Wednesday, February 27, 2013

First Look at Next Year's Oscar Contenders

Best Picture Contenders
Monuments Men
Clooney and Heslov's successor to Argo, with Clooney filling in the roles of not only producer but co-writer, director and star.  The concept involves an allied group that is tries to save German art during World War II.  Cast features Daniel Craig, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban and John Godman.
12 Years a Slave
Steve McQueen has paid his dues and should be on the Academy's radar by now.  The issue of slavery was present in two of last year's contenders.  Also features several great actors that have not yet been recognized by the Academy including Chiewetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Benedict Cumberbatch.
David O. Russell is coming off of two director's nominations which both earned acting wins.  This true story about a scandal and sting operation reunites Russell with Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence in addition to the prolific Jeremy Renner.
The Butler
Lee Daniel's last movie was critically panned, but this is much more Oscar friendly material.  A great role for Forest Whitaker, who is a great actor in need of a comeback, in a story that spans eight presidents and features a large celebrity cast.
The Counselor
Oscar pundits always put too much faith in Ridley Scott early on, who hasn't been nominated in a decade.  But this could be a good vehicle for the veteran director.  Original screenplay from Cormac McCarthy and a great cast.
August: Osage County
Theatrical adaptations such as Doubt, For Colored Girls, Carnage and Les Mis have not been huge winners with the Academy.  But with Weinstein, Clooney and Heslov as producers this seems designed specifically for the Oscars.  This will do well in the actress categories as it has five major female roles and decent female characters are difficult to come by.
Wolf of Wall Street
Since his comeback in 2002, Scorsese has only had one movie that was not up for Oscars.  This is definitely Oscar friendly material.  Based on a true story featuring an impressive cast.
Potentially this year's Beasts of the Southern Wild.  It was cleaned up at Sundance and got picked up by Weinstein Company.  With the academy becoming more open to smaller films, this indie hit definitely has a chance.
Bennett Miller's followup to Moneyball is based off of a really unsettling true story.  Steve Carell plays a schizophrenic millionaire who kills his best friend, an Olympic wrestler played by Mark Ruffalo.  Throw in Channing Tatum as Ruffalo's brother and there are enough interesting pieces to make this one a contender.
A father-son road trip movie from Alexander Payne should have no trouble earning acting and writing nods.  May be too small to register, but this is a passion project for Payne, should have a lot of heart.
Best Director Contenders
George Clooney, Monuments Men
Oscars got in trouble for snubbing an actor in directing, doubt they will fail to nominate one of their favorite actors.
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
An indie darling for his first two films.  He should now be on voters' radar with this ambitious project.  After slavery became a discussion point this year audiences should be more open to struggling with a serious look at it.
David O. Russell, Abscam
Russell has had two nominations in the past three years, definitely a contender for a win.  This true story utilizes actors that he had previously directed to nominations and wins.
Lee Daniels, The Butler
A political true story spanning eight presidents with an expansive cast.  Could be this year's Lincoln.
Ridley Scott, The Counselor
In the past ten years people have usually 
Also in Contention: Martin Scorsese (Wolf of Wall Street), Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale), Alexander Payne (Nebraska), Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher), Jason Reitman (Labor Day)
Best Actor Contenders
Forest Whitaker, The Butler
Forest Whitaker has not had a decent role since he won an Oscar in 2006, but this could be a turnaround for him and Lee Daniels.  Playing a real figure who witnesses politics firsthand and has a relationship with eight presidents is Oscar gold.  Would not count out this great actor for a second Oscar.
Tom Hanks, Saving Mr. Banks
Walt Disney has more Oscars than anyone.  This is the Academy's chance to give him a 23rd award or at least a 60th nomination.  Tom Hanks is working back towards Oscar territory with this and Captain Phillips.  Beloved actor and the most famous figure in Hollywood history is going to be recognized by voters.
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers' Club
McConaughey has had an incredible career turnaround in the last two years.  Last year he received several critical awards and nominations.  He is going to continue his streak this year with indie movies like Mud, a supporting role in Wolf of Wall Street and this difficult true story.  McConaughey lost a considerable amount of weight to play a man dying from AIDs.  This is going to be a tough role to ignore.
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Ejiofor was a rising star, but his career sort of stopped a few years ago.  But McQueen does great work with actors and he will have a lot of screen time.  Ejiofor is a talented enough actor to make this harsh material tolerable.  Expect him to bring some subtleties to a very difficult role.
