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Maggie Smith (#110 of 8)

2013 Primetime Emmy Winner Predictions

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2013 Primetime Emmy Winner Predictions
2013 Primetime Emmy Winner Predictions

What you’re about to read is a fool’s errand, as without a plethora of precursor awards leading up to television’s biggest night, predicting the Emmys will always be less of a science than predicting the Oscars. But while less energy, hype, and expense may go into buying an Emmy, Neill Patrick Harris won’t exactly be hosting a purity ball on September 22nd at the NOKIA Theatre in Los Angeles. This is an industry show after all, so expect much back-patting, if not to the magnitude of AMPAS’s anointment of Argo as their latest Best Picture winner, essentially an award to Hollywood itself for making movies that affect politics. Case in point: American Horror Story: Asylum, which ended its initially dubious second season on a frenzied high note, as a distinctly Lynchian elegy to the suppression of women. It enters the Emmy race with 17 nominations, more than any other show, yet it will lose the award for Miniseries or Movie to Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra, a predictable and emotionally flat retelling of Liberace’s life that was deemed too gay for the big screen. TV better than movies? Not really, but at least television will let you see Michael Douglas stroking Matt Damon’s leg hair.

Understanding Screenwriting #108: Side Effects, Like Someone in Love, Point Blank, Downton Abbey, Parade’s End, & Smash

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Understanding Screenwriting #108: <em>Side Effects</em>, <em>Like Someone in Love</em>, <em>Point Blank</em>, <em>Downton Abbey</em>, <em>Parade’s End</em>, & <em>Smash</em>
Understanding Screenwriting #108: <em>Side Effects</em>, <em>Like Someone in Love</em>, <em>Point Blank</em>, <em>Downton Abbey</em>, <em>Parade’s End</em>, & <em>Smash</em>

Coming Up In This Column: Side Effects, Like Someone in Love, Point Blank, Downton Abbey, Parade’s End, Smash, but first…

Fan mail: David Ehrenstein, reacting to my comments on Cat Ballou, thought that all the things I liked about the writing and acting came together “thanks to efforts of that controversial new-fangled invention known as the Director.” I didn’t get around to mentioning the director, Elliot Silverstein, because this is one of those films, like M*A*S*H (1970), Chariots of Fire (1981), and Thelma & Louise (1991), that succeeds in spite of its director rather than because of him. Silverstein is very sloppy about where he puts the camera and the acting is all over the place. This was his only truly successful film, and he soon went back to television, where he started.

Side Effects (2013. Written by Scott Z. Burns. 106 minutes.)

Better than Hitchcock. Both Alfred Hitchcock and producer David O. Selznick were interested in psychiatry. In the mid-’40s, Hitchcock persuaded Selznick to buy a novel that was, according to Hitchcock’s biographer, Donald Spoto, “a bizarre tale of witchcraft, satanic cults, psychopathology, murder, and mistaken identities.” (The background material here is from Spoto’s The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock.) Hitchcock presented some ideas on how a movie could be made out of the material to Ben Hecht, who wrote the screenplay for Spellbound (1945). Hecht’s version deals with an amnesiac who replaces a man scheduled to become the head of a mental hospital. The amnesiac is accused of murder and with a helpful female psychiatrist works out his problems. Since she’s played in the film by Ingrid Bergman, he falls in love with her as well. The film was a commercial success, but it’s rather clunky, like many ’40s films about psychiatry. And like many Hitchcock films, it’s less about character than about giving the director a chance to show off. As befits Selznick, the film is a slick production with stars (Gregory Peck as the amnesiac) in a romantic mode.

Understanding Screenwriting #107: Quartet, Tabu, 56 Up, The Gatekeepers, Cat Ballou, The Americans, 30 Rock, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #107: Quartet, Tabu, 56 Up, The Gatekeepers, Cat Ballou, The Americans, 30 Rock, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #107: Quartet, Tabu, 56 Up, The Gatekeepers, Cat Ballou, The Americans, 30 Rock, & More

Coming Up In This Column: Quartet, Tabu, 56 Up, The Gatekeepers, Cat Ballou, The Americans, 30 Rock, but first…

Fan mail: The main bone of contention among the folks who wrote in about #US106 was that I had missed the point in Zero Dark Thirty—that, as Bill Weber wrote, it’s “supremely clear in ZDT that information INDIRECTLY leads” to Osama bin Laden. “Carabruva” agrees with Bill. I didn’t miss that point when I watched the film, since I was looking very carefully for any connection. What I didn’t do, unfortunately, was make mention in the item that it was very, very indirect and nowhere close to the “big break” that critics of the film were claiming. I fear both Mark Boal and I were nodding a bit on this point.

Some of the most interesting comments on the Zero Dark Thirty item came off the record from some of my “acquaintances.” I’d emailed them with a link to the column, and one of them replied, “I do not know if torture worked or not, but I am appalled by the fact that any senior officer or congresswomen would agree to it. However, one DCI [Director of Central Intelligence] felt it was important, and another does not. Most intelligence officers I respect felt that the producer wanted it both ways: torture sells and (gasp!) torture is bad. They were more amused by the portrait of the analyst. She is a composite of women in the bin Laden cell, all of whom were strong, bright, and opinionated. But C.I.A. is a paramilitary organization. You simply don’t talk to superiors the way our hero did.” As for my feeling that the “I’m the motherfucker” line was the best line in the film, it was even if it was not “accurate,” but hey, we’re making movies here. By the way, I later heard from another “acquaintance” that the real person Maya is based on is even better-looking than Jessica Chastain. I doubt that’s possible, so that may just be more C.I.A. disinformation.

