Last-Minute Oscar Predictions Post 2017!

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Well, it’s finally here – the Superbowl of Cinema, the Indianapolis 500 of Film – it’s OSCAR Day!  As you can probably tell, I’m very excited! So, before I put the finishing touches on the hors d’oeuvres and my party shoes on my feet, I have time for a quick predictions post.

Here is your list of nominees in the twenty-four categories that will be televised tonight. (If you’re a novice watcher, you might want to take a nap now. We can expect the show to last until midnight.) The show should be a good one. Jimmy Kimmel is hosting for the first time. For years, his post-Oscars edition of his own show has been a highlight.

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My prognostications for what I think will win are in yellow.  If the film or performance that I think should win is different from what I believe will win, I’ve marked it in red.  I’ll update with an * for the actual winner. My average over the last few years is roughly 75%.  There appear to be quite a few “sure things” this year, so we’ll see whether or not I improve my numbers.

Best Picture

Arrival

Fences

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

Hidden Figures

La La Land

Lion

Manchester By the Sea

Moonlight *

Hedging a bit, right off -the-bat? Let me explain. Hell or High Water was my favorite film of the year, followed by Manchester… and Moonlight.  Don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed La La Land, but in terms of “Best Picture”? I believe there are other films more deserving. On the other hand, can’t we all use a little bit of simple, lovely, well-made movie magic? So, I won’t really be all that upset when La La Land wins.

Best Actor

Casey Affleck *

Andrew Garfield

Ryan Gosling

Viggo Mortensen

Denzel Washington

I’m sticking with Casey Affleck, though Denzel Washington is surging in most polls.

 

Best Actress

Isabelle Huppert

Ruth Negga

Natalie Portman

Emma Stone *

Meryl Streep

I’m happy that Ruth Negga was recognized for the beautiful Loving, just as I’m mystified that her costar Joel Edgerton, as well as director Jeff Nichols and the film itself, were not.

 

Best Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali *

Jeff Bridges

Lucas Hedges

Dev Patel

Michael Shannon

Best Supporting Actress

Viola Davis *

Naomie Harris

Nicole Kidman

Octavia Spencer

Michelle Williams

What more can be said about Viola Davis’ fierce performance in Fences? She should have been in the leading actress category and she’d still win.

Best Director

Arrival, Denis Villaneuve

Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson

La La Land, Damien Chazelle *

Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan

Moonlight, Barry Jenkins

Adapted Screenplay

Arrival, Eric Heisserer

Fences, August Wilson

Hidden Figures, Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi

Lion, Luke Davies

Moonlight, Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney *

Original Screenplay

Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan

La La Land, Damien Chazelle

The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou

Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan *

20th Century Women, Mike Mills

I’ll be very happy for Kenneth Longergan, who wrote a gorgeous movie. Would I be even happier if Taylor Sheridan’s name were to be called? Yes. Yes, I would.

Cinematography

Arrival, Bradford Young

La La Land, Linus Sandgren *

Lion, Greig Fraser

Moonlight, James Laxton

Silence, Rodrigo Prieto

Animated Feature Film

Kubo and the Two Strings

Moana

My Life as a Zucchini

The Red Turtle

Zootopia *

Foreign Language Film

Land of Mine (Denmark)

A Man Called Ove (Sweden)

The Salesman (Iran) *

Tanna (Australia)

Toni Erdmann (Germany)

Documentary Feature

Fire at Sea

I Am Not Your Negro

Life, Animated

O.J.: Made in America *

Lion, Greig Fraser

Moonlight, James Laxton

Silence, Rodrigo Prieto

Film Editing

Arrival, Joe Walker

Hacksaw Ridge, John Gilbert *

Hell or High Water, Jake Roberts

La La Land, Tom Cross 

Moonlight, Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon

Production Design

Arrival, Patrice Vermette and Paul Hotte

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Stuart Craig and Anna Pinnock

Hail, Caesar! , Jess Gonchor and Nancy Haigh

La La Land, Davis Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco *

Passengers, Guy Hendrix Dyas and Gene Serdena

Costume Design

Allied, Joanna Johnston

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Colleen Atwood *

Florence Foster Jenkins, Consolata Boyle

Jackie, Madeline Fontaine

La La Land, Mary Zophres

Makeup and Hairstyling

A Man Called Ove, Eva von Bahr and Love Larson

Star Trek Beyond, Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo

Suicide Squad, Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini, and Christopher Nelson *

Original Score

Jackie, Mica Levi

La La Land, Justin Hurwitz *

Lion, Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka

Moonlight, Nicholas Britell

Passengers, Thomas Newman

Original Song

“Audition (The Fools who Dream),” La La Land, music by Justin Hurwitz, lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

“Can’t Stop the Feeling,” Trolls, music and lyric by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin, and Karl Johan Schuster

“City of Stars,” La La Land, music by Justin Hurwitz, lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul *

“The Empty Chair,” Jim: The James Foley Story, music and lyric by J. Ralph and Sting

“How Far I’ll Go,” Moana, music and lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Sound Editing

Arrival, Sylvain Bellemare *

Deepwater Horizon, Wylie Stateman and Renée Tondelli

Hacksaw Ridge, Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright

La La Land, Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan

Sully, Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman

Sound Mixing

Arrival, Bernard Gariépy Strobl and Claude La Haye

Hacksaw Ridge, Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie, and Peter Grace *

La La Land, Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee, and Steve A. Morrow

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, David Parker, Christopher Scarabosio, and Stuart Wilson

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush, and Mac Ruth

Visual Effects

Deepwater Horizon, Craig Hammack, Jason Snell, Justin Billington, and Burt Dalton

Doctor Strange, Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli, and Paul Corbould

The Jungle Book, Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones, and Dan Lemmon *

Kubo and the Two Strings, Steve Emerson, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean, and Brad Schiff

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel, and Neil Corbould

Animated Short Film

Blind Vaysha

Borrowed Time

Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Pearl

Piper *

Live Action Short Film

Ennemis Intérieurs

La Femme et le TGV

Silent Nights

Sing *

Timecode

Documentary Short Subject

Extremis

4.1 Miles

Joe’s Violin

Watani: My Homeland

The White Helmets *

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Screen Actors Guild 2017 Predictions!

Credit: Photo by Buckner/Variety/REX

Credit: Photo by Buckner/Variety/REX

I’m still working the kinks out, flexing my muscles, easing myself back into this blog. As you are probably aware, tomorrow will see the 23rd annual Screen Actors Guild Awards telecast. Since giving my opinion on weighty matters such as who will win which of the many awards the film industry likes to hand out to themselves is one of my specialties, I’m back with my predictions.

The SAG Awards and their show are all about the actors. We don’t have to waste time on the “crafts” or below-the-line names that no one recognizes and who run the show well past midnight, no matter how many times the orchestra tries to “play off” a winner who may never have this moment in the spotlight again and their over-long speech. (That was sarcasm, by the way. I’m one of those people who always stays for the credits at the end of a film. It’s the least we can do for those “below-the-line” names, without whom the film we’ve just watched could not be made.)  In any case, I like the SAG Awards show. Unlike the Oscars, where everyone sits in a theater counting the minutes before they can hit the bar or the snack table, but like The Golden Globes, everyone sits at tables with their respective casts, many of whom have not seen each other since their project wrapped – unless, like the casts of La La Land or Moonlight, for example, they’ve been hitting the “circuit” together for the past few months. Food is served, if you get there on time, and the champagne flows freely.  So tipsy actors get to accept awards given to them by their fellow actors. The speeches are generally the best of the major televised shows.  And the show ends on time.

FILM:

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea 

Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic

Denzel Washington, Fences

I have to go with Casey Affleck. He’s been dominating awards season in this category. If he loses to anyone, it will be to Denzel Washington, who has never won a SAG Award. No, really.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role

Amy Adams, Arrival

Emily Blunt, The Girl on the Train

Natalie Portman, Jackie

Emma Stone, La La Land

Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

If SAG voting hadn’t already been concluded by the time Oscar nominations were announced, I might have gone with Amy Adams here, just to right the incredible wrong done to her by the Academy. But as it is, this comes down to early favorites Natalie Portman and Emma Stone.  Jackie’s star has faded and I think the buzz has gone off of Portman’s portrayal. Emma Stone won the Golden Globe for Musical/Comedy and here, awarding her is a way to award the movie, since it was not nominated in the Ensemble category (because really, La La Land is a two-person film. There is no real ensemble).

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight *

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Hugh Grant, Florence Foster Jenkins

Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea

Dev Patel, Lion

Another actor dominating most of the guild and critics awards is Mahershala Ali. I can’t really even make a case for anyone else in this category. Ali’s not a newcomer, he’s an actor who’s paid his dues and earned this time in the spotlight. He’s been part of nominated ensembles before, namely “House of Cards” and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and is part of two nominated ensembles this year, one of which will undoubtedly win, Hidden Figures and Moonlight

 

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role

Viola Davis, Fences *

Naomie Harris, Moonlight

Nicole Kidman, Lion

Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

Again, I can’t even begin to make a case for anyone else in this category. If Viola Davis doesn’t win this, all bets are off and Chaos is driving the bus (to really mix my metaphors).

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture

Captain Fantastic

Fences

Hidden Figures 

Manchester by the Sea

Moonlight 

This is the toughie. All of these ensembles are strong, but this award is the equivalent of a “Best Picture”.  That said, the only one of these films that has not been nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award is Captain Fantastic. So on that basis, I’m eliminating it from contention here. Which still leaves four incredible films.  I think the next to go has to be Manchester By the Sea (despite the fact that it is still my favorite from this group) because that movie rests on Casey Affleck’s shoulders (albeit with able assists from Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges) and he will be recognized.

