February 18, 2004

Calling Bullshit On So-Called 'Golden Age'

Sorry kids, Cinecultist's Day Job has been particularly taxing this week and thus the scanty posting. But we've had something in the CC craw since devouring the special Oscar section in this last weekend's New York Times that we want to share. CC calls bullshit on the thesis of this centerpiece article by A.O. Scott on the Golden Age of Movie Acting. It's tricky here, the fatwah does continue on A.O. after the Anything Else recommendation but it's not personal, our beef currently. He's just wrong wrong wrong in calling this year's acting performances unique or diverging from being driven by stars. We think the Oscars are nothing if not about building up the Hollywood star system, not being reverted by "ensemble movies" and "naturalistic Method acting" (quite the contradiction in terms, no?).

Those films, along with Mystic River, with its three acting nominations, suggest that the current acting renaissance may be subverting the star system in other ways by insisting on the primacy of the ensemble and by ignoring the invidious tradition of separating true or potential stars from character actors. It is difficult, in any of these pictures, to single out an individual actor without noting how enmeshed he or she is in a collective enterprise how interdependent the performances are.

But A.O., you are singling -- in particular, Charlize Theron and Sean Penn -- and if these two win, or whomever does, we will then expect Big Things from them next and look at their performances as typical or atypical of this Star. Blech, it makes CC ill in anticipation over the hoopla. Agree? Disagree? Cinecultist takes this opportunity to give you readers the chance to sound off below, as requested by various e-mails. And we better see some comments or we may cry. Method tears, ones motivated by deep emotional work done in workshop, of course.

Posted by karen at February 18, 2004 9:48 PM

I can't say yea or nay on whether we're in a golden age of acting, but I'm skeptical because the examples cited -- "Monster," "Mystic River" -- seem like perfect examples of movies that I think have been overpraised for their Acting(TM). Most disussions of these movies is dominated by talk of so-and-so's amazing transformation, which naturally calls to mind the actor's off-screen image for comparison. What's the movie saying? Who cares, look how much weight was put on and how much grief was feigned!

If stars were truly becoming more invisible, criticism would have focused on what these movies are actually communicating. Whether that's a failure of actors or of critics, I'm not sure. I vote for both, hand in hand.

Posted by: Rob Davis at February 19, 2004 5:35 AM