the Oscars

While the Oscars took place last Sunday night, the awards season is still not over — at least not for Texas. 

The Austin Film Society, a non-profit film organization, will host its 14th annual Texas Film Awards on March 7 by inducting four honorees and one film into the Texas Film Hall of Fame.

Sponsored by the Austin Chronicle, South by Southwest and Texas Monthly, the Texas Film Awards will celebrate this year’s most distinguished actors, filmmakers and artists. In addition to hosting the awards at the Austin Studios on East 51st Street, AFS will hold an official Texas-themed after-party at the same location, showcasing local music and food.

Rebecca Campbell, executive director of AFS, said the society will honor many Texans and Texas-related films.

“[The awards] are a way to raise awareness of Texas’ contribution to the film industry, culture and history and to support the next generation of film artists,” Campbell said.

Two of the four honorees — Austinite Amber Heard, known for her film role in “Friday Night Lights,” and Louis Black, co-founder of the Austin Chronicle — are former UT students. AFS also selected country singer and actor Mac Davis and David Gordon Green, director of “Pineapple Express,” as honorees at this year’s event. The film “From Dusk till Dawn,” directed by Robert Rodriguez, was chosen as the only film to be added to the Texas Film Hall of Fame this year. 

“For each year’s class of honorees, we generally mix it up between actors, directors, writers and other behind-the-camera creatives,” Campbell said. “It’s an eclectic group that bears talent, accomplishment and Texas in common.”

While tickets to attend the film awards are sold out, tickets to the after-party are still available online for $50. All proceeds benefit the AFS programs and services that empower the future generation of Texas film through the AFS grant. According to Campbell, $100,000 is given to emerging artists each year. 

“We’ve given $1.35 million in cash over the years,” Campbell said.

Alex Okafor lifts the 2012 Alamo Bowl trophy above his head following the Longhorns’ 31-27 victory over Oregon State.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

The Academy handed out the Oscars on Sunday, but award season isn’t quite over. Texas’ athletic shortcomings in 2012 were well-documented — the football team was crushed by Oklahoma again, the baseball team didn’t make the NCAA tournament and, in the same calendar year, the basketball team was bounced in its first NCAA tournament game and then began the next season without star paint guard Myck Kabongo. There were some, um, silver linings, however. The envelope, please ...

Best Actor - Alex Okafor

Third baseman Erich Weiss and golfer Dylan Fritelli were considered for this, but Okafor’s Alamo Bowl performance put him over the top. The Pflugerville product made 68 tackles, a whopping 18 of them for a loss, including 12.5 sacks and 20 quarterback hurries, both team-highs. The 4.5-sack effort he turned in during Texas’ triumph over Oregon State last December was a fitting end to his career and may have earned him a spot in the first round of April’s NFL Draft.

Best Actress - Blaire Luna

Luna went 22-6 with a 2.31 ERA last year, when she nearly led Texas to its first Women’s College World Series berth since Cat Osterman was on the 40 Acres. Her 10.6 strikeouts per seven innings was good for No. 3 nationally. The ace also became the second Longhorn, along with Osterman, to record 1,000 career strikeouts. 

Best Actor in Supporting Role - Hoby Milner 

Milner started out last season in the Longhorns’ starting rotation but, by the end of the year, he was the team’s setup man. What seemed like a demotion proved to be mutually beneficial for both Milner and his squad. Texas had a reliable option behind closer Corey Knebel and Milner, who admitted to being more comfortable coming out of the bullpen, ended up being drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the seventh round of last year’s MLB Draft. 

Best Actress in Supporting Role - Hannah Allison

Allison was an essential piece to the Longhorns’ championship puzzle last season. She averaged more than 10 assists per set this past year and had 254 assists in six NCAA Tournament games, including a mind-boggling 53 in the Final Four five-set triumph over Michigan. As great as Bailey Webster, Haley Eckerman and Khat Bell were, Texas would not have won a national title without Allison.

