Oscar Watch; Richard Gere

Richard Gere, with his slick silver hair and squinty blue eyes, just turned 63 this past August. A stinging reminder that not only does time go by in the blink of an eye but also that this underrated American actor has never won an Oscar, let alone gotten nominated for one. Yes, that’s right. No nomination for his killer good role as lawyer Billy Flynn in “Chicago”, nada for his portrayal of Zack Mayo in “An Officer And A Gentleman”, the cheated-on husband in “Unfaithful”, Julian Kaye in “American Gigolo” or even as Clifford Irving in the underseen 2007 picture “The Hoax”. That might just change this year as Gere gives the performance of his career in Andrew Jarecki’s “Arbitrage”. In fact, Gere is so good as nasty hedge fund magnate Robert Miller that you still root for him to get out of his situation in one piece. Given that Miller is cheating on his wife with a french mistress, scamming his clients of millions of dollars and using his friend Jimmy as bait for the police, we shouldn’t be feeling that way about this corporate son of a gun.

Gere is magnetic, bringing ever ounce of nuance to his role and delivering a performance that’s nothing short of revelatory. No wonder critics have been screaming Oscar since “Arbitrage” got released way back in August. Does Gere have a chance at winning Best Actor? Of course not, especially with Daniel Day Lewis, Joaquin Pheonix and Denzel Washington vying for the top prize but Gere deserves to at least get nominated. In fact, a nomination would be more than welcome by many cinephiles, especially those that know just how good Gere can be when given the right script. “Arbitrage” is that script.

Written by Nicholas Jarecki, director Andrew’s half brother, “Arbitrage” is loaded with enough juicy scenes for Gere to show off his acting chops. That’s a good thing. Gere is going to need those scenes to carry him into awards season if there is any chance at even getting a nomination. Playing a money making scumbag that you really feel for isn’t the easiest thing to pull off in this day and age but Gere does it effortlessely, using his charismatic presence and brooding good looks to fully flesh out his character. Critics have been pretty unanimous in saying it’s one of his best performances, now it’s time for the academy to follow suit and honor this great actor.


Desplat and Original Score

Four time Oscar nominee and French film composer Alexandre Desplat isn't one to take it easy and have some rest. Some of his more masterful compositions reside in films such as The Tree Of Life, The Fantastic Mr Fox and The Queen. In 2012, Desplat is on a roll, composing for close to seven feature films (same number of scores he composed in 2011). Contenders such as Argo, Moonrise Kingdom, Rise Of The Guardians, Rust & Bone and Zero Dark Thirty will be stamped by Desplat's incredibly nuanced and visionary musical head.

What would Mr.Desplat be doing if he hadn't made it big in Hollywood you ask? "I'd look at the blue sky, eat cheese, tomatoes and figs, and at the end of the day, walk down for a swim in the sea. And then, I'd sleep," the composer was quoted as saying to the Wall Street Journal. Not far off to the sombre, sometimes melancholic mood Desplat creates with his compositions. Although as we speak his schedule will be much lighter in 2013 as he is due to compose only one film so far (Zulu).

It is then no surprise, given the amount of work and the reputation he has established over the course of just a decade, that Desplat is now a prime Oscar Contender in the Original Score category this year. In fact, the man can make Oscar History by getting nominated 3 times in the same category. An unprecedented feat that has the capable chance of happening if all the cards get played right.

His score to Ben Affleck's Argo brings you back to a time and place when the middle east was just starting to self destruct, his precariously whimsical notes in Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom got critics and audiences all giddy with a tremendous high this summer and his upcoming score for Kathryn Bigelow's much anticipated Zero Dark Thirty promises to be just as good as the latter films if not better. Bigelow's highly anticpated film on the hunt for Osama Bin Laden is her followup to her Hurt Locker triumph in 2009.

