It’s no longer a matter of months. It’s really just weeks before the festival season kicks in. Telluride is right around the corner. The slate of films showing at Toronto has been unveiled. And opening night/gala presentations are penciled in for the New York Film Festival. Trailers for buzzed pictures get dropped on the daily. And momentum shifts from the summer pictures to the perceived prestige studio films that look to garner awards traction for end of the year nominations.
But amid all the noise, politics, posturing, and press, is a hope that the films that will be part of the cultural discussion for months on end will actually be… good. It’s all too often that smaller films get shafted in favor of larger, studio-driven productions. Certainly not to say that a small film is necessarily superior to a large studio-funded one, but it’s an uphill battle for any small distributor to combat against the business savvy and cutthroat politicking of a Scott Rudin or Harvey Weinstein. And then the whole money issue comes to play too. So when artistic merit gets relegated toward the bottom of the totem pole (below marketing strategy, test audience reactions, producer editing rights, and box office trends) questions of the film’s overall quality become questionable.
So you’ll excuse the ramblings of this prognosticator for contributing to what seems to be daily declaration on the death of cinema. Okay, so cinema isn’t dead per se, but the way it’s absorbed and regurgitated to the general public makes it difficult to see so many fantastic early-year pictures get shafted from any sort of accolades.
Recently released on Blu-Ray and DVD are three of the year’s most audacious picture – all of which will have a difficult time mounting any sort of major awards campaign. Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines, Jeff Nichols Mud and especially Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder dismiss early notions that the early year’s releases are a barren wasteland. All three possess a certain level of poetic lyricism to their construction, from Cianfrance’s attuned narrative control, Nichols’ rugged swampy aesthetic, and Malick’s sweeping dreamy quality.
Let’s not forget about the notable microbudget films released this year. Sebastian Silva’s Crystal Fairy is a bounty of riches, combining sharp wit with an impressive sense of time and place as the characters and audience roam the Chilean oceanfront. Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color may not have been my favorite film of the year, but it’s hard to shake off the film’s feverish construction and penchant for creating affecting imagery. And Dan Sallitt’s The Unspeakable Act achieves a greater level of dramatic skill than any other film this year. Highlighted by beautifully drawn and performed characters, it’s the kind of dramatic effort that would have received a late-November release in hopes of Oscar consideration – had it been picked up by larger studio.
Most difficult of all to digest is Before Midnight. Considered by many to be the best film of the first half of the year, it’s small return make it a commercial failure. And following a disappointing re-release, its awards prospects look to have come to a grinding halt. With so much hinging on box office intake, doubts sets in on the notion that artistic integrity holds any significance.
But if keeping a film in the conversation is all that’s needed to justify accolades, then I’ll take it upon myself to join the vocal internet community in their reverence for Richard Linklater’s film. I’m sure plenty of other great films will enter the fold, but if there’s one film that I hope gets recognized for its achievements, it’s Before Midnight.