Best Picture - Men’s golf team’s national title win

Texas captured two national championships over the last 12 months, one in volleyball and one in men’s golf. But the Longhorn volleyball team swept Oregon in their national title game, leaving little doubt who the best squad in the country was. The Texas men’s golf squad, on the other hand, provided much more drama on its way to winning a championship. Senior Dylan Fritelli sank a 30-foot, title-clinching birdie putt on the final hole of the Longhorns’ national championship clash with Alabama, sending his teammates in a frenzy and giving Texas its third national title in men’s golf.

Best Director - Jerritt Elliott

After several uncharacteristic losses in non-conference play, Elliott, the head volleyball coach, talked about how he was toying with his lineup, still unsure of what group of players would work. Texas began the year by losing three of its first nine matches, but reeled off 17 straight wins, including a school-record 15 in a row to begin Big 12 play, before falling to Iowa State in five sets in its regular season finale — a loss some players said would actually serve the Longhorns well in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Sure enough, they blazed their way through the tournament, losing just one set in their first four NCAA Tournament matches, all of which were in Austin, before battling back in a five-set win over Michigan and a sweep of Oregon in the title match. Eddie Reese, John Fields and Augie Garrido are really good at what they do, but Elliott may very well be the best coach on campus.

Workers roll out the red carpet that will be used for the 84th Academy Awards in Los Angeles, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Do I hate the Oscars? No. Since 1999, the year that “The Iron Giant,” “Toy Story 2” and “The Sixth Sense” cemented my fate as a film fan for life, I’ve been watching them with a fervor that might be described as religious. And every year since 1999 (when those three films won a combined total of zero awards), I have been disappointed with the Academy’s new and creative ways to award generally lifeless exercises in prestige-baiting.

Best Picture has become increasingly defined as the film with the most momentum going into the ceremony, and the actual content of the film matters less every year. As a lifelong cinephile, it’s frustrating to watch studio politics take over the awards season every year, and my disappointment has finally curdled into surrender.

Because even if I don’t hate the Oscars, I hate what Oscar season and all of the surrounding white noise has become. When the New York Film Critics Circle announced their year-end awards way back in November, the Oscar season kicked off, and following the circuit this year, one thing became clear: this is all getting a bit dull. It’s all too easy to base your entire opinion of a film around the awards that it should (or shouldn’t) win this year.

This year, The Weinstein Company threw their campaigning power behind “The Artist,” a charming but slightly silent film and the current favorite for Best Picture, Actor, Director and Original Screenplay (a true feat for a film with almost no dialogue). Last year, the Weinsteins pushed “The King’s Speech” through the precursors and, in a sweep surprising to no one, won the same four awards. It’s no coincidence that last year’s Oscars were a failure in terms of hosting, entertainment and any sort of suspense, as “The King’s Speech’s” victories were pre-ordained by months of awards stacked in its favor.

And that brings us to this year. The ceremony promises to be even less interesting than last year’s, thanks to a barrage of disasters and disappointments surrounding the show. First, Brett Ratner and Eddie Murphy departed. Then the nominees were released to general chagrin.

However, the most damning information against the Oscars was released in Monday’s Los Angeles Times. After some keen investigating, the Times revealed the previously secretive Oscar membership was 94 percent white, 77 percent male and 54 percent older than 60. This actually explains a lot, from the flavorless nominees to the show itself. After Eddie Murphy’s departure, the Academy retreated into familiarity, bringing back host Billy Crystal to host a ninth time thanks to a massive lack of public demand (while also ignoring a quickly-growing Twitter campaign to have the Muppets host this year). Then they did the same thing with the nominees, casting aside younger, hipper and better films in favor of cookie-cutter Oscar bait like “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.”

And there’s the problem. A bunch of old, white men making the decisions for what a Best Picture is, or a Best Original Song, or a Best Supporting Actor. Old, white men already make the decisions in Washington and on Wall Street, but movies are different. Movies are a personal experience above all else, a quest to find something of ourselves or something to relate to in a narrative that takes place far from (or maybe disturbingly close to) reality, and we shouldn’t let the tastes of old, white men dictate what the best film is anymore.