So, now it comes down to Fences, Hidden Figures and Moonlight.  Any one of these could easily be rewarded for a number of reasons. I feel like I’m blindly throwing at a dartboard here, but I’m going with Moonlight. *fingers crossed*

Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture

Captain America: Civil War

Doctor Strange

Hacksaw Ridge *

Jason Bourne

Nocturnal Animals

Throwing another dart at the board, I’m going with Hacksaw Ridge, another film up for a Best Picture Oscar (the only movie in this category that is) and it’s a war movie. Hollywood loves a good war picture almost as much as they do movies about the movie business. Eh, but what do I know? Doctor Strange has a pretty good pedigree as well. (Who doesn’t love Benedict Cumberbatch?)

TELEVISION:

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries

Riz Ahmed, “The Night Of”

Sterling K. Brown, “The People v. O.J. Simpson”

Bryan Cranston, “All the Way”

John Turturro, “The Night Of”

Courtney B. Vance, “The People v. O.J. Simpson” 

This is a category packed with worthy performances. I would be thrilled if either Riz Ahmed or John Turturro walked off with this for the incredible “The Night Of”, but I picked Courtney B. Vance for the Golden Globe and while he may have lost, I’m sticking with him for the SAG. He’s already won an Emmy, so it makes sense (and usually, so does the Screen Actors Guild, even if the HFPA does not).

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries

Bryce Dallas Howard, “Black Mirror”

Felicity Huffman, “American Crime”

Audra McDonald, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill”

Sarah Paulson, “The People v. O.J. Simpson” *

Kerry Washington, “Confirmation”

Well, Sarah Paulson has an Emmy and the Golden Globe so there’s no reason to think that she won’t prevail here as well. (If anyone spoils, I hope it’s Kerry Washington.)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series

Sterling K. Brown, “This Is Us”

Peter Dinklage, “Game of Thrones”

John Lithgow, “The Crown” *

Rami Malek, “Mr. Robot”

Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards”

I adore Peter Dinklage and Tyrion Lannister just like everyone else, but I’m team #JohnLithgow all the way.  Dinklage will be back. Lithgow’s character won’t. I’m also a huge Kevin Spacey fan, but I’ve thrown in the towel on “House of Cards” (don’t hate). “The Crown” was just that good. Lithgow’s incredible transformation into Winston Churchill deserves to be rewarded.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series

Millie Bobby Brown, “Stranger Things”

Claire Foy, “The Crown” *

Thandie Newton, “Westworld”

Winona Ryder, “Stranger Things”

Robin Wright, “House of Cards”

I went with Thandie Newton for the Golden Globe and Claire Foy bested her. Others are opting for Millie Bobby Brown, a new name on this list. I think the cast of “Stranger Things” has a good shot at the Ensemble Award, but I’m going with Claire Foy here. (And for the record, my real pick – the actress who truly gave the best performance of the year, JMHO – wasn’t even nominated. Let’s hope SAG – and the Emmys – catches up with the Golden Globes and eventually nominates Caitriona Balfe. C’mon!)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series

Anthony Anderson, “Black-ish”

Tituss Burgess, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”

Ty Burrell, “Modern Family”

William H. Macy, “Shameless”

Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent”

I am not an avid comedy watcher. I used to watch “Modern Family”, but got bored a long time ago. I think William H. Macy is an extremely talented actor, but I can’t speak to his work in “Shameless” this season.  I’m going with Jeffrey Tambor, because – well – Jeffrey Tambor. Doesn’t he own this category?

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series

Uzo Aduba, “Orange is the New Black”

Jane Fonda, “Grace and Frankie”

Ellie Kemper, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”*

Lily Tomlin, “Grace and Frankie”

If SAG does love its repeat winners, then Uzo Aduba should be a lock, but Emmy keeps awarding Julia Louis-Dreyfus and SAG overlooks her. How long will this stand?  I’m going with JLD. She gives great speeches.

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series

“The Crown”

“Downton Abbey”

“Game of Thrones” 

“Stranger Things”

“Westworld”

Oy! This is another tough one. A strong case could be made for every one of these series. “Downton Abbey” is done. They’ve won this award the last two years, will it win for its swan song? But again, “The Crown” is just that good. Will it split the “prestigious British show” vote? “Westworld” was fantastic and one of two water-cooler shows of the year. The other? “Stranger Things”, which could easily swoop in here and scoop this award.  Throwing yet another dart, I’m going with “Game of Thrones”, which, in its sixth season, had arguably its best.

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series

“The Big Bang Theory”

“Black-ish”

“Modern Family”

“Orange is the New Black”

“Veep”

I’m running out of darts.  I’m going with “Veep” because it has been around for six years, consistently well-written and well-acted and hilarious. It could be overlooked because it hits a little too close to the bone right now, in which case repeat winner “Orange Is the New Black” could prevail again or a brand new winner, in “Black-ish”, one just as relevant, could be crowned.

Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Comedy or Drama Series

“Game of Thrones” *

“Marvel’s Daredevil”

“Marvel’s Luke Cage”

“The Walking Dead”

“Westworld”

The shows on this list (and if you’ll notice none are comedies – are there ever comedies on this list?) owe a great deal to their stunt teams, but in my opinion, none more so than “Game of Thrones”. You did see “Battle of the Bastards”, right?

So there you have it, my picks for the 2017 Screen Actors Guild Awards. I’ll post an update on the JMHO Facebook page with my percentage.  See you next month for the Academy Awards!

Edited to include actual winners. My picks in yellow. Winners in red. (If by some miracle they’re the same, I’ve indicated with a red *)

It’s Here, It’s Here! It’s Finally #Oscars Day (And My Predictions Are Finally Finished!)

Osczars, Academy Awards, predictions, movies

Okay, I’m attempting to get my predictions in, just at the wire, which is par for my course, so here are my thoughts on the subject:

First, I think that this year, there will be no one film that runs away with all of the awards for which it has been nominated and the love will be spread around quite a bit. I like this idea. Considering all of the many movies made and how few are recognized at the big dance, a nomination should be its own reward. As someone (J.K. Simmons perhaps) said at an awards show earlier this year, if you’re in the room, you’re already a winner.

Of my favorite films this year (which are many, I can’t limit myself to just 10, and in no particular order):
Frank
The Drop
Locke
The Grand Budapest Hotel
A Most Violent Year
Boyhood
Birdman
Guardians of the Galaxy
Only Lovers Left Alive
Snowpiercer
Gone Girl
Nightcrawler
Mr. Turner
HTTYD2
Inherent Vice
The Trip to Italy

I’m amazed that so many of them are still in the Oscar mix and of course, just as surprised that so many of them are not.

Remember when Gone Girl was released and it automatically became the front-runner for Best Picture? That didn’t last long. It doesn’t take away my enjoyment of the movie though. And it will probably be remembered a lot longer than some of those films that were recognized. (Does anyone believe that The Theory of Everything bears repeat viewings?) Guardians of the Galaxy was just too popular and made too much money for anyone to “take seriously”.  It has been in the mix for a handful of technical awards, but let’s be honest. All of the technology, makeup and CGI would not have made that film what it was without the performances of Chris Pratt and company.

Snowpiercer was another film that was declared an instant classic with film scribes all over the interwebz begging for some awards recognition for the “best film of the year”.  Sorry, too “niche-y”, too sci-fi, too dystopian, too grimy, too…foreign.

Tilda Swinton, however, should have been recognized. Her part was originally written for a man. Even though it was adapted slightly for her, she spent two hours every day in the makeup chair.  How is it possible that this extraordinary talent has only been nominated for one Oscar (that she won – for Michael Clayton)?  If no one could get past her gargantuan teeth in Snowpiercer, what about for her haunting, languidly sexy vampire in Only Lovers Left Alive? How was that movie missed by so many? It is perfection.  (Full disclosure, I adore this woman. I can’t wait to see her in Judd Apatow‘s Train Wreck.)

Coulda, shoulda, woulda. In the Best Actor category, neither of the two actors who should win were even nominated. My first choice would have been Tom Hardy for Locke, a virtuoso performance in a singular film, but I’d have been happy with Jake Gyllenhaal for Nightcrawler. That said, of those actors who did manage to snag a nomination, Eddie Redmayne has the momentum after his SAG and BAFTA wins, although admittedly the latter award was given in his own backyard and it would have been a surprise if he hadn’t won. I’d much prefer, however, that Michael Keaton get the prize for what is a career defining (not to mention rejuvenating) role in Birdman. I’m against giving Oscars as career achievement awards (unless they are actually called that), but. unlike Redmayne and even Benedict Cumberbatch, journeyman Keaton created a character from scratch and made us care about him, and that’s what it’s all about.

What’s really exciting is that it’s now Oscar Day and we’re still debating these things. This is an exciting year, in my humble opinion, precisely because there are still a few question marks regarding the evening’s festivities, which means that there may yet be some surprises to be found and

Aside from the speeches, (and I won’t go into some of the wacky and unexpected examples of those, because once a name has been read, all bets are off. Whatever anyone says or does, they can’t take the statue away from you, so have it with your one-armed pushups like Jack Palance or just whoop for ten minutes like Cuba Gooding, Jr.) it seems like it’s been quite a while since any of us who pay attention to these things, was actually surprised.

