Monday, February 29, 2016

How’d I Do on This Year’s Oscars?

With this year’s Academy Awards ceremony behind us, it’s time to take a look at how I did on my predictions for the winners in this annual competition, as first outlined in my previous blog, “Who Will Win This Year’s Oscars”, posted on February 17.

And the result? Five out of six correct calls, with one miss. Here are the details:

Best Picture

Projected Winner: “Spotlight”
Actual Winner: “Spotlight”
Result: Correct call

As the toughest of the major races to call in this year’s Oscars, it was gratifying to make the right prediction in this category. Despite the formidable challenge put forth by “The Revenant” and modest competition from “The Big Short,” “Spotlight” managed to prevail, probably for the reasons outlined in my previous blog. I still would have preferred “The Big Short” as the winner in this category, but, in the end, it didn’t have enough momentum behind it to pull off a win.

Best Actor

Projected Winner: Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant”
Actual Winner: Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant”
Result: Correct call

This was a slam dunk. Because DiCaprio won virtually everything leading up to the Oscars, there was no way this trend wouldn’t hold in this competition. As noted in my previous blog, in my opinion, this wasn’t the winner’s strongest performance, but he was overdue for a victory, and the Academy honored him accordingly. I still would have preferred Bryan Cranston for “Trumbo” in this category, but there was no stopping the DiCaprio juggernaut.

Best Actress

Projected Winner: Brie Larson, “Room”
Actual Winner: Brie Larson, “Room”
Result: Correct call

This was another slam dunk. Larson won every major award leading up the Oscars, so her victory came as no surprise, and, thankfully, this was a case of the right performer winning her award for the right performance. She fended off some rather formidable competition on her way to victory (on her first nomination, too), but she indeed was the best of the bunch. Look for more great things from this remarkable talent.

Best Supporting Actor

Projected Winner: Sylvester Stallone, “Creed”
Actual Winner: Mark Rylance, “Bridge of Spies”
Result: Missed call

I truly thought this was going to be another slam dunk, but Rylance’s upset win proved to be one of Oscar night’s true surprises (and a very pleasant one at that). Stallone won every award in the competitions in which he was nominated leading up the Oscars, and he appeared to be the sentimental favorite. However, there were two contests in which Stallone failed to secure a nomination – the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which recognized Idris Ela for “Beasts of No Nation” (who was not nominated here), and the BAFTA Awards, the most recently presented of the major awards, which honored Rylance. It could well be that Rylance’s BAFTA win marked the turning of the tide in his favor, and it’s a result I can’t say I was disappointed with. While my first choice in this category would have been Tom Hardy for “The Revenant,” Rylance would have been my second choice, given his understated performance as a quiet, unassuming man who harbors a wealth of secrets. In any event, whether Hardy or Rylance (or any of the other nominees for that matter) had come up the victor, I’m just glad that the Academy didn’t give in to the undue sentimentality for Stallone, a performance that never should have even been nominated, let alone come away an undeserving winner.

Best Supporting Actress

Projected Winner: Alicia Vikander, “The Danish Girl”
Actual Winner: Alicia Vikander, “The Danish Girl”
Result: Correct call

At the time I posted my first blog, this was the only acting category in which I believed there was any room for doubt. I saw the contest as a two-horse race between eventual winner Vikander and Kate Winslet for “Steve Jobs,” with Vikander as the predicted victor (and deservingly so). As in the best actress competition, Vikander was the class of the category, and it was gratifying to see her take home the statue.

Best Director

Projected Winner: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, “The Revenant”
Actual Winner: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, “The Revenant”
Result: Correct call

Once again, this was a fairly easy win to project, given Iñárritu’s victories in all of the major competitions leading up to the Oscars. I still would have preferred Adam McKay for “The Big Short,” but the victor had the momentum behind him coming into the Oscars, and it held firm in the end.

To find out more about what I had to say about this year’s winners and my preferences in some of the leading categories, check out my reviews at the following links:

“The Big Short”
“The Danish Girl”

Oscar® and Academy Award® are registered trademarks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

‘Race’ elevates us to rise to our destiny

“Race” (2016). Cast: Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, William Hurt, Shanice Banton, Carice van Houten, Eli Goree, David Kross, Jonathan Higgins, Barnaby Metschurat, Shamier Anderson, Jeremy Ferdman, Giacomo Gianniotti, Michèle Lonsdale Smith, Andrew Moodie, Glynn Turman, Adrian Zwicker, Gaetan Normandin, Jacob Andrew Kerr, Dondre Octave, Chantel Riley, Kayla Stewart, Yvanna-Rose Leblanc. Director: Stephen Hopkins. Screenplay: Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse. Web site. Trailer.

Fulfilling our destiny often seems like a daunting prospect. Can we achieve it? Are we willing and able to do what it takes to rise to the occasion? And what if we undertake that task under intimidating circumstances, especially if there’s much at stake and the whole world is watching? Those are among the questions raised in director Stephen Hopkins’s inspiring new biopic, “Race.”

In 1936, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (Adrian Zwicker), leader of the notorious Third Reich, sought to use his country’s hosting of the Berlin Olympic Games as a platform for propagandizing the Nazi ideology and the rise of the Aryan race. Through a carefully constructed plan orchestrated by Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels (Barnaby Metschurat), and documented cinematically by his hand-picked filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl (Carice van Houten), the Führer wanted the event to showcase the glories of fascist society and the qualities he believed constituted human perfection. But those grand plans were significantly undercut by the remarkable accomplishments of someone who represented the antithesis of Hitler’s blonde-haired, blue-eyed ideal, a talented African-American athlete from Cleveland, Olympian J.C. “Jesse” Owens (Stephan James).

In the run-up to the Olympics, Owens – a natural sprinter and long jumper – refined his abilities at Ohio State University under Coach Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis), himself a onetime world-class contender. And hone those skills he did; at the Big Ten championship track and field meet in 1935, for example, Owens set three world records and tied a fourth – all in a span of 45 minutes. He would later best rivals like fellow American Eulace Peacock (Shamier Anderson), emerging as one of the shining stars of the U.S. Olympic team. Indeed, with a performance record like that, Owens seemed destined for greatness in Berlin.

But, as the games approached, Owens also faced a future full of uncertainty. While he was anxious to compete, he was also under considerable pressure to abstain from participating as part of a growing American protest against Hitler’s policies toward minorities, particularly Blacks and Jews. The arguments in favor of a proposed U.S. boycott certainly had merit, but so did those in favor of competing, with proponents contending that a conspicuous American presence would serve as a striking counterpoint to the German propaganda machine. This disagreement even led to a schism within the ranks of the U.S. Olympic Committee, with president Jeremiah Mahoney (William Hurt) leaning in favor of a boycott and influential committee member Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons) lobbying for participation. Brundage argued that American success on the playing field would send a powerful message to the Germans and the world at large, and he believed that Owens was a prime candidate – in more ways than one – for serving as the messenger.

Owens’s Olympic challenges weren’t the only ones he faced; he also had his share of struggles on the home front, particularly with money. He worked a variety of jobs while attending college, looking for ways to generate enough income to support himself, his unemployed father (Andrew Moodie), and his fiancée, Ruth (Shanice Banton), with whom he had a young daughter, Gloria (Kayla Stewart (age 2) and Yvanna-Rose Leblanc (age 4)). Fortunately, he also had his share of backers, like Snyder, who made sure Owens had what he needed to stay on track with fulfilling his destiny.

