Ang Lee

Heath Ledger in the Fourth of July scene in Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Heath Ledger in the Fourth of July scene in Brokeback Mountain (2005)

  • Born:  1954
  • Rank:  13
  • Score:  760.80
  • Awards:  Oscar / 2 DGA / 2 BAFTA / 2 Golden Globes / BFCA / 2 NYFC / LAFC / 2 BSFC / 2 NBR
  • Nominations:  2 Oscars / 3 DGA / 3 Golden Globes / BFCA
  • Feature Films:  11
  • Best:  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  • Worst:  Ride with the Devil

Top 5 Feature Films:

  1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – 2000
  2. Brokeback Mountain – 2005
  3. Sense and Sensibility – 1995
  4. The Ice Storm – 1997
  5. Lust, Caution – 2007

Top 10 Best Director Finishes  (Nighthawk Awards):

  • 1995 – 1st – Sense and Sensibility
  • 1997 – 3rd – The Ice Storm
  • 2000 – 1st – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  • 2005 – 2nd – Brokeback Mountain
  • 2007 – 10th – Lust, Caution

When will the Academy Awards finally get it right?  Yes, they gave Ang Lee Best Director in 2005.  But that hardly makes up for what they had already got wrong.  After his solid debut (Pushing Hands), the Oscars did nominate both Ang Lee’s next two films: The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman, two films that put him handily on the international map.  Of course, they didn’t actually give him the Oscar for Best Foreign Film either time.  Then Lee made his first English Language film: Sense and Sensibility.  The Oscars got it right by nominating it for Best Picture, but failed to nominate Lee, thus scuttling the chances for winning Best Picture (a shame, since it was far better than the other nominees).  Then Lee made The Ice Storm, one of the best films of 1997 and they didn’t bother to give it a single nomination.  Lee then got sidetracked with his mediocre Ride with the Devil.  But then he returned to Taiwan and made Crouching Tiger, one of the greatest films ever made.  The Oscars again gave it a Best Picture nomination (and actually awarded it Best Foreign Film), but despite winning the Golden Globe and the DGA, Lee lost and the film lost to the infinitely inferior Gladiator.  Lee’s next film was The Hulk, which was flawed, but at least was interesting (with great ideas for splitting the screen in a true comic book fashion).  Then Lee made Brokeback, and while I think Munich is slightly better, there was no question that Brokeback should have won (it pretty much won everything else except the Chicago Film Critics, who were heavily influenced by Roger Ebert), yet the Academy after giving Lee Best Director and the film Best Adapted Screenplay, chunked it and gave the award to Crash.  Then came the amazingly erotic Lust, Caution, which again earned not so much as a single nomination.  This year came Taking Woodstock and as a comedy is a departure for Lee (his first since his early Taiwan days), most likely it will be ignored again.

Brokeback Mountain – #2 film of 2005

Are Jack and Ennis in love?  I can’t be certain and I’m not sure they are either.  It’s not a question of how they feel about each other.  The two of them are linked together by an unbridled passion, one that was probably initially brought about due to proximity, but most certainly grows to be more.  But love is something that comes from being together, from learning about each other, getting to know one another and this is something that the two of them never get to do.  They are never afforded enough time to learn whether they love one another.

But their passion is something else.  It is not just overwhelming physical passion, though there are few scenes in all of film history, homosexual or heterosexual, that contain as much physical need and longing as the reunion scene between Ennis and Jack, the one which Ennis’ wife witnesses.  The presentation of their passion on screen makes one believe that love can’t always save the day, that there are things in life which can’t be overcome, but we can hope that things will improve.

But how would that passion have looked on screen if not for the performances of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhall.  Ledger had already started to show his talent, though the fact that he could be a young Marlon Brando or James Dean wasn’t quite known until Brokeback.  It’s a tragedy for film lovers that someone so young and so talented should be gone like that, like James Dean and River Phoenix before him.  The bigger surprise was Gyllenhall, who until this point seemed like a younger version of Tobey Maguire, a rather bland leading man.  But his performance here was magnificent, and while Ledger carries the emotional burden of the couple, it’s Gyllenhall’s physicality that attracts him closer.

Then there are the two wives.  Michelle Williams at least got noticed (she was nominated for all the major awards: Oscar, SAG, BAFTA, Golden Globe) for her performance as the wife who begins to slowly understand her husband and pull away.  But Anne Hathaway, whose Disney films had done nothing to prepare us for the unbridled carnality of her performance was ignored while praise was heaped on everyone else in the film.  Yet the sexuality of her early scenes, contrasted with the phone call that she endures later in the film shows that Rachel Getting Married was a development, not an aberration.

Let’s not forget the rest of the crew.  The Oscars didn’t forget them (well, they did forget the Editing, the brilliant way the scenes are put together).  The brilliant Cinematography, the kind of shots that lead to the picture above, the perfect way that the fireworks go off in the sky, Ennis responding with violence, his family turned away from him, all in one shot.  And of course there is the Oscar winning score.  Think back to that final moment on film, of Ennis holding Jack’s shirt, seeing the blood, realizing everything and think of his reaction and think of the score and how beautiful it is, and how fitting it is for the final scene.  And wonder again how it ever could have not won Best Picture.