Monthly Archives: February 2014

My (reasonably accurate) Oscar Picks!


Best Picture
It makes me very happy when I can look down the list of nominees and the fun hasn’t been squeezed out.  This year, there is ample reason to think that any of the nine nominees might win.  There is 100% rock solid winner, no Schindler’s List, no Titanic, and that leaves the possibilities wide open.  My favorite of the nominees is Spike Jonze’s her, a beautiful oddball love story and the year’s most original film, but it’s chances are non-existent,  My choice is is not slouch either.  Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is a space adventure almost completely devoid of any romanticism.  He portrays outer space as a real place, a deadly place so the human element become more palatable.

Best Director
This is tough.  All common sense tells you that this one will go to Alfonso Cuarón for elevating Gravity from just a technical exercise into something very human.  Not to mention, he also won The top award from the DGA.  Yet, if there is a surprise, be ready for Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave.

Best Actor
A very crowded field, a very good list of performances, but All Hail the McRenaissance!  After five years of climbing back out of the doldrums of the romantic comedy wasteland, Matthew McConaughey is finally back where he belongs.  He turned in the best supporting performance of the year in Mud, but really bared his soul as a hustler dying of AIDS in Dallas Buyers Club.

Best Actress
Much as I might enjoy (finally) seeing a victory for Amy Adams, after five nominations and no wins, it is looking like that isn’t going happen.  Cate Blanchett effectively won this award seven months ago when Blue Jasmine came out.  She’s won The Golden Globe, BAFTA, The SAG award, and just about every critic’s award in sight.

Best Supporting Actor
The only way that this award garners an upset is if anyone but Jared Leto happens to win.  Based on the pre-awards, that’s not likely to happen.

Best Supporting Actress
The knee-jerk reaction is to assume that the academy will give Jennifer Lawrence her second Academy Award, but the pre-Oscar awards (including the SAG, which is made up of the same block of voters who vote for the Oscars) have moved in the direction of newcomer Lupita Nyong’o for her performance in 12 Years a Slave.

Best Original Screenplay
A category that traditionally loves twisted, bizarre and truly original work.  This year, the standout is Spike Jonze, whose screenplay for her spoke as much to the heart as it did to the head.

Best Adapted Screenplay
John Ridley’s screenplay of 12 Years a Slave was a brilliant act of portraying slavery without many of the easy “blame whitey” overtones.  He sticks to the story, and he deserves to be rewarded.

Best Foreign Language Film
A technicality left out the most deserving (and best) film of the year, the great sapphic love story Blue is the Warmest Color.  The frontrunner is Italy’s surrealistic The Great Beauty but I don’t discount an upset by Denmark’s The Hunt.

Best Animated Feature
I am no fan of Disney’s Frozen, but I have a feeling that the voters won’t see it that way.  Those of us who didn’t like the film are hoping for the darkhorse, another victory for Hayao Miyazaki, this time with The Wind Rises.

Best Original Song
Here, as in the Best Animated Short and Best Animated Feature category, we will see a return for Disney, which a decade ago was a regular staple at the Academy Awards.  In recent years, Disney has been away from the Best Original Song category, but this year they’ve come back with “Let it Go” from Frozen.  Whether it deserves it, is another matter.

Best Original Score
In a year in which most categories are locked up, this one is a little more open,  There’s a possibility for any of these five nominees to win (they all deserve it), but Steven Price becomes part of the Gravity sweep.

Best Art Direction
Any of these films have a chance to win, there’s not a dud in the bunch.  My choice would be the cold, open space of K.K. Barrett and Gene Serdena of her, spaces which nicely matches the lonely spaces of the main character’s heart.  Yet, the flash will upset the subtlety.  It is almost unanimously agreed that the pure pop force of The Great Gatsby by Catherine Martina and Beverley Dunn will dance away with this one.

Best Costume Design
First glance tells you that this one will be a tight race between Catherine Martin’s 1920s razzle dazzle for The Great Gatsby and Michael Wilkinson’s 1970s polyester vortex for American Hustle.  Based on all the pre-Oscar predictions, it is looking like American Hustle may claim this as the only award of the night .

