Thursday, February 27, 2014

Academy Award Week 2014, And the Best Picture goes to.....Gravity, no 12, no American...maybe Gravity

For the first time in many years Best Picture is actually competitive.  Sure in 2010 the critics liked The Social Network, heck even the Globes thought they were crowning a future Best Picture winner, same with Avatar (for the Globes) over The Hurt Locker the year before.  If you study the Oscars, the easy to predict winners were The Hurt Locker, and The King's Speech, by the numbers of course.

2006 was a tough year to predict because, well, there was no real front runner, but The Departed snuck out some key victories, and it was finally time to give Martin Scorsese a hug.  Not easy, but predicted by many.  If you predicted Crash in 2005 I want to shake your hand, you did what no one did, but that's not because it was a close race throughout that's because of the homophobia of Oscars older voters, who refused to give the biggest prize of the night to Brokeback Mountain.  While this not predicted this was not a foreseen conclusion.

In all honesty, for my young Oscar recollection I would have to go all the way back to 2000 when there was an actual competition between different films as to who would win Best Picture.  Gladiator was the eventual winner, and in looking at the awards it won it should have been an easy prediction, it won at BAFTA, BFCA, and the Globes.  Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Traffic were the biggest competition, and many believed they had a shot.  If you go to Oscar night Gladiator had won Best Actor, Sound, Costume Design, and Visual Effects, a total of 4 prizes, mostly minor.  Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon won Cinematography, Original Score, Art Direction, and Best Foreign Language Film.  Dragon surprisingly lost Direction, but many voters probably assumed Lee would win in the Foreign Language category, and the next film's director, was a double nominee, so makes sense.  No Foreign Language Film has ever won Best Picture either. Traffic had won four Oscars, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, and Best Director.  If I were a betting many these four prizes typically mean an eventual Best Picture win.  Traffic did not fit the "Best Picture mold" but Gladiator did a historical epic.

So for this year why isn't 12 Years a Slave a lock because of the historical epic quality?  Is Gravity the most re-watchable?  Is American Hustle going to pull of a Crash-like ensemble win?  Only understanding  the preferential ballot will help.  What's preferential balloting?  The video below from esteemed journalist Steve Pond explains the process thoroughly.

Now that you hopefully understand the actual system, lets make a guess at who the winner will be.

The Nominees for Best Picture are...

American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf of Wall Street
12 Years a Slave 

And the Oscar goes to....

You can eliminate Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, and The Wolf of Wall Street. That leaves the big three.

American Hustle-Hustle is one of the two most nominated films of the year with 10 nominations.  There is wide support for this film, especially in the actors branch, this is second film, two years in a row, for David O. Russell to get nominations in all four acting categories, big accomplishment.  Hustle won the Globe for Musical/Comedy, Musical Comedy Lead Actress (Amy Adams), and Supporting Actress (Jennifer Lawrence).  Hustle won the SAG ensemble prize but did not win either of its two acting prizes.  Hustle won the BAFTA for Original Screenplay, and Supporting Actress (Lawrence again).  This film is well liked, and has the Argo/King's Speech harmless vibe.  Cons:  I would have thought a film like this could have surprised at PGA, it did not, in fact the only other guild award it won was the ACE Eddie for Editing in a Comedy/Musical, it did not even win the Writer's Guild.  If it does win Best Picture what other prizes does it win?  Many suggest writing, maybe costumes, or even a second Oscar for Lawrence.  My hunch is this film runs third at the moment, but never count out a film with this much rapid support.

Gravity-At the moment many are predicting this to win, let's start with the cons.  No Globe/BAFTA wins, it's a "sci-fi" film (even though it's a safe one at that), only two films have won without writing nomination, but one was Titanic, epic from a well respected director, no SAG nomination, and no film has won Best Picture without a SAG nomination since Braveheart.  Those are some big cons, but this is also one of the two most nominated films of the year, 10 nominations.  Gravity has nominations in across, the board, even acting, does writing matter?  Often yes, but maybe not here.  Gravity won the PGA, although it was in a tie.  It will have a lot of high votes from people across the board, and does well in a preferential ballot.  Yet if you look at the simulated ballot done by the venerable Sasha Stone from you have a different outcome (

12 Years a Slave-If you look at the way the ballots panned out 12 Years a Slave pulled off a win, and it seems like that that is the case here.  At the end of the day at the Globes, BAFTA, BFCA, there was always a split Slave won Picture while Gravity won Director, much like in 1967, the message film wins Picture, while the hip director Cuaron-2014/Mike Nichols for The Graduate (1967) wins.  Is this how it pans out.  Slave seems to be losing everything else, except Lupita Nyong'o winning at BFCA, and SAG, and Chiwetel Ejiofor winning at BAFTA.  Slave as stated above tied for the PGA.  If you will notice this paragraph is light, and the other two seem to have so much going for them, but as this film has done in the end can this film squeak out the win like it has throughout award season?

