Oscar

Oscar Season Diary #12: How Soon Is Too Soon? Don’t Take “Big Eyes” Reactions To Heart

Stars On The Set Of "Big Eyes"

So often does Oscar season turn into a public war of tastes that we lose sight of the race that’s happening right in front of us.

The Oscar race is an ever-evolving beast. With the influence of the online community, the court of social media, and the guilds and critics circles all jockeying to push films into the race before anyone else, Oscar Season now stretches across the better part of a year where it used to fit comfortably within the confines of a few months’ time.

As early as May, just a little over two months since the Oscar telecast, we find the discussion revolving around the traditionally un-Oscary Cannes Film Festival. We can try to talk about it in an Oscar context all we want, but that festival will never be a legitimate stepping stone across the Academy pond. The ideologies of both the Oscars and Cannes force an undeniable divide; one is there for the satisfaction of studios and English-speaking audiences (namely the United States, of course), while the other is a celebration of the congregation of art, cinema, and culture along the shores of France’s finest coastline.

Still, the Oscar pundits want to do their shoving, their squeezing, their hammering of the season’s potential players into the respective boxes they’ve cut out for them–whether they fit or not. Of course, aside from Cannes, the reality is that we’ve barely scratched the surface of the festivals that matter in an Oscar context. Telluride, Toronto, and Venice are all still some time away, with slates that have yet to be announced.

And here we find ourselves squabbling about Oscar potential from all ends of the arena. Just last week, a focus group screening was held for Tim Burton’s much buzzed-about Big Eyes, a live-action biopic about the life of artist Walter Keane and his wife, Margaret. In attendence were general audience members and Oscar bloggers alike (apparently the Awards Watch crew attended).

Granted, even before we saw pictures from the set, the film’s cards were presumably aligned for awards season greatness: Tim Burton, a beloved and iconic filmmaker, has yet to win (or be nominated , for that matter) for an Oscar for a live-action film, and Big Eyes boasts a cast that features Oscar-charged talent like Christoph Waltz (two-time winner),  Danny Elfman (four-time nominee), and Bruno Delbonnel (four-time nominee).

Burton has assembled a gaggle of overdue players that, in an ideal world, sets the stage quite nicely for Oscar legacy/career awards for himself, Elfman, and Delbonnel. It’s Amy Adams’ turn in the other lead role, however, that has Oscar pundits’ hearts aflutter.

Since 2005, Adams has gone five Oscar nominations deep without a win. Her rabid online fan base is keen on 2014 being her year to finally win; whether it’s just another bout with wishful thinking (that her fans should have long grown tired of by now, as this seems to be the same story heading into every Oscar year after her second nomination in 2008 for Doubt) or a legitimate prophecy remains to be seen, but that doesn’t stop those with a voice–hidden behind the screen and typed word–from shouting praises from her end of the ring.

Awards Watch was quick to spout about guaranteed nominations for Waltz and Adams. Others chimed in with–what seemed to be–overwhelming approval for Adams’ performance. She’s been “overdue” in the eyes of her fanbase for quite some time, and while it can absolutely work in your favor when final ballots go out (and your name is on them, as happened with Kate Winslet in 2008), the art of being “overdue” has little relevance this early in the race, especially when applied to the awards season trajectories of Julianne Moore (who won Best Actress at Cannes for Maps to the Stars) and Amy Adams here.

Still, that doesn’t stop the internet age from fostering a community where self-importance breeds a necessity for anyone from an Oscar blogger to a nobody to push something–anything–into the race, but it’s simply unwise to make guarantees this early in the game.

It’s completely safe for people who’ve seen Big Eyes to speculate on nominations and gauge a film’s potential, but prophesizing a win at this point? It’s ridiculous, and it’s an increasing trend in the digital age. I’m all for using an informed perspective to gauge how well something will do at the Oscars, but with major performances by actresses who are–quite frankly–better than Amy Adams in general that haven’t been seen yet (along with the fact that we don’t even know if these buzzed-about performances will be campaigned in lead or supporting), it’s very unwise (and potentially detrimental to Adams’ awards trajectory this year) to peg her as a winner this early.

Remember how the eye of the target immediately became 12 Years a Slave when Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan in September declared it the Best Picture winner? Early praise (and such definitive statements) make the film in question both the sexiest dish for a minute, and immediately fodder for the online court to push it to the background as the “obvious” choice. Early praise is essentially helping a film on its way to front-running to instant death. This early, it’s nothing more than loudness for loudness’ sake.

