Tuesday, 6 January 2015

L.J. SPENCE'S STARTING POINTS: A MOST VIOLENT YEAR

L.J. SPENCE'S STARTING POINTS

38. A MOST VIOLENT YEAR (2014, dir. A.J. Chandor)

05/01/2015


I haven't had a well-researched rant in a while, let alone one about a film that hasn't yet been released...

"A Most Violent Year" depicts the struggle of an immigrant and their family in surviving the New York of 1981, statistically the worst year for violence for the city in real life. It stars Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac, who made a big impression as the lead in the Coen Brothers' "Inside Llewelyn Davis" (2013).

There is talk of "A Most Violent Year" doing well at the Academy Awards at the end of February, alongside "Birdman," "Boyhood," "Foxcatcher," "Gone Girl," "American Sniper," "Into the Woods," and "Selma." This is not surprising - all these films tackle bigger subjects, and are the prestigious, more thoughtful, and "important" films on which studios will stake their reputation, while the blockbusters and franchises will make the real money for them in the summer.

Just like Christmas and "Black Friday" are the biggest shopping times of the year, the Hollywood awards season is the point around which I am most likely to be seen at the cinema, as the sort of films I am, personally, more likely to watch are released, to ensure they all stick in the minds of those who will nominate them for prizes that will be referenced on posters and DVD covers for many years to come. 

It is not so much that the films are good, it is merely their timing. "A Most Violent Year" was released in Los Angeles cinemas on New Year's Eve 2014, on the last possible day it could qualify for this year's Academy Awards, and only in the one market, for we are talking about markets here, where it also needed to be playing in the previous year. By the time it is released everywhere else, during the rest of 2015, the industry of critics in Los Angeles will already be telling everyone what it is like. 

That is just the way it works - Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker" (2008), did not receive an Oscar for Best Picture until the ceremony that took place in March 2010, because it was not released in Los Angeles until mid-2009. It doesn't mean that comparative fluff, like "Avengers Assemble," could not be released in the awards season, but it will be competing for screen space with a very different set of films, and a very different audience - still, blockbusters have special effects and sound explosive enough to be still remembered from the summer through to the following year, so the technical Oscars will be their place.

It is a cynical way to look at what will be a focal point of the year for everyone who likes films, but it is exactly why it has become a focal point - just as "Black Friday" was imported from the US to Britain, the BAFTA Film Awards moved a few years ago to take place before the Oscars, making it a prime predictor of the main night on Hollywood Boulevard. However, despite all that, I am thinking of seeing "Birdman"...

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