Month: February 2012

Predicting the 84th Annual Academy Awards

It’s here. It’s finally here. The night when the elite portion of the populace gather round the television set amidst plates of fine Sam’s Club cheese trays and $6 Fish Eye to celebrate fashion, fantasy and of course, most importantly, film (ooh, that had a nice ring to it, didn’t it?). We’re like the classier version of the unified blue collar America that swarmed TV’s across the country to watch those really big dudes in tight pants toss around that tiny brown thing at that really big Madonna concert a few weeks ago. Alas, we don’t fux with no men in tight pants; We are the cinephiles, and our time has come to cast shade on Hollywood’s biggest night once again.

2011 brought us many a cinematic masterpiece, from Terrence Malick’s wondrous The Tree of Life to Lars von Trier’s disturbingly beautiful Melancholia, the past year ushered in some of the most monumentally atmospheric filmmaking I’ve ever seen. While the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences chose to recognize only some of the past year’s filmic feats (I’m casting shade again for the ignoring of Martha Marcy May Marlene and von Trier’s aforementioned gem), a much welcomed inclusion of some of 2011’s lesser-seen art films situates the Academy in tip top form, what with surprise nominations announced last month for the likes of The Tree of Life, A Better Life, etc. in multiple categories.

But I’m not here to inflate the egos of the AMPAS any larger than they already are. No, I’m here to scope out their plan of attack. I’ll be your cinematic equivalent to the Indigo Girls; yes, I will be getting out the map for you. It’s time to get all Ms. Cleo (or Raven, if you’re of a “fresher” generation) and predict the 84th Annual Academy Awards.

Note: Because my talents in the art of awards season prediction only function to a certain extent, I won’t be predicting every category. Until there are six precursor award shows that help narrow down the Oscar winner for Best Animated Short Film category, you can suck it.

Best Motion Picture of 2011:

It’s come as no surprise that The Artist is pretty much sweeping awards season (and by sweep I mean winning most of its nominated categories at any given respective awards show); the Spirit Awards loved it, the SAG recognized some of its talent, and the HFPA gobbled it right on up. As a matter of fact, the HFPA have had quite a bit of agency this year, no? They were among the first to broadcast this awards season, inciting a mid-race change of tide in a few key categories, namely in both female acting and Lead actor categories. But, hell, it wouldn’t be a Best Picture winner without the Weinstein name attached, and The Artist has that in spades.

Part of me is holding out a faint glimmer of hope for The Tree of Life, however. Since the winners this year are based on the number of “#1” rankings a picture gets on AMPAS member score cards, I’m not too sure Malick’s masterpiece should be counted entirely out of the race. It’s a film that, when people (especially critics and guilds) loved it, they really loved it. That love carried it through to a surprise Best Picture, Best Director, and (expected) Best Cinematography nomination. It’s not a lot, but two strong categoriacal nominations for a film most had ruled out before the HFPA even announced their nominations in December (a shut out for Tree, mind you). I hope passion really has a play in tonight’s awards.

Predicted Academy Win: The Artist

If That Doesn’t Win, Then: Hugo will.

What Should Win: The Tree of Life

 

Best Director:

As elated as I am that Malick was included this year over David “Let’s take a brilliant novel and make a glorified episode of CSI out of it” Fincher, I can’t say I’m entirely happy with the Best Director category this year. More painful than another Scorsese nomination is another empty Woody Allen nomination. Don’t get me wrong, the aging auteur is one of my all-time favorites. It’s just, his contemporary crop hasn’t generated more than a “meh” (asided from Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Match Point) out of me.

Predicted Academy Win: Michel Hazanavicius

If That Doesn’t Win, Then: Martin Scorsese will.

Who Should Win: Terrence Malick

Best Actress in a Leading Role:

If I had a penny for every time the Academy outright used Meryl “I have two Oscars already” Streep, I’d probably be able to buy Nicki Minaj a much needed new weave (“get that child a proper hairpiece, a nice shade of pastel beige if she insists on a color. On my Platinum Card” Streep would say). While it’s an honor of profound levels to even be nominated (as the losers tonight will tell reporters), Streep’s record breaking number of nominations has also turned into a record breaking number of losses. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s resorted to using her two golden statuettes as book ends (or perhaps earrings? Nah, those are what her Golden Globes are for. Shameless HFPA zing #1, check) for all of this “you’re great, but not 1980s-era Meryl great”. It seemed like Streep would collect her third Oscar up until the SAG had to go and goof on us (really? You’ll tie Streep with Anne Hathaway but won’t single her out over Viola freaking Davis?), and that notion holds true through tonight. It truly blows that some of the best, most memorable moments of her career (Doubt, in all it’s ludicrosity, anyone?) have fallen victim to the likes of Kate Winslet and Sandra Bullock (yes, I’m still bitter). At least Davis is a worthy adversary. Look for Streep to be brushed aside yet again tonight.

