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Indie Focus: Last looks before the Oscars

Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

This edition of the newsletter arrives on the morning of this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, bringing to a close the months-long process we like to refer to as Awards Season.

But first, the Spirit Awards were Saturday, this year going their own way from the Oscars with no overlap between the two groups in their nominees for best picture.

I spoke to a number of Spirit Awards nominees — filmmakers Tamara Jenkins, Lynne Ramsay, Boots Riley, Jeremiah Zagar and Josephine Decker — about what the show means to them.

“Why are awards even significant?” Jenkins said. “I mean there are two reasons: one is for a sense of recognition by your peers or a voting body that’s supposed to have insight into cinema.

“But the other thing that’s important is it causes people to watch your movie and talk about it. I don’t think anybody makes a movie to get an award. Most people that are filmmakers are making movies because they want people to see the movie and talk about the movie and respond to the movie.”

Aubrey Plaza
A winner at the event last year, actress and producer Aubrey Plaza will host the 2019 Film Independent Spirit Awards, She was photographed at the Film Independent offices in Los Angeles Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

I also spoke to Aubrey Plaza, host of this year’s Spirit Awards show. Plaza won a Spirit Award herself last year, and she also talked about what the show means to her.

“When I was asked, I was really excited about the opportunity to celebrate all of the movies and the people that made me want to do independent films, that at an early age just completely blew my mind and changed my perspective on what movies could be,” she said. “I think what's so great about the Spirit Awards, and always has been, is that it's not the Oscars. It's not supposed to be this mainstream kind of event. It's really supposed to be about the artists.”

We actually have a number of events coming up this week. On Monday, there is a screening of “Giant Little Ones” plus a Q&A with actor Darren Mann. On Wednesday, there is a screening of “Greta” plus a Q&A with director Neil Jordan and actress Chloë Grace Moretz. Then. on Friday, we’ll have a screening of “The Mustang” plus a Q&A with director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre.

There will be even more events coming up soon. For info and updates, go to events.latimes.com.

Carpenter Freddy McDonald prepares for the Academy Awards.
Carpenter Freddy McDonald works on scenery along the red carpet on Hollywood Boulevard in front of the Dolby Theatre as preparations continue for the 91st Academy Awards this Sunday. Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

The Oscars!

As the Oscars ceremony has been drawing closer, we have been just banging out stories about both the movies themselves but also the wacky culture that is a part of this long slog of accolades, adoration and anxiety.

Josh Rottenberg had an interview with Oscar show producers Donna Gigliotti and Glenn Weiss. While one might think that after announcing, rescinding and adjusting various decisions over the show — from ending up with no host to a thwarted plan to give four awards during commercial breaks — that they would be hiding in an undisclosed location, but the pair seemed surprisingly calm and upbeat.

As Giglotti put it, “And how did I stay sane? I didn’t read any press. I still have not. And I will hold to that until 8 p.m. on Sunday.”

Glenn Whipp posted his picks for all 24 Oscar categories. (He’s got “Roma” for best picture.)

Glenn also took a look at what went wrong with the campaign for “A Star Is Born” and how the movie went from being the season’s early front-runner to something of an also-ran.

Mary McNamara wrote about why the Oscars still matter even as the academy seems to struggle with staying relevant, saying, “The Oscar nominees, and winners, make a statement, about film, yes, but also who we are now and who we want to become, and that statement is now what we talk about, ratings be damned.”

Glenn Close
Glenn Close arrives at the 91st Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon on Feb. 4 at The Beverly Hilton Hotel. Jordan Strauss / Invision/AP

Mary also sat down for an interview with Glenn Close, who has become the front-runner for best actress. On the ways in which she has bonded with erstwhile competitor Lady Gaga along the awards circuit, Close said, “I just put myself in her shoes and thought how nervous she must be, because this is a whole new thing. And she was nervous. She said she wanted to be an actress before she got into music. People think being famous is the goal, but Gaga has learned her craft. Ultimately, to have staying power you need to learn your craft — and it is a craft.”