By the time the Olympics rolled around, Owens didn’t disappoint, either, handily capturing three gold medals in the events in which he was originally scheduled to compete. He also won an unexpected fourth gold when he was named as a last-minute replacement to an American relay team. And, even though his success infuriated the likes of Hitler and Goebbels, Owens emerged as a fan favorite at the Berlin games, even among such unlikely supporters as Riefenstahl and European champion long jumper Carl “Luz” Long (David Kross), who Owens defeated in front of his home crowd. His was a performance that won the day – and stood the test of time.

Owens’s achievements made their mark not only because of the athleticism involved, but also because of the statement they made. As someone who embodied the opposite of what Hitler considered the ideal human, Owens effectively rebuked the inflated, arrogant claims of innate superiority put forth by the German Chancellor, and he did so without hubris, taking his accomplishments all in stride. But, then, Owens didn’t need to resort to blatant chest-thumping to make his point, because he knew he could reach his goals, a mindset that grew out of a firm faith in his beliefs in himself and his abilities. That’s to be expected, however, when one becomes proficient in the practice of conscious creation, the philosophy that maintains we manifest the reality we experience through our thoughts, beliefs and intents.

Employing conscious creation to make a statement represents an especially effective use of this practice, because it reflects the metaphorical nature of how the process works. The act of making a statement essentially involves the materialization of a symbolic, outward expression of something inherently intangible, a physical representation of something intrinsically conceptual, one that innately embodies what this philosophy is ultimately all about. For his part, Owens proved a master at this.

When one recognizes what a realization like this signifies, the impact is often considerable, perhaps even profound. In fact, the effect may be significant enough to change the hearts and minds of others, including those whose views might seem unlikely to be swayed, such as Owens’s long jump competitor and Hitler’s partisan documentarian. Such is the power that drives conscious creation, a force that can not only yield stunning outcomes but that can also serve as the impetus for shifting viewpoints, perhaps even changing the world.

Reaching that point, however, requires that certain qualities are in place when the process is put to use. First, the ability to envision the desired outcome is crucial, because it helps shape the manifesting beliefs that need to be put into place to produce the hoped-for result. When it comes to this particular conscious creation application, athletes are among its most proficient practitioners, because they must be able to picture where they want to end up before they even begin. For example, a quarterback winding up to throw a pass doesn’t toss the football to where his receiver is; he throws it to where his receiver is going to be. Likewise, when a golfer tees off, he swings his club to drive the ball to where he wants it to land, a practice that requires him to envision where he wants it to end up before he even initiates the process. A similar practice underlies the accomplishments of track stars like Owens, who picture the results they want to attain before the starter’s pistol ever fires.

Second, conscious creators must also weed out whatever impediments might get in their way. This involves eliminating beliefs associated with fear and doubt, the chief elements that undercut our manifestation efforts. Such notions contradict what we seek to achieve, so putting them out of mind is essential to fulfill our objectives. Thus, by approaching things confidently and courageously (even heroically), we stand ourselves in good stead to bring about what we want. Owens undeniably employed such tactics in his quest, both in terms of fulfilling his athletic goals and in making a statement through his acts and deeds.

Like so many other landmark occurrences, the story that plays out in this film is also a prime example of a consciously co-created mass event in which numerous participants join forces to collectively manifest a single scenario consisting of multiple lines of probability, multiple individual experiences and multiple life lessons. While the Berlin Olympics represented a distinct, singular event, the games contained within them the diverse experiences of many collaborators, including Owens, his coach, his family, his teammates, the U.S. Olympic Committee and the German hosts, all of whom had different underlying reasons (and beliefs) for creating what they ultimately did. Events such as this effectively illustrate the broad range of diversity that conscious creation makes possible and how those various lines of probability can all be explored through a collective individual experience. The shared outcome makes for a great tale, one that lends further credence to the insightful words of poet Muriel Rukeyser, who wrote that “The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”

“Race” tells its inspiring story beautifully with great production values, gorgeous cinematography and effective re-creations of Owens’ heroic athleticism. It effectively captures the look and feel of both Depression Era America and a resurgent Germany in the days before the start of World War II. It also capably weaves multiple story lines into a cohesive whole, providing sufficient background and insight into their various events and principals without becoming bogged down in excessive detail or undue confusion.

With that said, however, the film is also somewhat schmaltzy and rather formulaic at times, with sometimes-uneven performances, inconsistent pacing and occasionally trite dialogue. Still, the film will tug at the heart, prompting audience members to succeed at their goals, surpassing self-imposed limitations and doubts. This is far from landmark filmmaking, but it certainly makes for stirring viewing, especially for those who aspire to live out their own greatness.

It’s impossible to talk about this film without addressing the double entendre embodied in its title, a choice of wording that relates not only to Owens’s athletic ambitions, but also to the prevailing conditions of the backdrop in which he competed. In line with that, it’s interesting to see how the film illustrates the variable degrees of treatment Owens received when it came to the matter of race. While he was treated fairly by supporters (like Snyder and Brundage) and kindly by admirers (like Long and Riefenstahl), he was also subjected to the open prejudice and disdain of detractors, like Hitler and Goebbels, who snubbed acknowledgment of his achievements, a congratulatory gesture routinely afforded to all of the games’ other victors. It’s also interesting to note how many Americans openly objected to the Führer’s racial policies while hypocritically tolerating segregationist practices not all that different in their own homeland, a duplicity that becomes all too apparent when Owens attends a banquet at a New York hotel and is forced to use the service entrance, ironically at an event thrown in his honor.

Like many other films that profile the stories of minority athletes competing under challenging circumstances (such as “Glory Road” (2006), “42” (2013), “The Express” (2008) and “Pride” (2007)), “Race” effectively draws into focus the indignities of the past and how far we have come. It also serves as a poignant reminder, given today’s sometimes-stressful race relation issues, how diligent we must be to preserve the progress that has been made, lest we run the risk of losing it and backsliding into the unacceptable ways of the past.

Attaining our destiny is perhaps the greatest challenge any of us will pursue during our lifetimes. It requires us to aspire to the greatness within us, reaching deep down inside to find the sparks of inspiration and confidence needed to achieve that goal. But, as long as we possess a keen awareness of our beliefs and the conscious creation process that puts them to work, we stand a great chance of living out what we were meant to do. Owens’s inspiring example sets a standard for all of us to follow, one that encourages us to each go for the personal gold that we know we’re capable of achieving.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Movies with Meaning Is Back!

Join me and host Frankie Picasso for this month's edition of Movies with Meaning on Frankiesense & More radio, today at 1 pm ET. We'll look at some enlightening new movie releases and preview this week's Oscars. Tune in by clicking here.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Check out the Smart Women Talk Podcast!

Did you miss Conscious Creation Goes to the Oscars on Smart Women Talk Radio with host Katana Abbott? Catch the podcast for on-demand listening by clicking here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Reviewers Roundtable Is Back!

Looking for recommendations of inspiring new books and movies? If so, tune in to this quarter's broadcast of New Consciousness Review radio's Reviewers Roundtable with host Miriam Knight, reviewer Cynthia Sue Larson and yours truly. We'll look at the latest in enlightening books and cinema, with detailed descriptions and critiques. Tune in for some great tips by clicking here.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Conscious Creation Goes to the Oscars!

What is conscious creation? And how is it reflected in some of this year's top Oscar-nominated films? Find out on Tuesday February 23 at 11 am ET on Smart Women Talk Radio with host Katana Abbott when we'll discuss “Conscious Creation Goes to the Oscars!” Tune in for some lively chat by clicking here.

Check out the Latest Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Race" and "The Physics of the Soul," along with previews of three Oscar prediction radio shows, are now all available in the latest edition of Movies with Meaning on the web site of The Good Radio Network, available by clicking here.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

‘45 Years’ examines what it means to love someone

“45 Years” (2015). Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Geraldine James, Dolly Wells, David Sibley, Sam Alexander. Director: Andrew Haigh. Screenplay: Andrew Haigh. Story: David Constantine, In Another Country. Web site. Trailer.

