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2013

Commentary: Oscar's overlooked but deserving

January 17, 2013|By Gary Goldstein
  • "Not Fade Away" is deeply nostalgic and lovingly crafted, but it failed to catch any awards fire.
"Not Fade Away" is deeply nostalgic and lovingly crafted, but… (Barry Wetcher / Paramount…)

The Oscar nominations necessarily eliminate many of the year's strong contenders; after all, not everyone can make the cut — the voters have to have a reasonable number of candidates from which to make their picks. But if this film critic could add just one more slot to the top categories ...

Best picture: "Not Fade Away," a wonderfully observed coming-of-age dramedy that marked the feature writing-directing debut of "Sopranos" creator David Chase.

Although released by Paramount Vantage with a bit of fanfare (a New York Film Festival premiere, visible print and TV ad buys), this deeply nostalgic, lovingly crafted look at the 1960s music scene failed to catch any award fire.

Still, "Fade" plays like the best kind of smaller, highly personal, indie-vibed film (albeit with a sizable music budget), one that takes creative and narrative risks as it burrows into a young man's seminal moments during an iconic era.

AWARDS: Oscar Watch 2013

Darkly funny and splendidly performed (more on that later), it's the sort of traditionally revered material (think: "Almost Famous" or "Garden State") that has often found itself in award circles.

To that end, the studio did schedule some guild-member screenings and sent "Fade" DVDs to academy members in early December. But one wonders how widely the film was ultimately seen by time-strapped voters.

Lead actor: In a perfect world, respected journeyman Ron Eldard ("Sleepers," TV's "Blind Justice") would have landed in the lead actor mix for his career-best turn in the terrific drama "Roadie," which had a don't-blink theatrical run early last year.

Directed by "L.I.E." and "Homeland's" Michael Cuesta (who also co-wrote with brother Gerald), "Roadie" took a gritty, evocative look at a 40ish man-child fired from his longtime gig working for Blue Oyster Cult who returns to his old Queens neighborhood for a wrenching collision with the past.

As the wounded and paunchy ex-roadie, Jimmy Testagross, Eldard gave a raw, vanity-free, heartbreaking performance as gripping as any of the year's most lauded male leads. Great stuff.

OSCARS 2013: Complete nominee list | Reactions | Trivia | Ballot | Snubs & surprises

Lead actress: Mira Sorvino merited lead actress awareness for her colorful portrayal of Lucy, the mouthy Bronx tornado of the memorable "Union Square," directed by Nancy Savoca from a script she co-wrote with Mary Tobler.

Sorvino's vivid, rangy role in this underappreciated drama about the prickly reunion between a pair of estranged sisters (the excellent Tammy Blanchard costarred) easily bested her Oscar-winning turn in 1995's "Mighty Aphrodite." She's a knockout.

Supporting actor: This brings us back to "Not Fade Away," which costarred David Chase's former "Sopranos" collaborator James Gandolfini. Here, the estimable actor brings a bit of the old Tony Soprano temper to an otherwise affecting and deeply felt portrayal of a blue-collar family man grappling with the 1960s' a-changin' times.

Gandolfini's poignant, restaurant-set confessional to his free-spirited son (so well played by the film's lead, John Magaro) should alone have ensured him a raft of award mentions. As with the film itself, his exclusion from year-end kudos was likely a case of out of sight, out of mind.

Supporting actress: Perhaps the same lack of exposure — compounded by an absence of academy screeners and an early-year theatrical release — can account for another high-profile performer's invisibility during awards season: Susan Sarandon, who deserved supporting actress love for her luminous appearance in "Jeff, Who Lives at Home."

Golden Globes 2013List | Red Carpet | Winners | Ballot | Show moments | Quote

Playing Jason Segel's widowed, 9-to-5er mom in the Duplass brothers' quirky and deceptively smart comedy, Sarandon was warm, wary and beautiful as she superbly navigated her role's everywoman-of-a-certain-age terrain. Sarandon's reaction to a lesbian co-worker's earnest advances is just one of her many wondrous moments here.

Director: Nowhere to be found on anyone's directors picks list is a filmmaker who pulled off one of the year's most startling feats of skill, vision and resourcefulness — all on an astoundingly low $1.1-million budget. That would be Welsh-born Gareth Evans, the helmer-writer-editor of the riveting, Jakarta-set action bonanza "The Raid: Redemption."

Evans' handling of this violent crime-thriller's barrage of virtuoso set pieces, including some of the most dazzlingly shot and choreographed martial arts battles ever, is high-octane filmmaking at its most impressive. Attention should have been paid.

Documentary feature: A toss-up between a pair of superior, divergent documentaries — "Carol Channing: Larger Than Life," a hugely enjoyable, deftly constructed portrait of the legendary performer, and "Last Days Here," a stranger-than-fiction close-up of the now-50something Bobby Liebling, frontman of the 1970s doom metal band Pentagram.

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