I spent some time in the item whacking Boal and the film’s team for not responding better, especially to the complaining senators. An article in the Los Angeles Times that appeared the day after my column was posted nicely covered what happened at Sony and why they took the road they did. I understand their point of view, but I think they were wrong. The article was a Link of the Day, and if you missed it, you can read it here. The article included a great comment from Boal, and since I’ve been beating him about the head and shoulders, I feel obligated to quote it, since it nails down what happened. He said, “We made a serious, tough adult movie and we got a serious, tough adult response.”

Quartet (2012. Screenplay by Ronald Harwood, based on his play. 98 minutes.)

The Best Exotic Marigold Musicians Retirement Home. The first thing I loved about this movie is that it’s short. One of the downsides of having to slog through all those two-and-a-half-hour-plus end-of-the-year films is that they cost you money to park. In Los Angeles, the tradition is that at indoor malls that have multiplexes, the first three hours of parking are free, and then you have to pay through the nose for anything beyond that. By the time you get from your car to the theater, get your tickets, sit through 20 minutes of trailers and the film, and get back to your car, you’re probably over three hours. Some, all right, a few, films are worth the extra cost. So I went into Quartet happy knowing it was not going to cost me any more than the ticket price.

On Location Downton Abbey‘s Highclere Castle

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On Location: Downton Abbey’s Highclere Castle
On Location: Downton Abbey’s Highclere Castle

Along with the tail end of Lord Grantham’s (Hugh Bonneville) faithful Labrador, Isis, it appears at the start of the opening credits of each Downton Abbey episode: That spectacular English manse that gives the series its name. In real life, the home of the well-to-do Crawley family and their entourage of servants is Highclere Castle, and it rests in Hampshire, on England’s southern coast. The Jacobethan centerpiece of a 1,000-acre estate, Highclere offers a setting of seemingly limitless shooting potential, with baroque state rooms, hallways, and pristinely primped courtyards ready to house all manner of high-society intrigue. On the hit show, created by Julian Fellowes (who also scripted Robert Altman’s Gosford Park), characters regard the home as a bona fide entity, as if those regal archways and amply-adorned walls could actually breathe. It’s an age-old cliché, but the estate is very much its own character on Downton Abbey, and moreover, it’s the character that unites all others. Of course, it serves as the embodiment of the ever-looming issue of Lord Grantham’s heir, representative of all that’s to be gained by whomever carries on the Crawley lineage. But it’s also the common ground between the aristocrats and the help, as all see the good of the house as the greater good. Downton is, to an extent, its own nation, with devoted citizens both upstairs and down.

Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actress

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Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actress
Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actress

Boasting enough fine performances to fill a 10-wide field at least, Supporting Actress is this year’s most riches-packed race, and the one with the least room for disappointment. In any season, Sally Field would be a worthy winner for her work in Lincoln, a film she nearly stole with just a few searing scenes, and one she adamantly fought to be a part of. Field was Steven Spielberg’s initial pick to play First Lady Mary Todd, but as the length of delayed production climbed, so too did Field’s age, forcing the actress to re-audition and reconvince her director. The result was surely one of Field’s signature turns, a flawless blend of authoritativeness, maternal zeal, and borderline derangement. A Field victory isn’t implausible, but the two-time Oscar winner falls second to Anne Hathaway, who continues to steamroll the competition for her show-stopping work in Les Misérables. We in these parts are far from agreed on the specialness of Hathaway’s performance, with some of us joining the cheerleading chorus and others thinking it devalues the efforts of actual stage stars, who spend their careers nailing one-take numbers without nearly so much hubbub. Either way, Hathaway has handily won the support of critics, audiences, and, one should think, Oscar voters, and those whose theaters filled with applause at the end of “I Dreamed a Dream” will likely agree that the song alone is poised to win her the statuette.

Week with a Wizard, Day 8: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

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Week with a Wizard, Day 8: <em>Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2</em>
Week with a Wizard, Day 8: <em>Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2</em>

Amid the apocalyptic overtones of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, a moment of real magic and rare levity occurs when Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith), after summoning an army of knight statues to protect Hogwarts from impending attack, excitedly admits, “I’ve always wanted to do that spell!” Yes, professor, and we’ve always wanted to see you perform it; or, at least those of us who have slogged through seven books and seven movies. To see Maggie Smith deliver these words with the wonderment of a child fittingly captures the sentiments many viewers will have about seeing this long film journey reach its end. Most of the characters shown in the moments to follow—as an orb-like shield slowly forms around the castle—have either played a key role in one entry in the series or have been in the background through many of them. But that hardly matters; because after so many films these faces become embedded in a world we have seen unfold across a decade’s worth of cinema.

The aforementioned scene is a microcosm for Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Director David Yates seems to want this final installment in the series to capture the excitement of the moment but also to strike up nostalgia for all that has gone before. It achieves both of these in various moments throughout, but it doesn’t quite sync with what has building in the previous two or three films, somewhat to my disappointment. To try to make sense of this requires some back-pedaling, if you will indulge me. I have written these commentaries from the perspective of knowing many of the ins and outs of author J.K. Rowling’s opus. I have argued that as the films have grown more confusing to those who have not pored over the novels, they have grown more interesting filmically on a roughly parallel track. Despite the often-clunky writing and plotting, each of the films (perhaps with the exception of Goblet of Fire) dating back to Prisoner of Azkaban has developed its own beat and affective state. I have noted previously that Alfonso Cuarón’s Azkaban will likely be recalled as the film that allowed much of this to happen.