Awards

In it for the Long Haul: 4 Things We Learned From Sunday’s Oscars

86th Annual Academy Awards - ShowDoubt is such a malicious feeling.

It liquifies, seeps through the tiniest of cracks, and willingly takes hold of our perspective and changes it in a heartbeat, and yet 2013’s awards season seemed to be defined by it.

From September through this past Sunday’s Oscars, it seemed as though the industry never reached a clearing of solace amidst the chaotic journey to the Academy Awards.

While Gravity, American Hustle, and sometimes even The Wolf of Wall Street seemed to lead the race at any given time, critical backlash or a guild surprise reintroduced doubt unto the emerging frontrunner’s wings before they could fully spread.

We had many frontrunners, but we ultimately had none.

12 Years a Slave seemed, on paper, to be the film with Best Picture written all over it, having fallen in line with the Academy’s diversifying image (publicizing increased minority membership while boasting its first black female president), which seemed to spell a clear path to victory for Steve McQueen’s powerful historical drama, though it became a sitting duck for critics, audiences, and Academy members who don’t like to be told what to do.

Instead, they fancy themselves as free-thinkers, seeing in the mirror rebels who buck the system instead of reenforcing it; they are, at times, both. Crash was a rebellious choice for Best Picture in 2004, though it fell in line with a general consensus to avoid the controversial. Films like The Artist, Slumdog Millionaire, and Argo reaffirmed the awards season status quo as generally-appealing Best Picture winners.

What, then, inspired Sunday’s change of heart? 12 Years a Slave–a film about black characters, directed by a black man, with a black screenwriter and black stars–won Best Picture, breaking the longstanding streak of white filmmaker dominance.

There are four key things Sunday’s Oscar ceremony teaches us about the new breed of Academy that made what is, for them, an incredibly bold choice:

1) The Academy listens to outside sources, but are not dependent upon them

With Best Picture-sealed closure to complete its narrative, the 2013 awards season arc can certainly be traced across racially-motivated factors. The Academy’s diversifying membership (more women and minorities were invited last year than any other recent year) and changing leadership (Cheryl Boone Isaacs is the first black female president in Academy history) mirrored a shift in the industry. A general push for more diversity onscreen and behind it led many prominent films starring (Gravity, 20 Feet From Stardom) and made by (12 Years a Slave, The Butler, and Fruitvale Station) minorities to critical and commercial success.

12 Years a Slave fit the bill at a time when racial tensions are ever-present in a nation that sees the split between rich and poor, black and white, and gay and straight widen across countless social and political battles day after day. People look to film as both a reflection of and comment on the society around them, and a film that deals with issues of race in a historical context is the greatest tool of all to both probe the majority and provoke thought across the board.

The Academy had many choices thrust in their face by critics circles and guilds alike. The NYFCC wanted so desperately to champion American Hustle across the finish line first, while the guilds seemed to back Gravity. Gravity winning Best Picture would have made sense statistically, given that 7 total Oscars (including two key Best Picture indicators–Best Director and Best Film Editing) were awarded to Cuaron’s masterpiece. In a split year (as the sages over at Awards Daily have consistently pointed out), the Best Director Oscar often goes to the more-respected film (in essence, the “better” of the two, for example: Ang Lee with Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi) whereas Best Picture is generally favored to win as a crowd-pleaser that pushes as little buttons as possible. This year, Gravity was the latter, though the typical awards procession was reversed. Steve McQueen went home with a Best Picture Oscar instead of one for his directing.

What prompted this? It’s nearly impossible to tell, aside from the fact that the Academy sought to forge the narrative that had been placed in front of them by audiences and industry tone. They consciously chose it.

movies-oscars-2014-alfonso-cuaron
2) The Academy–sometimes–thinks as a singular entity

You hear it all the time when predicting the Oscars: “you can’t make generalizations. They’re not a collective brain with a singular train of thought.” This year, however, the opposite is most likely true.

12 Years a Slave was divisive, yet it was able to win on a preferential ballot, which many believed was impossible given its polarizing nature. To win on a preferential ballot, a film must acquire significant support from Academy members who rank the Best Picture nominees. Not only must it receive a substantial amount of #1 votes, it must also cover a fair share of #2 and #3 votes for the sake of the preferential redistribution process, which many thought was impossible given the film’s nature and general Academy tastes (many, in anonymous interviews with trade publications, labeled it as “torture porn” and “hard to watch.”).

All in all, the film seemed like either a #1 choice or a #9  choice; there was no middle ground. The film triumphed during a split year (which, for the aforementioned reasons, usually ends up following a certain pattern, with certain types of films winning in both the Director and Picture categories). This means that a conscious split in the votes was made by the majority as Gravity, for consistency and statistics’ sake, by all means should have taken Best Picture given its huge wins in other categories.

A majority of Oscar voters made a conscious decision to deviate from the pattern, indicating a more generalized, universal way of thinking for them than is usually assumed.

