Predictions

Oscar Season Diary #3: The Academy and Box-Office; Does it Matter for Women?

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I hate the word “gendered.”

Maybe it’s because we live in a time where it’s unjustifiably easy to see the dichotomy between male and female–especially within the film industry. Or maybe it’s because I know I use the word far too often, to highlight issues pertaining to the prior sentiment.

When you think about it, the existence of separate categories for actors and actresses at the Academy Awards is sort of sexist in itself. When the boundaries are set, difference is emphasized, and thus the funneling begins. A performance is a performance, and separating them based purely on gender has never felt right to me, never more so than now, when the American film industry is so conflicted in its representation of gender.

Since the 1970s, movie studios have benefited from this sort of separation of gender. The first round of true blockbuster films (Star Wars, Jaws, etc.) were male-centered. The trend of appealing to teenage boys continues today in what is very much the same vein of appeal as it was back then–even though that initial crop of young males are now well into their forties. Films are marketed to men, by men, and are consumed in varying quantities; whether you have a pre-destined hit like Iron Man 3 or a string of major flops like R.I.P.D., After Earth, The Lone Ranger, and White House Down, studios consistently push male-driven films like it’s the only thing they know how to do.

Films like Klute, The Exorcist, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and Network made the decade a breeding ground for powerful films about powerful women. Women drove the plot. They weren’t filler that needed justification simply to hang over a man’s head.

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But, women were still sexual, you might say. And not to the point that they are in films today. I’d actually say healthily so, as opposed to the empty sexuality we so often see on contemporary movie screens. Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda) in 1971’s Klute is a prostitute both socially and sexually. She has sex with a lot of “Johns,” as she calls them, but rarely do we see her engaging in contemptible behavior. She doesn’t so much use her sexuality like a pawn in a chess game to get what she wants, but rather she absorbs the act of sex as a means to feel desirable. She’s not after the act of sex itself as much as she craves the closeness and sense of self-worth. She isn’t validated by sex, she’s validated by belonging–as a woman should–as an equal part of another person’s life.

Jane Fonda won Best Actress for the role in 1972.

Bree is a powerfully-written character, and the type of female character you don’t see anymore. Sandra Bullock’s Ryan Stone in Gravity is a similarly-detached female, having once been a mother but not bearing the weight of a mouth to feed anymore, as her daughter died at the age of four. Stone carries the grief, but doesn’t externalize it as a weakness. Instead, the film unravels as a rediscovery of herself; her rebirth; her coming to terms with her physical fragility (the fragility of life, not gender, mind you) on the brink of death as a means to regain a sense of worth that most women in film are only represented as possessing if they’re a mother or a wife. Stone has no generic tropes to validate her; she has only herself, and is validated in her strength and will to survive–to live life itself–with former pain (not in spite of it) that won’t drag her down anymore.

Sandra Bullock is currently neck-and-neck with Cate Blanchett for Best Actress over 40 years later.

The Academy has long been able to pick out strong female parts and amplify their effect. The crop of nominees for Best Actress reflected a diverse array of women that reflected the ever-present demand for strong female characters. Zero Dark Thirty, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Amour, and The Impossible featured female characters that drove the plot of their respective films. Silver Linings Playbook, the film which took home the Best Actress award for star Jennifer Lawrence’s performance, happened to feature a fantastic actress in a male-driven film who won for a supporting role. Nonetheless, the age and cultural range (9-year old Quvenzhane Wallis, 86-year old Emmanuelle Riva) compared to the Best Actor category was astounding.

While we’re still seeing male-driven, top-heavy blockbusters dominate the box-office, there’s no denying the impact women are having on American audiences. Let’s take a look at each of the films that have opened to over $35 million weekends so far this year:

  • Gravity – $55.8 million
  • Insidious Chapter 2 – $40.2 million
  • The Conjuring – $41.9 million
  • The Wolverine – $53 million
  • Despicable Me 2 – $83 million
  • Monsters University – $82.4 million
  • Man of Steel – $116.6 million
  • Fast & Furious 6 – $117 million
  • Star Trek Into Darkness – $70.2 million
  • Iron Man 3 – $174.1 million
  • Oblivion – $37.1 million
  • G.I. Joe: Retaliation – $40.5 million
  • The Croods – $43.6 million
  • Oz The Great and Powerful – $79.1 million
  • Identity Thief – $34.6 million
  • The Heat – $39.1 million
  • World War Z – $66.4 million
  • The Hangover Part III $41.7 million
  • The Great Gatsby $50.1 million

If we remove sequels, family/animation films, and superhero/adaptation films, we’re left with:

  • Gravity $55.8 million
  • The Conjuring $41.9 million
  • Oblivion $37.1 million
  • Identity Thief $34.6 million
  • The Heat $39.1 million

Only one relied on the box-office power of its male star (Tom Cruise in Oblivion) to open a large number. The others? Driven largely by their appeal to women or appeal because of women. The Conjuring featured two strong central female characters (Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor) in a genre that largely skews female, Identity Thief hit it big solely because of Melissa McCarthy’s presence, while her appeal combined with Sandra Bullock’s presence in The Heat propelled it to box-office success as well. What else do these four films have in common? They’re all films with original screenplays and successful gross to budget ratios (Gravity being the best opener. Go figure, with a woman pushing 50).

