ACTOR KEEPS IT REAL … AT AN AWARDS SHOW!
For me, the annual Independent Spirit Awards is absolutely de riguer viewing before the glitzy, bloated Oscars the following night. With its unpretentious bonhomie and array of lesser-known but often far superior films to those nominated for Academy Awards, it’s like a palate-cleansing sorbet before a too rich, lengthy and sometimes sick-making repast. For a hard-working film critic like myself, these selections resonate much more than the big, year-end, costly studio fare which sweeps the other award presentations. Amid all the celluloid dross, coffee-jolted 11 a.m. screenings at Film Forum or IFC and late night DVD viewings at home on deadline, a few rare gems can be found which suddenly make the slog of “be careful what you wish for as a child (i.e., watch movies all the time)” all seem worthwhile.
Mickey Rourke’s acceptance speech for THE WRESTLER really encapsulated what this affair is all about, being, in the immortal words of Alex Rodriguez, “loosey-goosey,” often profane and utterly real. After sitting through too many ceremonies only to watch his award go to Sean Penn for MILK (an admittedly superior performance), you could positively feel the relieved joy radiating off him as he savored his moment of victory. Typical of his Regular Joe persona was his lengthy extolling of – and work reference for – buddy Eric Roberts, another troubled Hollywood soul in need of a comeback. “Accept your award!” Roberts shouted at him, but the palpable mix of emotions – gratitude, love and, hugely, embarassment – was the real deal, and I doubt that anything that happens at the Oscars will come close to this particular little passion play. And I’m not even mentioning Rourke’s tearing up over all the sympathy he’s received over the recent death of his chihuahua, Loki. (Funnily enough, that was the name of our family’s fox terrier in Hawaii when I was a kid. Obsessed by mythology of any kind, I told one of my brothers that Loki was the god of evil, and he thought that was a perfect name for the pup, over my strenuous objection.)
Rourke has been on such a roll of publicity ever since THE WRESTLER played The New York Film Festival last fall and it’s been fascinating to watch him, slightly punch drunk in his rock and roll get-ups from the unfamiliar but now-familiar again glare of the spotlight and answering every journalistic query with a brutal honesty very few celebrities – maybe Cher – have shown. We learned that the authenticity of the strip club scenes and Marisa Tomei’s performance in them was due probably more to Rourke than director Darren Aronofsky, as it was Rourke who came up with the phone numbers of dancers who’d be able to school her right. He mentioned the fact that the actual club they filmed in was so nasty that Aronofsky had it completely cleaned and fumigated twice. (Well, I guess one can only get so indie…) We also learned that he never watches his films, but the camera caught him at the Independent Spirit savoring his onscreen encounter with Evan Rachel Wood as his estranged daughter, and he looked pretty happy about his work for once.
WALLACE BEERY, WHO WON THE 1931-32 OSCAR. WITH JACKIE COOPER IN ‘THE CHAMP,’ WHICH SET THE TEMPLATE FOR ROURKE AND EVAN RACHEL WOOD IN ‘THE WRESTLER’
See my FILM JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL review: http://www.filmjournal.com/filmjournal/content_display/esearch/e3i632e90144f07ffd667dc108be6f52acd
And then there was Melissa Leo, who surely gives the best female film performance of 2008 in FROZEN RIVER. Apparently, she didn’t get the memo that this afternoon event is strictly cocktail if not jeans, and wore a flowing chiffon gown, as she gave heartfelt shout-outs to everyone else involved in this wonderful little film, which everyone in America should see, especially in these cash-strapped times, dealing as it does with every day survival. Her Native American co-star, 26-year-old Misty Upham, so touching in the film, glammed up beautifully for the awards show, beaming as Leo praised her. She actually rents a room in Leo’s Los Angeles home and works folding laundry and serving coffee at a laundromat/cafe. Once wanted to be a nun, but after FROZEN RIVER, it’s the actor’s life for her.
MISTY UPHAM: THE NEW AMERICA FERRARA?
And how gracious was it of Leo to express special thanks to we journalists, who helped spread the word about this sleeper, resulting in an amazing 8-week run in Manhattan. So many actors look upon us as necessary evils, if not downright lesser, forms of life, so it was particularly gratifying to hear one of them – and not a European – finally give us some props. I caught the film about a year ago at a special Museum of Modern Art screening and praised Leo afterwards, who seemed almost surprised herself at how well the film turned out and what a powerful audience effect it had. “What are you up to next?” I asked her and her reply was classic thespian: “Looking for my next job!”
She was then and still is a real, down-to-earth working – but maybe, thankfully, not quite so struggling – actress, who takes as much non-fussy pride in her work as a good mechanic or chef. Her director, Courtney Hunt, also deserved to be Oscar-nominated, but I’m just glad Leo was recognized and dearly hope she upsets Kate Winslet who (like favored Supporting Actress, Penelope Cruz for VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA, has stardusted celebrity in her favor above all else, although THE READER, like REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, is one of her decidedly lesser outings.
The unquestioned best film of the year, THE CLASS, perhaps the greatest film about teaching ever made, won the Independent foreign film award. In another rare case of the Academy getting it right, it’s also nominated for an Oscar and my fingers are crossed for it, as much as for Leo, if only to get more people to see it and bask in its startling, uncanny, lifelike brilliance. See my FILM JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL review: http://www.filmjournal.com/filmjournal/content_display/esearch/e3i632e90144f07ffd6fa76d655858d898d
FRANCOIS BEGAUDEAU IN ‘THE CLASS’ (Photo by Pierre Milon)