What does it mean to love someone? Can that love stand the test of time? And can it withstand some potentially devastating news rooted in the past that only now makes its presence felt? Those are among the questions addressed in the taut new romantic drama, “45 Years.”

A week before Kate Mercer (Charlotte Rampling) and her husband, Geoff (Tom Courtenay), are about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary at a grand party in their honor, they receive a letter revealing some upsetting news about one of Geoff’s former loves, a woman he knew before he married Kate. This news truly troubles Geoff, reminding him of a devastating loss from long ago. But the effect of this development is compounded when it becomes apparent just how much this decades-old tragedy has impacted Geoff throughout the years, particularly when it comes to the nature of his relationship with Kate, both now and throughout the course of their marriage.

The news severely depresses Geoff, prompting him to spend much of his time brooding. He proceeds to isolate himself, curtailing much of his communication with others, including Kate. He loses interest in the activities that have long given him pleasure and even partakes in some unhealthy forms of behavior, such as resuming smoking, a habit that once jeopardized his health and led to the cancellation of his 40th anniversary celebration five years earlier. He quickly spirals downward into a depression from which escape looks increasingly doubtful.

Kate, meanwhile, attempts to offer her husband comfort in the wake of this revelation. However, as events unfold, she begins to discover she’s unable to offer the consolation he needs. In large part, this is due to a lack of understanding of Geoff’s relationship with his former love, a romance about which she knows precious little. So, with the party looming, in an attempt to revive her husband’s spirits, Kate begins investigating Geoff’s relationship with this mystery woman from the past. What Kate finds, though, causes great anguish – for her.

In essence, Kate begins quietly asking herself – and then Geoff – some hard questions: Was their marriage one genuinely based on love? Or was it something Geoff pursued to pave over his grief at the loss of his former love? And what has it all meant for them as the years have gone by? The answers to these questions may be more complicated than what appears at first glance, so much so that it might even prompt each partner to wonder exactly what the last 45 years have been all about – and why they have unfolded as they have. That, of course, has implications for the present and the future – and whether there will be even one more year, let alone another 45.

Given the circumstances involved in a story like this, it’s quite natural for someone to ask, “What am I to make of my relationship? Is it what I’ve always thought it was? Has it changed in light of the developments that have recently surfaced? Or was it never what I thought it meant, an illusion that I’ve allowed to deceive me all these years?” In essence, no matter what it ultimately is, it all comes down to one’s beliefs, the cornerstone of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience. And, considering what transpires between Kate and Geoff, there are plenty of beliefs at work spanning a wide range of viewpoints, some contradicting one another and all of them occurring simultaneously.

While both partners must wrestle with this idea, Kate arguably bears the greater burden here. She’s left to sort out a plethora of beliefs about the nature of her marriage, both in its present state and with regard to its past, considerations that will invariably affect its future. She must determine whether Geoff has leveled with her over the past 45 years when it comes to his love for her and the choices they’ve made with how their relationship has unfolded. She must ask herself if she’s perceived matters accurately or if she’s bought into a deception, one that Geoff himself may not have recognized either.

In making such an assessment, Kate has to make a critical choice about how she sees things. And that, as conscious creators know, comes down to her beliefs. Will she allow herself to believe that her marriage was everything she thought it was? Or will she come to see it as an artfully executed fraud, one viewed through a pair of proverbial rose-colored glasses? And, given both of these potential options, which one will she choose to embrace as the template she employs to create her future?

Some might look at a scenario like this and believe that Geoff may have selfishly manipulated circumstances to suit his own needs and desires, showing little regard for those of his wife. But, as conscious creators are well aware, we each create our own reality, and that’s just as true for Kate as it is for anyone else. If conditions have emerged that have caused her to question her situation, then Kate must understand that she drew them into her life, for better or worse (no pun intended).

It’s not entirely clear why she would choose to explore such a line of probability, but, when a scenario like this arises, it usually has something to do with some kind of life lesson. For instance, can she trust that she has created the life she wanted in spite of recent developments? Are those developments a test of her resolve that she has indeed materialized the existence she wanted, a test of faith in her own manifestation skills? Or has she deliberately chosen to undergo the experience of deceit and learn the lessons that come with it? Only Kate can answer these questions for herself, but, no matter what she decides, she needs to examine her beliefs to determine what they are and why they have produced the results she’s now experiencing.

Perhaps the most crucial question Kate faces is, what does it all mean for her future? Will she make peace with her creation, choosing to stay with Geoff and living out her days with him? Or will she allow herself to become consumed by feelings of betrayal, possibly prompting her to abandon the creation in which she’s invested 45 years of her life? These are obviously very big decisions, but only she can make them.

In coming to a conclusion about what to do, it would help Kate immeasurably to realize, as practiced conscious creators do, that the point of power is in the present. This is the only point in time over which she (or any of us, for that matter) has any direct, meaningful control. She no longer has access to a past that is behind her, and she has yet to arrive in a future that hasn’t occurred. But, in the present moment, she can determine what transpires in the next present moment by skillfully deploying the beliefs required to bring about the outcome she seeks.

In taking that step, though, Kate had better choose carefully, for the intents she puts in place now will determine where she finds herself next. Like all of us, she clearly has a range of options at her disposal. But the destiny in which she lands will all depend on which set of manifesting beliefs she chooses. It’s a big decision, one not to be taken lightly. But, then, that goes for any of us in making any conscious creation choice, something that we should never lose sight of, be it in matters of love, marriage or any other endeavor.

Despite some intermittent pacing issues, this portrait of a long-term marriage in quiet crisis delivers with understated power and fine performances by its two protagonists. Its deft handling of conflicted feelings and adept treatment of the uncertainties they evoke paint a complex, finely crafted story that leaves viewers hanging on every nuance right up until the end (and then some). The impact of these events is driven home skillfully by the performances of Courtenay and Rampling, who has received her first-ever (and long overdue) Oscar nomination for her stunning portrayal.

Those looking for what it means to be in love with someone – especially for the long term – will certainly find this story engaging and enlightening. “45 Years” isn’t always the easiest movie to watch, but it leaves an indelible impression on anyone who sees it. The film is currently playing in limited release in theaters specializing in independent cinema. It’s also available on DVD and Blu-ray disk, as well as from various streaming sources, in the U.K.

Loving someone is an adventure, to be sure, whether it’s merely for the interim or for the duration. When it comes to the long term, however, we had better choose our beliefs wisely, for the implications can be wide ranging and emotionally charged. We stand to gain – and lose – a lot by the beliefs we put forth, for they shape the existence we ultimately experience. Let’s hope they yield the happiness we seek, a rapturous joy that lasts for 45 years – and beyond.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Who Will Win This Year’s Oscars

It’s that time of year again – time for my predictions of the winners at the annual Academy Awards. Many of the major honors appear fairly clear-cut at this point, but, even with that said, here are my picks for who will take home statues this year:

