Editor’s Notes: The Danish Girl opens in limited theatrical release this Friday, November 27th.
Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak. Cal Ripken Jr.’s playing streak. UCLA basketball’s winning streak. Consistency in excellence is something revered by our culture, highly regarded because of the rare nature of streaks. In sports, these occurrences are handily trackable because of how easy it is to measure statistics and trends. In film, awards ceremonies, Rotten Tomatoes scores, and box office receipts also allow us to track popular, critical, or cultural opinion over time. However we also have the benefit of having more personal connections to movies, meaning that a “streak” for a particular artist can stretch far beyond aggregated scores, and instead reflect our own individual perception.
Seeing as Eddie Redmayne is already central in discussions about another Academy Award for Best Actor award for The Danish Girl (which would be his second in as many years after his role of Stephen Hawking in last year’s The Theory of Everything), we at Next Projection thought it would be a good idea to take a look at some of the streaks of past actors and directors based on trophy wins, critical perception, and of course, personal opinion.
Francis Ford Coppola (The Critical Favorites of the 1970s)
Few if any directors in the modern era (post-1965) can claim a run more successful than Francis Ford Coppola in the 1970s. After making a few pictures, both independent and studio, and co-writing the Best Picture winner of 1970, Patton, for which he won an Oscar, he was tapped to write and direct the adaptation of Mario Puzo’s popular novel The Godfather in 1972. After a difficult production, the film went on to win three Academy Awards including Best Picture and is routinely cited as one of the greatest films ever made, usually ranked third after Citizen Kane and Casablanca.
This gave Coppola the clout to make an original film he’d written in the mid to late ‘60s called The Conversation which he’d made and released the same year he did The Godfather, Part II, both were nominated for Best Picture in 1974 with The Godfather, Part II winning, the first sequel to ever do so. Though The Conversation isn’t as popular as The Godfather films, it still stands as a remarkable achievement in paranoia and sound design. He ended the decade with Apocalypse Now in 1979, a film that nearly killed its star and almost put Coppola into the madhouse and the poor house. The film took nearly four years to complete but was so good that a rough cut won Cannes in 1979, though many thought the film would never be seen since it took over two years to edit the miles of film he shot in Vietnam and Cambodia.
These five films are often brought up as not only the best of the decade but among the best ever made. Coppola brought patience and deliberation to the decade and counter-balanced the hyper-realism and faster pace that defined many of the other films of the 70s. DOUG HELLER
Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff)
American indie filmmaker Kelly Reichardt very quietly assembled two incredible back-to-back features that perfectly incapsulate the struggles of the American landscape, from the harsh realities of trying to find employment in contemporary life in Wendy and Lucy (2008) to the journey for water and survival across the untamed western frontier in Meek’s Cutoff (2010). The painstaking conditions of both films’ environments, from the socio-economic in Wendy and Lucy and the physical in Meek’s Cutoff, are etched into the rough complexions of our characters’ faces.
In Meek’s Cutoff, absent is the iconic cowboy figure and his courageous displays of heroism. The beautiful desert landscape has been transformed into a spiritless wasteland, who’s exquisite aesthetics act as a mere facade concealing its true dangers and pungent realities. For a western featuring no shootouts, no showdowns, and limited violence of any kind, Meek’s Cutoff is a film that contains an extraordinary amount of tension within its contemplative pacing. This tension draws itself specifically from the fear of the unknown. For our fragile travellers, everyday without water represents a day closer to death; every hilltop represents cover for impending attackers; and every dark of night represents a shadow for potential predators to observe and strategize.
While these dangers are true for Wendy as well, once you add in the economic component of contemporary life, her situation becomes not only more relatable but strangely enough more dire as well. Both Wendy and Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff star the always brilliant Michelle Williams, and together provide further evidence why Kelly Reichardt is one of independent cinema’s strongest voices giving us two incredibly rich and nuanced films back-to-back that perfectly encapsulate the struggle for survival in the American landscape centuries apart. CHRISTOPHER MISCH
John Ford (Stagecoach, Young Mr. Lincoln, Drums along the Mohawk and The Grapes of Wrath)
John Ford is credited as the director of 145 films on IMDb. His first such credits come in 1917, when he directed five shorts and four features. His last real credit is 7 Women, which was released in 1966. It’s hard to fathom a cinematic career so long-lived and prolific, much less focus on one streak within it. But, despite that, I’m going to point to four films, released all in a row in 1939-1940, as being perhaps the most interesting moment in Ford’s career. Stagecoach, Young Mr. Lincoln, Drums Along the Mohawk, and The Grapes of Wrath is a quintet that few other filmmakers can even aspire to, much less rush through in a mere 12 months (March 2, 1939 to March 15,1940). It’s a stupefying streak, in both its quality and concentration, and provide a fascinating glimpse at the themes and concerns that occupied Ford throughout his career.
