Archive | February 2012

Full Oscar predictions

Here are all my Oscar predictions, with comments for the categories I posted last night.

Note: I changed my costume pick to Anonymous, after realizing that it both won the costume guild award, and after remembering  that being set during the Renaissance is even better for this category than 19th century England.

Best Picture

The Artist

The Descendants

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The Help

Hugo

Midnight in Paris

Moneyball

The Tree of Life

War Horse

The Artist has been a juggernaut this awards season. I loved it, personally, but I can also understand the puzzlement many in the media have showed over the awards dominance of a silent, French slapstick comedy. I think Mark Harris of Grantland is onto something: if The Artist wins Best Picture, it’s as much a statement about the lackluster crop of American films this year as it is a celebration of a movie that just doesn’t fit the Academy’s favored profile.

That said, I’ll be more than happy when it takes home the trophy tonight. My favorite film in the category, The Tree of Life, doesn’t have a chance, so I’m fairly ambivalent anyway, and The Artist is much better than several films to have won in in the last decade and change.

Best Director

Martin Scorsese, Hugo

Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life

Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris

Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

Alexander Payne, The Descendants

There’s a splinter sentiment that Scorsese will win here, his reputation and Hugo’s big nominations haul leading to something of an upset. However, last year taught me a valuable lesson in this category. I joined everyone else who predicted that David Fincher would win the directing Oscar for The Social Network while The King’s Speech would take Best Picture. When the latter won both, I looked back through Oscar history and realized that Picture/Director splits only happen in a crazy, unpredictable fashion.

The last time it happened, for example, was when Crash stunned Best Director winner Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain and won Best Picture, maybe the most controversial Oscar win in history. Before that, Roman Polanski won for directing The Pianist as part of that film’s out-of-nowhere three Oscar haul (the most shocking of which was Adrien Brody’s well-deserved win for Best Actor) as it nearly toppled mega-favorite Chicago, which ended up winning Best Picture anyway.

Before that, there was the crazy race of 2000, when Gladiator prevailed in Best Picture, but was upset by Traffic’s Steven Soderbergh for Best Director. Lest we forget, Ang Lee was also among the favorites that year as well, winning the DGA for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Pretty much every single Picture/Director split in the last 40-odd years involved either a huge upset, usually for Best Picture (Shakespeare in Love, Driving Miss Daisy, Chariots of Fire) or a very tight race between two heavyweights (The Godfather and Cabaret  in 1972, In the Heat of the Night  and The Graduate in 1968). The Artist has been a huge favorite all awards season, and has shown no signs of weakness. If it loses here or in Picture, it’ll be an upset.

Best Actor

Demian Bichir, A Better Life

George Clooney, The Descendants

Jean Dujardin, The Artist

Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Brad Pitt, Moneyball

It’s been interesting watching Dujardin emerge as a front-runner in a category that features two of Hollywood’s biggest stars in their most critically acclaimed roles yet. He’s definitely earning novelty points for the silent-factor in his performance. Many see this is a bad thing. I don’t particularly. Every performance must be judged within its particular context, and judging Dujardin against Pitt and Clooney strictly on dramatic heft isn’t fair.

Regardless, he’s probably going to win here (whether or not history remembers this win fondly is another story), although I’m guarded about a Pitt or Clooney upset.

Best Actress

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs

Viola Davis, The Help

Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

Viola Davis has emerged as something of desperation favorite, someone to give the award to instead of having to choose between one of two stars in mediocre biopics that were pretty clearly made for the sole purpose of winning Oscars. Make no mistake, Streep (and to a lesser extent, Williams) can’t be counted out here. But Davis has much more sentiment on her side right now, and there’s a sense that the voters don’t want to give Streep, possibly our best living actress, her third Oscar for a piece of Oscar-bait that no one really liked.

Best Supporting Actor

Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn

Jonah Hill, Moneyball

Nick Nolte, Warrior

Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

It’s been heart-warming for me to see Plummer emerge as the clear front-runner for this award, which would be his first. He’s delightful and heartbreaking in Beginners, which is a film that I didn’t expect to see on the awards circuit this year. If he loses, it’d be a monumental upset.