Best Actor

The Field: Bryan Cranston, “Trumbo”; Matt Damon, “The Martian”; Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant”; Michael Fassbender, “Steve Jobs”; Eddie Redmayne, “The Danish Girl”
Who Will Likely Win: Leonardo DiCaprio. This appears to finally be DiCaprio’s year after numerous previous nominations. He has won virtually every major award leading up to this year’s Oscars, including the Golden Globe Award, the Critics Choice Award, the Screen Actors Guild Award and the BAFTA Award. I see no reason for this trend not to hold on Oscar night. Unfortunately, however, while DiCaprio’s portrayal here is indeed capable, I don’t believe it’s his best work nor the best lead actor performance this year. Rather, this is one of those “oversight Oscars” being bestowed upon someone who has been summarily overlooked many times before. I would much rather have seen DiCaprio win for several of his other previous efforts, including “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013), “Blood Diamond” (2006) and “The Aviator” (2004).
Who Should Win: Bryan Cranston. In “Trumbo,” Cranston really upped his game, delivering a breakthrough performance far better than anything he has ever done, and he truly deserves to be honored for his effort. Regrettably, he’s up against the Academy’s overarching sentiment to recognize an overlooked favorite son – an unfortunate circumstance considering Cranston’s work in this film. A strong case could also be made for Eddie Redmayne, though, given his win just last year for “The Theory of Everything,” it’s highly unlikely he would take home top honors again so soon.
Possible Dark Horse: The dark horse here is so dark as to be virtually unrecognizable, given the momentum behind DiCaprio. However, if I had to pick someone to assume this role it would be Matt Damon, another Hollywood favorite son who has been long overlooked for winning an acting Oscar (though he previously won a screenplay award for “Good Will Hunting” (1997)). Nevertheless, despite whatever sentimentality might accompany Damon’s nomination, I doubt it’s enough to overcome the DiCaprio juggernaut.
Also-Rans: Anyone who isn’t Leonardo DiCaprio. The others should be thankful for their nominations.
Who Should Have Been Left Out: Matt Damon and Michael Fassbender. Damon’s performance, though capable and a sentimental favorite, really isn’t worthy of a nomination in light of some of the other unrecognized choices out there. And Fassbender’s cloying, mugging for the camera portrayal became so annoying with each passing minute of his film that it became difficult to sit through; this nomination never should have materialized.
Who Else Should Have Been Considered: There were many lead actor performances that easily could have made the cut and should have been considered. Among my favorites were Will Smith (“Concussion”), Tom Hanks (“Bridge of Spies”), Kurt Russell (“The Hateful Eight”), Peter Sarsgaard (“Experimenter”), Tobey Maguire (“Pawn Sacrifice”), Harvey Keitel (“Youth”), Jason Segel (“The End of the Tour”), Ian McKellan (“Mr. Holmes”), Christopher Abbott (“James White”), Michael B. Jordan (“Creed”), Géza Röhrig (“Son of Saul”), Johnny Depp (“Black Mass”) and Abraham Attah (“Beasts of No Nation”). Several of these performances, such as those turned in by Smith and Depp, were honored in other contests and should have been considered here.

Best Actress

The Field: Cate Blanchett, “Carol”; Brie Larson, “Room”; Jennifer Lawrence, “Joy”; Charlotte Rampling, “45 Years”; Saoirse Ronan, “Brooklyn”
Who Will Likely Win: Brie Larson. Even though this is Larson’s first Oscar nomination, she’s clearly the class of the field, and, like DiCaprio, she has won every major award to date, including the Golden Globe Award, the Critics Choice Award, the Screen Actors Guild Award and the BAFTA Award. Once again, I see no reason for this trend not to hold on Oscar night.
Who Should Win: Brie Larson. This is clearly a case of the right actress deservingly taking home top honors in her category.
Possible Dark Horses: Just like the lead actor race, the dark horse here is so dark as to be virtually unrecognizable, given the momentum behind Larson. However, if I had to pick someone to assume this role it would be either Charlotte Rampling or Saoirse Ronan. Rampling, a veteran performer who has just now received her first nomination, might be able to play on the sentimentality vote. As for Ronan, she’s a Hollywood darling who the Academy seems to adore and has a long-shot chance at pulling an upset. Nevertheless, I doubt these advantages are sufficiently potent enough to overcome the Larson juggernaut at this juncture.
Also-Rans: Anyone who isn’t Brie Larson. I believe this is especially true for previous winners Jennifer Lawrence (for “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012)) and Cate Blanchett (for “The Aviator” (2004) and “Blue Jasmine” (2013)), both of whom are unlikely to take home another statue so recently after their previous victories. In addition, for Blanchett in particular, she’s been nominated for the weaker of her two 2015 on-screen performances, having delivered far better work in her other film, “Truth,” a picture in which her outstanding portrayal was overshadowed by major criticism of the overall production.
Who Should Have Been Left Out: Saoirse Ronan. Though her meek, often-weepy portrayal was capable, it was far from outstanding and, in my opinion, not worthy of an Oscar nod.
Who Else Should Have Been Considered: As in the lead actor category, there were many performances that easily could have made the cut and should have been considered, including Carey Mulligan (“Suffragette” and “Far From the Madding Crowd”), Lily Tomlin (“Grandma”), Juliette Binoche (“The Clouds of Sils Maria”), Cate Blanchett (“Truth”), Julianne Moore (“Freeheld”), Gong Li (“Coming Home”), Alicia Vikander (“Testament of Youth”), Kitana Kiki Rodriguez (“Tangerine”), Blythe Danner (“I’ll See You in My Dreams”), Kristen Wiig (“Welcome to Me”), Helen Mirren (“Woman in Gold”), Maggie Smith (“The Lady in the Van”) and Emily Blunt (“Sicario”). Tomlin, Mirren and Smith were recognized for their efforts in other contests and certainly merited consideration here.

Best Supporting Actor

The Field: Christian Bale, “The Big Short”; Tom Hardy, “The Revenant”; Mark Ruffalo, “Spotlight”; Mark Rylance, “Bridge of Spies”; Sylvester Stallone, “Creed”
Who Will Likely Win: Sylvester Stallone. Like Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead actor category, this appears to finally be Stallone’s year. He has won several major awards leading up to the Oscars, including the Golden Globe Award and the Critics Choice Award (though, somewhat surprisingly, he wasn’t even nominated in the Screen Actors Guild Award and BAFTA Award competitions). I think this trend will hold on Oscar night, though, like DiCaprio, I also believe this is another case of an “oversight Oscar,” one being bestowed more for Stallone’s overall body of work (and all the box office cash he has generated for Hollywood through the years) than for his efforts in this particular performance.
Who Should Win: Tom Hardy. I was so pleased to see this performance finally honored with a nomination, having been inexplicably overlooked in all of this year’s other competitions. I’m not usually a huge fan of Hardy’s work, though I thought he really delivered the goods here and should be recognized accordingly. I could also make very strong cases in favor of Mark Rylance and Christian Bale (though, with his win for “The Fighter” (2011), it’s unlikely he would take home another statue again quite so soon).
Possible Dark Horse: Once again, the dark horse here is so dark as to be virtually unrecognizable, given the sentimentality backing Stallone. However, if I had to pick someone to assume this role it would be Mark Rylance, who took home the BAFTA Award, a contest in which he was not up against Stallone for top honors. Nevertheless, I doubt Rylance has enough clout here to take home the statue.
Also-Rans: Anyone who isn’t Sylvester Stallone. This is especially true for Mark Ruffalo, whose performance was capable but not especially noteworthy.
Who Should Have Been Left Out: Sylvester Stallone and Mark Ruffalo. While Stallone’s performance in “Creed” is undoubtedly the best work he’s done in years, it’s simply not awards caliber. As for Ruffalo, as noted above, his portrayal was capable, but I don’t believe it was strong enough to capture an Oscar nod.
Who Else Should Have Been Considered: 2015 was an especially strong year for supporting actor performances, and there are many that should have been considered. Among my favorites were Steve Carell (“The Big Short” and “Freeheld”), Ryan Gosling (“The Big Short”), Paul Dano (“Love & Mercy”), John Cusack (“Love & Mercy” and “Chi-Raq”), Paul Giamatti (“Love & Mercy”), Robert Redford (“Truth”), Jacob Tremblay (“Room”), John Goodman (“Trumbo”), Louis C.K. (“Trumbo”), Jeff Daniels (“Steve Jobs”), Domhnall Gleeson (“The Revenant”), Dakin Matthews (“Bridge of Spies”), Jim Broadbent (“Brooklyn”), Michael Shannon (“Freeheld” and “99 Homes”), Michael Sheen (“Far From the Madding Crowd”), Oscar Isaac (“Ex Machina”), Kyle Chandler (“Carol”), David Morse (“Concussion”), Albert Brooks (“Concussion”), Benicio del Toro (“Sicario”) and Idris Elba (“Beasts of No Nation”). A number of these performances, such as those by Carell, Dano, Tremblay, Shannon and Elba, were honored in other competitions and should have been recognized here.