Who Will Win: 12 Years a Slave
Spoiler: Gravity
If I had a Vote: Gravity (but I need to re-watch Slave and Her)

A Tribute to Great Film (During Academy Award Week 2014): Groundhog Day (1993)

Part of Academy Award week is also about honoring great film, and what better time than pay tribute to recently departed Harold Ramis, and his greatest achievement Groundhog Day.  Sadly this film had 0 Oscar nominations, and the only award group, which saw its true potential was BAFTA (the British Academy Awards).  The film only had one BAFTA nomination for Best Original Screenplay, but it won.  Groundhog Day is a film that over the years has gained a cult following, and become one of the most well regarded films of all time.

The film centers around Phil Connors a weatherman, who goes to report on the Groundhog seeing his shadow, but ends up living the day over and over again.  The mix of humor, and the reality of everyday life is blended perfectly.  Ramis wrote and directed the film, and got one of the funniest men his long time working partner Bill Murray to star.  

Ramis and Murray worked on at 6 plus films together, but feuded for the last years 20 or more years of their lives.  Ramis was never better than when he worked with his pal, and Groundhog Day was the pinnacle of their creative work.

Some of my favorite quotes from the film are:

"This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather."

"You want a prediction about the weather, you're asking the wrong Phil. I'll give you a winter prediction: It's gonna be cold, it's gonna be grey, and it's gonna last you for the rest of your life."

"This is pitiful. A thousand people freezing their butts off waiting to worship a rat. What a hype. Groundhog Day used to mean something in this town. They used to pull the hog out, and they used to eat it. You're hypocrites, all of you!"

Groundhog Day is a perfect film because it blends the deeper meaning of life, with one of the most pointless/mundane  activities in America, does the Groundhog see its shadow or not.  Many swear by this superstitious routine, and the daily routine of life, but its the way you live your life that matters.  Take risks, and find your true talents, but above all make em' laugh.

Academy Award Week 2014: If I Picked the Oscar Nominees They Would Be....

Best Picture
12 Years a Slave  
The Act of Killing
Before Midnight
Captain Phillips
Fruitvale Station
Inside Llewyn Davis
The Wolf of Wall Street

And my Oscar goes to....Gravity 

Best Actor
Bruce Dern-Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio-The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejifor-12 Years a Slave
Tom Hanks-Captain Phllips
Oscar Isaacs-Inside Llewyn Davis
Joaquin Phoenix-Her

And my Oscar goes to ...Oscar Isaacs-Inside Llewyn Davis 

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett-Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock-Gravity
Julie Delpy-Before Midnight
Adele Exarchapoulos-Blue is the Warmest Color
Gretta Gerwig-Frances Ha
Brie Larson-Short Term 12

And my Oscar goes to...Brie Larson-Short Term 12 

Best Supporting Actor
Barkhad Abdi-Captain Phillips
Michael Fassbender-12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill-The Wolf of Wall Street
Matthew McConnaughey-Mud
Jared Leto-Dallas Buyers Club
Sam Rockwell-The Way Way Back

And my Oscar goes to....Matthew McConaughey-Mud 

Best Supporting Actress
Sally Hawkins-Blue Jasmine
Scarlett Johansson-Her
Lupita Nyong’o-12 Years a Slave
Lea Seydoux-Blue is the Warmest Color

June Squibb-Nebraska

And my Oscar goes to....Lupita Nyong'o-12 Years a Slave 

Best Director
Joel and Ethan Coen-Inside Llewyn Davis
Alfonso Cuaron-Gravity
Spike Jonez-Her
Steve McQueen-12 Years a Slave
Martin Scorsese-The Wolf of Wall Street

And my Oscar goes to ...Alfonso Cuaron-Gravity

Best Adapted Screenplay
12 Years a Slave
Before Midnight
The Spectacular Now
Short Term 12
The Wolf of Wall Street

And my Oscar goes to...Before Midnight

Best Original Screenplay
Enough Said
Fruitvale Station
Inside Llewyn Davis

And my Oscar goes to...Her 

Best Ensemble
12 Years a Slave
Inside Llewyn Davis
The Wolf of Wall Street

And my Oscar goes to... the Cast of Nebraska 

Best Cinematography
12 Years a Slave
Inside Llewyn Davis
Upstream Color

And my Oscar goes to....Inside Llewyn Davis

Best Costume Design
American Hustle
12 Years a Slave
The Great Gatsby
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

