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. 

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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

1st Snowpiercer Trailer for Mass Consumption!

Snowpiercer, movie, poster, Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Jamie Bell

Finally! A green-band trailer for Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, and one that would seem to give us a better idea of what we can expect, at least in terms of narrative. The visuals, at least in my humble opinion have always been stunning.

In a future where a failed global-warming experiment kills off most life on the planet, a class system evolves aboard the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe via a perpetual-motion engine.

Take a look:

via JoBlo
Here’s the international red-band trailer:

via Yahoo

This is a film that’s been trying to make it out of the gate for a long time. Director Bong Joon-Ho, who wrote the screenplay with Kelly Masterson (Before the Devil Knows You’re DeadSidney Lumet‘s last film), makes his English-language debut with Snowpiercer, discovered the French graphic novel, “Le Transperceneige”, on which it’s based, in late 2004 during pre-production of The Host. Rights were secured in 2005, but filming didn’t begin until April 2012. It went into post in July of that year and debuted in South Korea in August of 2013. It’s already screened in the rest of the world, including a stop at this year’s Berlinale, so the US gets it last, but at last we get it, thanks to the cutting-edge arm of The Weinstein Company, RADiUS-TWC.

With an international cast that includes Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Go Ah-sung, Jamie Bell, Ewen Bremner, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, and Ed Harris, I hope it finds an audience. Sequels are already being planned based on other books in the series.

Snowpiercer gets a limited (there’s that word again – grrrrr) US release on June 27. Hopefully more cities will follow, but I have a feeling it will fare better via OnDemand.

What do you think? Will you look for it?

Bit of trivia: Bong and his production designer, Ondrej Nekvasil, designed the train to resemble a 1970s nuclear-powered submarine. Both the train and a sub from that era would have a similar average speed of 50km per hour.

 

Only Lovers Left Alive: A Romantic Vampire Tale for Grown-ups

Only Lovers Left Alive, movie, still, Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton
Only Lovers Left Alive, an official selection of Cannes 2013, is stylish, hip, sexy and smart, all of which are things I’m generally in favor of. It’s also, despite the scenes of Jim Jarmusch’s creatures-of-the-night (the word vampire is never used) imbibing “the good stuff” from delicate cordial glasses and antique flasks (or even “on a stick”), the most sanguine vampire tale I’ve ever seen.

Actually, it’s a film that is more about eternal love, not just eternal life; a character study in which our Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) just happen to be vampires. Other than their quest for a blood supply untainted by the poisons of modern life, they fill their endless lives much as we mortals do: searching for ways to amuse themselves as well as give meaning to their existence. Twilight, this is not.

We will learn that Swinton and Hiddleston are lovers, that they have been married for centuries, that they are soul-mates. But from the first scene, we already know they are connected even when they’re apart. The film opens with intertwining shots of the two, spun to the tune of “Funnel of Love”. ( I thought I was listening to the song played at half speed so that Wanda Jackson sounded less like Minnie Mouse on helium than I’ve ever heard, but it’s actually director Jim Jarmusch’s band, SQÜRL with singer Madeline Follin, of Cults.)

Adam, who refers to humans as “zombies”, is a musician, who is hiding out under the perfect cover of a decimated Detroit. His devoted “Renfield” is manager/enabler Ian (Anton Yelchin), who would love to be able to promote him so that Adam’s music could reach a wider audience, but Adam won’t have it. The zombies love his music, but he ‘vants to be alone’. He collects antique instruments and shuns modern anything, unlike Eve who embraces the technology that allows her to stay connected to Adam. Sensing Adam’s growing despair, which is only confirmed via a Skype chat (the Rube Goldbergian way in which Adam has rigged his antiquated analog devices to accomplish this task is comical, yet indicative of what an intelligent mind can come up with when one has all the time in the world),  Eve decides to make the transatlantic journey to see him, despite the intrinsic difficulties of traveling by day.