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
While typed as a light comedic actor, Carell is always dependable no matter the movie.  This is his most Oscar friendly role to date.  A real life schizophrenic millionaire that kills he best friend will allow Carell to showcase a range that he normally doesn't get to.  Expect this part to surprise a lot of people.
Also in Contention: Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Michael Fassbender (Counselor), Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale), Joaquin Phoenix (Her), Leonardo DiCaprio (Wolf of Wall Street)
Best Actress Contenders
Naomi Watts, Diana
Naomi Watts finally got another nomination last year.  Playing one of the most famous figures in modern history should earn her a lot of attention.  Outside of her there does not seem to be much prestige behind the project, but this is definitely in consideration.
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
Many people thought Streep would lose for Iron Lady because they expected her to win for this.  Streep leads a great ensemble in a great recent stage role.
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
Another actor this year who could be working towards a comeback.  May get moved to supporting, since this is a competitive category and may not want to compete with Meryl.  But expect her to be a contender in either category.
Kate Winslet, Labor Day
Labor Day seems like a change for both Winslet and Jason Reitman.  Winslet plays a mother who picks up a sketchy man.  Reitman is great with actresses and the premise seems to offer Winslet a lot to play with.
Marion Cotillard, Lowlife
Cotillard has not received a nomination since she won, but she does great work every year.  She seems to take center stage as a woman sold into a magic show in this upcoming James Gray project.
Also in Contention: Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks), Jennifer Lawrence (The Falling), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Emma Watson (Bling Ring), Michelle Pfeiffer (Malavita)
Best Supporting Actor Contenders
Josh Brolin, Labor Day
Brolin brings depth to scumbags like no other.  He is taking center stage as an uneasy figure.  
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Fassbender has been critically acclaimed in many roles in the past few years.  Got his big start and most acclaim with Steve McQueen.  Unless votes split with The Counselor, he 
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
A dependable actor who is undergoing physical change for the athletic role.  Ruffalo is bound to get a second nomination in the near future
Will Forte, Nebraska
It may take an Alexander Payne movie to get people to notice how talented of a performer he is.  Forte is able to stand out in dreck, this could be a career changing role for the SNL vet
Ewan McGregor, August: Osage County
McGregor usually gets cast in Oscar bait, but has not been a major contender yet.  With a large supporting cast, Osage is bound to receive some supporting actor attention.  McGregor seems like the most likely candidate
Also in Contention: Javier Bardem (Counselor), Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers' Club), Harrison Ford (42), Channing Tatum (Foxcatcher), Benedict Cumberbatch (August: Osage County)
Best Supporting Actress Contenders
Amy Adams, Abscam
It seems like David O. Russell is the best director to lead actors to Oscar nominations and wins.  Without knowing much about the project I am predicting Adams.  After four nominations she is due for a win.  Also her blockbuster exposure from Man of Steel will likely help such her like it did Hathaway and Lawrence.
Cameron Diaz, The Counselor
Surprisingly out of The Counselor cast pundits are predicting Cameron Diaz for a nomination.  Diaz is a talented actress that does not often get a good movie.  Could be her first Oscar nomination.
Octavia Spencer, Fruitvale
Won for The Help and has a major role in this year's Sundance hit.  Spencer does very well in interviews and playing the Oscar game.  Could be her second nomination.
Margo Martindale, August: Osage County
A very dependable character actress that has not received much exposure yet.  Being a stage actress she will do well in Osage.  She is the actress that most are expecting to do the best from the ensemble.
Oprah Winfrey, The Butler
A powerful public figure that is returning to acting for the first time since 1985 (where she received an Oscar nomination).  She will be one of the few performers to be on screen through the whole movie.  Expect her to do very well at campaigning.
Also in Contention: Jennifer Garner (Dallas Buyers' Club), Julianne Nicholson (August: Osage County), Juliette Lewis (August: Osage County), Catherine Keener (Captain Phillips), Cate Blanchett (Monuments Men)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Oscar Jokes I Would Have Made

Overall I thought Seth MacFarlane did a good job last night.  Had several good lines, the sock puppet Flight was wonderfully absurd, the Sound of Music bit was perfect and I liked the set up of performing to fix bad reviews.  However during the ceremony I came up with several jokes that I figured I would share.  Because why not?