And my Oscar goes to ...12 Years a Slave

Best Film Editing
12 Years a Slave
Inside Llewyn Davis 
The Wolf of Wall Street

And my Oscar goes to ...12 Years a Slave

Best Production Design
12 Years a Slave
The Great Gatsby

And my Oscar goes to...Her 

Best Make-Up/Hair
12 Years a Slave
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Lee Daniel’s The Butler

And my Oscar goes to...12 Years a Slave 

Best Original Score
All is Lost
Spring Breakers 
Upstream Color

And my Oscar goes to...Her

Best Original Song
Frozen-Let it Go
The Great Gatsby-Young and Beautiful
Her-The Moon Song
Inside Llewyn Davis-Please Mr. Kennedy
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom-Ordinary Love

And my Oscar goes to...Frozen-Let it Go

Best Sound Editing
All is Lost
12 Years a Slave
Captain Phillips
Pacific Rim

And my Oscar goes to....Gravity 

Best Sound Mixing
All is Lost 
Captain Phillips
Inside Llewyn Davis
Pacific Rim

And my Oscar goes to....Gravity 

Outstanding Visual Effects
Iron Man 3
Man of Steel
Pacific Rim
Star Trek: into Darkness 

And my Oscar goes to .....Gravity 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Academy Awards Week 2014: It's a Man's World. Looking at Best Actor

Over the last few years it has been hard to ignore that the Best Actor category is often the most competitive.  There have been numerous times where male leads in films have been pushed down to be campaigned in supporting just to get a film more nominations, and even potentially a win.  Last year Christoph Waltz in Ing...I mean Django Unchained was a prime example of a lead performance in the supporting category.

Django was a film few had seen but early word from the Weinstein Company was that Waltz would be competing supporting.  In November this changed, and had reported he had been bumped to lead.  As the competition grew fiercer in the leading category Waltz was bumped down in time to be nominated and win the Golden Globe; he missed a nod at SAG, but was nominated and won at BAFTA, and then went on to win his second Oscar.  Why the category fraud?

Weinstein wanted more nominations for Django, and Lead Actor had tons of contenders.  Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables) and Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook) were looking to attain their first nominations, and those were locked into place.  Denzel Washington was back in the game giving a great dramatic performance in Flight.  Then there were the indie darlings John Hawkes (The Sessions) and Joaquin Phoenix (The Master).  The eventual winner was the tour de force performance from Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln who was just unbeatable.  In the end of these men Hawkes was snubbed, and even Phillip Seymour Hoffman like Waltz should have been a lead contender for The Master, he competed in the supporting category instead, to get the film more nominations, another Weinstein Company film.

Even the year before last had at least 8 contenders in the Best Actor race ranging from George Clooney in the Descendants, Jean Dujardin in The Artist, all the way to one of Ryan Gosling's multiple performances in either Drive or The Ides of March.  The Oscars, and their films within the last 30 years have been a leading man's world, and this year is proof of that even further.

Throughout this Oscar season the following men were all strong contenders for Best Actor:
Robert Redford-All is Lost
Christian Bale-American Hustle 
Tom Hanks-Captain Phillips
Matthew McConaughey-Dallas Buyers Club
Joaquin Phoenix-Her
Oscar Isaacs-Inside Llewyn Davis 
Idris Elba-Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Bruce Dern-Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio-The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor-12 Years a Slave

At the end of the day there 10 strong contenders, most of which at some point or another could have made the 5 at Oscar, even if you cut out Elba and Isaacs whose films were mainly missing in action that meant this category had 8 strong performances contending for 5 spots, still competitive.  This year's Best Actress also ended up being mildly competitive, but that does not happen as often.  In summation films are driven by strong male performance more often, but this is not a big revelation.  The main argument now is that between the top five contenders is there a big of a lock as there was last year, or has this competition carried over.

The Nominees for Best Actor are....

Christian Bale-American Hustle 
Matthew McConaughey-Dallas Buyers Club
Bruce Dern-Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio-The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor-12 Years a Slave 

Of the three major critics awards groups, there were three different winners, New York crowned Redford in All is Lost (not nominated).  The National Society of Films Critics honored Isaacs in Inside Llewyn Davis. Los Angeles was the only group to pick a nominee, Dern in Nebraska.  The rest of the critics groups were split amongst a variety of winners, but Chiwetel Ejifor's name was mentioned the most.  Enter the Globes, BFCA, and SAG, which all honored McConaughey.  The Globes picked DiCaprio as well.  BAFTA supposedly did not see Dallas Buyers Club in time so McConaughey was left of the list, and Ejifor won there as well.  At the moment McConaughey is the front runner, but after a long dry spell of watching him does he still have what it takes to win this prize?

And the Oscar goes to....

Christian Bale-American Hustle-Yes Bale is even in this, and while he is in fifth place, American Hustle is well liked, and Bale will score some votes.  Who does he siphon votes from probably DiCaprio.  Bale is clearly in fifth place, while people like the film his nomination is the reward.