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That brings me back to Gravity and its Oscar chances. The Academy has a duty to not only legitimize itself by nominating great films, but also to reflect what the general public deems acceptable, as well. This is true more so in recent years where films like Avatar, Les Miserables, and The Help sneak into the Best Picture race. Audiences like films that make them feel good (even when more powerful, era-specific films like Zero Dark Thirty are perhaps more reflective of our cultural climate and, therefore, more “important”), and the Academy often falls victim to this sort of blind acceptance of anything that’s neatly-tied together and pushing as little buttons as possible. How else do you explain Argo winning the top prize last year? Unless you go with the Ben Affleck sob story, that is. Poor Golden Boy didn’t get a Best Director nomination, so we’ll console him with the year’s top prize for American films. No word yet on if Kathryn Bigelow will justifiably receive honorary Oscars for the next decade after embarrassingly-cruel tactics led by U.S. politicians (you know, people with real power outside a superfluous movie industry awards bubble) ruined the reception and impact of her film.

Gravity and the case for Sandra Bullock, however, reminds me of how the road to Oscars 2009 should have gone down if The Blind Side were a much more deserving film than it actually was. We saw Bullock win her first Oscar for her role in The Blind Side, a film that entered itself into the Oscar race thanks to its gigantic box-office success (nearly $300 million worldwide). While the film populated the clear “people’s choice” spot amongst the Best Picture nominees, there was no denying Sandra Bullock’s vital extra-filmic role in a changing moviescape. She’s one of the few movie stars (regardless of gender) who can still open a movie based on her presence alone. Even her less successful films of the past ten years manage to gross at least $30-$40 million domestically. It took me a while to realize that her win for Best Actress wasn’t for her performance, but for her essential presence in the industry as a whole.

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Gravity
is making its impact as a critical smash, box-office hit and, yes, a success for the gendered debate within the film industry. The Academy would be insane not to give Bullock the win, if not to pat themselves on the back for a job well done four years ago, but to cement the crown firmly atop the head of the face of the return of the powerful Hollywood female. While Cate Blanchett’s performance is far superior, it’s clear that Oscar has a duty here. In a year when each of the leading female contenders is over the age of 40 (the supposed “age of death” for an actress’ career), Oscar can sink the boat a’la 2012, or it can be on the right side of a changing tide. These women and films are proof that an actress’ career doesn’t have to fade once she reaches a certain age.

The answer to how this year will play out in the Oscar history books lies largely within Gravity.

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Mining for Early Oscar Gold

Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station

Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Is it smooth, yet? The air?

Just curious, because I’ve had a hell of a time adjusting to the dust cloud that’s been accumulating on Blu-Ray copies of Argo.

Last year’s recipient of the Best Picture Oscar faded from prominence even faster than the previous year’s The Artist, a gimmicky Academy-pleaser in itself, thanks to a sympathy-based vote to accredit director Ben Affleck with some semblance of relevance as his career transitions from notable star to almost-there-but-not-quite-yet filmmaker. Whereas Argo‘s meritless win leaves a sour taste in my mouth, I’m more than happy to shake the Oscar etch-a-sketch and begin afresh with 2013’s crop of awards season contenders.

This year we welcome new talents to compete with industry mainstays. We harken back to the eras of social icons of years past and adapt their lives for a contemporary audience. We relish in a year that Meryl Streep’s potential to win a fourth Oscar increases dramatically. We revisit previously-published material with a fresh cinematic perspective; but, most importantly, we face another year of submission to The Weinstein Company which, if all tentative release dates remain unchanged, will see six of their distributed films as likely contenders at the next Oscar ceremony.

Here’s a look at a few other industry figures bound for greatness during the 2013 awards season.

It’s going to be a good year for:

Anyone involved with Fruitvale Station

The freshman feature effort from USC graduate Ryan Coogler is one of the buzziest films coming out of 2013’s festival circuit.

Having claimed both the Grand Jury and Audience prizes for a dramatic feature at Sundance as well as sashaying away from Cannes with Best First Film after screening in the Un Certain Regard section, Fruitvale Station is shaping up to be a major contender in at least three major categories.

Coogler’s film, about the real-life events surrounding the murder of Oscar Grant by an Oakland police officer, joins the ranks of other grim Sundance prizewinners like Winter’s Bone, Precious and Frozen River–which each went on to be recognized by the Academy with major nominations (and a few wins) in key categories.

