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The Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live Action

Over the weekend, I attended a screening of this year’s Oscar nominated animated and live action shorts on a program put together by ShortsTV. Here’s what was included:

AveMaria

Ave Maria
★★★
Since a majority of this year’s nominees for Best Live Action Short are downers, it was nice that the program started with something light. Ave Maria is a light-hearted co-production from France, Germany and Palestine about a group of French nuns on the West Bank who find their lives temporarily disrupted when a Jewish family crashes their car into their statue of the The Virgin Mary. It’s sundown on the Shabbitz so the father can’t drive or use the phone, and worse the nuns can call a cab because they’ve taken a vow of silence. The center of the story is about bonding in the face of potential crisis. It’s a good lesson, and while I enjoyed this short, I found it only a minor entertainment.

Shok

Shok (Friends)
★★★½
Ave Maria was good padding for this intensely dark true story from Kosovo about two friends Petit and Oki who grew up during the war in the 1990s. The film deals with the world they are growing up in, where they and their families are constantly bullied by Serbian soldiers. But the glue to this film is the relationship between the two boys, which is more convincing than most Hollywood love stories. Yet, as I say, this one is the darkest of all the nominees.

EverythingWillBeOkay

Everything Will be Okay (Alles wird gut)
★★★
Probably the most involving of this year’s Live Action Short nominees, this German entry concerns a divorced father on weekend visitation with this young daughter. The day doesn’t seem all that unusual; he takes her to the toy story and then to the air, but then she begins to piece together that he has a plan to break the law. The director Patrick Vollrath does a smart thing here by keeping the viewer with the child so that the father’s machinations roll out slowly. The achingly emotional climax is not what we expect, but it’s overturned by the fact that the movie just ends. There is a resolution that is just left hanging. Maybe the budget ran out.

Stutterer

Stutterer
★★★★
My favorite short out of the whole bunch is this sweet-hearted confection from Ireland about a lonely typographer who has trouble dating due to a stutter so severe that he has taught himself sign language. He’s been carrying on an online iRomance for the past six months but hasn’t told his internet paramour about his problem. Worse, she wants to meet him. Where this lovely film goes I won’t say, but it’s delightful. It makes you wish that the Hollywood rom-com could be this sweet and happy.

DayOne

Day One
★★★½
The best written of all of the nominees is this tough drama about an interpreter in on her first day in Afghanistan who finds herself forced to deliver the baby of the wife of a terrorist bomb maker. I won’t spoil the massive complications that spring up both physically and culturally but the script keeps raising the stakes. I don’t think this could ever be a feature, but I wish most features were this intense. Also, kudos go to Layla Aliza for her performance as the interpreter. I hope to see more of her.

 
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Posted by on 02/24/2016 in Blog

 

The Armchair Critic’s (fairly accurate) Oscar Predictions

Tag Best Picture 

OscarNomineesBestPicture

The Big Short | Bridge of Spies | Brooklyn | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Martian | The Revenant | Room | Spotlight

From the moment that it was named as a nominee, and even for sometime before that, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant has stood apart from the pack. This bitter cold epic about a fur tracker who is mauled by a bear (twice), then left for dead, then watches his son murdered before his very eyes, then is forced to drag his broken body hundreds of miles across the snowy wilderness, then forced to confront his son’s killer is filmmaking of the highest order. It’s a tough, brutal epic so uncompromising that makes you feel ashamed of your petty first-world problems.

In that way, it makes the other seven nominees feel like they’re standing one step back. I’ve been on the wagon that The Revenant is the clear winner for months, and I still believe it. However, recent pundits have pulled its chances down a bit. The Revenant may be the best film among the nominees, but the pre-awards are starting to give others a slight boost. Dispatch with the hangers-on: Bridge of Spies, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian and Brooklyn are off the table, they don’t have a snowball’s chance here. And the sleeper Room will settle for being rewarded in the Best Actress category. That leaves Spotlight, Tom McCarthy’s sobering drama about the Boston’s Globe’s investigation into the Catholic priest abuse scandal, and The Big Short, Adam McCay’s oddball comedy about the housing crisis. While Spotlight is respectable and just has the feel of an Oscar winner, The Big Short has won The Producer’s Guild Awards, voted on by the same people who vote for the Oscar. So there’s that.

Yet, after watching and studying The Oscars for 25 years, I have to go with my gut. Something about The Revenant feels right. I could waffle back and forth about films about newspapers, spies, road warriors, mars, captivity, the housing crisis, and the Irish romance; for the second year in a row, the top prize goes to Iñárritu and his crew. I just know it.

Winner: The Revenant
Darkhorse: Spotlight

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Tag Best Director

Lenny Abramson for Room | Alejandro González Iñárritu for The Revenant | Tom McCarthy for Spotlight | Adam McCay for The Big Short | George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road

Here’s diversity for you: Alejandro González Iñárritu, a Mexican-born director won the Oscar last year for Birdman and is poised to win again for The Revenant. Take that Spike Lee!

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Tag Best Actor

OscarNomineesBestActor

Bryan Cranston in Trumbo | Matt Damon in The Martian | Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant | Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs | Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl

It’s time. After five previous nominations, it’s time to reward Leonardo DiCaprio. And if you’ve seen the film, you know why. Few actors took the beating that Leo did in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant, as a fur trapper who survives a brutal bear attack and treks miles and miles across the Dakota wilderness to get back to civilization. It is possible that, given what he goes through, DiCaprio may have played the toughest character of any actor this year. This one is so clear that I can’t even see a darkhorse.