Eve is a seeker, and a lover of knowledge, currently residing in Tangier. She’s worldly and as much of the world as reclusive Adam wants to shrink from it. I’m not sure the part wasn’t written specifically for Swinton, she is just so perfectly cast, and her chemistry with Hiddleston is palpable. (I know I’ve mentioned that Michael Fassbender was Jarmusch’s original choice. I, as I believe you will, have no trouble embracing Hiddleston as Adam.)

Watching Eve make her travel arrangements is just one of the sly and witty ways that the script pokes holes in well-known vampire lore. It also hints at the possibility of the presence of vampires throughout history. Adam gave an adagio to Shubert. Christopher “Kit” Marlowe (John Hurt) is not only “alive” but a vampire and used the “illiterate” Shakespeare as his front to continue to “get the work out there” long after his supposed death. There are also odes to the same lore that the script deflates eg: vampires must be invited to cross a threshold. And there are things that Jarmusch may have made up, yet seem like they should be part of the myth, for instance, vampires also need permission to remove their gloves, which they always wear in public. I’ve never heard of that one (or have I just forgotten it? Anyone? Bueller?)

Adam plays word games with a hematologist (Jeffrey Wright) who calls himself Dr. Watson, that he bribes for access to pure blood. He calls himself first Dr. Faust then Dr. Caligari. Eve expresses her love for Jack White, who has always looked a bit like a vampire, although to my knowledge, there have been no rumors of blood drinking.

At the end of Eve’s journey, she and Adam reconnect in a dozen sexy, slinky, sultry ways, including sinuously dancing around his crowded manse in silk dressing gowns (wouldn’t it be nice if Denise LaSalle and Charlie Feathers experienced career resurgencies?) and driving through the desert of Detroit at night, discovering its lonely beauty. Their reunion, however, is interrupted by the arrival of Eve’s irresponsible and uncontrollable little “sister” Ava (Mia Wasikowska). Although both Adam and Eve (as well as Marlowe) had dreamt of her arrival, it was anticipated with dread.  Ava’s bratty antics become the catalyst for all that follows, including the funniest lines in the movie.

Example: Adam and Eve watch a body melting in acid. “That was visual”.  (You just have to see it.)

Jim Jarmusch doesn’t like digital cinematography and wanted to shoot on film, but could not due to budgetary constraints. He and his director of photography, Yorick Le Saux, whose last English-language film was Arbitrage, worked with low lighting (they were after all, shooting entirely at night) and experimented with a variety of lenses until they were able to achieve the look they wanted, one that approximated “film”. However they got there, they’ve found a prism of color in the blackness and the result,  in which the cold dark night of Detroit is contrasted with the exotic warmth of the Morocco where Eve lives and walks among the locals, is mesmerizing.

Adam and Eve glide along to the trance-like soundtrack provided by SQÜRL (which includes Carter Logan, and Shane Stoneback, in addition to the director), and Dutch minimalist composer Jozef Van Wissem, with a guest appearance by Yasmine Hamdan, the singer for Soapkills, the first indie/electronic band in the Middle East, and nod their heads in unison to the beat. Jarmusch has given his immortals a “been there and done that” insouciance, but if there’s one thing that they still can’t get enough of after all these years, it is each other.  So, aptly, we are left with Adam and Eve, determined to survive, if only so that they can continue to be together.

Ultimately, Only Lovers Left Alive is a hypnotic paean to the mysteries of true love.

“Make me immortal with a kiss.” – Christopher Marlowe, Dr. Faustus

 

 

Bit of trivia that may or may not have been intentional: One of the books that Eve packs for her trip to Detroit is a catalog of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work. Jeffrey Wright’s film breakthrough was as the title character in Basquiat.

 

Another Visit to the JMHO Trailer Park

Frank, movie, still, Michael Fassbender, papier-mache head

Welcome to another edition of JMHO Trailer Park, wherein I attempt to bring you the best of (what I consider to be) the best trailers for upcoming films.

First up, to celebrate Michael Fassbender‘s much deserved win for Best Supporting Actor (for 12 Years a Slave) at Sunday night’s Jameson Empire Film Awards, as well as his 37th birthday tomorrow, I bring you the trailer for Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank. which I had mentioned briefly back in July.