The film hosts the breakout role for star Michael B. Jordan who, after having had minor roles in television (“Friday Night Lights”) and a few pictures (last year’s Chronicle), finally gets the chance to show his dramatic chops off for a wider audience.

Fruitvale Station seems poised to score nominations for Best Picture and Best Actor coupled with building momentum which could potentially push co-star (and Oscar-winner) Octavia Spencer into the Supporting Actress race, which could easily happen as the Weinsteins have acquired the film for distribution.

Besties Naomi Watts & Nicole Kidman…and dead cultural icons

It’s unfair to pit two actresses against each other for the sake of a gendered contest.

In the case of Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman, however, the challenge will be how to endure the barrage of questions from reporters to the tune of “how does it feel to be nominated against one of your closest friends?” this awards season.

Both actresses are all but sealed into the Lead Actress category for their respective roles in Diana and Grace of Monaco (Watts in the former, Kidman in the latter).

Naomi Watts’ talents have catapulted her far past the point of simply “deserving” an Oscar; she’s one of the most talented and, on the other side of the coin, underrepresented actresses in the industry. Her work in films like Mulholland Drive, Ellie Parker, and The Assasination of Richard Nixon represent just a handful of performances overlooked by the Academy in relatively quiet seasons. She’s gaining status as an underdog, however, as she squeaked into the Lead Actress race last year for her brilliant turn as Maria Bennett in The Impossible, a race within which she was actually being predicted as a potential spoiler after Entertainment Weekly’s annual Oscar issue saw her name mentioned by a majority of anonymous Oscar voters who’d been interviewed a short time before the Oscars.

The Academy favors Lead female performances attached to roles based on real women in positions of political and/or social power; think winners like Helen Mirren in The Queen, Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady, and nominees like Cate Blanchett and her turn as the namesake royal in Elizabeth (and its poorly-received sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age).

Judging from Diana‘s trailer, the film will focus on the softer side of her notorious public identity which, I’m assuming, gives Watts a chance to show off her emotional depth instead of the usual controlled, stoic coldness that generally comes with these types of roles (as a side note, she’s also got a juicy role coming up in this year’s Adore, also starring Robin Wright).

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Kidman, on the other side of the coin, is far from a being a stranger to the Academy Awards. She’s an Oscar winner and a multiple-time nominee. While she had a buzzy-ish film floating around the perimeter of last year’s awards season (she made it into the Globes categories with The Paperboy), the Weinsteins will make sure that she has a spot amongst this year’s nominees for her turn as Grace Kelly.

The Weinsteins have a great track record for getting their actors nominated in major categories (Jacki Weaver’s spot in the Supporting Actress category was surely bought for her through “campaigning,” as she had no other right to be there), so Kidman’s pre-established Oscar identity is coupled nicely here with a Weinstein push.

It’s also interesting that these two roles are seeing the light of day in 2013 what with the incessant talk about social media, quick-fix fame, celebrity (and personal) accessibility, etc.

Both Princess Diana and Grace Kelly are posterchildren for the obsession with fame and its various aspects of decay. Diana of course died a highly-publicized death after the car she was riding in (manned by a drunk driver) crashed after a cat-and-mouse with paparazzi; Grace would die of a stroke/car crash combo after leaving a life of Hollywood luxury behind to marry a royal from Monaco (thereby becoming a princess). After only six years in the film industry (with one Academy Award under her belt), Kelly became one of the most popular stars of classical Hollywood cinema. In an age of post-internet accessibility, the public is growing increasingly bored with the flash-and-gimmick celebrities of the contemporary industry; Diana and Grace represent the mainstay of stardom and the impact of talent, presence, and prominence which takes on new meaning in an age of meaningless objectification, Facebook, selfies, and events that would later go on to inspire films like The Bling Ring and Spring Breakers.

Look for Watts and Kidman to both be nominated in the Lead Actress category.

Documentaries

Sarah Polley in Stories We Tell

Sarah Polley in Stories We Tell

Not many people can go from playing dumbed-down roles in horror films like Splice to directing emotionally-charged documentaries quite like Sarah Polley.

She killed zombies in Dawn of the Dead (2004) and wrote/directed indie dramas like Take This Waltz, and now she’s taking a stab at a scripted-documentary hybrid with Stories We Tell, which chronicles her life as the product of an extramarital affair.

Polley weaves in staged footage recreating her early life with interviews with her family, piecing together her history funneled through a narrative perspective while maintaining the cinematic resonance of an objective documentary. The documentary is garnering the best reviews of Polley’s career, earning a spot on the Toronto International Film Festival’s Top 10 Canadian films list as well as making a few minor splashes at festivals around the world.

Other notable documentaries releasing in 2013 include the polarizing-yet-provocative We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks and 20 Feet From Stardom.

