As is usually the case, the mood was a convivial one at this year's Academy Award nominees luncheon, which throws together big-name stars and directors as well as animators, musicians, editors and other fellow contenders for Oscar gold.
But the lighthearted mood didn't prevent some nominees from getting a bit serious while talking to the assembled reporters backstage. In particular, "12 Years a Slave" director Steve McQueen, "Gravity" star Sandra Bullock, and "American Hustle" director and co-writer David O. Russell made the case for what one might call grown-up movies — films that aren't afraid of examining weighty subjects or doing things differently than moviegoers might be accustomed to.
McQueen, for example, was asked about overcoming his film's reputation for being difficult to watch, even though it has been critically acclaimed.
McQueen pointed to the its box office success as proof it has resonated with audiences despite its harrowing subject matter. "Look at the box office here, look at the box office in Europe," he said. "We've passed the $100-million mark, so that just proves that [whether it's too hard to watch] is not at all a question to raise anymore.
"It just shows you, audiences are interested in challenging films. Audiences are interested in films which will give them a perspective of a history, of where they are now and hopefully where they can be in the future."
Bullock, meanwhile, said that "Gravity" "wasn't supposed to be a big blockbuster," even though it has gone on to gross nearly $700 million worldwide.
"It was [supposed to be] sort of an avant-garde, esoteric, existential film about loss and adversity in space," Bullock said, and she praised director Alfonso Cuaron for taking such a risk.
"He didn't want to placate the audience," Bullock said. "He wanted to give them sort of what you get when you read a book: You bring your own emotion, your own visuals, your own imagination. … That was incredibly brave, that he so trusted the viewer to do that."
Speaking earlier in the luncheon, Cuaron had said what he most wanted audiences to take away from "Gravity" was "the emotional experience of the film. I think that we go through adversities every single day of our lives … and those adversities are what shape who we are."
For Russell, the success of "American Hustle" had a lot to do with his own maturation — as a filmmaker and an individual.
"I definitely am a late bloomer, and I definitely need to grow up," Russell said of transitioning from the first phase of his career, which culminated with "I Heart Huckabees" in 2004, to the second, which includes "The Fighter," "Silver Linings Playbook" and "American Hustle."
Borrowing a phrase from "Hustle" character Irv Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), Russell said, "I would say the cinema of the last three pictures has really been 'from the feet up' in terms of great passion for every detail of every character, great instinct. … That can only happen after you've been humbled or struggled and got your head on straight. Then you can relate to characters who have gone through that."
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