Frank is the story of Jon (Domnhall Gleason), a would-be musician, who discovers he’s bitten off more than he can chew when he joins an avant-garde  pop band led by the mysterious and enigmatic Frank (Fassbender), and the very scary Clara, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal.  Frank is mysterious and enigmatic mostly because he never appears in public (or anywhere else really) without his giant papier-mache head.  The film is a fictional story loosely inspired by Frank Sidebottom, the persona of cult musician and comedian Chris Sievey, as well as other outsider musicians like Daniel Johnston and Captain Beefheart.  The screenplay was written by Jon Ronson (based on his memoir) and Peter Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), and the flick’s cast also includes Scoot McNairy, and Tess Harper.

In the world of alternative music, The Soronprfbs are the ne plus ultra of outsiders. A brilliant, ramshackle, barely functioning band, they are built around the eponymous Frank (Michael Fassbender), an unstable yet charismatic musical savant, who at all times wears a large, round fake head with crudely paintedOon features O like Daniel Johnston hidden behind a cartoon smile. His closest musical collaborator is the forbidding Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal); part caretaker, part jailer, Clara is the antithesis of all things mainstream. The band is completed by Nana (Carla Azar), a Moe TuckerOlike drummer, and Baraque (Francois Civil), a beautiful Frenchman who plays bass. Into this mix comes replacement keyboard player, Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), after the band’s original keyboardist is hospitalized following an attempt at drowning himself. In his head, Jon’s is a true creative, a maverick musical force; in reality he’s a very ordinary young man trying to escape his humOdrum, smallOtown life. For Jon, this is the break he’s been waiting for, his chance to climb through the looking glass and into the world of artistic collaboration, real musicOmaking, and rock ‘n’ roll adventure that he’s always dreamed of. But he discovers (and perhaps has always suspected) that he lacks the one thing he needs to make his dream come true – genuine talent.

While most of us wonder why anyone would hire Michael Fassbender and then stick a giant fake head on him, I can also imagine that for Fassbender, the reluctant movie star who can probably sympathize with Frank quite a bit, it would be freeing. Having filmed 12 Years a Slave then The Counselor, both requiring a lot of intensity, throwing himself into something so completely different, a comedy of sorts, would almost be a vacation.

Frank premiered at Sundance in January, played South by Southwest last week and will play Sundance London in April before opening in the UK on May 2. No US date yet, but I have no doubt one will be forthcoming, for NY and LA at least. Unless I miss my guess, it’ll be VOD for the rest of us.

Devil's Knot, movie, poster, Reese Witherspoon, Colin Firth

It would appear that Michael Fassbender (not to mention James Brown) has some serious competition for the title of “the hardest working man in show business”. Colin Firth has four titles that will be released in 2014. In addition to Railway Man, Before I Go To Sleep and Paddington (all featuring Nicole Kidman), there’s a project called Devil’s Knot, directed by Atom Egoyan and costarring Reese Witherspoon, and is based on the story of the “West Memphis Three”. It played the Toronto International Film Festival last year, but I don’t remember hearing a thing about it.

The story is probably at least a little familiar. In 1993, three teen boys (here played by James Hamrick, Seth Meriwether and Kristopher Higgins)  were convicted of the murder of three eight-year-olds, in what was widely reported at the time to have been a satanic ritual. Subsequently, private investigators were able to pull apart the original prosecution case, but the presiding judge in their appeal, who freed them after 17 years in prison, did not overturn their convictions (so they are not entitled to any form of compensation).

There have been four documentaries made about this case: Joe Berlinger’s Paradise Lost series of three films, and Amy BergWest of Memphis, but this is the first dramatization. Witherspoon plays the mother of one of the victims, and Firth a private investigator trying to discern fact from fiction in a scared and angry community.

“The savage murders of three young children sparks a controversial trial of three teenagers accused of killing the kids as part of a satanic ritual.”