Best Supporting Actress

Berenice Bejo, The Artist

Jessica Chastain, The Help

Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids

Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs

Octavia Spencer, The Help

Spencer has dominated the pre-cursors, and there’s a general warm and fuzzy feeling about her winning. She’s a hardworking veteran, who has long made the most of whatever screen time she could get (I’ll forever remember her as the crowbar lady in the elevator in Being John Malkovich). She’s a lock here.

Best Original Score

The Adventures of Tintin (John Williams)

The Artist (Ludovic Bource)

Hugo (Howard Shore)

Alberto Iglasias (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)

War Horse (John Williams)

The Social Network’s win here last year indicated that the Academy was weighing the cinematic importance and memorability of the score as much as its level of heartstring-tugging. In that case, I can’t imagine a film whose only sound for 95% of the run-time is music losing here.

Best Song (what the hell happened to this category this year?)

“Man or Muppet?” from The Muppets

“Real in Rio” from Rio

I don’t even know. Seriously, what gives, Academy? Two nominees? Fix this category’s nominating process, or get rid of it. But nominating two blah songs and calling it a day is embarrassing.

Adapted Screenplay

The Descendants (Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash)

Hugo (John Logan)

The Ides of March (George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willmon)

Moneyball (Stephen Zallian, Aaron Sorkin, and Stan Chervin)

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan)

Original Screenplay

The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)

Bridesmaids (Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig)

Margin Call (J.C. Chandor)

Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen)

A Separation (Asghar Farhadi)

Animated Feature

A Cat in Paris

Chico & Rita

Kung Fu Panda 2

Puss in Boots

Rango

Documentary Feature

Hell and Back Again

If a Tree Falls Short: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Pina

Undefeated

Foreign Language Film

Bullhead (Belgium)

Monsieur Lazhar (Canada)

A Separation (Iran)

Footnote (Israel)

In Darkness (Poland)

Film Editing

The Artist

The Descendants

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Hugo

Moneyball

Sound Mixing

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Hugo

Moneyball

Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon

War Horse

Sound Editing

Drive

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Hugo

Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon

War Horse

Visual Effects

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Hugo

Real Steel

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Documentary Short

The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement

God is the Bigger Elvis

Incident in New Baghdad

Saving Face

The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

Short Film (Live Action)

Pentecost

Raju

The Shore

Time Freak

Tuba Atlantic

Animated Short 

Dimanche/Sunday

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

La Luna

A Morning Stroll

Wild Life

Art Direction

The Artist

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Hugo

Midnight in Paris

War Horse

Costume Design

Anonymous

The Artist

Hugo

Jane Eyre

W.E.

Cinematography

The Artist

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Hugo

The Tree of Life

War Horse

Makeup

Albert Nobbs

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

The Iron Lady

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Oscar Predictions: Best Picture and the other majors (and music, for some reason)

I got distracted catching up on Breaking Bad (halfway through season 4 now) and forgot to do my write-ups for the remaining categories. Here are my quick and dirty picks for the categories I haven’t written about yet (Picture, Director, actors, and music)

Best Picture

The Artist

The Descendants

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The Help

Hugo

Midnight in Paris

Moneyball

The Tree of Life

War Horse

Best Director

Martin Scorsese, Hugo

Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life

Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris

Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

Alexander Payne, The Descendants

Best Actor

Demian Bichir, A Better Life

George Clooney, The Descendants

Jean Dujardin, The Artist

Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Best Actress

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs

Viola Davis, The Help

Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

Best Supporting Actor

Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn

Jonah Hill, Moneyball

Nick Nolte, Warrior

Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Best Supporting Actress

Berenice Bejo, The Artist

Jessica Chastain, The Help

Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids

Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs

Octavia Spencer, The Help

Best Original Score

The Adventures of Tintin (John Williams)

The Artist (Ludovic Bource)

Hugo (Howard Shore)

Alberto Iglasias (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)

War Horse (John Williams)

Best Song (what the hell happened to this category this year?)

“Man or Muppet?” from The Muppets

“Real in Rio” from Rio

Oscar predictions part 3: Screenplay and the “other” feature awards

Adapted Screenplay

The Descendants (Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash)

Hugo (John Logan)

The Ides of March (George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willmon)

Moneyball (Stephen Zallian, Aaron Sorkin, and Stan Chervin)

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan)

This category has all the makings of a former Best Picture frontrunner  being thrown a bone so it doesn’t walk away empty-handed. Alexander Payne got the same deal for Sideways in 2004, and he’ll probably win his second Oscar (along with Dean Pelton from “Community”!)