"Nominated tonight is Amour, which is a foreign film that came to this country and took nominations from hard working American films."

"Also nominated is Lincoln.  A movie so good that it made us forget how boring it was."

"Tonight Argo is a top contender for best remake of an unproduced sci-fi film.  Argo's nominated screenplay gave us a quote that would earn me an enormous FCC fine."

"Tonight we are honoring Les Miserables, a feel good movie by Oscar standards.  It is one of those 'let's put on a show and not die,' musicals."

"There were a lot of underdog stories this year.  One of which is Zero Dark Thirty.  Based on the incredible true story of how a good movie overcame bullying from the press to earn several Oscar nominations."

"Many of this year's films were controversial, but none more than Life of Pi which offensively used an animated tiger instead of a real one.  Ang Lee, you set back tigers in this industry more than fifty years."

"Nominated tonight from Django Unchained is Quentin Tarantino's white guilt."

"Beasts of the Southern Wild is actually the only best picture nominee to portray black people as something other than slaves or Chris Tucker."

"Last year many of movies released were sequels.  Unsurprisingly many of the Oscar nominated films are already working on becoming franchises.  The sequel to Django Unchained has been announced as Django's Ball and Chain.  Lincoln is working on a horrible sequel: Johnson.  And in Les Miserables: Still Miserables watch the remaining four characters tragically die."

"A majority of the animated feature nominees were stop-motion.  I am sure that this is completely unrelated to Gumby receiving Oscar membership this year."

"Many of the nominated actors are sporting beards.  As opposed to the actresses where Naomi Watts is the only beard.  Come on, Liev Schrieber.  It's so obvious."

"Denzel Washington was nominated for effortlessly making a lying, negligent, alcoholic pilot one of the year's most likable characters.  Seriously most characters in romantic comedies were less charming than your character who killed four people."

"Speaking of romantic comedies there was one nominated this year, Silver Linings Playbook.  Which continues the grand rom com tradition of making us fall in love with a couple that could not possibly work."

"Silver Linings Playbook is of course an adaptation of Harvey Weinstein's 'How to Get an Oscar Nomination Playbook."

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Best Things About This Year's Oscar Race

Tomorrow is the night of the Academy Awards.  As in any awards race it gets a little nasty.  Especially online where movie buffs put full support for their favorite films and talk all kinds of smack about the competition.  During the Oscars fully expect to see Facebook posts from people who celebrate their films that won, victimize themselves over the ones that didn't and curse the winners they did not like.