3) The Academy simply is changing

Recognizing a film like 12 Years a Slave is huge for an Academy that boasts an overwhelmingly white male voting base. 77% of Academy members are men, and 94% of them are white. This essentially means that 12 Years a Slave still had to appeal to a white audience and gain white support, aseven if the entire non-white sect made 12 Years a Slave their #1 choice–6% of the vote is not enough to win Best Picture.

Has the racial and gender majority been reflected in the Academy’s past choices? It’s very difficult to back it up with statistics, but various interviews with Academy members (like Michael Musto’s, published here) seems to indicate that things like the size of an actress’ boobs and how good they looked in a particular dress are key factors of the voting process for some. That would also, if we’re being general, describe why, on average, younger women tend to win acting awards alongside older men. Do they see the award as a prestigious boys’ club that men must work their way into, while throwing sexually-charged votes at young, pretty women in sexualized roles (seriously, look at the characters that have won women Oscars here)?

12 Years a Slave was, undoubtedly, objectified for its racial implications, but its presence in the Best Picture race is justifiable beyond the awards season narrative it perpetuates. It’s a finely-crafted film by a budding auteur, and contains as much aesthetic girth as it does thematically.

The Academy has, for the past few years, awarded the same types of films across the same genre with a very small racial angle. The Artist, Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, and Argo are each dramatic–structurally simple–films with general appeal, universal plug-and-play plots, and push as little buttons as possible. 12 Years a Slave is an artful, graphic examination of American history that shies away from nothing. It forces itself off the page, forces us to consider a small part of the foundation of who we are as a nation, and begs us to see African-American history as more than just an old, flat, black-and-white photo within the pages of a textbook.

The film calls for attention on black filmmakers in an age where white men overwhelmingly dominate control over the camera. The film calls for attention on black stars and, therefore, increases a diverse image at the forefront of the industry. The film winning Best Picture indicates that the still predominantly-white, predominantly-male, predominantly-heterosexual Academy, who’d never awarded a film about slavery or “black” issues its top prize before, who’d only given 4% of total acting awards to black actors, was willing to amend its historical tendency to shy away from films about the minority (Brokeback Mountain, The Color Purple).

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4) The Oscars are still entirely relevant

Argo currently upholds the legacy of Best Picture winners from the bargain bit at most major retailers (don’t believe me? Find the nearest grocery store–you know, one that sells DVDs on that shoddy rack near the checkout–and survey the films offered. I’ve counted Argo on sale at approximately three different ones in the Pittsburgh area). The Artist, in a sad turn of reality mimicking art and the film’s aesthetic, has quietly faded away. Ratings continue to climb for ABC’s telecast, however, though there’s an uneven weight of relevance distributed disproportionately between the ceremony itself and the films winning awards.

Sunday’s show functioned almost entirely as a means to re-insert not only the telecast into contemporary pop culture–both literally (Ellen’s selfie begged for interactivity) and figuratively–but also to cement the Academy’s opinion as aware, timely, and forward-thinking.

Films like The King’s Speech, Crash, The Artist, and Slumdog Millionaire range from mediocre to hugely entertaining and heartfelt. They’re the type of film that’s pleasing and easy to sit through. They’re perfectly enjoyable, though they lack the gravitas and titanic statement that only a true “best of” pick should have. I’m not sure how long even the general public would have continued to take the Academy at least somewhat seriously if films like Argo continued to win Best Picture.

12 Years a Slave is a film with something to say. It doesn’t exist as a fantasy amidst a society plagued with struggle. It will not have the same impact in Norway as it does in the United States. It is specific to our culture and to our history, whereas the last three Best Picture winners are fantasies which either glorify and embellish American culture and heroism (Argo and The Artist) or have little to do with American culture at all (The King’s Speech).

It’s a film that’s both reflective and pensive of history and the present. If anything, it increases the presence of the minority voice and offers an alternative narrative to the ones dominated by white screenwriters and white actors. It’s a film that resonates now as a genuinely fantastic work of art, but will also establish a legacy that legitimizes the Academy’s taste as in-line with contemporary social and political sentiments.

It’s a film that, to put it shortly, is in it for the long haul.

What, then, do the Oscars mean to us as a society, if anything at all? It’s a self-congratulating, self-made cycle of greatness, but it’s become a pedestal of visibility in an industry that’s teetering on the edge of a revolution for greater inclusion of minorities across the board.

Is it ok to doubt the relevance of the Oscars? To doubt the impact they have on American art and culture? To deny that, even on the smallest level, art can help someone envision a platform for themselves they never thought possible?

This year, the Academy looked doubt in the face, harnessed it, and talked all of us into certainty for the future.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi

Academy Chooses for the Future: ’12 Years a Slave’ Takes Best Picture

downloadLast night, the Academy thought forward and, at long last, chose a Best Picture winner for the long-haul. Below is a full list of Oscar winners (American Hustle went 0-10! Holla!). My in-depth recap will follow later this week.

Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave
Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club
Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’0 – 12 Years a Slave
Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club
Best Original Screenplay: Spike Jonze – Her 
Best Adapted Screenplay: John Ridley – 12 Years a Slave
Best Film Editing: Gravity
Best Cinematography: Gravity
Best Costume Design: The Great Gatsby
Best Production Design: The Great Gatsby
Best Original Song: “Let It Go” from Frozen
Best Original Score: Gravity
Best Visual Effects: Gravity
Best Sound Mixing: Gravity
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Dallas Buyers Club
Best Sound Editing: Gravity
Best Animated Feature: Frozen
Best Documentary Feature: 20 Feet From Stardom
Best Foreign-Language Film: The Great Beauty
Best Live-Action Short: Helium
Best Documentary Short: The Lady in Number 6
Best Animated Short: Mr. Hublot

Year of the Survivor: Top 25 Films of 2013 + My Personal Awards

blue-is-the-warmest-color 1We’re all in the game to survive.

Film is often our societal mirror, an artistic outlet that serves as a sort of catharsis for those who make it as well as those who view it. Our own survival removes itself from the forefront of our momentary occupation in those dark hours spent in a movie theater. We transfer love, hope, and resilience to those onscreen.

The characters are us, and we are them.

We hope that they survive, and our happiness becomes theirs. There’s a powerful balance between reality and fiction, and that’s where the power of film lies.

2013 gave us a multitude of characters concerned with the art of preserving the current, restoring that which was lost, or pushing beyond their means to something greater than their life’s trajectory would have ever encompassed otherwise. 2013 was the year of the survivor.

12 Years a Slave, The Butler, and Fruitvale Station tell us of the will to survive in a society that deems you unworthy. At a time when the bigger war of racial equality has long since died, small battles of minority injustice wage across our nation. Black teenagers are shot for playing “thug” music too loud. Homosexuals are subjected to religiously-fueled hatred and ignorance, some of which has crept its way into potential laws in states like Arizona and Kansas. Survival is not the same for each of us. Normalcy is not universally objective.

2013’s films, however, put a face on so many minority issues.

12 Years a Slave, The Butler, and Fruitvale Station are not films merely directed by black men, rather they’re stories that connect to the American culture as told through black characters and black filmmakers. They’re not “white” stories directed by black men, nor are they “black” stories directed by white men, as we’re so used to seeing. There’s an authenticity here that works within and outside of Oscar season, that gives validity to the voice as it pours forth from the source of inequality in an industry where for every black man that directs a film, twenty white men are directing others.

The thing about 12 Years a Slave and Fruitvale Station is that they both are both based on actual events, yet bear cultural relevance to the society around them. 12 Years a Slave forces us to see slavery not as a black-and-white photo collection in a textbook, but as a tangible precursor to what we must deal with at a time where racial injustice is still a very real part of our culture (Fruitvale Station radiates a similar sentiment).

Survival for Dr. Ryan Stone in in Gravity takes the form of physical preservation and spiritual rebirth. In the film, we see a woman, lost in space, fighting for her physical existence while coming face to face with the spiritual turmoil brought on by the loss of her daughter years ago. By the film’s end, she is reborn both physically and emotionally after being violently cradled, in a sense, by her astronomical surroundings, ready to take on the world as a toddler taking its first steps when she finally reaches earth.

The Broken Circle Breakdown echoes the pains of loss and redemption that Gravity unearths, exploring the relationship between a man, woman, and their terminally ill daughter, all strung together by their affinity for music. The film forces its characters to weigh the importance of personal conviction versus love for another, powerfully pitting them against their desire to give their lover what they want, but failing to secure what they need. Feeling helpless, hopeless, and beyond repair is something we’re all familiar with, and The Broken Circle Breakdown makes the fragility of life and the burden of survival a beautiful disaster to see unfold.

Still, 2013 gave us films where characters succeed and prosper. Philomena, Short Term 12, and Stories We Tell weave intricate portraits of people broken down by their past and a failure to feel secure with “belonging” any place or with anyone, but who find strength through discovery of themselves through the eyes of others. The impact of one life on another is never more powerfully represented than it is in these films, and survival with peace of mind becomes essential to their subjects.

storieswetell13900x506Then, of course, we have the documentaries which hold a mirror to us as an audience. As we watch a daring filmmaker, Sarah Polley, unearth the secrets of her family’s history, we bathe in the fruits of her intensely personal labor that is Stories We Tell. With painstaking precision and care, Polley digs through her past to unearth a new reality for herself, one which essentially severed blood ties with the people she grew up with, as she discovers that the man who raised her is not biologically her father.

Blackfish taps into our innate desires to watch, to indulge in the visual, and to be entertained, but also brings us to question the basic human desire to conquer that which is bigger than us (in this case, SeaWorld’s enslavement of aquatic mammals). The Act of Killing examines the cruelty of humans unto each other, and how we can at once be so concerned with the preservation of security–as we define it for ourselves–that we let darkness consume our very being.

Chances are that these films will cement themselves in popular, critical, and scholarly culture for years to come. However, the most important films of 2013 are those which tap into film’s inherent nature as an art that discriminates against no one, as the power of storytelling is not specific to any one race, culture, or voice.

While 12 Years a Slave is an important film capping off a monumental year for black filmmakers in the industry, the importance of a film like Blue is thWarmest Color–by far the year’s best–cannot be ignored. While the LGBT faces discrimination around the world, the film is a welcome celebration of the highs, lows, ugly, and beautiful bits of unabashed love that knows only passion and sincerity, not gender.

