Friday, February 26, 2016

Oscar Week 2016: Who Will Win?

This year is unpredictable, and I have to say I am mainly going on hunches, but here are my thoughts:


Best Picture 
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies 
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian 
The Revenant

Many are saying this award is locked up for The Revenant, but that is simply not the case.  If you want to use statistics as a measure, there is a lot of things which challenge any film being labeled as a front runner.  The top three contenders are The Big Short, The Revenant, and Spotlight.

Spotlight won Best Ensemble at the Screen Actors Guild Awards (SAG), Best Original Screenplay at the Writer's Guild Award (WGA), and Best Film at the Critics Choice Awards.  You can knock out the Critic's Choice as a significant precursor right away, because there is no correlation of voting.

I would put Spotlight in third of this group, it has support from actors, and writers, and is generally well liked, but has not done as well across the board at the industry awards.  Spotlight missed at the American Cinema Editor's (ACE) nominations where there are two categories, one for drama, and one for comedy/musical.  The last time a film won Best Picture and missed this nomination was Driving Miss Daisy. Spotlight was nominated for Editing at the Oscars and over performed with 6 nominations.  This film is still in the game, but at the moment the only other award its predicted to win would be Original Screenplay, and the Best Picture to win only two Oscars was The Greatest Show on Earth (1952).  Are we underestimating three time Supporting Actor nominee Mark Ruffalo? Possibly, which would add to the win total, but I still think the film is in third.

The Big Short won the Producer's Guild Award (PGA), Best Adapted Screenplay at the WGA, and Editor's Guild (Comedy).  Short has a leg up in one significant way, and that involves the PGA.  The PGA winner is the only voting body which also uses the preferential ballot, the exact method used to determine the Best Picture winner at the Oscars.

I had The Big Short as my number one option after PGA, and I still think it has a chance to win. Short will win Adapted Screenplay, that's a guarantee. If Oscar voters decide to honor its Editing too, Short may come out on top as the winner that night. Outside of PGA, and WGA this film has not won a lot of awards, which keeps me at arms length from predicting this film from winning, although I do think its a strong spoiler.

The Revenant won Best Director at the Globes (could this be a make-up for last year from this small voting group), at the Director's Guild of America (DGA), and Best Picture and Director at the British Academy Awards (BAFTA). The Revenant also has won with the Sound Guild, Cinematographers Guild, and did better with the Visual Effects Guild than predicted.  The Revenant is also the most nominated film with 12 nominations, it over performed like Spotlight, and is a huge box office success.

The DGA turned the tide for The Revenant, namely because Inaritu became the first person to win this award back to back.  This also happened right as Oscar voting was starting.  One of the few things this film has a statistical barrier is that only two other films have won Best Picture without a screenplay, ironically one starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Titanic (1997), and The Soung of Music (1965).  Since this is not unprecedented, its not a barrier. My biggest hesitation with predicting The Revenant is likability, the film appears to run the gamete with extremer admiration and and strong hate.  I am not sure people will rank this as a number 2 on their ballot, which is what helps a film win.

I think the The Revenant feels most like that "prestige" Best Picture winner, and is the film I going to stick with, although I do think any of these three films could win.

Will Win: The Revenant
Spoilers: The Big Short and Spotlight (in that order)

Best Actor
Bryan Cranston-Trumbo
Matt Damon-The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio-The Revenant
Michael Fassbender-Steve Jobs 
Eddie Redmayne-The Danish Girl 

Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio-The Revenant

Best Actress 
Cate Blanchett-Carol
Brie Larson-Room
Jennifer Lawrence-Joy 
Charlotte Rampling-45 Years 
Saoirse Ronan-Brooklyn

Will Win: Brie Larson-Room

Best Supporting Actor 
Christian Bale-The Big Short 
Tom Hardy-The Revenant 
Mark Ruffalo-Spotlight
Mark Rylance-Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone-Creed   

This is one of the most inconsistent category with regard to nominees, except for Mark Rylance being present at every award show (in this category). Bale showed up lead at the Globes.