Winner: Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant
Darkhorse: none

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Tag And the Other Races copy

OscarNomineesBestActress

Cate Blancett in Carol | Brie Larson in Room | Jennifer Lawrence in Joy | Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn | Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years

The understandable knee-jerk reaction here is to set your sights on Jennifer Lawrence. She’s an Oscar favorite and one of the best actors of her generation. Early predictions tended to point in her direction, but Joy, in which she plays a real-life woman whose burst of inventiveness gives the world The Miracle Mop, has received a lukewarm reception from just about everyone. It’s hard to call her a darkhorse, but her chances for a second Best Actress Oscar stands down from the new kid in town.

Brie Larson is a star in the making, and her chances lie in the fact that she not only gave a great performance but seems to be cleaning up in the pre-Oscar awards, most crucially the Screen Actor’s Guild Award which is voted on by the same people who vote in this category. Larson is the star of the moment. She made waves two years ago with the indie drama Short Term 12 that cinemaphiles are still talking about. This year she proved that is was no fluke. In Room, she plays Joyce, a woman forced to spend seven years in captivity, locked away in a tool shed by a sicko and eventually giving birth to a son. But the story isn’t about the machinations of captivity (spoiler alert), it’s about the long-term psychological state of a person who has escaped from such circumstances who must now work to rebuild their lives in a larger world that they no longer know. Larson could easily have ridden this performance on anguish alone but it’s the internal struggle that propels her to move out of the darkness and into the light for her son. It’s a great performance and I’ll be happy if, and when, she wins.

The Winner: Brie Larson in Room.
The Darkhorse: Jennifer Lawrence in Joy.
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Tag Best Supporting Actor

OscarNomineesBestSupportingActor

Christian Bale in The Big Short | Tom Hardy in The Revenant | Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies | Mark Ruffalo in Spotlight | Sylvester Stallone in Creed

It is reasonable to assume that Sylvester Stallone’s lock on the Best Supporting Actor Oscar this year comes packaged in heaps of nostalgia. I won’t disagree, but I will say that it’s not without reason. Stallone brings Rocky back around for the seventh time but it never feels tired. He plays Rocky as a man who has experienced the loss of those he loves and faces a future with few new opportunities. That, in many ways, is how we met him 40 years ago but now he’s older and wiser and we see a man facing the bitter reality of the adamant of time as he faces a battle with cancer, and attempting to train a hungry young fighter who faces the same temptations that he himself once experienced.

40 years ago, Stallone was nominated for Best Actor for this role but he lost out to Peter Finch for Network for no other reason than that the man died a month before the ceremony. That may have been for the best because the passage of time has given us a chance to appreciate what this character has meant to the legacy of American film. It’s not just a wagon of nostalgia; this Oscar is for Stallone in the single best performance of his career.

The Winner: Sylvester Stallone in Creed
The Darkhorse: None

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Tag Best Supporting Actress

OscarNomineesBestSupportingActress

Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight | Rooney Mara in Carol | Rachel McAdams in Spotlight | Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl | Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs

Throughout this Oscar season, I have run up and down this category believing, at one time or another, that all had the potential to be frontrunners (except Rachel McAdams whose nomination is really for the ensemble, not the performance). As the ceremony draws closer, it has narrowed down to Oscar veteran Kate Winslet (her seventh nomination) and the new kid, Danish actress Alicia Vikander. Winslet seemed to have been the frontrunner after winning the Golden Globe, but then Vikander won The Screen Actor’s Guild Award, which is selected by the same voters who vote for the Oscar.

Winslet was at the heart of Steve Jobs, playing the computer genius’ long-suffering head of marketing and showed a mastery of Aaron Sorkin’s tricky dialogue. Yet, the more emotionally full-filling role went to Vikander who not only suffers being a woman in the 1920s struggling to build herself as an artist but also dealing with the emotional turmoil of being married to a man who faces a confusion of his gender. Both are hard-working performances, but I think the new kid has the edge.

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Tag And the Other Races

Best Original Screenplay

Bridge of Spies | Ex Machina | Inside Out | Spotlight | Straight Outta Compton

It may seem a bit ‘on the nose’ to give a writing award to a screenplay about writers, but anyone who has seen Spotlight knows what a tricky piece of work this is. In dealing with the journalists of the Boston Globe who broke open the priest abuse scandals ten years ago, Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer’s script doesn’t exploit the material but focuses on the long-term effects of the victims and the machinations that kept the church wrapped up in a protective cocoon of deception and collusion. It’s a brilliant script and it deserves to be rewarded.

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Best Adapted Screenplay

The Big Short | Brooklyn | Carol | The Martian | Room

This is part of the reason that I think that The Revenant will win Best Picture, because the three best films in that category are all going to win something. Revenent will Best Picture; Spotlight will win Best Original Screenplay; and Adam McKay and Charles Randolph’s bizarre and comedic script for The Big Short about the housing scandal will win here. Yet, if the voters are in a generous mood, there may be a surprise with Emma Donoghue’s emotionally satisfying Room.

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Best Animated Feature

Anomalisa | Boy & the World | Inside Out | Shaun the Sheep | When Marnie Was There

Like Best Picture, there isn’t a slacker in the bunch here. All are worthy but I think Pixar’s comeback feature Inside Out was the most explosively creative (not to mention, the best) film of the year.