The Coen Brothers

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On the heels of their True Grit remake, the Joel & Ethan Coen return with Inside Llewyn Davis, which took the Grand Prix Award at Cannes and continues to work the festival circuit until its release smack dab in the middle of Oscar season this December.

Earning rave reviews from critics, the Coens take a step back from some of their darker subject matter and instead draw on inspiration from the folk music scene in the 1960s. The film stars a slew of talented actors from John Goodman and Carey Mulligan to Justin Timberlake and Adam Driver.

The Academy generally loves the Coens, as many of their past films have been nominated for screenwriting. It takes a film like No Country For Old Men, however, for nominations and sentiment to lead to ultimate gold; it is, to date, their only picture to have won the top prize at the Oscars. Inside Llewyn Davis will be nominated in major categories ranging from Best Picture to Best Original Screenplay, not garnering enough momentum to match No Country‘s prestige yet scraping up a few more nominations than 2009’s A Serious Man or 2000’s O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Art Films

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Before Midnight is currently slaying critics and audiences alike. Nebraska and Only God Forgives are respectively setting festivals and trade papers abuzz with claims of epic quality of script and performance. No, this isn’t the early 90s, it’s 2013, and the art film scene is heating up the pre-awards season circuit already.

While Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are busy predicting the “implosion” of the film industry thanks to big-budget studio productions not just cornering a niche market, but backing the entire market into a corner it can’t escape from (funny Spielberg would say this as a criticism and then proceed to executive produce Transformers 4 set for a 2014 release), a select few art films seem poised for Oscar greatness this year.

Before Midnight seems likely to receive a nomination in the Adapted Screenplay category (Before Sunset received one nine years ago amidst the growing cult status for the series, now three entries in), and Nebraska could sneak into the Lead Actor category (Bruce Dern was named Best Actor at Cannes for this role) while Only God Forgives might afford Kristin Scott Thomas a nomination in the Supporting Actress category if her buzz runs consistent through the end of awards season.

Also circling the Oscars in the art film department is Frances Ha, written by actress Greta Gerwig and filmmaker Noah Baumbach and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, which stars Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck.

2013 will also be good to:

Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)
Anyone associated with The Past (Berenice Bejo, Asgard Farhadi)
Horror films (The Conjuring is getting early rave reviews as it screens at festivals, The Purge is one of the sleeper hits of the summer)
Matthew McConaughey (snubbed for Magic Mike, he’ll be rewarded with recognition for either Mud or The Wolf of Wall Street)

…and, of course, the Weinstein’s wallets.

SAG-ing Along; Predicting the Screen Actors Guild Awards

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The year was 2009. Just as Rafiki brushed his thumb against Simba’s forehead, whispering his name, a stoic Phylicia Rashad caressed my love/hate trigger as she stared into the camera and delivered her lines. “I am Phylicia Rashad, and I am an actor” she said, surrounded by gaggles of peers amidst the 15th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. Live coverage then cut from actor to actor sitting in the same room, each new face (from Meryl Streep to Anne Hathaway) delivering the same line, none as self-serving (with a subtle hint of “This is how you do it, Beyonce) as Phylicia’s. It was one of the most embarrassing openings of any awards show I’ve ever witnessed, but it came as no surprise; This is an actor-on-actor lovefest; The SAG Awards; The Martha Stewart Home Accents Collection of awards season.

And it’s beautiful.

The SAG Awards can either be the strongest litmus test for the acting categories at the Oscars (think 2010) or throw a few curveballs that reflect a much more deserving (selected by a voting base that’s better informed and in tune with the craft than the Oscars’) batch of winners (think 2008).

In what has already shaped up as one of the most heated and upredictable Oscar races in years, the SAG Awards will most likely play out as they did for the 2011 calendar, at least in the Lead Actress category. Lawrence is poised to take the top spot from Jessica Chastain tonight, although the latter’s extensive body of work in such a short amount of time might prove impressive enough to SAG voters to push her to a win. If Chastain wins here, she’ll probably get the Viola Davis treatment at the Oscars (she won here last year, only to be upset by Meryl Streep at the hands of the Academy). Lawrence’s performance is much more Academy-friendly (commercially receivable and appealing) and it’s in a Weinstein film. If Naomi Watts has a chance at winning any major award this season, it’s here, and she’ll do it here if she’s lucky (she’s got major acting powerhouses campaigning for her this year). I usually trust the SAG voting base a bit more than I trust the Academy’s, considering it’s made up entirely of actors judging their own craft. Once nominations are in, the Academy opens the categories up to the entire membership, leaving more room for politicized votes. A win for Chastain here tonight indicates a better performance in a film unfortunately marred by politics.