The category will be loaded with contenders this year. With the already mentioned Desplat films vying for the big prize, Danny Elfman scored three films this year (Silver Linings Playbook, Frankenweenie, Hitchcock), John Williams -an Oscar favorite- is an almost certain nominee for Lincoln and Mychal Danna's exhilirating score for Life Of Pi looks like a top 3 contender. Be warned, the best score of the year doesn't always get nominated. Trent Reznor's incendiary work in last year's "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" did not get nominated. It was the best and most profusely thrilling score of the year yet got snubbed for lighter fare.


An Image "The Quiet Man"

Given all of its hodge podge, traditional glory, director John Ford's The Quiet Man -starring a charismatic John Wayne- is actually deeper than its looks might suggest. With its bright technicolor colors and wackily conceived plotting, you'd think Ford's film would be devoid of any actual substance. Well I'm sure your mind will get changed when you hear that The Quiet Man is a much studied film in feminist film classes. I kid you not. The 1952 film is a staple. If you want to know how female depiction in movies has changed over the years, this is a good example. That's what keeps me coming back for more whenever I see Ford's film on Television or have the oppurtunity to sneak in a screening. Listen, it's not like some of his classics including his masterful work in The Searchers - if you haven't seen it, watch it now ! The Quiet Man does the job done because of how the film interprets the relationship between ex-American Boxer Sean Thornton and the Irish lass played by Maureen O'Hara whom he meets in a remote village in the outskirts of Ireland. The Love/Hate relationship they build is the stuff of in depth feminine studies and freudian parallels, hell talk about deep.

Buster Keaton's lost gem

Keaton or Chaplin? This question, common among film enthusiasts, refers less to the cinematic values of the two and more to just personal preference: Not who is better, but who do you like more. Buster Keaton was always a man that had to compete against Charlie Chaplin. I mean how could he not? They were both silent movie stars that had an uncanny ability to take some of the simplest moments and turn them into comedy heaven. The critics championed Keaton and even placed The General -Keaton's masterpiece of the industrial age-on a number of all-time best lists ahead of Modern Times -also Chaplin's masterpiece of the industrial age. Audiences however put their hearts on their sleeves for Chaplin, an American movie star if there ever was one. Guy Crucianelli from Pop Matters states that Keaton was "the inventor" and Chaplin "the conjurer".

It's no surprise then that I find it very hard to choose between the two. The General is an astounding technical achievement, even more so now 90 years after its release. So it was pure melancholic joy to find out about The Navigator, a delightful Keaton feature from 1924 that has aged magnificently well. In fact THERE is one of the reasons why Keaton might just surpass Chaplin in my books. His movies have aged incredibly well. The set pieces in his films are just so brilliant and -dare I say it- too complicated to achieve in this day and age, even with the technological abilities we have. Which is not say that Chaplin's films have rusted, there is still -to this day- a stinging satirical punch to films such as Modern Times and City Of Lights.

In The Navigator Keaton's inventiveness is contagious. The story of a helpless, spoiled rich boy set adrift upon a giant ship with his equally helpless girlfriend has a clever story line and a series of excellent gags. The Navigator is actually the name of a ship and it mostly takes place on board this abandoned vessel (which Keaton bought outright when it was being scrapped). The reason it is abandoned (in the movie) and set adrift seems like it might matter at first as a kind of political plot but this all ends up not really being part of the larger movie. It's just an excuse to have the two on a big ship alone, with all the likely things that might happen as a result.

The gags are relentless -sometimes too much so- but those that work are lethal. The car ride proposal across the street, the pulley seesaw; the faint co-star in the collapsing deck chair (a precursor of his undressing scene in SPITE MARRIAGE); Donald Crisp's painting swinging back and forth outside the port hole; the pulleys and inventions for the organized breakfast (stemming from a similar sequence in his short THE SCARECROW); the underwater swordfish fight; the toy cannon attached to Buster's foot and of course the surprise rescue at the end.

Don't expect the political commentary of The General or the Brilliance of Sherlock Jr. but do expect Keaton being Keaton, which is enough to salivate the appetite of any true silent film junkie. The Navigator can be considered a lost gem in the Keaton canon - I had never heard of it until just recently- but its innocence and relentless pursuit to make its audience gasp and laugh at the same time is enough to make you think of a time when all the details mattered in comedy.