So I lost interest in awards shows sometime in the late 90s so I didn’t catch last night’s Emmys. I was pretty pleased with the outcome (given the total absence of Orange nominees). I’m not sure if Game was really at the top of its game this season (no pun intended), but it’s consistently strong, so I’m not complaining. Julia Louis-Dreyfus certainly deserves every Emmy for the rest of her life. Was pleased to see Rami Malek get his due, and even more so Tatiana Maslany. But I think more than anything else I was pleasantly shocked to see Louis Anderson pick up an Emmy for his brilliant turn on Baskets.
No, instead of watching the Emmys, I caught up on a little Oscar watching. Specifically, Revenant was finally on TV this past weekend. Some films are prose, and some films are poetry. Last year’s Best Picture Oscar went to Spotlight, a film that is decidedly in the prose category. It’s the story that matters most in Spotlight, and it’s a story that’s well-written, well-acted, and one that packs a meaningful punch.
Having seen both Mad Max and Revenant now, though, I’m not surprised the directing award didn’t go to Abrahamson. Both of these films offer more poetic, almost meditative approaches to film, and in doing so both set new standards for filmmaking itself. Some might object to my characterization of Mad Max as “meditative.” Yes, it’s fast, perhaps the fastest-paced movie ever made. But within that very speed there is a center of calm, the eye of the hurricane so to speak. At the same time, it’s downright zen in the way the story line recedes to be replaced by a constant movement from one crisis to the next. Live in the moment because you must. No, really, you must.
Revenant’s pacing is much different. The film juxtaposes moments of intense action with long stretches of quiet. But, much like Mad Max, writer/ director Inarritu doesn’t offer us much in the way of story. Plotwise, it’s a mix of 127 Hours and Dances With Wolves. But then, poetry isn’t typically about the plot; it’s about the feelings the words and sounds evoke in the reader, and in the same way Revenant is about the emotions Innaritu’s amazing visuals raise in us as we watch. And make no mistake: those visuals are stunning, not merely his ability to capture the awesomeness splendor of nature – John Ford gave us that in the 1930s – but his unique camera-work which turns every scene into an almost 360 view of the world.
Some day, in some far distant future, TCM (who I hope is still being hosted by Robert Osborne) should offer these two films – Mad Max: Fury Road and Revenant – as a double feature, a lesson in how 2015 brought us two new and serious approaches to film-making. To be honest, I don’t know whether Miller or Innaritu deserved the director Oscar more. Conventional wisdom says Fury Road was more deserving, and there is something to be said for a film that offers technique that holds you on the edge of your seat. Quiet films can be harder to defend, but Revenant holds its own if only for the new camera angles it managed to discover. In the end, I think what’s most remarkable is that both films – which I would say are technically more groundbreaking than any film of the last ten years – came out in the same year.
All right: that takes care of Oscar, six months late. I’ll get back to you on the Emmys.
MK Adkins has a Ph.D in English that he occasionally uses to think about literature, but more often uses to think about television, music and film. Adkins is the author of two popular culture books as well as numerous articles and reviews. Until recently, he worked as a college professor but made the decision to devote himself full-time to writing and podcasting in January 2019.
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