Steven Spielberg‘s War Horse was indeed “out of the bag” as of 4 pm earlier today, as Deadline‘s Pete Hammond noted at 3:43 pm Pacific. Press/guild screenings were held in LA and New York around the same time today (1 pm on this coast) and lots more are happening tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday (including some public sneaks).
Which means, as I understand it, that it’s now permissible to write about it but not to formally review it. Got it.
Hammond’s headline asked if Spielberg “Can Win Another Oscar?” Yeah, he could. Definitely. Not for this film but he could down the road. Never underestimate the future of an obviously talented director. Spielberg could wake up some day next week or next year and turn his career around like that.
Hammond is more politically correct than yours truly so allow me to stay within the boundaries of the piece he posted earlier today. Hammond talks, I comment….good enough? A robust chit-chat between friends.
Hammond: “What Spielberg has wrought is a stunning looking and highly emotional epic that is Hollywood moviemaking at its best, and seems likely to be the filmmaker’s most Academy-friendly work since his Oscar winners, Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan.”
Wells comment: Let me put it this way. I sat next to a significant headliner in the Oscar-blogging community during today’s War Horse screening, and after it ended (roughly around 3:25 pm) we both said, almost in unison, “Hammond is crazy…there’s no way this thing wins the Best Picture Oscar.” Okay? No offense. Due respect. Just our opinion. We could be wrong.
Hammond: “Is War Horse old-fashioned? You bet, but in this fast-moving techno culture that may be a welcome thing. Even though some of the Academy’s more recent Best Picture choices, notably No Country For Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire and The Hurt Locker among others, indicate a different sensibility than the kind of once-traditional ‘bigger’, more craft-laden film the Academy once favored, and a category into which War Horse definitely falls.”
Wells comment: As I tweeted late this afternoon, War Horse is a time-capsule movie. Every luscious, immaculate, John Williams-scored frame says ‘this is how Oscar-bait films used to be made…if the director was hungry and utterly calculating.’ It’s analogous, I feel, to Hitchcock’s Topaz. The handprint and the auteurist chops are unmistakable but they have a crusty yesteryear feel. Out of the past.
Hammond: “Spielberg is known to be a great admirer of David Lean, and with its sweeping vistas, deliberate pacing and epic story of one horse’s remarkable journey through the front lines of World War I, the film could almost be a tribute to the great director of such classics as Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge on the River Kwai.”
Wells comment: War Horse contains unmistakable tributes to Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia and Stanley Kubrick‘s Paths of Glory. War Horse‘s best scene is a British attack upon German lines across a blown-apart, puddle-strewn No Man’s Land — very similar to (and in some ways an improvement upon) Kubrick’s classic tracking shot of French troops attacking German positions in Glory. Spielberg also includes an “attack on Aqaba” sequence with sword-bearing, horse-riding British troops attacking Germans and overturning tents and steaming pots of whatever and killing guys with blade-swipes, just like Lawrence‘s original. Spielberg even features a British noncom named Higgins, an apparent nod to the Corporal Higgins in Lawrence who refuses a cigarette to Daoud and Farraj.
Hammond: “There should be some kind of separate Academy Award for the horses [as] they are surprisingly expressive.”
Wells comment: This is true. The horse (or horses) who play Joey are very actorish. And the black horses who play Charcoal, Joey’s best four-legged friend, are no slouch either. I would go so far as to say the horses are almost hams in this thing.
Hammond: “War Horse is probably too emotional and traditional to earn much love on the hardcore, unsentimental critics awards circuit, but I imagine it will fare very well at the CCMA’s , Golden Globes and Oscars.”
Wells tweets w/edits: “Tonally, emotionally and spiritually, War Horse is Darby O’Gill and the Little People goes to war with a horse. And I’m saying this as a fan of Darby O’Gill and the Little People — within its own realm and delivery system it’s a decent, cheerful, sometimes spooky little Disney flick. In any event, welcome to Spielbergland. It’s like no other place in the world. If you can push aside the carnage-of-war stuff, War Horse is essentially a nice Disney family movie. But the concept of restraint is out the window. The King’s Speech is a b&w Michael Haneke film compared to War Horse.”