Predicted Academy Win: Viola Davis

If She Doesn’t Win, Then: Meryl Streep will.

Who Should Win: Meryl Streep

Best Actor in a Leading Role:

A film like Up in the Air, that truly harnesses the star power of one of Hollywood’s most consistently familiar, relevant actors and turns it on its head, is exactly the kind of film The Descendants, the latest George Clooney vehicle, is not. We’ve seen good old (and yes, I mean literally, old…when did he become an Ent a’la Lord of the Rings on us?) George gobble up and spit out roles like this before, and his inclusion in this categoryonly speaks to his power as a star and not to his talent (which he posseses) as an actor. Dujardin is part of what elevates the self-aware Artist past the point of representational, re-creational mimicry; he’s part of why the film has a soul of its own. He’s the actor in the film, not simply the star. And that’s a very hard thing to do in today’s industry.

Predicted Academy Win: Jean Dujardinin

If He Doesn’t Win, George Clooney will.

Who Should Win: Jean Dujardin

Best Supporting Actress

This is my “Sophie’s Choice” category of the year. My heart remains in Jessica Chastain’s hands. I cried tears of pain as she wept for Octavia Spencer at the Globes. But I was also sort of crying for Octavia Spencer. She’s come such a long way since singing “like Mariah” on Ugly Betty (someone, anyone, please get that reference to the single most hilarious moment in the history of that show), and her work in The Help has been predicted to sweep awards season since last summer. Problem is, her performance is simply not the best supporting one in the film. Chastain is leaps and bounds ahead of her, creating levels of depth in what should have been a very one-tier character. Do I choose the personality I like better or the performance that I like better? Meryl, want to help me out with this one? (her little “let’s name and mispronounce every actress in a film this year so I don’t sound conceited” at the Globes qualifies her to help, here). Spencer came out of nowhere mid-race, leaving Chastain’s sweep of the early precursors entirely for naught. Damn you, HFPA.

Predicted Win: Octavia Spencer

If She Doesn’t Win: Jessica Chastain will.

Who Should Win: Jessica Chastain.

Can I just pull a “Max von Sydow in Extremely Loud” and say nothing on this one? Do I ever say anything about Supporting Actor?

Predicted Win: Christopher Plummer

If He Doesn’t Win: Kenneth Branagh will.

Who Should Win: Christopher Plummer

The rest of my predictions for the “lesser” categories are as follows:

Original Screenplay: Midnight in Paris

Adapted Screenplay: The Descendants

Best Animated Feature: Rango

Best Documentary: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Best Foreign Film: A Separation

Best Cinematography: The Tree of Life

Best Editing: Hugo

Best Score: The Artist

Best Makeup: The Iron Lady

Best Costume Design: The Artist

Best Visual Effects: Hugo

Best Art Direction: Hugo

I’ll Go First, Academy; My Personal 2011 Film Awards

Because I’m such a nice person, I’ll give the diva status a break and let that “other” awards show go on later tonight. You know, so they can get all the primetime publicity. Mine certainly don’t need it.

As much as I love to loathe the choices the Academy makes every year, 2011 harbored many a pleasant surprise that suited my fancy (because I’m the only one that matters, you know), and tonight could prove, if anything, that the Academy still has it in them to throw us a few curveballs in terms of  just who they dole out those precious few little bald men to.

But alas, that’s another blog post for another time (i.e.; about an hour from now) because I’m here not to cast shade on the Academy’s handlings of 2011’s cinematic offerings, but rather to enforce my own set of standards for which the Academy will undoubtedly model their proceedings on next year (I can dream, right?).

Here’s how my personal nominations and awards stack up (with 100% less commercial time than ABC allows for the Oscars. If that be your only incentive to look at mine by all means, I’ll take it where I can get it).

 

Best Motion Picture of 2011:

 

Pariah

The Tree of Life

Melancholia

Beginners

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Young Adult

The Artist

Take Shelter

Bridesmaids

Submarine

Best Foreign Motion Picture of 2011:

 

Trollhunter

Life, Above All

The Artist

Submarine

Viva Riva!