Times film critic Kenneth Turan made the case for why “Black Panther” should win best picture, writing, “‘Black Panther’ not only enriched America’s movie culture, but also opened eyes all over the world. It was, hands down, the cinematic event of the year for the way its artistic and box-office success led to opportunities for filmmakers to make their voices heard and audiences to experience settings and stories that previously would not have been seen.”

Times film critic Justin Chang wrote about the cinematography in this year’s nominated films and declared his favorite to be Robbie Ryan’s work in “The Favourite.”

Jen Yamato spoke to David Korins, who designed the stage set for the Oscars telecast. Asked about those who have said they see an invocation of the president’s distinctive hair in the set’s swooping look, Korins said, “I don’t see that, but I think that people see in artistic endeavors all sorts of things. You look at paintings and sculpture and architecture and people see what they want to see. And I choose to see one of inclusion and humanity, femininity and beauty.”

Amy Kaufman wrote about event planner Andy King, who has seen a surge in business since the release of the documentary “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened,” in which King was featured as part of the team attempting to produce the ill-fated music festival.

“My 15 minutes of fame has gone to be about 25 minutes of fame,” King said. “I’m kind of excited about that. I think that it’s pushing me into a fun direction.”

Esmeralda Bermudez traveled to the small Mexican town of Tlaxiaco, hometown of best actress nominee Yalitza Aparicio, to learn about the impact her success has had on the rest of the community.

And for our podcast, “The Reel,” Mary McNamara, Glenn Whipp and Justin Chang sat down with me to talk through how the show itself has become such a focal point of attention this year as well as a few of their picks for both who they think will win and who they would like to see win.

'Paddleton'
Actor-writer Mark Duplass and actor Ray Romano, from the film, "Paddleton," at the L.A. Times Photo and Video Studio at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, in Park City, Utah. Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

‘Paddleton’

Starring Mark Duplass and Ray Romano, “Paddleton” is a heartfelt story of male friendship. When Michael (Duplass) is diagnosed with terminal cancer, his neighbor and best friend Andy (Romano) becomes his support system, and their routine of eating pizza, watching kung fu movies and playing a paddleball game of their own invention takes on a newfound poignance.

In his review for The Times, Robert Abele wrote, ‘To fight against ‘Paddleton’ and its no-frills, in-the-moment mission of mercy is, ultimately, useless. There might even be a wry lesson in this simple two-hander: If your tendency is to view Michael’s and Andy’s stunted existence as an abyss already, director/co-writer Lehmann offers a uniquely graceful clarifier to that old adage. Better to have lived sadly over pizza and bad movies and shared it meaningfully than to have never had a private language with someone at all.”

I spoke to Duplass and Romano about the project and its unusual, semi-improvised production style. On the unexpected depth of emotion in a story that comes on like a comedy before it takes a dramatic turn, Romano said, “I like heartbreaking stuff. I don't know why, but it's very cathartic for me to feel and to cry. I don't know if that's normal. I enjoy things that make me feel that emotion. You just feel for somebody and you kind of connect with them. I feel like, when people can laugh together, they're bonding. I think when they cry together, they're bonding. So I'm drawn to things that get deep and make you feel things.”

Reviewing the film for rogerebert.com, Monica Castillo added, “Paddleton” is an appreciation of friendship for better or for worse, in sickness and in health… There’s a bittersweet feeling in the last few scenes of the movie as Mike and Andy are finally telling each other things they should have said before. We might not know when relationships will end or when loved ones will leave us, and “Paddleton” so gently reminds us that we’re always running out of time to see each other, talk to each other and quote our favorite movies to each other.”

Email me if you have questions, comments or suggestions, and follow me on Twitter: @IndieFocus.

Mark.Olsen@latimes.com

Follow on Twitter: @IndieFocus

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