Ang Lee’s Oscar
Surprise at the 2013 Academy Awards?
Ang Lee’s victory as Best Director was something of an upset and first thoughts turn to exploring how Life of Pi must have moved so many Academy members. And while that idea is valid, it’s chased by second and third thoughts.
Thought 1: Aside from its CGI virtuosity (Yann Martel’s novel was once deemed unfilmable), Life of Pi is a meditation on life’s values enacted within the confined space of a raft at sea. The use of enclosure to magnify the responses of characters limited in movement is a literary inheritance prevalent in Golden Age Hollywood. John Ford did it in Stage Coach (1939) and, more to the point, Alfred Hitchcock in Lifeboat (1944). Life of Pi brought it to places that would have looked hokey only a few years ago.
Thought 2: Some people resent success. Spielberg has been a heavy center of gravity in Hollywood since the ‘70s and envy has manifested itself in the Academy’s secret balloting at least since Saving Private Ryan’s surprise loss for Best Picture to Shakespeare in Love at the 1999 Oscars.
Thought 3: It’s hard to name any director working in Hollywood who has done so many things so well as Ang Lee. After beginning with closely observed patches of Chinese life in indies such as Eat Drink Man Woman (1994), he moved on to British literary drama with Sense and Sensibilty (1995), a big-budget Chinese historical genre picture with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), the strangely affecting story of gay cowboys in Brokeback Mountain (2005) and wartime historical drama with Lust, Caution (2009).
It’s a remarkable run, and would be great if Ang Lee inspired a coming generation of filmmakers the way—or maybe in a different way—that Quentin Tarantino fertilized the imagination of the crop of 30somethings directors who have found their way to Hollywood. The Taiwan-born director’s resume says that it’s good to dare—to keep reaching for new challenges.