It’s a film that doesn’t so much as challenge us, but invites us to indulge in its splendor, plunging us into the depths of the relationship between a young woman, Adele, on the road to maturation (Adele Exarchopoulos) and Emma (Lea Seydoux) an artist with a budding career.

We go along for the ride as Adele’s sexual and spiritual awakening unfolds. The film brilliantly frames her at once as a child–eating sloppily from plates her mother has prepared, bickering with classmates–and as a sexually-adventurous, fully-developed woman engaged in explicit sexual acts.

It’s a highly visual film with complex cinematography, riding on the strengths of the lushness of its stars, its images, and emotional affect. It isn’t afraid to be a film that you want to drink, to tempt you through feeling versus wordiness and intellect. It’s a film you must surrender yourself to, and fall into its warm (sometimes painful) embrace to experience the journey of its characters.

While the film contains explicit sexual content, its treatment at the hands of American audiences speaks volumes about things our culture needs to change. Prudish conservative mentalities will see only the sex and not the passion. They will see only the gender and not the love. They will see only the faults of the characters, and not the foolish, charming power of becoming lost in another person, unable to control our desires or pull ourselves out of the depths even as we drown.

Blue is the Warmest Color is, at once, an uninhibited portrayal of a type of love and attraction which transcends gender, though it is an important film for the increasing presence of the LGBT community in all aspects of life, and it must be regarded and defined by its pure representation of its characters’ relationship, as it’s a film that doesn’t insist upon defining itself by their gender.

An NC-17 rating (which it received in the United States) suggests that there’s something evil within its three-hour runtime, that there’s something unnaturally burdensome that the film carries and seeks to spread, but the only evil here is to let superficial factors (rating, lengthy runtime) dissuade you from enveloping yourself in the warm embrace of the finest film of the year.

Though Adele embarks on a journey to find clarity amidst a life of confusion, intense passion, regret, love lost, and emotional expenditure, the film cuts us loose from her without a clear resolution so much as reassurance that she’s grasped the experience of it all, which finally sees her becoming an adult by the film’s end. No more messy spaghetti curled around her lips. No more chewing with her mouth open. No more grappling with her insecurities as a child traversing the uneven terrain of maturity.

We gather that Adele, as she walks away from the frame after accepting that her lost lover has moved on, is on an uncertain path. Where she’s going is anyone’s guess, but we are certain that, unlike a stubborn child, she has learned something. But, most of all, she’s recognized and (somewhat) acquired the tools she needs to keep on surviving, even if a small part of her heart was lost in the battle.

Top 25 Best Films of 2013:
25 – 20 Feet From Stardom
24 – All Is Lost
23 – Spring Breakers
22 – Enough Said
21 – Captain Phillips
20 – Dallas Buyers Club
19 – Blackfish
18 – Fruitvale Station
17 – Prisoners
16 – The Place Beyond the Pines
15 – Frances Ha
14 – Stoker
13 – Blue Jasmine
12 – 12 Years a Slave
11 – The Hunt
10 – Stories We Tell
9 – Nebraska
8 – The Wolf of Wall Street
7 – The Act of Killing
6 – Her
5 – Inside Llewyn Davis
4 – Gravity
3 – Short Term 12
2 – The Broken Circle Breakdown
1 – Blue is the Warmest Color

gravity-alfonso-cuaron-george-clooney-set-imageBest Director:
1) Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity
2) Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street
3) Sarah Polley – Stories We Tell
4) Joel & Ethan Coen – Inside Llewyn Davis
5) Felix Van Groeningen – The Broken Circle Breakdown
6) Harmony Korine – Spring Breakers

ht_leonardo_dicaprio_wolf_of_wall_street_ll_130617_wblogBest Actor:
1) Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street
2) Johan Heldenbergh – The Broken Circle Breakdown
3) Mads Mikkelsen – The Hunt
4) Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club
5) Oscar Isaac – Inside Llewyn Davis
6) Hugh Jackman – Prisoners

cate_blanchett_blue_jasmine bannerBest Actress:
1) Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
2) Adele Exarchopoulos – Blue is the Warmest Color
3) Veerle Baetens – The Broken Circle Breakdown
4) Meryl Streep – August: Osage County
5) Julia Louis Dreyfus – Enough Said
6) Lauren Ambrose – About Sunny

Screen-Shot-2013-07-16-at-12.32.57-AM-600x369Best Supporting Actor:
1) Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave
2) Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club
3) Keith Stanfield – Short Term 12
4) Casey Affleck – Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
5) Bruce Dern – Nebraska
6) Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street

Still-5Best Supporting Actress:
1) Lea Seydoux – Blue is the Warmest Color
2) Julia Roberts – August: Osage County
3) Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
4) Kristin Scott Thomas – Only God Forgives
5) Oprah Winfrey – Lee Daniels’ The Butler
6) Scarlett Johansson – Don Jon