Matthew McConaughey-Dallas Buyers Club-The front runner, this role, and many of his recent performances have changed people's perception of him as an actor.  McConaughey is also showing them how its done on television in True Detective.  Are there any negatives, like ability is one; he is not known to be like able as an actor, but this is the Erin Brockovich type role, he is a crusader.  Going against McConaughey is the BAFTA snub, while his film did not qualify , the last person to win the Oscar without a BAFTA nomination was Denzel Washington in Training Day (2001).  Can McConaughey overcome the fact that he was not even in attendance at BAFTA, is True Detective buzz worthy enough?

Bruce Dern-Nebraska-The vet, this often helps people in the supporting races as opposed to lead, but Dern is so well liked, and doesn't Hollywood want to give this former supporting player a hug?  Many older voters probably worked with him, Nicholson is on his side, remember many years ago, this helped Adrien Brody.  Dern saved his focus for the Oscars, and could pull off the upset.   Part of me wants to see Dern win, but he's out, the person who won the Los Angeles Film Critics Award and no other pre-cursor, was Denzel Washington in Training Day (2000), so its possible, but history and Russell Crowe's bad boy antics had more to do with that.

Leonardo DiCaprio-The Wolf of Wall Street-This guy is all over the place, and while Tom O'Neil is championing his performance, I am re-thinking his strength here.  DiCaprio is making the rounds, but many voters honestly do not care, they make their decision on film/heart.  DiCaprio is the deserving one, not McConaughey, but voters like roles like in Buyers Club over dastardly villains in Wolf.  There have also only been three men who have won Best Comedy Actor Musical/Comedy, and won the Oscar from 1990 until this year, Jack Nicholson for As Good as it Gets (1997), Jaime Foxx for Ray (2005), and Jean Dujardin for The Artist (2011).  It's a hard mountain to climb, most of these men who numerous precursors, and Leo's loss at BAFTA hurts him. I do think he can spoil, but he is in third.

Chiwetel Ejiofor-12 Years a Slave-His BAFTA win has me thinking, can he come from behind, and win here?  Possibly, yet part of me is over thinking this win as well. BAFTA has crowned the same Best Actor winner for the last three years, but only seven times in the 2000s, and those other 5 times the winners were typically Brits. Ejiofor is a native, and the BAFTAs like to honor their own, hence him beating Leo and Dern, without McCounaghey.  Ejiofor was the only other win for 12 Years a Slave that evening.  Voting for him could be a way for many to massage their guilt.

The big question at the end of the day is can Dallas Buyers Club win two acting Oscars, the two most recent films to do this were, Million Dollar Baby (a Best Picture winner), and The Fighter (both supporting).  Does this film have the steam to do what few films have done in Oscar history, win more than one acting Oscar without even being a strong front runner for Best Picture, do Oscar voters even care/know about this.  Do they sometimes conscientiously spread the wealth?

Here is my thought two years ago I predicted Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady, and last year I predicted Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained, but they each had the Globe and BAFTA on their side.  No one has that, McConaughey has the Globe and SAG, Leo has a Globe, and Chiwetel has the BAFTA. I do not count the BFCA.  This looks more split than people have made it out.  

Even after I wrote this I paused re-read it, and looked at this from a realistic lens, and for me this is an award between McConaughey and Ejifor, with DiCaprio as a spoiler.  My gut is telling me there should be a surprise, but at this time, I am going to sadly play it safe, even after all my jabbering.

Who Will Win: Matthew McConaughey-Dallas Buyers Club
Spoiler: Anyone but Bale, Ejiofor seems to be in second place.
If I had a vote-Leonardo DiCaprio-The Wold of Wall Street
Personal Winner-Oscar Isaacs-Inside Llewyn Davis

Monday, February 24, 2014

In Memoriam: Harold Ramis

The Associated Press (AP) an other new sources have announced the passing of comedic genius, Harold Ramis today.  Ramis was known for his work in front of the camera in films like Stripes (1981), and the Ghostbusters films (1984, and 1989), but it was his work behind the scenes as a writer/director, that are most unforgettable.

Ramis writing credits include Animal House (1978), Meatballs (1979), Caddyshack (1980), Stripes (1981) Ghostbusters (1984), Back to School (1986), Groundhog Day (1993), and Analyze This (1999).  Ramis directed Caddyshack, Groundhog Day, and not listed in his writing credits National Lampoon's Vacation (1983).  I dare you to find a man who shaped not only 1980s comedy, but humor today.  Ramis was one of if not the the comedic voice of his generation, and no one has carved out a singular voice the way in which Ramis did in the lat 70s, 80s, and early 90s.