Take a look at the trailer:

This one may not have been on my radar before, but it certainly is now. Also starring Alessandro Nivola, Amy Ryan, Mireille Enos, Elias Koteas, Stephen Moyer, Kevin Durand, Martin Henderson, Bruce Greenwood and Dane DeHaan, Devil’s Knot has been given a US release date of May 9. It’s already played Egoyan’s native Canada. The UK will get it 13 June.

Under the Skin , poster, movie, Scarlett Johansson

Under the Skin has gotten a lot of attention because Scarlett Johansson walks around Glasgow  (and into the wet-dreams of a million fanboys) stark naked.  It’s also garnering director Jonathan Glazer comparisons to less a master than Stanley Kubrick. I enjoyed Glazer’s first two films, the gangster flick Sexy Beast with Ray Winstone and Ben Kingsley and the under-rated (at least at the time) Birth with Nicole Kidman and Danny Huston, I’ll have to see Under the Skin before I can endorse that kudo. (Not that anyone’s holding their breath for my endorsement lol).  Birth, about a woman’s husband who may or may not have been reincarnated in the form of a young boy who is determined to convince her,  would seem to have more in common with Under the Skin at least visually, with it’s scenes of a stark New York in winter filled with gray half-light and chilly fog.

The premise is simple: “An alien seductress preys upon hitchhikers in Scotland. ” But from the accounts of people who’ve seen it at festivals, that’s only the beginning and it is pretty damn scary. Sounds good to me! Check out the the ethereal posters by artist Neil Kellerhouse (via TotalFilm) below.

Under the Skin doesn’t have a big name cast. In fact you probably won’t recognize anyone other than Johansson. It opens here this Friday, April 4. Counter-programming for Captain America?

Only Lovers Left Alive, movie, poster, vampires, Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton

And in the third and final Michael Fassbender reference in this post, we have the trailer to Jim Jarmusch‘s imagined lives of vampires,  Only Lovers Left Alive. The vampire love story which would seem to ooze even more cool than blood (and it won’t be short of that I’m sure), pairs Tilda Swinton with Tom Hiddleston. What’s that got to do with Fassbender? Michael Fassbender dropped out,  making way for Hiddleston. I have no problem with that whatsoever. It would undoubtedly have been great fun watching Fassbender with Swinton, but  it would definitely appear that T.H. OWNS the role of Adam, a vampire who has been in love with Swinton’s Eve for eons, drifting in and out of each other’s “lives” and the centuries, searching for meaning.

Much like Anne Rice’s vampire prince, Lestat, Adam is a musician – in this century a rock musician. Unlike Lestat, it appears that Adam does not crave the spotlight. The movie begins when Adam’s  depression over the direction human society has taken sparks a reunion with his lover Eve.  Their romantic interlude is interrupted by the appearance of her little “sister” Ava, played by Mia Wasikowska. (Every time I see the trailer I have to remind myself that it is Wasikowska, and not Juno Temple.)

“Set against the romantic desolation of Detroit and Tangiers, an underground musician, deeply depressed by the direction of human activities, reunites with his resilient and enigmatic lover. Their love story has already endured several centuries at least, but their debauched idyll is soon disrupted by her wild and uncontrollable younger sister. Can these wise but fragile outsiders continue to survive as the modern world collapses around them?”

Jarmusch uses his usual light, sly touch with an emphasis on the humor of the situation and the intelligence of his characters… and his actors. Despite the fact that it’s a movie about vampires, this might be the director’s most accessible film yet. Watch the trailer and then watch the clip below it as these two impossibly and preternaturally beautiful people discuss the merits of Mary Wollstonecraft (mother of Mary Shelley and an author in her own right) and suck blood…on a stick.


I have an admitted vampire fetish and I have been waiting for this one for a long time. Also featuring Anton Yelchin, John Hurt, and Jeffrey Wright, Only Lovers Left Alive opens here in the US on April 11

The Drop, movie, Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, poster

And finally, “Tom Hardy Week” rolls on with the very first trailer for Michaël Roskam’s The Drop (formerly known as Animal Rescue) that we told you about a few days ago.

