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Posts Tagged ‘movies’

Rotundo’s Oscarology, 2014 Edition

The Oscars are upon us again.  Time for some fearless predictions.  As always, I haven’t seen nearly enough of the nominees.  But as always, I never let total ignorance get in the way.  On with the picks:

Best Picture

The media always love trying to portray this category as a horse race, but this year, it actually is.  One usually looks to the precursor guild awards for insight into the minds of Academy voters.  What, then, to make of the fact that the Screen Actors Guild gave its Best Ensemble award to American Hustle, the Directors Guild made Gravity its top film, and the Producers Guild, for the first time in its history, had a tie for its best picture, between Gravity and 12 Years a Slave?  It’s enough to make one’s head spin.

American Hustle seems to have lost any momentum it had from the SAGs, which leaves us with Gravity and 12 Years a Slave.  The latter is, by most accounts, a difficult film to watch—but then, so was Schindler’s List.  The former, on the other hand, while technically brilliant and featuring a strong performance by Sandra Bullock, is tainted by the unmistakable odor of—gasp and swoon!—science fiction.  No SF film has ever won Best Picture.

It’s a tough call, but I’m going to predict a split between Best Picture and Best Director.  This award goes to 12 Years a Slave.

Best Director

The DGA honored Alfonso Cuarón for his work on Gravity, and the DGA is a very accurate predictor of this award.  And there’s no question that the film is a remarkable achievement.  If you buy into auteur theory, that would mean that Cuarón deserves most of the credit.  I don’t buy into auteur theory, but most of Hollywood does, and the acclaim might be deserved this time.  Alfonso wins.

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett won the SAG for Blue Jasmine and is considered a lock for the Oscar.  This is the surest bet among the major categories.

Best Actor

Matthew McConaughey is the favorite here after his SAG win.  In addition to the quality of the performance, keep in mind that Oscar voters love physical transformations, such as weight loss (Christian Bale, The Fighter) or weight gain (Robert De Niro, Raging Bull). That bodes well for McConaughey’s portrayal of an emaciated AIDS patient in Dallas Buyers Club.

Best Supporting Actress

Lupita Nyong’o looks to take this one home, for 12 Years a Slave.  Jennifer Lawrence was memorable in American Hustle, but she just won an Oscar last year, and this category historically favors newcomers.  Oh, and Nyong’o won the SAG.

Best Supporting Actor

Lots of strong performances in this category, but Jared Leto’s SAG victory for Dallas Buyers Club tilts the balance in his favor.

Best Original Screenplay

Alexander Payne (Nebraska) has become a perennial Oscar favorite, but I don’t think he wins this year.   The Writers Guild award in this category went to Her, but WGA isn’t a very reliable predictor of the Oscars.    I always struggle with my screenplay picks, and this year is no exception.  I guess I’ll go Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell, for American Hustle.  It was nominated for 10 Oscars, so it’s likely to win at least one of them.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Captain Phillips won the WGA, but it should be noted that neither Philomena nor 12 Years a Slave were eligible.  With that in mind, I think this one goes to John Ridley for his adaptation of Solomon Northup’s memoir.

Best Animated Feature

As I wrote here, the creation of this category effectively relegates animated films to the back of the Oscar bus.  Without it, Frozen probably gets a Best Picture nomination, and deservedly so.  It was one of my favorites from 2013.  Anyway, here’s one of your Oscar Locks:  Frozen crushes its competition, even the formidable Hayao Miyazaki.

Best Foreign Language Film

Once again, the most notoriously unpredictable category of the bunch proves . . . notoriously unpredictable.  Complicating matters, this year marks the first time all members of the Academy were allowed to vote on the Foreign Language Film Oscar; in the past, only those who could prove they had seen all the nominees were allowed a ballot that included this category.  The buzz seems to favor Italy’s The Great Beauty and Denmark’s The Hunt, with the edge going to the former.  But remember what I said about unpredictability?  I’ll go with The Hunt, just to be ornery.

Best Cinematography

The trend in this category lately has been toward dazzling 3-D work, cf. Avatar, Hugo, Life of Pi.  It’s legitimate to ask how much of 3-D is actually cinematography, as opposed to great computer graphics.  But most of the Academy won’t care.  Emmanuel Lubezki will win for Gravity.

Best Production Design

The Great Gatsby won the Art Directors Guild’s award for period films.  That’s good enough for me.