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 8.03.21 PMThe guys over at Awards Watch are borderline obsessed with their red-headed divas, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but giving them early access to an already-hyped potential vehicle for Adams’ long-awaited Oscar only runs the risk of inflating their reaction, which I guess is good press from the studio’s marketing standpoint. The problem with taking these types of early Twitter reactions seriously in the grand scheme of the race, though, is that they’re immediate, unfiltered, and squished into 140 characters, where you’re forced to talk bigger instead of talking better, and inflated again by the fanboys on forums and blogs that seek them out after the screening. Audiences and pundits are waiting for an excuse to explode with praise for a film that’s already charged with Oscar conversation, especially this early in the year. This seems to happen every time an Oscar movie is screened early. They’ll freak out and heap praise immediately because:

A) They’re excited that they’ve seen it before everyone else
B) It fills the egos of those who’ve seen it because they were able to see it before anyone else, so of course they’re going to capitalize on that esteem by inflating their reaction as a means to validate the fact that, well, they’ve seen it before anyone else

I’m not doubting Adams’ performance at all. I actually have high hopes for it, though it’s just really tough for me to take seriously the opinion of an Adams’ fanboys who were given early access to one of her films, but the excitement (and the thirst) of those who’ve seen the film already is far too real and pre-established to amount to a serious reaction or gauging of her placement in the race thus far, and preview screenings without embargoes on audience reaction are only tools to aid in the film’s publicity machine.

It’s important to pay attention to people’s reactions to these screenings as a whole, and not take the word of a few loud individuals who want to make their opinion on the film matter more than the collective. As a whole, it seems like people liked Adams’ performance. If you dig deeper, you’ll find that a good number of people actually feel that Waltz outshines her (see Oh No They Didn’t!’s review by clicking here).

The opinions of these chosen few don’t mean anything more or less than that, and a single day of screenings should, by no means, be used to say that an actress is going to win the Oscar when the landscape she’ll be competing in hasn’t even been laid out yet. It’s just irresponsible and false amplification of an untested, tiny sliver of a much larger race with fixings that have yet to fall entirely into place.

It all amount to little more than jockeying for the pole position, to being able to shout one’s own stance at Ground Zero, and our obsession with “being there” at the beginning instead of being in the moment when everything’s unfolding is turning the Oscar race into a dull screaming match between voices that don’t really matter.

As much as we’d like to gain control, to wrangle our favorites from the grasp of the studios who fuel their Oscar campaigns and steer them along the path to greatness, we lose sight of one thing: it’s all in the hands of the Academy, and we must surrender control until the time to intervene is just right. Keep the shouting to a minimum until all the pieces are in play, no?

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi

America’s Fear of Sex; “Blue is the Warmest Color” Gets NC-17 Rating

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The soft caress of a lover’s palm; The fire that rages only when your eyes lock; The electric current pulsating through two bodies at once–this is sex. Two are united, and it is beautiful.

Unless, of course, a film that attempts to capture it in full is demonized with an NC-17 rating from the MPAA. Today, Blue is the Warmest Color—the winner of the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival—received the strict rating for “explicit sexual content,” due to what is reportedly a lengthy sex scene involving two women that the author of Blue Angel (the graphic novel Blue is the Warmest Color is based on) compared to a scene of pornography.

What is the difference, then, between pornography and an explicit sex scene? The viewer’s intent, whether that be to get off or simply enjoy a narrative, gives the definition some flexibility. Sure, a sex scene in a film can be titillating, but people don’t watch films the same way they watch porn. We’re looking to fill something emotional with film, and something purely physical with porn.

Some have dubbed the scene “gratuitous” and “unnecessarily long.” I’ve yet to see it, but I have a hard time believing that a sex scene of such length could possibly read as exploitation. If something is emphasized in a narrative film (a general term I’ll use to mean anything other than pornography)—whether it be a single unbroken shot in the vein of Children of Men or a seemingly unending conversation between husband and wife in The Tree of Life—there’s justification in a filmmaker’s insistence to hesitate; to make us watch; to fixate upon some fleeting act we wouldn’t pay any mind to otherwise. If context justifies a 20-minute sex scene, then context justifies a 20-minute sex scene. Plus, I find it increasingly hard to believe that a Cannes jury consisting of Steven Spielberg, Nicole Kidman, Ang Lee, and Christoph Waltz would select a pornographic sexploitation flick for the Palme d’Or.

