Oscar Moment: Final 2012 Predictions, Part 5 (Best Picture)

9 01 2013

ONE DAY MORE to revolution (I mean, Oscar nominations).  Now it’s time to lock in my Best Picture predictions.  It was an extremely tough year to forecast.  So without further ado, here are the films I think will be called out by Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone early tomorrow morning.

See my predictions for Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.

See my predictions for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

See my predictions for Best Actor and Best Actress.

 See my predictions for Best Director.

Best Picture

  1. Lincoln
  2. Les Misérables
  3. Argo
  4. Zero Dark Thirty
  5. Silver Linings Playbook
  6. Life of Pi
  7. Django Unchained
  8. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  9. The Master
  10. Moonrise Kingdom

Silver LiningsThe top five of “Lincoln,” “Les Misérables,” “Argo,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” and “Silver Linings Playbook” are locked in.  There has been pretty consistent and unilateral support for these all season long (although some critics have savaged a certain musical I love).

I’d say given the critical beat-down of “Les Misérables” and the Senatorial inquisition into “Zero Dark Thirty,” Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” has risen back to the top of the pack.  “Argo” has also benefitted from being the least controversial, most agreeable movie in the bunch.  Find me someone that hated “Argo,” and I’ll find you a flying pig.

But who knows how the passion will play out?  Two years ago, I would have laughed in your face if you told me “The Social Network” was going to lose.  There is still time for a “Les Misérables” and “Silver Linings Playbook” surge.  If one takes a lot of Golden Globes and then the SAG Ensemble prize, it could pose a serious threat.

Argo FYC

Then again, there’s also time for “Lincoln” or “Argo” to build a consensus with wins from either the BFCA, HFPA, or SAG.  Wins from PGA and DGA in 2012 may be the biggest shaper of the odds; “Zero Dark Thirty” needs at least one of these guild trophies to prove it’s more than just a critical darling.  Hopefully it all gets split up for a fun year!

But beyond the guaranteed five, we are looking at a highly unpredictable field that could include any number of nominees.  I mean, literally, there could be no more nominees – or there could be five more thanks to the Academy’s new sliding scale.  Some are more likely to score nods than others, but there are a few longshots looking to make a few people gasp on nomination morning.  The system also rewards passion because a film needs 5% of the first-place votes to be nominated.  Hence, it pays off to be loved, not liked.

ZDT

Despite what I keep sensing as a lack of passion for “Life of Pi,” I think it will ultimately wind up with a Best Picture nomination.  I thought the flame had been extinguished for “War Horse” and “Moneyball” last year, but apparently 5% of the Academy voters thought they were the best movies of 2011.  So if they can do it, so can Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi.”  All three movies were feted by BFCA and HFPA, so I’d say it’s a good bet – especially with Lee’s DGA nod.  (It’s also effects and craft heavy, so those smaller but no less important portions of the Academy may buoy it to a nomination.)

Life of Pi

Ditto “Django Unchained,” which I had initially written off for a Best Picture nomination.  Nothing felt right at first.  When it only received Critics Choice nods for Best Picture and Best Screenplay, something felt fishy.  Then when it was totally snubbed at the SAG Awards, I thought it was dead.  (Most shrug this off as due to the fact that it wasn’t widely screened for their nominating committee.)

Yet even when the Golden Globes rescued it with 5 nominations including Best Picture and Best Director, I still didn’t buy into “Django Unchained” striking it big with the Academy.  Every year, the Globes give an absurd amount of nominations to a movie that shows up in only a minor way at the Oscars.  In 2011, it was “The Ides of March.”  (In the past, examples have been “Revolutionary Road” and “American Gangster.”)

But now, with “Django Unchained” being quite the box office hit and the discussion topic of choice at the hypothetical critical water-cooler, I think it’s probably going to be a nominee.  Surely more than 5% of the Academy voted for “Inglourious Basterds” for Best Picture in 2009.  I expect that same contingent to come out and vote #1 for “Django Unchained” since most (but not I) consider it to be superior.

Skyfall

So … where do we go beyond these seven nominees?

Do they go for more bang and blockbuster with “Skyfall?”  Crowd-pleasing comedy with “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel?”  Indie comedy with “Moonrise Kingdom?”  Indie drama with “Beasts of the Southern Wild?”  Foreign drama with “Amour?”  Polarizing drama with “The Master?”  I’d say these six films are the most likely to grab any of the three remaining spots in the Best Picture category.

“Skyfall” provides perhaps the most interesting case.  Had you told me a few months ago I’d be writing about it as a Best Picture contender, I wouldn’t have believed it.  Yet here we are, and the film has grossed over $1 billion globally, racking up series-best praise in the process.  The Academy recently announced, too, that they were planning a James Bond tribute at the ceremony.  Might that be indicative of Oscar love to come?

At first, I warmed up to it being nominated for some technical nods.  Then, I started to wonder if Dench and Bardem weren’t real threats for Oscar nominations thanks to notes from BFCA and SAG.

Now with “Skyfall” making the PGA top 10 list, I’m left to wonder whether it wouldn’t be a smart prediction to land a Best Picture nomination.  The PGA did get the ball rolling for “District 9” in 2009, but they gave us false hope on “Star Trek.”  Whichever mold “Skyfall” is cut from is anyone’s guess.  If it makes the cut for Best Picture, it could easily have a whopping ten nominations!  Although if it doesn’t get the big one, it could become one of the most nominated movies ever to not be nominated for Best Picture.

MoonriseThe PGA also showed some love for “Moonrise Kingdom” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” two summer successes that many thought might have some hidden pockets of support.  But will they choose both, one, or neither?

“Moonrise Kingdom” has been the more visible of the two throughout the season, kicking off the precursor season with a Best Picture win at the Gotham Awards.  It then dominated the Indie Spirits nominations, where it could triumph over “Silver Linings Playbook” the night before the Oscars.  Topped off with a Golden Globe nod for Best Picture (musical/comedy), the case looks good.  But I wonder if there are enough people who think it is the best movie of 2012, not one of the best.

Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” on the other hand, seems to drive more passionate support.  But will it be enough for a Best Picture nomination?  The critics groups did not speak up loudly enough for it (only 2 wins and they were for long-shot Best Supporting Actor candidate Dwight Henry).  It was blanked at the Golden Globes where young Quvenzhané Wallis should have at least gotten a novelty nomination.

Amour

Part of the trouble with predicting “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is its ineligibility with the SAG.  We have no idea whether the actors love this movie, and they are one of the most crucial voting blocs.  It’s hard to tell where the support for the movie exists, if it even does.  I’m hoping that the PGA nod is telling of invisible passion for the movie.  “Moonrise Kingdom” is assured a Best Original Screenplay nomination, and I think that may be its limit.

