Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably moderately aware that the 88th annual Academy Awards are on Sunday. The Jews will be making quite the appearance in the three-hour special: as nominees, presenters and plotlines.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” had nerds of all backgrounds hyperventilating with excitement last year. It also caught the attention of the Academy with five nominations. The self-proclaimed most nebbishy Jewish director J.J. Abrams directed the film. The cast includes the original cast from the first trilogy with Jewish actors Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill.
The Steven Spielberg-directed historical thriller “Bridge of Spies” is nominated for a slew of awards, including the highly coveted Best Picture. Ethan and Joel Coen wrote the screenplay for the film. The film is based on the true story of the arrest and trial of a U.S. spy pilot who was shot down by Soviet forces in the 60s.
Jewish actress Jennifer Jason Leigh is nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her portrayal of fugitive Daisy Domergue in Tarantino’s gruesome “The Hateful Eight.” Leigh plays the only female character in the main cast and is at once tough and villainous in the violent western mystery.
In the category of Best Documentary Short, “Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah” is nominated. The film explores the life of Claude Lanzmann, who created the nine-hour Holocaust documentary “Shoah.” The film shows the emotional challenges Lanzmann experienced while talking to Holocaust survivors about their time in the camps.
The film “Son of Saul” is nominated in the category of Best Foreign Language Film and shows a day and a half in the life of a Sonderkommando in Auschwitz. The Sonderkommando, a Nazi death camp prisoner assigned to dispose of gas chamber victims, recognizes his dead son in a corpse and vows to save him from the flames and give him a proper funeral. It won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.
The critically acclaimed, yet controversial, documentary “Amy”, which tells the story of the Jewish rock star Amy Winehouse, is nominated for Best Documentary Feature. “Amy” features interviews with family members and friends of Winehouse pieced together to explain her musical career as well as her struggle with drugs and alcohol. Winehouse’s father criticized the film for focusing too much on her addiction. Winehouse was Jewish, though she mostly identified with her religion culturally.
Jewish actors Sarah Silverman, Jason Segal, and Sasha Baron Cohen will be presenting awards during the evening and will probably get some laughs during their short time on stage. Cohen has a history of being ridiculous at awards shows. He was told explicitly by the Academy not to dress as his character in “The Dictator” during the 2012 Oscars, but did it anyway. He also “accidentally” spilled ashes on Ryan Seacrest before being escorted off the red carpet. It’s hard to imagine he won’t pull a stunt this year, which might make the notoriously long ceremony a little more interesting.
If there’s one thing John Kasich is clear on, it’s properly labeling movies at Blockbuster. Since it’s no longer the mid 90s, he probably won’t make it a large part of his platform. During the usually even-tempered GOP candidate’s lengthy political career, he took issue with the Oscar-winning Coen Brothers film “Fargo.”
Business Insider reported Kasich was so offended by the brutality of the film, that he requested the local Blockbuster remove it from its shelves. He wrote about his shock after renting it for a quiet night in with his wife in his 2006 book, “Stand for Something: The Battle for America’s Soul.”
“It was billed as a comedy, but it wasn’t funny. It was graphic, and brutal, and completely unnecessary, and it rubbed us in so many wrong ways we had to shut the thing off right there in the middle… Next morning, I got on the phone to Blockbuster and demanded that they take the movie off their shelves,” he wrote.
Hopefully he doesn’t come after our Netflix queues.
(JTA) — Asked about diversity in Hollywood last week, the Coen brothers defended to the Washington Post their history of making movies about Jews and Minnesotans.
The Oscars So White controversy, #OscarsSoWhite, may reflect a real problem, the film writing-directing-producing duo agreed: Money drives commercial movies, people who invest money want more of what has worked in the past and it’s daunting for minorities to break into that cycle.
But the brothers balked at the notion that film creators bear personal responsibility for promoting diversity, arguing that you write what you know.