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Best Foreign Language Film

Embrace of the Serpent (Columbia) | Mustang (France) | Son of Saul (Hungary) | Theeb (Jordan) | A War (Denmark)

I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t seen any of the Foreign Language Film nominees this year so I’ll got with the frontrunner, Son of Saul from Hungary.
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Best Original Song

“Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey | “Dahealia” from The Weekend | “Manta Ray” from Racing Extinction | “Simple Song #3” from Youth | “Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground | “The Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre

None of the six nominees this year is really anything to write home about, so it falls to massive celebrity to pick a winner. The presence of Lady Gaga for her anti-rape ballad “Til It Happens to You” from the documentary The Hunting Ground is not the best work she’s ever done but it is likely to be seen as the most important. The Oscar goes to the cause, not the song itself.
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Best Original Score

Bridge of Spies | Carol | The Hateful Eight | Sicario | Star Wars: The Force Awakens

John Williams goes into the history books by receiving his fiftieth nomination for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he now has more Oscar nominations then any living person. It is also likely to be his last – he came out of retirement to write it. Yet, oddly enough, it may be the most underwhelming score of the entire series. Meanwhile Ennio Morricone crafted a wonderfully ominous Hell-bound score for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. Morricone and Tarantino were at odds on the set, so that will make for a very interesting Oscar speech.
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Best Production Design

Bridge of Spies | The Danish Girl | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Martian | The Revenant

With the exception of The Danish Girl, most of these films take place outdoors against harsh and unyielding elements. Yet, the only one that really stands out are Colin Gibson and Lisa Thompson’s work creating the Dante-like world of Mad Max: Fury Road.
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Best Cinematography

Carol | The Hateful Eight | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Revenant | Sicario

As with Best Production Design, these nominees – with the exception of Carol – take place mostly outdoors. All are worthy but this one goes the Emmanuel Lubezki for The Revenant. If he wins, it will be his third in a row after Gravity and Birdman.
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Best Costume Design

Carol | Cinderella | The Danish Girl | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Revenant

Double nominee Sandy Powell is the architect behind both Carol and Cinderella. While a win for Cinderella wouldn’t surprise me, I have a feeling that the voters in this branch are going to want to reward Carol somewhere and this may be their one win of the night.
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Best Make-Up and Hairstyling

The 100 Year-Old Man Who Jumped Out a Window and Disappeared | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Revenant

Pretty slim stock here. Scares and beards make up the work on The Revenant while The 100 Year-Old Man is simply age work. That leaves the award in the hands of Mad Max: Fury Road.
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Best Film Editing

The Big Short | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Revenant | Spotlight | Star Wars: Force Awakens

My heart immediately goes out to Star Wars for this one, but I must concede that the tradition of this category is that whatever wins Best Picture, usually wins Best Editing. The Revenant is a possibility but if they break to tradition, I see this one going to Margaret Sixel (wife of director George Miller) for Mad Max: Fury Road.
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Best Visual Effects

Ex Machina | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Martian | The Revenant | Star Wars: The Force Awakens

In my heart, this award goes to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but in reality I can’t remember where it broke any new ground. That mantel belongs to the work done by Mark William Ardington, Sara Bennett, Paul Norris and Andrew Whitehurt for Ex Machina . . . which would happen in a perfect world. One more for Mad Max: Fury Road.
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Best Sound Editing

Mad Max Fury Road | The Martian | The Revenant | Sicario | Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Sound Mixing

Bridge of Spies
| Mad Max Fury Road | The Martian | The Revenant | Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I will concede to anyone who tells me that Mad Max: Fury Road will walk away with these awards. But in my deepest heart, wanting to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens get something, I’m going to take a chance and declare it the winner.
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Best Documentary Feature

Amy | Cartel Land | The Look of Silence | What Happened Miss Simone? | Winter On Fire: The Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

The most stunning and achingly sad film of the year was Amy about the rise and fall of Amy Winehouse. It was moving, it was beautiful and it deserves an Oscar.
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Best Documentary Short

Body Team 12 | Chau – Beyond the Lines | Claude Lanzmann: Specters of Shoah | A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness | The Last Day of Freedom

The film-lover in me is automatically drawn to Claude Lanzmann, about the groundbreaking filmmaker who made the holocaust documentary Shoah 30 years ago. But A Girl in the River, the story of a girl faced with and Honor Killing in a small village seems a more likely choice.
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Best Live Action Short Film

Ave Maria | Day One | Everything Will Be Okay | Shok (Friends) | Stutterer

I am lucky enough to have seen all of this year’s nominees for Live Action Short film and in a pack that includes a lot of downers, my favorite is the most light-hearted, Stutterer, the story of a loner with a debilitating speech impediment who is faced with meeting the woman with whom he has been carrying on an online romance.  Yet, I suspect that the voters are going to gravitate toward the darkest of the nominees, Shok the pitch black story of two childhood friends growing up in Kosovo during the war.

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Best Live Action Short Film

Bear Story | Prologue | Sanjay’s Super Team | We Can’t Live Without Cosmos | The World of Tomorrow

My favorite nominee here is We Can’t Live Without Cosmos, the touching story of the friendship between two Russian cosmonauts, and there are signs that this may be the darkhorse.  But I think the voters will be more dazzled by The World of Tomorrow, a bizarre line-drawn short about a 5 year-old girl who meets and ancestor from 227 years in the future.  The story behind the short is even more interesting than the film itself.  The director Don Hertzfeldt recorded the sounds of his niece Winona Mae playing in her bedroom and built a story around them.

 

 
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Posted by on 02/23/2016 in Blog

 

A Few Things That (I’ll bet) You Didn’t Know About The Oscars

2013Oscars

I like to think I know Oscar pretty well, I’ve been watching and studying his history for the past 25 years. In that time, I’ve learned a few things. Here are a few of them:
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MerylStreep

* THE MOST TOYS

Meryl Streep has been nominated for acting more times than anyone else. Since 1978 she’s been nominated a whopping 19 times – fifteen times for Leading roles and four for Supporting. YET, her win ratio doesn’t come close to that. In 36 years she has won three times; first for Supporting Actress in 1980 for Kramer vs. Kramer. Then in 1983 for Sophie’s Choice and then again 29 years later for The Iron Lady. The man with the most Acting nominations is Jack Nicholson, who has 12.