HERBest Screenplay:
1)
Her
2) The Wolf of Wall Street
3) Inside Llewyn Davis
4) Frances Ha
5) Blue Jasmine
6) Nebraska

gravity1Best Cinematography:
1) Gravity
2) Stoker
3) Blue is the Warmest Color
4) Inside Llewyn Davis
5) To the Wonder
6) The Grandmaster
7) Upstream Color

The-Wolf-of-Wall-Street-Trailer7aBest Film Editing:
1) The Wolf of Wall Street
2) 12 Years a Slave
3) Inside Llewyn Davis
4) Stoker
5) All Is Lost
6) Gravity

blue-is-the-warmest-color-movieBest Foreign Film:
1) Blue is the Warmest Color
2) The Broken Circle Breakdown
3) The Act of Killing
4) The Hunt
5) The Grandmaster
6) Bastards

343330995_640Best Documentary Feature:
1) The Act of Killing
2) Stories We Tell
3) Blackfish
4) 20 Feet From Stardom

GravitySpaceStationExplodeShottsr4Best Visual Effects:
1)
Gravity
2) Pacific Rim
3) The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
4) Man of Steel
5) This Is The End

rs_560x415-130824183357-1024.Grandmaster6.mh.082413Best Costume Design:
1) The Grandmaster
2) The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
3) 12 Years a Slave
4) Her
5) American Hustle

pic_article_story_mainBest Production Design:
1) The Grandmaster
2) Gravity
3) The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
4) Her
5) The Great Gatsby
6) Pacific Rim

69th Annual Golden Globes Noms: Shunning ‘Tree,’ ‘Martha,’ Whoring Angie (Again)

Jessica Chastain, actress most deserving of acclaim this year, nabs another high profile nomination in the 69th Annual Golden Globes for her role in "The Help"

While the HFPA is still busy being…well, the HFPA…I’m kinda digging their “alternative” noms this year (an extra BP – Drama nomination? “W.E.” scoring double nominations in technicals? I’ll take it…). Even if their fame whoring antics are more obvious than ever. “In the Land of Blood & Honey” getting in for foreign? Isn’t that USA-produced? I guess if we’re going to get technical, the category is “Foreign Language” film, but had “Blood” been helmed by anyone other than HFPA darling Angelina Jolie, would it have even been a contender at all? Anything to get Angie on the Globes’ carpet, I guess…it just baffles me that we’re pandering that unabashedly to a mainstream audience whose proven…year after year…that the Globes are a ratings mainstay in the pre-Oscar race. These kinds of categories usually remain strictly foreign-produced in terms of their nominees, and I guess because the category isn’t technically “foreign produced” film, this one’s legit. But I just hate to see the norm broken in such an obvious plot to land Angie’s face on Sunday primetime for a few minutes.

I mean, I don’t have a “problem,” per se, I just think the HFPA’s point with including “Blood” could have easily been made in a different category (Direction, maybe? That’d really get her on your good side) versus one which usually gives actual “foreign” films a platform in the States. “Blood” already has a built-in audience because of Angie’s attachment and will have no problem finding its niche within the market once its release rolls around.

But once again, I gave the HFPA a little too much credit this year…I thought of all the precursors, they’d be the most likely to show Elizabeth Olsen (who took out the entire acting career of her sisters’ in one fell swoop) would pull out a surprise nomination, but alas “Martha Marcy May Marlene”‘s chances are taking a nose dive right now.

Elizabeth Olsen, whose brilliant work in "Marth Marcy May Marlene" was snubbed once again, this time by the HFPA

And what’s that, I spy? Another nomination for Jessica Chastain ♥ Too bad her impending Oscar nomination is going to be for “The Help” versus “Tree of Life,” just when I thought Malick’s masterpiece was gaining some momentum with the other precursors, the HFPA snubs it entirely. Thanks for shitting on that too, guys.

But I think we’re finally starting to get the clearest picture of what this year’s Oscar nominees will look like. I ain’t mad, but it’s always a letdown when the yearly crop of awards bait becomes entirely too predictible to place into their Oscar nomination slots.

Best Drama
The Descendants
The Help
Hugo
The Ides of March
Moneyball
War Horse

Best Comedy/Musical
50/50
The Artist
Bridesmaids
Carnage
Midnight in Paris
My Week With Marilyn

Best Animated Film
Arthur Christmas
Cars 2
Rango
Puss in Boots
The Adventures of  Tintin

Best Foreign Language Film
The Flowers of War
In the Land of Blood and Honey
The Kid With a Bike
A Separation
The Skin I Live In

Best Actor in a Drama
George Clooney, The Descendants
Brad Pitt, Moneyball
Ryan Gosling, The Ides of March
Michael Fassbender, Shame
Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar

Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Brendan Gleeson, The Guard
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 50/50
Ryan Gosling, Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris

Best Supporting Actor
 in a Motion Picture
Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
Albert Brooks, Drive
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Viggo Mortensen, A Dangerous Method

Best Actress in a Drama
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin

Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy
Jodie Foster, Carnage
Charlize Theron, Young Adult
Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
Kate Winslet, Carnage

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants
Octavia Spencer, The Help
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help

Best Director

Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
George Clooney, The Ides of March
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, Hugo

Best Screenplay for a Motion Picture
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, Kaui Hart Hemmings, The Descendants
Steve Zallian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin, Michael Lewis, Moneyball
George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon, The Ides of March

Best Original Score in a Motion Picture
Ludovic Bource, The Artist
Abel Korzeniowski, W.E.
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Howard Shore, Hugo
John Williams, War Horse

Best Original Song in a Motion Picture
“Hello Hello,” Gnomeo & Juliet
“The Keeper,” Machine Gun Preacher
“Lay Your Head Down,” Albert Nobbs
“The Living Proof,” The Help
“Masterpiece,” W.E.

