Monday, January 28, 2013

Best of SNL Season 38- First 12 Episodes

Been 12 episodes of Saturday Night Live so far this season.  The cast has really balanced since Wiig, Samberg and Elliott left.  There have been more new and one shot sketches and a wide range of interesting hosts.  Overall I have enjoyed this seasons, the sketches have not all been hits, political humor definitely wears out but it has definitely yielded some winners and been a great showcase for some great comedic talent.  Here is the best of season 38.

Best Host
Real wide range of hosts this year.  The worst would have to be last week's Jennifer Lawrence, a great actress but she really is not wired for sketch comedy.  Following her Joseph Gordon-Levitt left very little impact earlier this season.  Daniel Craig and especially Jeremy Renner  got to show off their rarely used comedic chops.  They did not stray too far from their action personas and the episodes weren't the best written, but they got in a few memorable bits.  Adam Levine and Christina Applegate proved to be pretty reliable, they blended in with the cast well and held there own.  They would be candidates to host again.  Jamie Foxx gained some controversy, but he is experienced in sketch comedy and SNL for the most part used that to their advantage.  Martin Short and Anne Hathaway are veterans at this point, both did well (although nothing that matched Anne Hathaway's Katie Holmes impression).  Louis C.K. was a smart choice on the producer's part.  He brought a different feel and different comic sensibilities to the show, as well as a different audience. Bruno Mars was the biggest surprise of the year, proving to be very enjoyable and versatile.

Which leaves the season opener, Seth MacFarlane, as the host of the year.  One of the best hosting jobs in recent years as a matter of fact.  MacFarlane has what Melissa McCarthy did last year: the ability to be on the same level as the SNL cast.  The Family Guy creator could start off the show right, make an impression in small characters and take the lead of a scene.  Throughout his monologue, Ryan Lochte impression, and four great sketches (Lids, Puppet Class, Drill Sargent and First Date) MacFarlane pretty much secured an invite back.

Best Monologue
MacFarlane's was fun, he got a chance to showcase a winning personality we don't usually get to see from the voice actor.  Anne Hathaway featured a clever spoof on Les Mis's One Day More (ending perfectly with Tim Robinson waving the Mexican flag).  Adam Levine played along with the celebrity cameos well in a spoof of the voice.  I personally laughed a lot at Jamie Foxx's monologue, it was a basic pattern that worked.  Martin Short had a fun cameo-filled Christmas musical opening along with one of the best jokes of the season about how between him and musical guest Paul McCartney they've sold "millions of records."  But the best monologue has to go to Louis C.K.  Props to SNL for understanding a host's strengths.  Instead of forcing him into a cast interview gag or generic song he just did fifteen minutes of stand-up, a nice change for the show.

Best of Weekend Update
Seth Meyers has seemed off to me this year.  Not a lot of his jokes has stuck with me, maybe I am just burnt out of political humor.  Of the walk-on cameos Seth MacFarlane's Ryan Lochte is the best.  Even if you didn't follow the Olympics it is a great character.  The Update character of the year comes from newcomer Cecily Strong as Girl You Wish You Hadn't a Started Conversation with at a Party, which is posed to be this year's drunk uncle.  Strong has developed this character fully with her party girl posture and well timed non-sequitirs.  Girl at a Party has been used sparingly and I look forward to see more of the character.

Best Digital Shorts
Lonely Island left SNL so they don't have Digital Shorts in the traditional sense anymore (although Lonely Island did a YOLO video with Adam Levine on Saturday, which I found to be pretty forgettable).  But there were a number of prerecorded sketches that worked.  Kenan Thompson debuted a great new character in Tree Pimps as a pimp who struggles adjusting to selling Christmas Trees.  A great one gag joke sketch The Stand-Off that Jeremy Renner, Bobby Moynihan and Taran Killam fully committed to.  Louie Lincoln is probably this season's biggest viral hit placing Abraham Lincoln as the lead of C.K.'s sitcom.  Mokiki, a great vehicle for Killam's physicality and Kenan's vocal talents.  It is a mesmerizing song with an absurd premise and weird production design.  I can't get the song out of my head.  My favorite prerecorded sketch of this year has to be Bruno Mars' Sad Mouse.  I would like to see SNL play up tragedy and sincerity more.  It was great that there was no real gimmick, it was just a really sweet, quality short film.

Best Commercial
The fake commercials haven't been winning me over this year.  I don't know if they count as commercials, but cast impression showcases: Sopranos High, Bond Girls and You're a Rat Bastard, Charlie Brown (with Martin Short's perfect Larry David) have been fun.  Human Vacation was a good premise, albeit forgettable short.  The best commercial though is easily G.O.B. Tampons perfectly combining political satire with spoofing female product commercials.  Best political bit of the year too.