Some have floated “Amour” as a possible nominee based on how well its done with the critics groups.  Indeed, I like the idea of a foreign film making the cut because that’s the kind of movie the expanded field is supposed to allow.  But I don’t think this will be that first movie (of the new Best Picture era, that is) – it’s too austere and cold.

Perhaps it pops up in various other major categories like “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” did last year, but that too faltered because people admire it more than they love it.  And if Haneke can’t win Best Foreign Language Film for the critically praised “The White Ribbon,” I don’t think he’s going to cut it in competition with some real heavyweights.

I’m surprised people think there’s more of a chance for “Amour” to be a Best Picture nominee than “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”  What part of the equation doesn’t SCREAM Oscars?  The old cast of prior Oscar nominees and winners plays right into Academy demographics.  It played extremely well with audiences over the summer and managed to stick around in people’s minds.  It got two Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture (musical/comedy) as well as two SAG nods including the coveted Best Ensemble.  If any movie is poised to pull a shocker like “The Blind Side,” this could be it.

But I’m putting my chips on there being nine films in contention, and that final nominee is “The Master.”  I know it is by no means a smart pick.  Other than the Critics Choice nod for Best Picture, it’s been pretty silent for the season.  It has little guild support.  The critics remain fairly divided.  But I think that this film could galvanize the Academy, and the people that like it will love it and vote #1.  The voters who appreciate it probably know it’s in peril.

So mark it down, I’m going out on a limb for Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master,” hoping I’ve just predicted this season’s “The Tree of Life.”  If not, it just goes in the pile of other failed Best Picture predictions including “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Town,” “Crazy Heart,” and “Invictus.”  But no guts, no glory, right?





Oscar Moment: Final 2012 Predictions, Part 4 (Directing)

8 01 2013

TWO MORE DAYS!  I’m slowly starting to lose my mind … or at least become so consumed with thinking about the Oscar nominations that I can think of little else.

See my predictions for Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.

See my predictions for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

See my predictions for Best Actor and Best Actress.

Best Director

  1. Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln
  2. Kathryn Bigelow, “Zero Dark Thirty
  3. Ben Affleck, “Argo
  4. Tom Hooper, “Les Misérables
  5. David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook

Kathryn Bigelow ZDTIn case you caught on, yes, I did intentionally structure my prediction breakdown so that I would get to publish post-Directors Guild nominations.  If you didn’t catch those this morning, they were Ben Affleck for “Argo,” Kathryn Bigelow for “Zero Dark Thirty,” Tom Hooper for “Les Misérables,” Ang Lee for “Life of Pi,” and Steven Spielberg for “Lincoln.”

It’s worth noting, though, that the DGA has perfectly matched the Academy’s nominees only twice since 2000.

Having said that, Spielberg, Affleck, and Bigelow are in.  I don’t think anyone will debate that.  Even as “Zero Dark Thirty” seems to have knocked aback with the fatuous claims of torture endorsement, Bigelow remains firmly in place.  Heck, I think any of these three could win.  Who knows, maybe we could even have … a split year!

Spielberg won Best Director in 1998 for “Saving Private Ryan” even though “Shakespeare in Love” won Best Picture.  Could a similar surprise be in store this year?

Bigelow’s direction has earned her tremendous accolades again.  She’s been the critical choice pick of the year, often times winning even when “Zero Dark Thirty” doesn’t take Best Picture.  Will she take the prize again for her follow-up to “The Hurt Locker” just three years after winning her first Oscar?

Argo Best Director

And if “Argo” surges and looks poised to win Best Picture, Ben Affleck will likely win Best Director.  I don’t think he would benefit from a split.

Beyond the three of them, it gets dicier.  If you assume there are seven “safe” Best Picture nominees, you have four men competing for two spots: Ang Lee for “Life of Pi,” David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook,” Tom Hooper for “Les Misérables,” and Quentin Tarantino for “Django Unchained.”  That’s an impressive group that contains two winners and two nominees.

Some people seem to think “Les Misérables” is weak because the critics have defined people’s perceptions of the movie’s standing in the race.  This is “The King’s Speech” on steroids.  That movie beat the critical favorite, “The Social Network,” with no trouble at all.  And it didn’t need the critics groups at all; it only took one Best Picture prize.  Colin Firth was keeping the movie in discussion and taking most of the accolades, just as Anne Hathaway is doing now.

Hooper beat out David Fincher, who almost undeniably did more impressive work in “The Social Network,” in a year that perhaps more than ever screamed for a Picture-Director split.  If he can win for “The King’s Speech,” I don’t see how he doesn’t get nominated for “Les Misérables.”

Life of PiWhile many would say Ang Lee was just below the “big three,” I would say Hooper is far more secure.  I think the movie will play well with Academy voters, and I still think it could win Best Picture.  It will likely win three, if not four Golden Globes.  It could also win the ensemble award at SAG.  And if “Les Misérables” made them feel anywhere near as much as “The King’s Speech,” they know who pulled the strings of their tear ducts.  A nomination feels pretty secure to me.

“Life of Pi” support is fading.  Though I still think it will power through and get a Best Picture nomination, Fox seems to have dropped the ball on keeping the momentum going.  Lee did get nominations from HFPA and BFCA, albeit in a field of six for the latter.  And the DGA nod certainly helps.

But for all this talk of Lee getting a nomination for “Life of Pi” simply because it is incredibly ambitious or challenging do little to persuade me.  I know this is a totally different case, but that didn’t help Christopher Nolan for “Inception” in a tight year (the directing branch of the Academy loathes Nolan but likes Lee for some bizarre reason).  While he’s now in my good graces because of “Les Misérables,” artistic merit often takes a backseat to feel-good stories as shown by Hooper’s triumph in 2010 over Fincher and Aronofsky.

I can’t help but wonder if Lee will get the cold shoulder like David Fincher did last year for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  That film was getting love from the guilds left and right but was largely shunned by the Academy, including high-profile snubs in Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay.  Is “Life of Pi” that technical marvel that guilds will admire but Academy members won’t quite appreciate as much?

LincolnHowever, the Academy directing branch, comprised of only about 300-400 members, is notoriously snooty, arty, high-minded, or whatever adjective you want to use.  So maybe that will benefit Ang Lee.  But often times, it’s a boon to someone they respect but has received little recognition leading up to the nominations   With their out of the blue selections, they often provide some of the biggest surprises on nomination morning.

