Paris. However, that was enough to get me on board with the annual tradition, and Blue Jasmine is no exception.

Of course, there are larger reasons to see Blue Jasmine than that it is a Woody Allen film. For starters, it is a new location for the director. While he has been venturing around Europe for most of the 00's, there is a noticeable rejuvenation in his work as a result. The scenery unlocks something inside of him and brings his familiar stories to new places. While he has matured into somewhat of an introspective tourist, he has never lost his flare. Even the problematic To Rome with Love has some merit. Also, at 50+ movies, it is impossible to judge a behemoth's downfall on a few bad apples. It is also exciting simply because growing up, seeing his depiction of New York as this romanticized haven, it almost felt unfair that the west coast didn't have that type of filmography. I am excited to see if this is the start of his west coast chronicles. 

Then there is the cast. Regardless on what most of the films end up feeling like, they always seem to have the best and brightest. This time around, we have what feels like a grab bag of bizarre brilliance with Oscar winner Cate Blanchett (Best Supporting Actress - The Aviator) leading the cast that also includes Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Oscar nominee Michael Stuhlbarg (Best Actor - A Serious Man), and comedians Louis C.K. and Andrew Dice Clay. More than anything, the last name is probably the most bizarre, most exciting single casting choice I have seen in an Allen film in recent years. How can a profane comedian translate to intellectual humor?

Check out the trailer:

I'll admit that judging a Woody Allen film based on the trailer is a little reductive. It doesn't grab you like Wolf of Wall Street, but it gets the point across. It doesn't say much. The plot according to IMDb is:
"A life crisis causes a woman to head to San Francisco, where she reconnects with her sister."
Not too exciting of a plot, but rarely do Allen films sell themselves based on a synopsis. Either you are into the auteur at this point or you're not. He has become an eclectic taste that thankfully I happen to enjoy most of the time. As critic aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes also suggests, the film's 82% (subject to change) shows that this is one of his more acclaimed movies of the past few years, which is saying something when Midnight in Paris was only two years ago.

Here are the questions that could be poised in terms of Oscar Buzz: what awards does it stand a chance for? Maybe it is because there hasn't been much this summer beyond Fruitvale Station that has proven itself worthwhile. While it isn't right to assume that the summer season is when the big contenders emerge, I do like to think that we're seeing early potential. Based on word of mouth alone and that 82%, I am thinking that Blue Jasmine has entered the race firmly as a potential nominee. Maybe it is solely because it is one of the better reviewed films in the past few months, but it could also be that Allen is well liked by them.

That doesn't mean that every film he makes stands a chance. To Rome with Love was quickly shot down, despite following up Midnight in Paris, which received a Best Picture nomination and won Best Original Screenplay. While it may unfairly have played into the bias that the Academy loves a particular culture, it was overall just a great film about what influences writing. His track record has been hit-and-miss, just like his films, but when he hits, it usually almost always gets labeled a renaissance and that he is somehow back in form. I am predicting Blue Jasmine to get that, if just because critic David Ehrlich of Film.com has gone on record of saying that it is: 
"Woody Allen's best film since 1994's Bullets Over Broadway." I trust Ehrlich's opinion, and that makes me excited.

Left to right: Sally Hawkins and Andrew Dice Clay
With Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay sure locks, what exactly can surprise us with Blue Jasmine at the Oscars? I am endlessly fascinated with the prospects that Andrew Dice Clay, someone who I don't necessarily enjoy, is going to put in a surprise performance. Maybe he is going to be sweet and funny in ways that up until now, only Allen saw. While as a fan of Louie, I would love for this to be Louis C.K.'s chance at an Oscar, I am almost more intrigued by what Clay could be having in store. Just like Albert Brooks in Drive, we could be looking at against-type casting brilliance. That is something that the Academy tends to admire, even if that wasn't the case for Brooks. Of course, the difference there is that Nicholas Winding Refn's credibility at the Oscars is nowhere near Allen's, who lead Penelope Cruz to a Best Supporting Actress win with Vicky Christina Barcelona. While she is more expected, it just shows that Allen may have some surprises still in him.

Maybe it will land Cate Blanchett another nomination, though I am not feeling it based on the trailer. Allen has always been great at supporting characters. They populate his world with so much energy that it is often easy to overlook the lead. I don't see Blue Jasmine sweeping the nominations, but if it is as good as everyone says, I cannot see why it shouldn't stand a chance against something like 12 Years a Slave. It may not have the energy to win Best Picture, but I don't see it being excluded. That is if Ehrlich and everyone else is right and that we are actually seeing Allen doing something magical to San Francisco.

Is Woody Allen capable of winning Best Picture these days? Will Andrew Dice Clay surprise everyone into a nomination? Will Allen be visiting the west coast more often now?

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