A failed actor, a failed writer; grumpy, broken people who have a hard time making friends... This bracket personally attacked me in ways I was NOT expecting. However, I must point out that while I previously thought these two movies had nothing in common, I realize now how wrong I was: what an EXCELLENT example of two universally known "comedic" actors flexing their extremely capable, impressive, and hauntingly memorable "dramatic" muscles. The Oscar goes to Bill Murray & Melissa Fucking McCarthy.
Lost In Translation (2003)
Written & Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi
IMDB Synopsis: A faded movie star and a neglected young woman form an unlikely bond after crossing paths in Tokyo.
“The unexpected connections we make might not last, yet stay with us forever."
You know, it's funny, because I remember when this movie came out and everyone lost their shit over it. I remember seeing it and thinking it was beautiful, weird, and like nothing I'd ever seen before. It was quiet but not boring, it was subtle but it was funny. There was deep sadness and deep yearning but it never crossed a line and it had a pitch-perfect ending.
Re-watching it, I still felt all of these things, but I couldn't help being struck *just the tiniest little bit* by the Coppola-ness of it all. Don't get me wrong, this is a great movie. But there have been lots of great movies I've seen on this bracket so far, and most of them did not receive the attention and love that Lost in Translation did. As I watched the credits, I saw Francis Ford Coppola's name come up under Executive Producer and I was like, "Oh, right. That's why."
This is not to say that Sofia hasn't earned her stripes - she made The Virgin Suicides with nothing going for her name except the bad taste she left in everyone's mouth from her infamously terrible performance in The Godfather III. Yet she proved with her debut that she could actually make great fucking movies, and has earned a place as a well-respected director in her own right. ...But it can't be ignored that she had a lot of help getting there. I don't fault her for that; she didn't choose to be born into one of Hollywood's oldest filmmaking families, and like I said, she's worked hard and proven that she can actually do this.
I guess more than anything, it makes be a bit wistful to think of how many talented gems are out there that were just as good as Lost in Translation, but never got their fair share in the limelight because their directors and producers couldn't afford that kind of marketing campaign - or to cast Bill Murray and ScarJo, at the height of "Scarlett Fever" no less.
And can we talk for a minute about how Scarlett was ONLY SEVENTEEN during the filming of this movie?! The weight and maturity and depth she brought to a role that easily could've become flighty and superficial cannot be ignored. Likewise, Bill Murray manages to make things funny without so much as moving an eyebrow, and essays could be written about his well-timed sighs.
I 100% think that she deserved her Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, it is a magnificent script. And the lead performances are undeniably unforgettable: literally no one else could have played those parts with such composure and humor and softness and sadness. You'll never see a more beautifully shot, accurate depiction of jet-lag, and with such expertly selected music. It is - dare I say it? - an objectively damn near flawless film, and everyone should see it at least once in their lives.
But, for whatever reason, watching it as an adult it just didn't overwhelm me with its splendor the way that it did when I was 14; it just felt like a really good movie that I probably won't watch again for another 10 years. I think it just hits differently as an adult. I was significantly more aware this time around of how hard it is to connect with people, and instead of feeling the intimate preciousness of finding those connections, I was troubled by how sad it is that they're so rare to begin with.
(As I'm writing this, it is occurring to me that *perhaps* watching this in quarantine has something to do with that...)
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
Directed by: Marielle Heller
Written by: Nicole Holofcener & Jeff Whitty
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells
IMDB Synopsis: When Lee Israel falls out of step with current tastes, she turns her art form to deception.
"I love Lee. There’s something about characters who say honestly what’s on their mind that is incredibly refreshing. Lee just does not give a fuck about how people respond to her. I think for women there’s a sense always towards being conscious of other people’s feelings and being aware of how we’re perceived.
To be honest, I am struggling to recall much of the artistic or atmospheric direction in this film because all I can fucking think about is the performance Heller gave us through MELISSA GODDAMN MCCARTHY. That Oscar nom was 1000% earned, and I would re-watch this movie in a heartbeat just to analyze her every move again. I don't doubt that McCarthy is capable of incredible dramatic acting in her own right, but it would be remiss not to give a fair share of this accomplishment to Marielle Heller for bringing that out of her.