That’s where the mystery of sex comes into play, at least for the American public. It’s often questionable how films are increasingly violent (not necessarily gory, mind you) yet the MPAA seems to have gone lax, forgiving heaps of violence and consistently punishing nudity for simply existing; a bare breast in film is a bare breast that belongs to an actress. Slapping a film with an R-rating for “exposing” what’s real in turn demonizes the sexuality of a woman (I use the example of female nudity because it’s far more prevalent in American cinema than male nudity) and subconsciously creates a barrier for the audience; it says that this is something that should be guarded, secretive, and ultimately objectified.

Blue Is the Warmest Colour (La Vie d'Adele) film still

For the aggressive American society and its people, sex is simply more mysterious than violence. Conflict is something people associate with on a daily basis. Whether it’s berating a retail employee or arguing with family, the “spectacle of conflict,” as I’ll call it, often leads to the glorification of battle. Violence is a direct product of conflict, and American culture has become desensitized to violence as it’s accepted as an integral part of simply finding a solution. If we don’t get what we want, we automatically victimize ourselves, and instigate conflict to achieve it. We see it on reality television shows week after week. After all, we’ve been force-fed them for well over a decade now, it only makes sense that a younger generation thinks that the appropriate way to solve a conflict is to overturn a table a’la Bravo housewife.

For that, we understand violence for its accessibility, but sex is still vastly mysterious to many people. Especially homosexual sex, which is not an act the “majority” has experienced. Blue is the Warmest Color is a film which depicts lesbian sex—a sexual act far more acceptable to American males than gay sex, mind you. An NC-17 rating carries negative connotations, but hopefully that’s not to say that homosexual sex is automatically more risqué than heterosexual sex in the eyes of the American public, it’s simply othered for no other reason than a lack of relatability.

There’s a great deal of outrage at the MPAA’s decision to bestow the NC-17 rating upon Blue is the Warmest Color, particularly by people who claim that the rating is an infamous kiss of death for a film’s commercial viability—especially going into Oscar season, where such a rating is widely believed to have cost Michael Fassbender a Lead Actor nomination back in 2011 when Shame garnered the actor huge awards buzz. Outside of France, Blue’s country of origin, I don’t believe the commercial viability of the film existed in the first place. The United States, while on a fantastic path toward change and equal rights for its LGBT citizens, harbors a much more hostile social climate than those in Europe. Homosexuality is far more along the lines of “other,” and the difference between an R-rating and NC-17 will likely have little impact on the film’s grosses. I can only speak from experience when I say that films in my hometown of Pittsburgh played Shame when it was released, so if NC-17s are finding their way to C-market cinema screens, we have little to worry about in terms of how much of an audience Blue is the Warmest Color, a film which appeals to those old enough to legally see it, will reach.

Musing on “Argo” and the Globes; What Does this Mean for the Oscars?

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I liken Ben Affleck’s direction of Argo to that of a monkey using a brush to paint a smiley face. For what I assume some of you might think are the “right” reason, that’s the worst comparison in the world. Affleck has proven himself as a skilled filmmaker both in front of and behind the camera, spinning webs of cinematic greatness whilst honing focused, almost dialectic perspective on his prior features based in Boston, a town he’s largely familiar with (he spent a great deal of his young life in Cambridge). Of course, I’m not likening Affleck’s aptitude to that of a zoo animal. I merely think it’s the reception of his latest work, however, that makes it hard to see him as anything but an awards season actor-turned-director spectacle. Something unexpected from an unexpected source (in this case, not an entirely unexpected source, just one on a much bigger scale than what we’re used to, considering Argo has grossed in upwards of $100 million).

It’s hard to not compare Affleck’s awards season run these past few months to that of Kathryn Bigelow’s during the 2009-10 pre-Oscar period. Bigelow’s nomination and subsequent win for Best Director not only marked the Academy’s first official recognition of a woman in that category, but, for me, cemented the Academy’s existence as a purely cyclical machine of self-generating, self-whoring, pathetically pandering publicity. I assume this isn’t a surprise to many. I just wasn’t so readily accepting of Bigelow’s triumph that year as the rest of Hollywood seemed to be. At every commercial break, I recall the announcer touting the category for all it was worth: “Will Kathryn Bigelow become the first ever female to win for Best Director? Find out in thirty minutes.” Her gender became the go-to talking point of that year’s Oscars. Does that make her any less worthy? In some cases, yes. The Academy, perhaps nominating her based on merit alone, placed her there in a collective vote. But, her gender was marketed and exploited to generate hype which would eventually become self-fulfilling. In essence, her gender was her defining trait that night (It’s also interesting to note that Bigelow was given the cold shoulder from the Academy this year, indicating that the initial excitement of decorating a woman who directed a decent film four years ago has long since worn off).