But surprises can happen. There have been quite a few unexpected wins in (what seems like) the recent past. For example, Adrien Brody for The Pianist in 2002 over the likes of Jack Nicholson, Michael Caine, Nicholas Cage, and Daniel Day Lewis. Deserving or not, and I happen to think he was, no one saw that coming. Then Brody’s director Roman Polanski, upset DGA winner Rob Marshall (Chicago). this is an aberration on the order of 1999’s Shakespeare in Love win over Saving Private Ryan (what?!), not to mention perhaps the most infamous examples, Marisa Tomei in 1992 over Judy Davis, Joan Plowright, Miranda Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave (!!) and then 2004’s Crash over Brokeback Mountain. So anything is possible.

While most of us on the outside looking in this year have Best Actor down to a battle between Redmayne and Keaton, it is definitely within the realm of possibility for Bradley Cooper to sneak in and snatch it out from under them. This is Cooper’s third nomination in three years and he did the whole body transformation thing – packing on 50 pounds of muscle to play Navy Seal Chris Kyle – which the Academy loves. The one actor who appears to be out of the running completely is Cumberbatch. This after months of assumptions that he was the front-runner for The Imitation Game, which has also all but dropped out of the race. Cumberbatch has been covered in the dust of Redmayne and Keaton. I have no doubt, though, that he’ll be back for future races. Sorry Steve Carell. You are the proverbial luckless snowball.

Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor are all pretty much done deals. Despite the four other names announced in each of those categories, only one has been cleaning up at all of the under-card races. Julianne Moore (Still Alice), Patricia Arquette (Boyhood) and J.K. Simmons (Whiplash), respectively, are virtual locks to win the big one. All that’s left are those speeches. I don’t expect any of them to pull a Roberto Benigni. Too bad.

I believe it’s entirely possible that the Best Director and Best Picture races will be split, just like at BAFTA where Director was given to Alejandro Iñárritu and Pic to Boyhood, and yesterday at the Independent Spirit Awards where the opposite was true and Richard Linklater walked away with Director and Birdman, Best Picture. I’ve often said it’s illogical to nominate a film without its director, but it’s almost the norm this year: Selma without Ava Duvernay, The Theory of Everything but no James Marsh, American Sniper without Clint Eastwood– this is what happens when you expand Best Picture to as many as 12 but don’t expand the other categories! Insanity! (How then to explain Bennett Miller but no Foxcatcher?) Anyway, in the case of Boyhood’s Linklater and Birdman’s Iñárritu, if the Academy splits, it may just be a case of wanting to recognize two of the best films of the year without playing Solomon exactly, but without actually choosing.

That said, I make the call for Birdman a. because it’s a movie about actors (and they comprise the largest Academy voting bloc) and b. it has a slight edge in the guild awards. But, no matter who takes home the hardware, when it comes to these two films, fans of well-written, well-acted, well-directed, just plain well-made (and yes okay, independent) movies are the winners. Here’s hoping their success heralds a new wave of quirky, inventive, intelligent, cinematic square pegs.

On with the show:

BEST PICTURE
American Sniper
*Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

BEST DIRECTOR
*Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Morton Tyldum, The Imitation Game
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher

I have to go with Iñárritu, because of his DGA win. It is extremely rare that the winner of the Director’s Guild Award does not win the Academy Award. BUT – see above. Linklater could pull it out.

Best Actor
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
**Michael Keaton, Birdman
*Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

BAFTA was icing, but Redmayne won the Screen Actors Guild award. See above re: voting bloc. Academy voting actors are SAG voting actors.

Best Actress
Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
*Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Best Supporting Actress
*Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

Best Supporting Actor
Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
*J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Best Original Screenplay
Birdman, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo
Boyhood, Richard Linklater
Foxcatcher, E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
*The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson and Hugo Guiness
Nightcrawler, Dan Gilroy

Grand Budapest will get this award not only as a consolation prize for best picture (it did after all score a great many other nominations as well), but because it’s a truly wonderful story. Wes Anderson is a very literary filmmaker. The WGA win is a harbinger unless it won only because the guild’s first choice, Boyhood, was ineligible. But I don’t think so. Nightcrawler won the Independent Spirit Award and I would not be unhappy if the Academy recognized Dan Gilroy (in place of Jake Gyllenhaal).

Best Adapted Screenplay
American Sniper, Jason Hall
*The Imitation Game, Graham Moore
Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson
The Theory of Everything, Anthony McCarten
Whiplash, Damien Chazelle

Another consolation prize since The Imitation Game scored eight noms but won’t win any other major category. And again, Graham Moore took home the WGA.award, but his closest Academy competition (The Theory of Everything) wasn’t eligible, so Anthony McCarten could steal.

Best Documentary Feature
*CITIZENFOUR
Finding Vivian Maier
Last Days in Vietnam
The Salt of the Earth
Virunga

Thanks to HBO and Netflix, I’ve seen four of the five and on the merits, this is a hard choice to make. I’m going with CITIZENFOUR because it’s a juggernaut.

Best Costume Design
*The Grand Budapest Hotel, Milena Canonero
Inherent Vice, Mark Bridges
Into the Woods, Colleen Atwood
Mr. Turner, Jacqueline Durran
Maleficent, Anna B. Sheppard

Grand Budapest, Birdman and Into the Woods all won Costume Guild awards, because they have several categories. The Academy lumps them all together. Canonero is an Academy favorite (with 3 previous wins), although so is Atwood, who also has three. I think Grand Budapest will win. Canonero’s costumes for this film re-imagined a real period in history, one that has been put on screen many times, and made them seem fresh and new.

Best Cinematography
*Birdman, Emmanuel Lubezki
The Grand Budapest Hotel, Robert D. Yeoman
Ida, Ryszard Lenczweski and Lukasz Zal
Mr. Turner, Dick Pope
Unbroken, Roger Deakins

If I were voting, I’d have to go with Dick Pope‘s gorgeous Turner-like landscapes in Mr. Turner or sentimental favorite Roger Deakins, who is nominated for his 12th Oscar. Last year’s winner, Emmaneul Lubezki, for whom this is his seventh nomination, will win again because the camera work in Birdman is still a major talking point, even among lay-people.

Best Hair & Makeup
Foxcatcher, Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard
*The Grand Budapest Hotel, Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier
Guardians of the Galaxy, Eliazabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White

Guardians could pull out an upset, but for me, this category was decided the minute I saw Tilda Swinton in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Best Editing
American Sniper, Joel Cox and Gary Roach
*Boyhood, Sandra Adair
The Grand Budapest Hotel, Barney Pilling
The Imitation Game, William Goldenberg
Whiplash, Tom Cross

Why Boyhood? Twelve YEARS of footage. Now, I have to hand it to the editor of Whiplash as well. Miles Teller may have taught himself to play the drums for the role, but the tight editing made it fascinating, especially the finale, but still….twelve YEARS of footage. And it wasn’t just a cobbled together Frankenfilm. The result was lyrical and beautiful.

BEST SOUND EDITING
*American Sniper, Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman
Birdman, Martin Hernandez and Aaron Glascock
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Brent Burge and Jason Canovas
Interstellar, Richard King

Unbroken, Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro

This category is about creating an aural picture, that coincides with and reinforces the visual one. All of the nominees in this category are worthy. And for this reason Richard King, who created sound in the vacuum of space in Interstellar could upset, but think about what you heard when you saw American Sniper. Think about the juxtaposition of the horrors of war with what was happening at home. That is sound editing.

BEST SOUND MIXING
American Sniper, John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin
Birdman, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and Thomas Varga
Interstellar, Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten
Unbroken, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and David Lee
*Whiplash, Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley

Sound MIXING is creating a balanced blend,of the sounds that the sound editor has created. So doesn’t that mean that the film which wins that category should automatically win for mixing? Not necessarily. While Sniper could win, in this particular instance, it’s important that Whiplash be recognized, particularly for a sound category, especially when that aforementioned final sequence won’t have been. The sound mix is everything to this movie. That said, I could see Birdman’s jazz percussion soundscape sneaking in a win, But we’ll go with Whiplash.

Best Visual Effects
Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist
Guardians of the Galaxy, Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould
*Interstellar, Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher
X-Men: Days of Future Past, Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer

Some pundits are going with the team from Apes, both for its incredible effects (and their ability to make us care about the motion capture apes as well as all of their CGI tricks), and for the fact that this same team was nominated for Rise of the Planet of the Apes and didn’t win. That could also be a mark in Interstellar‘s favor. Interstellar should win on its own merits though. Whatever else you liked or didn’t like about Christopher Nolan‘s megafilm, it was visually stunning.

Best Foreign Film
Wild Tales, Damián Szifrón; Argentina
Tangerines, Zaza Urushadze; Estonia
Timbuktu, Abderrahmane Sissako; Mauritania
*Ida, Pawel Pawlikowski; Poland
Leviathan, Andrey Zvyagintsev; Russia

Ida is probably the film in this category that most people have seen. It’s been available on Netflix since December and has already won quite a few awards, including yesterday’s Independent Spirit Award. It’s also good enough to have been nominated for its stunning black and white cinematography and was in the conversation, at one time, for Best Picture.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
*The Grand Budapest Hotel, Alexandre Desplat
The Imitation Game, Alexandre Desplat
Interstellar, Hans Zimmer
Mr. Turner, Gary Yershon
The Theory of Everything, Jóhann Jóhannsson

Alexandre Desplat has been another Academy bridesmaid in recent years. Eight nominations since 2007, but without a win. He works on prestige films that get Academy recognition, but he’s also just that good. That he is nominated twice this year alone is testament to both of those facts. I do think he’ll finally win, but it gets trickier when one has to choose for which film. My personal choice is The Grand Budapest Hotel. As I’ve already said, I loved the score (as I did Desplat’s work on Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. Both quirky, toe-tapping and memorable). I can’t remember the score for any of the other films, although I remember enjoying them at the time. It is possible that because Desplat is competing against himself, that he might split the vote, leaving the door open for someone else. If that’s the case, it will probably be Jóhann Jóhannsson, who won the BAFTA.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Lost Stars” from Begin Again, Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond
“Everything is Awesome” from The LEGO Movie, Shawn Patterson
*“Glory” from Selma, John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn
“Grateful” from Beyond the Lights, Diane Warren

This is another virtual lock. It not only evokes the film, but it’s a good song in its own right.

