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25 Movies to See Before the Oscars: 1. All is Lost

Nominations: Sound Editing

Robert Redford in 'All is Lost

One of the more effervescent qualities of modern pop culture seems to be the need make known one’s every thought, a need nurtured by the likes of social media i.e. Twitter and what not. As such it is strange to notice the growing strength of the art of silence. With films like WALL-E garnering recognition, not to mention the virtually wordless triumph The Artist that won the Oscar for Best Picture and was nominated for the Original Screenplay category, it is refreshing to see that the form is not only being explored but deftly and artfully. Writer/director J.C. Chandor’s sophomore film All is Lost is an elegant, albeit not universally palatable, example of this kind of neo-silent film, the story of a lone sailor, titled “Our Man” in the closing credits, who must survive all the horrors of being stranded and alone at sea.

All is Lost is unlike any other lone hero film made before it. In films like Cast Away or I Am Legend the main characters have been in their respective situations of solitude for long enough have developed their own rites of socialization to help them cling to sanity, whether that means talking to a dog or a volleyball. Robert Redford’s sailor is only seen, through the film, over about a week and a half – this is a man who is immediately busy in survival mode would only find the time or need to speak when futilely testing his busted radio or cursing in exasperation; and, aside from the solemn opening voiceover from Our Man humbly reciting an apology to an unknown person, that’s all he ever says. It is in this way that the casting of Redford seems so undeniably genius: when you engineer a narrative where the emotional gravity stems solely from its single character’s facial expression, it makes perfect sense to cast a Hollywood veteran whose cinematic power comes from his natural presence rather than some cultivated skill. As such it should have been Redford’s year to nab an acting nomination, but alas the film has nothing to show for except a nomination for Sound Editing. It perhaps would have been less of an injustice to Redford had Chandor received a nomination for his screenplay (it’s common for popular nominees to receive an award one year as reconciliation for being snubbed a previous year – so does Woody Allen really need another screenplay nomination?), but AMPAS is still a far-from-perfect political machine that rewards popularity more often than actual achievement (I’m pointing at you, Jennifer Lawrence).

This is perhaps the one of the most cut and dry examples of a love-it-or-hate-it movie this year. The film isn’t about protecting a soul’s humanity; it’s simply about braving the plight. Audiences love to cheer the idea of “I don’t want to survive – I want to live,” which is a lovely sentiment, but it doesn’t belong in a conversation about this movie. The story is bare bones, a tale engrossed in minutia akin to the films of Paul Thomas Anderson without the reveling over naturalistic monotony. Calling this movie boring would not be stretch for most, if not because so many people are addicted to being fed adrenaline fueled cinematic overloads then because simplicity is far more difficult to culture respect for. It has its surging, exciting scenes as well as being ripe for thematic and symbolic dissection, but All is Lost is still just a story about a guy who’s lost at sea, scarred, trying to stay alive – that’s all. Take it or leave it.

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