Harold Ramis is the man men quote at the water cooler, namely because of the scenes below.  If you look closely four of the five scenes have Bill Murray in them.  These two were a dynamic work team, and created some of the most memorable film memories.  Ramis was a genius, his humor is infectious, thank you for the memories.

Animal House (1978)




(Groundhog Day)

Academy Awards Week 2014: Best Makeup/ Hair Styling, from Razzie to Oscar?

In 1980 The Elephant Man was released and there was no category to honor the transformation of the central character.  There was voter outrage, and the category of Best Makeup was created for 1981, and the first set of nominees in this category were, An American Werewolf in London, and Heartbeeps.    For the first two years of this category, there were two nominees, and in 1998 there were four nominees, but there has has traditionally always been 3 nominees in this category.  In 2012 (last year's awards) this category changed its name from Best Makeup, to be Makeup/Hair Styling, and the nominees were Les Miserables (winner), Hitchcock, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Based on this change, voters still seem to judge this based on the make-up, although I am bit shocked Les Miserables won last year, I guess that buzzed head of Anne Hathaway's wooed voters.  The film with a Best Picture tends to win over voters in categories like this, and Visual Effects.  This was one of the only categories The Curious Case of Benjamin won which had 13 nominations, it also had wins in Art Direction, and Visual Effects.

I decided to look at Makeup/Hair Styling this year because I still think the Academy is focused mainly on the makeup factor, you can see this with the snub of American Hustle, which was widely regarded as a shoe-in nominee because of all the crazy wigs, and hairstyles, but was snubbed.  I am honestly shocked 12 Years a Slave or Lee Daniel's The Butler did not make this category their makeup transformations, and lashings were so realistic, and well done.

So who are this year's nominees?

Bad Grandpa-Stephen Prouty
Dallas Buyers Club-Adruitha Lee, and Robin Mathews
The Long Ranger-Joel Harlow, Gloria Pasqua-Casny

Bad Grandpa received a nomination because of the transformation of Johnny Knoxville into the central character of well, Bad Grandpa.  This makeup is solid work, but was a the surprise nominee of the bunch.

Dallas Buyers Club has made headlines recently citing the fact that the makeup work itself only cost 250 dollars, which is an amazing feat, the work is actually well done, and even the hair styling in this film blends a unique variety of work.

The Lone Ranger has the the honor of being a Razzie and Oscar nominee, the transformation of Johnny Depp into Tonto, and other makeup, and hair styling is probably some of the best work of the year. 

Who Will Win/Should Win

The Best Picture winner, nominee has not always won this award, Titanic,  Forrest Gump, Shakespeare in Love all lost this award.  They also lost this award to films that focused heavily on makeup, Men in Black, Ed Wood, and Elizabeth respectively.

As this award has changed to be about makeup and hair styling there is one film, which stands out, and thats Dallas Buyers Club, but do not underestimate The Lone Ranger simply because its a Razzie nominee.  How the Grinch Stole Christmas won this award.  At the end of the day it looks like an easy win for Dallas Buyers Club.

Will Win: Dallas Buyers Club
Spoiler: The Lone Ranger
If I had a vote: Dallas Buyers Club

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Academy Awards Week 2014: Why Diversity Matters at the Oscars. Has the Academy Measured up this Year?

On July 30th, 2013 Cheryl Boone Isaacs was named the first female black President of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS).  Over the years this position has been held by countless white males, and in a shift under criticism AMPAS who oversees the Academy Awards moved in the right, not white direction, with Isaacs as President.  AMPAS came under fire last year when the statistics of the members were released, stating that 94 percent were white, and 77 percent were male.  Some of the most shocking statistics cited in the LA Times were the following:

• Some of AMPAS 15 branches are totally white and male.
• The Academy’s executive branch is 98 percent white, as is its writer’s branch.
• Of the Academy’s 43-member Board Of Governors, just six are female,and Cheryl Boone Isaacs, a 25-year public relations. executive and former head of publicity for Paramount Pictures and former President of Theatrical Marketing for New Line Cinema, is the one black person or person of color.
• 62 percent of AMPAS Members have had a movie made in the 21 Century; 11 percent (over one in 10) have a movie-related history that’s not known.
• A whopping 54 percent of AMPAS members are over 60, and another 25 percent in their 50s; that’s 85 percent of the Academy membership that’s over 50 years of age.
While this year will be seen as a turning point by many AMPAS officials, they are already off to a problematic start even though they named their one diverse female member President. AMPAS and its members of the Academy had the opportunity to nominate several films, actors/actresses, and other crew who were both qualified, and from diverse backgrounds, but in many ways they missed the mark for honoring diversity this year.
Many bloggers/critics dubbed this the year of black cinema, with films like Fruitvale Station, Lee Daniel's The Butler, and 12 Years a Slave.  Three films about the black experience all directed by black directors, but only one made a dent at the Oscars.  12 Years a Slave was the most critically acclaimed film of 2013 it has 9 Oscar nominations, meanwhile American Hustle and Gravity have 10. Many predicted 12 Years a Slave, would be the most nominated film, it has been everywhere else, but it missed nominations in Cinematography, Score, and the two Sound categories.  I predicted at least 12 nominations.  The film has been met with resistance because of its "torture porn" characteristics.  You should let that quotable phrase sink in as I explore the other two films about the black experience, which did not gain one single Oscar nomination. 