While Affleck possesses little in the way of such “unique” aspects to define his presence on the awards circuit, his actor-turned-director status as well as his general likeability within the industry undoubtedly contributed to his name being thrown around this Oscar season. Alas, he wasn’t nominated in the category he was (at one time) largely expected to win (or at least give Steven Spielberg a run for his money). So, what went wrong? It’ll be interesting to see how Affleck’s combined Oscar snub/Globes takeover plays itself out, seeing as (as much as I don’t want to admit it) the earlier-than-usual deadline for Academy nomination ballots most likely played a huge factor in his lack of a nomination.

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The Globes usually hold little influence over the direction of awards season. They rarely have power to dictate what gets nominated at the Oscars, but often reaffirm the direction Academy members should take as they cast their ballots by reflecting what countless other guilds, critics circles, and Oscar season awards shows already have. Since Oscar voters weren’t able to see who won at the Golden Globes before voting, a very prominent piece of the usual awards season puzzle was missing. I’m not saying the Globes and Academy are mutually operational, it’s just that Affleck’s “snub” seems too huge to ignore when Argo gobbled up major accolades on Sunday (Affleck won for Direction, the film won in the dramatic category). If the timetable for the Globes ceremony and Oscar voting was “normal” this year, I think we’d be looking at a very different Oscar picture, one that included a lot more Ben Affleck and a lot less Benh Zeitlin.

So, does Globes success bode well for Argo at the Oscars? Maybe. Arguably, Argo is a more, how shall I put this, “worldy” film than Oscar juggernaut (and current frontrunner for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Actor) Lincoln, its appeal stronger as a “Globes” film than an “Academy” film. The Academy will most likely still side with Spielberg, but the outpouring of anger from various Oscar pundits, critics, and general audiences alike has me infinitely baffled. It’s one thing to create something new out of source material as David O. Russell did with Silver Linings Playbook. It’s another to competently direct a glorified Wikipedia article, which is exactly what Argo is. It’s universally appealing, superficially suspenseful, reaffirming of traditional American values (that last shot? Come on.), and ultimately an adequate procedural. Argo does what it needs to do; it tells a fascinating story. It doesn’t however, take a historical occurrence and give it a “new” face for the medium as, say, The Impossible has done with its retelling of the events surrounding the 2004 tsunami. The Impossible uses the frame of true events to tell a much larger, cinematically rich story, making connections a simple A-leads-to-B recreation can’t. And that, my friends, is a choice of direction. Although, it’s unfair to hate a film for what it hasn’t accomplished, for what it hasn’t done, and what it is not.

If anything, the HFPA’s love for Argo could very well act as a major catalyst for the first write-in Oscar since Hal Mohr’s win for Best Cinematography in 1935. Is it allowed right now? Nope. But, there’s buzz within the industry that that’s just what Academy voters are planning to do for Affleck, but I’m not so certain the push is strong enough to overthrow Spielberg’s current position out front, or to warrant a compete overhaul of voting rules since write-in voting hasn’t been allowed for decades. For starters, Argo isn’t exactly filmmaking of the highest order–even its most vocal supporters would agree to that. It’s certainly not a film that will define an era as, say, films like Citizen Kane or Bonnie and Clyde. It’s not a monumental achievement for the medium, and certainly not worthy of taking away recognition from the likes of Zeitlin, Lee, and Russell. People seem to be more frustrated that their predictions were off thanks to one-two sucker punch snubs of two early Oscar frontrunners. At most, Argo has the potential to gain some sympathy votes in the Best Picture category, making it a viable contender to take on Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook, the latter of which I think is poised to upset as well (the power of Weinstein got Jacki Weaver and David O. Russell surprise nominations in their respective categories. It can’t be denied).

I just so desperately want to think of Ben Affleck as a brush-equipped platypus or sloth; now that’s impressive.

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

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