“Take any particular actor or writer or filmmaker, and you go, ‘Your movies should be more this or more that or more the other thing.’ The only sane response is that you can only write what you can write. You can’t sit down and say, ‘I’m going to write something that follows the dictates of what the culture thinks should be happening, in terms of cultural diversity in storytelling.’ To be honest with you, that’s completely lunatic,” said Joel Cohen.
“We actually write movies in which the characters are Jews or Minnesotans,” said Ethan Cohen.
True enough. They’ve done Jews (“Barton Fink”), wannabe Jews (“The Big Lebowski”), Minnesotans (“Fargo”) and Minnesotan Jews (“A Serious Man”).
Even sticking to what they know has gotten them into trouble.
“You say, ‘Look at the work.’ And then they go, ‘Well, this character is Jewish and is a bad guy.’ Somehow in their minds, that’s implying that in our minds the Jewish characters stand in for all Jews. Like I say, you can only write what you can write. If the question is whether or not there should be more people involved in the process, with more diverse backgrounds, so that what they write reflects a greater amount of diversity — that the business itself should be more open to people of different backgrounds, so that those stories come in — that’s a legitimate thing to talk about. The other thing is crazy,” said Joel Cohen.
“Hail, Caesar!” focuses on another community the Coen brothers have come to know — the Hollywood film industry. The film focuses on the making of a film, also called “Hail, Caesar!” starring Kirk Douglas-like actor Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). Unsurprisingly, there are some Jews on set.
In an exquisite Jew-out-of-water scene, studio executive Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) convenes a group of clergy to review the “Hail, Caesar!” script and make sure it doesn’t offend any religious sensibilities. There’s a Roman Catholic priest, a Protestant minister, a Greek Orthodox priest — and a rabbi.
The rabbi struggles at length to politely explain that however Jesus is portrayed in the film, Jews won’t be offended, because to Jews the Christian messiah is simply the “Nazarene.” The acutely funny five minutes encapsulate what it is to be a Jew in the Diaspora.
But that is not at all the case with the Coen brothers, who recently said quite definitively that there would be no sequel to the 1998 cult classic, whose popularity continues to grow.
“No, I don’t see it in our future,” said Ethan Coen at a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival last Monday. “I don’t think it’s going to happen … I just don’t like sequels,” added his brother Joel.
While Bridges and co-star John Turturro are game for a reprise of their roles in the film, the Coens are more focused on current and future projects — none of which are likely to involve hippie bowlers.
The filmmakers were in Cannes promoting their new film, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” a melancholy comedy about a struggling folk singer in 1961 New York. John Goodman, whose “Big Lebowski” character Walter Sobchak will not be reminding us again that he doesn’t roll on Shabbos, has a role in the film.
“Big Lebowski” fans will surely not be pleased with the Coen brothers’ decision, but it looks as though they will just have to abide.
I have a lot of faith in the Coen brothers. But when I heard that their next film, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” was going to be about a singer-songwriter in Greenwhich Village during the folk revival, I was a little worried. If there’s a period ripe for nostalgia among beardy folk music types, this one is it, and I didn’t want to see the Coen’s talent squandered on an excursion into hippy-folky sentimentality.
Fortunately, early reports on the film from Cannes, where it premiered May 19, indicate that such is not the case. According to CBS, the movie was “met rapturously” and talk has already begun of Oscar nominations. Writing in Indiewire, Glenn Heath Jr. describes the film like this:
Set in early 1960s Greenwich Village at the dawn of the folk music revolution, the film opens with the bearded Llewyn performing in medium shot in a smoky beatnik bar. From the outset, his raspy musical voice is honest and vulnerable, two traits that seem to vanish the second he must deal with the real world in any discernible way. Even more interesting, the audience in the film doesn’t quite jive with Llewyn’s brooding and inclusive musical persona. The crowd’s lethargic faces look on in jest, proving the lack of connection between performer and patron. Much of Inside Llewyn Davis is about the often-futile attempts at translating original artistry into mass emotional consumption.
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