OSCAR COUNTDOWN

Only 26 days until the next Oscars are awarded on February 22, 2015.

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MISCELLANEOUS

Instant Oscar Nominations Reactions

I’M HAPPY ABOUT:

-Marion Cotillard’s nomination
Yes, the Academy loves her, but they should. Even though I didn’t see Two Days, One Night, the Dardenne brothers’ movie that she is nominated for, it was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes and her performance has been given the Best Actress award from several critics’ panels, including Boston and New York, so this didn’t come out of the blue. Most were expecting this slot to to go Jennifer Aniston, but, to be honest, Academy voters aren’t as swayed by publicists as everyone thinks they are, and here’s your proof.

-Laura Dern’s nomination
Ok, while I am bummed that Jessica Chastain didn’t get the fifth slot in the supporting actress category, I couldn’t be more thrilled that it went to Laura Dern for Wild. This is only her second Oscar nomination (her last nomination was in 1992 for Rambling Rose) and I’ve loved her in almost everything she’s done. And, considering how much I loved Wild and wish it had gotten MUCH more love from the Academy, I’m doubly-thrilled for her recognition here.

-Wes Anderson’s nomination
I have totally come around on Wes Anderson—The Grand Budapest Hotel is a near-masterpiece—and I couldn’t be happier that he finally got his first Best Director nomination. He’s been nominated three times before, but never for directing, so I’m very pleased to see his name on the short list.

-Clint Eastwood’s omission
As happy as I was to see Wes Anderson’s nomination, I was equally pleased to see the director’s branch of the Academy to be not quite as brain-dead as I expected them to be.

-Nightcrawler’s screenplay nomination
This movie was a dark and depressing commentary on how the American dream is alive and well for psychopaths willing to work hard and play the game—-so awesome to see it recognized for the brilliant work it was.

-The supporting actor nominees are all American!
With all the talk of British actors taking all the great roles and even playing iconic American heroes (MLK, LBJ), it’s nice to see an entire category made up of red-blooded, home-grown boys. U-S-A! U-S-A!

I’M SURPRISED ABOUT:

-No nomination for The Lego Movie for Animated Feature
This is big. I’ll admit, we should have seen something brewing when The Lego Movie didn’t win the Golden Globe (How to Train Your Dragon 2 won), but to have one of the biggest blockbusters of the year, a movie on many Top 10 lists, not even nominated? Jaw-dropper, indeed. There go the ratings.

-No nomination for Force Majeure
I saw this Swedish movie in the theatre and enjoyed it. It’s a dark comedy that’s polished and accessible and I’m truly floored it didn’t make the cut. It’s a movie that actually played in movie theatres and people were talking about it. It’s rare when the Academy ignores foreign movies like that.

-No nomination for David Oyelowo
This is surprising, but also sad. His omission cements the all-white nominations, which is sad and shameful.

-No Best Picture nomination for Foxcatcher
This is surprising mostly because the movie received 5 nominations, including Best Director and Best Actor. A Best Picture nomination usually follows. Comparatively, Selma squeezes in with a Best Picture nomination, but only manages one other nomination, for Best Song? I’ll never figure this stuff out.

I’M UPSET ABOUT:

-Bradley Cooper’s nomination
I hated American Sniper, it’s no secret. I don’t like Bradley Cooper as an actor and I hated his performance in American Sniper. To give him a nomination over someone else, specifically David Oyelowo for Selma or Jake Gyllenhaal for Nightcrawler—well, that’s just criminal.

-Ava DuVernay’s omission
I wasn’t a huge fan of The Imitiation Game, so I could’ve easily given Morten Tyldum’s slot to her here, but, mainly, I feel this was a result of the politics of the campaign, and that’s what bothers me most.

-The love for American Sniper
Which proves I just know nothing. Nothing.

-The love for Meryl Streep
The fact that the auto-fill-in on the ballot is in play every year, leaving only 4 actresses to compete for the other slots is outrageous. While I’m thrilled that Laura Dern snuck in, Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year was edged out because of it. Instead, why couldn’t Meryl Streep’s already-written-in-ink nomination have been thrown out? But no, she’s got to rack up another nomination (her 19th)—no matter how overblown or tired the performance actually was. Nobody pays attention to me anymore on this subject, but even dead horses need a slap every once in a while.

I’M WONDERING ABOUT:

-Will anyone watch?
With no Lego Movie nomination (except for Best Song) and Guardians of the Galaxy and Maleficent only nominated in the minor technical categories, will anyone watch the Oscars? Does Neil Patrick Harris have any sway with the mainstream public? The Best Picture nominees are a bunch of small, independent movies (read: snob pics) that will be a hard sell for middle America. Is it too late to call Ellen?

-Should Roger Deakins even show up anymore?
Poor Roger Deakins. His nomination for the cinematography for Unbroken is his 12th nomination, and the guy has never won. And with all the buzz being around Emmanuel Lubezki for Birdman, maybe Deakins will lose AGAIN this year! Oh, I don’t think I could take it. Roger, just stay home!!