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OscarBallot

* SPOILER ALERT!

For the first ten years of the Academy Awards, the winners were announced in advance, at the same time as the nominees.
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MichaelDouglas

* DOUBLE THE LOVE

Michael Douglas actually has two Academy Awards. Everyone knows that he won Best Actor in 1988 for Wall Street, but less known is that he received an Oscar for Best Picture as one of the producers of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Douglas is actually 2 for 2, he’s won both awards for which he’s been nominated. ___________________________________________________________________________________________

JohnWilliams

* SWEET MUSIC

John Williams was first nominated in 1968 for Valley of the Dolls and won two years later for Fiddler on the Roof.  Williams is a living legend, of course, in nearly half a century composing some of the greatest music in movie history, he’s been nominated for the Oscar 50 times, more than any living person.  He received his 50th nomination this year for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  Yet, he’s only won five Oscars for Fiddler on the Roof (1972), Star Wars (1977), Jaws (1975), E.T. (1982) and Schindler’s List (1993).

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WaltDisney

* THE HAPPIEST OSCAR WINNER ON EARTH

Walt Disney received more Academy Awards then any single person with 28. In 1938, he was given a special award for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, wherein he was presented with an Oscar and seven mini-Oscars.
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JenniferLawrence

* LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Winners are always asked “Where will you keep your Oscar?”  Jennifer Lawrence didn’t feel right keeping her Oscar for “Silver Linings Playbook” in the house so she gave it to her mother.  Most actresses report that they keep their Oscar in the bathroom.  The most bizarre prize goes to Russell Crowe who said he keeps his Oscar for Gladiator in his chicken coop.
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EmilJannings

* HEIL OSCAR!

The very first Best Actor winner was German actor Emil Jannings who won the award for two films, The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh (in those days actors won for more than one film).  That is what The Academy would like you to know.  What they don’t want you to know is that when he got back to Germany he spent much of his later career making propaganda films for the Nazi Party.
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StolenOscar

* WALKING AWAY WITH THE AWARD

One Oscar was stolen during the show. At the 10th Annual Academy Awards, actress Alice Brady was unable to attend the ceremony due to a broken ankle, yet she won the award for her supporting role in the western drama In Old Arizona. During the ceremony an unidentified man walked up to the podium and accepted the award on her behalf. When she called the Academy to say that she had not received her Oscar, it was revealed that the man was had been an impostor who had crashed the party, accepted her award and walked off with it. Brady died of cancer before the Academy could issue a replacement. Neither the stolen Oscar nor the man who walked away with it were ever seen or heard from again.
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OscarWeight
* OSCAR PULLS HIS WEIGHT

The Oscar statue is 13.5 inches high and weighs 8.5 pounds. That’s about the same weight as a gallon of milk.
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Calendar

* TO BE A NOMINEE . . .

In order to qualify for an Academy Award for Best Picture, a film must have had a week-long run in a commercial movie theater in the county of Los Angeles between January 1st and December 31st , and must have a run time of more than 40 minutes. It must also have run in that commercial theater first; if it ran on television, it is disqualified.
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SacheenLittlefeather

* OSCAR BITES!

Sacheen Littlefeather, the 26 year-old Apache woman who went onstage at the 46th Annual Academy Awards to turn down Marlon Brando’s Oscar for The Godfather due to the treatment of American Indians by the film industry, was actually Maria Cruz, a half-Apache activist who had been protesting against the American government refusal to answer claims made by American Indians.  Somewhere in all the activism however, she found time to be a contestant in the 1970 Miss American Vampire contest, which she won.  Later, in need of money, she posed for Playboy.
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KirkandMichael

* THANKS FOR NOTHING!

Kirk Douglas spent ten years trying to bring Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to the screen, even going so far as the buy up the rights with his own money. It wasn’t until 1974 that son Michael became one of the film’s producers that the film got the green light. With that, Kirk was sure that Michael would cast the old man in the lead, but the studio felt that the actor was too old and cast Jack Nicholson instead. Jack Nicholson, Michael Douglas and the movie all won Academy Awards the following year.

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RobertOpel

* OH YES, THEY CALL HIM THE STREAK

The famous “Streaker,” the man who ran naked across Oscar’s stage at the 46th Annual Academy Awards was a man named Robert Opel who owned an art gallery in San Francisco. Opel had gained a backstage pass by pretending to be a journalist. Presenter David Niven was onstage when Opel appeared from stage right flashing a peace sign and, well, everything else. Niven was so casual about the incident that many wondered if the stunt wasn’t planned by the academy to liven a dull show. Openly gay, Opel was known around San Francisco for his flamboyant style, his Anita Bryant Look-a-like contests and would later streak at parties given by Rudolph Nureyev and Marvin Hamlisch. Nine years after his infamous stunt, Opel was murdered in his gallery by two men whom he supposedly owed drug money.

 
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Posted by on 02/14/2016 in Blog

 

Parting Shots

PartingShotBar

I value every single detail of the movies from the opening moment, to the titles, to the introduction of the characters, to the dilemma, to the third act and then, of course, the parting shot. The elements that bookend the movies are always the most fascinating to me. If the opening shot tells us what we need to know, then the final shot emphasizes how our brains carry the story beyond the screen – often we are left to fill in the blanks. The final shot, I think, is the one we remember most because this is the image that we leave the theater with. Also, it is the clincher. This is the moment that the entire film has been aiming for and when it arrives, we find ourselves leaning forward in anticipation.

