Jean Luc Godard proposed as an axiom that cinema is reality at 24 frames per second, although he could well have added as an exception to his postulate the biopics. Not because they are artifacts created to be manipulated, but because, however honest they may be, they are doomed to imprecision, to say the least. With an added danger: that of fixing a distorted image in the collective imagination.
Historical facts, hagiographies, memoirs or demystifications exist since there are narratives, but they have found a niche of recognition in the Oscars of the 21st century, especially affectionate with the performances of actors who embody key figures from history or popular characters.
The passion has reached such a point that a divergence in the nominations is beginning to open up. On the one hand, there are the films nominated for best film and, on the other, the acting categories, full of titles that are not among those chosen as the best film of the year and that are sometimes designed to show off actors who, knowing the success of the formula, they pursue it.
Let’s review the 2022 nominations: Neither Nicole Kidman (Lucille Ball), Javier Bardem (Desi Arnaz), J K Simmons (WilliamFrawley), Andrew Garfield (Jonathan Larson), Jessica Chastain (Tammy Faye) and Kristen Stewart (Lady Di) participate in tapes that can win the Oscar for best film or direction. Only Will Smith (Richard Williams) and Aunjanue Ellis (Oracene Price), are part of a wannabe, Williams method.
The Williams method: the kind side of a controversial figure
The movie for which Will Smith tops the stakes for the best actor Oscar is a portrayal of the father of Venus and Serena Williams, often considered a controversial figure. The two tennis champions approved the film after seeing it and agreed to participate as producers for what can be considered a biopic ‘approved’ of the relationship of a father and his daughters.
Much of how controversial Richard Williams may seem is shown in the film: his obsession with planning for his daughters since they were born and his devotion to money. Success seems to validate what seems insane on paper, but what if his daughters had failed to stand out? This is actually what happened with ishaanother of the sisters, who had to abandon ‘the plan’ due to an injury, although it is not mentioned in the film.
The film shows the harsh environment of Compton, one of the most deprived districts of Los Angeles, where Richard Williams literally fought with gang members to be able to use municipal courts. However, Williams himself refuted this narrative of a humble family years ago on CNN: he moved from Long Beach to Compton because he believed that a problematic neighborhood would harden the character of his daughters. “What got me into the ghetto was my belief that great champions come out of the ghetto.”
In the film, Williams remembers how he suffered an absent father and shows his devotion to his daughters, but the main omission from the script, which plays in favor of the portrayal as a loving father, is that Williams had already had five previous children from another marriage to the ones he hasn’t seen since they were eight years old.
Being the Ricardos: Aaron Sorkin unites the classic theatrical mode
No viewer – neither in the seventeenth century nor now – believes that when Julius Caesar speaks through Shakespeare he is looking at history. Surely the only way to be honest in a narrative with real characters is to agree on the farce. Sorkin plays that and the opposite in Being the Ricardoswhere he portrays the accusation of communism to the television superstar Lucille Ball in the 50s.
Sorkin’s style of dialogue is so personal and recognizable that no one who sees Being the Ricardos can believe that everyone lives between continuous witticisms recited at full speed. But, at the same time, Sorking plays with the documentary genre, introducing the scenes with fake interviews of real people (played by actors).
As for the facts, Sorkin needed dramatic unity, and he readily conceded it to himself in the classical theatrical mode: despite the fact that the law motive of the film is that ‘it all happened in a week’, actually Ball’s second pregnancy, her testimony before the Committee on Un-American Activities and the publication in a tabloid of her husband’s infidelities, happened over several years.
spencerLady Di and the British idyll of the Oscars
spencerfrom Paul Larrainmakes things clearer by admitting from the beginning that it is “a fable based on a real tragedy”, which distances it from the historical pretensions of Peter Morgan in The Crown or The Queen.
The film places Diana (Kristen Stewart) on a Christmas vacation in 1991 where, over three days, she makes the decision to separate from Prince Charles. The dreamlike atmosphere, sometimes nightmarish, and Larraín’s touch of absurdity underlines the distance from the truth and plays in favor of what is intended to be a reflection of the interior of the protagonist, one of those British characters so dear to the Hollywood Academy , as the Oscars can attest to Helen Mirren (The Queen), meryl streep (The woman of iron), Colin Firth (The king’s speech), Gary Oldman (The darkest night), Olivia Coleman (The favourite), Eddie Redmayne (the theory of everything) or rami maleck (Bohemian Rhapsody).
Tick, Tick…BOOM!, a music autobiopic
The great advantage of Tick, Tick…BOOM! is that part of an autobiographical musical, the one that Jonathan Larson (performed and sung by Andrew Garfield) composed to portray his anxieties to get ahead in the competitive New York theater scene in the early 1990s and before succeeding with Rent.
Little can be made right about Larson’s vision of himself. The manager’s job Lin-Manuel Miranda and the screenwriter Steve Levenson maintain the spirit of the musical, although some characters, such as Susan, Larson’s partner who plays vanessa hugens be invented.
Tammy Faye, the perfect Oscar biopic
The versatile Anrew Gardfiel might as well have been nominated for his role in Tammy Faye’s eyesthe film that could provide Jessica Chastain its first Oscar and showing the rise and fall of a marriage of Christian televangelists embroiled in a financial scandal in the 1980s.
The film is based on a 2000 documentary by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato and is based on true events. The huge amount of audiovisual material on the characters make the performances the most appreciated by the Hollywood Academy: physical transformation and believable imitations.