Lee Daniel's The Butler, scored a 73 percent on, and made 116 million at the domestic box office.  Both of these elements, along with being a Weinstein Co. film, sound like something which adds up to not only Best Picture, but a nominee in several categories.  Lee Daniel's The Butler received 0 Oscar nominations, not even one for early favorite Oprah Winfrey in Supporting Actress.  What happened? The film was shut out at the Globes, but had three nominations at SAG, including Best Ensemble, and also had two BAFTA nominations.
Fruitvale Station had even stronger reviews, it score a 94 percent on, but its arguable weakness was it box office, which was only 16 million domestic.  Fruitvale did decently with Critics Awards but was mostly singled out for Outstanding New Filmmaker Awards for writer/director Ryan Coogler.  Michael B. Jordan was only cited as a nominee at the Independent Spirit Awards, and past Oscar winner Octavia Spencer only was a winner at the National Board of Review, which had its worst year as a predictor in the acting categories.  What happened?  Fruitvale was also a Weinstein Co. film, did the company have too many irons in the fire?  Their campaigning for each film was solid. 
Both of these films were summer releases so it appears out of site out of mind was the problem, but the each deserved some attention.  It almost feels as though the Academy could only handle one film about the black experience, and even now as the awards are 6 days away many voters have stated they have had a hard time with that film, because of the nature of the brutality, guess what folks slavery was brutal.
Now that you have processed, or let it sink in that people have described Slave as "torture porn" its time to examine one of the best films of the year.  Back in October some obnoxious Vulture writer proclaimed 12 Years a Slave as the front runner, ever since then every critics group seemed to jump ship, and the film got left by the way side for the most part.  Sure 12 Years a Slave did well with minor film critics groups but the major ones all but ignored it.  New York went for American Hustle, oddly.  LA went for Her and Gravity.  The National Society of Film Critics went for Inside Llewyn Davis.  How did the most critically acclaimed film of the year not win a top prize?  Even if you look at the Globes, it only won Best Picture (Drama), at the Broadcast Film Critics Association it only won Best Picture, Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay.  Slave was the most nominated film at BAFTA this year, and only won Picture, and Best Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor).  Every time it wins these Best Picture awards, it feel like the people pick it more out of guilt rather than love of the film.  At the end of the day if you look at Oscar "experts" at, the only "sure fire win" at the moment is Best Adapted Screenplay.  Slave will most likely also win Picture, Supporting Actress, and possibly Production Design or Costume Design (based on the guild award winners.)
Am I saying this film should win because its about black people, no, but as the campaign, that so many people hates says "If not now, when."  Slave is not Roots, get that out of your mind, this is the most honest story about the black experience during slavery from the point of view of someone who experience it Soloman Northup, not a white plantation owner, or a debutant in Gone with the Wind.  Slave is also directed by a black man, and written or adapted by a black screenwriter.  Does Hollywood's squeamish nature around the violence prove too much for their white guilt, probably.  Slave deserves to win this prize, its a fantastic film.  At the end of the day in a year cited as "the year of black cinema" AMPAS missed out on honoring films about three different black casts, told from black directors, and in many cases black writers.
The Academy has also missed the mark with celebrating women.  Its sad when Frozen will be the only kind of Best Picture winner, directed by a female, but the Academy recognizing this and Brave back to back in the Best Animated Feature Film category shows minor progress, but in cartoon form only.
This year the Academy had the chance to nominate two women in Documentary Feature Sarah Polley for Stories We Tell, and Gabriela Coperthwaite's Blackfish, both were snubbed, but expected to be nominees.  Most of the winners/member of this branch are men so these two women missing out is not surprising, but Blackfish was probably one of the more popular documentaries of the year, and gained a lot of ground because of its cause.
Then there is the screenwriting categories which was poised to have a surge in female nominees, but only ended up with three Julie Delpy for co-writing Before Midnight, and  Robbie Brenner and Melissa Walleck for co-writing Dallas Buyer Club.  Saving Mr. Banks had two female writing nominees, but was snubbed, Enough Said was an original screenplay with a single female writer, it too was snubbed.

