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

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Preview Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac in The Two Faces of January

two-faces-of-january-poster

The stylish novels of Patricia Highsmith lend themselves particularly well to cinematic adaptation, becoming equally stylish thrillers like Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train and Rene Clement’s Purple Noon as well as Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, both based on the novel of that name. Now comes Hossein Amini’s The Two Faces of January.
Amini, the talented writer of Drive and Snow White and The Huntsman, among many others, makes his directorial debut with this film, a passion project he’s been trying to get made for more than fifteen years. He and producer Tom Sternberg finally secured the participation of Studio Canal and Working Title, with the help of the box office appeal of their leading players, Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and the suddenly white-hot Oscar Isaac, and the cameras rolled in August 2012.

1962. A glamorous American couple, the charismatic Chester MacFarland (Mortensen) and his alluring younger wife Colette (Dunst), arrive in Athens by boat via the Corinth Canal. While sightseeing at the Acropolis they encounter Rydal (Isaac), a young, Greek-speaking American who is working as a tour guide, scamming tourists on the side. Drawn to Colette’s beauty and impressed by Chester’s wealth and sophistication, Rydal gladly accepts their invitation to dinner. However, all is not as it seems with the MacFarlands and Chester’s affable exterior hides darker secrets. When Rydal visits the couple at their exclusive hotel, Chester presses him to help move the body of a seemingly unconscious man who he claims attacked him. In the moment, Rydal agrees but as events take a more sinister turn he finds himself compromised and unable to pull himself free. His increasing infatuation with the vulnerable and responsive Colette gives rise to Chester’s jealousy and paranoia, leading to a tense and dangerous battle of wits between the two men.

Glamor, style, intrigue, sun-soaked locations, beautiful people… As Viggo Mortensen says in one of the featurettes below, The Two Faces of January looks the way movies used to look. I’m in.
If the ingénue looks familiar, it’s because she looks exactly like her mother, Joely Richardson. Daisy Bevan, whose father is producer Tim Bevan of Working Title, third generation acting royalty (Grandma is Vanessa Redgrave), doesn’t quite make her debut with this film, since she had bit parts as a child in both Elizabeth and The Affair of the Necklace, but it is her first  film role as an adult.
The Two Faces of January also features a cast of international actors as well as the gorgeous locations in Greece and Turkey where it was shot.
Starting with its gala premiere at the 2014 Berlinale in February, the film has played festivals all over the world and opened in the UK on May 16. If it makes sense that The November Man opens in August, I guess it makes sense that The Two Faces of January will open in theaters in the US on October 3. (Also On Demand August 28)

If you’re still on the fence, take a look at these clips and featurettes. They verge on spoilers, but they also reinforce the idea that Amini has given us a neo-noir worthy of our time and attention.
Featurette #1

Featurette #2

Featurette #3

Clip #1

Clip #2

Clip #3

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

Trailer or Spoiler: Justin Timberlake Edition

Oscar Isaac, Justin Timberlake, Garrett Hedlund, Inside Llewyn Davis movie

Inside Llewyn Davis – CBS Films via imdb

I can see your furrowed brow as you read that headline. “Huh?”  Stay with me. Justin Timberlake, having grown bored with bringing his own brand of sexy back to people who didn’t know it was missing, has turned his hand to acting more than music these past few years, his new album notwithstanding.

What appeared to be a lark in a straight-to-dvd crime thriller, 2005’s Edison, continued in 2006’s Alpha Dog, earning him good notices, The Social Network in 2010, and then got real in 2011 when he top-lined Friends with Benefits and In Time (in which JT was asked to do most of the heavy lifting alongside the slight Amanda Seyfried). This year, Timberlake will appear in two films, both slated for fall release and for which there is already (very) early awards season buzz.

Runner, Runner costarring Ben Affleck, Gemma Arterton and Anthony Mackie, is currently scheduled to be released in the US on September 27. It’s a drama that centers on the world of offshore online gaming and an increasingly tense relationship between the founder of one such successful business (Affleck), and his protege (Timberlake).

Written by David Levien and Brian Koppelman, the team behind Rounders, Runaway Jury and Ocean’s 13, as well as the upcoming Untouchables sequel, Capone Rising with Tom Hardy, and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio (among others), Runner, Runner is directed by Brad Furman, best known for The Lincoln Lawyer. All of the above makes it one of fall’s hotly anticipated flicks, especially since it’s Affleck’s first since Argo. (Affleck has himself gone from punchline to bona fide auteur whose mere presence will give whatever he does from here on out a patina of respect.)

The other film has that same shine because it was written, produced and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Inside Llewyn Davis premiered back in May at the Cannes Film Festival where it won the Grand Jury Prize, essentially the runner-up to the Palm d’Or.  It stars Oscar Isaac as an aspiring folk musician in the early 1960s. The film, by all accounts, belongs to Isaac and is, after Sucker Punch, Robin Hood, W.E. and Drive, the one that will finally make him a star. The rest of the cast includes Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, F. Murray Abraham and…Justin Timberlake.

The Cannes buzz (it will probably go to Venice and Toronto as well) along with the Coen Brothers pedigree,  finally got the film distribution, and it is currently slated for an awards-friendly (limited) US release date of December 3 (before going wide on the 20th). I’ve had my eye on this one since filming began in Greenwich Village in January of 2012. The Coen Brothers. That is all. When can I buy my ticket?

Since all that these two films have in common is Justin Timberlake, I’m but using him as a jumping off point to introduce a trailer for each.

The name of the game is “Trailer or Spoiler”. Those few minutes of footage for Runner, Runner would seem to be yet another example of a “teaser” that gives the game away. It’s a story that’s already been told countless times: wide-eyed innocent gets a taste of the good life, starts to lose his soul (prodded by the devil’s surrogate), comes to his senses thanks to the love of a good woman and does battle with the devil and vanquishes the evil in his life. But, shouldn’t one have to buy a ticket to find out if it is, in fact, the same old song and dance?

The arc of the plot won’t be a mystery to most (especially since Robert Luketic covered nearly the same territory in 2008’s 21), but is that reason enough to lay it all out in these few flashy feet of footage?  Shouldn’t the producers have enough faith in their material, not to mention their cast, to let them attract ticket-buyers? The fact that Runner, Runner is being released in September and not in, say, November, coupled with this seemingly no-holds-barred first look, does not bode well for the finished produce. Just my humble opinion.

The clip below is not the first, but the third trailer released for Inside Llewyn Davis and while we can put a lot of the pieces together from what we’ve been given, we do still have to use our noodles to get a clear idea of what’s going on here.

We already know the film is about struggling musicians on the cusp of the folk wave about to break in the early 1960s, but does Davis have any talent? We can tell that Isaacs’ title character has some sort of relationship with Carey Mulligan, but the exact nature remains a mystery (even if earlier trailers gave us more of a hint).  Where does Timberlake fit in? Who is John Goodman’s character? Will Davis ever make it big? And why is he carrying around that cat? Will we get to hear more of JT harmonizing with Marcus Mumford?

Perhaps because this film is more a character study than a high-concept adventure/drama, there are still plenty of secrets left to uncover. (Unless of course one chooses to read any of the spoiler filled reviews that came out of Cannes, but that’s another rant for another day.)

Runner-Runner-Timberlake Runner-Runner-Affleck Runner Runner poster Inside Llewyn Davis poster