2012 Oscar Predictions

February 22, 2013 at 7:08 pm | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment
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Well, with only days to spare, I thought I would share my Oscar Predictions with you this year.  Please be aware that if I end up being mostly wrong, I will of course delete this post and, if I am mostly right, I will gloat.  Just so you’re clear on my rules.

Best Picture

Should be:  Amour.  Far and away, this was the best film of the year and a truly breathtaking work.  Unfortunately, the Academy has a poor track record for rewarding little seen subtitled films.

Will be:  Argo.  Of the big, obvious choices, it has all the momentum, even though it is almost my least favorite in this category (that goes that miserable musical).  It was fine but all of the hype just really feels like a bit much for me.

Directing

Should be:  Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of The Southern Wild.  Really, he should win just based on the performance he managed to get out of young Quvenzhané Wallis.  That was a feat of pure directing skill; I mean, what does a 6 year old really know about acting.

Will be:  Probably Ang Lee for Life of Pi.  This is a hard call because David O. Russell may take it for Silver Linings Playbook.  However, I think the whole meme about Lee filming the unfilmable book is really giving him the momentum right now.

Lead Actress

Should be:  Emmanuelle Riva in Amour.  This French actress (who turns 86 on Oscar night) gave a truly beautiful and heart wrenching performance.  If there was any justice in the Academy, there would be no contest.  And, if it could not be her, then it should be Helen Hunt, who is wrongly nominated in the Supporting Actress category.

Will be:  Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook or Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty.  This one is too close for me to call.  Jessica Chastain is a Hollywood darling right now who exploded onto the screen in 2011 with ferocious and much praised performances in The Debt, The Help, Take Shelter, Coriolanus and The Tree of Life, yet did not get an Oscar nod for a single one of them.  However, I think Lawrence has the edge.  She has kind of developed that “America’s Sweetheart” vibe this past year and she is much more known by a wider audience.

Lead Actor

Should be:  Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln.  This one is obvious.  No one else even came close.  In a year where I was not generally that impressed by male actors, D. Day put in a truly brilliant performance that would have been the star of any year.

Will be:  Daniel Day-Lewis.  No doubt.  This is the one guarantee of the night.  If he doesn’t win, I will eat this stone (sorry, Survivor reference).

Supporting Actress

Should be:  Helen Hunt in The Sessions.  As I said above, she should really be in the Best Actress category but, here, in this category, she really outshines everyone else.  Her performance was so real and so vulnerable, I can’t see how anyone else could win.  Yet… not enough people saw this film and, so, because The Oscars is all about ratings, she will not get acknowledged.

Will be:  Probably Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables.  Sally Field could steal it from her for her role as Mary Todd Lincoln and I would be happy with that but I suspect that Hathaway’s weeping close ups as she sang the only song from that musical that most people know will give her an insurmountable edge.  “I dreamed a dream in times gone by, when hopes were high, that this category was worth watching…”

Supporting Actor

Should be:  Robert De Niro in Silver Linings Playbook.  To my mind, this is a really weak category this year and I don’t really feel strongly about any of the performances.  The only person who should win in this category is not even nominated: Jean-Louis Trintignant for Amour.  Of those on the list, I probably liked De Niro’s the best.  His felt the most like acting to me.  Though, I must admit, it is hard to judge Phillip Seymour Hoffman through the difficult source material.

Will be:  Robert De Niro.  Most likely.  Though I hold out that Alan Arkin could sneak in there if Argo is having a run-away night.

Adapted Screenplay

Should be:  Lincoln.  Tony Kushner’s beautiful use of language was poetic and kept a long and ponderous film from ever becoming boring.

Will be:  Lincoln.  I’d be surprised if it wasn’t.  I think this is the consolation prize for  not winning Best Picture.  But, again, if Argo is having a great night…

Original Screenplay

Should be:  Moonrise Kingdom.  No question.  None.  Far and away the most original screenplay of the year.  Nothing even comes close to its quirky brilliance.  But, I guarantee it won’t win.  It is, honestly, probably the least likely of the 5 choices.

Will be:  Zero Dark Thirty.  Lucky for them that Argo is not in this category and that there is no option for a write-in.  This is probably Zero Dark Thirty’s only opportunity to take home anything and, as such, this will probably be its consolation prize.