Hammond: “The King’s Speech triumph last year over the more trendy critics choice of The Social Network might indicate there is still room for less edgy, more ‘traditional’ films in the heart of the Academy voter. We’ll have to wait to see, but the sheer scope of War Horse certainly gives it its own niche against smaller favored Best Pic hopefuls (seen so far) like The Descendants, The Artist, Midnight In Paris and Moneyball.”
Wells comment: War Horse is wonderful, beautiful and very touching…if you’re Joe Popcorn from Sandusky, Ohio or Altoona, Pennsylvania. Or if you feel a nostalgic affinity for “less edgy, more traditional” films and can just roll with what War Horse is serving. I think it’s so shameless it’s almost a hoot, but that’s me. It’s all of a piece and very exacting and lovely and handsomely shot and full of highly expressive emotional performances, but my God! Spielberg!
Anything to distract from the sitting-around-and-eating-too-much-and-watching-TV part of this annual ritual works for me. Steven Spielberg‘s film will sneak here and there at commercial venues on Sunday (including New York City), and be screened for the L.A. stragglers on Monday, 11.28. I don’t know when the review embargo date is, but War Horse won’t open until 12.25 so who knows?
I disagree with Stu Van Airsdale‘s latest Movieline/Oscar Index assessment of the Best Supporting Actress race. The back-and-forth political weathervane stuff is bullshit. All that matters is whether or not a supporting actress’s performance has sunk in…period. Not if she’s been charming or funny or histrionic or anguished, but whether you felt her soul or not. Nothing else.
In this regard the only contenders are Vanessa Redgrave (Coriolanus), Shailene Woodley and Judy Greer (The Descendants), Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs), Jessica Chastain (Take Shelter) and Keira Knightley (A Dangerous Method) for a total of six.
Octavia Spencer has her uppity “shit pie” moment in The Help and I understand that she’ll probably be nominated, but I was more amused than moved, due respect. Berenice Bejo‘s Poppy Flopsy Mopsy Cottontail performance in The Artist is perky and spirited, but she doesn’t really reach in. Melissa McCarthy was great in Bridesmaids, but her performance was more of a personality bust-out than anything else. Mia Wasikowska was too subdued in Albert Nobbs. Marion Cotillard didn’t really stand out in Midnight in Paris. No Sandra Bullock action from Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close until after 12.2.
“I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour — his greatest fulfillment to all he holds dear — is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle — victorious.” Take out the “victorious” and boldface the “exhausted” and that’s how I feel at the end of a good column day. And for the skill or luck or divine guiudance that led to my having reached this satisfaction, I give genuine thanks on this day. Thanks to those who helped me along and gave me encouragement, and no thanks to a friend who called me a “failure” when I was 28 or thereabouts.
Actually, hearing that word probably helped, now that I think about it. I was pedalling on a stationary bicycle and I knew it, and this guy said I probably wouldn’t make it. That scared me and stiffened my resolve and led to my life taking a turn for the better a year or two later. So I take that “no thanks” back. Friends who give it to you straight from the shoulder are few and far between. Most “friends” will give you a smile and a back-pat as you swirl down into the toilet bowl, and then hand you a beer and a bag of pretzels. So thanks to all of the straight-shooters. They aren’t much for backrubs or pep talks, but they’re worth their weight in gold.
In my 11.23 Iron Lady review I included an impression that “at least 45% [is] about octagenerian Maggie (superbly played by Streep and assisted by a first-rate makeup job), 45% about Maggie in her political prime (Streep again, guns blazing) and 10% about very young Maggie (Alexandra Roach) and young Denis Thatcher (Harry Lloyd).”
It turns out I was wrong, especially on my old Maggie estimate. A few hours after my review appeared a publicist for the film said she’d asked the filmmakers for a precise mathematical breakdown and got this answer: “60% of The Iron Lady is about Maggie in her political prime, 15% focuses on young Maggie, and 25% on old Maggie. I hope that’s helpful.”