Monday, February 23, 2015

Hollywood Celebrates Themselves (Again) as Birdman wins Best Picture

Hollywood has a formula for winning Oscars. In his television show Extras, Ricky Gervais coached 

Kate Winslet toward her Oscar, do a movie about the Holocaust, and you will win; she did The Reader and won.  Mind you this formula still stands true as Ida won Best Foreign Language Film, but there is a new trope in town, and it proves how self congratulatory the Oscars have become.

Tonight Hollywood crowned Birdman with Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Cinematography, and the new formula to win an Oscar has become clear, make a movie about the industry, and you win an Oscar.  Over the last four years 3 of the four Best Picture winners have been about “the industry.”  The Artist was about the silent movie era. Argo was about Hollywood saving the day and rescuing hostages from Iran, but let’s be honest the Canadians were the real heroes, and Hollywood changed this to make them look better, end rant. 

Finally Birdman won last evening, which of the three is the best movie about the industry, it has some great things to say about the way super hero tent poles control things, and the way society is changing.  Birdman is not exactly bad winner, but isn’t this self-congratulatory trope getting to be a bit much?  Sadly the industry loves itself too much.

Boyhood should have won something other than Best Supporting Actress for Patricia Arquette.  Boyhood won the Globe, and the British Academy Awards (BAFTA). In the past the Golden Globes were about kissing the biggest celebrity ass, but they snubbed Unbroken, and picked Boyhood for the Best Picture Drama, and The Grand Budapest Hotel for Best Picture Musical or Comedy. BAFTA, which usually picks British films to win their top honors picked Boyhood as Best Film, a film about a typically American experience, hell even they don’t buy into their own hype. But, it’s Hollywood, and the Oscars have to kiss their own industries ass, proving the Globes and BAFTA to be more and more relevant than the Oscars..

It’s not just about Boyhood, which was my favorite film of the year.  The Grand Budapest Hotel was robbed of Best Original Screenplay.  Wes Anderson’s film got the Hugo treatment, you were fun, and a period piece, but we still don’t like you enough to win a major award.  Grand Budapest did tie for the most wins with four, winning, Best Production Design, Best Original Score, Best Costume Design, and Best Make-Up/Hairstyling.

I know there are people who will disagree with me, there are folks who loved Birdman, I liked it.  Michael Keaton should have won last night, and the same with Edward Norton, they were the best part of the film.  The acting in general in this film was great, they deserved that SAG Ensemble prize, but not Best Picture.  Birdman breaks a big Oscar statistic too, it’s the first film to win Best Picture without a Best Editing nomination, the last film to do was Ordinary People, which beat Raging Bull, which film do we talk about more?  We will talk about Boyhood a lot longer.

I think Birdman has deep messages, there some interesting moments, which discuss the modern celebrity, but that translate to everyday life.  The film is deep, but at the core Hollywood just seemed to want to pat itself on the back, once again, and they did.

Monday, February 16, 2015

If I Picked the Academy Awards...

Well I have held out long enough, I still have not seen Mommy, it was only in Boston one week. I will also not get to see Goodbye to Language in 3D in Boston, which will hamper the spirit of Goddard's film.  With that said listed below are nominees, and * would indicate my personal winners.

I have tinkered with this list for a while, and being snow bound I thought about the ten films, which impacted me the most this year.  I think there should be a basic 10 nominees, 6 directing, screenplay, and acting nominees, but maybe that's a cop out on my part, but I can make the rules here. I would also like to see the casting director get a "best ensemble" award, for putting together the best cast in a film.

Best Picture
Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Inherent Vice
Love is Strange
Mr. Turner
Stranger by the Lake
Two Days One Night 
Under the Skin

Best Director
Wes Anderson-The Grand Budapest Hotel
David Fincher-Gone Girl 
Ava DuVarney-Selma  
Jonathan Glazer-Under the Skin
Alain Guiraudie-Stranger by the Lake
Richard Linklater-Boyhood*

Best Actor
Ralph Fiennes-The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jake Gyllenhaal-Nightcrawler
Michael Keaton- Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
John Lithgow-Love is Strange
David Oyelwo-Selma
Timothy Spall –Mr. Turner*

Best Actress
Marion Cotillard-Two Days, One Night
Essie Davis-The Babadook   
Gugu Mbatha-Raw-Beyond the Lights
Rosamund Pike-Gone Girl*
Jenny Slate-Obvious Child
Tessa Thompson-Dear White People 

Best Supporting Actor
Riz Ahmed-Nightcrawler
Josh Brolin-Inherent Vice*
Ethan Hawke-Boyhood
Edward Norton- Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Mark Ruffalo-Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons-Whiplash

Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette-Boyhood*
Jessica Chastain-A Most Violent Year
Carrie Coon-Gone Girl
Agata Kulesza-Ida
Rene Russo-Nightcrawler
Tilda Swinton-Snowpiercer