Best Makeup & Hairstyling
There is some fear in my heart that this award might go to Stephen Prouty for Jackass: Bad Grampa.  It would be a darkhorse because the frontrunners are Adruitha Lee and Robin Matthews created the emaciated look of Matthew McConaughey’s AIDS patient in Dallas Buyers Club.

Best Cinematography
If I were a voter, this one would go to Bruno Delbonnel for his gorgeous smokey club atmosphere of Inside Llewyn Davis.  I might hope for an upset because it’s looking like a second victory for cinematographer Emmanuel Lubeski (who one last year for Life of Pi) who will pick one up this year for the brutally real images of Gravity.

Best Visual Effects
Lots of sound, fury and pretty pictures, but Gravity utilized it the best.

Best Sound Mixing and Sound Editing
Two categories that most moviegoers can’t tell apart.  It hardly matters, the restraint of the work in Gravity will earn awards for both.

Best Film Editing
The clue here is always to bet on the film that it likely to win Best Picture.  Yet, since the winner for BP this year isn’t clear, so it takes a sharper eye.  Mark Sanger’s work on Gravity redefines the challenge of editing, by not taking quick Armageddon-style jump-cuts but allowing long, lingering tracking shots.

Best Documentary Feature
Personally, my favorite is Cutie and the Boxer about the tense, 40 year marriage between a painter who paints with boxing gloves, and his underling wife who determines to rise above her own broken dreams by becoming a cartoonist.  But my favorites never win in this category.  The likely winner will be to startlingly original The Act of Killing which former Indonesian death-squad leaders to reenact their mass-killings in different cinematic genres.

Best Documentary Short
The long and healthy marriage between the documentary branch and the holocaust is something that will likely never go away, especially this year.  The easy winner here is the surprisingly optimistic The Lady in Number 6, the story of a 109 year-old piano player and holocaust survivor who offers the advice that the key to life is music, love and laughter.

Best Live Action Short
This year’s nominees for LAS deal with subjects as varied as a hostage crisis, a dying child’s fantasy, a day in the life of a busy mother and the story of an inmate who thinks he’s God.  Yet, the best bet is on the frontrunner, Xavier Legrand’s Just Before Losing Everything, the devistating account of a woman attempting to leave her abusive husband.

Best Animated Short
Good Advice: Always bet on Mickey!  It is likely that Disney will win here for the 3D Mickey Mouse short Get a Horse!  Yet, if a darkhorse emerges, it may come from Pater Lamont for his 3D animated adventure Mr. Hublot, the story of an OCD man in the future whose loathing for change is upset by the arrive of a robot pet.

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Posted by on 02/28/2014 in Blog


The 86th Annual Academy Awards: Best Original Song

In the interest of being thorough about the Academy Awards, I have decided to dedicate a blog entry for every category.  The news media will focus on the top five categories, eventually I will too, but these posts are in the interest of examining every single category, even those that send you to the fridge during the show.  Today: Best Original Song.

  • “Happy”, from Despicable Me 2, music and lyrics by Pharrell Williams
  • “Let it Go” from Frozen, music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
  • “The Moon Song” from her, music by Karen O, lyrics by Karen O and Spike Jonze
  • “Ordinary Love” from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, music by Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen and lyrics by Paul Hewson


A bizarre entry, “Alone Yet Not Alone”, from the movie of the same name, seemed to come out of nowhere, a song from a movie nobody ever heard of.  Yet, On January 29, 2014, the nomination was rescinded after AMPAS found that songwriter Bruce Broughton, a former governor and executive committee member of the music branch of AMPAAS at the time, had improperly contacted other branch members by e-mail solicitation for support.   It might have worked had the deception not come to light.  That opens up the opportunity for Disney to pull a comeback.  Long ago, the House of Mouse cleaned up in this category almost every year, but in the past decade they’ve been missing from the Oscars.  I wasn’t the biggest fan of Frozen, or it’s songs, but it looks like my objections aren’t shared by the academy, who will find themselves back on track with “Just Let It Go.”