Best Performance By An Ensemble Cast in a Motion Picture:

 

The Tree of Life

Bridesmaids

The Help

Melancholia

Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Contagion

Beginners

Best Actress in a Leading Role:

 

Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady

Charlize Theron – Young Adult

Jessica Chastain – The Tree of Life

Kirsten Dunst – Melancholia

Kristen Wiig – Bridesmaids

Elizabeth Olsen – Martha Marcy May Marlene

Rooney Mara – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Best Actor in a Leading Role:

 

Leonardo DiCaprio – J. Edgar

Ewan McGregor – Beginners

Brad Pitt – The Tree of Life

Michael Shannon – Take Shelter

Jean Dujardin – The Artist

David Hyde Pierce – The Perfect Host

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

 

Kim Wayans – Pariah

Melissa McCarthy – Bridesmaids

Manie Malone – Viva Riva!

Harriet Lenabe – Life, Above All

Octavia Spencer – The Help

Jessica Chastain – The Help

Shailene Woodley – The Descendants

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

 

Christopher Plummer – Beginners

Charles Parnell – Pariah

Armie Hammer – J. Edgar

Jonah Hill – Moneyball

Hunter McCracken – The Tree of Life

Christoph Waltz – Carnage

Best Film Direction:

 

Lars Von Trier – Melancholia

Steven Soderbergh – Contagion

Mike Mills – Beginners

Joe Wright – Hanna

Terrence Malick – The Tree of Life

Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist

Best Film Screenplay (Adapted + Original):

 

Take Shelter

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Beginners

Young Adult

Bridesmaids

Carnage

Pariah

Best Cinematography:

 

Pariah

The Tree of Life

Submarine

Hanna

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Best Film Editing:

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Moneyball

The Tree of Life

Take Shelter

Hanna

Best Film Sound:

 

Hanna

War Horse

Take Shelter

The Tree of Life

Trollhunter

Best Original Score:

 

War Horse

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

The Artist

Hanna

Contagion

Best Costume Design:

The Artist

The Iron Lady

My Week With Marilyn

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

War Horse

Best Hair & Makeup:

The Iron Lady

The Artist

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

If nothing else is apparent about 2011, it’s that my boner for both The Tree of Life and Jessica Chastain has surpassed any and all healthy levels of obsession. In a year that was surprisingly, well, “un” technical (the “little” categories simply weren’t as fun to sift through this year), Malick created a masterpiece of the medium, mixing styles and techniques with abstract philosophical concepts to create one of the most arresting (in every sense) pictures I’ve ever seen. The film stands on its own as an experience, not merely an intellectual approach to “dissect and digest” (which can be applied to its structure as well), reminding us of the power of the visual arts to truly take us somewhere “else,” whether that’s the world Malick created for us or a distant one we’ve since pushed to the back of our mind. Tree brings both to the forefront of the experience, and begs us to do something most of us have been conditioned not to do; view the medium differently.

To This Woman, I Give a “Sissy Spacek in ‘The Help’ Face”

It’s the most refreshing feeling in the world knowing that you’re a part of something…anything, for that matter. The desire to fulfill needs of self worth and importance are none more apparent than such feelings which seep into the minds (and inflated egos) of cinephiles like myself. I’ve come across scores of like-minded individuals as I’ve studied the medium of cinema for the past two years. Some are pretentious hipsters who fancy themselves contemporary Gertrude Steins of the film world, but of course there are those who take the craft seriously and understand that we’re not exactly curing cancer here.

I fully understand that I can sometimes fall in to both categories. But even at the moments when I’m most “seriously” handling the study of film, I’m able to recognize that what I’m doing isn’t, in a broad sense and scope of the world, truly “important” (for lack of a better word). Now enter passion into the equation, because film is something I’ve grown up with, studied, written about, and enveloped myself in for as long as I can remember. It becomes more than just “important” for me, it becomes my way of life. Something I’ve come to understand after investing my time and effort in the process.

A friend recently felt the need to text me in a “film buff panic,” forwarding to me a screen grab of a “normal” person’s (i.e.; someone who hasn’t studied film and probably has no idea what AMPAS stands for) Twitter response to something he’d posted earlier. This friend (for privacy’s sake, we’ll call him “Anfrani”) tweeted something  about his love for the upcoming Oscars. Anfrani received a response from one of his followers which was no doubt crafted in a very strenuous bout of 10 seconds of intense pondering on the respondent’s part, with her exclaiming;

“I have never been a fan [of the Oscars]! The movies that seem to win are usualky [sic] movies people really never heard of!”

The intensity of the look of digust on my face then (and now again, as I recount this tragedy) trumps the side eye thrown to Sandra Bullock’s Best Actress win for “The Blind Side.” I can deal with one idiot. I really can. But the sad thing is that this isn’t the first time I’ve heard someone say something so stupid with such conviction.