Best Animated Film

Should be:  ParaNorman.  This stop-motion film was lovely and chock full of funny movie references and other adult humor to keep me entertained throughout.

Will be:  Brave.  Why?  Well, because it’s Pixar, stupid.  Although, I admit, her hair was really cool.

Best Foreign Language Film

Should be:  Amour.  I should think my opinion on that should be obvious by now.

Will be:  Amour.  This one is almost as locked up as Best Actor.

Best Documentary

Should be:  Searching For Sugarman.  This film was one of the unexpected joys of this movie season.  It was a film I almost missed because it really didn’t look worth bothering with but it was such a pure pleasure from start to finish.  A rousing, encouraging, optimistic film with beautiful music, it really is the must-see feel-good movie of the year.

Will be:  Searching For Sugarman or The Gatekeepers.  These are absolutely the only two possibilities.  The Gatekeepers is a super-serious and highly praised film that interviews every single past and present leader of Shin Bet, the Jewish secret service.  It is dark and sobering and apparently worth watching (it is the only film on this list I have not see because it has not been released yet) but it is the opposite of “Sugarman.”  The question is: “which tone of film does the Academy want to reward?”  I’m betting on feel-good.

West of Memphis

February 18, 2013 at 6:23 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊

Last year, I saw “The Central Park Five,” which has a very similar premise to this film: young men accused of a crime they did not do, railroaded by a lazy and self-serving judicial system, spend years in prison only to be redeemed later.  Both stories are maddening for the way the system can fail and we, as human beings, can collude in that failure.  If we are honest, they tell us something about ourselves and the way we “witch hunt” people in order to feel safe, have answers and make sense of the world.  And they remind us that police and prosecutors are just as human as the rest of us and just as capable of being lazy and self-serving at work, even though innocent lives are at stake (they can rationalize convicting someone without evidence as easily as someone else can rationalize lying on a timesheet or not proof-reading a report).  That said, if you want to see that film and get that message loud and clear, see “The Central Park Five.”  It is a stronger, better made and more disciplined work.  “West of Memphis” veers too easily into the tawdry, the sensational and the speculative.  I am not easily disturbed in a film but I was disturbed by the sheer number of times we had to see photos and videos of the 3 murdered 8 year old boys’ bodies, naked, bound and damaged (including one image that included a face).  Likewise, one theory was illustrated using snapping turtles and a pig carcass in a way that felt exploitative and added nothing to the film.  This is probably the most famous case of an unjust conviction in the U.S. currently and has been the subject of 3 previous documentaries: “Paradise Lost” (1996), “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations” (2000) and “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” (2011).   Rather than the torrid series of slasher films they sound like, this is a group of well-meaning documentaries that strived to keep the boys’ case alive (the three teens convicted of the crime are known as the West Memphis 3 or WM3, for short).  Without the films, it is doubtful they would have gotten their second day in court and been released.  Given current evidence, it is hard to imagine these boys are guilty and I am thrilled that these films have resulted in their release.  However, I have some concern with the need these documentaries have to point a finger elsewhere.  In one of the earlier films, they pointed the finger firmly at a step-father of one of the boys, making it look like he almost certainly did it.  In this film, they have left that man alone and now portray him as an unfairly wronged good guy.  They now point the finger at the step-father of another of the boys.  By the end of this movie, they have presented a pretty convincing case that he must be guilty.  It is hard not to be swayed.  Until you start thinking about witch hunts, that is…

