Artists of the Year

Although his constant referral to collecting the lion's share of the profits for his work could begin to sound miserly and obsessive, few of us know what it's like to feel creatively stifled and robbed. The Artist has laid a blueprint for Minnesota musicians, and should be hailed as Artist of the Year for that alone.

 

Robyne Robinson is co-anchor of KMSP's News at 9.

 

STEVEN SODERBERGH

by Julie Caniglia

At the end of Schizopolis, Steven Soderbergh's 1996 freewheeling fuck-you to the film industry, a singer on the soundtrack croons repeatedly, "Are you gonna get with it?" It was easy to hear the writer-director-star talking to himself, given his acknowledged autobiographical bent (Schizopolis also featured the wife he was then divorcing and their daughter), and the fact that he hadn't lived up to the status foisted on him by his film sex, lies, and videotape in 1989. I thought Schizopolis was totally with it--an intellectual slapstick that also slapped the audience around--but others who bothered to weigh in on this scarcely distributed film saw Soderbergh going off the deep end, or camped out in Loserville.

But in 1998 the famously versatile filmmaker got with it, sort of, in the broader scope of things, turning out a perfect mainstream studio movie. Out of Sight even conjured the year's most romantic couple from two unlikely stars: George Clooney, whose "appeal is hair-based," said his own balding director (in jealousy, perhaps); and Jennifer Lopez, hitherto known mostly for decorative performances. To some, the film was irresistibly seductive. One friend saw it three times at full price, which is funny, considering Soderbergh begged audiences to do just that in a prologue to Schizopolis. Still, while it was hardly a flop, the relatively big-budget Out of Sight was ignored almost in proportion to Schizopolis.

It's tempting to say that Out of Sight couldn't have been made without Schizopolis. Soderbergh injected his latest film with the infectious energy of the earlier, undeniably bizarre one, and both unfold in fits and starts, to very different ends. Both also screened in the Twin Cities this year, highlighting the relationship between "selling out" and wigging out (and recalling Orson Welles's Touch of Evil, which also screened this year to much critical fanfare).

So here's to artistic triumphs, and the supposed failures on which they're built.

 

Julie Caniglia is a New York writer and a frequent contributor to City Pages.

 

SAM RAIMI

by Randy Adamsick

Sure, Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan has some of the same black humor, brooding tone, and love of the macabre as his Darkman (1990) and The Evil Dead (1982). But it's also Raimi's best work by a wide margin: a thrilling and uncommonly humane movie that appears headed for all the accolades and awards it deserves.

As it happens, Raimi was almost never given the chance to make it. But luckily, from Mike Nichols's initial act of taking an option on Scott Smith's book, to the succession of other talents associated with the project (including actors Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, and Sissy Spacek, and directors Ben Stiller, John Dahl, and John Boorman), two funny things happened: Plans to film Smith's script in Minnesota were aborted in the winters of '95 and '97; and, in the course of these delays, the movie actually got better. Each subsequent version of the script, all penned by Smith, became sharper and more focused, while each new director seemed to embrace rather than reject the vision of his predecessor.

Raimi finally came to the project a mere month before shooting began in January, and circumstances forced him not only to use all of Boorman's Minnesota locations from the previous year but to work with his smallest budget since the first two Evil Deads. Yet he certainly made the most of what he had, fashioning a brilliantly spare visual design with production designer Patrizia von Brandenstein; eliciting an offbeat score from Danny Elfman; and allowing the power of the story and the indelible performances by Billy Bob Thornton and Bill Paxton to do the rest.

The main characters in A Simple Plan may not speak "Minnesotan," but the film still has the look, the ambience, and the sensibility of Fargo (albeit with less humor!), reflecting Raimi's longtime affection for the Coens (with whom he collaborated on their film The Hudsucker Proxy, and his own Crimewave). Through an unusual twist of fate that suits A Simple Plan's own story, Sam Raimi shot a masterpiece--and he didn't have to point the camera through a bullet hole to do it.

 

Randy Adamsick is executive director of the Minnesota Film Board.

 

MYRON JOHNSON

by Jim Walsh

At the opening of the second act of Ballet of the Dolls' Nutcracker?! Part Deux, the mighty, mighty Dolls purled onto the Loring Playhouse stage in the guise of the wild cats that haunt Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. With feline power and ghostly grace, they fluttered to some delicious goth sounds and crept to the edge of the stage to get in our face, stare us down, toy with us, and generally charge the room with a sensuality so rich, it felt like hot chocolate dripping from the ceiling.

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