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Posts Tagged ‘movies’

Rotundo’s Oscarology, 2015 Edition

It’s that magical time of year again—the Academy Awards!  And here I am, back with the very best, grade-A picks, guaranteed to win your Oscar pool.*

I’ve managed to see 7 of the 8 Best Picture nominees, missing only Selma, which disappeared from theaters before I got to it.  This means pretty much zip when it comes to predictions, actually, but I just thought I’d mention it.  Last year, I’d seen maybe half of the nominated films before the show, and still managed to eke out a win.  (OK, it was actually a five-way tie for first here at Chez Rotundo, but I was one of the five, so it counts.  Last year was weird.)

Anyway, I found this year’s slate to be full of some fine films, and a couple of real gems.  Let’s get on with the picks:

Best Picture

The smart money is on BirdmanBoyhood was considered the favorite at first, but that film’s early award wins didn’t translate into any serious love from the Screen Actors Guild, the Directors Guild, or the Producers Guild, all of which went with Birdman.  That’s a substantial chunk of Academy Award voters right there.  It’s true that the BAFTA went to Boyhood, which also has some overlap with AMPAS members.  But I don’t think it’s enough to overtake the front-runner.  I’m going with Birdman.

Best Director

The DGA is one of the most reliable predictors of this award, and this year, it went to Alejandro G. Iñárritu for Birdman.  Gotta figure he’ll get the Oscar, too.

Best Actress

Julianne Moore in a walk, for Still Alice.  Moore has been nominated five times but has never won.  Two of her competitors, Marion Cotillard and Reese Witherspoon, already have Oscars.  And Moore won the SAG.  This one should be a no-brainer.

Best Actor

Lots of reasons to think that Michael Keaton will take this one home:  he’s never been nominated before, he’s now in his 60’s, and his performance in Birdman is indeed a strong one.  But those factors were in play at the SAG awards, too, and Eddie Redmayne won there, for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.  This is exactly the kind of “physical transformation” role that Oscar loves (see Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot for just one of many examples), and Redmayne was fantastic.  And just for good measure, he also won the BAFTA.  So I’m picking the young whippersnapper.  Sorry, Michael.

Best Supporting Actress

Here’s a category that has been rife with upsets in the past, but I’m going once again with SAG, and picking Patricia Arquette, for her performance as a single mom with rotten taste in men in Boyhood.

Best Supporting Actor

J.K. Simmons, perhaps best known to the public as the guy in the Farmers commercials, will crush his competition for his role as the tyrannical and abusive music teacher in Whiplash.  It’s an unforgettable performance.  SAG agreed.

Best Original Screenplay

This isn’t Wes Anderson’s first Oscar rodeo.  He lost two years ago to Quentin Tarantino, and in 2001 to Julian Fellowes.  But he’s back, and Tarantino and Fellowes are nowhere to be found.  Also, due to some weird Oscar rules, the script for Whiplash is in the Adapted Screenplay category, even though the WGA considered it an original.  Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel script took home the WGA award, and I’m guessing it will garner a golden statuette, too.

Best Adapted Screenplay

It’s uncanny.  Seems like just about every year, one of the screenplay awards goes to the movie I would have picked for Best Picture if I had a vote.  This year, my favorite film out of all the nominees was The Imitation Game—by a wide margin, actually.  (Whiplash came in second place, in case you care.)  And look!  Right on schedule, Graham Moore just won the WGA.  He’s my pick for the Oscar. 

Best Animated Feature

How The LEGO Movie got left out of this category is a head-scratcher.  Had it been nominated, I think it would have cruised to an easy win.  But we’re still left with a pretty impressive slate.  A couple of heavy hitters going up against each other here, with Big Hero 6 and How To Train Your Dragon 2 duking it out.  Both were fine films.  It’s possible they will split the vote, allowing one of the lesser known nominees to surprise.  But I have to wonder how many Academy voters have actually seen Song of the Sea or The Tale of Princess Kaguya.  I’m picking Big Hero 6 to win by a nose, by virtue of some other guild award wins.  I wouldn’t be surprised to be wrong here, though.  And if the vote does indeed get split, watch out for The Boxtrolls.

Best Foreign Language Film

This has been historically one of Oscar’s most unpredictable categories—largely, I think, because the rules used to limit the ability to vote in this category to those who could prove they actually had seen the nominees.  But the rules changed last year, and it’s still too soon to know whether this will make this one easier or harder to pick.  I haven’t seen any of these films, but remember my credo:  never let total ignorance get in your way.  Poland’s Ida took the BAFTA, and that’s as good an indicator as any other.  I’ll pick Ida.