Best Cast Member
Cecily Strong has been used the most out of the new additions, Tim Robinson and Aidy Bryant have not seen much screen time.  Armisen seems to be appearing less, conversely Pharaoh who replaced him as Obama is getting far more appearances than he did in his previous two seasons.  Jason Sudeikis is dependable and still creating some winning characters.  I always look forward to seeing Nasim Pedrad, but she has been struggling for airtime.  Killam is continuing to make his mark on the show as is Moynihan.  Vanessa Bayer is getting used much more which is great.  Kate McKinnon was clearly added last season to replace Wiig, but she brings her own stamp to those type of roles.  Her Long Island Psychic, Ann Romney and terrifying Jodie Foster are welcome additions.  Bill Hader seems to be the star and MVP.  He has not reprised many former characters but he has added a few like Vietnam Vet and Bryce the Fireman.  My favorite though is actually Kenan Thompson.  He has been the lead in more sketches, appearing in supporting more often and having less talk shows.  He can often anchor a scene in a smaller role such as in Lids, Puppet Class, First Date, Construction Workers, Last Call and Homeland.  He can be the straight man who speaks for the audience.  His best work on the show in his run that has almost lasted a decade.

Best Sketches
There are a lot of sketches I've enjoyed this year.  Lids, Drill Sargent, First Date, Long Island Psychic, Hotel Fees, Coroner, and Firehouse Incident have all been of note.  Here are my top five favorites:
I really crack up at Daniel Craig's weird New York accent.  He is playing the character really genuine and earnest, it is a nice take on a screw up character.  The good cat calls from Thompson, Sudeikis, Moynihan and Robinson are funny and the bad cat calls from Craig are well written.  Lines like "yabba dab dum," "a side of hoo-woo-woo," and "pooperize all over the place" are just funny.  Also Bill Hader's old timey pantomiming in the perfectly timed flashback is hilarious as well.
This is so simple, but Cecily Strong and especially Vanessa Bayer really elevate it.  They both play dumb well and their delivery is perfect for these airhead characters.  There are great lines about their former adult film careers.  I just like how short and uncomplicated they kept this odd premise and it is just funny.
SNL usually struggles with finding ways to highlight the talents of their hosts that aren't obvious.  Last season Channing Tatum stripping in several scenes for instance.  But they used Bruno Mars perfectly and in a surprising way here as he is a Pandora Intern who has to fill in when a Pandora station goes down with perfect impressions of the likes of Michael Jackson, Green Day and Louis Armstrong.  Just really high energy with a clever set up and a great showcase for Mars.
This is rare for SNL, they don't give away the joke right away.  They build to the reveal of Bill Hader's character and they escalate it each time they cut to him.  Everything in this sketch is a surprise, that has to do with it being a particularly unique premise.  MacFarlane, Thompson and Bayer all have funny characterizations as well that add to the scene rather than subtract.  Just a great one shot scene.
The twist in this sketch is perfect.  It begins as an average SNL talk show but it turns out to be topical, clever and extremely smart.  This sketch got me thinking.  Highly suggest you watch it.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Predicted 2012 Oscar Winners