Best Animated Film
Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
*How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of Princess Kaguya

I don’t know why The Lego Movie was not nominated. Even if it had been, I’d have been rooting for HTTYD2, for sentimental reasons and because it’s a great movie. It won the Annie, as did its predecessor, but this year it will also win Best Animated Feature since it doesn’t have a Pixar entry to beat. So yay! (Although I’m still bummed about John Powell‘s score snub that year and this.)

Best Short Film – Animated
**The Bigger Picture
The Dam Keeper
*Feast
Me and My Moulton
A Single Life

I loved them all and while my personal favorite might be The Bigger Picture, which was just so damn clever, I think Feast will win because, much like last year’s Paperman, it was the most seen. It’s also very sweet and deceptively simple.

Best Short Film -Live Action
Aya
Boogaloo and Graham
Butter Lamp
Parvaneh
*The Phone Call

Boogaloo and Graham pulled out a BAFTA win, and if that seemed like a hometown favorite (about two boys and their baby chicks), I’m equally as surprised that The Phone Call didn’t win there. It stars Sally Hawkins as a mental health worker at a suicide hotline and Jim Broadbent as her caller, both actors familiar to Academy voters, plus it’s the fictional companion to Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1. (See below) For those reasons I’m going with The Phone Call, even though some are touting the virtues of Parvaneh, from Switzerland, about an Afghan immigrant who travels to Zurich.
Best Short Film – Documentary
*Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1

Our Curse
The Reaper
White Earth

I’ve seen the shorts programs. (Hey, if you want to prognosticate with any accuracy, you have to) and Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 is both gut-wrenching and topical. We all say we hate the war but love the warrior. We need to do a better job of proving it.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
*The Grand Budapest Hotel, Adam Stockhausen and Anna Pinnock
The Imitation Game, Maria Djurkovic and Tatiana Macdonald
Interstellar, Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis and Paul Healy
Into the Woods, Dennis Gassner and Anna Pinnock
Mr. Turner, Suzie Davies and Charlotte Watts

Anna Pinnock is another dual nominee, but her collaboration with Adam Stockhausen on Grand Budapest should win her the award. Despite the Academy’s proclivity to give this award to a musical if one is available, the highly stylized look of Wes Anderson‘s film is its core.

There you have it, my predictions for the 2015 Academy Awards. Got ’em in, with a nanosecond to spare, but I got ’em in. So what else is new? Want to start making predictions for next year?

UPDATE: I went 21 for 24 – same as last year. I’m always surprised, not by the fact that I missed a few, but the ones that I miss. 

Oscar Nominations 2015: The Fallout

Oscars, nominations, Academy Awards, AMPAS, poster, Neil Patrick Harris

This morning, Thursday January 15, 2015, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs (along with a somnambulant Chris Pine, J.J. Abrams, and Alfonso Cuarón) stood on a mountain top (okay a stage) to hand down that august body’s nominations for the 87th annual Academy Awards. Given the complete hodge-podge and mishmash of this year’s list of nominees, seemingly culled together by blind monkeys banging away at keyboards, I can understand why they do it at the arse-crack of dawn (at least for those on the West Coast). They’re hiding under the cover of darkness.

I have to say I’m not really all that shocked by who was nominated, but rather surprised, puzzled and, yes, a little pissed-off, by who wasn’t.

One step forward and two steps back: last year I fantasized about more than one person of color being nominated for Best Actor. This pipe-dream was unfullfilled, but at least one black actor not named Denzel managed to slip past the color barrier (Chiwetel Ejiorfor), even if they did ultimately hand the prize to the middle-aged white guy. I was left with the thought that perhaps a corner had been turned and that in subsequent years we would begin to see nominees more reflective of the culture. This year is not one of those years.

Despite a mesmorizing performance by David Oyelowo as the man known as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (rather than a two-dimensional bold-faced type legend) in Selma, for which he received nothing but glowing reviews, the actor did not receive an Academy Award nomination. Neither did the film’s director Ava DuVernay, who until a week ago when the Director’s Guild also snubbed her, had been favorited to become the first African-American female director nominated.

Back when I began ruminating on the subject, I had thought that Oyelowo might just snatch the Oscar most were then already giving to Benedict Cumberbatch, the way I so desperately wanted Ejiofor to get the Oscar he so richly deserved, instead of the anointed Matthew McConaughey. (Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of both Ben and Matty, as you well know, but the award is for Best Performance, not body of work or for being an all-around brilliant actor/charming human.) Now of course, Oyelowo was ignored and Cumberbatch will almost certainly lose to either Eddie Redmayne or (more likely in this arena) Michael Keaton.

If Oyelowo was too dark for them or they couldn’t pronounce his name (O-yellow-o, and he’s been around long enough for people to get it right), the Academy could have opted for the equally deserving Guatemalan/Cuban actor, Oscar Isaac. When are they going to recognize this man? Bradley Cooper has been nominated three years in a row! After the egregious omission of Isaac’s name on last year’s list for Inside Llewyn Davis, I should have been prepared. A Most Violent Year (which incidentally included David Oyelowo in a fantastic supporting performance) probably wasn’t seen by enough voting members. I know the National Board of Review doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, but the film’s win should at least have put it on the radar. Maybe Isaac is just too good…like his costar Jessica Chastain (also denied after a year that also included The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Miss Julie and Interstellar). When we expect greatness, perhaps it’s not as likely to be rewarded? No, that can’t be right. Otherwise how the hell does one explain Meryl Streep? She made a movie? BAM! here’s a nomination!

Even if the Academy can only see white, I’m puzzled by the representatives it chose. As I mentioned on Facebook, I am a fan of both Steve Carrell and Bradley Cooper, but fake noses and weight gain/loss need to stop being reasons for nominations, let alone wins (Nicole Kidman and Matty again, respectively). I love you both, I do, but neither of you were better than Oyelowo or Isaac or Ralph Fiennes or Tom Hardy or Timothy Spall or Jake Gyllenhaal, all of whom are more deserving. JMHO.

So, moving on to Best Actress, the race boils down to Julianne Moore and four other white women. Doesn’t matter which ones. Moore, an exceptionally talented actress who has never won, has already been chosen for her role in Still Alice, a film 99.9% of the country has not had a chance to see yet. Another weird and mystical Oscar phenomenon, this one has plucked Moore’s name from the magic hat, while leaving two other actresses, Jennifer Aniston and Jessica Chastain, both in similar situations, in the lurch.  (Cake, like Still Alice has not opened yet here in Boston, a city which is usually on the 2nd rollout tier right behind NY & LA. A Most Violent Year, which I was lucky enough to see last summer, opens this weekend) Then there’s Golden Globe winner Amy Adams. Adams was, up until this morning, thought to be in a horserace with Moore. Like Moore she’s been nominated many times before, but has never won. Not even nominated. Some pundits are putting it down to the fact that reviews for Tim Burton‘s Big Eyes were decidedly mixed, even while Adams was praised, and that “it wouldn’t be worth nominating her again if she wasn’t going to take the prize”*.  Adams might disagree.

It is nice that Rosamund Pike got a nod for Gone Girl, though she’s apparently meant to carry the banner for the entire film which failed to get recognition for director David Fincher, screenwriter Gillian Flynn, or costar Ben Affleck. (Hell, I thought they’d at least nominate the Oscars’ telecast host, Neil Patrick Harris for Best Supporting Actor. He was worthy and that would have made good tv.) I adore Marion Cotillard, but her nomination was a surprise, especially for a French film that while it’s received a lot of critical praise, no one not on a list for Academy screeners has seen. However, she could have been nominated for The Immigrant and I’d have been happy, so I won’t quibble here. The category is rounded out by Reese Witherspoon and Felicity Jones, to absolutely no one’s surprise.

Best Supporting Actor does happen to include some truly great performances, including Edward Norton in Birdman and J.K. Simmons in Whiplash, but as much as I love Mark Ruffalo, I think Channing Tatum gave the better supporting performance in Foxcatcher. And anyone who knows me, knows that it is no small thing for me to praise Tatum-tot.  And don’t get me started on Robert Duvall. Another nomination for longevity.

On the distaff side, Laura Dern came out of left field to pick up her first nomination since 1992 (for Rambling Rose), after being forgotten by the Golden Globes and SAG. Keira Knightley, Emma Stone and Meryl Streep were all Globe nominated, as was Patricia Arquette, the Globe winner receiving her first Academy nomination for a film in which she gets to age twelve years on camera. Nice choices, but what a nice surprise it would have been if Tilda Swinton‘s name had been called this morning for Snowpiercer. (Although why her performance in Only Lovers Left Alive has not been part of the conversation is beyond me. Same reason Tom Hardy hasn’t been, I guess.)

There is so much head-scratching to be done over today’s announcement that I’m making myself dizzy.  Where’s JC Chandor for Best Screenplay, let alone director or Best Picture? And where’s Christopher Nolan? Remember when the interwebz declared the race over before it had even begun and Interstellar would be the winner? I don’t care what the science means and whether or not it’s realistic, it wasn’t nearly as confusing as Inception and it had the heart missing from most cold and earnest sci-fi extravaganzas.