The story, once again centers on Bob (Hardy) and Marv (James Gandolfini), the bar where they both work and the mob:

THE DROP is a new crime drama from Michaël R. Roskam, the Academy Award-nominated director of BULLHEAD. Based on a screenplay from Dennis Lehane (MYSTIC RIVER, GONE BABY GONE), THE DROP follows lonely bartender Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) through a covert scheme of funneling cash to local gangsters – “money drops” – in the underworld of Brooklyn bars. Under the heavy hand of his employer and cousin Marv (James Gandolfini), Bob finds himself at the center of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighborhood’s past where friends, families, and foes all work together to make a living – no matter the cost.

The action has been moved from Boston to Brooklyn, but The Drop still feels very “Lehane” to me.  (And while I think Hardy’s Brooklyn-ese is pretty good, it would kill me if he butchered a Boston accent.) Matthias Schoenaerts is obviously a heavy (since he’s seen menacing the doll, played by Noomi Rapace) but judging from the synopsis, it sounds like the real villains will be the Russian mob and there may be more to his story.

In yet another WAY TOO EARLY Oscar prediction, if The Drop is as good as it looks from this first trailer,  James Gandolfini might just have one more shot at a posthumous Oscar.

It’s going to be a long wait until September. At least it looks like it’s shaping up to be a pretty good spring, at the multi-plex anyway.

 

Make a Reservation For Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel, movie, Poster

via imdb

Wes Anderson‘s The Grand Budapest Hotel, while definitely for adults, earning its R-rating with mature themes as well as blood, death and copious f-bombs, is also as delightfully flaky and multi-layered as one of the beautifully decorated pastries, the “Courtesans au chocolat”, that play a key role in the film. It’s lovingly crafted in Anderson’s signature candy colors and wrapped in an equally pretty pink box, not the one tied with a blue ribbon, but the Grand Budapest Hotel itself.

The film recounts the adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. The story involves the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting and the battle for an enormous family fortune — all against the back-drop of a suddenly and dramatically changing Continent.

The film is another in a line of Anderson’s charming and brightly colored shadowboxes, this one awash in extravagant shades of topaz, rose and amethyst, and filled with the director’s usual complement of wacky characters to whom he’s given lots of amusing and eloquent things to say and lots of screwball antics to perform.

It begins with an aging writer embarking on a story told to him when he was a younger man, by another aging raconteur who then proceeds to tell the tale of The Grand Budapest Hotel when it was indeed still grand.  So it’s a flashback within a flashback within a flashback, telling a story within a story within a story, spanning three different eras, each with its own production design and color palette. The setting is the fictional European country of Zubrowka, an obvious stand-in for any of a number of Eastern bloc countries like Czechoslovakia or Poland. When the film opens, the titular castle-like hotel, though clearly fallen on hard times, stands as a remnant of a bye-gone era – an era of grace and beauty…and excess.  The year is 1968 and the Grand Budapest Hotel has been refurbished to reflect more utilitarian times, but it is one of the mysteries around which the film revolves that it has been allowed to remain otherwise untouched, a gracefully aging doyenne atop a mountain, looming over the villages below when private property is clearly frowned upon. (Think of how many families could make use of the hotel’s rooms!)

As all of Anderson’s films revolve around some variation of a father/son dynamic, usually a quirky middle-aged man and the precocious boy he takes under his wing, The Grand Budapest Hotel is no exception. This time around, the mentor is played by Ralph Fiennes as “the mysterious Monsieur Gustave H.”, the consummate concierge who is by turns fussy, fastidious, charming, condescending, a little creepy and sweetly endearing. Often these traits are all visible within the same scene The elderly society matrons who seem to make up the lion’s share of the hotel’s guests, provide Monsieur Gustave with ample opportunity to polish his gifts for seduction and flattery to a fine patina, even when they’re dead.

The Grand Budapest Hotel finds Anderson at his most spirited and stylish. As Gustave and “his  lobby boy” named Zero embark on a fateful trip to honor one such dearly departed guest’s memory, they wind up embroiled in a zany murder mystery comprised of a string of antic set pieces that take them from a vast and spooky mansion to a hilarious prison break to a cartoonish ski-and-sled chase from a mountaintop monastery.