Many people also expected Thelma Schoonmaker to garner a Best Editing nomination for The Wolf of Wall Street; she has been nominated for seven Oscars and won 3 in this category (Raging Bull, The Aviator, and The Departed).  Wolf had broad support, and ACE (American Cinema Editors) nomination, which Dallas Buyer Club did not.  Schoonmaker's snub is an interesting one since she has done so well over the years, but like usual the editing category is mostly filled with men.
While there are many female nominees in other technical categories, the Best Picture race has advanced the story of two women this year.  Gravity's nomination is a big step forward, while directed and engineered by a male (Cuaron) it is one of the few Best Picture nominees in the past few years to focus solely on a woman.  Philomena is the other Best Picture nominee which focuses on a central female character.  Were there other options, Saving Mr. Banks was one, Blue Jasmine Blue is the Warmest Color, but after that you get into much smaller films like Frances Ha, and Short Term 12, which unfortunately never had a shot. Women in Hollywood only seem to succeed if they tell a story about men.
Enter Kathryn Bigelow, her Oscar winning turn as Best Director for The Hurt Locker (much deserved) tells the story of a men.  Her follow-up Zero Dark Thirty focused on a woman's journey, and the film, and the film along with Bigelow, should have have won Picture and Director, but Bigelow was snubbed as a nominee.  How do you win in this game, well you have to play the game, and pander to what makes these majority white male voters feel comfortable. 
At the end of nest Sunday if 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture next week, it will be a massive win, but if it loses it will be as Paula Abdul says the Academy "take two steps forward" with the election of Boone Isaacs, and then they "take two steps back" with the loss here because voters failed to understand the significance of the moment.  This is a milestone, and should be recognized as advancing film forward.

Academy Awards Week 2014: Best Documentary Feature ups the Ante

Throughout the the 2000s this category has become even more prominent.   With film makers like Michael Moore (Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, Sicko) and Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) attacking the systems around us.  People started paying attention because of the subject, whether it were guns, the Bush administration, or even McDonalds.  Documentaries about nature also launched this genre, with films like March of Penguins (2005), and An Inconvenient Truth (2006).  Fahrenheit 9/11 is still the highest grossing documentary, with 119 million domestic, and March of the Penguins comes in at number two with 77 million domestically.  While this years Documentary Feature nominees may not have lit up the box office, they have continued the growth in quality over the years, and represent one of the most consistent set of nominees at the Oscars this year.

Before we talk about this year and the nominees lets look at a history of this category.  There are actually two documentary categories at the Oscars Best Documentary Feature, and Best Documentary Short.  The Documentary Feature category has existed since 1942 where there 25 nominees and 4 winners.  After 1942 there were generally three nominees per year until 1963 when there was consistent 5 every year.  

While many take this category for granted, it has always been one of the categories which pushes the issues, or captures the time better than any other category.  In 1984 The Times of Harvey Milk won Best Documentary Feature, a film about the first openly gay elected official Harvey Milk.   This film category has also become quite controversial, like Best Foreign Language Film, in the way the nominees have been determined.  Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11, was not even nominated because it had played on television once before the 2004 election, but an exception was made for past winner in 1982.  One of the best films of all time Hoop Dreams (1994) was also left the list.  When this happened the Academy President Bruce Davis looked into the actual voting.  At the time voters would give a film a score of 0 to 10, voters were basically stuffing the ballot box, and giving films they wanted 10s to stack the deck, and the more prominent films 0s.  Other reputable documentary features which missed the cut in this category were, Shoah (1985), The Thin Blue Line (1988), Paris is Burning (1990), and Grizzly Man (2005).

The process for nominating is still not perfect, two prominent films were left out of the final five Stories We Tell (directed by Sarah Polley), and Blackfish (directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite).  Interesting that both of these were directed by women.  Ellen Killoran from the International Business Times wrote a great piece about gender inequality in the Oscars.  While many have been citing that 12 Years a Slave is the lone representative of the numerous great films directed by black men about black characters, not many have been focusing on the lack of women in the directing, or technical roles.  For example no Thelma Schoonmaker for Editing The Wolf of Wall Street.  While the list of five are solid this year, two of these films could/should have been replaced with Stories and Blackfish, not because they were directed by women because they were two excellent films, but do these film cry gender gap? There is a strong possibility.

So what are this yes year's nominees?  They are:

  • The Act of Killing - Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen
  • Cutie and the Boxer - Zachary Heinzerling and Lydia Dean Pilcher
  • Dirty Wars - Richard Rowley and Jeremy Scahill
  • The Square - Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer
  • 20 Feet from Stardom - Morgan Neville, Gil Friesen and Caitrin Rogers

  • The Act of Killing focuses on the Indonesian killings from 1965-1966 which killed 500,000 people.  The film is unique in that Joshua Oppenheimer asks those responsible to reenact there killings, and the men responsible do so with glee.