For some odd reason, there are only eight Best Picture nods this year, when there can be as many as ten. As you can probably guess, I’m very pleasantly surprised that The Grand Budapest Hotel is among them, but the question is begged, how then, did Selma wind up as one of them?“ It’s only the fourth movie to be so nominated without first having been nominated by any of the major guilds:  the Producers Guild, the Writers Guild (for which it was ineligible), the Directors Guild and the Screen Actors Guild. The only other bone the film received was Best Original Song, a surprise to no one. This is a film that not only directed itself (like fellow Best Pic nominee American Sniper), but it also wrote itself and was acted by holograms. And then there’s Bennett Miller, who got a Director nomination, but what does that mean if his film, Foxcatcher, did not? What, exactly, is his achievement other than directing Carrell and Ruffalo to nominations of their own?

Ironically, I’m watching as I type this, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the writer/directors of The Lego Movie, accept the Critics Choice Award for Best Animated Feature. It’s ironic because while this movie has been hailed audiences and critics alike and was widely expected to take the Oscar, was not even nominated for one! (Admittedly, I will root for How to Train Your Dragon 2 for sentimental reasons as well as the fact that it’s a damn fine film.)

Another bit of irony, the above mentioned group just handed the aforementioned un-nominated Jessica Chastain its first ever “MVP Award” because of the four extraordinary performances she gave this year.  She is the epitome of class and grace, something the Academy could use some more of.

Of course, none of the above grousing means I won’t be eagerly awaiting my high holy day and preparing by watching with bated breath the SAG and BAFTA awards shows.  I’ll be back before February 22 with my predictions. (I went 23 for 24 last year, so I have a lot to live up to, even if only in my own mind LOL) We all need time to see all of those live action and animated shorts.

Here’s the complete list of nominees:

BEST PICTURE

American Sniper

Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Boyhood

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game

Selma

The Theory of Everything

Whiplash

BEST DIRECTOR

Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher

Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

BEST ACTOR

Steve Carell, Foxcatcher

Bradley Cooper, American Sniper

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game

Michael Keaton, Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

BEST ACTRESS

Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night

Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

Julianne Moore, Still Alice

Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl

Reese Witherspoon, Wild

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Robert Duvall, The Judge

Ethan Hawke, Boyhood

Edward Norton, Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher

J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Laura Dern, Wild

Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game

Emma Stone, Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

American Sniper, Jason Hall

The Imitation Game, Graham Moore

Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson

The Theory of Everything, Anthony McCarten

Whiplash, Damien Chazelle

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo

Boyhood, Richard Linklater

Foxcatcher, E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guiness

Nightcrawler, Dan Gilroy

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Birdman (The Unexpected Virute of Ignorance), Emmanuel Lubezki

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Robert D. Yeoman

Ida, (Ryszard Lenczweski and Lukasz Zal

Mr. Turner, Dick Pope

Unbroken, Roger Deakins

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Milena Canonero

Inherent Vice, Mark Bridges

Into the Woods, Colleen Atwood

Mr. Turner, Jacqueline Durran

Maleficent, Anna B. Sheppard

BEST FILM EDITING

American Sniper, Joel Cox and Gary Roach

Boyhood, Sandra Adair

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Barney Pilling

The Imitation Game, William Goldenberg

Whiplash, Tom Cross

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Foxcatcher

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Guardians of the Galaxy

BEST MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Alexandre Desplat)

The Imitation Game (Alexandre Desplat)

Interstellar (Hans Zimmer)

Mr. Turner (Gary Yershon)

The Theory of Everything (Jóhann Jóhannsson)

BEST MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

“Lost Stars” from Begin Again

“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me

“Everything is Awesome” from The Lego Movie

“Glory” from Selma

“Grateful” from Beyond the Lights

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Adam Stockhausen; Anna Pinnock)

The Imitation Game (Maria Djurkovic; Tatiana Macdonald)

Interstellar (Nathan Crowley; Gary Fettis, Paul Healy)

Into the Woods (Dennis Gassner; Anna Pinnock)

Mr. Turner (Suzie Davies; Charlotte Watts)

BEST SOUND EDITING

American Sniper

Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Interstellar

Unbroken

BEST SOUND MIXING

American Sniper

Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Interstellar

Unbroken

Whiplash

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Guardians of the Galaxy

Interstellar

X-Men: Days of Future Past

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

Big Hero 6

The Boxtrolls

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Song of the Sea

The Tale of Princess Kaguya

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Wild Tales (Damián Szifrón; Argentina)

Tangerines (Zaza Urushadze; Estonia)

Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako; Mauritania)

Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski; Poland)

Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev; Russia)

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE FILM

CITIZENFOUR

Finding Vivian Maier

Last Days in Vietnam

The Salt of the Earth

Virunga

BEST DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1

Joanna

Our Curse

The Reaper

White Earth

BEST SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)

The Bigger Picture

The Dam Keeper

Feast

Me and My Moulton

A Single Life

BEST SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)

Aya

Boogaloo and Graham

Butter Lamp

Parvaneh

The Phone Call

* Variety’s Ramin Setoodeh

Final Trailer for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar Teases Epic Space Odyssey Epically

Interstellar, Christopher Nolan, Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, poster, movie, trailer

Warner Brothers has just released the final, mind-blowing, trailer for Christopher Nolan‘s Interstellar. Kudos go to the team that has cut these three teasers, because while we do get a sense of the epic scale of the film, I’ll be damned if I really know what the hell it’s about. (Other than that the Earth is dying and a group of scientists, including Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway embark on a deep space mission to find us all a new home.) That is the way Nolan wants it, for now. But I want to know, and that’s the most important thing. I can’t wait to hand over my money for a ticket to this giant ride.

We’ve already learned that Interstellar will be nearly three hours long, so if the footage we’ve seen didn’t give us a clue, we can tell by this fact that it’s the “biggest” film Nolan has yet produced. While bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better, if this movie is half as good as he and Warner Brothers would like us to think it is, and that these trailers would indicate, then, JMHO, for the second time in two years, we’re looking at a guaranteed awards contender set in space.
Now, I don’t yet know about the technical aspects of Interstellar, in terms of whether or not they are more dazzling than Alfonso Cuarón‘s Gravity (or if they even come close), and let’s face it, that is a bar set about as high as K12, but what Gravity was really missing, was a pulse. Sure it had George Clooney sacrificing himself for Sandra Bullock, who was left alone in that capsule to hallucinate and remember her daughter etc etc. But, to paraphrase Rick Blaine*, “the problems of {two} little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this world”. and what kept it from winning anything other than technical prizes (aside from the fact that it was up against 12 Years a Slave) was heart.

Interstellar, on the other hand, would seem to have that in spades. Oscar winners McConaughey and Hathaway will trump Oscar winners Clooney and Bullock because not only is it about the fate of all mankind, but also on a more personal level, it’s about a father trying to save the world…for his children. Children that, unless I miss my guess, will grow up to be Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck, carrying on the good fight back on Earth will Dad spends most of their lives trying to get back to them.

So, sight unseen, on the basis of three trailers (a total of less than 10 minutes of footage from a three hour movie), I’m making a completely subjective, non-scientific prediction: along with also sight-unseen flicks Birdman, Unbreakable, The Imitation Game, and Wild, Interstellar will be on the short lists for all of the major year-end prizes (along with Boyhood, Foxcatcher and A Most Violent Year, which I have seen). This list is, of course, subject to change. It is, after all, only October 1. Enjoy the trailer.

Interstellar, written and directed by Christopher Nolan, co-written by Jonathan Nolan, starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, Elyes Gabel, Wes Bentley, Topher Grace, Mackenzie Foy, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, David Oyelowo, William Devane, and Michael Caine (plus an uncredited Matt Damon – perhaps to do his Matty impression?), opens in the US and the UK on November 7. (Actually it pretty much opens everywhere on the planet with a movie theater between November 5 and November 7 – you won’t be able to miss it, but why would you want to try?)

*Casablanca (1942) Humphrey Bogart to Ingrid Bergman

Nominations, the Year That Was and Inside Llewyn Davis

poster, Oscar Isaac, Coen Brothers, movie, Inside Llewyn Davis

After much procrastination and just plain laziness, I’ve gotten my predictions for and thoughts on this year’s Oscar nominations in just under the wire.  If you’re wondering why I’m bothering at this late hour, let’s just say my OCD won’t let me let an awards season go by without sharing my opinions with the world…whether they like it or not.

Just a warning, to paraphrase Davis Guggenheim, this might get long.

I’ve decided that this post will encompass the Academy Award nominations, my “best of 2013” list and my thoughts on the Coen Brothers’ stylish urban folktale,  Inside Llewyn Davis.  While that sounds like an ambitious undertaking, given the snail-like pace at which I get these things finished, one post seemed to make more sense, especially since the three topics overlap like a cinematic Venn diagram.

With a pitch-perfect cast and the Coens at the top of their game, weaving the whole narrative with an absolutely breathtaking soundtrack produced by T-Bone Burnett, Inside Llewyn Davis doesn’t need to be flashy to be fascinating and powerful. However, its deceptively simple and subtle storytelling was snubbed by the Academy Awards. If the nomination itself is an honor, then no film has been more snubbed than this one.  For every category that I predict who will win, who should win etc.,  just know that there is an unwritten SHOULD BE IN THE RACE: Inside Llewyn Davis.

The Coens’ black comedy  was inspired by the life of folk singer Dave Van Ronk, and stars Oscar Isaac as a skilled, but self-destructive singer, who has the bad luck to be merely a decent folk singer in a Greenwich Village scene that is about to explode with the  arrival of Bob Dylan. He makes a mess of his life except when he’s onstage singing old folk and blues tunes.  Isaac carries the movie. Typically for the Coens, the film is dark and occasionally mean, but it also has heart. All it earned were Sound Mixing and a Cinematography nominations. While well earned, this thoughtful little film deserved more.