Periodically, right here on this blog, I am going to examine several parting shots, closing moments of movies that made an impact. They will be divided into categories wrapped in a particular theme.

They are listed in no particular order with no ranking at all.

PartsBar
It is my belief that a movie should leave us with something to ponder. Despite the crazy inevitability of sequels, prequels and other intrusions, a self-contained film can leave an impact when the screenwriter leaves a film open enough that we can concern ourselves with the fate of the characters after the final shot has faded out. What I have here are some examples of those moments, listed alphabetically, these are some of the most effective.
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The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

SilenceoftheLambs

Thomas Harris’ 1988 novel “The Silence of the Lambs” ended with Clarice Starling becoming a full-fledged FBI agent and then summarily receiving a telegram from Dr. Hannibal Lecter, now on the lam. The 1991 film adaptation wisely changes that conversation to a long distance telephone call. During her graduation party, Starling receives a call from Lecter, who is sitting at an airport in The Bahamas. Catching up on the progress of Starling’s most enduring childhood trauma (she tried and failed to rescue a lamb from a slaughterhouse), he asks if the lambs have stopped screaming then assures her that he has no plans to call on her, but that he is “having an old friend for dinner.” We then see that this “friend” is Dr. Frederick Chilton, the pompous director of the sanitarium that housed Lecter for years. He hangs up the phone, gets up and then disappears into the crowd.

Lecter, to me, is like a dangerous spider trapped in a jar, most interesting when we only ponder the horrible things he’s capable of. Now he’s out and the venom is introduced on an unsuspecting public. This is a deliciously brilliant manner for Lecter to exit the picture (assuming you are able to put the awful gore-fest Hannibal out of your mind). We know how brilliant and how tactful Lecter is. We’ve seen him escape. We’ve seen the methods he uses to get free. We know that he won’t be easily caught. We know that this dog will have his day . . . and his dinner.
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2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001ASpaceOdyssey

It may be the most famous, most recognized and most studied closing moment in the history of the cinema.  It is also the most hopeful ending of all time. In a film that chiefly deals with evolution: man has touched the unknown reaches of the universe and arrived at the next plateau of his development. Traveling through the star gate, our hero David Bowman finds himself in a place that it neither here nor there. There, in a place where time and space have no meaning, he ages rapidly and then, elderly and bedridden, reaches out to touch the monolith. We then see a celestial baby in a womb staring back down at the earth. He then turns to regard us in the audience. What is this scene all about? Why does this baby regard us? What is it asking of us? This mysterious ending has us asking many questions on the way out; questions about man, nature, science, evolution, and all without words. A single glance asks a thousand questions, hopeful questions still waiting to be answered.
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Bambi (1941)

Bambi

The surface of Bambi is cute and cuddly, no doubt, but the substance of the film could fill volumes. This is the story of the birth and maturation of a forest creature living under the threat of outside (and unseen) forces that come crashing into the beauty and tranquility of his world. The ending brings full-circle, something that took place earlier in the film. Bambi, having encountered his father, The Great Prince of the Forest, just after his mother’s death, takes on the world alone without his mother’s nurturing. The final scene, in which father and son look over the ruins of the burned-out forest at Bambi’s new family is brilliantly finalized as The Great Prince steps aside and disappears into the woods. Bambi oversees the remains of a burned out forest and we are left to ponder, with all of man’s destructive intrusions, what will become of him.
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The Truman Show (1998)

TrumanShow

The premise is probably the most current and relevant of any film that I can imagine (even more now than it was in 1998): a reality show dealing with a man who doesn’t know that his entire life is a reality show. Don’t devalue that idea, it isn’t so far-fetched. Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) lives in a can, a gigantic closed set that contains not only his hometown of Seahaven (built under a giant dome) but, in effect, his entire life. His blissful ignorance is broken when cracks begin to form in the ruse. Most of the film is Truman’s growing awareness that he is an unwitting television star.

In the end, Truman disappears from the camera’s eye in a boat in an effort to find out what exists beyond the shores of Seahaven, while the show’s God-like producer Christof (Ed Harris) employs his cast and crew to find him. Eventually, Truman’s boat arrives at the edge of the set where he finds a small flight of stairs with an exit door at its apex. He takes a bow and steps through the door into the world for the very first time. Everyone remembers that shot, but it is what happens next that really brings the idea home. The whole world cheers Truman’s exodus, the screen turns to snow and we see two security guards grab the TV Guide to see what else is on. I applaud this ending which brings the elation of a global television event back down to earth and forces us to confront the idea that most emotional moments in television are only momentary, at least until we find something else to watch.  It’s logical, it’s true, it makes sense, and it’s brilliant.
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Modern Times (1936)

1936-ModernTimes

For me, Chaplin’s exit from silent films was fitting, melancholy and somewhat hopeful. His Little Tramp, once voted as the most recognized image on the planet, was a loner and in Modern Times has entered a mechanized world that is bewildering, dehumanizing, heartless and hopeless. The world, it seems, has moved past The Little Tramp. It has become too fast and too chaotic for even his gentle spirit to manage. In Modern Times, The Tramp finds a companion, a gamin with whom he builds a strange ersatz domestic existence made out of dirt-clods and cardboard. In the end, The Tramp and his companion head off down the road together toward an uncertain future. They’re not alone. This was the world of the depression and, very soon, a world war. What lies ahead for them? For The Tramp, we are hopeful because we know he won’t face the future alone.
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The Terminator (1984)