Best Supporting Actress

The Field: Jennifer Jason Leigh, “The Hateful Eight”; Rooney Mara, “Carol”; Rachel McAdams, “Spotlight”; Alicia Vikander, “The Danish Girl”; Kate Winslet, “Steve Jobs”
Who Will Likely Win: This is a two-horse race between Alicia Vikander and Kate Winslet, but I would give the edge to Vikander. Earlier this awards season, Vikander took home the Critics Choice Award and the Screen Actors Guild Award, and she was nominated for this performance in the lead actress category in the Golden Globe and BAFTA competitions (where she was up against Brie Larson and didn’t stand a chance). As for Winslet, she took home the Golden Globe and BAFTA Awards in this category, but she wasn’t up against Vikander for her “Danish Girl” performance (though Vikander was nominated for her role in “Ex Machina” in this category in those contests). All things considered, though, I believe the preponderance of the momentum leans in Vikander’s direction, and I think she’ll emerge victorious on Oscar night.
Who Should Win: Alicia Vikander. This is another case of the right performer taking home a very deserving award.
Possible Dark Horses: Given the less than certain outcome of this race, conceivably any of the other contenders could emerge as dark horses, though I doubt they have enough juice behind them to overcome the momentum carrying Vikander and Winslet at the moment.
Also-Rans: By the same token, given the seemingly unstoppable momentum carrying the two front runners, the other three contenders in this race could just as easily become also-rans as they could be dark horses.
Who Should Have Been Left Out: Rooney Mara and Rachel McAdams. Mara’s snoozy, understated performance was so underwhelming that it’s difficult to understand how anyone could find her portrayal compelling. As for McAdams, this is another case of a capable performance being unduly elevated to an exaggerated level of praise. Both should have been left off the list in favor of other more worthy contenders.
Who Else Should Have Been Considered: 2015 was also an especially strong year for supporting actress performances, and there are many others that should have been considered, including Helen Mirren (“Trumbo”), Julie Walters (“Brooklyn”), Helena Bonham Carter (“Suffragette”), Kristen Stewart (“The Clouds of Sils Maria”), Jane Fonda (“Youth”), Ellen Page (“Freeheld”), Marcia Gay Harden (“Grandma”), Elizabeth Banks (“Love & Mercy”), Cynthia Nixon (“James White”), Jennifer Hudson (“Chi-raq”), Isabella Rossellini (“Joy”), Virginia Madsen (“Joy”), Mya Taylor (“Tangerine”), Melissa Leo (“The Big Short”), Phylicia Rashad (“Creed”), Marion Cotillard (“MacBeth”) and Alicia Vikander (“Ex Machina”). A number of these performances, such as those by Mirren, Walters, Fonda and Nixon, were honored in other contests and should have been considered here.

Best Director

The Field: Adam McKay, “The Big Short”; George Miller, “Mad Max: Fury Road”; Alejandro G. Iñárritu, “The Revenant”; Lenny Abrahamson, “Room”; Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight”
Who Will Likely Win: Alejandro G. Iñárritu. With hopes of following up his directorial award win for “Birdman” (2014), Iñárritu stands in good stead to take home top honors in this category once again. He has already won a number of other honors, including the Golden Globe Award, the BAFTA Award and the Directors Guild Award, an honor that’s often a strong indicator of who eventually wins the Oscar. At this point, I don’t see the momentum shifting, and I believe he’ll take home the Academy Award on Oscar night.
Who Should Win: Adam McKay. In my opinion, “The Big Short” was a much better and more compelling film than “The Revenant,” and I believe McKay’s the most worthy recipient of this honor. However, I don’t believe he has enough momentum to surpass Iñárritu at this point.
Possible Dark Horse: George Miller. As the only director to have defeated Iñárritu in any of this year’s competitions (as winner of the Critics Choice Award), he might have enough gas in his tank to cause an upset, especially since his film has been widely recognized in so many categories in other contests, including the top award in the prestigious National Board of Review competition. I wouldn’t put money on this option, but it’s not an impossibility, either.
Also-Rans: Adam McKay, Lenny Abrahamson and Tom McCarthy should be thankful for their nominations, since this is all the recognition they’re likely to receive.
Who Should Have Been Left Out: Lenny Abrahamson. While “Room” was an excellent film, it meandered considerably in the second hour, not quite knowing where it wanted to go. I felt that the director lost control of the room, and, because of that, I don’t believe he merited a nomination.
Who Else Should Have Been Considered: There were a number of other directors whose work should have been recognized, including László Nemes (“Son of Saul”), Andrew Haigh (“45 Years”), Steven Spielberg (“Bridge of Spies”), Tom Hooper (“The Danish Girl”), Paolo Sorrentino (“Youth”), Michael Almereyda (“Experimenter”), Jay Roach (“Trumbo”), Yimou Zhang (“Coming Home”) and Alex Garland (“Ex Machina”). For his efforts, Garland received a Directors Guild Award for Best First Feature and was nominated in other contests, as was Spielberg, whose “Bridge of Spies” was the best film he has made in years.

Best Picture

The Field: “The Big Short,” “Brooklyn,” “Bridge of Spies,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Martian,” “The Revenant,” “Room,” “Spotlight”
Who Will Likely Win: This is the most difficult race to handicap among the top categories, but I believe it to be a three-horse race between “The Big Short,” “The Revenant” and “Spotlight.” As the film with the most nominations and the picture most likely to take home the award for best director (strong indicators of the eventual best picture winner), “The Revenant” would seem to be the logical choice. It has also captured top honors at the Directors Guild Awards (a strong indicator of the eventual Oscar winner), the Golden Globe Awards and the BAFTA Awards. However, in other bellwether competitions, other contenders have emerged. “The Big Short,” for example, took first place in the Producers Guild Awards (another strong indicator of the eventual Oscar winner), while “Spotlight” took the big prizes at the Critics Choice Awards and the Screen Actors Guild Awards (yet another strong indicator of the Oscar winner).
So which film will win? This is a virtually “pick ʼem” scenario. Since the best director and best picture awards tend to run in tandem, that would give the edge to “The Revenant.” However, since the Academy often favors films based on true stories (especially those that have noble causes behind them), I would, in turn, give the edge to “The Big Short” and “Spotlight” over “The Revenant.” And, of these two pictures, I would be inclined to give the inside track to “Spotlight,” given that its outcome carried more widespread positive impact than the story in “The Big Short” did.
A “Spotlight” win is by no means guaranteed; its two rivals could easily overtake it, especially if the trend of tandem best director/best picture wins holds true again this year. However, if my line of reasoning holds, look for “Spotlight” to come up the big winner on Oscar night.