And yet I really shouldn’t have been surprised that it was excluded from the big categories like Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Picture. The Academy, while they are fans of the Coen Brothers in general, (7 of 14 directorial efforts have landed major nominations in the last couple of decades), they also prefer  flashier fare. And since they’d already recognized Philomena and Nebraska, there really wasn’t room on their plate for Inside Llewyn Davis. Just my humble opinion.

Of course that’s the down side of having such a great year at the movies:  the inevitable
disappointments in terms of any awards nominations and particularly Oscar nominations. There wasn’t enough room for  everybody. (Especially since they still haven’t changed the other categories to match the “up to” ten Best Picture slots.)

American Hustle, which is not on my “best of” list,  earned nominations for four of its “stars”, including Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. (What, no Jeremy Renner? For my money Renner’s pol with a heart of gold deserved a nod much more than Cooper’s aggressively eager Jr G-man.  It also earned nominations for original screenplay, direction and Best Picture.  I loved The Fighter. I loved Silver Linings Playbook. I did not love American Hustle. I liked it. But there were a lot of movies that I liked in 2013, none of which deserved awards attention.

For the record, my favorite movies of 2013 – in no particular order  (some of which I may revisit if they aren’t yet on DVD) – 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Olympus Has Fallen, Labor Day, Now You See Me, Rush, The World’s End, The Place Beyond the Pines, Mud, Trance, Welcome to the Punch, Fruitvale Station and Bullet to the Head (don’t judge).

As for David O. Russell’s dramedy (it’s a comedy only in the Greek sense – all is not lost at the end. Or in the Adam Sandler  you’re only laughing because it’s sad-sense), simply saying “aaaaand GO!” is not directing, it’s letting your actors run amok. Standing back to watch the fireworks is not directing either. Knowing which takes to keep in order to assemble a semi-cohesive movie is the task of the editor, but we all know that’s ½ of a director’s job as well. Okay, so we’ll give him that.  That Russell has managed for the third time to corral as talented and versatile a group, yet again, is his true talent. As Bradley Cooper said from the stage while accepting the Best Ensemble SAG award, “he’s an actor’s director”.   Seriously, if he’s back in awards contention a year after Silver Linings Playbook, that means he had to sign Lawrence and Cooper before SLP hit it big. So he does know talent.

But when did we start to think of him as being in the same league with Martin Scorsese? “It’s a David O. Russell movie…it MUST be good. Let’s nominate it.”

His peers are still skeptical. Despite the love heaped on Silver Linings Playbook last year – a much more worthy film than American Hustle – the Directors Guild recognized Ben Affleck for Argo. The Academy, though they’d snubbed Affleck, chose Ang Lee.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Russell’s films. I’m just against anyone being nominated in any category just because it’s customary.

Pundits and prognosticators complain when one film or actor/actress etc is a shoe-in, so far out front of the pack that the opening of the envelope is a mere formality. They also complain when the preliminary awards shows (sort of like the semi-finals or the playoffs) are all over the map and we go into the Oscars without knowing exactly what’s going to happen. That’s the case with this year’s crop of nominees.   There are a few races that have what would seem to be a “front runner”, but in each instance, a case can be made for why another film or actor/actress etc will go home with the gold.

A lot of the hubbub following the nominations announcements had to do with the names not read. The Coen Brothers  Inside Llewyn Davis and it’s star Oscar Isaac were not the only big surprises.

No Oprah Winfrey for The Butler? She hasn’t been nominated  since 1985’s The Color Purple. Winfrey was at one point  seen as a frontrunner for  best supporting actress. But there’s a reason everything considered to have awards potential is released at the end of the year:  the Academy has a notoriously short memory and probably forgot about The Butler. The film and its star Forest Whitaker were  also left off, despite a strong showing at the Screen Actors Guild nominations.

No Emma  Thompson for  Saving Mr. Banks?  Everyone loves Emma Thompson! She’s
the only person to have ever won Oscars for both writing  (1995’s Sense and Sensibility) and acting (1992’s Howards End.) Considering that Saving Mr. Banks was obvious Oscar-bait about the man himself that’s a bit of a black eye for Disney (ABC’s parent company – the network which airs the Oscars) Oh well.

No Robert Redford in All Is Lost?!  Back in September,  Redford was a frontrunner for a nomination and was even predicted to win by quite a few critics. It would have been his first ever acting Oscar (he’s only
been nominated once for 1973’s The Sting.) and this movie is a one man show.  Apparently  it didn’t do so well in the translation to DVD which is how most Academy voters saw it. (Imagine if that were true of Gravity? We’d be looking at a very different race.)

No Tom  Hanks in Captain Phillips?! What the what? Yes, he’s won twice, but he hasn’t even been nominated in 13 years and most people expected him to be nominated for Saving Mr. Banks if not Captain Phillips. He was certainly deserving for the latter.

And no posthumous nomination for James Gandolfini . Now that is really odd.

Daniel Bruhl was recognized by  both the Golden Globes and the SAGs for Rush. If that film had done better box office, the Academy might have made room for him. Joaquin Phoenix carried Her, but sorry, the best actor  race was too crowded.

Michael B. Jordan and Fruitvale Station were  the indie breakouts of the year with backing from the Harvey Weinstein, but all I can think is that  its summer release date probably hurt its chances.
Some of the above I’m not convinced should have been nominated any more than most of those that were. We’re merely surprised that the above bold-faced names weren’t nominated because we expect that they will be. They are considered “Academy voter friendly”. Or rather they had been. “The Academy” is trying to change its image, to become younger and  hipper. At least Leonardo DiCaprio, who is long overdue, was recognized for his gutsy performance in  The Wolf of Wall Street (but he’s knocking on 40’s door, no matter how boyish he looks.)

The nominations, with my prediction for who WILL win and my choice for who SHOULD ** win

BEST DIRECTOR

David O. Russell

Alfonso Cuarón

Alexander Payne

Steve McQueen ** (because Best Pictures don’t direct themselves)  who assembled a truly amazing cast who gave truly astonishing performances. A lot has been made of the fact that David O’Russell directed four of his actors to nominations, when to my mind he was, for the most part, rewarded for gathering the same pretty people together yet again.  If there had been a leading actress in 12 Years a Slave, I have no doubt McQueen would have equaled Russell’s feat. Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender were (rightly) recognized, but from Benedict Cumberbatch to Paul Dano to Paul Giamatti, Alfre Woodard and Sarah Paulson, everyone gave brilliant performances. That SAG gave it’s Ensemble Award to American Hustle over 12 Years is a travesty.  JMHO.

Martin Scorsese

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Sally Hawkins- I would be “okay” with it, if she squeaked out a win.

Jennifer Lawrence – I won’t say I’m “over” JLaw, but she’s already beginning to achieve Judi Dench status at the ripe old age of 23 and this is not the role for which she wants to become ubiquitous

Lupita Nyong’o  ** – the best performance in this category. That is all.

Julia Roberts – see Judi Dench

June Squibb – can we stop giving nominations just for longevity?

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Barkhad Abdi – his first movie! The nomination is the honor

Bradley Cooper – like Lawrence, it’s the 2nd year in a row BCoop has been nominated for a David O. Russell film. But hair does not a performance make. Take a stand.

Michael Fassbender ** – best performance in this category. That is all

Jonah Hill – I have to admit I enjoyed him in Wolf of Wall Street and for the first time did not “see” Jonah Hill.

Jared Leto  – It does not take anything away from Leto for me to say that I thought Fassbender was better. Leto’s Rayon was more than just the weight loss and the wig. It was a beautiful performance. And let’s face it, beautiful goes down better . Being the delicate, perfectly made-up face of the AIDS crisis goes down a lot better than the face of pure, institutional evil. Even if that face belongs to Fassbender.

BEST ACTRESS

Amy Adams – nominated for American Hustle (as Best Actress, though given GG for Supporting) but also appears in another flick nom for Best Pic – Her.  If she won, I would perfectly okay with it. This is her fifth
nomination and she’s  the only non-winner in the category , but if Adams manages to upset Blanchett, however, it will be because of Woody Allen.

Cate Blanchett **

Sandra Bullock – she’s better in Gravity than she was in the film for which she actually won her Oscar. That’s what happens when you get it for the wrong reasons.

Judi Dench – made a movie – automatic nomination (Although that’s too simplistic. She was wonderful in Philomena)

Meryl Streep – see Judi Dench

BEST ACTOR

Christian Bale (see Judi Dench) – I’m a huge Bale fan and I think he’s another actor that is very easy to take for granted. His  in American Hustle was indelible, but his nomination was a surprise and it’s not his year. He can’t win for gaining weight  when they’re going to give it to Matthew McConaughey for losing weight.
Bruce Dern- The venerable Bruce Dern was wonderful in Nebraska. He’s a great actor whose career has largely been unsung because he’s such a great actor. But this is supposed to be about a particular performance in a particular film. (I’m going to keep saying that.)
Leonardo DiCaprio – I respect Leo. He is a brilliant actor, he’s intelligent and he uses his fame for good. He also, despite appearances to the contrary, tries to keep his private life private. Being one of the biggest movie stars on the planet makes this difficult, of course. While he’s obviously a serial model-dater and his current girlfriend is not even old enough to legally get into the clubs she and the rest of the supermodel herd frequent, I don’t find him nearly as distasteful as I do Bradley Cooper. He and DiCaprio are about the same age and so are their girlfriends. The difference is that Leo never went on record as saying that someone of Jennifer Lawrence’s age (with whom he’s made three movies – Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle and the soon to be released Serena – which actually filmed before American Hustle) was too young for him.  Lawrence is two years older than “Suki” Waterhouse- but I digress.  Leo deserves this nomination and a lot of people are saying he may upset. He was in 2 movies this year  that he carried. He is very deserving of a win. This is his fourth nomination, but he’s been snubbed more often.  (Titanic, Catch Me if You Can, The Departed, Revolutionary Road, Shutter Island, Inception,  J. Edgar and  Django Unchained – you can’t watch any of them to this day and not believe he was worthy of recognition.)  How’d he manage one this  year? He actually campaigned a little. Or did you think there was another reason he showed up on Saturday Night Live when Jonah Hill was host?