Original Screenplay

The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)

Bridesmaids (Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig)

Margin Call (J.C. Chandor)

Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen)

A Separation (Asghar Farhadi)

The same deal as above, with the added narrative a legend regaining his form. Woody Allen won this award for his first two Best Picture nominees (Best Picture winner Annie Hall and shoulda won Best Picture Hannah and her Sisters) and the Academy will be happy to give him another for his third.

Animated Feature

A Cat in Paris

Chico & Rita

Kung Fu Panda 2

Puss in Boots

Rango

Even with the snubs for Albert Brooks and Michael Fassbender and the Best Picture nod for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Chico & Rita and A Cat in Paris pulled off perhaps the biggest surprise of nomination morning when they beat out Tin Tin  in this category. The surprised will end there, however. Rango was something of a sleeper hit whose reputation only grew as the year went along. I’d prefer Kung Fu Panda 2, personally, but Rango will make for a perfectly fine addition to the category’s winners list.

Documentary Feature


Hell and Back Again

If a Tree Falls Short: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Pina

Undefeated

The Academy has been awarding this to the most buzzed documentaries of their given years recently. They then went and snubbed the year’s two most talked-about docs: The Interrupters and Project Nim. That leaves Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory as an option to have a do-over for one of the best and most socially important documentaries of the last 20 years: the haunting, original Paradise Lost, which won an Emmy but somehow missed out on Oscar consideration.

Foreign Language Film

Bullhead (Belgium)

Monsieur Lazhar (Canada)

A Separation (Iran)

Footnote (Israel)

In Darkness (Poland)

While some pundits (Slant Magazine, for example) have predicted that the Academy’s love for the most cloying nominee will lead to an upset for In Darkness, I think the buzz for Separation is overwhelming. Where Slant falters is in the buzz category. The Sea Inside, for example, was a favorite all Oscar season, and The Secret in Their Eyes was buzzing something fierce at the last moments in a year with a tight race. A Separation  has the buzz/acclaim combo that usually leads to a win here.

Tomorrow (later today, really): The acting Oscars

Oscar Predictions Part 2: The Techs and short film

The tech and short film Oscars can be an odd bunch to predict. They usually are hell for me, as I try to deduce some formula based on Oscar history plus the wind speed in Palo Alto on the night of the Oscars divided by the circumference of Harvey Weinstein’s ego. Suffice it to say, I never get them right. Last year, my sister predicted them based on gut feeling right before each of them was handed out, and nailed almost every pick. For the sake of this blog, I’m doing the same thing (except film editing, which is a tad easier to predict)

Also, I’m going to hold off on predicting Animated short until I get the chance to see a few of them this week. As before, predicted winners in italics.

Film Editing

The Artist

The Descendants

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Hugo

Moneyball

Whichever subtle nuances the Film Editing branch bases their eclectic nominees off of tends to be forgotten by the time the actual Oscar get handed out. This award tends to go to the most obviously edited film nominated. Sometimes that’s a good thing (The Bourne Ultimatum) and sometimes not (Chicago). This year, that, and Hugo editor Thelma Schoonmaker’s three-Oscar pedigree, makes the choice pretty easy. Hugo might very well sweep the tech and art categories this year.

Sound Mixing

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Hugo

Moneyball

Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon

War Horse

It felt right.
Sound Editing

Drive

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Hugo

Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon

War Horse

Why not.

Visual Effects

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Hugo

Real Steel

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon

Historically, when Best Picture nominees are present here, they always win. Since Star Wars began the trend in 1977 (the year the award was christened with its current name), 16  Best Picture nominees have been nominated for Visual Effects as well. The only three not to win (Apollo 13, Master and Commander, and District 9) lost to other Best Picture contenders (Babe, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and Avatar). I’m not betting on Hugo to break the trend, not without good reason.

Documentary Short

The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement

God is the Bigger Elvis

Incident in New Baghdad

Saving Face

The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

Not to sound cynical, but the Academy seems to love documentary shorts about people dealing with terrifying medical problems. Not to minimize the horror of the subjects of Saving Face have dealt with, or the efforts of the heroic surgeon it profiles. I’m simply saying that I knew what I’d predict to win pretty quickly as I read the nominees’ synopses.