Best Adapted Screenplay
Gone Girl –Gillian Flynn*
Inherent Vice-Paul Thomas Anderson
Snowpiercer-Joon Ho Bong, Kelly Masterson
Under the Skin-Walter Campbell
Winter Sleep-Ebru Ceylan, Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Best Original Screenplay
Boyhood-Richard Linklater
The Grand Budapest Hotel-Wes Anderson*
Love is Strange-Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias
Selma-Paul Webb
Stranger by the Lake-Alain Guiraudie
Two Days, One Night-Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne

Best Foreign Language Film
Force Majeur
Stranger by the Lake*
Two Days one Night

Best Animated Feature
Big Hero Six
The Boxtrolls
The Lego Movie*
Song of the Sea
The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Best Ensemble (Casting Award)
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Inherent Vice

Best Costume Design
The Grand Budapest Hotel*
Inherent Vice
The Immigrant
Mr. Turner

Best Cinematography
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Mr. Turner*
Stranger by the Lake
Under the Skin

Best Film Editing
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Edge of Tomorrow
Gone Girl

Best Original Score
Gone Girl –Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
The Grand Budapest Hotel-Alexandre Desplat
Only Lovers Left Alive-Jim Jarmusch, Carter Logan, Shane Stoneback, Jozef van Wissem
A Most Violent Year-Alex Ebert
Under the Skin-Mica Levi*

Best Original Song
Begin Again-"Lost Stars"-Music and Lyric by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois
Beyond the Lights-"Grateful"-Music and Lyrics by Diane Warren
“Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me-"I’m Not Gonna Miss You”-Music and Lyric by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond

The Lego Movie-"Everything is Awesome-Music and Lyrics by Shawn Patterson
Selma-"Glory"-Music and Lyrics by John Legend and Common*

Best Production Design
The Grand Budapest Hotel*
Mr. Turner
Only Lovers Left Alive

Best Sound Mixing
Guardians of the Galaxy
Into the Woods
Under the Skin*

Best Sound Editing
Guardians of the Galaxy

Best Visual Effects
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes*
Guardians of the Galaxy
X-Men: Days of Future Past 

Academy Awards Week 2015: Why Diversity Matters at the Oscars Part II, the Academy gets an F!

Ava DuVernay
Last year's piece about diversity and the Academy Awards contained some cold hard facts from the LA Times about the break of the gender, race and age of Oscar voters.  Over the past couple years the Academy has been attempting to stay relevant, and clean up their bad press with regard with these statistics, they have even allowed jokes in their telecast last year.

Ellen DeGeneres was a great host last year; she is a very funny person, and one of the few women to host the telecast, more on the gender gap later.  In her opening monologue DeGeneres joked that the night could end in one of two ways.  “Possibility number one: 12 Years a Slave wins best picture, Possibility number two: You’re all racists.”

Funny, yes, but in thinking back on the remark and the year that happened after 12 Years a Slave, it leaves you with bad medicine taste in your mouth.  The best part about the joke is that it came from DeGeneres who people let into their homes during weekdays; she is seen as harmless most of the time, but when she gets biting or political she leaves her mark.  This is the joke I remember most from Ellen, outside of the selfie and the pizza bit.

It seems like the Academy members as a collective felt like they did their part last year, they voted for the black film, the film about the horrors of slavery, and once again numerous performers, and films, and technicians were snubbed.

The obvious snub this year was Ava DuVernay; she was heavy favorite in the Best Director category, and the same can said for Selma across the board except for Picture and Song.  DuVerney would have been the first black female nominated in this category.  How a film gets a Best Picture nomination and one other nomination in Best Song is unfathomable. 

If you move past Selma, you would find that Chadwick Boseman who played James Brown never even entered the conversation for awards attention, not even at the Globes, and bio-pics about famous musicians usually always get a lot of attention, look at Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Glenn Miller, and many others.  Oscars were far too into bio-pics about the polarizing Chris Kyle character, or as usual they had a hard on for English accents and nominated Benedict Cumberbatch for playing Alan Turring in The Imitation Game.  Both fine performances, but come on Academy!

While Boseman would not have made my top five either, David Oyelowo would have for playing Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma; he was fantastic and this was the first film about a Civil Rights leader, something you think the Academy would drool all over, but since the film was not neat and tidy, it was ignored.  You can blame screeners, or poor time of year on Selma's snubs, but there is something at the core of the Academy which speaks to this disconnect.

These were not the only performances snubbed, there were two black women who also turned in some fine work, and since they did not play a maid,  or did not submit they seemed to be ignored. Tessa Thompson was fantastic in Dear White People, which should have gotten more attention, while it hit you over the head sometimes with its message, its a message people need to have hit them hard.  Thompson the dominate white authority at her school.  Gugu Mbatha-Raw gave two excellent performances this year in Belle and Beyond the Lights. 

