Among other things to love about the holidays is that they herald film award season. Award season is one of the two times in the year — Maui Film Festival each June is the other one — when this column goes to the movies.
Provided, of course, that they have some sort of Maui connection.
At awards time that’s easy, and can be summed up with two little words: Woody Harrelson.
These days the somewhat local resident looks a lot like the hardest-working guy on the silver screen. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” in which he co-stars with the always amazing Frances McDormand and the underappreciated Sam Rockwell, just opened in theaters after winning audience choice awards at prestigious festivals around the world.
Two weeks ago, I watched the actor seamlessly morph into the 36th president of the United States in Rob Reiner’s “LBJ.” A few months earlier, he started getting Oscar buzz for the heartbreaking yet uplifting “The Glass Castle,” directed by Maui boy Destin Daniel Cretton and co-starring 2013 Maui Film Festival Rising Star honoree Brie Larson.
Harrelson won his own Navigator Award at the Maui Film Festival in 2004.
Physical transformations made each of Harrelson’s three recent three roles almost indistinguishable from the others. Also remarkable is his ability to effortlessly mine a role’s tiniest psychological nuance while finding unexpected poetry in lines of dialogue. Case in point: Martin McDonagh’s terrific “Three Billboards” script, where you can never tell where the drama ends and the dark comedy begins.
And he still manages to put a Woody Harrelson signature on everything he touches.
“Three Billboards” joins my list of early Oscar contenders including this week’s box office winner, “Coco”; “Dunkirk”; “Get Out” and “Lady Bird.” I’ve got to keep track, and keep seeing more and more movies through December to have my 10 Best list ready for Barry Wurst over at the Hawaii Film Critics Society.
Lots of recent Maui Film Festival honorees will be getting into the act in coming weeks — Karen Gillan in “Jumanji,” Bryan Cranston in “Last Flag Flying,” Adam Driver and Lupita Nyong’o in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and Jessica Chastain in “Molly’s Game” among them.
I’ve rung out most of the last four decades in print with 10 Best Lists, even though there were always caveats. These began with questions of how to rate creativity on a scorecard. And observing that “award contenders” tend to be the movies mass audiences don’t see.
Making a 10 Best List was part of the job description for film reviewers, but I always thought there was a higher purpose to the job. Movies were the best way anyone had yet found to tell our stories. Our stories were what made us who we are; taken together, they were what made us human.
Now I’m not so sure. I used to think movies were somewhere between community-building and religious experiences, sharing emotions and epiphanies with strangers in a dark, high-ceilinged space a little like a cathedral. Movies were our cine-myths.
Now you can watch movies on your phone, isolated in your own little world, part of no community. And the movies themselves are more like products, produced by industry newcomers like Netflix and Amazon. They’re no longer myths, no matter how many superheroes they can crowd onto the tiny screen. Now they’re more like apps.
Of course, the big industry news right now isn’t on the screen at all, but behind it, in corridors of power. Not only in Hollywood, but from Silicon Valley to the nation’s capital . . . and everywhere in between. This is a challenging year to be a movie fan, seeing so many men who created our dreams for us exposed in revelations of sexual abuses of power that created nightmares mostly for the young women around them.
They raise troubling, profound questions of just what it means to be a man — questions that can’t be brushed aside by saying, “It’s only a movie.”
Speaking of the holidays, multitalented Randall Rospond has a new CD, “Crazy World,” ready for gift-giving. The project began as a document of his “solo live guitar looping performances” — treats whenever he does one at Ulupalakua Ranch Store — then expanded to include collaborations with fellow Haiku Hillbillys like Rand Coon, Danny M, Kerry Sofaly, Joel Katz and Sue Wescott.
“There is something magical about live music,” he says, “when all the cards are on the table and in the moment’s absolute honesty . . . not perfect — just real.”
To order one, if you don’t catch Randall playing live around the island, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Rick Chatenever, award-winning former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and documentary scriptwriter/producer. Contact him at email@example.com.