Matthew McConaughey  – I love Matty. I think I’ve made that clear. He was in about 6 movies in the last 18 months and was phenomenal in all of them. We are in the midst of “the McConaisance” – a term that became trite the instant it was picked up by People magazine. It didn’t take an Oscar nomination for a lot of us to notice that McConaughey is having a hell of a much-deserved ride. He carved this career resurgence out with his bare hands.  Dallas Buyers Club is the capper on an incredible string of performances. But if the Oscar is supposed to recognize one single achievement in one single film, then hands down it must go to Chiwetel Ejiofor. No other single performance by a male actor in any film that I saw in the past year even comes close.

Chiwetel Ejiofor **–  My reactions to his  performance as Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave have already been documented. Best performance. That is all.  No, that’s not all. I have to rant about this one for what is possibly the final time. Ejiofor didn’t just fall out of the sky, he’s got a long list of credits to his name as well, so even if we were celebrating “body of work”…  He just never had to overcome anything like Fools Gold or Failure to Launch. But if we’re giving awards for career achievement, take a look at Kinky Boots, Red Belt or Dirty Pretty Things. Hell, his first movie was Amistad, the star of which was Matthew McConaughey.

Months ago, I mentioned the possibility that this year could see more than one black Best Actor nominee. I knew it was a long shot, but in a year where there were at least five performances by black actors  that were worthy of recognition, only one has managed to actually make it to the playoffs. Where are Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station), Idris Elba (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom), Isaiah Washington (Blue Caprice) or even Forest Whitaker (Lee Daniel’s The Butler)? Chiwetel Ejiofor is apparently carrying the flag for his race. That he truly did give the best performance of the year, makes it all the more insulting that they keep giving the prizes to the middle-aged white guy.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

American Hustle – does not deserve a nomination for original screenplay when the four nominated actors have gone on record as saying that Russell allowed them to ad lib most of their scenes/lines.

Blue Jasmine – not a snowball’s chance in hell

Dallas Buyers Club

Her**Call this the Quentin Tarantino Award.  Her is a truly original film and one that the Academy will want to recognize in some way.

Nebraska– could spoil

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Before Midnight – could squeak out a win if the Academy wants to recognize the beautiful trilogy of which this film is the third and final part.

Captain Phillips

Philomena – could also squeak out a win. Steve Coogan won the BAFTA and they Academy may want to recognize the movie.

12 Years a Slave ** the film is driven by John Ridley’s strong, powerful script (culled from Solomon Northup’s moving memoir).  JMHO, but a win in this category will signal the Best Picture win.

Wolf of Wall Street – too many fucks

BEST FOREIGN FILM

The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium) – could upset

The Grand Beauty (Italy)

The Hunt (Denmark) **  – and no, it’s not just because of Mads Mikkelsen.  It’s a well-written, wonderfully acted film about perception, truth, lies and loneliness

The Missing Picture (Cambodia)

Omar (Palestine)

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

The Croods

Despicable Me 2

Ernest & Celestine

Frozen

The Wind Rises **

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN CINEMATOGRAPHY
The Grandmaster –  Philippe Le Sourd

Gravity ** – Emmanuel Lubezki

Inside Llewyn Davis – Bruno Delbonnel

Nebraska – Phedon Papamichael

Prisoners – Roger A. Deakins (A travesty that Deakins – the MOST nominated cinematographer still working – has never won. He won’t this year either.)

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN PRODUCTION DESIGN

American Hustle – Production Design: Judy Becker; Set Decoration: Heather Loeffler

Gravity –  Production Design: Andy Nicholson; Set Decoration: Rosie Goodwin and Joanne Woollard

The Great Gatsby **– Production Design: Catherine Martin; Set Decoration: Beverley Dunn

Her – Production Design: K.K. Barrett; Set Decoration: Gene Serdena

12 Years a Slave – Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Alice Baker

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN COSTUME DESIGN

American Hustle – Michael Wilkinson

The Grandmaster – William Chang Suk Ping

The Great Gatsby **– Catherine Martin

The Invisible Woman – Michael O’Connor

12 Years a Slave – Patricia Norris

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

The Act of Killing

Cutie and the Boxer

Dirty Wars

The Square

20 Feet From Stardom** Since Sarah Polley’s The Stories We Tell didn’t get a nomination

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT

CaveDigger

Facing Fear

Karama Has No Walls

The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life **

Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN FILM EDITING

American Hustle ** Because Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers and Alan Baumgarten took a bunch of disjointed scenes and turned them into a movie

Captain Phillips

Dallas Buyers Club

Gravityconventional wisdom used to hold that one didn’t win Best Picture without winning Best Editing. I think that will not be the case this year. And actually, I’m okay with giving Gravity all of the technical awards.

12 Years a Slave

ACHIEVEMENT IN MAKEUP

Dallas Buyers Club
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
The Lone Ranger

Only three nominees and no 12 Years a Slave ** (If you’ve seen it, you’d know why but maybe those stripes are considered a special effect and not makeup.)

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

The Book Thief – John Williams
Gravity **– Steven Price  (Apparently the score blew everyone away at the Academy Awards Nominees Concert)  I’d have preferred Hans Zimmer win for 12 Years a Slave but, oddly, it’s not on this list.
Her  – William Butler and Owen Pallett

Philomena – Alexandre Desplat
Saving Mr. Banks – Thomas Newman
BEST ORIGINAL SONG

Alone, Yet Not Alone

Happy **

Let It Go

The Moon Song **

Ordinary Love **

I’m conflicted. But it’s obvious I prefer most of them over what will most likely win.  I’m still pissed that ‘Please Mr Kennedy’ from Inside Llewyn Davis didn’t qualify (since it wasn’t original to the film. Pfft)

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

Feral

Get a Horse!

Mr. Hublot

Possessions

Room on the Broom **

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM

Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me)

Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just before Losing Everything)

Helium

Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)

The Voorman Problem  **

ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND EDITING
All Is Lost

Captain Phillips

Gravity **

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Lone Survivor

ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND MIXING

Captain Phillips

Gravity

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Inside Llewyn Davis ** – would be lovely if a movie about music won a sound award, but it won’t

Lone Survivor

ACHIEVEMENT IN VISUAL EFFECTS
Gravity **

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Iron Man 3

The Lone Ranger

Star Trek Into Darkness

BEST PICTURE

American Hustle– if voters  are too squeamish or timid to reward  a very intense film, they may opt for the cartoon-like antics of the pretty people cavorting in fashions that were hip when most of the voting body was too.

Captain Phillips – fully deserves the nod. You can read why I think so, here.

Dallas Buyers Club – despite two wonderful performances at its core, it’s only a so-so movie. Yes it will jerk the tears and it’s a story worth telling, but why is the first important AIDS movie since Philadelphia all about the (screamingly) straight white dude?

Her

Nebraska

Philomena – a perfect little gem of a movie. Loved every second of it. Its nomination was a happy surprise and The Weinstein Company’s only horse in the race. But no one should ever count out Harvey.  Ever.

The Wolf of Wall Street – not Scorsese’s best, but that’s still head and shoulders above most. It’s a movie that took some rumination to fully appreciate and merits a second viewing. Just don’t see it with your parents.

Gravity  – though technically brilliant is nearly as cold, in my opinion, as the space in which it takes place.  Oscar voters will need an emotional hook on which to hang their votes.

12 Years a Slave ** – Great films don’t have to be enjoyable to watch, and 12 Years A Slave is probably the best example of this that I can think of. It was my favorite film of 2013 not because it was fun or I had a good time watching it, but because it is, pure and simply, outstanding.   Yes, it is a brutal film. It realistically and unflinchingly depicts the lynching, whipping and rape that was emblematic of American institutional slavery, but it is the psychological toll, so clearly visible in Chiwitel Ejiofor’s eyes that is the core of the film. I’ve delved into my thoughts on the movie much more deeply here, but in a year with almost an embarrassment of riches in terms of awards-worthy fare, if we’re leaving politics of all sorts aside, it was the best of the best.

12 Years a Slave, movie, poster, Steve McQueen, Chiwitel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong'o

My Thoughts on the Beauty and Brutality of 12 Years a Slave

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave

poster via imdb

The first time I saw Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave was during a press screening that was also attended by students from local colleges, as well as hoi polloi like me who got passes through a screening service. At the end of the film was a Q & A with the director of the Boston Museum of African American History, Beverly Morgan-Welch, and the presenter of “City Line”, a local television show that focuses on urban issues, Karen Holmes Ward. Even as my popcorn was forgotten, as my heart was in my mouth, my hands trying to stifle the sobs, I was still very aware of the audience around me, wondering what they were thinking and feeling. That viewing was all about the historical context, despite the fact that I was an emotional wreck afterward.

The movie is, quite simply, a masterpiece. Unlike James Franco, however, who seems to want to set himself up as a learned and worldly carbuncle on the butt of 21st century popular culture, I was not, am not, “beguiled” by this movie. I certainly don’t understand how anyone could see it two nights in a row. I needed a large span of time between viewings in order to thoroughly and properly process what I’d seen.