Like many of Ford’s films, this quintet is a glimpse at American history. Ford goes galloping across the nation’s first 150 years of existence in these films. Though not released in this order, they move from the Revolutionary War in Mohawk, to the antebellum Midwest of Lincoln, along again to the perilous Southwest during the Indian Wars in Stagecoach, and conclude with the (at the time) very recent past of the Dust Bowl in The Grapes of Wrath. What Ford seems to be seeking in these disparate periods is a sense of how character can be defined by adversity. None of his protagonists (Henry Fonda in three of his best performances and John Wayne’s star-making turn) goes looking for trouble. Instead, the social and political issues of their time force the issue and these men must summon the common decency, courage, and resolution that Ford valued most. From 75 years later, these stories might feel hoary or over-simplified, but it’s no wonder why they were appealing then. As Americans looked uneasily at the prospect of another world war, a reminder of what we stood and how we reacted to adversity could not be undervalued. ALEX BEAN
Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel)
To say that director Wes Anderson’s most recent two features are his best is not a unique opinion. Last year’s The Grand Budapest Hotel and 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom are two of his top three highest grossing films, and his two best received by critics according to Rotten Tomatoes. This modern auteur’s style has always been a matter of debate (whip-pans and ornate prop lists aren’t for everyone), but few could disagree that since the release of Bottle Rocket in 1996, Anderson has developed a style unto his own.
What we see in his last two features, however, is a more focused director at work. What used to be just an unformed glimmer of emotional resonance through his first six pictures explodes into the foundation upon which the last two movies are set. Much of the distant sadness that was previously obscured and filtered through careful production design such as the Tenenbaum house or the Rushmore Academy breathes a human touch into Sam and Suzy’s adventures on New Penzance. Although the New England-y shorelines are sketched on maps as Andersonian as anything we’ve ever seen, the zany costumes and dialogue beats (from Bruce Willis’s police uniform to Sam’s lament about a murdered dog) all act as a support staff for an innately important experience in the lives of the two adolescents.
So too operate the pink modeled walls of the Grand Budapest Hotel and the pencil-thin mustache drawn on daily by Zero, the trainee of Gustave H. and eventual owner of the eponymous alpine retreat. Here Anderson’s eccentricities in production design not only support a story of admiration, history, and indeed melancholy, but the emotional punch of the film’s quickly descending conclusion lies in the building itself. As the Author (Jude Law) bids a grown Zero goodnight, he asks the owner why he would possibly keep a building which is now in the shambles of a faded 1960s-style lobby. His answer is simple, brief, and among the most emotionally packed piece of dialogue Anderson has written:
“No, the hotel I keep for Agatha. We were happy here. For a little while.” RYAN GIMARC
John Cazale (Performances in Best Picture Nominees)
On March 12, 1978, the film and theater worlds lost the intense, passionate Boston-born actor John Cazale. Although he appeared only as a supporting player in just five feature films, he made indelible impressions on each of them: The Godfather Parts I and II, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter. This streak of appearing exclusively in films not only nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, but widely remembered as some of the best films American cinema had to offer in the 1970s, remains unique to this day. One wonders what might have been had such a promising career not been tragically cut short by lung cancer.
Rising to prominence in the age of the more realistic, unconventional, and adult sensibility of the so-called “New Hollywood,” Cazale excelled on screen at playing weak, vulnerable yet sympathetic characters. His Fredo Corleone in The Godfather films is a sad, volatile mix of thwarted ambition and dutiful obedience; Sal in Dog Day Afternoon brings an unpredictable counterweight to Al Pacino’s more dominant Sonny; and his surveillance assistant in The Conversation and steelworker in The Deer Hunter are distinctly memorable parts of their respective ensembles. With subtle body and facial language and a distinct lack of vanity, he earned the respect of his more famous peers and co-stars and made them look that much better alongside him.
A short, slick 2009 documentary called I Knew It Was You is worth seeking out for remembrances by these notable on-screen and behind-the-scenes collaborators (Pacino, Robert De Niro, Gene Hackman, Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Lumet, off-screen partner to the end Meryl Streep) and tributes by contemporary character actors like Sam Rockwell and Steve Buscemi, who cite him as a major influence. ADAM KUNTAVANISH
Ethan and Joel Coen (Fargo and The Big Lebowski)
Ever since Joel and Ethan Coen exploded onto the filmmaking scene with the 1984 noir thriller Blood Simple, the brothers have produced some of the most offbeat, strange, and idiosyncratic mainstream movies of our time. Refusing to stagnate in any one genre, they consistently find new twists on classic tropes and transfer their own personality to well-known themes. Their 16-film career (plus the 17th, Hail, Caesar!, due out February 2016) is a treasurable collection of modern classics. From the dark, existential dread of No Country for Men to charming oddities like Raising Arizona and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, they never fail to deliver. Arguably the finest achievement of the Coen oeuvre, however, is the successive releases of the brilliant comedies Fargo and The Big Lebowski.
Though both quintessentially American meditations on decency, murder and the rambunctious nature of life, the films are wildly individual and yet equally excellent. Fargo, overall the more mature and well-rounded of the two, is a dark comedy murder story with the lovable, heavily pregnant cop Marge (Frances McDormand) at its centre. Lebowski is the now-legendary tale of unemployed bowling enthusiast The Dude in a case of mistaken identity.
Fargo’s charming low-key style are in direct contrast to Lebowski’s labyrinthine plotting, though the films manage to convey a similar melancholy in their view of an America slipping away to material/moral decay. Marge’s horror at the heinous actions of the murderous world around her pack a greater emotional heft, but there is something to be said for The Dude and his easy-going attitude. It’s no wonder that Dudeism, a religion based on the philosophy of his apathy, has garnered such legitimate support in a world so consumed by negativity that sometimes our only option is to give up. Creating two of the great comedy classics of the last decade, whilst unintentionally inspiring an entire religion, is unusual to say the least. One might even say it were distinctly Coen-esque. GREG HILL-TURNER