Café Society

share

***1/2

Café Society is arguably Woody Allen’s best-looking movie in colour. The cinematography by Vittorio Storaro and production design by Santo Loquasto depicting the mansions, offices, restaurants, bars and cars of 1930s Hollywood (and, to a lesser degree, an apartment in the Bronx and sundry other NYC locations) combine for a ravishing visual feast. If nothing else, you can just revel in Art Deco for ninety-seven minutes and have a good time.

Luckily, this time around there’s also a cohesive narrative (even if it feels like Woody’s done it many times before) and some zippy one-liners (even if they feel like they’ve been lifted wholesale from early Woody scripts). The script really does feel like it’s been cobbled togther by a computer program, but at least a computer program with access to the Woody archives: if nothing else, there’s no doubt this is a Woody Allen movie.

Jesse Eisenberg does a “7” on the 1 to 10 scale of how much Woody to do as the lead male in a Woody film, a refreshing step-down from the 9 he gave in To Rome With Love (2012). Like John Cusack and Larry David, he’s a good Woody substitute, and this time he doesn’t yammer and stammer. He plays Bobby Dorfman, a young man from the Bronx who’s sent to learn from his Uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a top of the game Hollywood agent. When he falls for Phil’s secretary, complications ensue.

Besides the terrific cinematography (even better than that of Midnight in Paris), the performances are a delight here. Eisenberg’s character actually gets an arc, gaining confidence and sexual chutzpah in a story that spans years, and Steve Carell and Kristen Stewart, as Uncle Phil and his secretary Vonnie, are both terrific. Carell gives the kind of multi-layered, complicated performance that people like Michael Caine were once able to give in Woody films, when the scripts supported them. And Stewart, often shot in close-up with 30s movie-star intensity, not only nails the material but also a huge and difficult character leap.

It may be Woody coasting on a textual level, but the fact that he’s gone out of his way to make such a technically assured movie is refreshing. I enjoyed my visit to his Café.

Let The Games Begin!

Okay, now that the dust has settled – meaning that everyone in LA has appeared on at least one radio or television show, podcast, blog, column or street corner, pontificating about the Oscar nominations, I will now pontificate about the Oscar nominations. Enjoy, and please, do not be afraid to comment. I’ll continue to post throughout the categories, but let’s begin with…

BEST ACTRESS

Cate Blanchett and Amy Adams are on Centre Court here. Blanchett received reviews of the “Give her the Oscar now!” variety when Blue Jasmine came out, but that was many months ago, which is a lifetime in an Oscar campaign (the risk always being the dreaded phrase “That came out this year?”) Somehow, though, she’s maintained momentum, buoyed hugely by her recent Golden Globe win.

But Amy Adams also won a Golden Globe. How, you ask? And here things get funny, and they get funny about the concept of “funny”. Amy Adams won the Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical – and American Hustle is definitely not a Musical (despite a fine soundtrack). By contrast, and gaining the superior position of receiving her award later in the ceremony, Blanchett won her Blue Jasmine award for Best Actress in a Drama.

Blanchett. Drama?
Blanchett. Drama?

Except not only are both movies comedies, Blue Jasmine is the more obvious comedy. It’s a Woody Allen film full of Woody Allen one-liners, situations, characters (including stereotypes) and comic set-pieces. Interiors it is not. It’s not even Match Point. It’s not even Deconstructing Harry, and it’s a million miles from Husbands and Wives and Crimes and Misdemeanours – which, by the way, were also comedies. The placement of Blanchett in the “Drama” category was ludicrous. But many things about the Golden Globes are. So the beef there is with them, not Blanchett.

So back to the performances themselves and their likelihood for the Oscar. For my money, Blanchett’s performance is too much. I – and this is not only very much a personal taste thing but also, I feel, a minority view – could “see the acting” the whole way through. It was what the British call virtuosic or bravura acting – acting which calls attention to itself. It’s awfully fun to watch but it’s also just extremely proficient hamminess. Which is absolutely not calling Blanchett a ham. All brilliant actors are capable of hamminess if they want to use it, while not all hams are capable of brilliance.

Adams. Comedy?
Adams. Comedy?

Adams’ performance in American Hustle, by contrast, is simply brilliant (not bravura, “virtuosic” in the British sense, or hammy); it’s subtle, endlessly layered, and perfect. I gave her my MOVIELAND Award for Best Actress of 2013. Playing a con-woman who is conflicted in love and life, juggling street intelligence with emotional cross-wiring, and layering an intense sexuality throughout, it is the performance of her career and the performance – in any category – of the year.

Adams comes with more freshly-baked presence, not only being “younger” (at least in terms of the industry) than Blanchett but having her film released much more recently and to many many more Oscar nominations. But I suspect the Oscar will go to Blanchett – just. She won the Screen Actor’s Guild Award for Best Actress, which is huge, as the Actors are the biggest voting bloc of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And she kind of has this going on for her: “Well, if you didn’t give it to her for Elizabeth (it went to Gwyneth Paltrow for Shakespeare in Love), and you don’t give it to her for this, then what kind of bloody performance are you expecting from her to actually give it to her for?” Whereas Adams has this: “Just wait, we’ll give you one. We just have to give Blanchett one first. To make up for Elizabeth…”