The other categories will play out pretty much in-line with the rest of the precursor awards. Tommy Lee Jones should take Supporting Actor, Anne Hathaway will take Supporting Actress (although Sally Field is certainly in a position to upset), and Daniel Day-Lewis will take home a statue for his Leading performance in Lincoln.

If there are no surprises tonight, we should have a somewhat clearer idea of who will be taking home Oscar gold on February 24th. Hell, I’ll be happy if Phylicia Rashad gets another opportunity to give some gif-able diva face.

Film Predictions:

Lead:

Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)

Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

Supporting:

Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)

Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)

Ensemble:

The cast of Lincoln

The Road to Oscar; the Relevance of Originality in the Race

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There’s no denying the social and cultural force that the film industry has grown into for the American people. Ushering in new ideas, fantasies, and stories for a willing audience to indulge in, letting us live out the dreams that play over in our heads night after night, the film industry is a longstanding conduit between our reality and the “reality” we so desperately seek to inhabit in times of need. Movies are our escape, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences champions the very best of such devices year after year.

If we look back at past winners of the Oscar ceremony’s top honor, the significance of each year’s respective Best Picture to American culture is glaring. 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire, a ravishing, colorful emotional epic of renewed perspective and undying hope for a better future paralleled the historic Presidential Election which saw Barack Obama give “power” in America a new face. A year later, The Hurt Locker not only attempted to delve deeper into Middle Eastern conflicts that took up a huge portion of topical discussion during the 2008 Presidential Election, but also catapulted a female director to the forefront of Oscar recognition. At a time when issues of women’s/gay/”minority”/civil rights in general were gaining momentum in the political arena, the Academy again asserted film’s social “relevance” as a sign of the times as Kathryn Bigelow (whether fully deserving or not) became the first woman to notch a win in the Best Director category.

The social climate of the nation has changed drastically throughout much of recent memory. The first four years of Obama’s Presidency haven’t gone over well with the American public. His election to a second Presidential term over Mitt Romney this past November proved the nation is divided almost evenly. The economic downturn (whether attributed directly to George W. Bush or diffused onto the shoulders of Oabama) has seen record numbers of unemployment, working families living in homeless shelters, and the disappearance of the middle class becoming a very tangible reality for average American households that form the bulk of the film industry’s consumer base. Thus, 2011’s Best Picture, The Artist, took us back to times of grandeur and prosperity; the silent era of Hollywood’s roaring heyday, when film stars were poster children for the prosperity of a nation versus a distant metaphor for the unattainable life so many Americans have given up dreaming about.

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Anne Hathaway, likely Best Supporting Actress winner in Best Picture contender “Les Miserables”

The road leading to the 2012 Presidential Election drove a wedge between Americans not unlike the Union/Confederacy split depicted in this year’s Lincoln, which chronicles a time in U.S. history bearing resemblance to the social climate we endure today. Slavery, violent opposition to the man we call President, and an increasing hostility between opposing views of social, civil, and economic ideologies make Lincoln a timely piece of perspective for contemporary unrest. It’s no surprise, then, that the filmis an early frontrunner to take the Best Picture prize in February. Les Miserables, another heavyweight contender, bears parabolic similarities to the Occupy movement, Zero Dark Thirty and Argo bringing up the rear with musings on the ever-sizzling conflict in the Middle East and the boiling pot of uncertainty that no politician, country, or war could put a lid on over the past decade.

The bleakness doesn’t wear off until we examine the latter half of 2012’s Best Picture contenders; i.e., the Silver Linings Playbooks and Beasts of the Southern Wild—multiple pictures that are still “in the race” but don’t stand a chance at taking home the Oscar come February 24th. Silver Linings Playbook and Beasts of the Southern Wild tap into an almost fantastical notion of optimism amidst tragedy, the former chronicling post-personal-meltdown recovery and the latter compartmentalizing pure, individual struggle of residents trapped within with a weather-ravaged, poverty-stricken, fantastical Katrina-esque village fighting oppression from a class of bourgeois oppressors. While Silver Linings and Beasts are adapted from other works, they capture the spirit of perseverance post-trauma. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence overcome adversity and create a unique emotional environment as “minorities,”  whereas little Quvenzhane Wallis, portraying a six-year old girl in Beasts, captures the “rebirth” of youth, her character forced to grow up (yet retain the undying spirit of optimism) in a world with no time for innocence or purity.