Stallone is person who everyone is predicting, but I wonder if the internet crowned this winner the way many think the internet pushed Mad Max forward.  I think this award could be anyone's except maybe Bale who is the only previous winner in this category.

If love for The Revenant is strong, Tom Hardy could be swept along for the ride.The last person to win this category with such limited precursor attention was James Coburn in 199 for Affliction.

Ruffalo showed up at BAFTA, and the Critic's Choice, and this is his third nomination in this category, I could see him pulling off a win if people love Spotlight more than expected.

Mark Rylance won BAFTA, but is also British, which helps here.  If Ruffalo won at BAFTA, I would give him a stronger chance, but in the end Rylance is the most consistent nominee.  I am not sure that consistency matters enough here, and he was not present to accept his trophy at BAFTA.

My guess is that the Academy wants Rocky on stage, it honors the history of the legacy of the film, but never underestimate Stallone's poor track record after this to count him out like Eddie Murphy.  Stallone was never nominated by an industry group (outside of the Oscars) he was nominated and won at the Globes and Critic's Choice which no connection to Oscar voters.

Will Win: Sylvester Stallone-Creed
 Spoiler: Mark Ruffalo-Spotlight

Best Supporting Actress 
Jennifer Jason Leigh-The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara-Carol
Rachel McAdams-Spotlight
Alicia Vikander-The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet-Steve Jobs 

This was a category I was going out on a limb for, but changed my mind as I looked at some of the statistics. I do believe it is between three women.  Since 2000 a first time nominee  has won this category 10 times, which is a staggering statistic in favor Alicia Vikander. Vikander won for this performance at SAG.

The other five women all won for their second (third for Zellwegger) nomination, which bodes well for Rooney Mara.  Who was nominated previously for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  The problem is Mara is getting no attention for this performance, and the film seems to be falling off the radar to win anything.

The person in second place for me is Winslet; she won at the Globes and at BAFTA, and is well respected.  Winslet has never faced Vikander while Vikander was nominated for The Danish Girl, and won, although I am not sure the film matters.  I do think Winslet could spoil, and has a chance

Will Win: Alicia Vikander-The Danish Girl
Spoiler-Kate Winslet-Steve Jobs 

Best Director
Lenny Abrahamson-Room
Alejandro G. Inaritu-The Revenant
Tom McCarthy-Spotlight
Adam McKay-The Big Short
George Miller-Mad Max: Fury Road 

This is a two man race, the person in the lead is Inaritu; he won at the Globes, DGA, and BAFTA, the three most important precursor awards.

The second person is the Critics darling George Miller, who won the Critics Choice.  If Mad Max sweeps in more categories than expected, for example visual effects, costumes, and both sound, Miller has a strong chance of besting Inaritu, but I have become convinced that this is once again Inaritu's to lose.  I hope I am wrong.

Will Win: Alejandro G. Inaritu-The Revenant 
Spoiler: George Miller: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Adapted Screenplay-The Big Short
Best Original Screenplay-Spotlight
Best Animated Feature-Inside Out
Best Foreign Language Feature-Son of Saul
Best Documentary Feature-Amy 
Best Cinematography-The Revenant
Best Costume Design-Mad Max: Fury Road (watch out for The Danish Girl)
Best Film Editing-Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Make-Up Hair Styling-Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Production Design-Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Original Score-The Hateful Eight
Best Original Song-The Hunting Ground-Til' it Happens to You
Best Sound Mixing-The Revenant 
Best Sound Editing-The Revenant
Best Visual Effects-Star Wars-The Force Awakens

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Oscar Week 2016: Is it about the Visual Effects or the Prestige?

I have rarely had a difficult time predicting the winner in the in the Best Visual Effects category, even when the Award went to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  There is a long standing tradition that when there is a Best Picture nominee in the Visual Effects category, that film will win the Visual Effects Oscar.  This trend/statistic is something many have cited since Star Wars won this award back in 1977.