But amidst all of this intense competition there is a lot to admire about this year's Oscar race.  This has been the best batch of nominees that I have seen.  It is an unpredictable race with a lot of great qualities.  So instead of bashing movies that threaten the movies I love, let's really take a look at what an incredible year for movies 2012 was and how the Oscars are really reflecting that.
10. Perfect Host
The Oscars are the biggest event in Hollywood yet they rarely take a chance on their host.  They usually play it safe with TV personalities that we see every day.  But the choice of Seth MacFarlane is incredibly inspired.  He is a honed showman that we don't often get to see.  He is a personality that we only get small doses of, and in his perfect SNL gig and fun 2009 variety special, he has proven that he does not disappoint.  Also MacFarlane was a driving force behind one of the best movies from 2012.  In celebrating the best of film it makes sense to have somebody active and relevant up front.  Also he is not just a performer but also a producer, director and writer.  He is not going to just do bits that other people wrote for him, he is going to be able to understand those bits and put his personal stamp on them.  After Tina Fey and Amy Poehler did a perfect job at the Globes, I saw a lot of people online say that MacFarlane has a lot to live up to and will fail in comparison.  But it isn't a competition, awards shows are just getting smart about using smart people.
9. Creativity in Acting Nominations
Acting nominations are usually pretty boring.  They are actors who associate themselves with movies who are designed to win Oscars.  Usually it seems like actors get nominations because they are supposed to.  But this year voters seemed to think outside of the box.  Even if they did not care for The Master they still nominated three unique performances.  Denzel Washington earned a nomination based on his acting not his film.  The best actress race usually is exclusive to attractive starlets that paid their dues, but young Quvenzhane Wallis and senior Emmanuelle Riva made it in.  With Riva even having a chance at winning.  Then there is Jackie Weaver, whose nomination was very unexpected.  She had no big Oscar moments, didn't seem to be campaigning and was unnoticed by most precursors.  However she gave a great performance that benefited a great movie.  She was nominated for the performance, not the politics and that sadly does not happen much.
8. An Unsure Outcome
Nobody knows nothing.  Even Daniel Day-Lewis and Anne Hathaway have room for doubt.  Best picture could go to Argo, but it could still go to another movie.  There are four directors and four leading actresses who could conceivably win in their perspective categories.  Not to mention best supporting actor with five previous winners that seem to be on equal footing.  Even animated feature is not a sure thing.  Not an easy race to bet on, but definitely an exciting one to watch.
7. Precursors Spreading the Love
One of the main reasons that this race is difficult to predict is that the precursors are all over the place with their nominations and winners.  Ben Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow, John Hawkes and others were consistently recognized while Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild were not.  A huge shift from previous years where usually only one or two movies win everything.  Which is how it should be.  Why should one movie win every award if there are so many awards?  Seems like these voting bodies are focusing on rewarding movies rather than only serving to predict the Oscars.
6. Frontrunner Without a Director Nomination
Outside of Driving Miss Daisy it is difficult to name a movie that won best picture without being nominated for best director.  It is even difficult to to find a movie that wins best picture without winning best director.  But Argo could very well change that.  Even if Argo loses tomorrow night, it is still incredible that it held the frontrunner spot for so long.  Best Picture should not be about most nominations and wins, it should be about Best Picture.  Which many, including myself feel Argo is.
5. Great Movies Did Not Get Nominated for Oscars
I think it is a great sign for the film industry when great movies miss out on Oscar nominations.  Great movies should not be limited to ten a year.  21 Jump Street, Safety Not Guaranteed, Looper, Rise of the Guardians, Cabin in the Woods, Magic Mike, People Like Us, Pitch Perfect, End of Watch, Dredd, Wanderlust, Chronicle, The Grey, Arbitrage and many others were not nominated for any Oscars.  Many of these are not Oscar movies, but that does not diminish their quality.
4. Great Movies Were Nominated
Personally I did not love all of the nominated movies.  But I have to hand it to the Oscars for nominating the best of 2012.  Even if I thought Django and especially Lincoln were overrated, they are still impeccably crafted films and I understand the audiences that love them.  There were no movies as bad as War Horse, overrated as The Reader or somehow included like Blind Side.  These are all some of the best of film.
3. Lack of Critical Consensus
Les Miserables was nominated for best picture and was included on many worst of 2012 lists.  People don't like Amour, they did not get Beasts of the Southern Wild.  LincolnArgo, Silver Linings Playbook and the rest all have incredible detractors.  Good.  A great movie is not one that everybody loves.  A great movie is not one that is critic proof.  A great movie should have multiple interpretations and be divisive.  The nine best pictures were not made to please everybody.  They were made to tell specific stories, many of these are for different audiences.  I am very happy to see that people like and dislike these films on their own terms rather than just liking something because it is Oscar bait.

2. Controversy Abounds
There is a lot of controversy around Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained.  Even Lincoln and Argo have brought about debates.  Without getting into my personal views on these movies I think it is great that movies are tackling tough subjects.  Movies last year did not play it safe, many took risks (Les Mis for all of its detractors took risks).  But I think the best part about the controversial nature of these movies is that they are causing audiences to think.  These movies are not passive experiences, people are struggling with them and articulating their feelings.  Which is exactly the type of movies that should be recognized.
1. Audiences are Watching These Movies
People say that they don't make smart mature movies anymore.  They say that audiences do not go to theatres anymore.  But the box-office totals of this year's nominees match their critical reception.  Combined box-office totals add up to $415 million dollars, which is 35% of 2012's gross.  That is astonishing considering how Oscar movies are traditionally some of the lowest attended.  Lincoln is the biggest success but they all made a considerable amount of money.  Even Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild are successful.  This is proof that audiences support good movies.  Pay attention Hollywood.