The ultimate case was in 2001 when they nominated David Lynch for “Mulholland Drive,” a movie that received no other nominations.  But more recent and reasonable examples are Terrence Malick for “The Tree of Life,” Paul Greengrass for “United 93,” and Mike Leigh for “Vera Drake.”  I think the most likely person to snab this kind of nomination would be Paul Thomas Anderson for “The Master.”  As much as I’d love to see that happen, I doubt it will.

They also like to nominate directors with vision working in foreign languages.  In the past decade, we’ve seen Best Director nominees Julian Schnabel for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” Fernando Meirelles for “City of God,” and Pedro Almodóvar for “Talk to Her.”  For that reason, we can’t count out Michael Haneke popping up for “Amour.”  It’s certainly had the critical plaudits to be a non-shocking surprise.

David O

Maybe they really respect and admire the vision of Tarantino in “Django Unchained.”  They’ve been fans twice before, providing him nominations for 1994’s “Pulp Fiction” and 2009’s “Inglourious Basterds.”  Both of those, however, were preceded by DGA nominations.  The Weinstein Company has been floating the excuse that his passing over is due to DVD screeners not going out to DGA members.

But I think it’s telling that the Academy will stay away.  His only major nomination so far has been from the Golden Globes, and it’s clear they were high on “Django Unchained.”  I think it has proven to be much more of an audience success than a critical or guild one, though it has supporters amongst those groups.  The “Inglourious Basterds” nod was looking good from the beginning; this time around has not been so fortuitous for Tarantino.

I don’t feel that PTA or Haneke are nearly as revered as Malick and thus have the power to displace a sure-fire Best Picture nominee.  With all my reservations about Tarantino and Lee, I’m left to predict David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook.”  Though overlooked by the DGA and the HFPA, he was a Critics Choice nominee and (perhaps more importantly) a nominee for Best Director for “The Fighter” in 2010.

Academy voters are creatures of habit.  If something works for them once, it often works again.  Why do you think so-called “Oscar bait” was born?  Once the studios figured out their tastes, they play right into their wheelhouse time after time.  “Silver Linings Playbook” is very similar to “The Fighter” in terms of tone and emotional payoff.  The only real difference this year is that he has directed a comedy as opposed to a drama.  (Although there is little funnier than Charlene beating up Micky’s white-trash sisters.)

So it looks like I’ll be predicting a more conservative, sure-fire Best Picture nominees slate here.  I know it’s at odds with the whole notion that the season is one of the most unpredictable ever.  But I’ve watched for the signs (to quote “Silver Linings Playbook”) and don’t get the sense that anything radically wacky is going to happen in Best Director.





Oscar Moment: Final 2012 Predictions, Part 3 (Leading)

7 01 2013

Only three days until Oscar nominations are announced!  It’s so weird to have them this early … I feel like I barely predicted at all this year.  Nonetheless, it’s time to lock in my final picks!  Today, it’s one last glimpse at the leading acting categories.

See my predictions for Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.

See my predictions for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

Best Actor

  1. Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln
  2. Hugh Jackman, “Les Misérables
  3. Bradley Cooper, “Silver Linings Playbook
  4. John Hawkes, “The Sessions
  5. Denzel Washington, “Flight

I was wrong, this is Daniel Day-Lewis’ race to lose.  My gosh, he is winning everything!  Look at this chart of dominance.  It turns Anne Hathaway’s dream to shame.

DDL Dominance

He’s going to come charging into the Kodak Theatre to get that record-setting third Oscar for Best Actor.  This is like Phillip Seymour Hoffman for “Capote,” Forest Whitaker for “The Last King of Scotland,” and … well, Daniel Day-Lewis for “There Will Be Blood” levels of momentum.

Les Miz

If anyone takes him down, though, it’s going to be Hugh Jackman.  He had many doubters until the film was unveiled, and he’s taken the big three nods from BFCA, SAG, and HFPA.  He will almost certainly win the Golden Globe.  Maybe, just maybe, he can stage an Adrian Brody-esque upset.

The nomination will likely be the win for Bradley Cooper, who has triumphantly exceeded expectations in “Silver Linings Playbook” and likely redefined how the industry sees him.  Well done, sir.  I’m pleased that a clear path to a nomination emerged with Critics’ Choice, SAG, and Golden Globe recognition.  I thought it might be a more uphill climb, but I have been very pleasantly surprised.

Beyond DDL, Jackman, and Cooper, my certainty stops.  I am almost positive the final two nominees will be John Hawkes for “The Sessions” and Denzel Washington in “Flight.”  They were feted by BFCA, SAG, and HFPA.  Joaquin Phoenix, on the other hand, missed with SAG and will likely be left out in the cold (much to my chagrin).

Master

I’m on the record as being nonplussed by Hawkes and Washington, though I greatly admire many other performances by the two actors.  For my money, Phoenix was the best performance of the year.  Several others have seen what I have seen, and he’s picked up a few critics’ groups notices.  He was also nominated by the Golden Globes, albeit in the segregated drama category, and the Critics’ Choice Awards, which had six nominees.

Sadly, it looks like Phoenix will follow the trajectory of Michael Fassbender’s work in “Shame,” my favorite performance of 2011.  Fassbender and Phoenix were both winners of the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival.  Their work was widely acclaimed, and their movies were polarizing.  They won Best Actor from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association among several other prizes.  They picked up key nominations from BFCA and HFPA, but their SAG snub raised some red flags.

FlightPhoenix’s journey will likely end the same way Fassbender’s did.  Repelling the Academy, Fassbender was left on the outside looking in at the Best Actor category.  Phoenix shouldn’t mind being put in the same position, however, because he hates awards season and thinks the Oscars are BS.

So it looks like I’ll be predicting the SAG nominees to repeat five-for-five.  Boring, disappointing, I know.  But there’s nothing screaming to go against conventional wisdom here.

I don’t think Richard Gere for “Arbitrage,” Jack Black for “Bernie,” Denis Lavant for “Holy Motors,” Jean-Louis Trintignant for “Amour,” or Anthony Hopkins for “Hitchcock” really have much of a chance.  Each has a few respective laurels, but the frontrunning five are just too strong for there to be a major surprise.

Then again, last year gave us not only Demian Bichir but an out-of-nowhere nod for Gary Oldman.  So we’ll just have to see.  Maybe the Academy has a few tricks up its sleeve in 2012 that we just have no way to forecast.

Best Actress

  1. Jessica Chastain, “Zero Dark Thirty
  2. Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook
  3. Naomi Watts, “The Impossible”
  4. Marion Cotillard, “Rust and Bone
  5. Quvenzhané Wallis, “Beasts of the Southern Wild

Zero Dark Thirty FYCThe dynamics at the top of the race have changed little over the past month.  It’s still a Chastain vs. Lawrence cage match, and I think we won’t really know until the envelope is opened.  They will go head-to-head at the Critics’ Choice Awards and the SAG Awards, but Viola Davis won both of those last year and lost the Oscar.  The Golden Globe will do nothing to clear up the picture as they will compete in separate categories.  I give Chastain the edge now.