But really, what can you do? It’s easy. Do what I’m doing and simply bow out.

Don’t watch, don’t play commentator on Twitter and don’t care.

The Oscars is an outdated awards show with no idea what its audience wants and an archaic membership with a massive cultural disconnect from today’s cinematic landscape. Let Hollywood celebrate itself and its achievements, but we shouldn’t dignify this bastardization of the adjective “Best” any longer.

A better idea? Purge any and all hype from your mind and let the movies speak for themselves. Watch “Martha Marcy May Marlene” next to “The Iron Lady” and decide who the real Best Actress is. See if “Drive” or “The Artist” get more from their intentionally sparse dialogue. Or, even better, go back to “The King’s Speech” and tell me if that’s the Best Picture in a year that gave us “Black Swan,” “True Grit” and “The Social Network.”

It’s obvious that the Oscars aren’t going anywhere. But we don’t have to listen to their opinions, and the films they award are often forgotten by the time next year’s crop rolls around. The events of Sunday night won’t make the un-nominated “Shame” or “Take Shelter” worse films, and it certainly won’t make Best Picture nominees “War Horse” or “The Help” better ones, so why bother? It’s much easier to just ignore the entire process then bemoan “Crash’s” 2006 Best Picture win, or the inevitable sweep by “The Artist,” and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Who wants to join me? 

Printed on Friday, February 24, 2012 as: Avoid Oscar disappointment: don't watch

Movie Review: Incendies

Nawal (Lubna Azabal) undergoes one in a series of traumatic experiences in “Incendies.”

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics | Daily Texan Staff

Genre: Drama, Mystery
Runtime: 130 minutes
For those who like: Everything is Illuminated, Life is Beautiful
Grade: A

Canadian filmmakers have never made much of a mark on the cinematic landscape. Even the most intense film buff might struggle to name a notable Canadian picture worth seeing. Thankfully, they can now refer curious would-be cinephiles to Denis Villeneuve’s bold, disturbing “Incendies,” which was recently nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars.

After their mother, Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal), dies, 20-something twins Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette) are surprised by her last wishes; that they find the father they thought was dead and the brother they never knew existed. As Jeanne sets off on her journey and Simon stubbornly remains at home, the audience also follows Nawal through flashbacks as she negotiates her way through a horrific religious war.

“Incendies” could be a deeply unpleasant film to watch, both because of its often ugly violence and its delight in putting its characters through hell. Villeneuve, who adapted the film from a play, smartly embraces the film’s mystery components to keep things entertaining.

Villeneuve cuts between Jeanne’s and later Simon’s quests and their mother’s journey through a war-torn country, giving the twins slivers of information before unleashing a fresh wave of unpleasantness on their mother. Villenueve’s direction is stylish and packs several extremely powerful moments, including the disturbing opening scene in which a group of child soldiers get their heads shaved as Radiohead’s “You and Whose Army?” blares over the soundtrack.

Villeneuve also demonstrates impressive restraint for most of the film, infusing the proceedings with an indelible sense of impending doom before letting tensions occasionally boil over into an act of unspeakable, brutal violence.

An even bigger asset to the film than Villeneuve is Lubna Azabal’s stunning performance as Nawal. Taking the character across several decades, Azabal is simply astonishing, selling Nawal’s transformation from an idealistic college student to a cold-blooded killer to war-ravaged old woman effortlessly. The film’s makeup is also worth mentioning, as even the smallest characters are realistically aged as the film skips between eras.

“Incendies” may have been too brutal to win this year’s Best Foreign Language Oscar, but it remains a powerful film. Both entertaining and sobering in its effective portrayal of a family dealing with the consequences of war decades later. Thanks to Villeneuve’s confident storytelling and a disturbing ending that will haunt you long after the credits roll, “Incendies” is an unshakable, masterful film.