And, finally…my two favorite movies of the year got the most nominations—when was the last time THAT happened?? For all my initial feelings of disappointment, and wanting to dump on the Academy this morning, when I really think about it, my two favorite movies of the year—Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel—are also their two favorite movies, if you go by the total number of nominations they each received (9 each). These two movies led the pack this morning, so, no matter how bitter I am about American Sniper, how sad I am about Jake, or how depressed I am about Selma or the lack of diversity in the nominees, the quality of the movies represented is essentially still there. So, no matter how much I want to give up on the Oscars…..I still can’t. Dammit.

See you on February 22 (even if nobody else shows up).

See all the nominations here

My (not so bold) Oscar Nominations Predictions

photo Thursday morning, J.J. Abrams will be making a HUGE announcement!!!

Thought that would get your attention. While the director of the new Star Wars movie is going to be on live TV on Thursday morning, the big news he will be announcing has nothing to do with the new film, coming out in December. Instead, he is one of four presenters, along with actor Chris Pine, director Alfonso Cuaron and Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who will be announcing the nominations in all 24 categories of the Academy Awards—the first time all categories have been announced live—which will be hosted this year by Neil Patrick Harris and handed out on Sunday, February 22.

So, before the nominations are announced, it’s always fun to guess who’s name will be called out, so here are my best attempts at reading the Academy’s minds and predicting the nominations in some major categories. Disclaimer: it’s not who I WANT to be nominated, it’s who I THINK will be nominated:

BEST PICTURE
American Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
Foxcatcher
Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

BEST DIRECTOR
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
Ava DuVernay, Selma
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood

BEST ACTOR
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
Michael Keaton, Birdman
David Oyelowo, Selma
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
click here to keep reading My (not so bold) Oscar Nominations Predictions »

Into the Woods

photo So, yes, I did see Into the Woods. And I did actually want to see it, despite what some of you might think. I love Sondheim, I love musicals, and I wanted to give this one every chance. Sadly, though, no matter how I tried, I still couldn’t find a way to love it. (And not just for the reason you think.)

Let’s just take care of this up front: I don’t like Meryl Streep. For those of you who don’t know, I think she’s overrated and certainly not worthy of the hype and pedestal she’s been placed on for the past thirty years. That said, I knew that this movie would be built around her casting as the witch, since this is a movie mash-up of classic Grimm fairy tales and her part is the central figure in the plot as well as the one that gets the most dramatic screen time. I steeled myself for it, as I’ve been able to endure Streep movies in the past—I loved Devil Wears Prada, Silkwood and Defending Your Life, for example—but I also put my faith in the fact that Stephen Sondheim’s music would be the real star here and director Rob Marshall wouldn’t let one performer pull too much focus from a brilliant ensemble in a classic ensemble piece.

I’ve always been such an optimist.
click here to keep reading Into the Woods »

My Top 10 of 2014

1. Birdman
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
3. Guardians of the Galaxy
4. Wild
5. Locke
6. Nightcrawler
7. Boyhood
8. The Skeleton Twins
9. Selma
10. Foxcatcher

A Most Violent Year

photo What I usually respond to the most viscerally in a movie is imagination—show me something different, something new, refreshing, something I’ve never seen before. Of course, after over a hundred years of motion pictures, absolute originality in movies is a rarity these days, at least in concept and story. However, as writer/director J.C. Chandor (All Is Lost) has proven with his latest release A Most Violent Year, it is possible to tread over familiar ground even in familiar ways and still find ways to make it interesting, compelling and richly textured.
click here to keep reading A Most Violent Year »

Selma

photo Historical dramas are tricky. They have to walk that fine line between fact and fiction, finding a way to communicate truths to the audience while hitting emotional and plot touchpoints true to their narrative story—not always an easy nor believable a task. The audience’s part to play in this is agreeing to the conceit that there is a difference between a historical drama and a documentary and when they buy a ticket to see a fictionalized story based on true events, they are agreeing that it is, in fact, only based on true events, not the real events as they actually happened. Film is a creative endeavor, an interpretive art form, and interpretations of history are not uncommon in cinema. It is how we react, embrace and interpret these interpretations for ourselves that matter—and how we allow them to reflect upon ourselves and our own history that tell the true story.