Of course along the way they’ll run into a colorful array of  Anderson’s regular company of players. It would be too spoilery for me to tell you who Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson play but part of the fun is waiting for them to pop up, since you know they’re bound to. Adrien Brody is obviously having a blast as the villain, all but twirling his mustache like Snidely Whiplash in melodramatic glee, as is an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton, who has far too little screen time. (Apparently both she and Ralph Fiennes agree as Swinton has said that they’ve talked about doing a “prequel” depicting Monsieur Gustave and Madame D’s “love story”.) Edward Norton does a variation of Scout Master Ward from Moonrise Kingdom, as Henckels. New members of the company include F. Murray Abraham, and Jude Law, among several other familiar faces. But it’s Fiennes to whom this movie belongs and who provides the gravitas and is the ambiguous heart and soul of the film. He’s in nearly every frame of the picture. As an actor he’s gotten so good at playing villains or heavy dramatic roles that it’s almost a giddy surprise to discover his impeccable comic timing. He inhabits Monsieur Gustave in such a way that we cannot doubt his sincerity whether he’s berating his lobby boy, vetting Zero’s young girlfriend Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) or complimenting a corpse on her complexion, despite the fact that he remains a bit of a cryptic figure. He’s civilized and refined, at least superficially, but he’s also prone to vulgarity and casual cruelty and his own background is left purposely vague.

The spectre of impending war looms large and the Nazis are given the thinnest of veils instead of being named outright, but Nazi-era anxieties play a huge role.  If one compares The Grand Budapest Hotel to another film set during the same time period, Cabaret, then Gustave H. is like a more genteel version of Joel Grey’s Emcee.

If the only Wes Anderson film you’re familiar with is 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom, a gently deviant story of first love, it might surprise you to discover that The Grand Budapest Hotel is peppered with startling images of violence. After a character tosses a cat out a window, we see its bloody remains on the pavement below before it’s off-handedly discarded in a trash can, not to mention the close-up of some recently amputated fingers. There’s also a brief glimpse of sexual explicitness that feels almost shockingly out of place in a Wes Anderson film. (It’s meant to be jarring and it does earn a well-deserved laugh from the audience.)  Anderson seems ready and willing to indulge a taste for the crude and grotesque. He treats characters’ physical blemishes and deformities as visual one-liners like the shoeshine boy with the prosthetic leg and the bakery girl with “a port wine stain in the shape of Mexico” on her face.

Anderson has said that his inspirations were the wartime comedies of Ernst Lubitsch, like To Be or Not to Be, but this isn’t so much a satire as it is an homage or soft focus mirror image of those films. He gives us the abhorrence of authoritarianism which marked that earlier genre,  not as a crime against humanity, but more as an affront to good taste and Old World etiquette. Despite the humor, the pastels and jewel tones and the near slapstick energy of some of the vignettes, there is a tinge of melancholy wafting through the film, particularly in the section that takes place post-war, centering on Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) and The Writer (Jude Law).

The dialogue written by Anderson from a story by Hugo Guinness and inspired by the works of Stefan Zweig, is heavily laced with poetry and gives Gustave the right to be called a genuinely romantic figure, in the truest sense of the term.

Part of Anderson’s charm is his ability to put together the perfect musical canvas upon which to draw his pictures. I’ve been listening to Alexandre Desplat’s memorable score for weeks now.  It will carry you along until it dares you not to tap your toes, especially during the final credits. (You do stay, right?) You must. You’ll want to dance the Hopak like a Cossack or at least throw your arms up to shout “Hey!” when the music stops.

Ultimately, The Grand Budapest Hotel is enchanting,  as well-appointed and smoothly run as its titular establishment. So here’s a question, why is a movie this much fun, this well made and well acted, released in March?  Why wasn’t it saved for the big end-of-the-year awards circus? It played a few well respected festivals like Berlin and Glasgow earlier in the winter, but not the biggies like Cannes, Toronto or Venice or even Tribeca. Was releasing it in March Anderson’s way of thumbing his nose at awards in general? Am I reading too much into this? Quite possibly. Okay, probably.  But I submit that all those of us who care about such things should agree to keep talking about this film and keep it in people’s minds –the minds of the people in a position to have an impact anyway – so that it’s not forgotten at the end of the year.