Best TV Drama
American Horror Story
Boardwalk Empire
Boss
Game of Thrones
Homeland

Best TV Comedy or Musical
Enlightened
Episodes
Glee
Modern Family
New Girl

Best Miniseries or Motion Picture
Cinema Verite
Downton Abbey
The Hour
Mildred Pierce
Too Big to Fail

Best Actor in a TV Drama
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire
Damian Lewis, Homeland
Jeremy Irons, The Borgias
Kelsey Grammer, Boss

Best Actor in a TV Musical or Comedy
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
David Duchovny, Californication
Johnny Galecki, The Big Bang Theory
Thomas Jane, Hung
Matt LeBlanc, Episodes

Best Actor in a Miniseries or Made-for-TV Movie
Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey
Idris Elba, Luther
William Hurt, Too Big to Fail
Bill Nighy, Page Eight
Dominic West, The Hour

Best Supporting Actor in TV Series, Miniseries, or Made-for-TV Movie
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Paul Giamatti, Too Big to Fail
Guy Pearce, Mildred Pierce
Tim Robbins, Cinema Verite
Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family

Best Actress in a TV Drama
Claire Danes, Homeland
Mireille Enos, The Killing
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Madeleine Stowe, Revenge
Callie Thorne, Necessary Roughness

Best Actress in a TV Musical or Comedy
Laura Dern, Enlightened
Zooey Deschanel, New Girl
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Laura Linney, The Big C
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation

Best Actress in a Miniseries or Made-for-TV Movie
Romola Garai, The Hour
Diane Lane, Cinema Verite
Elizabeth McGovern, Downton Abbey
Emily Watson, Appropriate Adult
Kate Winslet, Mildred Pierce

Best Supporting Actress in TV Series, Miniseries, or Made-for-TV Movie

Jessica Lange, American Horror Story
Kelly Macdonald, Boardwalk Empire
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Sofia Vergara, Modern Family
Evan Rachel Wood, Mildred Pierce

Hues of Beautiful Tragedy; “Blue Valentine” Fabulously Emotionally Disturbing

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“Til Death Do Us Part”– five simple words that strengthen healthy marriages and unhealthy ones often discard; that most have come to associate with a binding love that can only be found within the socially-relegated importance of such a union.  Either way you look at it, the phrase is a grim one which equates love with life; unlike the physical body that remains after death, love thrives on physical existence, ultimately ending just as life does. But Derek Cianfrance’s exquisite Blue Valentine flips such a notion entirely on its head in a gloriously depressing fashion. What happens, then, when ‘life’ slips away from the physically existing? When cold, lifeless disinterest and bitter resentment reside where the pulsating breath of love once drew air? In a film that functions as a true testament to editing as the most important tool a filmmaker has, Cianfrance attempts to answer that question through a silky-smooth positioning of chronologically-displaced  sequences depicting the destruction of a singular marriage; all to glorious and emotionally-disturbing effect.

What could have been a simple examination of the marital vitality preceding a bitter end essentially becomes a beautifully juxtaposed presentation of the deaths of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) before their marriage ever had a chance to live.  Physical death of the two protagonists is not the focus here, seeing as both Dean and Cindy technically exist throughout the entire narrative, but even the opening sequence is heavily laced with death as its most prominent subject; the search for the family’s lost dog ends with a grim discovery, one that prompts Cindy’s realization that, at least internally, she died long ago. Cianfrance expertly chooses to drop us into a point in their lives that reeks of domestic  decay, a family (that now includes a young daughter) with a backstory we assume to be as rocky and troubling as the morose, stagnant existence we’re initially introduced to. But what really drives the film’s emotional impact is what we’re shown next, and how Cianfrance chooses to show it to us.
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Scenes of the couple’s innocent courtship proceed what we’ve already come to know as a lifeless union, making the whole thing entirely more depressing; shots of innocent courtship, smitten glances, harmless flirtation (you know…the works of young love) all resonate with a beautiful simplicity and shocking poignancy that legitimizes this relationship as one that we would believe to be entirely perfect if we weren’t already shown what it would lead to, yet the burden of what we already know weighs such charming scenes down like a ton of bricks. Such reverse sequential positioning allows the disturbing emotional pain of this damaged relationshp to manifest itself not when we are observing scenes of marital dysfunction, but rather when we are presented with an uncorrupt, budding relationship as new, pure, and wholesomely innocent. Scenes of happiness are expertly recontextualized to represent something bitter, becoming harbingers of doom in themselves aside from what’s literally presented as melancholic, reminding us that the disturbing bit of what we’ve seen before stemmed from genuine purity and goodness;  of coupled bliss tarnished by what we can only assume as marital indifference and personal distraction. The most devastating scene of the film comes towards the middle, when we see Dean sweetly courting Cindy with his talents as a singer and ukulele player; the innocent quirkiness of it all could have registered as saccharine overload in a different film, but here we’re treated to a devastating look at a moment when awkward chemistry turns into a moment of genuine passion, bearing the bad news of what’s to come with its mere implication as a pure foundation for what we already understand to be a dark future.