Who Will Win?: “Let it Go” from Frozen
Who Should Win?: “The Moon Song” from her

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Posted by on 02/21/2014 in Blog


The 86th Annual Academy Awards: Best Director

In the interest of being thorough about the Academy Awards, I have decided to dedicate a blog entry for every category.  The news media will focus on the top five categories, eventually I will too, but these posts are in the interest of examining every single category, even those that send you to the fridge during the show.  Today: Best Director.

  • Alfonso Cauron for Gravity
  • Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave
  • Alexander Payne for Nebraska
  • David O. Russell for American Hustle
  • Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street


For me, the race comes down to Steve McQueen, who managed to create 12 Years a Slave, the first great epic about the horror of slavery, and Alfonso Cauron, who turned Gravity into a human adventure where it might have otherwise been just a great technical exercise.  Both deserve to win, but I think Cauron has the prize here, especially after winning the top award from the DGA, the same block of voters who select the Oscars.

Who Will Win?: Alfonso Cauron for Gravity
Who Should Win?: Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave

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Posted by on 02/21/2014 in Blog


The 86th Annual Academy Awards: Best Production Design

In the interest of being thorough about the Academy Awards, I have decided to dedicate a blog entry for every category.  The news media will focus on the top five categories, eventually I will too, but these posts are in the interest of examining every single category, even those that send you to the fridge during the show.  Today: Best Production Design.

  • American Hustle, production design by Judy Becker; set decoration by Heather Loeffler
  • Gravity, production design by Andy Nicholson; set decoration by Rosie Goodwin and Joanne Woollard
  • The Great Gatsby, production design Catherine Martin; set decoration Beverley Dunn
  • her, production design by K.K. Barrett; set decoration by Gene Serdena
  • 12 Years a Slave, production design by Adam Stockhausen; set decoration by Alice Baker


This one comes down to flash and pop.  Catherine Martin and Beverley Dunn’s razzle dazzle 1920s for The Great Gatsby versus Judy Becker and Heather Loffelier’s 1970s polyester vortex in American Hustle.  They’re both good I give Gatsby the edge.  Each film will win one award, and I think that Hustle will do better over in the Costume category.

Who Will Win?: Catherin Martin and Beverley Dunn for The Great Gatsby
Who Should Win?: K.K. Barrett and Gene Serdena for American Hustle

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Posted by on 02/20/2014 in Blog


The 86th Annual Academy Awards: Best Actor

In the interest of being thorough about the Academy Awards, I have decided to dedicate a blog entry for every category.  The news media will focus on the top five categories, eventually I will too, but these posts are in the interest of examining every single category, even those that send you to the fridge during the show.  Today: Best Actor.

  • Christian Bale in American Hustle
  • Bruce Dern in Nebraska
  • Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave
  • Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club

I cannot look at this list of nominees and think that any of these men don’t deserve to be there.  This is not only the most crowded group of Best Actor candidates, it is further proof that the category should be opened to ten, that way there might have been room for Joaquin Phoenix, Robert Redford, Tom Hanks and Oscar Isaacs.  As for the nominees, there’s reason to think that any of them has a chance to win, however Matthew McConaughey has led the pack since the Golden Globes.  He hasn’t cleaned up all of the pre-Oscar awards, but he’s won The Golden Globe and the SAG award for Best Actor, the two most telling awards in regards to who will win the Oscar.

Who Will Win?: Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club
Who Should Win?: Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street
Darkhorse?: Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave


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Posted by on 02/17/2014 in Blog


If I Picked the Winners . . .

If I Picked the Winners . . .

All those years ago Siskel and Ebert had an Oscar tradition.  They called it “If We Picked the Winners”, an annual, hour-long special devoted to choosing their picks among the nominees – not who they thought would win, but who they would have picked if (they said) the Academy was as smart as they were.

I presume to continue that tradition.  Gene and Roger are gone now but the spirit remains.  So, here is my own edition of “If We Picked the Winners” for 2014, using the same categories that the boys used on their show.

Best Picture
The Academy’s Nominees: American Hustle * Gravity * her * Nebraska * Captain Phillips * Dallas Buyers ClubPhilomena * The Wolf of Wall Street * 12 Years a Slave.