    Cutie and the Boxer follows an elderly couple who have been married forty years.  In the chaos of this relationship the cameras follow Ushio Shinohara a painter boxer, and his wife.

    Dirty Wars follows journalist Jeremy Schaill as he travels through Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia, namely places the USA has taken military action.  The documentary tracks some of the less than kosher tactics, the US has taken in the name of spreading democracy to these places.

    The Square centers on the strife in Egypt from 2011-2013, the protests and the journey many took to push for democracy in the Nation.  The Square was a Netflix original, and has earned Netflix its first Oscar nomination.

    20 Feet from Stardom's producer Gil Friessen is a major producer in the music industry, and he soon became fascinated with the women behind the central figures on stage, the back up singers.

    Who will win/Who should win?

    After having watched all the documentaries three films stand out from the five, The Act of Killing, The Square, and 20 Feet from Stardom.  Although Dirty Wars is solid too.  I can't imagine if Blackfish, and Stories We Tell were in this category, it would be even harder to pick, and this would be the most consistent category.

    With that said, narrowing down a predicted winner for me comes down to Tom O'Neil ( and his apple in a bag of oranges theory.  The apple in the bag of oranges of those three is 20 Feet from Stardom, you connect with the singers, their journey, and they bring forth a nostalgia that is just heart warming.  Stardom is not your typical gritty doc, but there are moments of sadness, which can make it just serious enough.

    Of the remaining two The Square packs a more overt emotional punch, throughout the whole film you feel as though you are on roller coaster journey with the people in the film, that you spent these two years with them.  If voters go for what hits them in the jugular they will pick this.

    The Act of Killing is a methodical slow burn, like Hannibal Lector seducing you with dinner from a guest from the night before.  These men are nuts, and their sociopathic ways do eventually reach a conclusion but in some cases they do not.  Can the voters get over the fact things are not tied up with little ribbon on them, no usually.

    I have this feeling if only this branch (documentary film makers) were voting, The Act of Killing would win.  Now every Academy member can vote, they just need to sign saying they watched all five, and I think that puts Killing in third, although it did win BAFTA, but was also nominated in Foreign Language film there.

    The Daily Beast voter, voted the way I expected an Academy would, The Square, hits your heart hard! The music branch, which is not big enough will go for Stardom, but Stardom hits at those actors/people who are part of the Academy who never made it big, the background players.  At the end of the day the Documentary Feature takes a back seat too, none have ever been up for Best Picture, and this is a travesty, when the have pioneered much of film making today.

    Will Win: 20 feet from Stardom
    Spoiler: The Square
    If I had a vote: Stories We Tell, but since its not nominated, The Act of Killing
    Never Underestimate: The Act of Killing 

    Monday, February 17, 2014

    The LEGO Movie is Fun, and Surprisingly more Adult than Expected

    The LEGO Movie (4 out of 5 Stars)
    Directed and Written  by: Phil Lord, and Christopher Miller (21 Jump Street)
    Voice Performances by: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Will Ferrell and Morgan Freeman

    The last film I saw in the in theatres was probably Her on New Years Eve, I can not think of another time.  I have not seen any new new 2014 release, until I saw The LEGO Movie today, and it was a welcome return.

    LEGO centers around Emmet (Pratt) who thinks and sings "everything is awesome."  Emmet lives his life by a guidebook, but in reality he has no singular trait which makes him stand out or connect with anyone.  What Emmet does not know is that Lord/President Business has hatched a plan to prevent everything from being "awesome" and wants to end the world.  Emmet soon joins Widstyle (Banks), Vitruvius (Freeman), Batman (Arnett) and many other builders on a mission to save the various worlds.

    LEGO is great, its hilarious, heartfelt, and just plain fun.  I do not want to give away any of the inside jokes, but there are plenty, and without knowing them before I saw the film, it made the experience even better.  The voice work is fantastic, and there is a great mix of personalities outside of the main players.  If you listen close enough you will hear Channing Tatum as Superman, and Jonah Hill as Green Lantern.  Phil Lord and Christopher Miller who wrote and directed this film also wrote and directed the film 21 Jump Street, and have obviously worked with that duo,  so it was fun to get them in the mix, no matter the size of the part.

    Lord and Miller are quickly becoming the dynamic directing duo saving the early part of the year with their films.  These two men are genius with the nostalgia effects in film, and LEGO takes this to a whole new level.  While at times its a little saccharine, the film is meant to reach a variety of of audiences, and it succeeds.  While I was sick this film made me smile, and leave the movie theatre still laughing and appreciating the way they touched on my childhood,