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Andy Samberg and Rashida Jones in the Oscar-worthy “Celeste and Jesse Forever,” that will most likely go unnoticed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

The thematic nature of Beasts makes me question why the Academy (and its precursor award brethren) hasn’t embraced a more fantastical branch of filmmaking 2012 was rife with. Films like Beasts, Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises, and Holy Motors use their whimsical nature to make powerful statements on the persevering spirit of humanity in times of dire opposition. Grounded more in “reality” but still spiritually ambitious, films like Celeste and Jesse Forever, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, The Master, The Hunger Games, and The Grey delve deep into territory which sees humans overcoming obstacles far beyond their control. Celeste and Jesse Forever, being the most “human” of the bunch, sees a woman’s journey to spiritual homeostasis come after learning to cope with the absence of a lover while keeping him close as a “friend” in her life. It’s a task that seemingly pales in comparison to overcoming the psychological control of a cult (The Master), fighting back against an oppressive government (The Hunger Games) or finding true love amidst the end of the world (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World), but one that shows the evolution of the human spirit endures even in the simplest of vignettes involving a boy, a girl, and the universal thread of love.

Another interesting contender (only for technical categories at this point, it seems, although Emily Blunt still has slight buzz for her supporting performance) is the sci-fi actioner Looper, about do-overs, internal strife, self-hatred, and the often intangible idea of fresh beginnings. The sentiment could be applied to anyone at any given time, but Looper’s insistence on ridding our reality of darkness and preserving it for fresh perspectives of change are, perhaps, the most “relevant” to the culture of 2012 America as we head into a second term with President Obama.

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Jessica Chastain, only slightly behind Best Actress frontrunner Jennifer Lawrence, struggles between her duty as an American and her impulses as a human in Best Picture contender “Zero Dark Thirty.”

The lack of “originality” in what’s vying for the Oscar for Best Picture this year frightens me a little. Out of the ten films Awards Daily (one of the most accurate prediction sites on the web) acknowledges are in the running for Best Picture (Zero Dark Thirty, Les Miserables, Silver Linings Playbook, Lincoln, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Life of Pi, Flight, The Master, Moonrise Kingdom), only two are not “based” on some other form of media/socio-cultural figure or event (Moonrise Kingdom and The Master). With the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics Circle naming Zero Dark Thirty their Best Film of 2012, and other precursors pointing to either Argo, Lincoln, or Les Miserables, The Master and Moonrise Kingdom find themselves somewhere near the bottom of the pack (if they pick up a nomination at all). Small buzz for Michael Haneke’s Amour, about aging, death, and the degenerative mental capacity that comes with them, has been building since its screening at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. While likely to win Best Foreign Language film but almost assuredly out of the Best Picture race, perhaps it taps into the most terrifying element of humanity, which is not oppressive governments or masked supervillains blowing up football stadiums; it’s the potential for human fracture, the potential for degeneration, the potential to “forget” the very things that make us who we are and, in turn, losing the ability to preserve the “feelings” of our times within original fiction that seems to be slipping by the Academy’s scope of interest in a time where “escape” is needed the most.

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

The Canada of Awards Season; Predicting the Winners

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Awards season typically unfolds in one of two fashions; predictably or, um, unpredictably.  And in a year when the pickings are as slim as Isabelle Caro’s arms and quality cinema sticks out just as much as her ribs (pa-POW, two too-soons in a row!), it remains the sole responsibility for the Hollywood Foreign Press-Whores Association to stir things up as best as they can.

In what can be viewed as perhaps the most hilariously out-of-touch years for the HFPA, 2010 ended up reaffirming what everyone already knew to be true; the Association is nothing more than a large group of aging (and annoyingly sentimental) gays whose only purpose is to be entirely unsurprising in their overly-gracious ‘recognition’ of an undeserving Hollywood elite, festering their own delirious attempts at ousting the Oscars as the King (who am I kidding…Queen) of all awards shows. I mean, did anyone aside from the cultured gay sub-community actually see Burlesque or The Tourist? Both films are nominated in the Comedic Picture categories more than once, baffling both mainstream critics, bloggers, and generally anyone with a pair of eyes, the ability to sit through Burlesque, and their impending (undoubtedly viscious) negative response to it. One theory suggests that producers and publicists for the film actually carted large portions of the HFPA away on vacation and sent each and every one of them a gift basket that included the film on pre-release DVD. Apparently one such member of the HFPA was insulted enough by receiving a copy of Cher’s Immobile Face from the film’s publicity department that he shot Ronni Chasen. But who could blame him? Self defense is entirely understandable, and receiving a copy of that film can certainly be considered an attack on one’s safety.

And I guess the point I’m trying to arrive at is that the Comedic categories of the Globes seem only to serve the purpose of promoting that one ‘good’ Comedy, the ‘offbeat’ critics’ darling that no one really saw. This year that film would undoubtedly be The Kids Are All Right, literally a drama yet holed into the comedic category in an attempt at inclusivity that ends up alienating more than encompassing due to the category’s lack of serious legitimacy audiences have learned to regard such a subdivision with.  I mean, it just looks comical to have one of the most progressive, impactful, socially-relevant, and emotionally-touching portraits of a contemporary family nominated next to a film that celebrates superficiality and cattiness. I’m looking at you again, Burlesque. Photobucket

But enough of my usual pre-telecast bitching, I’ll let the nominees speak for themselves. Peep my predictions for the impending snoozefest below:

Best Motion Picture – Drama

Nominees:

Black Swan (2010) – Predicted Winner 

The Fighter (2010)

Inception (2010)

The King’s Speech (2010)

The Social Network (2010)

The HFPA seems to have gravitated towards Arronofsky’s body of work more quickly than the AMPAS, and for that I genuinely give them credit. Their flair for unabashed theatrics and true melodrama (artful, skilled melodrama, not the cliché kind) incline me to believe Black Swan will undoubtedly take the cake here, seeing as the massive amounts of buzz surrounding the picture have literally quadrupled in intensity since the film’s release has gone wider and wider.

Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

Nominees:

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Burlesque (2010/I)

The Kids Are All Right (2010) – Predicted Winner

Red (2010/I)

The Tourist (2010)

Do I even need to explain?

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama

Nominees:

Jesse Eisenberg for The Social Network (2010)

Colin Firth for The King’s Speech (2010) – Predicted Winner

James Franco for 127 Hours (2010)

Ryan Gosling for Blue Valentine (2010)

Mark Wahlberg for The Fighter (2010)

My hope is that the AMPAS takes note of the HFPA’s insistence on nominating smaller pictures with little to no mainstream support this year, seeing as Blue Valentine contains a truly career-defining performance that will undoubtedly go down as Gosling’s best. I’m not sure if he or Franco can muster the votes to pull off a win in the category (Wahlberg’s in the same boat as well) seeing as the performances don’t have enough critical backing, and Eisenberg’s performance is nothing more than a tack-on to the far too long list of things The Social Network has been decorated with simply because it’s currently socially relevant (but will soon disappear like the fad its subject material is), so the only reasonable outcome I can see here is that the HFPA award Firth a win.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama

Nominees:

Halle Berry for Frankie and Alice (2010)

Nicole Kidman for Rabbit Hole (2010) – Predicted Winner

Jennifer Lawrence for Winter’s Bone (2010)

Natalie Portman for Black Swan (2010)

Michelle Williams for Blue Valentine (2010)

Jennifer Lawrence’s buzz got a little exciting there, didn’t it? I thought she was a shoe-in for Best Actress at the upcoming Oscars, but the sheer intensity of the categorical race this late in the game could shut her out entirely, seeing as Hollywood Elite actresses have all but erased her from critical leaderboards with their names alone. I have such a hard time believing Frankie and Alice was seen by the entire HFPA let alone Berry’s performance being good enough to warrant a nomination, but I guess we’ll never know considering the film has yet to see substantial (and backed) commercial release. I’m in love with Williams’ recognition, however, seeing as her performance is hands-down the most painful and moving of the year. It’ll come down to a battle of whose name is bigger, however, with Kidman likely to edge out Portman.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

Nominees:

Johnny Depp for The Tourist (2010)

Johnny Depp for Alice in Wonderland (2010) – Predicted Winner

Paul Giamatti for Barney’s Version (2010)

Jake Gyllenhaal for Love and Other Drugs (2010)

Kevin Spacey for Casino Jack (2010)

I swear to god the jokers in the HFPA look through the year’s resumes for Hollywood Elite and pick the one categorical film that actor did and nominated it simply because the industry produced nothing more substantial during the year. I have no idea where to even begin speculation surrounding these men, considering the awards season buzz for each and every single one of these performances has been literally nonexistent even after these nominees were announced. I’m assuming Depp’s votes will split, but then again the other performances nominated have little critical backing and would look ridiculous on the HFPA’s hands. I’m truly stumped on this one, so I’ll give it to “the name” because I have no idea who else to suspect.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

Nominees:

Annette Bening for The Kids Are All Right (2010) – Predicted Winner

Anne Hathaway for Love and Other Drugs (2010)

Angelina Jolie for The Tourist (2010)

Julianne Moore for The Kids Are All Right (2010)

Emma Stone for Easy A (2010)

The words “Angelina Jolie” and “comedy” simply don’t go together, and even she (speaking at the premiere of the film she’s nominated for here) mocked her inclusion in the category earlier last year. I’m truly glad to see Emma Stone get some recognition for a performance that actually fits within the typical standards of what one might consider a truly skilled “Comedic” performance. If it were up to me, Stone would win based on legitimately being apart of the only real ‘comedy’ within this list of nominees, but Bening will win in order to cement the HFPA’s credibility when she wins her Oscar later this year.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Nominees:

Christian Bale for The Fighter (2010)

Michael Douglas for Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)

Andrew Garfield for The Social Network (2010)

Jeremy Renner for The Town (2010)

Geoffrey Rush for The King’s Speech (2010) – Predicted Winner

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Nominees:

Amy Adams for The Fighter (2010) – Predicted Winner

Helena Bonham Carter for The King’s Speech (2010)