Photo courtesy of Open Road Films

Who Should Win: “The Big Short.” Even though this film doesn’t appeal to everyone, in my opinion, it was clearly the best picture of 2015. I would like to see it receive the honors it so richly deserves. A strong case could also be made for “Bridge of Spies,” though I don’t believe it quite measures up against “The Big Short.”
Possible Dark Horse: I doubt the other contenders have enough clout to overtake the three front runners. However, if any film has an outside chance, it would be “Mad Max: Fury Road,” again for the same reasons why George Miller could end up an upset winner in the best director category. Does it have enough to pull this off? I don’t think so, but don’t rule it out.
Also-Rans: “Brooklyn,” “Bridge of Spies,” “The Martian” and “Room” should be grateful for their nominations; in all likelihood, they lack what it takes to pull off a win in the big dance.
What Should Have Been Left Out: I was not especially impressed with this year’s crop of nominees and would have left out a number of selections, including “Brooklyn,” “The Martian,” “The Revenant,” “Room” and, especially, “Mad Max: Fury Road.” The first four films in that list were by no means outstanding, and “Mad Max” was an inexplicably overrated release that offered precious little that was new or innovative compared to its predecessors in the franchise. There were other more worthy contenders that easily could have taken their place.
What Else Should Have Been Considered: Nearly all of the films that were left out of the best director category would have made worthy choices here, including “Son of Saul,” “45 Years,” “The Danish Girl,” “Youth,” “Experimenter,” “Trumbo,” “Coming Home” and “Ex Machina,” as well as “Love & Mercy.” Regrettably, though, these offerings were overlooked.

The Oscars will be handed out in televised ceremonies on Sunday February 28. I’ll post my report card on these predictions thereafter. Enjoy the show!

(Oscar® and Academy Award® are registered trademarks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.)

For complete reviews of some of the nominees, follow these links:

“The Big Short”
“The Danish Girl”
“The Martian”

For complete reviews of some of the other films that should have been considered, follow these links:

“Coming Home”
“Ex Machina”
“Far From the Madding Crowd”
“I’ll See You in My Dreams”
“Love & Mercy”
“Pawn Sacrifice”
“Son of Saul”
“Testament of Youth”
“Welcome to Me”
“Woman in Gold”

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Check out the Latest at Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "45 Years" and "Where to Invade Next," along with news about a very special Chicago film festival, are all available in the latest edition of Movies with Meaning on The Good Radio Network web site by clicking here.

Photo by Brent Marchant

Thursday, February 11, 2016

‘Son of Saul’ seeks to preserve humanity where none exists

“Son of Saul” (“Saul fia”) (2015). Cast: Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn, Gergö Farkas, Balázs Farkas, Sándor Zsótér, Kamil Dobrowolski, Uwe Lauer, Christian Harting, Márton Ágh, Juli Jakab, László Somojai. Director: László Nemes. Screenplay: László Nemes and Clara Royer. Web site. Trailer.

When hell descends on earth, preserving anything that even hints at our innate humanity may seem like an impossible task. Just staying alive under such conditions may require everything we have, rendering the act of saving anything morally worthy a virtually unattainable luxury. But the value of engaging in an act like this may also prove to be the only thing that allows someone to persevere under such trying circumstances, a scenario pointedly depicted in the gripping new Hungarian feature, “Son of Saul” (“Saul fia”).

Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig) leads a sickeningly ghastly life. As a Sonderkommando in the Auschwitz concentration camp, he’s been consigned to a special prison work crew charged with aiding his Nazi captors in the gruesome task of exterminating his fellow Jews. While he’s comparatively fortunate, having successfully evaded an otherwise-automatic death sentence, Saul must nevertheless face the day-to-day horrors of having to corral his peers into the camp’s gas chamber, scrub down the floor after each execution session and shovel the cremated remains of the dead into a nearby river. And, despite the reprieve this work affords, Saul knows he awaits a similar fate several months down the road after he’s outlived his perceived usefulness.

Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig, left), a prisoner assigned to a special and particularly gruesome work detail at the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp, seeks to carry out a noble though seemingly impossible mission in the gripping new drama, “Son of Saul.” Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Despite these unspeakable circumstances, Saul somehow manages to get through his days by putting up an emotional barricade to block out the atrocities as best he can. Yet something happens one day that pierces this fortified exterior and touches him profoundly. While scrubbing the floor of the gas chamber, he discovers a young boy (dually portrayed by Gergö Farkas and Balázs Farkas) who, though weak, has somehow managed to survive his attempted execution. Saul watches as the child is taken aside and examined by German authorities to see if they can determine how he escaped what should have been certain death – after which he’s quickly and unceremoniously suffocated. The boy’s body is then transferred to the morgue for an autopsy to determine how he failed to succumb to the gas.

Saul is moved by the miracle of the boy’s survival, despite his ultimate demise at the hands of the Germans. He accompanies the corpse to the morgue, where he makes a request of the attending physician (Sándor Zsótér): Instead of callously tossing the boy’s body onto the pile of remains awaiting cremation, Saul asks the doctor to give him the corpse so that he might conduct a proper burial for the child, one preferably officiated by a rabbi. The doctor, who is himself a prisoner, sympathizes with Saul’s request but says he’s unable to comply. However, Saul is determined to see his plan through, to provide the young victim with a semblance of humanity where none exists, even if it’s the last thing he does.

Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig, right), a prisoner assigned to a special work detail at the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp, asks an unusual favor of a camp physician (Sándor Zsótér, left) who is also a prisoner in director László Nemes’s debut feature, “Son of Saul.” Photo by Ildi Hermann, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Saul thus sets out on a quest to extricate the body from the morgue, to find a way to perform the burial and to locate a rabbi from among the camp’s prisoners to oversee the proceedings. But this mission proves far more difficult than initially imagined. In addition to attending to his required work tasks, Saul finds himself having to cut deals with his fellow Sonderkommandos to see his goals realized. In the process, he becomes embroiled in the plans of a resistance movement seeking to document the camp’s atrocities and to stage an armed rebellion. He also becomes caught up in the feuding of rival prisoner factions seeking to curry favor with guards and other camp officials as a means of prolonging their own lives. It often carries Saul far afield from his objective, yet he never gives up, moving forward and doing whatever it takes to stay alive and to see his goal realized.

In the midst of conditions like these, it’s hard to fathom anyone being able to focus on anything other than sheer survival. The daily challenges of doing whatever it takes just to keep from being sent to one’s death must be overwhelming. Yet, even when ensconced in such pervasive horrors, Saul manages to hold on to his belief that bestowing a modicum of dignity upon someone is still indeed possible. And, as he goes about seeking the realization of that ambition, he draws upon every bit of inner strength he can muster to bring it about.

No matter what belief system one subscribes to, it’s at times like this when one’s faith in it invariably gets seriously tested. For those who adhere to the practice of conscious creation, the philosophy that maintains we create the existence we experience through our thoughts, beliefs and intents, holding fast to that mindset must seem nearly impossible under conditions like this, if for no other reason than wondering how and why we’ve ended up under such circumstances in the first place. But, when one adds to that conundrum the hope of seeking the fulfillment of some additional seemingly unachievable objective, it’s difficult to imagine how one could possibly carry on. And yet Saul persists in his endeavor, convinced of the validity – and inevitability – of its materialization.

Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig, right), a prisoner assigned to a special work detail at the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp, frequently runs afoul of German authorities, such as Oberscharführer Busch (Christian Harting, left), in the gripping new release from Hungary, “Son of Saul.” Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

As conscious creators are well aware, all possibilities are capable of manifestation if the beliefs supporting them are sufficiently strong and clear. In Saul’s case, he’s certain that his goal can be attained by holding firm to his beliefs in the idea. He can envision it, seeing the intangible notion ultimately being made tangible. For some, that might seem wholly unrealistic, but, for Saul, it’s a belief that keeps him going, one that enables him to forge on. A belief that humanity indeed can survive where it seemingly should perish is a powerful notion, an idea that just might be sufficiently potent to eventually be realized – and to sustain its creator long enough to see its ultimate fulfillment.