Best Film Editing

This award often goes to the Best Picture winner, so it could be an early indicator of the way the evening will go.  The American Cinema Editors gave their top prizes to American Hustle (Comedy/Musical) and Captain Phillips (Drama).  But this appears to be a contest between 12 Years a Slave and Gravity.  I’m at a loss here, but I’ll guess that the technical brilliance of Gravity wins the day.

Best Costume Design

The Costume Designers Guild honored 12 Years a Slave.  But the Oscars are a different beast, preferring to honor the flashiest, most outlandish work.  That would seem to favor American Hustle or The Great Gatsby.  My guess is that the 70’s outfits in American Hustle aren’t “period” enough for the Academy, which leaves The Great Gatsby as my pick.

Best Original Score

Um . . . Gravity, I think.

Best Original Song

Another Oscar Lock:  “Let It Go,” from Frozen.  It’s a good year for Disney.

Best Documentary

The DGA honored The Square, but 20 Feet from Stardom is better known.  Last year, the Best Documentary Oscar went to the music-themed Searching for Sugar Man, which might portend a win for 20 Feet.  Then again, one year doesn’t constitute a trend, and the Academy tends toward heavier stuff in this category.

Another tough one for me to pick.  I’ll go with 20 Feet from Stardom, but I’m not at all comfortable with it.

Best Documentary (Short)

By contrast with the feature-length documentary category, Oscar often likes upbeat stuff here.  The Lady in Number 6:  Music Saved My Life fits the bill.  Plus, it’s about a Holocaust survivor, one who passed away very recently.  This should be a pretty safe bet.

Best Makeup & Hairstyling

By all accounts, the makeup in Jackass Presents:  Bad Grandpa is amazing, transforming the 42-year-old Johnny Knoxville into an 86-year-old man that completely convinced the many people pranked by this movie.  Even so, I can’t see the image-conscious Academy giving an Oscar to any film made by the creators of Jackass.   Dallas Buyers Club seems a better fit, so that’s my pick.

Best Sound Editing

Loud works best for the sound awards.  Look for Gravity to win here.

Best Sound Mixing

Another win for Gravity, methinks.

Best Visual Effects

Gravity.  Duh.  Another Oscar Lock.

Best Short Film (Animated)

The Mouse continues its strong run with a win for Get a Horse.

Best Short Film (Live Action)

I haven’t seen any of the nominees, but that’s never stopped me in the past.  Best guess:  Helium.

And there you are.  Go forth and win your Oscar pool.

Current Music: "Minstrel in the Gallery"--Jethro Tull

Shouldering the Weight of Gravity

Spoiler index:  Mild

Those of you who haven’t seen Gravity yet (both of you) are no doubt wondering if the movie lives up to its hype.  I’ll end the suspense:  it does not.

But to be be fair, the hype has reached ridiculous levels.  To hear some critics tell it, the film is a revelation, a breakthrough, a cultural earthquake on a par with the Second Coming.  Kind of a high bar to clear.

That’s not to say Gravity isn’t good, or that you shouldn’t see it.  It is, and you should.

To be sure, on a technological level, it redefines what movies can do.  No film since 2001:  A Space Odyssey has so convincingly portrayed life in space.  Weightlessness?  Check.  Lack of sound?  Check.  Homicidal computers?  Well, two out of three ain’t bad.

Seriously, the 13-minute tracking shot that opens the film dazzles.  Sometimes a long tracking shot is little more than a director showing off, but in this case, it works—setting up the situation, introducing the characters, and most importantly, acclimating us to an environment in which up and down are meaningless concepts.

Then disaster strikes, as satellite shrapnel streaks past, cutting off communication with Earth, killing astronauts, and destroying a space shuttle.  Lack of sound in space is more than compensated for by an intense, menacing score.  If this sequence—especially if viewed in 3-D Imax—doesn’t make you cringe and suck in breath, don’t worry.  Things only get worse from there.

The special effects are so good that they will become the benchmark against which all future space movies will be measured.  I have to wonder how well the forthcoming Ender’s Game will fare on that score, given all the weightless scenes it must have, if faithful to the book.

For all of the special effects and tension, though, there is also a surprising degree of uplift by Gravity’s end, celebrating the will to survive despite incredible odds.  Sandra Bullock and George Clooney share top billing, but this is Bullock’s movie all the way.  She has to sell terror, despair, and finally hope, and she proves equal to the task.