My Choice: her
I have no real idea which of the nominated films the academy will choose as its Best Picture.  All I can say for certain is that the voters won’t agree with my choice.  Spike Jonze sci-fi love story called her is a goofy, but very touching love story that speaks to the head as much as it does to the heart.  It takes place in the not-too-distant future and tells the story of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a man whose very existence seems defined by his loneliness.  His wife has left him and his immediate world is full of empty spaces.  Then he makes a friend after purchasing a new operating system that seems able to develop its own personality not only by talking to him but by researching his hard drive and by pulling information from the internet.  Her name is Samantha and, although we never see her, we come to feel that this disembodied voice is more real than anything in Theodore’s life.  What happens in this story is not what we expect, but it is extraordinarily moving.  This movie could have gone wrong in a dozen different ways but Jonze script aims for the heart and forces us to question what constitutes romantic love.  her was #3 on my ten best list behind two superb, but sadly unnominated dramas, Blue is the Warmest Color and Mud, and I think it better than any of the nominated films this year, and that’s saying a lot.

Best Actor
The Academy’s Nominees: Christian Bale in American Hustle * Bruce Dern in Nebraska * Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street * Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave * Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club


My Choice: Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street
Of all the acting winners this year, this category may be the easiest to call.  I won’t say who I think will win (I’m saving that for another time) but I know who I would vote for if I had a ballot.  Hands down, my vote would go to Leonardo DiCaprio who gave a ferocious, go-for-broke performance of the year as Jordan Belfort, an otherwise nice kid who comes to Wall Street during the Roaring 80s and quickly gets pulls himself out of the financial gutter by scamming his investors and pleasuring himself on piles of money, mountains of drugs, shipyards full of expensive toys and even a trophy wife.  What ever good boy, heroic image that DiCaprio had before has gone out the window after this – and last year’s performance as a misogynistic plantation owner in Django Unchained.  He has shown his ability to create a character that is beneath contempt but one who enjoys the hedonism that he has created for himself.

The greatness of DiCaprio’s performance is that he’s clearly having a great time despite the fact that he is playing a man devoid of moral scruples.  He throws away his good-guy image as a man who lives by appetite alone.  There are notes here that DiCaprio has never been able to display.  Yes, he’s good looking, but he isn’t afraid to look like a jerk.  Here he is able to display his talent for slapstick in a scene in which Jordan ingests a 15 year-old Quaalude that sends his body into a fit very close to cerebral palsy.  That’s no good when he desperately needs to get to his car to stop Donnie from making a fatal mistake.  What is surprising is that this scene is played for laughs and it works!  He opens the film by telling us that “The year I turned 26 I made 49 million dollars which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week.”  That tells you all you need to know.

Best Actress
The Academy’s Nominees: Amy Adams in American Hustle * Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine * Sandra Bullock in Gravity * Judi Dench in Philomena * Meryl Streep in August: Osage County


My Choice: Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine
I don’t agree with all five choices here.  I would have given Judi Dench and Meryl Streep’s nominations to one of the wonderful actresses from Blue is the Warmest Color or Emma Thompson from Saving Mr. Banks or Greta Gerwig in Francis Ha.  At any rate, my choice seems to be the frontrunner.  Cate Blanchett has been nominated for the Oscar five times – three times in this catagory alone – and she turns the tide this year because it is her first nomination for Best Actress in which she doesn’t play Queen Elizabeth I.

In Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, she plays Jasmine Frances, a woman as close to Blanche DuBois as Allen can possibly get.  Like Blanche, Jasmine is a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  Once, her life sparkled with money and luxury.  Now, it’s all gone, and what is left is an empty woman trying to get on her feet.  Also, like Blanch, Jasmine is coming part at the seams.  She was the pampered wife of a a Wall Street tycoon who padded their financial future with assets that the FBI didn’t know about.  When he got caught, the house and all the money were seized and Jasmine was left penniless.  The fact that her social status was her entire life has left her with few friends and even fewer relatives to depend on.  Yet, Blanchett never asks for our sympathies.  Like DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort, she’s no wounded saint.  She’s a full participant in her own undoing and now depends on those she cast away for help, a woman who has always depended on the kindness of strangers, but needs Xanax just to get through the day.

