Sunday, August 30, 2009

'Georgia' on My Mind

Still immersed in a long bout of writing and revision in my professional life, but as usual in these moments, through some bizarrely homeopathic logic, the most sustaining activity during my daily breaks turns out to be more writing—as long as it's about something I love. And since I've had no time to watch or re-watch for the Films of the 00s feature, I am turning to the next film up on my Favorites countdown, which seems to be one of the most popular features on this site anyway. Which means a trip back to Georgia, a film that generated a surprisingly robust love-it-or-hate-it conversation among critics and audiences in 1995, given the brevity of its release and its undeserved short-shirking by awards bodies, notwithstanding Mare Winningham's Oscar nomination (which should have netted the actual trophy) and Jennifer Jason Leigh's prize from the New York Film Critics Circle. Georgia got under a lot of people's skins, but that's part of what love is, as the movie is only too ready to show you. I wish the film and its actors had maintained even more momentum in the last few years, though Leigh, Winningham, Ted Levine, and Max Perlich keep fighting the good fight with dedication and purpose in character parts, and somehow that's a great legacy for Georgia to have. It's like an ideal, often-ignored album by a group of artists who have only united that one time, and have flirted off and on with the cultural radar even in their solo careers—but if you're receptive to it, you'll never stop spinning it. And of course, the musical metaphor isn't an accident:

"Georgia's key tool for dissecting and complicating the sisters and their relationships is its completely unerring gift for intensely focused realism, a completely unerring gift for intensely focused realism, a deep familiarity with character and environment that one rarely sees outside of a Mike Leigh movie, and with a deeper, richer palette and a sophisticated approach to rhythm and concision that Leigh's films, in their thespian virtuosity and their thinly laminated improvisations, sometimes miss. Ulu Grosbard, a solid actor's director who hasn't made another movie to touch this one, uses the songs ingeniously to carry the scenes and guide their textures, to include his pitch-perfect recognitions of the kinds of wanderlusters, make-doers, drop-outs, long-distance runners, and swaggering, self-conscious 'legends' who combine to scratch out a living or a niche, or a phantom-image of both, in the traveling world of music. And without making a movie that makes an issue of shattering any conventions, Grosbard still plays as though there are no rules, dilating the song performances for much longer than usual in a non-concert film, and often back-to-back, almost the way David Cronenberg used the sex scenes in Crash..."

Keep reading for more on Georgia's unimprovable acting, terrific music, and terse but adventurous direction, and for why all this matters to you if you loved Rachel Getting Married, or if you loyally love the Oscars but don't always know why.

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Blogger CCW said...

I enjoyed reading about your passion for this film, although I'm in the camp of admiring Georgia more than really liking it. Leigh is, of course, an acting goddess and I really came to admire Winningham in Shy People, with Barbara Hershey, Jill Clayburgh and Martha Plimpton (Hershey, Plimpton, Clayburgh and Winningham in one film together is my idea of heaven!)
I've been meaning to see Grosbard's The Subject Was Roses for a long time, but haven't gotten around to tracking down a copy yet (I love Patricia Neal).
Your writing also got me thinking about other lead and supporting actress Oscar nominees in recent years who flew under the radar during awards season hoopla. A few that popped immediately into my mind were Norma Aleandro in Gaby - A True Story and Stockard Channing in Six Degrees of Separation.

9:06 PM, September 01, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@CCW: Thanks so much for this comment. I was worried all this love for Georgia had fallen on totally deaf ears. I have a copy of Shy People on VHS and have wanted to watch it for some time, but have been holding out hope for a widescreen DVD. Probably I'll have to just buckle.

I definitely agree that Channing didn't get the hype she deserved for that nomination (even if, for obvious reasons, I could never have voted for her...), and in recent years, I'd add Janet McTeer in Tumbleweeds, Mary McDonnell in Passion Fish, and the pair from Hilary and Jackie as contenders that the media really shouldn't have written off as also-rans. Tumbleweeds in particular that I think would be a favorite of lots and lots of people if only they'd heard of it, and I hate speculating about all the roles we could see McTeer attempt on film if more casting agents had been prompted to consider her. (Alas, it barely missed the cut for this Favorites countdown...)

11:09 PM, September 01, 2009  
Blogger CCW said...

A widescreen DVD would be amazing. Chris Menges' work is always terrific and some of his compositions in Shy People are startling, even on pan and scan VHS. I hope whoever owns the rights to Cannon Films' library (I think it's either MGM or Warner Bros.), wakes up and puts it out there. Maybe it'll happen if Clayburgh or Hershey has a Mickey Rourke-style career resurgence?
I've added Hershey to my alternate list of 1987's best actresses. The other four are: Judy Davis in High Tide, Faye Dunaway in Barfly, Christine Lahti in Housekeeping and Rachel Levin in Gaby-A True Story. '87 continues to provide hidden jewels of great actressing.
I can't believe Tumbleweeds came out almost a decade ago! It is a lovely film and I agree it's a shame that neither the film or McTeer's film career really took off afterwards. You'd think that the glowing reviews and her Golden Globe win would of sparked a little ripple of interest back in late '99/early '00, but the film was just DOA. Maybe it was too soon in the wake of Anywhere But Here to really distance itself and find an audience. You could compare the film's reception to the Field/Lange/Spacek "save the farm" films of 1984.
1993 was, without a doubt, the year of Holly, but I recently caught the last half of What's Love... on TV (I haven't seen the entire film in over five years), and really fell in love with Bassett's performance all over again (and her!)

8:22 PM, September 02, 2009  

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