Stars Gosling and Williams deserve nothing short of monumental praise for their performances; Williams completely detaches herself from, well, herself in every sense of the word to create an entirely original portrait of a character whose repressed internalizations become of too little importance in the face of raising a child with a man she no longer loves;  Williams’ shining moment comes in a scene of “passion”, if that’s what you want to call it, where the couple drunkenly engages in sex as an exchange of physical release as a reward for mutual toleration versus the only intoxication they once knew; that which came with the other’s presence. Gosling ages himself 30 years not in physical appearance but by embracing the dark stoicism that only comes with lifelong burdens of personal tragedy, encapsulating all the pain and struggle of a man twice his age within his performance.  
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But ultimately what pushes the film to the brink of perfection is the wisely-omitted would-be crutch of a concrete reason for the pair’s tragically beautiful demise; typical  foundation would have certainly given grounds for such a narrative to exist in the first place, but herein lies the genius of the script’s interplay between juxtaposed narrative perspective and settings; depiction of reason gives credibility to personal projection (and therefore judgment), something the film’s strong ambiguous balance between memory and current occurrence never allows room for. We see happening and we see reaction, yet we’re never endowed with a biased perspective from a character angle; the beauty is that the film plays exactly as we assume such protruding events would personally manifest whether such devastating love has already been experienced or is on our horizon. We don’t have the pleasure of peeking into what our lives may become and as a result can ultimately only look to memory and harp on personal tragedies, thankfully unable to view the pain of the tragically-corrupted before its founding innocence and purity force us to bitterly regret what’s already been destroyed by our own hands.

 Cianfrance, along with the help of the gloriously perfect performances by Gosling and Williams, has created a disturbingly beautiful and altogether poignant portrait of one of the messiest situations one can only hope they’ll never experience…outside of this cinematic masterpiece, that is.

Someone’s Hot For Oscar; Predicting the Academy Award Nominations

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To begin this year’s Oscar predictions with continued harping over last year’s pitiful excuse for an Academy Awards ceremony would be to completely demean the conspicuously-outstanding American cinematic offerings 2010 served up. But to hell with that, I’m in the mood for bitching, and Kathryn Bigelow and Sandra Bullock still personally owe me for the distress they caused in my life around this time last year.  I’ll most likely be taking my tears and backhanded compliments elsewhere this year, particularly casting shade on what, if the Golden Globes are any indication, could potentially turn out to upset even last year’s Oscar telecast as one of the worst in the AMPAS’ longstanding (and long-respected) history.

The problem I’ve had with the Academy for quite some time now is their increasing insistence on insulting their many followers, not unlike myself, who somehow find it within themselves to hinge what is basically their entire lives on a single telecast that’s gradually making its way down from being the precipice of artistic recognition to a night full of industry favors upheld by a “we need to like you so people like us” nomination process. If last year taught us anything, it’s that giving into societal agendas and journalistic ideals of catchy headlines (First Woman Wins Best Director!) for free press has apparently turned into the Academy’s game.  I mean, absolutely no one but a casual moviegoing public who didn’t see much more than the commercially-friendly The Blind Side could possibly even begin to consider Sandy’s performance as 2009’s crowning achievement of female performances.  The fact remains that Sandra Bullock is a crowd-pleasing, widely-appealing ‘star’ and not a gifted actress. She’s an essential part of what makes Hollywood a business; she’s marketable, relatable, likeable, and just rubs America the right way in general, making it easy for the AMPAS to align themselves with her.

All bitching aside, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that this year’s race to watch out for is Supporting Actress, a category that’s generally one-sided and ultimately locked months before the nomination process even begins. No clear frontrunner has emerged amidst a group of women whose performances are as brilliant as they are ambiguously fitting for both the Lead and Supporting categories (I’m looking at you, Lesley Manfield and Hailee Steinfeld). Both could fall into either category depending on how the Academy chooses to dole out the nominations this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they give both potentials a spot in the Supporting category to make room for some powerhouse players in the Lead category (I’m thinking Moore, Kidman, Williams, and even Swank as an outside pick have a shot this year).  Amy Adams is the only definitive lock at this point, with Melissa Leo potentially creeping in as the category’s alternate. The case of Mila Kunis, on the other hand, is one that has me scratching my head a bit; Her work in the film clearly pales in comparison to what she’ll potentially be up against, seeing as she’s the obligatory “let’s fit the seeming frontrunner into as many categories as possible to up its tally” acting nomination this year. Her’s is neither a girthy or substantial role at all with literally not much for her to work with. A sufficient turn, but nothing Oscar-worthy. I do love me some sweet lips, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like her role is one which is enhanced by  the atmospherics and diegetic emphasis placed upon it, not necessarily by the output of Kunis herself. It’s a role anyone would have been nominated for if they were casted in it simply because of the containing film’s momentum going into the nominations, it just so happens Mila was lucky enough to get it. You can’t forget about Helena Bonham Carter either, although something’s telling me she could be the surprise snub (although rightfully so) of the Awards this year.