But below Chastain and Lawrence, so much is fluctuating.  This is the most fluid acting category of the four in 2012, capable of many unsurprising surprises.  And if any race is suggesting that conventional wisdom and historical precedent simply won’t do, this would be it.

It would seem that Naomi Watts and Marion Cotillard would be assured nominations for “The Impossible” and “Rust and Bone,” respectively.  They’ve scored the BFCA, SAG, and HFPA hat trick of nominations, just about the best safety net you can have.  Both also look to be the only nominations for their respective movies as “The Impossible” missed the cut for visual effects and France chose “The Intouchables” over “Rust and Bone” to compete in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

WattsI’m much more bullish on Watts, a prior nominee for “21 Grams” back in 2003, perhaps because I haven’t seen the movie yet and can visualize her more as a statistic (sorry for the bluntness, but that’s the name of the game).  I’ve read that “The Impossible” has really played the guild circuit, ginning up admiration for Watts and the cast along the way.  She got a high-profile shout-out from a mere acquaintance, Reese Witherspoon, in Entertainment Weekly that a lot of people saw.

For whatever reason, she just seems very strong to me.  The movie seems like the emotional tour de force they look for in leading performances for women.

Having said that, Marion Cotillard shows the same level of emotional devastation, just on a more subtle level.  If she hadn’t won for a French language performance, I’d be hesitant to think she could be nominated for one.  But she has, and I feel a hunch that the Oscars won’t snub her brilliant performance.  Apparently, the Academy voters really responded to “Rust and Bone,” and if that’s the case, why wouldn’t they nominate its star?

So I’ll go ahead and predict that Watts and Cotillard make it, although I could see a foreseeable outcome where one gets knocked out.  I doubt they slap these precursors in the face so hard that both get turned away.

HitchcockSAG’s fifth nominee was Helen Mirren for “Hitchcock,” who also landed a Golden Globe nod.  Mirren has become a recent darling of the Academy.  I got fooled once by not predicting her in 2009 for “The Last Station,” and a part of me thinks I might be making the same mistake again.  Check out how eerily similar these two cases of Helen Mirren in Best Actress contention are:

“Common sense would say it is going to Helen Mirren for ‘The Last Station.’  She has the respect; we know because she won this award three short years ago.  She has been nominated by the SAG and the Golden Globes, two very crucial precursors.  But she has no victories and, more importantly, no passionate supporters.”

Going back and reading this is actually kind of scary because this year, she has SAG and HFPA in her corner … and basically no one else, unless you put a lot of stock in the prognosticating abilities of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association.  The movies even received the same lukewarm reception: “Hitchcock” got a 66% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while “The Last Station” scored a 70% fresh.

I fear that the British contingent, which was a major part in making a Best Actor nomination for Gary Oldman in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” a reality, might be muddling our ability to make a prediction here.  Will this sizable portion of the Academy come through and give Mirren a fourth nomination in seven years?  I’m not picking Mirren because a 5-for-5 match with SAG just doesn’t feel right for this field rife with contenders.  (And especially with the men looking likely to perfectly align with SAG.)

RivaPerhaps that same European bloc of voters will be split among several other contenders from across the sea.  The French Cotillard could steal some European love, as could the British-Australian Watts.  Emmanuelle Riva could also make a play for that contingent for her work in “Amour.”

The Critics’ Choice nominee has quite a case to make for her nomination.  At 85, she’s a respected figure from the French New Wave that many recognize and respect.  Sony Pictures Classics has even gotten her to do some press for the film, including an in-depth session with The New York Times that’s well worth a read.  Many critics’ groups have aligned behind her, including such notable groups from Boston, Los Angeles, New York Online, and the National Society of Film Critics.  Perhaps worth noting, she won the European Film Award for Best Actress.

But why did SAG and the Golden Globes overlook Riva?  Neither are particularly xenophobic; the Globes’ dramatic actress category has seen a number of foreign-language nominees, including a rather strange nod for Kristin Scott Thomas in 2008 for “I’ve Loved You So Long.”  And at her age, it would seem that the SAG would want to bow down at her feet, and at the very least nominate her!

Rust and Bone

I can’t predict Riva with these two high-profile misses.  Perhaps she will be the exception, but I think her nomination is a pipe dream of critics.  She’s the Sally Hawkins for “Happy-Go-Lucky” of the year, a nominee that they try to make happen but just doesn’t click with the Academy.

Even less likely is British actress Rachel Weisz, in play for “The Deep Blue Sea” thanks to the New York Film Critics Circle reminding voters that her movie exists.  A March release automatically faces an uphill climb for a nomination since it has to fight to be remembered, and the Golden Globes did reward her performance.  Perhaps she’s the big surprise, but a SAG nomination would have been the more helpful precursor notice to pick up.

Also feted by the Golden Globes was Judi Dench for “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”  This wouldn’t really be worth mentioning if it wasn’t … well, Judi Dench.  However, the movie is more likely to see recognition in the Best Supporting Actress category for Maggie Smith.  For that matter, Dench is more likely to see recognition in that category as well for her work in “Skyfall.”

And now, we arrive at our final contender, Quvenzhané Wallis for her extraordinary performance in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”  Now 9, the pint-sized but spunky Wallis would be the youngest Best Actress nominee ever.  Even more impressive is that she was 6 when the movie was shot.

However, at the moment, she’s going virtually unnoticed.  Could Scott MacDonald have been right in his article on The Atlantic?

“Though she’s nine now, she was a mere six when the film was shot. To put it another way, she was not quite seven, which is the year developmental psychologists like to refer to as the age of reason: when kids start making decisions based on logic and causality. I’m no psych expert, but it seems to me this might be the sensible cut-off point for acting plaudits.

Acting requires some intentionality on the part of the actor, some conscious effort to adopt a persona other than his or her own. Even adult actors who get criticized for “playing themselves” are engaged in a series of more or less conscious decisions about how best to be themselves onscreen. A young child, meanwhile, likely isn’t thinking at all about how to be herself, let alone a character. She’s a kid, and she just ‘is.'”

Beasts

So is that it?  Have most considered her too young and written off her candidacy?  MacDonald did note that 8-year-old Justin Henry was nominated for “Kramer vs. Kramer,” so a nomination wouldn’t be entirely unprecedented.  But all she’s netted is a Critics Choice nod for Best Actress and a handful of breakout performer awards.

