Richard Jenkins's slightly surprising (yet utterly deserving) nomination for Best Actor for his performance in The Visitor.
Really, the awful. How the hell is Sally Hawkins not nominated for Best Actress in Happy-Go-Lucky? It wasn't until I heard Mike Leigh's name for his original screenplay nomination that I realized I didn't hear hers in the Actress category.
Ben Lyons. I hate to pick on him, but seriously, he just says some stupid things when he's plugged into a microphone.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Where to begin with scribe Charlie Kaufman's latest masterwork, Synecdoche, New York? I could start at the beginning and work my way forward. I could start at the end and work my way to the beginning. Better yet, I could jump in the middle, start spinning and flailing my arms around in the hopes of hitting something.
Where Kaufman begins is with Caden (Philip Seymour Hoffman) unhappy in work and unhappy in life. He's a director of a local theater, whose most recent production is an uninspired version of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. It's premier goes unattended by his wife Adele, who eventually grows tired of their marriage and moves to Europe, bringing along their daughter Olivia. He decides to pull his life together by embarking on a new play--a new more personal one--after finding an abandoned building, cavernous and seemingly endless, waiting for him to fill it.
But here I go giving you a cursory rundown of the events. The glory of a film like this can't be found in a plot synopsis. It's not a movie you can figure out while you're in it. You don't know where it's going and neither does Caden. His play is full of false starts, misguided middles, and missing endings. But like a shark that needs to keep swimming or else dies, Caden keeps building. Rather than stop the play he has yet to actually produce, he continuously adds to his apparently bottomless proscenium, building larger sets and creating more characters. The process subsumes him, literally, as he becomes a character in his own play--three or four times over.
It's familiar territory for Kaufman. Think of Being John Malkovich, especially when the title character enters his own brain. Or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, when Joel ends up trying to outrun the erasure of his own memories. Or certainly Adaptation, a movie written by Charlie Kaufman (the person), in which Charlie Kaufman (the character) happens to write himself into his own screenplay, while his real life explosively intersects with the fiction he is trying to create.
I have to admit that while watching the movie (and Caden) descend into its madness, folding layer upon layer onto itself, I wondered what it all meant or if it had any point at all. It seemed to keep on spiraling in no particular direction. But as with those other films, Kaufman knows exactly where he means to take us. And when he gets there, it's one of the most beautiful and fully realized meditations on the intersection of art and life--as well as art and, well, art.