Sunday, February 25, 2007

Scorsese and The Departed

Scorsese finally has his Best Director Oscar, and in a nice surprise, The Departed ends up with Best Picture as well. I have to say, though most of the time I don't care about these things at all, I'm very excited by Scorsese getting this honor, so I just had to mention it here on the blog...

The next morning, and I've enjoyed reading all the coverage of the Oscars, and specifically Scorsese's win. I've been trying to figure out why it matters to me that Scorsese won Best Director and that his film won Best Picture. I mean, ultimately, who cares about this stuff? Does it make the film different or better? No, of course not. Does it change my opinion of Scorsese? Do I like him more now? No.

I haven't come to a full and complete answer as to why this matters to me, but I think it's partly related to this: it feels a little like vindication, like I believed in and was inspired by someone who, it turns out, inspired so many others. (Scorsese's films, I should note, aren't inspirational in any classic sense; rather, his filmMAKING is inspirational).

To try and explain: when I was a kid and a big NBA fan (this was a long time ago; I can't sand NBA hoops now), I loved Dominique Wilkins and the Atlanta Hawks. But the Hawks and Wilkins could never overcome Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. People always talked about how Jordan was the greatest player ever, and Wilkins was just a show-off ball hog.

And they were right -- about Jordan. Clearly, history has shown that Jordan was a once-in-a-lifetime athlete. But I always felt that, even though Wilkins got a lot of respect in some quarters, he wasn't considered great. To this day, Dominique has had to claw his way back into the game, even just to get a little respect from the team he led to the playoffs so many times in the 80s! It feels a little like picking the wrong horse in a race. For the record, I still think Dominique was a great player with amazing skills, but someone who got saddled with a franchise that couldn't put all the pieces together, which is a common thing in Atlanta professional sports history.

But back to the movies: I always felt a little like that about Scorsese. For a long time, even though he was considered "the greatest living American filmmaker" (or "the greatest living American filmmaker WITHOUT AN OSCAR), there was always some criticism -- that he only made crime films, or twisted films, that the way he moved the camera was too showy, that he was grubbing for an Oscar, etc. And though I agree with critics who say that The Departed wasn't his best film, I think it's fitting that he won his Oscar for a crime saga, and for a film that deals pretty explicitly with the shifting nature of identity (if you're undercover, when do you stop being a cop and start being a criminal?).

So Scorsese's win feels like vindication, in some way. And having Coppola, Speilberg, and Lucas give him the award -- while it was a dead giveaway -- was a sweet touch, so you have to give a nod to the show's producers for caring a bit about film history. And allowing Coppola and Speilberg to rib Lucas for not having won an Oscar was also pretty hilarious.

And it's an interesting coincidence that the camera my department ordered for me to use on my next film arrived this morning. Kind of like the universe telling me to use all that creative inspiration and get to work.

Anyway, I've rambled too long about this -- it was just an interesting swell of emotion for me. I'm sure my wife was wondering why I was pumping my fist every time The Departed won an Oscar. And, truth be told, so was I.


Blogger said...

I understand how you feel (about MS and DW). Think about it this way, though: Kubrick and Hitchcock never won Oscars. They seem to me to be nearly unrivalled in their respective time periods, but they did films that cut against the Academy grain. The Academy may like human tragedy--but they also like something that is finally life-affirming (a rare exception is a win for a film like Godfather II). If you look at recent history a bit: Kramer vs. Kramer beats Apocalypse Now; Ordinary People beats Raging Bull. The academy seems to prefer films that offer (even in a difficult and stygmatized way) some kind of hopeful conclusion. the Scorceses and Kubricks of the world tend to offer unrelenting criticism--and most people don't like that. All that being said, MS winning the Oscar does seem a bit like Dan Marino winning a superbowl. You say "it's about time" while you also say--"well, he was the best any way you slice it."

2/26/2007 10:32 AM  
Blogger Chris Hansen said...

Jim -- You're right, of course. Ultimately, winning no more affirms his status as one of the all time greats as losing prevented him from having that status. He is clearly one of the greats, and a Best Director Oscar isn't needed. So really, my mini-salf-analysis is more of a way of reconciling my take on his 'outsider' status. He hasn't been a true outsider for a long time, which is, I suspect, why he finally won. Whereas in the past he was viewed as a young upstart with a dark vision, now I think he's an ambassador of American cinema...

2/26/2007 10:36 AM  
Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

As a Nique fan from way back, I can definitely see your vindication angle here ... I'm also just happy that Scorsese won because, of the five finalists, his movie was by far the most entertaining, and that's about all I really ask for

2/26/2007 12:23 PM  
Blogger Chris Hansen said...

And there's that, too! I think people are just thinking this is the "sympathy" vote, but The Departed is a great movie. It stunned me when I saw it in the theatre. I was blown away and thought it was superior filmmaking.

2/26/2007 1:14 PM  
Anonymous Jonathan said...

Chris, I'm happy for you that your favorite director won and I can certainly understand why you keep asking yourself why should we care--having or not having an Oscar doesn't make the film any better or worse. I guess, to use a sports metaphor like you did, it's like watching your favorite team win the World Series in a game that's less dramatic than a previous game, either in the series or in the regular season, and they played even better before--they are finally recognized for being the best when they are not quite at their best.

As I wrote in my LJ blog last week, I didn't think "The Departed" was Scorsese's best (I preferred "The Last Temptation of Christ," "Goodfellas" and "Casino"), although it did have a number of really interesting moments, especially when dealing with issues of identity as you said. Still, in my personal view, "The Departed" had a little too much plot and not quite enough character development--although I did like Leo DiCaprio and espectially Matt Damon. And the ending bothered me a bit--not sure why, really, since I did like a similar ending in "Reservoir Dogs." Maybe if you told me why you liked it, that might help.

Oh, and as for Lucas joking about not getting an Oscar, I don't know--that gave me a rather queasy feeling. I know he obviously agreed to along with the joke, but it just felt rather awkward to me--and perhaps even a bit bitter.

2/26/2007 3:11 PM  
Blogger Chris Hansen said...


Well -- I can agree that it was not Scorsese's best film, but that still leaves some room for great filmmaking (because his "best" is among the best ever made). I think The Departed is a layered tale of lost identity. Billy Costigan, in trying to do the right thing, chooses a path that eradicates his very identity -- in the literal sense, of course, but also because he has to get so involved in criminal behavior that he loses his identity as a cop. The same goes for Matt Damon's character, from the other side. He is clearly on the side of the bad guys, but even he doesn't know where his real allegiances lie.

I've only seen it once, and I feel like I need to see it again, but the direction, acting, and editing were all tight and superb, and the writing was effective, especially because it didn't hammer these points but rather let them be a part of the nature of the story...

2/26/2007 8:26 PM  
Anonymous Jonathan said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Chris. I'm going to have to take another look at the movie again soon.

3/02/2007 11:33 AM  
Blogger Chris Hansen said...

Me too -- I've still only seen it once, so my thoughts aren't really THAT well formed at this point.

3/02/2007 12:59 PM  

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