We will never know if she had a shot with SAG because the non-union production “Beasts of the Southern Wild” was ruled ineligible to compete.  However, the novelty of her contention should have been enough to attract the Golden Globes, but they totally snubbed the entire film.  I already floated the “too American” rationale for its exclusion, citing “True Grit” as an example, but the snub is really troubling.

The Oscars do love young nominees, though.  There have been plenty of pre-pubescent nominees in Academy history, most recently Abigail Breslin for “Little Miss Sunshine.”  Saiorse Ronan and Hailee Steinfeld, though quite a bit older than Willis, nonetheless were nominees.  And in 2003, lest we forget, 13-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes’ performance in “Whale Rider” knocked out Nicole Kidman for “Cold Mountain” and Scarlett Johansson for “Lost in Translation.”  The young are often a force to be reckoned with at the Oscars.

I’ll lay out that Wallis would be a shocking Best Actress nominee.  If I was thinking by rules and precedents, the obvious pick would be Mirren.  If I was attempting to focus on just this season, I might have to go with Riva.  Yet I’m going with Wallis on little more than a gut feeling that maybe the Academy’s hearts were taken by a precocious tyke.

Check back tomorrow, January 8, to see my final predictions for Best Director!





Oscar Moment: Final 2012 Predictions, Part 1 (Screenplay)

5 01 2013

Well, folks, it’s over.  Kind of.

Time is up for movies to impress the Academy voters before the nominees are announced.  The race is frozen now before nominations are announced early Thursday morning, January 10.  So with nothing left to influence the nominations, I’ll be offering my final take on the race before we find out who gets to compete for the golden man, the Oscar.

Today, I’ll be discussing the writing categories, Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Zero Dark Thirty
  2. Django Unchained
  3. The Master
  4. Moonrise Kingdom
  5. Amour

ZDTI think this is probably the biggest no-brainer race of them all for 2012.  It’s an extremely thin field, filled with several past nominees and winners.  “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Django Unchained” will vie for the win; I think it’s Mark Boal’s to lose, but Tarantino could take it if they feel Boal’s win for “The Hurt Locker” in 2009 was too short a gap.  Going through the two categories is tough to find gaps between wins, but I think Boal’s back-to-back wins would be unprecedented.

Even if “The Master” doesn’t score a Best Picture nomination, it is a sure bet to get a writing nod.  The writers’ branch has always loved Paul Thomas Anderson, nominating him for “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia,” and “There Will Be Blood.”  I think the Academy respects him more as a writer than a director, and I’d hedge my bet that his first Oscar comes from the screenplay categories.

Though “The Master” is not unilaterally acclaimed, I think the fact that they nominated the challenging and polarizing “Magnolia” means they’ll nominate just about anything he writes.  (Except “Punch-Drunk Love,” but that was just a terrible movie.)

Wes Anderson was recognized here for his work on “The Royal Tenenbaums” back in 2001, and his “Moonrise Kingdom” is playing a lot better on the precursor circuit than that one.  Though it may miss out on a Best Picture nomination, it will at least have this prize to compete for.  I doubt it has a shot to win, but it’s another feather in Anderson’s cap for an eventual win down the road.

AmourAs for that final slot, people (including myself) seem to have finally caught onto the fact that the writers’ branch sees foreign films and isn’t afraid to nominate them.  Despite everyone declaring “A Separation” the winner for Best Foreign Film all year, very few seemed to see the Best Original Screenplay nomination coming.

“Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Barbarian Invasions” had turned their goodwill from Best Foreign Film into writing nods.  Not to mention “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and “City of God,” directorial triumphs recognized by the directors’ branch, were also recognized for their screenplays.  Oh, I almost forgot to mention “Amelie,” “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” and “Dirty Pretty Things.”

Looper

And I nearly omitted Pedro Almodóvar’s “Talk to Her,” which WON in 2002.  (Perhaps it’s the subtitles that remind them that they are reading a movie?)

The writers think global.  Thus, no one wants to get caught off guard, and the smart money is on Michael Haneke’s “Amour.”  While I think it’s much more of a director’s movie, I think it glides in simply on the weakness of the pool of eligible nominees.

Perhaps they will pull a “Margin Call” surprise and go with Nicholas Jarecki’s “Arbitrage,” a kindred spirit in its vilification of Wall Street big wigs.  Or maybe they take original to heart and nominate Rian Johnson’s superb “Looper,” a critical favorite that has popped up sporadically throughout the precursor circuit.  Heck, maybe John Gatins’ script for “Flight” shows up like it did on the WGA list.

But I’ll stick with “Amour,” in spite of my reservations.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. Lincoln
  2. Argo
  3. Silver Linings Playbook
  4. Les Misérables
  5. Beasts of the Southern Wild

Argo Screenplay“Lincoln,” “Argo,” and “Silver Linings Playbook” are locks.  Inarguable.  If they don’t get nominated … well, I won’t finish that sentence since it’s a waste of time.  IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.

The last two slots are a mystery to me.  I think it’s ultimately a decision of whether the writers go along with groupthink or go out on a limb for a script that they love.  Will they make sure the heavy-hitter Best Picture contenders have a writing nomination to add to their tally?  Or will they provide a lone nomination (or a high-profile one) for a movie not nearly as beloved?

Just as a reminder of how hard it is to predict, let’s look back at the past three years of the category since those reflect Best Picture moving to beyond 5 nominees.

Last year, it looked like “The Help” would ride the coattails of its Best Picture nomination to a screenplay nod.  And “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” which most thought would be a Best Picture nominee, looked good too.  The writers snubbed both of these, opting for the well-wrought “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and a lone nod for George Clooney’s “The Ides of March.”  (“War Horse” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” were two other Best Picture nominees that were not recognized.)

LincolnIn 2010, the category was 5-for-5 with Best Picture nominees “Winter’s Bone,” “True Grit,” “Toy Story 3,” and “127 Hours” all scoring here.  The eventual winner was – obviously – Aaron Sorkin’s visionary script for “The Social Network.”

2009 saw a surprising triumph for Best Picture nominee “Precious” over fellow nominees “Up in the Air,” “District 9,” and “An Education.”  Only one other adaptation was in the Best Picture field, but it was “The Blind Side” – a nominee few saw coming.  So unsurprisingly, an outside nominee charged the field – “In the Loop,” a British political comedy that came in from out of the blue.

So since there’s no clear precedent, what to do?  Predict that the writers just go with the flow and nominated “Life of Pi” and “Les Misérables?”  Or attempt to forecast a big passion play?