Short Film (Live Action)

Pentecost

Raju

The Shore

Time Freak

Tuba Atlantic

Knowing nothing about the nominees but what their trailers on the Oscar website told me, this one looked the most interesting. That’s better than what I usually go on (darts).

Tomorrow: Screenplay, Animation, and Foreign Language predictions

Oscar Predictions Part 1: The Pretty Categories

With the Oscars now five days away, I’m unveiling my predictions in batches. I’m starting with some of my favorite, most overlooked categories of the night: the art categories. Or as I, and some of my friends at Culturish call them, the Pretties. I’m a sucker for a movie that looks good, so these actually matter to me quite a bit, more than Best Picture most years (if only because my favorite film in a given year tends not to win, as is the case with most people I imagine). Anyway, on to the predix (predicted winners in italics)

Art Direction

The Artist

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Hugo

Midnight in Paris

War Horse

This category leans lush. All things being equal, that’d favor the gothic, battle-torn Hogwarts, but the Harry Potter series has yet to win an Oscar. It can be hard to tell when Hugo’s sets end and special effects begin, but that didn’t hurt Avatar or Alice in Wonderland. It’s literally the most visible film in the batch. That should be more than enough.

Costume Design

Anonymous

The Artist

Hugo

Jane Eyre

W.E.

Presence in other Oscar categories matters little in the category. Past winners include The Young Victoria, The Duchess, Marie Antoinette, and Restoration. Period films dominate the category, and the older the setting the better. Eight of the last 13 winners have been set in the 19th century or earlier.While The Artist and Hugo are both threats, I’m going with Jane Eyre and its designer Michael O’Connor, who won previously for The Duchess.

Cinematography

The Artist

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Hugo

The Tree of Life

War Horse

My favorite Oscar category. This is the one time I’ll let my heart dictate my decision. Emmanuel Lubezki should win this handily. Hell, he deserved to win already for The New World  and Children of Men,  and probably for A Little Princess  as well. I pray he doesn’t become another Roger Deakins. The Tree of Life is one of the immaculately shot films I’ve ever seen, but I suspect War Horse with its countless pretty canvases and vistas is more attuned to the Academy’s taste. Hugo, for that matter, might ride the Avatar “it’s shiny, so let’s throw these awards at it and call it a day” rail to a win. Still, my fingers are crossed.

Makeup

Albert Nobbs

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

The Iron Lady

Unless the Academy is deeply impressed by Meryl Streep’s overbite, I expect the Harry Potter series finally gets an Oscar here. I know they seem to hate Harry for some odd reason but come on. They made The Wolfman an Oscar winner last year. I doubt their resentment goes so far as to reward that film and deny Harry Potter here out of spite.

Tomorrow: The tech and short film awards

The weight of a vision

How much clout do visuals have in dictating the quality of a film? It’s something I’ve often wondered, and no film has given me more cause to wonder it than Tarsem’s “The Fall.”

The film’s entire point is to have visuals. The story doesn’t just serve the sights; it’s an excuse for them, a barely-visible thread keeping the film from being the most incredible slideshow ever produced.

That’s not a criticism. “The Fall” is one of the most visually splendid films I’ve ever seen. In a time when gloss and glitter are unduly praised for their splendor, “The Fall” calls to attention how much work goes into its shots.

Look at the much celebrated wedding scene, for example.

It’s probably the first film to make the 360 shot feel organic, what with all those Whirling Dervishes. Each wide-view shot looks more like a painting than what we’re used to from movie shots today. Each shadow is deliberate and beautiful, any random still capable of being a promotional image.

But the part that really gets me is the last shot. More than that, it’s the rest of the scene that we don’t see that astonished me when I watched this movie. Having the priest’s face suddenly morph into the desert is a striking visual. In the rest of the shot, we see the camera turn, and every aspect of the “face” is there, stretched out across the desert. It’s here where you start to think “Good lord, they actually had to plot this entire thing out to look like that actor’s face.”  Is it pretentious? Of course! I’d be disappointed if it wasn’t, because only a filmmaker convinced of his own abilities could pull off a film like this. Quentin Tarantino’s films have the same appeal. Criticizing them as masturbatory is missing the point; a less indulgent director would never think to make a film as referential, and therefore as fun, as “Kill Bill”, or as willing to rewrite history as “Inglourious Bastards.”