The second time, I wasn’t watching the film in anticipation of seeing one of the most talked about movies of the year, one I had been waiting for since filming began. I went back again to find out if I’d have the same visceral reaction to the brutality or whether the fact that I knew when and how it would be meted out had in any way inured my senses to it.

No, it did not. In some ways, I was even more affected by it.

There are not words to adequately describe how utterly despicable the practice of human beings purchasing, possessing, owning other human beings as if they were ‘things’, truly is. We haven’t coined the words because our minds won’t let us consciously descend far enough into darkness to fully comprehend it. In much the same way that mere words cannot convey the true horror of the Holocaust, or the genocides still being perpetrated in various parts of the world as I type this, because man’s inhumanity to man is, ultimately, incomprehensible.

It is for this reason that watching 12 Years a Slave, only Steve McQueen’s third feature film,  is an  emotional experience akin to watching Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, made all the more authentic and terrible because it is told not from the perspective of the benevolent white savior, but from that of the enslaved.

It is fact that McQueen has never made a film that was easy to sit through. You’ll probably never see his name on the poster of a film with the tag line “The Feel Good Movie of the Year!”, but unlike Shame, or even Hunger (which was also based on a true story, but one with a very different outcome), 12 Years a Slave manages to rise above the unrelenting misery it depicts to become a testimonial to the ability of a single unyielding man, not only to “survive”, but to “live”.

12 Years a Slave is the second film in two years about that American abomination that was slavery, a subject that has been largely ignored by cinema. Like Quentin Tarantino’s nearly as brilliant Django Unchained, it is agonizing and heart­breaking; a gut-twisting experience to watch. But unlike Django, the brutality is realistic, not exaggerated to, at times, comic levels. There is no intentional humor in 12 Years…. If there is any laughter at all, it is the scattered, nervous, incredulous tittering of those who don’t yet know how to believe, let alone process, what they’re seeing in front of them.

The story certainly sounds like something that sprang from a writer’s fevered imagination. Despite what we know about American History, how can it be true that a free man was kidnapped, forced into slavery and kept in captivity for twelve years without anyone believing his tale or doing all that they could to help?  This is not the time, nor place, for a political discussion of the state of race relations in this country, but your experience of this film is no doubt tinted by your experience of the world as you know it now. (Isn’t what happened to Solomon Northup really only a few steps removed from what happened to Oscar Grant III in 2008, as depicted in  Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station?)

That these things described above did happen, is the singular experience at the heart of McQueen’s film. What makes the film particularly impressive is not that it provides historical parameters for a dimension of slavery that most of us were unaware of, but that it does so by the weaving together of the smallest of details that made up Northup’s life in captivity. Each scene feels frighteningly immediate, as though it weren’t filtered through time, but exists in the present moment. This film is not only one of the best of the year, certainly, in my humble opinion, the most important, but it is  probably one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. For all of the harshness, the brutality, and the violence, it is also beautifully made.

McQueen comes from the art world and has a painter’s eye for staging and the framing of images, without resorting to flashy visual tricks. Thinking about the opening scene, we are thrust into the lush cane fields of Louisiana. We can see the thick, humid air as a group of black men, slaves, labor in the stifling heat. We don’t know any of them but we get an immediate feel for time, place and circumstance. We next see Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) attempting to use crushed berries for ink. It’s out of context and yet gives context to things we’ve only read about in history books.  McQueen then moves back in time to Northup’s nearly idyllic life pre-ordeal. How can this be the same man?

What follows is two hours chronicling nearly unimaginable suffering. Along the way, Solomon Northup, now called by the slave name, Platt, encounters nearly every facet of the experience of slaves in the pre-Civil War South. We learned from our history classes that families were torn apart, sold separately with no regard for mothers and their children. McQueen shows us what that would have felt like. I learned that it was possible for a former slave to live as the wife of her former owner. Alfre Woodard is brilliant as one such woman, existing in her own delusional bubble, blissfully ignoring the plight of those still in bondage.

Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) represents the extreme in his sadistic cruelty, nearly matched by his equally cruel wife, played by a truly scary Sarah Paulson. But there are degrees of racism. Benedict Cumberbatch as Platt’s first owner, the benevolent William Ford, gives him a violin and allows him to keep the money he earns from playing it. Does his relative kindness alleviate complicity? Ford knows and Platt knows he knows, that Platt is not just any slave, yet he does nothing to help him, for fear of losing his financial investment.

The philosophical depiction of slavery aside, what really sets McQueen’s film apart is that he refuses to flinch when it comes to depicting the violence. We cannot be kept at arms length when he pulls us in so close, whether it’s the sight of flesh and blood literally flying off of a back during an excrutiating and protracted whipping scene or watching Platt struggle to stay on his toes for hours trying to relieve some of the tension of the noose around his neck as plantation life carries on all around him.

When Solomon finally does return to his family, every day of those twelve years is worn into his face. The pain haunts his eyes. All he can think to say to them is to apologize for his long absence.   (What is amazing to me is that he is somehow able to articulate not only to them but to the rest of the world, with his book, what happened during those years.)

I have not yet seen All is Lost or even The Wolf of Wall Street, but I am, of course aware that Robert Redford has given another singular performance and of course there is talk that Leonardo DiCaprio will inevitably be nominated for yet another role in a Martin Scorsese film. I have seen Captain Phillips and I have given my opinion on Tom Hanks’ performance. I have seen the magnificent Dallas Buyers Club and oh, how I wish it had been released in another year so that Matthew McConaughey could be recognized for his towering performance.  (My thoughts on McConaughey’s talents are known to readers of this blog, but that is for another discussion.)  I adore Idris Elba and his Nelson Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is mesmerizing, but the movie itself is not entirely worthy of his efforts (nor Madiba’s legacy). I have seen Fruitvale Station and as good as I think Michael B. Jordan is, as deserving I believe him to be of a nomination, no performance has or could possibly come close to the one given by Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave.

When was the last time an actor reduced you to near-wracking sobs by doing nothing? There is a scene with no sound but the wind rustling lightly through the trees and the tall grass. Ejiofor stands still, his eyes barely moving, the camera close on his face, as the last shreds of any hopefulness seep away, replaced by the despair he’d fought for so long to keep at bay. My heart breaks again thinking about it weeks later.

Lupita Nyong’o, who played Patsey, has described 12 Years A Slave as an “emotionally taxing” acting experience. If I can say that I imagine it would be, I would also say that hers is an understatement.

Nyong’o, who made her feature debut with this film (!) has been earning across the board accolades and making the chat show rounds. (At this point she’s considered one of the few virtual locks for an Academy Award nomination.)  She told “The View”, that going to “that emotional place was so hard it was really important for me to continually remind myself that I was not Patsey after all”.

Patsey suffers abuse of every possible kind at the hands of Michael Fassbender’s plantation owner Edwin Epps.  Fassbender’s character embodies such bred-in-the-bone evil, so institutional, so palatine, as to let Epps be sanguine about his monstrosity. He treats Patsey as he does not only because she is his property, but because he loves her. And yet his other slaves might as well be furniture. Witness the casual way he leans on their heads, as if they were not living, breathing human beings.

Fassbender does something that very few actors can— he makes us believe at all times while he is on screen that anything could happen (the first time and yes, even the second time I saw the film). Every scene in which Epps appears is fraught with so much tension that we do not trust that Patsey or Northup will live through it; this despite the fact that we know that this is a true story, with a known conclusion. Fassbender has said that Epps took a physical toll on him. He even reportedly passed out after a particularly brutal scene. We may assume that an actor leaves it all on screen, but I don’t see how any thinking, feeling individual could not be affected by what was required of them, at least in this case.

That it has taken me this long to get this post finished is the reason I will never be able to do this for a living, although if the ability to crank these things out was all that stood between me and sleeping on the sidewalk, I suppose I could learn. This post was started, with thoughts rambling around my head after the first viewing, continued after the second, and has been ruminated upon ever since.   It has taken me so long that while it was widely assumed that this movie would be a major player come awards season, now that that special time of year is actually upon us, we’re beginning to get confirmation.

The entire film is packed with so much talent in even the smallest of roles, it’s obvious that they just wanted to be a part of this movie. They certainly didn’t do it for the money. I’d go so far as to say anyone could have played Bass, the role played by Brad Pitt (looking like he escaped from Amish Country), but Pitt’s name helped to get the movie made, both as a producer and on the marquee. All of that aside, the three actors mentioned here, are by far the soul of the movie and deserving of the attention they are getting.

If no one involved made the movie for the money, they didn’t do it for awards either. That said, awards speculation has been so rampant, since the film’s first festival screenings, that if I were Steve McQueen or any actor, producer or even an executive in any way associated with this film, I’d have been waiting for the other shoe to drop and the inevitable backlash to begin.  It was recently announced that 12 Years a Slave led all films with seven nominations for the 2014 Film Independent Spirit Awards, including best feature, director and actors Ejiofor (lead), Nyong’o (supporting) and Fassbender (supporting). As I said, when I first starting working on this post I would have assumed that there could be no doubt that these nominations would be only the beginning. After the odd choices made by the crazy quilt of critics association awards that were announced this past weekend, some of which seemed to be going out of their way to praise anything other than this film, I’m no longer sure of anything.

While we have yet to hear from The Producers, Directors and Writers Guilds, the Screen Actor’s Guild (noms for Actor, Supporting Actor & Actress and Best Ensemble Cast – their equivalent of Best Picture) and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (the same 3 actor nominations as well as director, adapted screenplay, score and Best Picture – Drama – basically everything it was eligible for) have restored a bit of my faith that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will do the right thing..