A few days ago, at the British Film Institute on London’s South Bank, Anna Paquin and Meryl Streep tied for Best Actress at the London Film Critics’ Circle (LFCC) Annual Film Awards.
More or less everybody who goes to movies knows about Meryl Streep, and for obvious reasons.
She has been in our consciousnesses since The Deer Hunter (1978) when, as the full horror of Viet Nam was sinking deep into the national psyche, her character sang God Bless America with heart-stopping sadness during a family meal.
Her embodiment of Thatcher
Her subsequent great roles are too many to mention, but this year, in a film which most people have felt does not entirely do full justice to its subject, her embodiment of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher passes way beyond impersonation into consummate acting.
Anna Paquin, as most Kiwis know, became the second youngest winner of an Academy Award (as best supporting actress) playing a mute girl in The Piano, directed by Jane, daughter of Wellington’s leading theatrical couple, Richard and Edith Campion.
As an adult in Canada (where she was born) and America, she has maintained a steady and interesting career as an actress (and on occasion, as an executive producer) in movies.
This year she appeared in Margaret (not Margaret Thatcher), which has appeared at last, after a troubled post-production history, in a severely cut version (which nevertheless runs for two-and-a-half hours).
It found its way in into the LFCC awards nominations when a member emailed the ‘Circle’, suggesting members should make every effort to see it.
Fox reluctant — but showing arranged
The Circle persuaded Fox (the studio which, somewhat reluctantly, has the film on its books) to mount a special screening, which is how I came to see it.
Paquin plays Margaret, a feisty, intelligent but difficult, self-deceiving Jewish teenager who inadvertently causes a fatal collision between a New York bus and an elderly woman, also Jewish.
Margaret spends most of the film denying all responsibility, blaming, first the dead woman, then the hapless bus driver for what happened.
The accident struck me as somewhat contrived, but most of what follows is psychologically and socially compelling, especially when the dead woman’s mostly female — and formidable– relatives wake up to various financial and other matters.
Win for silent film
In other interesting awards, Best Director and Best Actor went to the silent film The Artist.
This enchanting film tells a fairly typical silent film story, while at the same time showing us why silent film was a compelling genre, with charms all of its own. The dog alone is worth the price of admission.
Some British filmgoers have demonstrated that they read neither reviews nor film posters by walking out and demanding their money back, outraged at being invited to watch a film without spoken dialogue and, to compound the injury, in black and white.
Mind you, the leading actor confessed to us that he had tried to turn down the film and had to be argued into doing it.
Best foreign film
Best Foreign Film went to ‘A Separation,’ from Iran.
This is a tale of complications in two marriages, exacerbated when the wife from one couple earns some necessary extra income by house cleaning for the temporarily solitary husband from the other. When her own husband finds out, sexual politics and social envy kick in.
Unlike some Iranian films, A Separation moves quickly, and western audiences will have no trouble understanding what is going on. It also won awards for Best Scriptwriter and Best Supporting Actress.
Best British Film went to ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin,’ about a deranged teenager and his family.
Each year one of the Circle’s most distinguished deceased members, Dilys Powell, is remembered in an award named for her given to someone who has made a distinguished long-term contribution to cinema.
Think, for starters, Performance, Walkabout, Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell To Earth, Bad Timing, Insignificance and Castaway.
Sutherland said Roeg was the genius who had remade his, Sutherland’s career, back in the late 1960s.
Sutherland’s agent sent him the script of ‘Don’t Look Now,’ and two of Roeg’s earlier films, asking if he was interested. Sutherland replied that he was and wanted to talk to Roeg.
Soon after, Roeg rang from London and they talked to an accompaniment, from Roeg’s back garden, of barking dogs.
Sutherland, in his own words, ‘went on a bit’ about how he, like the couple in the script, had experienced extra-sensory perception, and thought it really ought to be shown doing something good for the man in the film instead of leading to a silly death near one of Venice’s less salubrious canals.=
Sutherland said that when he stopped, there was a ten or twelve second pause. The dogs went on barking.
Then Roeg delivered the nine-word clincher: ‘Do you want to do the film or not?’ and Sutherland heard a voice strangely like his own saying ‘Yes, of course’
Sutherland adds: “I realized then, once and for all, that it’s directors who make films, not actors’
During the post-Awards shindig I was very pleased to be able to shake Roeg’s hand and say ‘Thank you, especially for Don’t Look Now.’