Mila Kunis for Black Swan (2010)

Melissa Leo for The Fighter (2010)

Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom (2010)

Best Director – Motion Picture

Nominees:

Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan (2010) – Predicted Winner

David Fincher for The Social Network (2010)

Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech (2010)

Christopher Nolan for Inception (2010)

David O. Russell for The Fighter (2010)

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture

Nominees:

127 Hours (2010): Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy

Inception (2010): Christopher Nolan

The Kids Are All Right (2010): Stuart Blumberg, Lisa CholodenkoPredicted Winner

The King’s Speech (2010): David Seidler

The Social Network (2010): Aaron Sorkin

Best Original Song – Motion Picture

Nominees:

Burlesque (2010/I): Samuel Dixon, Christina Aguilera, Sia Furler(“Bound to You”)

Burlesque (2010/I): Diane Warren(“You Haven’t Seen The Last of Me”) – Predicted Winner 

Country Strong (2010): Bob DiPiero, Tom Douglas, Hillary Lindsey, Troy Verges(“Coming Home”)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010): Carrie Underwood, David Hodges, Hillary Lindsey(“There’s A Place For Us”)

Tangled (2010): Alan Menken, Glenn Slater(“I See the Light”)

Best Original Score – Motion Picture

Nominees:

127 Hours (2010): A.R. Rahman

Alice in Wonderland (2010): Danny Elfman

Inception (2010): Hans ZimmerPredicted Winner

The King’s Speech (2010): Alexandre Desplat

The Social Network (2010): Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross

Best Animated Film

Nominees:

Despicable Me (2010)

How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

The Illusionist (2010)

Tangled (2010)

Toy Story 3 (2010) – Predicted Winner

Best Foreign Language Film

Nominees:

Biutiful (2010)(Mexico/Spain) – Predicted Winner 

The Concert (2009)(France)

The Edge (2010)(Russia)

I Am Love (2009)(Italy)

In a Better World (2010)(Denmark)

Best Television Series – Drama

Nominees:

“Boardwalk Empire” (2009) – Predicted Winner

“Dexter” (2006)

“The Good Wife” (2009)

“Mad Men” (2007)

“The Walking Dead” (2010)

Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy

Nominees:

“The Big Bang Theory” (2007)

“The Big C” (2010)

“Glee” (2009)

“Modern Family” (2009) – Predicted Winner

“Nurse Jackie” (2009)

“30 Rock” (2006)

Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Nominees:

“Carlos” (2010)

“The Pacific” (2010)

“The Pillars of the Earth” (2010)

Temple Grandin (2010) (TV) – Predicted Winner

You Don’t Know Jack (2010) (TV)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television

Nominees:

Hayley Atwell for “The Pillars of the Earth” (2010)

Claire Danes for Temple Grandin (2010) (TV) – Predicted Winner

Judi Dench for “Cranford” (2007)

Romola Garai for “Emma” (2009)

Jennifer Love Hewitt for The Client List (2010) (TV)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy

Nominees:

Alec Baldwin for “30 Rock” (2006) – Predicted Winner

Steve Carell for “The Office” (2005)

Thomas Jane for “Hung” (2009)

Matthew Morrison for “Glee” (2009)

Jim Parsons for “The Big Bang Theory” (2007)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy

Nominees:

Toni Collette for “United States of Tara” (2009)

Edie Falco for “Nurse Jackie” (2009)

Tina Fey for “30 Rock” (2006) – Predicted Winner

Laura Linney for “The Big C” (2010)

Lea Michele for “Glee” (2009)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Drama

Nominees:

Steve Buscemi for “Boardwalk Empire” (2009)

Bryan Cranston for “Breaking Bad” (2008) – Predicted Winner

Michael C. Hall for “Dexter” (2006)

Jon Hamm for “Mad Men” (2007)

Hugh Laurie for “House M.D.” (2004)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama

Nominees:

Julianna Margulies for “The Good Wife” (2009) – Predicted Winner

Elisabeth Moss for “Mad Men” (2007)

Piper Perabo for “Covert Affairs” (2010)

Katey Sagal for “Sons of Anarchy” (2008)

Kyra Sedgwick for “The Closer” (2005)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Nominees:

Scott Caan for “Hawaii Five-0” (2010)

Chris Colfer for “Glee” (2009)

Chris Noth for “The Good Wife” (2009)

Eric Stonestreet for “Modern Family” (2009)

David Strathairn for Temple Grandin (2010) (TV) – Predicted Winner

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Nominees:

Hope Davis for The Special Relationship (2010) (TV)

Jane Lynch for “Glee” (2009) –  Predicted Winner

Kelly Macdonald for “Boardwalk Empire” (2009)

Julia Stiles for “Dexter” (2006)

Sofía Vergara for “Modern Family” (2009)