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Setting aside the entire business of the “franchise” (I hate that term) which now entails four sequels and a dull-as-dishwater TV show, let us simply focus on this film and this film alone. Most films end on a note that only suggests what we’ve just seen. The Terminator operates both on what Sarah Conner has been through and what she faces in the future. Stopping at a gas station, a Mexican boy informs her that a storm is coming. “I know”, she says and drives off into the desert toward a horizon filled with ominous storm clouds. She is literally the only person in the world who knows what is going to happen. Her only defense: A gun and a German Shepard who can sense the machines. Literally, the weight of the world is upon her shoulders and she heads into the mountains, ready to face it.
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The Graduate (1968)

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The point of The Graduate, from the title on down, is the initiation of one insecure young man into the strange and bizarre world of adults. That moment is isolated in a perfect shot in which Benjamin Braddock sits at the bottom of his parent’s pool in a dive suit. The ending of the film, however, turns the entire meaning of the film around, a moment that is done without dialogue. Benjamin has just rescued Katherine Ross from being married. The two run away from the church and board a bus filled with scowling old people. They move to the back and laugh about their victory, but as the minutes pass the elation in their faces falls away. There some disappointment, some sense of regret. What have they really accomplished? What was it all really for? Their expressions say it all.
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Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)

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[Spoiler alert]
This was originally going to be the ending of The Empire Strikes Back but since we know have such firm mental inventory of how that story resolves itself I decided to move forward.  I know I may be jumping the gun here, but at this point in time I am dazzled by the ending shot of The Force Awakens if only because, for once, I have no idea where this story is going.  For those of us who have followed this epic for nearly 40 years it both encompasses all the things that have gone before and things yet to come.

“Luke Skywalker has vanished” the opening crawl informs us.  Indeed, the Jedi are once again all but extinct.  The search for this elusive legend have spawned a galactic war, Luke has underestimated the power of the dark side leading to his own self-imposed exile.  As The Force Awakens draws to a close we find him back in a place similar where we met him almost 40 years ago, regarding the uncertain horizon only this time with much more experienced eyes.  If I thought that the expressions in The Graduate spoke volumes, certainly the expression on Luke’s face speak a thousand words.

As our hero Rey arrives on the rocks of a far-away planet she approaches a mysterious figure shroud in a cloak.  When he turns there are no words – we don’t need them.  That weather-beaten face, crowned by the saddest eyes you’ve ever seen understand clearly what has transpired.  It is almost as if Luke has been watching the movie with us, and he understands the situation more clearly than even those involved could possibly understand.  Rey regards him with wonder and a touch of fear.  In a galaxy that is tearing itself apart, he’s their only hope.

 
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Posted by on 02/07/2016 in Blog

 

How to make a Christian movie without embarrassing God.

ChristianMovies

Friends, Romans, Moviegoers, I come not to bury Christian movies nor to glorify them. I am here to discuss how they can be made better. I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention but since 2014 there has been a massive bumper crop of Christian movies, that is, those aimed at an Evangelical Christian audience. Personally, I’m all in favor. I believe in diversity, and I believe that everyone should have movies that speak to their own beliefs, but I think the Christian audience deserves much better than what they’ve been given.

Recent complaints over the lack of diversity in Hollywood gave me a lot of time to consider this crazy medium that consumes my life. Last week I wrote that the best way to embrace diversity was not to change the Academy Awards, but to change the industry itself. This is only in consideration of the fact that motion pictures are the most powerful artistic medium that mankind has developed. It’s the most important of the mass arts because it allows us to be enveloped in other cultures, other means of living that we in our daily lives may not experience.

I’ve seen diversity come and go, with movies aimed at the Black audience, Asians, Hispanics and, in the last 25 years, a positive portrait of the LGBT community. Therein, I believe that the Christian audience deserves to see themselves and their beliefs on the screen as well. But I am trouble by what are they being given? For the past three years, there has been a boom in Christian-themed movies as they seem to be rolling out with the same output and ferocity as horror movies but they are the movie of such bad quality in writing, acting, directing and production that one might believe that half of these movies were filmed in someone’s back yard. And that’s before we get to the issue of The Message. When they get to The Message, it always seems to be presented as pompous, judgmental, pretentious, sanctimonious and exclusionary. The message is one-sided and that’s a problem.

Let’s look at a few:

God’s Not Dead
Here is the most extreme example of a Christian movie that didn’t play fair. Here was a movie that elicited the idea of Christianity vs. atheism to the point of being offensive. Gods Not Dead was a multi-character study of several people, both believers and non-believers, who clash over several days. Yet, at its center was the story of a college freshman who is asked by his atheist Philosophy professor (played by Kevin Sorbo) to sign an agreement stating “God is Dead” so that any questions of the All Mighty would be taken off the table and out of the class work. When the kid refuses, the professor demands that the student put together a presentation proving the existence of God. Failure to do so results in a failing grade.

The problem was that God’s Not Dead was so weighted to the Christian point of view that any other objections or discussions were unable to enter the room. Every Christian character in the movie was seen as a serene and beautiful saint. Meanwhile everyone who was a non-believer was a mean-spirited, loud-mouthed jerk. The movie sectioned off all of its characters into one of two camps. The movie brought about the notion that God exists but did so with blunt force. No measures of love or understanding were allowed to enter the picture.

Heaven is for Real
Less ferocious, but still just as unbalanced was Heaven is for Real based on the supposed true story of Todd Burpo, whose 4 year-old son Colton claimed that he died briefly on the operating table. Fine. Sounds like a nice story. But any measure of mystery given to this idea was beaten out of the movie. There are no challenges, no discussions, no ideas one way or another. The movie nails the mystery to the wall as absolute, unbending truth that, YES!, this kid DID DIE and that nobody anywhere can question it.