I think William Nicholson’s script for “Les Misérables” is a more likely nominee, despite many naysayers who think it won’t be appreciated because it was a musical.  “Chicago,” the last stage-to-screen musical, was nominated here; you have to go so far back to see a movie musical in the Best Picture field that it isn’t worth looking for a pattern.  We really have no idea whether it’s a contender, though, since it was ineligible at the WGA Awards.  But it did miss out on a Golden Globe nomination, and that was a nod “Chicago” did pick up in 2002.

Les Mis FYC 2-page

Basically, in my prediction of “Les Misérables” for Best Adapted Screenplay, I’m counting on the movie playing really well with the Academy (which it apparently has, in spite of the critics’ attempts to destroy it).  There’s nothing but a gut feeling telling me to predict it, and a slight inkling that they love the movie enough to nominate it a lot.

There’s much more of a reason for me to predict “Life of Pi,” which has the WGA nomination to its credit.  But a lot of people have criticized David Magee’s script for being the major flaw of the movie, and that gives me hesitancy.  Could it be that it only scored a nomination because of all the ineligible movies?

Life of Pi

I had similar hang-ups about “Hugo” last year, a movie that was visually impressive but took a lot of flak for its weak writing.  Yet John Logan’s script for that was nominated for a WGA Award … and then received an Oscar nomination.  Does “Life of Pi” have the strength of “Hugo,” though, which went on to win 5 Oscars in 2011?  I don’t think it does, and Fox seems to have little confidence in it.

But if it’s not “Life of Pi,” what will it be?  Does any film have the passion necessary to score an outside nod?

There’s an outside chance “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” gets a Best Picture nomination, but I doubt it would get nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for the same reasons “The Blind Side” missed out here.  Its success is in its feel-good nature, not because of good writing.

Though I’d say it’s written like a sitcom, there are fans of Ben Lewin’s script for “The Sessions.”  But the only heat that movie has lies with the performances of John Hawkes and Helen Hunt; love of the movie doesn’t go much beyond that.  And if it was a serious contender, why wasn’t it nominated for a WGA Award in spite of all the ineligible movies?

Perks

Heck, maybe even John Logan’s script for “Skyfall” will show up.  Some have suggested it will show up in the Best Picture field after a slightly surprising nomination for the Producers Guild’s prize.  I’d say the script, though flawed, is the smartest part of that movie – but I just don’t see it happening.  Other than “Toy Story 3,” I can’t find any franchise entry nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.

A more likely nominee is “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” which has been nominated for the WGA Award and the Critics’ Choice Award.  It’s adapted by the writer of the novel, Stephen Chbosky, who also directed the film.  I could definitely see it being 2012’s “The Ides of March” since it’s unlikely to be recognized anywhere else, and the writing is a major strong suit of the film.

But I just have a hard time predicting the movie since it flew under the radar all season.  It didn’t do particularly well at the box office, and it doesn’t have much big name talent beyond Emma Watson.  “The Ides of March” had 4 Golden Globe nods and a PGA mention.  Likewise, “In the Loop” had popped up in a number of critics’ groups awards.  I’d be surprised if the Academy stood up for “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”

Beasts 2

If any movie unseats “Les Misérables” or “Life of Pi,” I think it would be “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”  It has been uniquely hard to gauge love for the film because it was ineligible not only for the WGA Awards but also for the SAG Awards.  I considered it dead when it blanked at the Golden Globes, but I’m beginning to rethink my assessment after it shockingly popped up as a nominee for Best Picture for the PGA.

Had it been eligible for the guild awards, would we have seen a groundswell of support for the movie?  And lest we forget, the HFPA blanked “True Grit” in 2010 – and that went on to received 10 Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.  Some say the HFPA doesn’t like quintessential American stories, and you could make an argument that “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is just that.

I think the movie’s biggest strength is its direction, not its writing.  However, I have similar things to say about “Amour,” and it appears to be cruising towards a nomination.  The writers may really admire this unconventional movie, adapted from a play and transmuted into something wholeheartedly cinematic.

Thus, the degree of difficulty gives me the confidence to say Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar’s script for “Beasts of the Southern Wild” will knock “Life of Pi” (although it could just as easily be “Les Misérables”) out of the category.  So, to answer my own questions from the beginning of the discussion, I believe the Academy will be part groupthink, part cavalier.

Check back tomorrow, January 6, for my take on the Supporting Actor/Actress categories!





LISTFUL THINKING: 2012 Superlatives

1 01 2013

New Year’s Day always marks a very interesting balancing act, reflecting on the old while also ringing in the new.  So while people are still thinking about 2012, let me offer up the first annual Superlatives post for the films of 2012.  I’ve already weighed in with the best and worst 10 of 2012, but what about the other 80 movies of the year?  What about the performances?  What about all sorts of other things?  This is the post where I get all sorts of stuff floating in my mind out there.

For the sake of review, I’ll go ahead and re-list my 10 best and worst of 2012.

Top 10 of 2012

10 Best of 2012: “21 Jump Street,” “Argo,” “Hitchcock,” “Killing Them Softly,” “Looper,” “Bernie,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Les Misérables,” “The Master,” “The Queen of Versailles

Prometheus

Honorable Mentions: “Rust and Bone,” “Prometheus,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “End of Watch,” “Holy Motors

Worst 10 of 2012

10 Worst of 2012: “The Grey,” “The Bourne Legacy,” “John Carter,” “Gone,” “The Vow,” “Killer Joe,” “The Paperboy,” “The Deep Blue Sea,” “The Watch,” “Casa De Mi Padre

pitchperfect2

Honorable Mentions: “Pitch Perfect,” “Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap,” “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” “First Position,” “Keep the Lights On,” “Being Flynn

10 More 2012 Releases I Still Need to See: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” “The Impossible,” “Promised Land,” “The Intouchables,” “Seven Psychopaths,” “Hyde Park on Hudson,” “Not Fade Away,” “Smashed,” “The House I Live In,” “Searching for Sugar Man”

Vanellope

5 Most Surprising Movies of 2012: “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Bernie,” “End of Watch,” “Hitchcock,” “21 Jump Street

Denzel Washington in Flight

5 Most Disappointing Movies of 2012: “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Django Unchained,” “Lincoln,” “Flight,” “The Bourne Legacy

Bachelorette

10 Most Forgettable Movies of 2012 (in alphabetical order): “Bachelorette,” “Hysteria,” “Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” “Lola Versus,” “Man on a Ledge,” “Men in Black III,” “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” “Take This Waltz,” “Trouble with the Curve

Silver Linings Playbook

5 Most Rewatchable Movies of 2012: “21 Jump Street,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Argo,” “Ted

Lincoln

5 Movies of 2012 I’m Glad I Saw But Will Never Watch Again: “Lincoln,” “Amour,” “The Invisible War,” “Compliance,” “ReGeneration