The reason this statistic has held up over time was because between 1977 and 1993, there were only two other Best Picture nominees who were nominated for Best Visual Effects, and took home the Oscar, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E..T.  Throughout this almost twenty year span winners in the Visual Effects category were the blockbusters who moved audiences and and the visual effects art form in new and interesting directions.  Some of these winners include Aliens, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Jurassic Park.  These are three films which deserved Best Picture consideration, but the Academy  rarely honored "genre pictures" outside of the technical categories.

In 1994 three movies were nominated, Forrest Gump, True Lies, and The Mask.  Forrest Gump was the first Best Picture nominee in this category since 1982, and won the award.  Forrest Gump's visual effects were a novelty, and are the first example of prestige drama winning in this category.  Gump's digital manipulation of events in history won out over the typical explosive motorcycle crashing into a building of True Lies.  This was a changing of the guard, and while I would imagine there were other viable contenders from that year, this would mark the start for more Best Picture nominees in the visual effects Oscar category.

Since 1994 18 films have been nominated for Best Picture and Best Visual Effects.  There have only been 8 years when there was no Best Picture nominated in the Visual Effects category. The largest time frame when this happened was between 2004 and 2007. The category typically only had 3 nominees up until 2010.  As far as statistics go predicting this award in a year without a Best Picture nomination is incredibly difficult, I am not sure many saw Pirate's of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest beating Superman Returns (2006) or The Golden Compass beating Transformers (2007).  All four of these films had mediocre to terrible reviews, so how do you pick a winner in this bunch? Admiration? The Guilds?

Beyond these two years, it's sad to say that the visual effects Oscar winner has more to do with "perceived prestige" and lazy voting not the actual best visual effects. This trend has continued with more Best Picture nominees present in this category.  A repetitive pattern started in 2008, Benjamin Button beat The Dark Knight, Hugo beat Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part and Rise of of the Planet of the Apes, Life of Pi beat The Avengers.  I could see this pattern repeating here this year with The Revenant beating Mad Max and Star Wars.  For those following the Oscars it has been apparent that voters have been checking boxes for films like Hugo, Life of Pi, and Gravity in the technical categories, and while their visual effects are impressive (Gravity easily deserved the win), I want more dissension.

The fact that there is a statistic that proves every time a Best Picture is nominated in Best Visual Effects it wins shows laziness. My hope is that the Oscars move away from the "prestige" choice in this category, if that alternative is not worth rewarding.  This year there are three films nominated for Best Picture and Best Visual Effects, the most correlation in the Oscars history.  They are The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road, and The Martian.

Forrest Gump (6 Oscar wins), Titanic (11 Oscar wins),  Gladiator (5 Oscar wins), and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (11 Oscar wins), are the only four films to win Best Picture and Best Visual Effects, they were clear front runners. Gladiator winning over Hollow Man and The Perfect Storm makes sense, while there were stronger candidates which were not nominated that year like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, that is not the case this year.

If the tradition stands the Best Picture front runner will win this award, and that is The Revenant. The film predicted by my many to win Best Picture/Director/Actor and many other technical awards. Will The Revenant have that rubber stamp from voters in a similar way to Return of the King, and Titanic, or will another film triumph?  In a year filled with some fantastic nominees, The Revenant would feel like Benjamin Button, a lazy "prestige" choice.

I would rather practical effects of Mad Max take the win here, they are the most impressive of the nominees.  The Martian will not win, they have pick Gravity and Interstellar too recently.  Ex Machina was a surprise nominee, but well deserved.  The true spoiler in this category could be the film which many cite as starting the Best Picture/Best Visual Effects statistic, and that is The Force Awakens.  Force is not nominated but won at the Visual Effects Guild and at BAFTA, this could be the thing to watch out for, especially if people want to honor the achievement of bringing Star Wars back.  At the end of the day I  want Oscar voters to make the right choice, and honor the best visual effects, not the best manufactured  bear attack.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Oscar Week 2016: Is Inaritu advancing Admiration Film Direction?

