‘Che’ — no respect in the precursor circuit so far

Posted by · 7:44 am · December 13th, 2008

Benicio Del Toro in Che“Nothing if not the movie of the year,” wrote Scott Foundas in LA Weekly.

“One of the best films of the year,” declared Roger Ebert.

“A great movie,” says J. Hoberman of the Village Voice.  “Che is a thing to be experienced.”

“The film that places Steven Soderbergh in the ranks of the masters,” raved Amy Taubin at Film Comment.

“An experience you won’t forget,” said Peter Travers of Rolling Stone.  “Benicio Del Toro gives a magnificent performance. No one who cares about organic film acting will want to miss it. He keeps you riveted.”

And finally, “Del Toro gives a soulful and charismatic performance,” according to A.O. Scott of The New York Times.

So, with all this critical approval, why is Soderbergh’s film “Che” not being appropriately considered among the year end critics awards, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and, therefore, not being discussed as a favored Oscar contender?  Here is a magnificent achievement from a world class filmmaker that breaks down the conventions of mainstream cinema (which he knows all too well) and challenges the audiences with its deliberate pacing and involving character study.  Unhurried, Soderbergh is telling a story in great detail with perhaps the greatest detail being an astounding performance from Del Toro.

I have long championed this film since seeing the four-and-a-half-hour cut at this year’s Toronto fest.  But here in December, I find myself struggling to understand why such a masterful film is not a part of the discussion, and moreover, why critics on each coast did not take the opportunity to put it in the conversation with their annual awards announcements.

I am incensed that Soderbergh, already an Oscar-winning director, is not being mentioned as a potential nominee again for this singular achievement. It’s certainly not mainstream cinema on any level, and it takes a great investment from the viewer of course, but once the film began, I found myself pulled in by the superb performances and cinematography.  As did a number of esteemed critics.  So what gives?

Surely SAG and the DGA will come forward and recognize this work for what it is?  “Che” was stronger than at least half the Golden Globe nominees. Soderbergh created a masterpiece and so few perople actually know about it.  It’s shameful.

→ 15 Comments Tags: , , , , | Filed in: Daily

15 responses so far

  • 1 12-13-2008 at 7:50 am

    Ben M. said...

    Well, from what I’ve seen the reviews are good, but not great, and they would probably need to be among the best of the year to get voters to see 4.5 hours in a foreign language (remember Letters from Iwo Jima had problems with getting people to see it for the early precursors despite some of the best reviews of its year and a running time of half that).

    I also think it might’ve been better to have just released the first half this year, since I hear that film (which will be released on its own when the film goes wider early next year) is the better of the two and I feel it would easier to get people to see just one part.

  • 2 12-13-2008 at 8:14 am

    Chris said...

    Quoting all those critics, you seem to forget that many other critics said the exact opposite. The consensus seems to imply, that “Che” wasn’t a masterpiece and that most of the films nominated for a Golden Globe were better (or to that matter, received more favourably) than Soderbergh’s film.

    I haven’t seen “Che” yet, just as I haven’t seen many other contenders, but from what I’ve read on the film, the quotes you chose have been delibarately picked to underline your (rather weak) statement – in my eyes, it would have been smarter to actually think about why the film both got rave reviews and was bashed by so many others.

  • 3 12-13-2008 at 9:06 am

    sirio11 said...

    If Che didn’t get any love from the foreign press, it would be hard to get some love elsewhere, I really commend Soderbergh for making a film like this, it really takes courage.

  • 4 12-13-2008 at 9:48 am

    N8 said...

    “Surely SAG and the DGA will come forward and recognize this work for what it is?”

    I admire the optismism, but don’t get your hopes up.

  • 5 12-13-2008 at 10:00 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    It’s a badass oil tanker of a film. I haven’t seen it, but 4,5 hours about a fascist rebel in a foreign language isn’t exactly getting a lot of playtime on your home-dvd player with screeners.

  • 6 12-13-2008 at 11:46 am

    michael mckay said...

    You would think with the pedigree that this film has, it would show up somewhere on the Oscar radar…maybe Del Toro or Soderbergh surprise and land a Best Actor or Best Director nod. I have this sneaking feeling that this film gets a nomination in some category. It’s so epic in scope, and even those critics that didn’t salivate over the film it’s self, were high in their praise for Del Toro.

  • 7 12-13-2008 at 12:00 pm

    John said...

    Like Tommy Lee Jones last year (‘In the Valley Elah’, watch Del Toro sweep in and grab a Best Actor nom. He IS liked the by Academy.

  • 8 12-13-2008 at 12:15 pm

    Xavi Rodriguez said...

    “Like Tommy Lee Jones last year (’In the Valley Elah’, watch Del Toro sweep in and grab a Best Actor nom. He IS liked the by Academy.”

    Well two nominations in three years and five years after his second nominations isn’t necessary well likely, especially being snubbed for “Usual Suspects”, when he’s raved after Kevin Spacey.

    IFC hasn’t any experience for marketing or what? Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbenger, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and now Del Toro?

    MAYBE a BAFTA nomination and a few mentions in a few critics associations, but every day Del Toro’s possibilities are smaller and smaller. Even Kristin Scott Thomas is in the running (Out of the top 5), she’s alive thanks for the Golden Globe Nomination, when two weeks ago anyone was thinking she’s a lock for nomination.

  • 9 12-13-2008 at 2:47 pm

    Frank Lee said...

    John: Careful with the dangling modifiers. You are not “[a]lready an Oscar winning director.” Soderbergh is.

  • 10 12-13-2008 at 2:54 pm

    Hans said...

    Four. Point. Five. Hours.

  • 11 12-13-2008 at 5:13 pm

    The Playlist said...

    John, nice little argument/campaign. I too saw it at Toronto and *just* got back from my second viewing of the IFC Roadshow release in NY (I was so impatient and dying too see it, I actually saw the films one day after another, because the full beast was at the end of the week and I couldn’t wait).

    Anyhow, I just wanted to say I fully agree with you and I’m glad there are others out there that champion this uncompromising achievement. I would be happy with just a del Toro nomination has a hat tip, but it seems like that’s not in the cards for whatever reason.

    I honestly think part of the reason this film got mixed critical was that a lot of people are generally fairly ignorant of Che Guevara and wanted to know more about his life and felt this film didn’t explain that to them.

    That and the fact that it refuses to take a side politically. I personally love how the actions speak for the man and you learn everything about his character in that manner, but I’ve already heard and read some smart critics contend that we learn nothing about the man in the film which is kind of baffling to me, but so be it I guess.

  • 12 12-13-2008 at 5:50 pm

    John Foote said...

    I have read weak reviews but no bashing — I stand by it, “Che” is a masterpiece, and I hope it gets noticed as it should.

  • 13 12-14-2008 at 4:02 am

    Glenn said...

    But the critics groups know that the Academy isn’t going to go for it so why would THEY give it awards? come on John, you know this game by now. The only reason awards groups seem to exist is to see who can become the best Oscar predictor.

  • 14 12-14-2008 at 5:01 am

    Chris said...

    If you haven’t read any bashing yet, John, maybe you should read what Kris Tapley had to say about it. That was not merely a “weak review”.

  • 15 12-15-2008 at 6:46 am

    John Foote said...

    Glenn – first of all I disagree that critics groups exist to be Oscar predictors — the NYFC have often gone their own way (Citizen Kane in 41) and have never really cared that they disagree with Oscar — It is my hope, as always that somewhere out there exists a body that will honor films as art, leaving behind any of the politicking that goes with it — dreamer I know — yep I read Kris’ review and respectfully disagree, on every possible level.