Oscar Moment: “Blue Valentine”

19 11 2010

You’ve probably heard about “Blue Valentine” for all the wrong reasons, particularly because of the absurd NC-17 rating it received at the hands of the violence-loving but genophobic (that’s the fear of sex) ratings boards of the MPAA.  Harvey Weinstein lawyered up and is now going to stare down the ridiculous organization until they renege on the rating that has led all other movies to final ruin.

Why is the movie NC-17, for all those curious out there wondering?  Because it dared to give an honest portrayal of a relationship in its most devastating moments.  The movie has gained a reputation over the past year, after playing at Sundance, Cannes, and Toronto, for being a brutal watch but incredibly powerful because it dares to not fall into Hollywood schmaltz.  As Guy Lodge of In Contention put it when he first saw the movie at Cannes, the movie’s tagline should be “don’t see it with someone you love.”

The reviews so far have been fantastic, and they have been consistently rolling in as the film plays a new festival.  Kris Tapley of In Contention wrote in October that he “found it to be a delicate and truthful examination of a relationship in crisis.”  Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly raved:

“No movie I’ve seen at Sundance this year conjures the possibilities — or the current, gloom-and-doom marketplace environment — of independent film more powerfully than Blue Valentine. A lushly touching, wrenching, and beautifully told story, directed by Derek Cianfrance with a mood of entwined romantic dreams and romantic loss …”

The movie is a promising debut for writer/director Derek Cianfrance, and if the critics really show their love for the movie through their year-end awards, I think he could be rewarded with a Best Original Screenplay nomination.  Best Director this year will be packed full of some fan favorites reaching their peak (Fincher, maybe Nolan and Aronofsky), and the choice newcomer of 2010 will probably be Tom Hooper for “The King’s Speech.”

But I get the sense that the reward for “Blue Valentine” will come through its actors, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.  It is their movie, and most reviews I read state that Cianfrance largely steps out of the way and lets them create the art.  According to Sasha Stone of Awards Daily, this movie is the culmination of a whole lot of work and passion from Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams:

“… Director Derek Cianfrance has been meticulously working on this film for a good ten years.  He brought it to Michelle Williams back in 2003, and a few years later they brough in Ryan Gosling.  The idea was to wait until the two of them were old enough to be believable in the part.  Since the film takes place in different moments in time, the actors had to take a hiatus and change themselves physically before coming back to film the later scenes of the couple.”

Cianfrance went to great measures to get the most authentic performances possible out of his actors.  Gosling and Williams largely lived their roles during filming, and Cianfrance captured as much of it as possible.  Praise has been pouring out for the two stars, ranging from “the performances of their careers” (Stone) to “pitch-perfect” and “gold” (Tapley).  Gosling and Williams, who both recently turned 30, are tremendously respected for their ages as can be seen through their previous nominations.  Both face difficult fields, but I think they can do it simply because “Blue Valentine” appears to fly because they knock it out of the park.

And then there’s the big question of them all: what about Best Picture?  For starters, it’s already racked up one nomination on the road to glory.  The Gotham Independent Film Awards recognized “Blue Valentine” as one of the five best independent movies of the year, along with other hopefuls like “The Kids Are All Right,” “Black Swan,” and “Winter’s Bone.”  This group picked last year’s Best Picture winner, “The Hurt Locker,” as their favorite and nominated “A Serious Man,” a 2009 Best Picture nominee, as well.  The Gotham Awards are hardly a reliable indicator for Oscar tastes, though, with a Best Picture nominee popping up every once in a while.

So who knows?  The publicity from the ratings drama isn’t hurting, but with the film’s release set for December 31, it will have very little time to find an audience, making it the “obscure indie” pick that the expanded field might be phasing out.





4 responses

20 11 2010

This movie just looks amazing! I love movies about love, the true, and brutally honest story of love, and this looks like the main one about that all. Gosling is one of my favorite actors working today, and this looks like the next big thing since his amazing performance in Half Nelson.

21 11 2010

Another solid article!

When I first learned of the film it was in part because of my loyal following of Gosling. I’m not the biggest fan of Williams, though her early television work was substantial and effective. After watching the trailer I know this is a film I will go out of my way to watch as soon as it is released, even if that requires travel though here in the Bay Area we tend to get all the little gems even those with NC-17 ratings. I think the rating (as I’ve commented elsewhere) isn’t particularly damaging to the film and in many ways brings more attention to it in the mainstream channel. It will hurt distribution, however, and limit screenings which is a shame as in the back end that will ultimately harm the filmmakers – though if the film continues to garner the kind of critical praise you’ve mentioned (as well as elsewhere) it is certain the filmmakers and talent will have little trouble finding the next project.

With the issue of rating, and I’m only speculating as I haven’t fully been informed as to what scenes are causing the ruckus but I believe it has more to do with than just sex and nudity. What I gleaned from the reviews and others is there is some serious psychological and emotional interchanges here, very disturbing scenes that are enhanced by the natural-realism the filmmaker and actors employed to get to the place they needed to create the world of the story. I’m not an advocate of the MPAA or even believe we need them any more. They do more harm to the creative spirit than spare child or innocent from the extremities of human depravity. But that’s another conversation.

I was just curious if you had heard of Ewe Boll’s film Auschwitz? I wrote a little article about it after watching the trailer that I think touches somewhat on the idea of how a particular subject and or the depiction of emotional content for effect play on the ratings system. Don’t get me wrong, these are entirely too different films and I’m not suggesting Blue Valentine deserves the rating (well, especially since I don’t know exactly what is causing it) only that sometimes a particular film can explore subject matter in such a way as to be more sensitive in some areas.

If you’re interested, I’d like to hear your thoughts further.

21 11 2010

Btw, sorry for the double post of self-aggrandizing….

If you haven’t seen Gosling in Lars and the Real Girl – worth a see. A very strange, quirky film but Gosling makes the film work. I reviewed it here:


21 12 2010
Lisa E. Grant

Did someone named Cassie Miles get casted for a walk-on role in the movie, “Blue Valentine”?

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