There was a point in time when audiences clamored to see a John Huston film or Frank Capra picture. The director was the star, just as much as Humphrey Bogart or Katherine Hepburn. , Steven Spielberg's visionary Jaws (1975) changed the face of direction, and birthed the modern blockbuster, which in many instances rendered the director interchangeable.

Spielberg has maintained  his status as respected auteur over the years because he has expanded his role in producing film and television. Spielberg's name has become a brand. Hollywood took this model and turned the studio system into an even larger machine. Now blockbusters (largely super hero films at the moment) "Rule the school" -I tried to channel my best Stockard Channing as Rizzo,

Spielberg is still a visionary in many ways, but as the rise of the blockbuster seemed to create fewer opportunities for auteurs to rise in the studio system or make a larger mark on cinema. Movie goers have been going to see films less and less because of the director.  There are some exceptions to this over the past few decades (on a mainstream level) Scorsese, and Cameron come to mind.  Alejandro G. Inaritu. may be added to this list after these past two years.

Inaritu is one of the most ambitious directors working today, and many admire the great depths he takes to create cinematic experiences. This ambition translates to passion, something Inaritu talks about when describing his direction, the experiences he tries to capture.  I think he talks in cliches, for example "Pain is temporary, film is forever." All I have to say that is "good grief." 

I get what honoring Inaritu means for this category, he seems to be bringing back the importance the director had in the film making process years ago. People are looking beyond the problems with his films, and seeing their ambition.  There are numerous problems with The Revenant.  The film is too long, and could have been cut down by an hour. While the film is long, the script is thin, not short, but thin. For a 2 and 1/2 hour film I developed no emotional connections to the characters, and the journey DiCaprio 's should have made me feel more connected to his experience, rather than just provide visceral moments. The film is also over acted, more on the Tom Hardy end, and I often could not understand what he was saying.  The film is coasting on ambition, which is where Inaritu is getting the most credit.

On a postive note, The Revenant's cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki is beautiful Inaritu's touch on the visuals involve making sure that they always shot with natural light.  I would argue that only shooting in natural light was a bit insane, but again ambition trumps sanity. In years past this argument might have torpedoed the films chances to win Best Picture, but this film only seems to derive strength from the challenges of the filming.  There is this one two punch from Inaritu and Lubezki which also happened with Birdman last year.

Lubezki is about to win his third Oscar (in a row) for this film, and I would argue that he is the auteur taking film innovation to the next level.  Lubzki's work in Children of Men, Tree of Life, Gravity, Birdman and The Revenant is possibly the most innovative Cinematography in modern cinema by one man. Lubezki is getting the credit he deserves, three Oscars is nothing to sneer at, but the name most people are talking about outside of DiCaprio is Inaritu. 

Inaritu is bringing the director's vision for his art back to forefront. Inaritu is likely to win a second Oscar, for a second year in a row. There are only two men who have won back to back directing Oscars, and they are John Ford who won for How Green was my Valley and The Grapes of Wrath and Joseph L. Mankiewicz who won for A Letter to Three Wives, and All About Eve.  One of the main differences here is Ford's second direction win did not have a Best Picture win attached, Rebecca won Best Picture that year. Mankiewicz had the same experience with his first directing win, All the King's Men won Picture.  If Inaritu wins Best Director, and The Revenant wins Best Picture, he will be the first person to win back to back Directing Oscars with corresponding Best Picture wins. This adds to his cache.

I have mixed emotions about this year, on one hand I get The Revenant as a Best Picture winner, and Inaritu winning director, the size and scope feel like picks from the Academy.  I would like to see the director's vision have more meaning and be an important part in bringing mainstream audiences to the movies. I just wish the director we were talking about were George Miller or Todd Haynes.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


Where do I start?  I guess I will start with the performances.There were three performances that
knocked me on my feet last night, in this order Kendrick Lamar, Bonnie Raitt, and Alabama Shakes.

Kendrick actually put on a performance; he used his mind blowing music to tel a story, and the editing on his face toward the end was some of the best stuff I have seen at any televised music concert.  I will dig into the Grammys in a few for not giving him Album of the Year.

I am glad Bonnie Raitt was able to join in the tribute to B.B. King because her presence elevated the tribute to the heights it deserved; she is one of the most talented musicians of all time, and I can still see glimpses in my memory of her winning Album of the Year for Nick of Time at the Grammy Awards back in 1990.

If there was another artist or group that deserved to win Album of the Year last night it was Alabama Shakes, and their performance was fantastic.Brittany Howard (their lead singer) is one of the most powerful vocalists working today, and it was great to get to see her showcase her magnetic voice.

Beyond this, the show was a snooze.  I know some will cite they loved Gaga's performance art, but it's a performance I need to let settle on my brain.  Part of me wishes it was more emotional and self contained, but again, I need time to let it settle.  At least she was not as bad as the widely mismatched vocal range of Carrie Underwood and Sam Hunt. Or the Hollywood Vampires, what the hell was that garbage?

Then came the awards, which they only presented 8, none of the R&B or Pop categories were presented on the main stage, although the General Field (Album, Record, Song, New Artist) have basically become Pop only winners. The Weekend had a huge year, but once again they regulate R&B to the pre-telecast awards.

A brief pause, most of the hundred categories are announced the day leading up to the main show, and they save a select few for the main show.  I get that they want to make this experience about the concert feel, but when the concert is a huge flop, and and your Encore is Pitbull it's time to re-think your concept.

On to the winners, specifically the General Field, the Grammy Awards hide in their genres.  While folks are off saying #OscarsSoWhite they should also pick on the Grammy Awards for similar problems in the Album, Record, Song, and Best New Artist categories.  Maybe #GrammysSoWhite or GeneralFieldWinnersSoWhite.

I am not saying that artists of color do not win, so before you scream at me, my comment is that like with the Oscars and Straight Outta Compton, Grammy voters "do not get rap" or hell even modern R&B.  Just look at that picture of the audience when Kendrick Lamar was performing.  Only two hip-hop albums have ever won Album of the Year Lauryn Hill for The Miseducation Lauryn Hill  (1999) and Outkast for Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2004).

Andy Herman from LA Weekend highlighted this terrible trend "Since 2006, in the Grammys' top four categories (Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Record of the Year, Best New Artist), black artists have accounted for roughly one-third of the nominations but only four of the 40 wins. (The Grammys also freeze out Latinos, Asians and pretty much anyone who isn't white European, but that's a whole larger discussion.) Herbie Hancock won Album of the Year in 2008; Beyoncé won Song of the Year in 2010; and John Legend and Esperanza Spalding won Best New Artist in 2006 and 2011, respectively. That's it. Technically Nile Rodgers and Pharrell Williams won Record of the Year in 2014 for their contributions to Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," so let's be generous and say five major wins over the past 10 years have gone to black artists. That's still an abysmally low figure."

So what happened last night?  Taylor Swift won her second Album of the Year award, for a perfectly fine Pop Album, and defended her honor against Kanye West.  Swift also proudly boasted the stat that she is the first Female Artist to win Album of the Year twice, while about 10 plus male producers stood up behind her. Swift's win was not all that surprising since the Grammy Awards General Field winners often come from the Pop Rock or Country categories.

Last night Album of the Year should have gone to Taylor Swift last, I would have ranked the Albums this way: Kendrick Lamar, Alabama Shakes, Chris Stapleton, The Weekend, and Taylor Swift.  Lamar had a message, and his performance was proof that once again the Grammy Awards rarely get message music unless its about a white woman singing about heartbreak.

Song of the Year was an injustice too with Ed Sheerhan besting Kendrick Lamar for "Alright" Taylor Swift for "Blank Space" Little Big Town "Girl Crush" and Wiz Kahlifa and Charlie Puth for "See You Again."  Proving they go with the stodgy wedding song.  This song is a song writers award, so my thought is they see this as honoring Sheerhan who is seen as a "great" singer song writer working today. Sheerhan has talent, but this song, but this song does nothing earth shattering.

Record went to "Uptown Funk" and while Bruno Mars does identify as Puerto Rican, the song is nothing but Pop folly for weddings.  Funk is a harmless win, and if you define Record of the Year as the biggest "hit" of the year, then it is a deserved winner.  I would argue that this is where they could have chosen to honor Taylor Swift for Blank Space, and I would have been perfectly happy. 

Meghan Trainor won Best New Artist, meanwhile she was nominated for Record and Song of the Year last Year, which crazily enough is allowed based on Grammy rules. The Grammy Awards were finally bold and brave enough to have stronger, lesser known nominees in Courntey Barnett, Tori Kelly and James Bey, but they went with well, I would not take away the truly emotional moment for Trainor, but this was another undeserved winner; she should have been replaced with Leon Bridges.

As award shows like the Grammys (and Oscars) try to maintain and continue to be relevant, they continually outdo themselves with stodgy choices for winners, they go the "harmless" route rather than making bold statements about their craft.  Neil Portnow and Commong presented the youngest Grammy nominee presented a 12 year old piano prodigy last evening, a truly talented young man, but he better learn to sing about losing a man/woman in a powerful ballad if he ever wants to make it on the telecast to win a prize.

Monday, February 8, 2016

And the Oscar Nominees Should Be....

I still have a few films i have yet to see, Straight Outta Compton, Son of Saul, and The Look of Silence, are three of the big ones, but I can carefully say (until I see those films), these are my own personal picks/preferences for the different categories at the Oscars.

Best Picture
45 Years
It Follows
Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Director
Sean Baker-Tangerine
Ryan Coogler-Creed
Todd Haynes-Carol
Spike Lee-Chi-Raq
Tom McCarthy-Spotlight
George Miller-Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Actor
Abraham Attah-Beasts of No Nation
Tom Courteney-45 Years
Paul Dano- Love & Mercy
Michael B. Jordan-Creed
Jason Segel-The End of the Tour
Jacob Trembley-Room

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett-Carol
Nina Hoss-Phoenix
Rooney Mara-Carol
Teyonah Parris-Chi-Raq
Charlotte Rampling-45 Years
Saoirse Ronan-Brooklyn

Best Supporting Actor
Idris Elba-Beasts of No Nation
Michael Keaton-Spotlight
Oscar Isaacs-Ex Machina
Mark Rylance-Bridge of Spies
Michael Shannon-99 Homes
Sylvester Stallone-Creed

Best Supporting Actress
Elizabeth Banks- Love & Mercy
Jennifer Jason Leigh-Anamolisa
Kristen Stewart-Clouds of Sils Maria
Mya Taylor-Tangerine
Tess Thompson-Creed
Alicia Vikander-Ex Machina

Best Original Screenplay
Bridge of Spies-Matt Charman, Joel and Ethan Coen
Ex Machina-Alex Garland
Inside Out-Pete Doctor, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley
It Follows-David Robert Mitchell
Spotlight-Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer
Tangerine-Sean Baker, and Chris Bergoch

Best Adapted Screenplay
45 Years-Andrew Haigh
Anomolisa-Charlie Kaufman
Brooklyn-Nick Hornby
Carol-Phyllis Nagy
Chi-Raq-Spike Lee and Kevin Willmott

Room-Emma Donoghue

Best Cinematography
Beasts of No Nation
Mad Max: Fury Road
It Follows

Best Costume Design
Crimson Peak
Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Film Editing
Heaven Knows What
It Follows
Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Original Score
It Follows
Inside Out
Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Production Design
Bridge of Spies 
Ex Machina
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Sound Editing
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Sound Mixing
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Visual Effects
Ex Machina
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian

Star Wars: The Force Awakens