There was something about watching this movie at this point in my life that just struck me. Before quarantine, I was feeling burnt out, rejected, and defeated; I had tried pursuing a career in freelance production design and it started out great, but then the jobs slowly started getting further and further apart. I was especially burdened with the practical, social aspects of the job - so much of work in that industry is based on who you know and networking, things that I am really bad at curating organically. I was feeling like a failure, not just as an artist but as a person incapable of doing the necessary things like small-talking and making superficial connections and friendships to help further my career. Now I am living in quarantine, desperately trying to write a memoir that I'm fairly convinced no one wants to read (or if they do, they certainly don't want to pay me for it). I know I'm a good writer, but I'm once again feeling like a failure in the more mundane aspects of the job: reaching out to people, being open to criticism, having a community to support me. I am nowhere near in the position that Lee Israel was - I like to think I'm only half the bitch she was - something I say with enormous solidarity and compassion in my heart; Resting Bitch Face and social anxiety are real fucking things, and they're incredibly hard to overcome. Also, I mean, come on, her only friend was her cat. I felt like I was looking into an extremely sad but very plausible potential future for myself.
And then there's the heartbreaking way this story tackles "success." Much like Lee Israel, I am also an ardent lover of Dorothy Parker's witticisms (who isn't?), and I can really vibe with the liberation and tragedy of being able to express yourself anonymously... Like maybe if I was a completely different person - dead, or a man, or just a cuter and happier and more chill person to be around - then I would be more successful.
The more I think about it, Lost in Translation and Can You Ever Forgive Me actually have so much in common: they're both about lonely people struggling to make a connection, and include the rare depiction of non-sexual intimacy between a man and a woman. It's so fucking hard to meet people you can actually connect with, and our baggage, flaws, and the unpredictable circumstances of life can get in the way of them so quickly. Richard E. Grant's performance as the aging gay "Artful Dodger" felt both fresh and familiar, and was a perfect foil to McCarthy's grumpy, given-up-on-life Brooklyn dyke.
While Bill Murray and ScarJo gave us "past-his-prime actor gets a breath of fresh air with a young but sad woman struggling to find her way," Grant and McCarthy gave us "old gays teetering on the edge of poverty use alcoholism, razor sharp wit, and petty crime to remind us that resilience is really is a girl's best friend." I honestly don't know which story I like more, or which one was the "better" movie.
I'm inclined to say that Lost In Translation beats Can You... as far as aesthetics go, but that's not entirely fair. Heller curated a very distinct and cohesive atmosphere to this film; the pacing of the script, the development of the characters, and the little details that let us into their lives were just as detailed and nuanced as Coppola's, just in a totally different flavor.
Coppola has spoken before about how she likes to "direct her movies from a distance," and you can feel that. There is a lot of space in Lost in Translation, a lot of things left unsaid (or whispered), a lot of room to fill in your own blanks. But she fills those little voids with color and feeling and music and exceptional memorable characters, and you walk away feeling sad but nourished. If Coppola was a painter, she'd be a Monet: huge, abstract, watery, but when you look closer you can see the edges of detailed water lilies and sleepy willow trees.
Heller works in a microcosm, creating layers upon layers of details and textures and smells. Her focus was primarily McCarthy's character and the world through McCarthy's eyes, but that doesn't mean that the rest of the film suffered for it. That being said, it's impossible to say that Can You... was as "beautiful" as Lost in Translation, but beauty was not a part of the story she was trying to tell. Should it have been? If Heller was a painter, she'd be that one Renoir painting of all the people having lunch outside (you know, the one from Amelie?), where everyone looks like they're lost, living in their own little worlds, doing whatever they can to cope.
I feel so conflicted. I feel like it would be criminal not to pick Coppola - she was nominated for a Best Directing Oscar, after all, and Heller didn't even snag a nomination! But was that just because of Coppola's name? Because Can You Ever Forgive Me was a lovingly invented little film featuring deep and astonishing performances. Did the Academy think that McCarthy and Grant just directed themselves?
And the winner is...
I can't say I 100% feel great about this choice, and much like the last bracket, I sincerely hope it does not affect anyone's decision to watch the film that didn't "win." (Seriously, just because A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is incredible doesn't mean that Jennifer's Body isn't awesome in her own ways!) For whatever reason - and perhaps it is my own, Academy-brainwashed bias?? - there was something just a little *extra* about Lost in Translation. It sort of transcended Coppola, Murray, and ScarJo. It's a timeless, beautiful film and ought to be praised as such.
HOW-FUCKING-EVER. I do NOT say this lightly, but if this was a battle of performances between Bill Murray vs. McCarthy, I actually think she would have won - and Lost in Translation might be the greatest performance of Bill Murray's career. If you value witnessing incredible performances from unlikely places, please, PLEASE do yourself a favor and watch Can You Ever Forgive Me. Melissa McCarthy is sensational, and I genuinely hope she continues to hand-pick her dramatic roles because her screen presence is a goddamn TREAT.
HOLY SHIT ONLY 2 MORE MOVIES LEFT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!