Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Steven Spielberg and “West Side Story” Join the Oscar Race in the Lead, Upsetting All the Prognosticators


So: Steven Spielberg’s version of “West Side Story” is a year late because of the pandemic. Screened today and last night, “WSS” joins the Oscar race big time, in the lead, upsetting all the Oscar prognosticators.

I told you back in September as soon as they released the trailer that “WSS” would be the Oscar movie. Last year, the Academy went for the beautiful, artistic, small side “Nomadland,” my favorite film of 2020. But I knew that if “WSS” was any good, it would be the film to beat. And so it is.

We can’t review it yet even though there was a premiere last night in New York (I was at the more important Gotham Awards). But press screenings last night turned into ecstatic Tweets. Some said the Spielberg version was better than the 1961 original. No, they are different films. Robert Wise’s movie will always the the classic, the OG, it stands the test of time. Spielberg and Tony Kushner and cast have done the impossible, however. They’ve put a totally fresh spin on it. They will reap the rewards. They will need a special award for Justin Peck for choreography.

The entire cast is sensational although Rita Moreno, imminently 90 years old, who was in the original, has received a gift from Spielberg like no other– and she pays it forward to us. She gets to sing “Somewhere (There’s A Place for Us).” You will be full of tears by the time she’s finished.

When Spielberg announced he was making “West Side Story,” I immediately wrote that Ansel Elgort was my choice for Tony. Twice. I also suggested Camila Cabello for Maria. Later I told Spielberg that I’d written this. He told me that they’d approached Cabello, but she said she wasn’t ready for such a big acting job. The role went to Rachel Zegler, who is now about to become a star. As for Elgort, I’ll take credit for making my early suggestion as he picks his own awards.

While I watched “WSS” today I was thinking that the people who produced the most recent and quite reviled version on Broadway should now be arrested and made to stand trial for crimes against humanity. I went to see it on December 20, 2019, I paid for my ticket because the equally reviled Scott Rudin was never to going to give me a press seat. The show was a nightmare, the polar opposite of Spielberg’s movie.

A young actor named Ben Cook played Riff. But by January 5th he was out of the show thanks to an injury. He never returned. So guess who I was surprised to see featured today in the “Gee Officer Krupke” number on screen? The very same Ben Cook. What a coincidence! He made lemonade out of lemons. Good for him!

So the Oscar race is on. With “Belfast” still in the lead for me we get “WSS,” “King Richard,” “CODA,” “Dune,” “Tick Tick Boom,” “Being the Ricardos,” “Parallel Mothers.” “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” at least. After tomorrow we’ll know about “Nightmare Alley.” Not a bad group. And “Power of the Dog” is still a strong possibility. The sands of time are ever shifting.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedmanhttps://www.showbiz411.com
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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