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Keeping up with the ladies of 2010, Lead Actress should prove no less exciting than Supporting Actress will be. Annette Bening and Natalie Portman have been locks for months now, and not a thing will change that by come tomorrow morning. I’m confident in placing Kidman as the third in line as of right now, with Moore trailing just behind her. The fifth spot, however, is a complete toss-up. It’s hard to say who exactly would “fit” in with the typical awards season momentum going into the nominations (seeing as not one other performance has consistently garnered accolades across the circuit), but at this point I’m most inclined to say Michelle Williams (interchangeable with Lesley Manville or Steinfeld, if one or both are not placed in Supporting, with Moore as the other alternate here as well) is the likely holder of the fifth spot. I’d be entirely unsurprised if Jennifer Lawrence or even Hilary Swank made their way past Williams despite their earlier-in-the-year releases losing the majority of the buzz they’d garnered. This fifth spot becomes entirely crucial to Portman’s road to a win on Oscar night as well, seeing as a win is most likely for her if both Leading Ladies from The Kids are All Right snag spots (Bening is a lock, Moore is up in the air) as the Academy could likely split if this is the scenario.

The men’s race has been pretty low-key this year, seeing as veteran mainstays (Jeff Bridges, Robert DuVall) each gave expert turns in crucially-timed-and-released pictures that pandered directly to Oscar voters. James Franco is likely to sneak into the fifth spot based on the director’s namesake on his performance’s containing film alone, trailing just behind Jesse Eisenberg and Colin Firth for their respective turns in Lead roles. Supporting male is, for the second year in a row, the least enticing of all the acting categories this year. Christian Bale obviously leads the pack in terms of buzz coming off of his crucial win at the Globes, and putting your money on Geoffrey Rush as a potential nominee wouldn’t be a bad idea either. The rest of the slots are a complete toss-up, and it’s anyone’s guess as to who could potentially fill the rest of the slots, ranging anywhere from Jeremy Renner in The Town to even Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right.

Best Director should also prove to be an interesting race albeit a tad predictable in terms of the nominations. I can’t see anyone other than Darren Aronofsky, David O. Russell, Tom Hooper, David Fincher, and Christopher Nolan even coming close to snagging a nomination slot aside from the slight chance that The Coen’s might edge out Russell.

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The now-all-inclusive Best Picture race is proving to be a tad more exciting than last year’s as well, with about 11 or 12 of the year’s best films all realistically vying for the coveted 10 slots. Black Swan, The Kids Are All Right, The Social Network, The Fighter, The King’s Speech, Toy Story 3, and True Grit are all definitive locks and that’s no surprise to anyone; it’s the remaining 3 slots that have me stumped. I can absolutely see the Academy pandering to the Indie crowd they sort of drastically alienated over the past two years and giving both Another Year and Blue Valentine (I can dream, can’t I?) some love, and placing Inception atop the package as a finishing touch to please the masses. A long outside guess has me thinking The Town or 127 Hours could sneak in there as well.

But if the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that the AMPAS are growing increasingly more liberal with their classification choices in many major categories (ahem, going as far as to consider Kate Winslet’s performance in The Reader as Leading and placing The Blind Side alongside Precious and An Education in the Best Picture category) and that’s ultimately what I think this year’s major categories will come down to as well; how the Academy decided to classify certain performances over others. But I can’t say I’ll be surprised at any of what unfolds tomorrow morning, just elated that neither Kathryn Bigelow, Sandra Bullock, and Kate Winslet will be  without cause for celebration come 5:30 AM.

PREDICTIONS

Best Picture

Black Swan

The King’s Speech

The Fighter

Inception

The Kids Are All Right

The Social Network

True Grit

Inception

Blue Valentine

Toy Story 3

Outside Shots: Shutter Island, Another Year, Winter’s Bone

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right

Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole

Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right

Outside Shots: Hilary Swank Conviction, Jennifer Lawrence Winter’s Bone, Hailee Steinfeld True Grit

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

Robert DuVall, Get Low

Jeff Bridges, True Grit

Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network

Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine

Outside Shots: James Franco 127 Hours

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Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams, The Figther

Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech

Melissa Leo, The Fighter

Mila Kunis, Black Swan

Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

Outside Shots: Lesley Manville, Another Year

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Christian Bale, The Fighter

Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right

Andrew Garfield, The Social Network

Jeremy Renner, The Town

Best Director

Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan

Christopher Nolan, Inception

David O. Russell, The Fighter

Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech

David Fincher, The Social Network

Outside Shots: Mike Leigh Another Year, Martin Scorcese Shutter Island, The Coen Brothers True Grit