In reaching a point like that – especially under circumstances like these – it’s highly likely that one would be willing to do whatever it takes to see the outcome materialize. And so it is with Saul. Given the fate that he’s facing for himself, in many ways he has nothing to lose to see his goal fulfilled. With an awareness such as that, it becomes comparatively easy to cast aside our fears – the limiting beliefs that frequently undermine our manifestation efforts – and to live heroically in seeking the attainment of our objectives. If Saul must come to terms with the prospect of his own impending death, he probably finds it preferable to go out embracing what he holds dear than to transition with thoughts of good intentions remaining unfulfilled.

Many would likely believe that it’s impossible to contemplate lofty philosophical notions such as these in a setting as utterly grotesque and devoid of humanity as a concentration camp. But, considering the prevailing conditions of a place as wicked as this, if one can’t bring forth at least a shred of it under such circumstances, then one could argue there’s little hope for the human race at all. Thankfully, there are characters like Saul to remind us of this – and of the importance to hold on to our belief in it, no matter how bleak things may seem.

Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig), a prisoner assigned to a special work detail at the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp, routinely engages in gruesome tasks like scrubbing the floor of the facility’s gas chamber in the visceral new release, “Son of Saul.” Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

“Son of Saul” is a decidedly troubling film to watch, but it’s also one that triumphantly speaks to our humanity and the need to never lose sight of it. Filmed mostly up-close with hand-held cameras, director László Nemes puts viewers squarely in the middle of the story, allowing the audience to experience the gruesome, inhumane indignities firsthand while skillfully hinting at the horrors taking place around them without resorting to gratuitously graphic depictions. Géza Röhrig gives a moving, quietly powerful performance as a man determined to see through his sacred mission, frequently getting more impact out of a simple gesture or facial expression than any line of dialogue. The strongly visceral feeling this picture evokes is definitely not for everyone, but, for those willing to summon up the courage and allow themselves to be exposed to the inspiration of this experience, this one should not be missed. The film is currently playing in limited release in theaters specializing in foreign and independent cinema.

“Son of Saul” has been lavishly praised in this year’s awards competitions, having won the Critics Choice Award and the Golden Globe Award for best foreign language film. Earlier in 2015 the picture won four Cannes Film Festival awards (including the FIPRESCI Prize and the Grand Prize of the Jury) on six total nominations (including a nod for the Palme d’Or, the Festival’s highest honor). The picture is also nominated in the foreign language film category in the upcoming Independent Spirit and Academy Award competitions.

Regrettably, man has all too often figured out ways to degrade and destroy his peers. Fortunately, however, he has also learned the wisdom of qualities like compassion, mercy and dignity, forces more meaningful and powerful than anything he could ever use to inflict harm on his fellows. And, thankfully, no matter how great the perils might be that threaten to consume us, we always have the ability to draw upon these finer attributes to see us through, provided we believe in their merits and are willing to allow their magnificence to shine through. Saul Ausländer provides a glowing example of this, lighting the way through the darkness and leading us to a state of being to which we should all aspire.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Latest on Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Youth," "Son of Saul" and "Time is Art" are all now available in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the blog page of The Good Radio Network, available by clicking here.

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Latest at Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Spotlight" and "Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict," along with a link to a David Bowie tribute radio interview, are now all available in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the blog page of The Good Radio Network, available by clicking here.

Photo by Kerry Hayes, courtesy of Open Road Films.

Photo courtesy of Submarine Deluxe.

Photo by Brent Marchant.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

‘Peggy Guggenheim’ celebrates our life’s purpose

“Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict” (2015). Cast: Interviews: Jacqueline B. Weld, Robert De Niro, Mercedes Ruehl, Edmund White, Jeffrey Deitch, Simon de Pury, Diego Cortez, Larry Gagosian, Arne Glimcher, Nicky Haslam, Dominique Lévy, Donald Kuspit, Carlo McCormick, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Lisa Phillips, Lindsay Pollock, John Richardson, Calvin Tomkins, Marina Abramović, Karole Vail, Michael Govan. Archive Materials: Peggy Guggenheim, Samuel Beckett, Max Ernst, Jackson Pollock, Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, Howard Putzel, Lee Krasner, Willem de Kooning. Director: Lisa Immordino Vreeland. Screenplay: Lisa Immordino Vreeland and Bernadine Colish. Book: Jacqueline B. Weld, Peggy: The Wayward Guggenheim. Web site. Trailer.

What were you destined to do in life? Were you meant to play a starring role? Or were you supposed to be a supporting player? Or maybe even just a spectator? No matter which part you embrace, they all serve a purpose, as evidenced by the philanthropic efforts of a generous benefactor depicted in the entertaining new documentary, “Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict.”

What does the heiress to a vast fortune do with her time and financial resources if she’s in a male-dominated world and not necessarily expected to accomplish much? What’s more, how does someone like that fit in when she possesses a headstrong, eccentric personality, one that could easily ruffle the staid feathers of a society with little imagination or tolerance for unconventional thinking? If you’re Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979), you chart your own path – and become quite a trailblazer in the process.

The indomitable Ms. Guggenheim was born into a family that made its fortune in mining. As the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, she lived a life of privilege, with few expectations placed upon her. In light of that, one might expect such status would confer upon her a life of luxury, happiness and contentment, yet her upbringing was not the easiest. She lost her father, Benjamin, with the sinking of the Titanic. She was also haunted by the exploits of a sister plagued with mental health issues. But Peggy clearly had ambitions that needed to be satisfied somehow. So, given these circumstances, what was she to do to find happiness and her place in the world?

A lust for life and art characterized the life of modern art patron Peggy Guggenheim as depicted in the entertaining new documentary, “Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict.” Photo courtesy of Submarine Deluxe.

Early on in life, while working in a bookstore in her native New York, Peggy developed a strong, abiding interest in bohemian culture. This eventually prompted her to relocate to Paris in the 1920s, where she became fully ensconced in the city’s cutting-edge art world. She developed a fascination with modern art and became friends with talents like Constantin Brâncuși and Marcel Duchamp. Her interest in such works led her to open a modern art gallery in London in 1938 featuring art by the likes of Jean Cocteau, Jean Arp, Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Alexander Calder, Yves Tanguy and Vasily Kandinsky, as well as her friends Brâncuși and Duchamp. But, despite the gallery’s critical acclaim, it proved to be a financial loss, which prompted Peggy to pursue a new course.

Peggy decided to return to Paris with plans to open a new gallery. Given the proliferation of the modern art scene there, she actively sought to acquire as many works as possible, including numerous pieces by Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró, as well as additional paintings by Picasso and Ernst. But, with World War II ravaging Europe and a German invasion of Paris looming, she fled the City of Lights for the safety of New York. And, despite the challenges associated with making a hasty exit, she managed to take all of her artwork with her for fear that it would be confiscated or destroyed by the Nazis. She also managed to save the life of painter Ernst – by marrying him and taking him to America with her.

Painter Max Ernst fled war-torn Europe and built a career with the generous support and encouragement of his wife, art benefactor Peggy Guggenheim, as chronicled in the new documentary, “Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict.” Photo courtesy of Submarine Deluxe.

Once in New York, she opened an innovative new museum known as The Art of This Century Gallery, which featured cubist, surrealist, abstract and kinetic works. The gallery’s exhibitions were truly avant-garde in many respects, incorporating innovative sound and lighting to accompany the pieces on display. During this time, she also helped significantly further the careers of other emerging artists, such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.

