I was apparently wrong in presuming that Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator has been shot in 1.85 (standard Academy ratio) rather than 2.35 (widescreen) simply because the new Aviator trailer is in 1.85….although I won’t absolutely know until I see it a little bit later this week.
Save for James L. Brooks’ Brooks’ Spanglish (which was test-screened in near-final form last week in Orange, California) and Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby, all the presumed end-of-the-year contenders are now being seen and sized-up in little post-screening huddles outside screening rooms, and there are no emphatic “wow, this is really it” views being pushed by anyone…except, as noted below, in certain quarters, for The Phantom of the Opera. The latest entry to receive mixed grades is Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, allegedly due to problems that manifest during its second half. Mention the superb-ness of Sideways and everyone agrees and nods respectfully, but the only thing I’m hearing definitively about Alexander Payne’s film awards-wise is that is that it’ll most probably take the Best Picture trophy from the New York and L.A. Film Critics. And the more people talk about Bill Condon’s Kinsey, the better-off it’s sounding. It’s the high-toned, mid-sized films that people are warming to more than anything else.
Although I loved Alan Parker’s Evita, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of big splashy operatic musicals. Hence, I had begun to relish the notion of being a counter-advocate of the view held in some quarters that Joel Schumacher’s The Phantom of the Opera (Warner Bros., 12.22) is a certain contender for — and perhaps even a likely winner of — the 2004 Best Picture Oscar. Not because it’s necessarily the “best” film, but because it satisfies the intensely middle-class emotional criteria that Academy members tend to look for and/or respond to in bestowing this award. Having now seen it, and without going into any kind of pro forma review, I must admit there is merit to this opinion. Is Phantom grandiose, orgiastic, at times a bit kischy? Yes…but this serves the emotional pitch of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical, essentially an old-fashoned backstage romantic triangle delivered in a late 1800s grand guignol vein. It’s not my ideal cup of tea — I tend to prefer angular, more writerly films like Sideways –but the material is the material, and I’m not sure that turning down the lavishness and the flamboyance would have been more effective. There’s a certain integrity in being a broadly performed, flamboyantly colored musical that delivers safe and venerated emotions. The Phantom of the Opera is what it is.
Over the last few days I’ve spoken to four cinephile types at different times who’ve seen Alexander, and they’ve all agreed that one undisputed highlight is the appearance of Rosario Dawson’s world-class breasts, as captured by Rodrigo Prieto’s widescreen camera during an acrobatic lovemaking scene with star Colin Farrell. Dawson should get some kind of special award, one suggested. “She should have topless scenes in every film she’s in for the next ten years,” said another. In fact, of all the conversations I’ve recently had about possible Best Picture candidates, no element in any end-of-the-year film has generated quite this much enthusiasm….among guys. Not to sound like too much of a sexist dog, but after winning above-average notices in several fairly good films over the last nine years (The 25th Hour, Love in the Time of Money, Kids, Men in Black II), Dawson is suddenly being spoken of in hushed tones.