A lot to like, then.  And yet, when we got to the end, my wife turned to me and said, “That’s it?”

I puzzled over that reaction, because I shared it, at least in part.  And I’m not entirely sure why.  I think it has to be the hype.  Given all you’ve heard, you’re bound to be disappointed to learn that Gravity merely entertains.  It doesn’t provide fascinating new insights, reveal new depths of characterization, or cure cancer.

And those expectations are more than a little unfair, especially given the state of cinema today.  I’ve been awfully bored with “event” movies of late.  Pacific Rim was merely the latest in a string of disappointments, all of them heavy on flash but lacking in any kind of emotional investment.  Gravity made me care about what was happening on the screen, and one can’t ask for much more than that.

So ignore the hype, if you can.  But go see the movie.

Current Music: "Cry of Achilles"--Alter Bridge

Rotundo’s Oscarology, 2013 Edition

Last year at this time, I proffered the opinion that 2011 was a crap year for movies.  I’m happy to report that 2012 provided us with a much better slate.  I haven’t seen all the nominated films, but I’ve seen a goodly percentage of them.  In particular, I found Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, and Lincoln to be the kinds of movies that give me hope for the future of cinema.  And tonight’s Oscar ceremony should also feature a bit of history being made (see Best Actor, below), which will be exciting.  Well, it will be for me, anyway.

Anyway, on with the picks.  As always, I never let my ignorance get in the way, as the following should make clear:

Best Picture

CNN is trying to convince people that this year’s Oscar race is wildly unpredictable.  CNN is obviously trolling for mouse clicks.  (You’re welcome, CNN.)  This category isn’t even close.  The top prize goes to Argo, in a walk.  Now, it’s true that when the nominations were first announced, the omission of Ben Affleck from the Best Director category made me immediately dismiss Argo’s chances of winning Best Picture.  But then the guild awards started coming in.  SAG.  PGA.  DGA.  WGA.  All of them gave their top nods to Argo.  And as I’ve said repeatedly in the past, these guilds’ memberships have a lot of overlap with the Academy.

Argo isn’t going to sweep the Oscars like, say, The Lord of the Rings:  The Return of the King did, but it will win this category.  And I’m OK with that.  Affleck and his crew did a fine job of making an historical event, of which we all knew the outcome, compelling and suspenseful.  Good on ya, Argo.

Best Director

The aforementioned omission of Ben Affleck from this category means that we will have one of those rare splits between Best Picture and Best Director.  This, too, I’m usually OK with, as I’ve never bought too heavily into auteur theory.  That said, I do think the Affleck snub is pretty damned inexcusable.

Anyway, the safe money is on Steven Speilberg, for Lincoln.  It did garner the most nominations this year, and it’s one of his best films.  Many have complained that it’s too talky, but hey, I’m a writer.  I like dialogue.

Ang Lee is a potential spoiler here, for Life of Pi.  The fact that Speilberg already has two directing Oscars could work against him.  But I don’t think so.  I’m sticking with Steve.

Best Actress

Jennifer Lawrence took the SAG award for Silver Linings Playbook, and I think she’ll do the same at the Oscars.  Here’s the part where I remind everyone that actors make up the biggest voting bloc in the Academy.  This year, we have both the youngest and oldest nominees ever in this category—Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), respectively—but neither of them will win.

And just by the way, how great must it be to be Jennifer Lawrence these days?  Two Academy Award nominations to date, lead role in the Hunger Games franchise, and soon to have an Oscar on the mantelpiece.  Not bad for a 22-year-old.

Best Actor

Daniel Day-Lewis makes history tonight for his performance as our 16th president in Lincoln.  He will become the first person ever to win the Best Actor Oscar three times.  He’s currently tied with a host of others, including Tom Hanks, Spencer Tracy, Marlon Brando, and Dustin Hoffman.  Tonight, he outstrips them all.  The quiet, unassuming dignity he brings to the role is truly a joy to behold.  If you’re going to bet the farm on anything, bet on this one.

Best Supporting Actress

If Anne Hathaway is smart, she already has some shelf space cleared for her Oscar.  Her unforgettable performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” in Les Misérables simply blows away all other comers in this category.