Killing Them Softly

5 Most Underrated Movies of 2012: “Killing Them Softly,” “Les Misérables,” “Prometheus,” “Safety Not Guaranteed,” “End of Watch

The Avengers

5 Most Overrated Movies of 2012: “The Sessions,” “Lincoln,” “Django Unchained,” “Life of Pi,” “The Avengers

PSH

5 Movies That Got Better with Distance and Time: “Killing Them Softly,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “The Master,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Prometheus

Brave

5 Movies That Got Worse with Distance and Time: “Brave,” “Lincoln,” “Flight,” “The Sessions,” “The Dark Knight Rises

Argo

5 Movies That Felt Shorter Than Their Runtime: “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Les Misérables,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Argo,” “Django Unchained

Keira Knightley in "Anna Karenina"

5 Movies That Felt Longer Than Their Runtime: “Lincoln,” “Anna Karenina,” “This Is 40,” “Damsels in Distress,” The Five-Year Engagement

BOTSW

Breakout Performances: Quvenzhané Wallis in “Beasts of the Southern Wild,”  Eddie Redmayne in “Les Misérables,” Ezra Miller in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” Garrett Hedlund in “On the Road,” Scoot McNairy in “Argo

Silver Linings Playbook

Breakthrough Performances: Bradley Cooper in “Silver Linings Playbook,” Michael Pena in “End of Watch,” Jack Black in “Bernie,” Channing Tatum in “21 Jump Street,” Elizabeth Banks in “People Like Us

Best Exotic

Breakdown Performances: Anna Kendrick in “Pitch Perfect,” Salma Hayek in “Savages,” Tom Cruise in “Rock of Ages,” Emile Hirsch in “Killer Joe,” Dev Patel in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

frame 01021605R

Best Body of Work in 2012: (tie) Anne Hathaway in “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Les Misérables,” Jennifer Lawrence in “The Hunger Games” and “Silver Linings Playbook

The Deep Blue Sea

Worst Body of Work in 2012: (tie) Rachel Weisz in “The Bourne Legacy” and “The Deep Blue Sea,” Taylor Kitsch in “John Carter” and “Savages

Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty

Best Heroes: Jessica Chastain as Maya in “Zero Dark Thirty,” Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk in “The Avengers,” Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean in “Les Misérables

John Carter

Worst Heroes: Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man in “The Amazing Spider-Man,” Taylor Kitsch as John Carter in “John Carter,” Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross in “The Bourne Legacy

Catwoman

Best Villains: Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman in “The Dark Knight Rises,” Russell Crowe as Javert in “Les Misérables,” Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie in “Django Unchained

Skyfall

Worst Villains: Tom Hardy as Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises,” Javier Bardem as Silva in “Skyfall,” Rhys Ifans as Lizard in “The Amazing Spider-Man

Joaquin

Best Possessed Performance: Joaquin Phoenix in “The Master

The Paperboy

Worst Possessed Performance: Nicole Kidman in “The Paperboy

Bernie

Best Comedic Performance: (tie) Jack Black in “Bernie,” Channing Tatum in “21 Jump Street

The Watch

Worst Comedic Performance: The cast of “The Watch

Uggie

Best Cameo: Uggie in “The Campaign

Ryan Reynolds

Worst Cameo: Ryan Reynolds in “Ted

Eddie Redmayne

Best Singing: Eddie Redmayne in “Les Misérables

Alec

Worst Singing: Alec Baldwin in “Rock of Ages

That’s about all I can come up with for now … may add to this later!  Happy 2013, everyone!





Not Your Average Top 10: The Best of 2012

30 12 2012

It gets harder to believe every year when this point of the year rolls around, but it never ceases to amaze me when it comes time to make end-of-year lists.  Although if I’m being honest with you all, I’m making the list all year long in my head.  But to know there’s a point of finality is always a little scary.

This is always the most opportune time to muse on trends in the year of film and perhaps even unify the most exemplary movies under a common theme.  To be honest, I thought 2012 was a bad year for the movies.  As of the publication of this post, I saw one hundred movies released in the calendar year – the majority of which could be described as cliched, stale, average, mediocre, unspectacular, color-by-numbers, tired, banal, so-so, or middling.  Or to put all that into one word: unambitious.

2012 was a year where filmmakers and financiers played it safe, resorting to the comfort and ease of the stock and formula.  That can be okay at times, but the upper limit on those types of films is being good – not great.  And when we expect greatness, what we are left with when the credits roll is a lingering sense of disappointment.

So when I sat down and decided to officially declare what I thought the ten crowning achievements of cinema in 2012 were, it was not particularly hard.  But I think that was facilitated not by how good my top ten films were, but rather by how bad the majority of my bottom 90 were.  Save my top two films of the year, I don’t think 2012 gave us any masterpieces (and even those are a stretch).

Yet these ten movies did give me a flickering feeling of hope that there are people in the industry who still have a little bit of that iconoclastic spirit left in them.  These filmmakers made bold works, ones that stood markedly above the otherwise average year … and were not your average version of whatever framework they were working inside.

21 Jump Street

#10
21 Jump Street
Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Written by Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill
Starring Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, and Ice Cube

Not Your Average High School Movie

I normally reserve a slot for a comedy in my top 10 – just because I think there are plenty of great contributions to cinema that don’t come in the form of serious, brooding drama.  This slot, however, produced a top 10 berth for “Get Him to the Greek” in 2010, a pick I now regret.  But something tells me I won’t regret including “21 Jump Street.”  It’s a movie that sets out to be an entirely different kind of high school movie, one not perched in the cliches of old.  By redefining who the popular kids can be, it provides fantastic humor and imagination to a subgenre dwelling in obsolescence.  Maybe subsequent films inspired by its greatness will do it best, but “21 Jump Street” most definitely did it first.  And darned well by 2012 standards.

Argo

#9
Argo
Directed by Ben Affleck
Written by Chris Terrio
Starring Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin, and John Goodman

Not Your Average Escape Film

If “Toy Story 3” was any indication, no one wants to watch a serious escape movie anymore; they just want to see a tongue-in-cheek parody.  But Ben Affleck’s “Argo,” set against the background Middle East chaos in the 1970s, recalls the brilliant and classic filmmaking of that same era.  It’s a thrilling ride that takes us through three different worlds: the hilariously superficial Hollywood, the dimly-lit and smoky corridors of Washington bureaucracy, and ultimately the precarious and hostile Iran with anti-Western sentiment always palpable in the air.  With every scene, Affleck finds the perfect tone and straps us in for a thrilling ride.