For starters, let’s get one thing straight; while the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (note: not the “Academy of Nominating the Top Box Office Performances of Any Given Year”) arguably has an, um, “agendized” way of doing things every year (I’m looking at you, Weinstein), they’re still a respected and altogether relevant entity within the film community. Sure, there’s an element of needing to “appeal” that plays into the nominations each year (sympathy wins and nominations each year, to name a few) but, contrary to popular belief, a little something called “merit” is an essential part of the Oscar nomination process as well. Mind you, this often has nothing to do with pandering certain people with films they’ve “heard of ” or not (note; when you filled out your survey the AMPAS mails to every single household in America, did you check “I’ve heard of this one” or “I haven’t heard of this one” next to The Tree of Life? I’m sure your answer was essential to this year’s nomination process).

But, isn’t merit a hard word to define in relation to cinematic greatness? Do we value the popular appeal (note; “appeal” is different than “familiarity”) of a performance or picture (I’m thinking of Rooney Mara’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo  nomination this year as well as The Help‘s recognition in the Best Picture category), but to nominate based on general familiarity alone would essentially ruin the Academy’s credibility to those who really, well, “matter” in the film industry. Of course I’m not speaking of cinephile “pundits,” if you will, like critics or message board/blog enthusiasts like myself, but to the thousands of Academy members who vote on these things every year.

It’s important to remember that the Academy is not a single entity; it’s not a giant brain which functions as a singular decisive force and hands out awards based on a mutual “agreement” (decided by the Illuminati in a dark room somewhere underground, I’m sure) between its members in an attempt to piss off those who hold opposing viewpoints (i.e.; this girl who hasn’t “heard of” anything they nominate). It takes a collective vote to determine nominees and winners, a democratic process which showcases a voice of industry professionals.

But, I’m getting a bit off track here. What’s really at stake here seems to be the public’s perception of what the Academy’s true purpose is. I can assure you it’s certainly not to appease the (forgive me for using this completely loaded word, as I don’t mean it to sound like I’m “othering” here) “mainstream” (see, I told you) general audience entirely. I’m speaking of those who maybe see three to five movies a year (one of which will undoubtedly be the top-grossing film of its respective year). I’m talking about people whose only investment in the Oscars is (let’s give this a context by placing ourselves back in 2009, shall we?) seeing “Avatar” after nominations were announced, and wondering why on earth it didn’t win Best Picture despite its inclusion amongst the other nominess, but only learned that information after reading the headline on their browswer’s homepage (Yahoo!, Or Verizon maybe?) the day after the ceremony because they were too tired to stay up and watch the entire “boring” thing .

Bottom line, the Oscars are also a business; it’s important to attract a consumer and appeal to what is familiar to them, and “Avatar” coming from a somewhat respected director and becoming the top grossing film of 2009 certainly didn’t hurt in justifying its placement in the Best Picture category. So yes, to a certain degree, familiarity does play some sort of role in generating appeal for the Oscars telecast.

But, you see, there were also nine other films in the same category that year. And just because you didn’t take the time to see them, my dear, doesn’t derive them of the merit an institution such as the AMPAS has bestowed upon them with a nomination.

That seems to be the driving force behind such criticism of the Oscars. Let’s hate on the Academy because they didn’t cater to my tastes. I do it, too; but more on a level of disagreement than outright disrespect and hatred for not catering to my needs. I understand the AMPAS as a separate entity which represents thousands of industry professionals. I may not agree, but I certainly won’t demean their voice for not “catering” to myself. But, if you’re only going to take yourself out of the house to see the latest installment of “Transformers” or “Paranormal Activity” each year and give them glowing five-word empty descriptors (“Dude that was so good!”) as you walk out of the theater, what in the fuck are you doing paying attention to the Academy anyway? Movies clearly aren’t your bag. You wouldn’t slam a chef’s cooking as he sets it down on the table in front of you just because you’ve never tried the ingredients before, would you? So what do you do? You pick up your fork and you go to town. If you puke, sure, reject the next helping. But until you’ve placed a morsel in your mouth, you have no credibility to judge that which is placed before you.

So please, do the rest of us who actually care about this stuff a favor and don’t blame the Academy for your own irrelevancy to what they’re trying to do.

Sewing Cinema:
 Stitching Together 2011 Oscar Greatness, One Costume at a Time

edith

“A designer is only as good as the star who wears her clothes.” It’s a philosophy spewed by Edith Head, one of the most celebrated names in the history of the Academy Awards.