Mom’s Night Out
This, I think, was suppose to be the Christian answer to “The Hangover” dealing with four harried mothers who decide to take a girl’s night away from screaming kids and overgrown man-child husbands. In good hands that might have been a workable idea, the problem is that these ladies are clearly suffering from anxiety issues, hyper-tension and at least one case of near psychological meltdown. The problem is that the movie dismissive of these things and believes apparently that the best way to deal with mental issues is to calm down and take a dose of Vitamin Jesus. I’m not being dismissive, but I came away from the movie concerned for those involved that religion was being heaped upon them for problems that desperately needed professional help.

Old Fashioned
Here was supposed to be the Christian answer to Fifty Shades of Grey, the story of a reformed ladies man who is so afraid of his own actions that he refuses to stand in the same room with a woman that he’s not married to. It is suppose to rekindle an older, simpler form of courting but it only succeeds at making the guy weird and off-putting. It’s a gimmick that is suppose to seem noble but it comes off as just plain creepy.

Son of God
This probably doesn’t count, but basically this was a big screen adaptation of one part of The History Channel’s series “The Bible” – the Jesus section. Fine. The problem is that it still felt like a segment of that series. It purports to cover the life of Jesus Christ by following the same chopped up narrative structure as the series – that’s not good news. What you get here are a series of highlights of the most important moments in Jesus’ life: He heals the sick, raises the dead, feeds the multitudes, walks on water, gives inspiring sermons and gets under the skin of the Romans until they crucify him. We learn nothing new about Jesus. We don’t approach him. We feel at a distance. We see the events, but never get close to man.

There are other examples but these seemed to be the most extreme.

All of these movies have the same problem. They are dismissing discussion in favor of sermonizing. There is only one point of view and that point of view belongs to those who believe. There are no considerations, no ideas, no points to ponder. There’s no thinking here and that seems to come from the idea that the filmmakers are almost afraid to challenge their audience.

If you’re going to make a Christian movie, chances are you have a point of view. That point being that God is the great architect of the universe; the teachings of Jesus are flawless and any other path through life is fruitless, sinful and a sure-fire pathway to Hell. No one can argue with that, everyone believes in his or her own way. The problem is that these movies leave nothing for the average viewer. These films are made with the message already beaten into the film with a sledgehammer and with no doors or windows left open for debate or discussion.

This is the wrong approach.  Christian-themed movies should illicit that same function as religion, to enlighten and to inform, not just to those who occupy the pews, but more importantly to those who don’t. Christian teachings should be a vessel of instructing the best way to live a good life constructively within the word of God. It should be an instruction. The problem with most Christian movies is that are used a blunt instrument, availing Evangelical Christians as beatific saints and atheists as angry and unhappy philistines whose chief interest is to gnash and snarl at those who have found a life in Christ. That’s not reality. If you portray the believers as heroes and the non-believers as villains, who really are you speaking to?

So how best to fix the problem? Well, first of all (Please!) send the filmmakers to film school so that they can learn how to better their craft. The latest crop of Christian movies have been terrible on a base level of production, writing, directing and acting. They maintain the kind of production value that you would find from an old TV sitcom. You can spread the good word, but you have to make a film that has, at the very least, some kind of artistic merit. Look, we dress up for church because we want to look good in his house, right?  Shouldn’t movies that glorify him look their best too?

Also, the subject matter needs to be handled much better. Sermonizing is an easy way to get believers into the theater but what does it teach them? Christian films should challenge, they should provoke, they should ask questions. They should inspire discussion. That’s what great movies do, they get our brains working by laying a foundation of questions and issues and letting us fill in the blanks. The best films with Christian messages or overtones do so in an indirect way; The Passion of the Christ, Chariots of Fire, Tree of Life. They express the belief in God and the needs for a faith-based life but they do it indirectly so that the message comes to you through thoughtful observation.

So how could they be made better? Well, it’s simple, stop bashing the audience over the head or shoveling messages that are provided only to draw an ‘amen’ from an already faith-based audience. Doing so pushes the non-believers out of the room. Here are some suggestions.

Instead of Gods Not Dead being about a Christian reforming an atheist. How about a movie in which they enter into a discussion that leaves both with their beliefs but understanding of why each other thinks the way they do?

Instead of Heaven is for Real slapping us in the face with stone-cold facts about God’s existence, how about the mystery of this little boy challenging people’s perceptions of what they think about the after life?

Instead of Moms Night Out being about psychological problems being addressed through church instead of therapy; how about a movie portrays these women being guided through therapy and also incorporating their Christian faith.

Instead of Old Fashioned being about a creep who is pathologically afraid of woman, how about a movie about a Christian couple who meet and get to know one another?

Instead of Son of God being a patch-job of the red-letter moments of Jesus’ life, how about a movie the really explores what Jesus was going through emotionally? Let us get to know him as a man so that we can feel comfortable with ourselves just as he did.

I’m saying that there need to be considerations, thoughts, ideas so that Christian films won’t seem so exclusionary. Putting these ideas into play, suddenly Christian-themed films would have something to say. They would be able to say something vulnerable and honest and open people’s minds to what God has been trying to tell us for 2000 years. His message is powerful, and the medium of film is the most powerful artistic medium that we have. It’s time we started using it in a more efficient and educational way.

 
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Posted by on 01/31/2016 in Blog

 

Are the Academy Awards racist?

BlackActors

Oh, what a monologue Chris Rock must be cooking up for this year’s Academy Awards.