56 Up

February 17, 2013 at 6:00 pm | Posted in 2013 | 1 Comment
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In 1963, a British filmmaker decided to do a one-off documentary around the Jesuit maxim, “Give me the boy until he is seven and I will give you the man.”  He brought together 20 British 7 year olds from various walks of life and interviewed them for a BBC TV special called “7 Up.”  One of his film crew was a 22 year old Michael Apted.  Seven years later, Apted decided to follow up on those kids at 14 years old.  Thirteen of the original twenty agreed and a tradition began.  Every seven years since, Apted has interviewed these same people as they got older.  They are now 56.  Remarkably, despite their reservations, all but one of the original 13 has continued to participate in the documentaries.  Interestingly, that one has himself become a documentary filmmaker; I’m not exactly sure what that says.  Also, quite amazingly, they are all still alive, despite various set backs.  We get current interviews with them spliced with highlights of their previous interviews.  At 2 hours 24 minutes, it was clear Apted had a hard time leaving details out.  We learn about each of them and how they have changed according to the same basic criteria: social/political views, employment, dating/marriage/children, socio-economic status, overall functioning and happiness.  This all takes some time and may be impossibly boring for many people.  However, this is my third (or maybe fourth) time watching the series (I have seen 49 Up, 42 Up and possibly 35 UP) and I love them.  While I cannot quite agree with Roger Ebert, who considers the Up Series to be among his 10 best films of all times, I have a great affinity for human beings, in all our weakness, and these films celebrate our basic humanity.  The Up Series is the story of us: noble, fragile, resilient, flawed.  It tells a truth about us that few films can.  But, it is a truth in aggregate.  As many of the participants point out, they are all only partially represented on screen and they often cannot stand the way they are perceived as a result.  This time, more than in the past, I was aware of Apted’s own influence in shaping these perceptions, in part through his editing and in part through the questions he asks (this is never more clear than when he baits one of the participants by asking him if he is racist).  Apted, who is otherwise known for a fairly tepid collection of action films like one of the Narnia series and one of Brosnan’s Bond films, will likely be most remember for this series, so it seems a shame that he doesn’t do more to present these folks in a more rounded way.  Ultimately, this is why I can’t agree with Ebert or with Rotten Tomatoes’s 100% rating.  To me, this documentary is beautiful and, at times, soars with human potential.  When the people speak for themselves they are funny and touching and so very real but when  the film fails it does so because of Apted’s attempts to keep these people in the boxes he has created for them.

Warm Bodies

February 10, 2013 at 6:49 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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½

The original title of this film was “Cold Bodies, Warm Hearts” before somebody somewhere in Hollywood decided it took too much effort to say.  This makes sense as a film’s title should never take more effort to say than the film took to make.  I had not expected much but, honestly, I expected more than I got.  This was a more than silly story of teenage girl meets teenage boy.  Teenage boy kills teenage girl’s boyfriend and eats his brain.  Teenage girl and teenage boy fall in love.   Along the way we are forced to sit through humor too obvious to be funny (let’s play Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart.”  Get it?), cloying sentiment that only an adolescent girl could love, preachy metaphors (just because they’re different doesn’t mean they’re bad.  Get it?), and enough plot inconsistencies to make even a lazy viewer crazy: zombies shuffle slowly, except when it’s convenient for them to move rapidly; it takes less than a day for the zombie and his captive to shuffle/walk to his home but takes them two days to drive back because we need time for some fun/silly/romantic road scenes; the zombie has managed to get his hands on a record player and a lot of vinyl, all at the airport where he lives.  It just goes on ridiculously.  No character has any believable motivations and most aren’t drawn enough for anyone to even care.  John Malkovich’s father character is particularly annoying and he seems utterly bored in the role.  The two leads are Nicholas Hoult (“About A Boy,” “A Single Man,” “X-Men: First Class”) and Teresa Palmer (“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” who seems hired primarily because she can look and act uncannily like Kristen Stewart).  They do a passing job of trying to create adolescent chemistry and if there are any laughs to be had they come from Hoult’s ability to portray the zombie lurching, blank stare, & mumbling inability to speak and teen romantic awkwardness as exactly the same thing, which, in a way, they are.  A slightly more biting take on this idea might have been very funny. This film was not.  Perhaps in retrospect, we will one day be able to look back on this decade and decide what it is in the American psyche right now that makes us want to redress all of our classic horror genres as teen romances.  In this way, we have molested vampires (“Twilight”), witches (the upcoming “Beautiful Creatures”) and zombies (oh, my!).  I suppose we could have a “Young Frankenstein” remake next (“Teen Frankenstein?”).  My friend, Jonathan, pointed out quite wisely that the new genre-mashup appears to be the fairy tale action film (eg “The Brother’s Grimm,” “Red Riding Hood,” the current “Hansel & Gretel,” and the upcoming “Jack, The Giant Slayer” ).  Could fairy tale-RomCom be far behind?  How about “Jack, The Giant Slayer, & Jill” or “Hansel & Gretel Sitting in a Tree?”  Boy, I can’t wait.

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