Despite her tireless commitment to her vocation, Peggy was not all work and no play. She had a passion for men nearly equal to her lust for art. In addition to her marriage to Ernst, she had affairs with numerous other suitors, including a fling with Irish writer Samuel Beckett and a tryst with Pollock (an incident depicted in the 2000 biopic “Pollock” featuring Amy Madigan as Guggenheim). She was unabashed about her sexual appetite and didn’t care what others thought about it.

With the end of World War II, Guggenheim divorced Ernst and closed her gallery. While New York provided sanctuary during the conflict, she had no interest in staying there for the long term. So, with the cessation of hostilities, she relocated back to Europe, this time settling in Venice, where she was invited to display her collection. The enthusiastic reception she received in Italy led her to settle there permanently, with her artwork being shared between her Venice venue and the iconic Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, a gallery specializing in modern art named for Peggy’s uncle.

Not long before Peggy’s death in 1979, she sat down for a series of recorded interviews with her biographer, Jacqueline B. Weld, who authored the book, Peggy: The Wayward Guggenheim. The tapes of those conversations went missing for years and were believed irretrievably lost. But, when the recordings miraculously resurfaced, their discovery inspired director Lisa Immordino Vreeland to make this documentary.

Biographer Jacqueline B. Weld, author of Peggy: The Wayward Guggenheim, offers her insights and recollections of a doyenne of the modern art world in director Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s new documentary, “Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict.” Photo courtesy of Submarine Deluxe.

The film features select excerpts from those tapes, accompanied by an array of archive photos and movie footage featuring the protagonist and many of her associates, as well as numerous examples of the works from Guggenheim’s collection. This material is further enhanced by recent interviews with Weld and with a variety of experts from the art world, featuring their observations and insights about Guggenheim’s life, career, adventures and sensibilities. The result is an engaging, often-hilarious account of a life well lived by a colorful, charismatic character who contributed much to the lives of many and the world at large.

When considering our purpose in life, many of us naturally gravitate to our own particular accomplishments. What have we created, and what impact has it had? In doing so, however, we often tend to evaluate the achievements we manifest directly and not necessarily those that we help to bring about from working behind the scenes, those indirect efforts in which we facilitate the realization of others’ dreams. We frequently downplay our role in these endeavors, unaware that our contributions in those regards are just as valuable as anything that bears the direct imprint of our own hand. Such materializations, like everything else in our reality, are all part of the greater whole of our existence, the world we bring into being through the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest what we experience through our thoughts, beliefs and intents.

Artist Marcel Duchamp was one of many talents who benefitted from the generous support and encouragement of modern art benefactor Peggy Guggenheim, as detailed in the new documentary, “Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict.” Photo courtesy of Submarine Deluxe.

Through her determined efforts, Guggenheim made active use of conscious creation in a variety of ways. She believed fervently in her mission and brought it into being in countless ways. For instance, as a patron of the arts, she significantly helped further the careers of numerous little-known talents. In addition to those named above, she helped promote the works of other artists, including Joseph Cornell, Alberto Giacometti, Fernand Léger, Piet Mondrian, Robert Motherwell and Mark Rothko. What’s more, through several of her gallery exhibitions, she helped put forward the works of underserved segments of the art world, most notably women and children, creatives who frequently had difficulty getting attention in a largely male-dominated community.

By bringing attention to these artists and exposing the world to works that might not have otherwise received much recognition, Guggenheim zealously engaged in the conscious creation practice known as value fulfillment, the means by which we employ the process to benefit both ourselves and the wider world of which we’re a part. Her accomplishments in this vein were apparent in other ways, too, such as her efforts to keep numerous pieces of art from falling into the hands of the Germans during World War II. But, perhaps most importantly, she played an integral role in making modern art a legitimate, respectable genre in the mainstream arts community and society at large, constituencies long entrenched in, and limited to, more traditional modalities. Achievements like this are prime examples of value fulfillment in full flower.

Of course, Peggy would not have been able to achieve these accomplishments were it not for the participation of her collaborators. Thanks to those joint efforts, she became an essential player in acts of co-creation, the aims of which are the realization of mutually manifested mass events. In this instance, even though she was not an artist herself, she was just as much a part of the modern art movement as those who produced the works that typified it.

Thanks to her passionate efforts, Peggy pushed the limits of what was considered artistically acceptable, an outcome reflective of another cornerstone conscious creation principle. As practitioners of this philosophy are well aware, one of its chief aims is to explore the infinite range of possibilities available to us in our manifestation efforts, and Guggenheim pursued this notion fearlessly and with gusto. She believed, as most conscious creators know, that we’re all in a constant state of becoming. This is most apparent in her efforts to help introduce the world to works and styles of art not previously seen. And, as evidenced by her inventive exhibition stagings, she showed us new ways to look at art as well.

Abstract painter Jackson Pollock, more commonly known as “Jack the Dripper,” made a name for himself and his work with the aid of art benefactor Peggy Guggenheim, as detailed in the new documentary, “Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict.” Photo courtesy of Submarine Deluxe.

The world owes much to this eccentric art addict. She gave us much that was new and unique. She exposed us to paintings and sculpture that experimented with form and content. And she relished her enjoyment of it all, a feeling that ultimately translated into her many accomplishments. (Not bad for someone from whom little was initially expected.)

“Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict” is an insightful, informative and highly entertaining profile of an unconventional doyenne of the art world. The film’s meticulously organized format, coupled with its incisive wit, carefully selected archive footage and vast array of examples from the protagonist’s artwork collection, make Guggenheim come to life as a readily identifiable, fleshed-out persona. It’s a fun offering in a film genre often beset by overly serious, stodgy releases. The film is playing in limited release in theaters and at film festivals and will be available on iTunes and DVD in the near future.

The documentary’s selection of expert interviews is particularly impressive. In addition to Guggenheim’s biographer, the film also features the poignant observations of author Edmund White, art dealer and curator Jeffrey Deitch, art auctioneer Simon de Pury, art curator Diego Cortez, art dealer Larry Gagosian, Pace Gallery founder Arne Glimcher, Los Angeles County Museum of Art director Michael Govan, interior designer Nicky Haslam, art critic Donald Kuspit, art dealer and gallery owner Dominique Lévy, cultural critic Carlo McCormick, art curator and historian Hans Ulrich Obrist, museum director and curator Lisa Phillips, journalist and art blogger Lindsay Pollock, art historian and Picasso biographer John Richardson, art critic and New Yorker contributor Calvin Tomkins, artist Marina Abramović, and Guggenheim Museum curator Karole Vail, Peggy’s granddaughter. The film also features segments with actor Robert De Niro, whose father was a painter who benefitted from Guggenheim’s magnanimity, and actress Mercedes Ruehl, who gave an Obie Award-winning performance in her portrayal of Peggy in the Off-Broadway play Woman Before a Glass.

Living out her days in the comfort of Venice, art patron Peggy Guggenheim built an impressive collection that has become one of the city’s most visited tourist attractions, as described in the new documentary, “Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict.” Photo courtesy of Submarine Deluxe.

Although it may not be readily obvious, we’re each artists in our own way in that we all engage in creative acts that result in the production of identifiable manifested outcomes. We need not be painters or sculptors or photographers per se to be considered artists; our respective canvases take many forms, including those that aren’t traditional or plainly apparent. In that regard, Peggy Guggenheim worked her magic in a unique milieu all her own, and the results were indeed impressive. Her inspiration thus serves as a shining light to all of us in the exploration and fulfillment of our own individual destinies.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.