Edith Head’s name isn’t synonymous with star-power or box office success, as most of the politicized institutions associated with the words “awards” and “season” tend to be. She’s no Angelina Jolie. She’s no Meryl Streep. Alas, she’s bounds ahead of them; She was a costume designer, one with more Academy Awards than any other woman in history.

Her line of work is visual and prominent throughout each of the 433 films she worked on, but remembered only as a fleeting compliment to the performers who donned her creations.

Yes, Edith Head dressed everyone from Gloria Swanson to Joan Fontaine, and if her career as a costume designer throughout Hollywood’s golden age up until her death in 1981 proves anything, it’s that she made such glamorous stars, well, shimmer.

That’s the job of a costume designer, after all; to aide in the illusion, to craft the cinematic fantasy which envelops us, sometimes out of materials we’d be hard-pressed not to find at a local Pat Catan’s. It’s not everyday someone like Anne Hathaway can whip up a sustained, award-winning performance out of a clearance bin at a flea market. Costume designers often shop on a budget, with some of the most effective pieces finding their way onto a set because a diligent member of the costume department strolled off set and into a sale rack at a shoe store (I speak from firsthand experience: I once sold a pair of $15 Vans that were to be worn by Viggo Mortensen, purchased by the costume designer for 2009’s The Road which filmed here in Pittsburgh).

In short, it’s a costume designer’s ability to turn the ordinary into spectacle. That’s why the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has taken it upon itself to recognize the countless men and women who sew, pluck, rip, tear, and stitch together the framework of some of the biggest spectacles in American cinema each year with an Oscar for Best Costume Design.

Representing 2011’s crop of contenders are five designers who crafted gorgeous pieces representing eras as far apart as Shakespearian Britain (Lisy Christl’s work for Anonymous), the brooding moors of 1800s Gothic fiction (Michael O’Connor’s designs for Jane Eyre) and the streets of 1930s Paris (Sandy Powell’s contributions to Hugo).

Most of 2011’s nominees (as is true for every year, actually) crafted dazzling wardrobes which harken back to periods of years past, what with the most contemporary representation hailing from Arianne Phillips’ work in W.E., a film whose narrative spans between the 1930s and 1998 as it chronicles the love affair between Britain’s King Edward VIII and an American, Wallis Simpson.

Its director, having never been a stranger to the aesthetically rich, Madonna’s film boasts perhaps the most arresting costumes of each of the nominees with hats by Stephen Jones, gowns by John Galliano, and other contributions from the likes of Balenciaga, Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli, and even the National Museum of Costume in Scotland, who donated a Michael O’Connor wedding gown for filming.

The power of film to incorporate so many contemporary facets of the fashion industry into a single lavish homage to historical fashion is particularly evident in W.E., a film which utilizes the savvy of head designer Arianne Phillips to string together other magical pieces which drape the veil of 1930s European glamour over the delicate cheeks of Madonna’s sophomore directorial effort.

edithshow

Recreating the fantasy of the past through fashion is often the primary task of a costume designer. As CGI and digital projection technologies evolve to elevate the medium itself to higher standards of sophisticated (albeit illusory) presentation, the spectacle itself becomes simply representational. Yes, the fantastical flora and fauna which populated Pandora in James Cameron’s Avatar were imaginative and spectacular, but they ultimately remain fantasy, relying on our classically trained tactic of suspending disbelief in order to “accept” them in context.

But, costume designers have a different job. They must create the past in the physical, in the present, in the now, bringing a glorified age of, say, 1920s Hollywood to life with every stitch, sequin, and wing-tipped shoe at their disposal. Of course, I’m referring to Mark Bridges’ work as seen in The Artist, also nominated this year. The film is a cinematic love letter to the silent era of Hollywood, when looks were everything and an actress’ wardrobe was the yesteryear equivalent to a computer generated explosion. Bridges’ costumes here do more than just catch the eye, they serve as a reminder of the simplicity of an era, the ability of an audience to listen with their hearts to a film which didn’t contain a single spoken word of its own. Costumes were more than just flashy adornments, but rather beacons of prosperity or shining testaments to the desire of the public to one day afford something just as beautiful as the drapery cascading down the frame of the actress dancing before them. Yes, the stars are the ones who conspicuously consume and uphold the business. Maintaining the fantasy, however illustrious the illusion; that’s what costume designers have done throughout history.

It seems as if Ms. Head’s observations are correct. A designer’s work can certainly be esteemed by its presence on the frame of a Hollywood actress as she poses for photographers on the red carpet outside the Kodak Theatre. But as the evening of February 26 comes to a close, one costume designer at the Academy Awards is going home with an Oscar; the other starlets just pretty girls playing dress-up.