This scene does the same thing, when Tarsem makes sure that we know that he built that damn huge sheet with red paint in the middle of the desert, and we deserve one last shot of how pretty it looks from far away.

It’s Tarsem breaking the 4th wall, adding a little wrinkle to let you know that, yeah, he worked damn hard to make this film look good and don’t you forget it. Most of the scenes do this on their own. My favorite shot of the entire film comes near the beginning, when Lee Pace is telling a story about Alexander the Great.

It’s that wonderful 1-2-3 that takes place 30 seconds in. First we see giant hills of sand, with the human characters barely pinpricks. Then a sudden close up of the rider, followed by a beautifully framed mid-shot, where the hill is no longer visible as anything but a giant backdrop. The shots are nothing but aesthetically pleasing and kind of playful, screwing around by combining extreme shots with more typical ones, all without screwing with the visual direction. No need for swirling, shaky cameras or gratuitous CGI when three well-placed cameras, spaced apart, all looking at one subject will do just fine.

As you can see, I can talk for hours about “The Fall” without even approaching its story. I wouldn’t want filmmakers in general to bank on visuals being the entire point, only because I doubt most of them have the skill to do so and still make their films interesting. But movies like “The Fall” show how, in a medium with so many elements, use of one element to perfection can not only mask deficiencies. It can be the entire point in the first place.

“The Shining” and slow-burn horror

I realize that I write a lot about horror films. This isn’t a horror film blog and, while I do love the genre, I can’t call myself a horror aficionado.

That out of the way, I want to talk about “The Shining”. It’s one of the most praised horror films of all time. Yet, it’s also one of the most atypical, at least as American horror goes. Its body count is very low, almost absurdly so by 70’s-80’s standards. It has only one “jump” moment that I can think of (those moments that usually feature something suddenly jumping in from off-screen, startling the audience) and it’s a doozy. It’s chapter-based structure, informing the audience of each passing day within the film, is completely at odds with traditional horror structure, which go plot point by plot point, with death set-pieces distributed around generously.

“The Shining” is usually categorized as a descent into madness, but I think that shortchanges what Kubrick accomplished.

The film is actually quite calculated. It knows that gore and shock alone aren’t frightening. However, even the film’s most disturbing scenes wouldn’t be effective if they were just sprinkled throughout like in most horror films.

“The Shining’s” terror is backloaded, but it starts off with a sense of unease. Jack Nicholson never appears to be entirely there. We hear about his injuring his son in a drunken rage early in the film Stephen King allegedly complained that the film was less effective because it hinted that Nicholson’s character was never entirely sane. I think it’s much more effective for that reason. The film is like being thrown onto a wobbly boat with a storm on the horizon. Kubrick spends the bulk of the film establishing visual motifs (the vastness of the hotel’s interior, the claustrophobic hallways),  Overlook Hotel’s layout, and the sense that this family is coming apart. The famous fake-trailer for “The Shining,” advertising it as a heartwarming comedy, was actually on to something.

Without the sense of alarm we feel from the first scene, much of “The Shining” could be more “Ordinary People” than horror. Instead, the film’s sense of dread culminates in a cascade of moments and images that rock us. Shelly Duvall’s and Stanley Kubrick’s Razzie nominations for this film are almost unforgivable. With Danny being catatonic much of the film, she’s a conduit of normality in this hell. Nicholson has rarely been so over-the-top, but it’s perfect for this film, where his scenery chewing is a mixture of catharsis and complete mental breakdown.

More than anything, we remember the images. The scenes that we remember from “The Shining” (the discovery of what’s in room 237; the chase up the staircase; the river of blood; and the crown king of WTF horror moments, the man in the dog-suit giving a dapper gent a blow job) don’t have much thematic link to each other. They are Kubrick’s cinematic sledgehammer, attacking the audience’s sanity. Unlike most horror directors, he took the time to tenderize slowly first, making the barrage of terror at the end of the film as disorienting as it is frightening.

 

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