Best Supporting Actor

Here’s the toughest of the acting categories to pick.  The SAG went to Tommy Lee Jones, for his portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln.  Now, I don’t know if it was really that strong of a performance, but it was certainly more memorable than his role in The Fugitive, for which he won his previous Oscar.  That said, SAG isn’t always a perfect predictor of the Oscars (e.g., Meryl Streep’s Oscar win last year), and Jones has some stiff competition this year.  Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook) could be a sentimental favorite, and Alan Arkin (Argo) has the advantage of starring in this year’s Best Picture winner.  So I wouldn’t be surprised to see an upset in this category.  But I’m sticking with Jones.

Best Original Screenplay

Zero Dark Thirty has been taking a pounding in the press lately, but it still managed to win the WGA award.  The Best Screenplay Oscar is often a kind of consolation prize for a film that misses in some of the higher-profile categories, and I think that’s what will happen here, which is good news for screenwriter Mark Boal.  Possible upsets:  Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, for Moonrise Kingdom, or Quentin Tarantino, for Django Unchained.

Best Adapted Screenplay

This year’s Best Picture front-runner just won the WGA award for its script.  That tells me that Chris Terrio will win for Argo. Terrio does face some stiff competition in Tony Kushner, a well respected writer who turned in a dynamite script for Lincoln (have I mentioned my fondness for dialogue?).  But I have to figure that most Academy voters who are going to pick Argo for Best Picture will also pick it for Best Screenplay.  Certainly all the writers will.

Best Animated Feature

Brave.  Never pick against Pixar.

Best Foreign Language Film

This is usually the most unpredictable Oscar category, but this year, all signs point to Amour.  Historically, movies that are nominated for both Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film lose the former and win the latter.

Best Costume Design

Period pieces dominate this category, and Anna Karenina took home the Costume Designers Guild award for period costumes.

Best Makeup & Hairstyling

Um . . . Les Misérables, I guess.

Best Original Song

Can you believe that in all the years of the James Bond franchise, not one Bond song has won an Oscar?  Not “Live and Let Die.”  Not “Nobody Does It Better.”  Not Shirley Bassey’s brilliant “Goldfinger.”  Well, that gets rectified tonight.  Adele adds to her already impressive trophy shelf with a win for “Skyfall,” and deservedly so.

Best Original Score

Here’s a pretty wide open category.  I’m going with Mychael Danna, for his work on Life of Pi.  John Williams (Lincoln) appears to be the strongest competitor, but the guy already has five Oscars.

Best Documentary

Remember all those guild awards that Argo has racked up?  Well, Searching for Sugar Man has picked up Best Documentary awards from the DGA, PGA, and WGA.  Add the Oscars to that list, and let’s move on.

Best Documentary (Short)

The trend in this category over the past few years has been toward uplifting stories of white people helping out less fortunate third world folks (Smile Pinki, Saving Face).  This year, Open Heart fits the bill, so that’s my pick.  Mondays at Racine could surprise, though.

Best Production Design

The Art Directors Guild gave its top awards to Anna Karenina and Life of Pi.  I’m going with the latter.

Best Film Editing

This one often goes to the Best Picture winner, and Argo did win the American Cinema Editors award.

Best Cinematography

As I did last year, I’m picking against the precursor guild award winner.  The American Society of Cinematographers honored Roger Deakins for his work on Skyfall.  True, Deakins is something of a rock star among cinematographers, and he has never won an Oscar.  But his fine work on Skyfall is nowhere near as flashy as Claudio Miranda’s breathtaking cinematography in Life of Pi.  Last year’s award went to a gorgeous 3-D film (Hugo), and I’m betting this year will follow suit.

Best Sound Editing

Another tough category.  The Motion Picture Sound Editors liked the ADR in Life of Pi, and the sound effect and Foley work Skyfall.  Loud movies tend to do well here, so I’ll go with Skyfall.

Best Sound Mixing

Gotta go with Les Misérables here.  All the singing was recorded live, on set.

Best Visual Effects

Life of Pi.  The tiger was entirely CGI.

Best Short Film (Animated)

Yes, Maggie Simpson in The Longest Daycare certainly has name recognition, but that rarely matters in this category.  Head over Heels, on the other hand, features the Aardman-like clay animation the Academy seems to love, so that’s the way I’m leaning.

Best Short Film (Live Action)

I’ve read that Curfew is amusing but kind of lightweight.  It occurs to me that 2010’s God of Love could be described the same way, and it won an Oscar.  Curfew it is, then.  What the hell.

And there you have it.  On with the show.

Current Music: "You Get What You Give"--New Radicals