Hitchcock

#8
Hitchcock
Directed by Sacha Gervasi
Written by John McLaughlin
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, and Scarlett Johansson

Not Your Average Biopic

I’m getting really tired of hagiographic biopics that act as if all people worthy of having their lives documented on film follow the same clean narrative pattern.  Sacha Gervasi’s slice-of-biography “Hitchcock,” focusing on the struggle to get the now-classic “Psycho” made, resists falling into the typical trappings.  It’s got a killer sense of humor and an even better sense of history and the shortcomings of the past.  Gervasi’s biopic is both entertaining and informative, but more importantly, it’s fair because it discards the usual illusions.

Killing Them Softly

#7
Killing Them Softly
Written for the screen and directed by Andrew Dominik
Starring Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, and James Gandolfini

Not Your Average Gangster Film

Though I had my reservations upon seeing the premiere in Cannes, “Killing Them Softly” has grown on me in a way that no other film has in 2012.  The daring style Andrew Dominik injects into his film provides such a kick that I’ve been feeling its reverberations all year long.  It’s a movie that uses the framework of a gangster film to make a statement on violence and criminality, but Dominik doesn’t blare out what that statement is.  How he figures out a way to be restrained while kicking out our teeth with his killer finale.

Looper

#6
Looper
Written and directed by Rian Johnson
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt

Not Your Average Sci-Fi Flick

There’s nothing strong characterization can’t fix, and Rian Johnson employs it to superb effect in “Looper.”  He finds that by taking the time to develop and invest in his characters, particularly Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis’ Joe (at different ages), every aspect of science-fiction gets better.  It results in more investment and far greater payoff.  If this is the new direction of the genre, I am totally on board.

Bernie

#5
Bernie
Directed by Richard Linklater
Written by Richard Linklater and Skip Hollingsworth
Starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, and Matthew McConaughey

Not Your Average True Story

My love of “Bernie” may be partially inflated due to the story’s setting of Carthage, Texas being close to home in Houston.  But after several viewings to let the novelty wear off, and I’m still a huge fan.  Linklater’s film is a finely tuned tale of a man, Jack Black’s brilliantly played Bernie Tiede, and the spell he cast on a community.  Yet Linklater cleverly recognizes the limits of fiction and captures Carthage with a semi-documentarian angle.  As a result, the magnetism of Black’s character feels all the more authentic when placed in a real-life context.

Zero Dark Thirty

#4
Zero Dark Thirty
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Written by Mark Boal
Starring Jessica Chastain, Kyle Chandler, and Jason Clarke

Not Your Average Procedural

Not unlike “Looper,” Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s “Zero Dark Thirty” finds transcendence in a strong character.  Jessica Chastain’s Maya, the hero of the year on screen, is so fiercely committed to finding Osama Bin Laden that we can’t help but get all worked up alongside her.  We normally watch events unfold from a cool distance in procedurals, but that’s not the case here thanks to Bigelow’s unbelievable ability to create tension and Chastain’s tour de force.

Les Miserables

#3
Les Misérables
Directed by Tom Hooper
Written by William Nicholson
Starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway

Not Your Average Musical

I feel like my 1400 word review said just about all I could say about the brilliance and boldness of “Les Misérables.”  Tom Hooper has literally redefined what the movie musical can be with his movie.  By trying out an entirely different visual feel, he has now opened the floodgate for less literal and more cinematic adaptations of musical theatre.  It’s made even more impressive by the fact that this technical marvel also provides the most emotionally powerful movie experience of the year.

The Master (6)

#2
The Master
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams

Not Your Average Paul Thomas Anderson Film

In 2012, I feel like I paid a lot of attention to auteurs, directors with their own personal stamp on their movies.  And this year, so many of them flopped, failing to show signs of growth or simply stalling in familiar grounds to disappointing effect.  Not Paul Thomas Anderson.  With “The Master,” he has truly come into his own as a filmmaker.  Gone are the vestiges of Scorsese and Altman, two directors he imitated successfully for a decade.  He’s now in the realm of Kubrick, not necessarily in terms of feel or style but definitely in terms of impact and originality.  Anderson dared to push the boundaries of cinema in ways we will not likely realize fully for years.  And I just can’t wait to see what revelations his meticulously crafted “The Master” holds in store in the future.

Queen of Versailles

#1
The Queen of Versailles
Directed by Lauren Greenfield
Featuring Jackie and David Siegel

Not Your Average Documentary

The dichotomy between my top two movies of the year is quite interesting.  “The Master” is a marvel of planning and method.  “The Queen of Versailles,” on the other hand, is a happy accident.  When Lauren Greenfield first fixed her lens on the Siegel family, they were on top of the world, building the biggest house in America and throwing caution to the wind.  Then the recession happened, and things got really interesting.  By having her camera in the right place at the right time, Greenfield epitomizes the ability of cinema to capture, reveal, and discover.  With fine tuning and a sharp sociological imagination, her final film is the most inquisitive and incisive work to date about what it means to be an American in the Great Recession.  It entertains us not unlike a Bravo special, yet it also asks us tough questions about the American Dream as well as our notions of success and happiness.  Greenfield captures reality like a documentary but suggests layers of depth normally only found in fiction.  It’s an important work that will undoubtedly serve as a cultural signpost while also continuing to probe our collective psyche.





REVIEW: Zero Dark Thirty

20 12 2012

If you asked me to do word associations for the subgenre procedural, I’d probably start with long, tedious, cold, and other such synonyms.  But I gladly say that none of these apply to director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” the story of the ten-year hunt for Osama bin Laden.  Spoiler alert … he dies at the end.

Though I’m sure the pursuit was a lot messier than what we saw on the screen (and plenty took place in the shadows that we will never know), Boal makes the chase relatively easy to follow given all the leads and locations the CIA follows.  He perfectly strikes the delicate balance between capturing the fine details of the operation while also keeping the big picture squarely in focus.

And Bigelow matches his careful dance every step of the way.  Essentially, she takes the unbelievable suspense she was able to create in “The Hurt Locker” and puts it on a macro scale.  It’s not just Sgt. James anymore; it’s the United States of America.  It’s a goose chase so wild and riveting that the two and a half hours will feel like twenty minutes.

In the opening scenes of the film when the detainee program is yielding little to track down Bin Laden, “Zero Dark Thirty” had me at a distance, interested but not fully engaged.  Yet two hours later as Seal Team Six embarked on the raid that would ultimately take out the most wanted terrorist, I found myself on the edge of my seat with my heart racing at a million miles per hour.  And keep in mind, I knew what was going to happen!  Bigelow’s thriller is tightly constructed with not a moment wasted as it builds towards the inevitable payoff.

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