Sure there will be a lot more films released between now and then, some of them may be flashier, some of them may even be better. But some may not, but by virtue of their place on the calendar may get the accolades.  Just my humble opinion, but I think that at the end of the year we’ll still be thinking that Ralph Fiennes will deserve some mention as a candidate for Best Actor. Even Edward Norton admits, despite the fact that he really wanted to play Monsieur Gustave himself, that no one could have played him as well as Fiennes. Sure he didn’t have to gain or lose any weight or wear a prosthetic nose or anything else, but the delicate balance of the movie rests on his shoulders. Lord knows Fiennes has deserved the recognition many times before and has been overlooked (*coughCoriolanuscough*). He hasn’t been nominated by the Academy since 1996. 1996! C’mon.

Okay, I’m off of my soapbox. Bottom line, you need to check into the four-star establishment that is The Grand Budapest Hotel and let Monsieur Gustave see to your comfort for a couple of hours.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, written and directed by Wes Anderson, with Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Jude Law, F. Murray Abraham, Tony Revolori, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Tom Wilkinson, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Mathieu Amalric, Lea Seydoux and Fisher Stevens, is open in select cities in the US and Canada now and is rolling out to more tomorrow March 21.

Final Trailer – Red Band:

How to Make “Courtesans au Chocolat”:

Meet the Cast:

The Central Conceit of Wes Anderson:

Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel, elevator, Tony Revolori

courtesy Fox Searchlight

Michael Fassbender is Gonna Suck…Blood

Some good news for a Monday: The invasion of Hollywood blood suckers continues and no, I don’t mean agents. I’m referring, of course to vampires, which have gone from hot to ubiquitous in recent years. Proving as resilient as Dracula himself, there is apparently no end to the inventive permutations the fanged -ones lend themselves to.

Aside from the classical, Victorian image of the suave and sexy Count in perpetual fancy dress (Frank Langella in 1979’s Dracula still makes my knees weak), over the years there have been pretty, brooding vampires (Interview with the Vampire from 1994, Dracula 2000 and all of the Twilight films), space vampires (1985’s Lifeforce), MMA Ninja vampires (the Blade Trilogy), trailer trash vampires (1987’s Near Dark), lesbian vampires (2009 Vampire Killers), dominatrix-lesbian vampires (1983’s The Hunger – anyone remember the short-lived offshoot tv series in 1997?) Speaking of tv, there are the Cajuns of "True Blood" and the Abercrombie & Fitch models of "The Vampire Diaries" (and don’t get me started on the original British version of "Being Human’s" Aidan Turner-holy schnikey!)

While the emo kids of the Twilight Series might be fading into the sunset, (or is it dawn?) we have the quasi-historical stylings of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, to look forward to next year. (I am looking forward to it-it has such a crazy cast that I just have to see it. Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Mary Todd Lincoln?) Just when it seemed the craze had wound down and played itself out, we get news that two of film’s most iconoclastic directors, Neil Jordan and Jim Jarmusch, both have vampire-themed pics in the pipeline.

The Hollywood Reporter announced last week that Jordan has cast Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan as mother and daughter (!!) vampires in Byzantium from a script by Jane Eyre scribe Moira Buffini.

Yesterday it was announced that Jarmusch will make an as yet untitled vampire love story. What really has my socks rolling up and down about this news is that he has reportedly cast Michael Fassbender (rapidly becoming the hardest working man in show biz-and yes, I said that too. Get used to it) as a freakin’ VAMPIRE! "Uncle Peter! My smelling salts!"* Oh yeah, and Tilda Swinton and Mia Wasikowska will be in it too. Needless to say, I will be keeping a close eye on more news about this one.

Filming will reportedly begin in early 2012.

*with a tip o’ the pin to Margaret Mitchell and a wink to KB