Best Cinematography

Roger Deakins is nominated yet again.  And once more, I think he will lose.  Emmanuel Lubezki’s work on Birdman looks to garner him his second Oscar in a row.  Flashy works best here, and how much flashier can you get than shooting an entire feature film as if it were one continuous camera take?  I found it a bit self-indulgent, really.  They talk about cinematographers “making their reel,” and I think that’s what Lubezki did here.  Nonetheless, he’s going to win.  Someday, Roger.  Someday.

Best Production Design

As with Cinematography, flashy usually wins.  This year, that would immediately eliminate The Imitation Game and Mr. Turner.  This leaves us with Into the Woods, Interstellar, and The Grand Budapest Hotel.  The Art Directors Guild recognized The Grand Budapest Hotel, which is (for Academy voters) blessedly free from the taint of fantasy or science fiction.  That works for me.  Grand Budapest for the win.

Best Film Editing

The American Cinema Editors recognized Sandra Adair for assembling twelve years’ worth of footage into Boyhood. The BAFTA went to Whiplash, and one can’t count out the likely Best Picture winner, Birdman.  The editing Oscar often goes to the top film of the year.  But I think Boyhood emerges triumphant here.

Best Costume Design

Using the same logic I did for Production Design, I’ll go with The Grand Budapest Hotel.  It also took the Costume Designers Guild top award for period piece, and period pieces do well in this category.

Best Makeup & Hairstyling

I could see any of the nominees winning here, but the trend lately has been toward dramatic pieces (Les Misérables, The Iron Lady, Dallas Buyers Club), which would eliminate Guardians of the Galaxy and The Grand Budapest Hotel.  So I’ll go with Foxcatcher.

Best Original Score

Here’s a tough category to pick.  Alexandre Desplat has eight nominations and no wins, but he’s competing against himself this year.  Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar score is some of his best work, but support for that movie seems weak at best.  All of which could bode well for Johann Johannsson and The Theory of Everything.  I’m making up my mind as I type this:  The Theory of Everything.

Best Original Song

Some stiff competition in this category.  “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” is a heartbreaker, “Everything Is Awesome” is a lot of fun and perhaps best known, and “Glory” is the only one from a Best Picture nominee.  Yikes.  Don’t know which way to go here, but given the kerfuffle over the lily white acting nominee slate (which kerfuffle is quite valid, in my view), I’m going to pick “Glory,” from Selma.

Best Documentary Feature

CITIZENFOUR took the DGA and the BAFTA, so that’s my pick.

Best Documentary Short

Here’s a tiebreaker category for your Oscar pool, as it’s virtually guaranteed that no one has seen any of the nominees.  Uplifting films often do well here, which could tilt the balance in favor of Joanna.  But HBO, with its long tradition of strong documentaries, has an entry in the field, Crisis Hotline:  Veterans Press 1.  Toss-up.  I’m going with Joanna.

Best Sound Mixing

Louder is better.  Best Picture nominees also win.  That would leave us with American Sniper, Birdman, and Whiplash.  (Incidentally, how did the mix for Interstellar, which raised so much controversy for obscuring key dialogue, ever get nominated?  Clearly, the Academy’s sound people know something I don’t.  But I digress.)  My wife found the jazz drum soundtrack for Birdman annoying and headache-inducing.  In her honor, I’ll eliminate it from consideration.  I guess I’ll go with Whiplash, simply because I liked it better.  (I wouldn’t be surprised to see Birdman win, though.  Sorry, honey.)

Best Sound Editing

The Cinema Audio Society went with Birdman.  The Motion Picture Sound Editors recognized American Sniper.  Conventional wisdom says American Sniper will win.  I’ll bow to peer pressure and agree.  I’m not proud.

Best Visual Effects

I’m really tempted to go with Interstellar.  But the most groundbreaking work was the motion capture in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  I remember quipping that I wished the filmmakers had made the humans as real as the primates.  But you know, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was nominated in this category, too—and lost.  I guess I’ll stick with my first instinct, and go with Interstellar.  Black hole for the win! 

Best Short Film (Live Action)

Lighter fare tends do well in this category, so I’m going with BAFTA winner Boogaloo and Graham.

Best Short Film (Animated)

Disney’s Feast is the presumed front-runner.  But so was Disney’s Get a Horse! last year, which lost.  Ah, hell, who knows?  I’ll stick with Feast.

And now you know everything you need to know.  Guaranteed.*

* Actually not guaranteed at all.

Current Music: "Get in the Ring"--Guns 'n' Roses

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