The producers of Selma had no way of knowing the prophetic timing the release of their movie would have. To come out and be getting significant critical acclaim and awards buzz (even though it won’t be released to a wide audience until January 9) right after the racially-charged incidents in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City only makes the subject matter and the impact of the film all the more powerful, effective, timely and haunting. And, to be honest, that is exactly what a well-made historical drama should do: it should remind ourselves of history and, no matter when the real events may have taken place, how that history has colored, shaped and crafted our world—and, always, how doomed we are to repeat it if we don’t pay attention.
click here to keep reading Selma »

Big Eyes

photo Has Tim Burton finally grown up? The director we’ve come to know and love for delivering our ghoulishly delightful, playfully nightmarish and stylistically dark storytelling for 29 years, from Beetlejuice to Edward Scissorhands to Sweeney Todd to Mars Attacks! to Corpse Bride to Sleepy Hollow, has now dared to make a—gasp!—regular movie? I don’t know what’s more unnerving—the thought of Beetlejuice winning an Oscar or Tim Burton being normal (careful, they both might happen this year).

Well, as scary as it is to say, it looks like Mr. Nightmare Before Christmas himself does actually know how to make a straight movie. And, guess what? It’s pretty good. Big Eyes, directed by Tim Burton and written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt) and starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz is a fascinating movie based on the true story of painter Margaret Keane and her husband Walter, who took credit for Margaret’s wildly popular paintings in the ‘50s. These paintings of children with the “big eyes” were apparently all the rage back then and became a pop art sensation, but the story of this movie is the relationship—and the internal divide—between husband and wife when Walter, played by the magnificent Waltz, steals creative ownership of the paintings publicly in order to sell them. When the lie becomes bigger than the both of them, Margaret, played with usual brilliance by Adams, is trapped, and the deceit envelops her world.
click here to keep reading Big Eyes »

Unbroken

photo Finally, the one we’ve all been waiting for. It’s the middle of Oscar season and I’ve been wondering where that big, epic, glossy, expensive, emotional, inspirational, with-a-cast-of-thousands Oscar bait movie was going to come along and knock us off our feet. So far, all the movies that have created awards buzz (Boyhood, Birdman, Grand Budapest Hotel) have been little movies with little oomph behind them and have relied on little things like quality, word-of-mouth and reviews to sustain them. What Hollywood really needs to get this Oscar season going is a classic, old-fashioned big-budget epic with star power behind it, major studio support, a massive marketing budget—a movie based on a true story that will inspire the masses and make our hearts sing.

Plan A: Exodus: Gods and Kings. Plan B: Unbroken.

Hollywood might need a Plan C.
click here to keep reading Unbroken »

American Sniper

photo I’m trying to remember the last time Clint Eastwood made a good movie. I think it was back in 2006, with Letters from Iwo Jima, which even then was almost nullified by its companion film, Flags of Our Fathers, which was awful. How could the man who made Unforgiven in 1992, Mystic River in 2003, and Million Dollar Baby in 2004—not to mention Letter from Iwo Jima, perhaps his best of all—fall so quickly with Changeling (2008), Invictus (2009), Hereafter (2010), J. Edgar (2011), Jersey Boys (2014) and now American Sniper, a painful, one-dimensional, hackneyed and stiff reminder that Eastwood’s best days are most certainly behind him.

American Sniper is bad. Really bad. Much of the blame does fall to Eastwood, who, no doubt, gets caught up in the temptations of the rah-rah patriotism/machismo of the story, which is based on the true life of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, who became a military legend through four tours of duty in Iraq. There is no single second of subtext in this movie. It feels more like a recruiting film than a narrative story, with equal subtlety. The absolutely ludicrous script from Jason Hall doesn’t help. Neither does the trying-too-hard performance from Bradley Cooper. Elephant Man on Broadway, character roles where he gains weight and creates tics or chews scenery—-stop “acting” so hard, Bradley, it’s showing. And it’s not working. Maybe you’re just best as the pretty boy from The Hangover and it’s time to accept it. I know you want the career re-invention (and the Oscar) that McConaughey has, but, guess what? You just don’t have his talent. Or, apparently, his agent.

American Sniper misses the target. (Now THAT was too easy.)

Inherent Vice

photo Since I was not familiar with author Thomas Pynchon’s works, I went online to see how some have described his writing. Here’s a sampling:

“To plunge down the rabbit hole of Pynchon’s fiction is to commence a journey into an alternate world”

“Onto Pynchon’s richly detailed and often ambiguous landscape the reader projects his/her own interpretation in order to bring the work ‘into pulsing stelliferous Meaning’”

“And, of course, there is simply the sheer beauty and breathtaking power of the writing, the subtly interwoven plots and themes”

“With novels that some critics have called ‘unreadable’, paranoiacs and conspiracy theorists lauding his techniques, a reclusive nature and a lack of public interface, Thomas Pynchon has a mythic but daunting cult status.”

Sounds like the perfect source for Christmas-movie fun to me!
click here to keep reading Inherent Vice »

MY CURRENT SMART PICKS

Top 5 List:

My Five Favorite Bio-Pics:

1. Amadeus (1984)
2. Goodfellas (1990)
3. Sweet Dreams (1985)
4. In the Name of the Father (1993)
5. Schindler's List (1993)

Rental Pick:

The Elephant Man (1980)

Favorite Trailer of the Moment:

Awesome Movie Montages and Lists: