Oscar Moment: “Never Let Me Go”

4 09 2010

“Never Let Me Go” seems like a perfect awards candidate on paper.  Let me run you down a bulleted list of why this is an ideal candidate for the Academy Awards.

It is based on a best-selling novel. Popular novels have what many consider to be a carved-out niche at the Oscars.  In 2008, it was “The Reader.”  In 2007, it was “Atonement.”  In 2004, it was “Sideways.”  It also helps that Time called “Never Let Me Go” the best novel of the decade.  The writer of the book, Kazuo Ishiguro, also wrote another novel adapted into a movie, “The Remains of the Day.”  In 1993, it received 8 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

It has British people. More and more attention has been shone on the growing influence of our friends across the pond on the Academy Awards.  Their tastes have become more closely aligned with the BAFTAs in recent years.  Plus, there has been a British movie in the Best Picture race quite consistently in the last decade.  In 2009, it was “An Education.”  In 2008, it was “The Reader.”  In 2007, it was “Atonement.”  In 2006, it was “The Queen.”  The British are coming, the British are coming!!

It has Oscar friendly British people.  Although they didn’t give her the golden statue last year, the Oscars certainly like 24-year-old Carey Mulligan, and she looks to be in prime position to make a run for the prize again.  There’s also Keira Knightley, an unexpected addition to the 2005 Best Actress slate for her work on “Pride and Prejudice.”  She looks to compete in the Best Supporting Actress race here, generally pretty friendly to younger actresses.  In addition, there’s Andrew Garfield, who will probably rack up plenty of Best Breakout Performer awards for his work on this and “The Social Network.”

It is a story of “love, loss, and hidden truths.” Now think of that vague description of the thematic content of the movie, and name some Best Picture nominees that phrase could describe.  2008’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” perhaps?  “The Reader” that same year?  “Atonement?”  You get the picture.  It’s only an added bonus that the movie takes place in a dystopian society, which the pessimistic Academy will eat up.  They have certainly loved movies that take a bleaker, honest look at our nature – a trend of winners I’d say started with “Crash” back in 2005.  Some have linked it to a general sense of American disillusionment that the liberal Hollywood has decided to make the zeitgeist sentiment of the nation.

Doesn’t this sound like a winning equation?  It’s hard to believe that this is just now emerging as a big player and wasn’t a favorite from the very beginning.  (Relevant side comment: why didn’t 2010 have an early favorite to win it all?)  But the Oscars haven’t exactly chomped at the bait recently.  They chose to include different tastes like “District 9” and “The Blind Side” that aren’t usually represented, snubbing early favorites like the dismally reviewed “Nine” and the coolly received “Invictus.”

So is “Never Let Me Go” going to continue the glorious British literary adaptation streak?  Or have those movies been represented so much recently that the Academy will say enough?

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress (Knightley), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Score

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Supporting Actor (Garfield), Best Production Design





2009: Best Actress

4 03 2010

Best Actress – it’s considered by many to be the most unpredictable of the major races at the 82nd Academy Awards.  Five very deserving and adored candidates are vying for the industries top prize.

But before they were candidates, they were performances.  And even before that, they were characters that existed on a page.  Each of these are just stages, and to move from one to the other, a fantastic actor is crucial.

Here, I intend to celebrate the actresses for their work in turning that character into a performance, work that was so excellent that it turned them into candidates.

Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side”

IN MY OWN WORDS: “Sandra Bullock’s spirited and spunky performance (which was good enough to overcome her dreadful accent) atones for some of the errors the film makes with her story.”

She’s here because … she is a popular actress playing a likable character in the box office surprise of the year.

Helen Mirren in “The Last Station”

She’s here because … she’s Helen Mirren and the Academy loves her; who cares if no one in America had seen her movie when the ballots were due?

Carey Mulligan in “An Education”

IN MY OWN WORDS: “The understated grace and poise that Mulligan gives to Jenny is what evoked Hepburn’s resemblance, but the real marvel of Mulligan’s acting is that the old-fashioned spirit does not make her character some kind of antique.”

She’s here because … she is a brilliant rising star who dazzles in one of the year’s most agreeable movies.

Meryl Streep in “Julie & Julia”

IN MY OWN WORDS: “[Streep] completely masters the persona of the larger-than-life personality and woman – but to anyone that has seen Streep’s work, this is hardly a surprise.”

She’s here because … this is yet another fantastic Meryl Streep performance, and the Academy can’t not nominate one of those.

Gabourey Sidibe in “Precious”

IN MY OWN WORDS: “[Sidibe] makes us feel great concern about her character from the instant we see her trudging through her school.  As Precious gains confidence, our concern develops into genuine care and affection.”

She’s here because … in her first role, she commands the screen with the presence of a veteran.

Marshall’s Oscars

I haven’t seen “The Last Station,” but three of the four nominated performances that I have seen made my Best Actress list.  The exception is Sandra Bullock, who I think has a great story this year, but not one of the best performances.

One spot goes to Zooey Deschanel for her fantastic work on “(500) Days of Summer.”  Her performance has stuck with me all year, and its beautiful subtleties are astounding.  In one of my first reviews on this blog, I raved of Deschanel:

Summer [Deschanel’s character] also has a deep need to be love, but she makes this yearning ever so subtle. Deschanel is able to play this crucial undertone quite skillfully … Deschanel, who most audiences will remember as Will Ferrell’s love interest in “Elf,” plays Summer with the right balance of warmth and bitterness. She plays hard-to-get but also projects Summer’s need to be loved at the same time.

I’ve always been hesitant about giving acting awards to foreign language performances (not that it really matters), but the more I have thought about Melanie Laurent’s performance in “Inglourious Basterds,” the more remarkable it has become for me.  I didn’t say anything other than her being “poignant” in my review, yet her virtuoso work is actually quite astounding.  Obviously Waltz reigns supreme in the film, but she’s crucial to the movie’s success in her own right.

At my prestigious ceremony, the nominees read as followed:

Zooey Deschanel, “(500) Days of Summer”
Melanie Laurent, “Inglourious Basterds”
Carey Mulligan, “An Education”
Meryl Streep, “Julie & Julia”
Gabourey Sidibe, “Precious”

Predictions

Should win: Carey Mulligan, “An Education”
Could win: Meryl Streep, “Julie & Julia”
Will win: Sandra Bullock, “The Blind Side”

The race is between Streep and Bullock, with Mulligan and Sidibe as the major dark horses.  Ultimately, I think the fact that Meryl already has two statues on her mantle coupled with the popularity of “The Blind Side” is enough to propel Bullock to the win.





Oscar Moment: Predictions As The Ballots Go Out

28 12 2009

Oscar nomination ballots have now been sent out to the Academy!  Thus, I felt it was time to issue a new set of Oscar Predictions.  Since I last went on record, we have heard from a multitude of critics groups, the National Board of Review, and have received nominations from the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild.  What conclusion can we draw from them?  I draw mine here.

Best Picture

  1. Up in the Air
  2. The Hurt Locker
  3. Avatar
  4. Precious
  5. Inglourious Basterds
  6. Up
  7. An Education
  8. Invictus
  9. Nine
  10. A Serious Man

Big changes this week, though nothing changes at the top.  I still think “Up in the Air” is going to win – and not just because I love it so much.  It is slowly picking up steam at the box office, and it is a movie that pretty much everybody really likes.  It is powerful storytelling with commanding performances, the recipe for usual Oscar success.

But its two biggest threats have changed since the last set of predictions.  “The Hurt Locker” has clearly established itself as the critical favorite, the movie that scores the most with the various critics groups from New York to Oklahoma.  This can be good and bad, but the good critical favorites are usually the ones that are mixed with audience support.  With only $12 million in the bank, it is clear that “The Hurt Locker” does not have this.  If people a more populist pick for Best Picture with the expansion of the field, this would most likely send a message of adherence to pretentiousness.

The opposite message would be sent with the selection of “Avatar.”  I resisted for as long as I could, but now it is virtually undeniable.  With critics clearly behind it and box office standing at a formidable $213 million, this has a lot going for it.  Yet it has a gender prejudice going against it.  Only rarely do action movies fly with the Academy; just look at how they snubbed “The Dark Knight” last year for “The Reader.”  I think many will see it as little more than a visual spectacle and technological innovator.

“Inglourious Basterds” has really jumped on the scene, getting top nominations from the Golden Globes and the SAG.  I didn’t think this was possible in August, but I guess I was wrong.

“An Education” didn’t really fall; everything else just went up.  Same goes for “Invictus,” but I think we are looking at this year’s “Frost/Nixon” or “Good Night, and Good Luck” here.  By that, I mean the movie that gets a bunch of nominations with no real chance at winning any of them.

“Nine” actually dropped, though.  Audiences didn’t receive it well as shown by the lackluster $5.4 million it posted Christmas weekend.  Critics aren’t digging it, and its Rotten Tomatoes score is now sitting at a dreadful 37% fresh.  On the other hand, we can’t forget that it did get a SAG Best Ensemble nomination over high-flying “Up in the Air,” among others.  This is a movie that the actors seem to like, and they make up a large portion of the voting body.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see it slip off the charts completely, but don’t count it out just yet.  (“Precious” dropped too, but I offer some explanation on that in the Best Director section.)

The tenth slot continues to puzzle me.  Now, I have it going to the Coen’s “A Serious Man,” but this is another big question mark.  It failed to get a nomination for Best Picture at the Golden Globes (where “It’s Complicated” did, so “ha!” to all my detractors on that one), which is pretty big considering that “Burn After Reading” made it last year despite being met with a slightly chillier reception.  And it pains me to pick this while so many of my favorite movies sit in the cellar.

Best Director

  1. Kathryn Bigelow, “The Hurt Locker”
  2. Jason Reitman, “Up in the Air”
  3. James Cameron, “Avatar”
  4. Quentin Tarantino, “Inglourious Basterds”
  5. Clint Eastwood, “Invictus”

Bigelow has gained a lot of strength with most of the critics groups on her side, and I can now see a Best Picture-Director split between “Up in the Air” and her.  The momentum for her to become the first female director to win the Oscar may just be too big to deny.  Not to mention the fact that if “Up in the Air” takes screenplay and picture, Reitman will walk away with two statues.

James Cameron is the real star of “Avatar,” and the Academy will no doubt want to honor his work.  This is a project that he has had in his head for over 15 years, and his patience while the technology caught up with the idea should be rewarded.

Tarantino takes over the fifth spot from Rob Marshall because of the lack of love for “Nine” (which is mostly because of him).  The “Inglourious Basterds” love the critics, Golden Globes, and SAG have displayed is enough to get its director a nomination.  After all, it really is his movie.

Lee Daniels drops off the chart because of his Golden Globes snub when “Precious” was clearly well received by the group.  “Precious” has lost a ton of momentum from its release in November, mainly due to bumbling Lionsgate who refused to capitalize on the limited release success by taking it nationwide then.

People see the Academy as Clint’s cronies, which isn’t necessarily true.  Maybe they just set out to make a statement last year with their “Gran Torino” shutout, but I think that the financial success came too late to make an impact.  “Invictus” hasn’t exactly lit the box office on fire; however, I just get the sinking feeling that he is still going to get nominated here.  Call me crazy.

Best Actor

  1. George Clooney, “Up in the Air”
  2. Colin Firth, “A Single Man
  3. Morgan Freeman, “Invictus”
  4. Jeff Bridges, “Crazy Heart
  5. Jeremy Renner, “The Hurt Locker”

The only change here is Bridges falling to number 4.  He has only won awards from critics whose awards truly mean something like the Los Angeles Film Critics Circle;  Clooney and Firth have been taking all the others.  I’m getting a vibe that this a performance that is being honored for honor, not because people really love it.  I am getting the latter vibe from Clooney, who has been taking the prizes from a lot of the smaller, less renowned critics circles.

This is the standard top 5 now among almost everyone.  I can’t help but feel like there has to be some kind of shake-up here, some surprise nominee.  But who?  Maybe Daniel Day-Lewis will find his way in like always, or perhaps Matt Damon will surprise for his turn in “The Informant!”  He had a heck of a year, and the Academy could see fit to honor that with two nominations.  Just spitballing here.

Best Actress

  1. Carey Mulligan, “An Education”
  2. Meryl Streep, “Julie & Julia
  3. Gabourey Sidibe, “Precious” 
  4. Helen Mirren, “The Last Station
  5. Marion Cotillard, “Nine”

I’m sorry, but I cannot pick Sandra Bullock here.  I keep seeing all these raves for her and wonder if I saw the same movie and performance as they did.

I moved Sidibe back a spot because the critics awards seem to be hinting that this race will be a duel between Streep and Mulligan, the veteran and the fresh face.  However, I could see a possible vote split propelling the novice to victory.

With Abbie Cornish showing up nowhere and “Bright Star” seemingly forgotten, she falls off the list.  I replaced her with Marion Cotillard because the Academy loved her enough to give her an Oscar when no one knew who she was.  Even though the buzz on “Nine” is down, I have a feeling there will be plenty of love for the ladies.  Cotillard does have two emotionally wrenching numbers in the movie going for her.

And I’ll use this post to congratulate Meryl Streep on receiving her 25th Golden Globe nomination.

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Christoph Waltz, “Inglourious Basterds”
  2. Stanley Tucci, “The Lovely Bones
  3. Christopher Plummer, “The Last Station”
  4. Alfred Molina, “An Education”
  5. Matt Damon, “Invictus”

This is the category with the big shake-up this week.

Christoph Waltz is winning almost everything, so I can still place him in the number one slot.

Stanley Tucci jumps from off the list all the way to number 2.  I think its a mix of career achievement and a very good year (despite the apparent “The Lovely Bones” flop).  Christopher Plummer shares the former of these; Matt Damon, the latter.  I think the fact that Plummer is 80 years old, well-respected, and has no nominations is enough to get him into the field.

Woody Harrelson, Alfred Molina, and Matt Damon were the three men vying for my last three slots.  Despite Globes and SAG snubs for Molina, I still feel confident that he can make it.  Damon and Harrelson got the two nominations that Molina missed, so logic would probably say that they would be the two to fill the spots.  But I just get the feeling that Damon will get in because of the one-two punch of “Invictus” and “The Informant!”

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Mo’Nique, “Precious”
  2. Anna Kendrick, “Up in the Air”
  3. Julianne Moore, “A Single Man”
  4. Vera Farmiga, “Up in the Air”
  5. Penelope Cruz, “Nine”

No large change here.  Mo’Nique is becoming quite the juggernaut, and unless she goes full Eddie Murphy, there’s no chance she loses it.

If she does go full Eddie, Anna Kendrick takes it.  Her “Up in the Air” co-star, Vera Farmiga, takes over the fourth slot from Penelope Cruz.  “Nine” love isn’t very strong, but she is the scene stealer.  And she gets her picture here because she was too stunning not to feature.

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Inglourious Basterds
  2. Up
  3. The Hurt Locker
  4. A Serious Man 
  5. (500) Days of Summer

Tarantino’s dialogue has won over the Academy once before, and I think he may do it again this year.  He could be the new Woody Allen (for the Oscar voters) – just don’t tell him that I said that.

“A Serious Man” moves into the the nominees mainly because I can’t ponder hearing “Winner of One Oscar Nomination – BEST PICTURE.”  I know it will happen eventually, but I don’t think it can the first year.

If “(500) Days of Summer” doesn’t get nominated here, I will hit something.  It is too creative and brilliant to be ignored.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. Up in the Air
  2. An Education
  3. Precious
  4. Invictus
  5. District 9

“Up in the Air” is still king here.  Even if it doesn’t take Best Picture, I have a hard time seeing it losing this category.

“An Education” moves up despite missing out at the Golden Globes.  There is a sizable British faction of the Academy, and they will see to it that he gets his just reward for this great screenplay.  “Precious” moves down not only because of the Globes screenplay snub, but also because of a general loss of momentum.

“Invictus” gets a bump up mainly because “District 9” moves into the field as a wild-card contender.  “Avatar” has probably dashed its hopes in the Best Picture field, so the Academy could reward it here.  This was a well-scripted movie that scored with audiences and critics alike, and it deserves more than technical nominations that it is bound to lose to “Avatar.”

So, what are your thoughts?  Am I crazy to still think “Up in the Air” will win Best Picture?  Or that Jeff Bridges won’t win Best Actor?  I’m dying to know what you think, so don’t hesitate to tell me!





Oscar Moment: National Board of Review Winners

3 12 2009

The first big awards of the season are here!  Below are the winners of the National Board of Review’s 2009 awards.

Best Picture: Up in the Air

Top 10 List (does not include the winner of Best Picture):

An Education
(500) Days of Summer
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Invictus
The Messenger
A Serious Man
Star Trek
Up
Where the Wild Things Are

Best Director: Clint Eastwood, Invictus

Best Actor: (tie) George Clooney, Up in the Air and Morgan Freeman, Invictus

Best Actress: Carey Mulligan, An Education

Best Supporting Actor: Woody Harrelson, The Messenger

Best Supporting Actress: Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air

Best Adapted Screenplay: Up in the Air

Best Original Screenplay: A Serious Man

Best Animated Film: Up

Best Documentary Film: The Cove

Best Ensemble: It’s Complicated

Breakthrough Male Performance: Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Breakthrough Female Performance: Gabourey Sidibe, Precious

(For a full list of winners, see the National Board of Review’s release on their official website.)

Now here’s some more in-depth analysis on the results.

Read the rest of this entry »





Oscar Moment: First Predictions!

1 12 2009

I’ve held off as long as I could on issuing my predictions, but now I simply cannot wait.  It is December and Oscar season is about to kick into high gear.

Don’t fret if you haven’t heard of some of these movies.  You will soon.  The National Board of Review, the first precursor that deserves to be taken seriously, issues its list this week.  Critics circles from all over the country will begin to put forth their lists, and then we get the Golden Globe nominations on December 17th.

So, without further ado, here’s my first stab at predictions.

Read the rest of this entry »





REVIEW: An Education

25 11 2009

In the age of the booming blockbuster, independent cinema is in dire need of a movie that can appeal to a blooming generation of teenage moviegoers if sophisticated cinema is to survive.  I couldn’t be more pleased to report that “An Education” is that movie.  Although it is the type of movie that typically plays best with adults, it has the power to resonate among younger viewers unlike any movie of its kind.  Director Lone Scherfig’s clear understanding of the mind of teenagers radiates from as early as the opening credits, where sine graphs and frog diagrams devolve into hearts.  Thankfully, her vision is complemented by phenomenal performances and a sensational script that easily makes for one of the best moviegoing experiences of the year.

Jenny, the film’s heroine played with a stunning mastery by Carey Mulligan, is a character with struggles that people at crossroads in life can still appreciate many decades after the movie is set.  Sadly, she faces the same problem of creating a “college identity” separate from her regular identity that still plagues teenagers today.  Her parents (Alfred Molina and Carey Seymour) make sure that she has all the interests and hobbies necessary for her to fit the Oxford bill, obliging her to partake in activities that she loathes.  Through the process, Jenny begins to feel somewhat uneasy about going to spend four years doing something “hard and boring” with her nose in a book at a university only to end up in a “hard and boring” career for the rest of her life.  She reasons, however, to go against the grain would mean throwing away years of her life dedicated to looking impressive on an application, but still the desire remains for something beyond the education that a textbook can provide.

Almost as if an answer to an unspoken prayer, a chance encounter with the charming, older David (Peter Sarsgaard) gives Jenny a taste of a captivating world where the formalities of her schooling rank substantially below the proclivities for enjoyment.  Gradually, David’s outlook rubs off on Jenny, and she becomes willing to throw out what she has worked so many years for to enter the materialistic world that he inhabits.  For all those who think Jenny’s judgement is being impaired by an infatuation for love, what is she doing other than indulging a yearning that all students have had?  Her curious exploration into a very adult world ultimately leads her to a course she had never expected to be enrolled in – a crash course in adulthood.

Read the rest of this entry »





Oscar Moment: “An Education”

14 10 2009

This edition of “Oscar Moment” concerns “An Education,” a coming of age story in 1960s Britain.  The movie has been generating massive buzz since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, particularly around leading actress and breakout star Carey Mulligan.  She plays 16-year-old Jenny, dead set on going to study at Oxford.  However, things change when she meets the magnetic David (Peter Sarsgaard).  He is much older than she and offers her a glimpse of a world that she has never imagined.  After being introduced to a new lifestyle, her old ideals and values begin to fly out the window.  But their relationship is unable to transcend societal norms, and they come crashing down on unsuspecting Jenny.  Will she be completely broken?  Will the old Jenny return, or will a new and independent woman be born from the ashes.

I knew that the story involved coming-of-age since I first heard of it back in January, but I had no idea that it involved someone my age.  This is so thrilling to hear because no one makes good, independent, thought-provoking movies about people my age!

Some Oscar prognosticators I read have boiled the Best Actress race at the Oscars down to Carey Mulligan vs. Meryl Streep for “Julie & Julia.”  Others have gone as far as to say that she already has the statue in the bag.  Although I do like an exciting and unpredictable race, I love when a performance so magnificent comes along that allows people to call the race in January.  My humble prediction is that if other female performances fizzle and it does boil down to Carey and Meryl, the Oscars will choose the former just because Meryl already has two.  Not to mention recent trends show a tendency to honor up and coming actresses, such as in 2007 with the stunning victory of Marion Cotillard.

But the buzz isn’t around Mulligan solely.  Alfred Molina, who plays Jenny’s father, has been acknowledged as a strong candidate for Best Supporting Actor.  Some say that if the film hits big with the Academy, goodwill could result in nominations for some other cast members, like Rosamund Pike in Best Supporting Actress and Peter Sarsgaard in Best Actor.  The latter seems improbable just due to how stacked the Best Actor category appears this year.  The film’s director, Lone Scherfig, could find herself nominated due to the nature of the year and its spotlight on female directors.  Nick Hornby, author of the source material for “About a Boy” and “Fever Pitch,” penned the script based on Lynn Hornby’s memoirs; his chances seem somewhat more auspicious.  And the film itself, provided it registers as a blip on the public’s radar, seems likely to land itself in the Best Picture category.

It pains me to know that I have to wait until October 30th for “An Education” to hit a theater in Houston.  But until then, I will be enjoying selections from the soundtrack, which is stellar.  If you wonder what the catchy tune from the trailer is called, it is “You’ve Got Me Wrapped Around Your Little Finger” by Beth Rowley.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Actress (Carey Mulligan), Best Supporting Actor (Alfred Molina), Best Adapted Screenplay

OTHER POTENTIAL NOMINATIONS: Best Director (Lone Scherfig), Best Actor (Peter Sarsgaard), Best Supporting Actress (Rosamund Pike/Emma Thompson/Cara Seymour)