All of the precursors are in.  The Writers' Guild of America, Directors' Guild of America, BAFTAs and Annie Awards are the only ones that have not announced winners.  Here is how the race is looking a month away from the Oscars and it is a complicated race.  Whereas the last number of years there were very few surprises, this year is almost impossible to predict.  Which makes it much more fun.
Best Foreign Film
This one is easy to predict this year.  Amour is was nominated here and best picture (and director, actress, screenplay).  It should have the same effect as when Up and Toy Story 3 where nominated for animated feature and best picture.  However foreign film has often not rewarded the frontrunner (the voting system and body is different in that category).  Kon-Tiki is the name I have seen pop up as a potential upset, but put your money on Amour.  It will be the film's only win of the night.
Best Animated Feature
There is no good precursor to predict animated feature.  Unlike WGA, PGA, DGA and SAG the people voting for the Annies are not many of the same people voting for the Oscars.  I would not be surprised it they rewarded Rise of the Guardians, which was snubbed for an Oscar nomination.  All of the other precursors have been split pretty evenly among Brave, Wreck-It Ralph, ParaNorman and Frankenweenie.  ParaNorman's chance is that Disney is campaigning against itself.  It is also notable that all three stop-motion films from 2012 were nominated, which could be a sign in favor of Frankenweenie.  I would wager a guess that a sizable amount of voters belong to Pixar due to their many wins and nominations, however that did not help Cars or Cars 2.  I really think it comes down to which movie that Disney is pushing the hardest.  I want to believe that Wreck-It Ralph will win, but it is a tight race.  As for right now I am predicting Wreck-It Ralph, because these are animation professionals voting.  However don't be surprised if stop-motion is rewarded or Pixar gets it by default.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Beasts of the Southern Wild was a very welcome nomination, but despite its recognition by the Academy the four surprise nominations are its rewards.  Life of Pi most likely won't have enough steam to win in this category, but it has the most to gain from a potential three-way vote split.  Lincoln has done the best in the precursors, but the movie is looking less and less like a sure thing.  Argo is racing back to the top across the board, but Silver Linings Playbook has remained pretty strong in its position.  This is the category that could tell us the winner, between the three.  I will rely on my heart and stick with Chris Terrio's Argo, but definitely not a sure thing.
Best Original Screenplay
Flight is won't win.  I would say that Moonrise Kingdom has a slight chance, but it doesn't look like Wes Anderson's year.  Amour seems to be loved by the Academy this year, maybe this could be its second Oscar but it is a longshot (although certainly a plausible one).  Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty are certainly the main contenders, but there is a lot working against both.  There is controversy surrounding both films which seems to have hurt their chances at winning in other categories.  Although Zero Dark Thirty has been spoken against by actors, writers think differently than political celebrities.  It is significant that Django was not nominated for a WGA, it is looking like Zero Dark Thirty will win that important precursor.  I will go with Zero Dark Thirty for the win at this point (most likely the movie's only Oscar win), but Django will not be far behind.
Best Supporting Actor
This is the toughest one to predict.  I would say that Philip Seymour Hoffman is the only one who doesn't have a chance at winning.  All of these five have been winning and nominated for precursors pretty evenly.  Arkin is certainly a weaker nominee, but if Argo sweeps he could get in.  De Niro likewise, it does not seem like it is his year for a third win.  However with Streep last year and most likely Day-Lewis this year it is not out of the question.  Waltz was the most popular part of his film, but he won his first Oscar only a couple of years ago.  Jones on the other hand won back in 1993, and just won the SAG.  However the Oscars and SAG rarely match with each other completely (2004, 2009, 2010 were recent exceptions).  If there is a discrepancy, it would be in this category.  I am predicting Jones with much hesitation, don't bet much money on this category if you are betting.
Best Supporting Actress
The only things standing in Anne Hathaway's way are Sally Field and Amy Adams.  Adams is on her fourth nomination, career wise she should be due for a win.  And Field is an industry legend returning for the first time to the big screen in a decade.  Despite the strength of these two performers Anne Hathaway is one of the few sure things in the Oscar race this year.  There is a very slight chance for an upset, but Hathaway is going to win.
Best Actor
Part of still thinks, Daniel Day-Lewis will not get a third Oscar so soon after his second.  It took the much more prolific Streep and Nicholson decades to accomplish that feat.  But he keeps winning everything, this is a train that can't be stopped.  There is still a slight chance for the others.  Jackman is a previous host, incredibly likable and well-liked, he is still a longshot.  Phoenix received a nomination against incredible odds and his performance has ardent supporters.  The main threat to Day-Lewis though is Bradley Cooper who's movie is gaining momentum and is fresh in people's minds.  This is the kind of race where Harvey Weinstein steps in and works some last minute magic.  Unless Weinstein is pushing Phoenix harder (which would not the smartest move), Cooper very well could benefit from Harvey's campaigning.  I am still going with Day-Lewis, but Cooper is an interesting potential upset.
Best Actress
Riva and Wallis get to share a piece of Oscar trivia as the oldest and youngest nominees in history, but that is the furthest they go.  This race has been between Chastain and Lawrence for a long time.  Lawrence is still very young for a win.  People seemed to have reacted to her Golden Globe acceptance speech poorly (although not her uncomfortably unfunny SNL monologue).  But she did just win the SAG over Chastain.  Zero Dark Thirty's chances for Oscars are hurt by the actor's branch.  Despite being the older of the two there are many that may not vote for her.  If there is a vote split it will be in this category, I assume that Watts being the most well known nominee would have the most to gain.  But I am predicting Lawrence to win.  Her film managed the rare four category nominations, it needs to win in one.
Best Director
I really need to see who the DGA awards before I can really make an accurate predictions (I wouldn't doubt that they award the snubbed Affleck).  Haneke and Zeitlin were huge upset nominations that won't have the strength to pull off a win.  Haneke being a veteran over novice Zeitlin has the edge though.  The race is between Russell, Lee and Spielberg.  It is significant that DGA nominated Hooper, Bigelow and Affleck over Russell.  Lee only has one win while Spielberg has two.  If Life of Pi wins a major award it very well could be here.  It looks like there will be a vote split between picture and director this year.  All of these directors are well liked and respected in the industry but none of them are popular as directors this year.  I am going to go with the Weinstein factor and predict David O. Russell for a first Oscar nomination.  He is still remembered for his conflicts on earlier films, but people have seemed to have gotten over them.  Would not count out Spielberg and Lee, but Russell has the slight edge that they don't.
Best Picture
Les Miserables did not land with Academy voters.  Beasts of the Southern Wild and Amour won't get further than a nomination.  The controversy surrounding Django Unchained and especially Zero Dark Thirty will keep them from being contenders as winners.  Life of Pi is waiting to potentially clean up if there is a major vote split or sudden shift in favor, however without any acting nominations it will remain a best picture nominee.  Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook are the only two that have the necessary picture, director, acting, writing and editing nominations that every Oscar winner since 1989 has had.  Lincoln certainly has the prestige, but Silver Linings has the feel good factor that the academy has favored in recent years.  Silver Linings is also backed by Harvey Weinstein who managed to bet a Spielberg favorite for picture in 1998.  However Argo currently has the momentum.  Despite lacking the crucial directing nomination Affleck's snub could easily be explained as missing by a margin.  I am predicting Argo to do the impossible and win best picture of 2012.