For Ms. Mbatha-Raw I am going to focus on Belle, which is a period piece set in the late 1700s Engalnd.  Now when I said the Academy has a hard on for British period pieces, I did not lie, the Yanks liked the Imitation Game more than the Brits, Game did not win a single prize at the British Academy Awards, BAFTA.  Belle is a film that seems to fit in their wheel house, only it stars a young black woman who challenges the system, and laws put in place that allow slavery in England.  After watching it this weekend there is no reason this film should have been ignored, but her lead performance was not uttered once during award season.  Could it be that these strong black women did not fit the Oscar performance mold?  Some will argue she is a new fresh face, and was not attached to a  serious Best Picture contender, but in the the Best Actress category 4 out of the 5 are not in Best Picture nominees this year.  Women just seem to be left behind, especially in the director category.

This was also a year where women women were not taken seriously in Directing, and writing.  As mentioned above DuVernay would have made history, but  its a big deal when a women is nominated in this category.  Over the 87 years four women have been nominated for Best Director Lina Wertmuller for Seven Beauties (1976), Jane Campion for The Piano (1993), Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation (2003), and Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker (2009).  Bigelow had the chance to be the first double nominee in this category, but she was snubbed for her direction for Zero Dark Thirty.  In the 87 years of the Academy Awards women make up .0009 percent of the director nominees, an abysmal statistic.  Women of color make up 0 percent of the nominees.

Female directors are a group who always seem up against the systemic pressure of male dominated Hollywood. One strong example of this was a quote from Lexi Alexander who directed Punisher: War Zone.  Alexander was an early favorite to director Wonder Woman, but turned the gig down; in an interview with Forbes she talked about another woman who most likely had the job "If she says yes (to Wonder Woman), everybody will be very happy, including me. I don’t see at this point why anyone would say yes. There is huge pressure…. If [a female director] does fail, then all of a sudden it’s ‘All women suck at directing.’  

It's a systemic problem that this problem exists for female directors in film, and proves there is so much more scrutiny on them than their male counterparts.  If Unbroken had not made a ton of money, or had been directed by a woman that was not Angelina Jolie, it would have made a lot of press that female director failed.  Catherine Hardwicke was the first female to take on a big franchise and due "scheduling conflicts" she did not return for the sequel.  Still not sure if the studio fired her or not, although Hardwicke says no; she has also openly talked in Variety that since doing Twilight there have not been many offers to direct other things.  Look at all the other men who have filmed these crappy franchise films, has this hindered any of their careers?  My money is on no.

One of the other big snubs this year was Gillian Flynn, who would have been the first female nominee to adapt her own book, into a screenplay and earn a nomination.  There have been numerous women nominated in both screenplay categories, but that would have been a big first.  Gone Girl was also a serious contender for Best Picture, and was one the only serious contender to have a female lead.  I do not count The Theory of Everything, while Felicity Jones is the only Best Actress nominee in a Best Picture contender, the film is about Stephen Hawking, and people call it the movie about Stephen Hawking.  Gone Girl would have been a credible Best Picture nominee, and its protagonist played by Rosamund Pike, who is nominated, would represent a much stronger woman's perspective.

At the end the Academy Awards want to be seen as the pantheon of respectable film making, but they are losing this credibility as the years go on.  When the Academy leaves out the stories of different  identity groups they look like an out of touch insular group.  Thank God Selma was nominated for Best Picture or that joke from Ellen last year would have made this awards telecast even grimmer than it already has become.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Third Annual Underrated Film Award Nominations (2014)

beyond-the-lightsAs I was compiling my on personal awards, it reminded me of the yearly tradition I have of crowning the most underrated films, performers, and technical aspects of film.

I expanded the two of the categories to ten nominees this year, and there will be two acting winners, one male one female.  

Overall I think that that there were a lot of films that were taken for granted this year, and while sure some of them have the films listed below have gotten attention here and there, they were all typically snubbed across the board, and not taken as seriously as they should have been!

Most Underrated Films of 2014
Beyond the Lights
Edge of Tomorrow 
John Wick
Love is Strange 
Obvious Child 
The Skeleton Twins
Stranger by the Lake

Most Underrated Performances of 2014
Riz Ahmed-Nightcrawler
Essie Davis-The Babadook
Zac Effron-Neighbors
Brendan Gleeson-Calvary
Tom Hardy-The Drop
John Lithgow-Love is Strange 
Gugu Mbatha-Raw-Beyond the Lights
Jenny Slate-Obvious Child
Tessa Thompson-Dear White People 
Kristen Wiig-The Skelton Twins

Most Underrated Technicals Aspects of a 2013 Film (Direction, Writing, Editing etc.,)
Meredith Boswell's Production Design in The Homesman
 Rachel Portman's Original Score for Belle
Jennifer Kent's Direction for The Babadook
Claire Mathon's Cinematography for Stranger by the Lake
Justin Simien's Screenplay for Dear White People
 James Herbet's Film Editing in Edge of Tomorrow 
Laray Mayfield's Casting for Gone Girl