Best Supporting Actor
The Academy’s Nominees: Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips * Bradley Cooper in American Hustle * Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave * Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street * Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club


My Choice: Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street
It’s pretty well known by now that this award is going to Jared Leto for his heartbreaking performance as a AIDS afflicted transsexual in Dallas Buyers Club.  If he wins it will be well-deserved, but my choice is the only actor in this category who went for laughs.  Jonah Hill’s performance in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street is just as good as DiCaprio’s work and just as deserving of an Oscar.  He plays Donnie Azoff, second in command to DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort, a portly Jewish kid with bleached white teeth and a failed attempt to pull off the appearance of being a Wasp.  As Donnie and Jordan get caught up in the roller coaster of drugs and money, Donnie shows the consequences of being a parasite to a runaway train.  He’s more than just Jordan’s right arm, he’s the yin to his yin.

Hill has always been a gifted comedian, but he’s displayed it in films that weren’t worth his time.  His performance in The Wolf of Wall Street are an example of the right actor in the right role.  Here he and DiCaprio show what great comic energy can come from the right material.  Watch the scene in which the two, who are high on antiquated Quaaludes, wrestle for the telephone when it is revealed that Jordan’s house has been bugged. It’s a great moment of physical comedy and Hill plays it beautifully.

Best Supporting Actress
The Academy’s Nominees: Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine * Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle * Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave * Julia Roberts in August: Osage County * June Squibb in Nebraska


My Choice: Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle
A quick glance at the nominees might lead you to believe that the winner is going to be Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle, but pre-Oscar awards (including the SAG) seem to push the award in the direction of Lupita Nyong’o.  Yet, my heart is still with Lawrence.  She continues to take chances, to create new characters and, in short, to give us something new.  That’s what we got in the form of Roselyn Rosenfeld, the needy wife of a professional hustler.  All through American Hustle we have followed a group of professional con artists, people who know every thread of the game.  What Roselyn brings to the table is an heir of unpredictability.  She’s a loose cannon who injects herself into the scam but at all times risks breaking the whole thing open.  What we get from Lawrence is a woman who is not happy to sit at home and raise Irving’s son.  She’s a fly in the ointment, not out of maliciousness but out of a need to be somewhere, doing something.  Lawrence does something new here, she creates a character that we find it difficult to like, but also a character that we can’t help but feel for.

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Posted by on 02/17/2014 in Blog


The 86th Annual Academy Awards: Best Animated Feature

In the interest of being thorough about the Academy Awards, I have decided to dedicate a blog entry for every category.  The news media will focus on the top five categories, eventually I will too, but these posts are in the interest of examining every single category, even those that send you to the fridge during the show.  Today: Best Animated Feature.

  • The Croods, Chris Sanders, Kirk DeMicco and Kristine Belson, producers
  • Despicable Me 2, Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin and Chris Meledandri, producers
  • Ernest & Celestine, Benjamin Renner and Didier Renner, producers
  • Frozen, Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee and Peter Del Vecho
  • The Wind Rises, Hayao Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki

If anything, 2013 reminds us of the massive slump that the American animated feature seems to have fallen into.  Far from the creative tidepool that should produce the best that the medium has to offer, they have slipped into a routine of boring market-tested style of digital animated that no long has any power.  Long gone is the power of The New and challenging envelope pushers that we got all those years ago with “Toy Story.”  It is sort of embarrassing to look at the three American nominees, The Croods, Despicable Me 2 and Frozen alongside two foreign nominees that have been engineered with a personal touch – The French-Belgian friendship tale Ernest & Celestine and Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises.

Did I mention embarassing?   How about the fact that in the 12 year history of this award, Disney has yet to win in this category.  That may change with Frozen, an undeserving commercial and critical hit that might seem a foregone conclusion as far as frontrunners are concerned.  Yet, it has to contend with Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises.

Who will win? Frozen
Who should win? The Wind Rises
Who should be here? Monsters University and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2


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Posted by on 02/16/2014 in Blog