It is not a stretch to suggest that on the morning of February 29th, the topic of conversation of the 88th Academy Awards will move swiftly from the winners to questions of diversity. Almost as soon as the nominees were announced on the morning of January 14th the outcry began. No person of color received a single acting nomination from the voting academy despite fine work from Idris Elba in Beast of No Nation, Michael B. Jordan from Creed, Samuel L. Jackson for The Hateful Eight, Tamara Parrish for Chi-Raq, or from the cast of Straight Outta Compton.

Outraged celebrities like Jada Pinket Smith and Spike Lee voiced their distaste for the academy’s white-washing of African-Americans and many have said that they have no plans to attend the ceremony – not even Lee whose body of work is being honored this year.

It’s hard to conceive of why these omissions were made and it’s even harder to ignore the fact that the anger raised over the lack of diversity last year is even worse this year. It’s easy to cry foul and to pound the podium about such an issue, but instead of shaking my fist at the voters, I am choosing the look at the awards themselves in practical terms.

In following the Academy Awards every year – as I have obsessively for the past 25 years – I am faced with the inevitable fact that each academy awards season is drawn up by what is “of the moment.” That is, whatever films are being sold and promoted for each individual year. Is that an excuse for a lack of diversity? No. But it proves that often the academy has a short attention span. Many of the films nominated for the Oscar in any given year are releases that debut in the last two months of the year. Films that debuted before that time period are often seen as films that have had their moment in the sun; they’ve had their DVD release and therefore don’t need special attention from the academy. That’s the thinking, anyway.

What does that say for their choices? Well, it says that the academy is prone to vote for whatever is hot at the moment. Take The Revenant for example, this year’s front-runner this year for Best Picture, a film that was new to theaters; it had Leonardo DiCaprio, a hot young lead who is the front-runner for Best Actor, and it was directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, a Mexican director who won Oscars last year for writing, directing and producing the Best Picture winner, Birdman.

Yet, would the same have been true if late December saw the release of, say, Straight Outta Compton? F. Gary Gary’s brilliant examination of how the formation of the rap group NWA led to the revolution in hip hop culture was widely praised by critics (including yours truly) and was a box office hit, but could it have found a place among the Best Picture nominees? My guess is no. But that’s only because Straight Outta Compton was based on subject matter that the academy voters – who are traditionally older – don’t really care about. Is that fair? Of course not, but what can be done about it?

Earlier this week Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first African-American woman to hold that position (and the third woman), instituted a statement that changes were ahead for the academy that would mean more diversity in the future. “The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up,” she said, “These new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition.”

Basically what all that means is that the academy will try and open its doors to more diverse inclusion of minorities and woman among its membership. After this year’s academy awards, each new member’s voting status will last 10 years, and will only be renewed if that member has been active in the motion picture industry during the past decade. In addition, members will keep their lifetime membership if they have received an Academy Award or a nomination.

Also, the academy will allow current members to sponsor new members by launching an ambitious, global campaign to identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity. And as an effort to increase diversity among the Academy’s Board of Governors, there will be added three new seats that will be nominated by the Academy’s President that will stand for a three-year term which is confirmed by the board.

I’m trying not to admit that I feel Affirmative Action being set in place here, buuuut.

The steps taken to welcome more diversity seem to be honorable at best, and at worse feel like The Academy rubbing salve on a situation that is completely taking the gloss off of this year’s awards. While it’s true that the lack of diversity this year is notable, due mostly to the fact that it’s the second year in a row that the work of African-Americans in film wasn’t recognized, it leaves me to wonder what those changes would mean for the Academy Awards themselves. Do they mean to say that of the ten slots available in the Best Picture category some will be sectioned off for films that honor the work of African-Americans? Hispanics? Asians? LGBT? Does that mean that two or three slots in the acting categories will be set aside for actors of differing ethnicity? I don’t want to sound like FOX News here but, I see a situation that is raising more questions than it answers.

The only way this is going to work is for changes to be made in the industry, not The Academy. The motion picture industry is essentially, a boy’s club. Most producers and directors are men, white men, and that’s been a problem even as recently as last year with the outcry that Selma recieved only two nominations but neither for its director, Ava DuVernay, an African-American woman who dismissed her lack of nomination by admitting that the DGA is essentially “a boy’s club.”

Last year the situation got even worse.  The male-dominated Director’s Guild drew fire early last year over the deplorable lack of female directors in Hollywood. That was following a call by the ACLU over the industry’s systematic failure to hire female directors. So, minorities are not alone. This is where the situation needs attention. Hire more minorities, let them have a voice. Hire more women, let them tell their stories. The same goes for Hispanics, Asians, Gays.

The problem lies not in the diversity of The Academy Awards, but in the lack of diversity in the product that Hollywood puts out every year. While television continues to try and break new grounds of diversity, so the movies would do well to do the same.  Consider the highest grossing film of 2015, Star Wars: The Force Awakens which silently answered a 40-year call for more diversity then that series had ever expressed. The earlier films were dominated by white males, but the new film was loaded with diversity that didn’t feel like a mandate. It was encouraging, and it was a great movie.

Will the changes for The Academy mean anything? I don’t think so. I don’t mean to be pessimistic, but they seem like smooth talk to quiet a raging situation. The Oscars are a dinosaur, they generally reward films that won’t stand the test of time and performances that you’ll forget as soon as the telecast ends (I have an entire website devoted to this). Will next year be any better as far as diversity? I’d like to think so, but I have a feeling that as soon as the fire dies down from this controversy The Academy will go back to doing what it has always done, and we’ll be back talking about the same thing again next year.  Stay tuned.

 
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Posted by on 01/24/2016 in Blog

 

My (reasonably accurate) Oscar Picks!

MyOscarPicks2014

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

Frozen

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

AlfonsoCauron

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

Gatsby

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