2014 Oscars: Matt’s Predictions

There are a lot of worthy contenders at this year’s Oscars, and even more oversights (Also, water is wet).  Few of the best nominees are front-runners or sure-fire bets, so during Hollywood’s annual night of back-patting I’ll mostly be tuning in for potential upsets and also pretty excited that Seth MacFarlane isn’t hosting.

Christian Bale;Jeremy Renner;Bradley Cooper

Best Picture: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street

  • Will Win: American Hustle.  Like last year’s winner, Argo, this is an un-upsetting ’70s period drama that plays at prestige and doesn’t feel the need to really deliver it.  To its credit, it is much less self-serious. Of the nominees, though, this one and Dallas Buyers Club are probably the least deserving. I’m holding out for an upset from 12 Years a Slave.
  • Should Win: The Wolf of Wall Street.  The year’s best movie was nominated for Best Picture, but has little to no chance of winning.  My second favorite in the category, 12 Years a Slave, actually does and I’d be more than happy with that.  
  • Left out: Where do I even start? Spring Breakers never had a chance but I think I would have respected the Academy forever if they’d had the nerve to give it some recognition either here or for Best Cinematography or Editing.  I’d also throw in Frances Ha, The Bling Ring, Inside Llewyn Davis, Computer Chess and Rush.  That’s just sticking with the Academy’s English-language fixation.  Foreign language picks: A Touch of Sin, Blue is the Warmest Color and Like Someone In Love.

Alfonso Cuaron

Best Director: David O. Russell (American Hustle), Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity), Alexander Payne (Nebraska), Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) and Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)
  • Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón pulled off a lot of impressive tricks with a skilled crew in Gravity, and the Academy will give him the directing trophy even as it hands away Best Picture to Hustle.
  • Should Win: It’s only natural that if I picked Wolf for Best Picture, Scorsese should take home Best Director.  However, I think Steve McQueen would be just as deserving a winner.
  • Left out: Harmony Korine for Spring Breakers, Jia Zhangke for A Touch of Sin, Sofia Coppola for The Bling Ring, Shane Carruth for Upstream Color, Noah Baumbach for Frances Ha, James Wan for The Conjuring.  I could go on and on.

TORONTO

Best Actor: Christian Bale (American Hustle), Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

  • Will Win: The McConaissance will culminate with an Oscar win in this category.  He was good in Dallas Buyers Club, but everyone else, even Bale, is more deserving of the trophy.
  • Should Win: DiCaprio gave the performance of the year and of his career (so far) in The Wolf of Wall Street.  I’m starting to feel like a broken record giving it top honors in every category.  Ejiofor’s performance was so crucial to anchoring 12 Years a Slave in humanity, and if he somehow pulls off an upset in this category you won’t hear any complaints from me.  Same goes for Bruce Dern.
  • Left out: Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis, Ethan Hawke in Before Midnight, Joaquin Phoenix in Her and Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station.

Blue-Jasmine

Best Actress: Amy Adams (American Hustle), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Judi Dench (Philomena), Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

  • Will Win: Cate Blanchett is pretty much a lock in this category.
  • Should Win: Blue Jasmine is the last Woody Allen film I plan on watching. That being said, when it came out, I praised Blanchett’s performance and even listed it in the top 5 performances of the year, and I still stand by that praise.
  • Left out: The biggest omissions in the acting categories this year are here. Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha and Adele Exachopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Color both deserved slots over pretty much all of these people.  I’d also throw in Julie Delpy for Before Midnight.

Jared Leto

Best Supporting Actor: Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave), Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street), Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

  • Will Win: Jared Leto. Sigh.
  • Should Win: Jonah Hill. Sigh.
  • Left out: James Franco in Spring Breakers. Simon Pegg in The World’s End. James Gandolfini in Enough Said. Sigh.

12 Years a Slave Lupita Nyong'o

Best Supporting Actress: Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle), Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), Julia Roberts (August: Osage County), June Squibb (Nebraska)

  • Will Win: I’m going to call this one for Lupita Nyong’o. I still have hope that the Academy won’t throw another trophy at Lawrence just because she yelled “SCIENCE OVEN!” with conviction.
  • Should Win: Lupita Nyong’o gave the most heart-wrenching performance of 2013. Overall this is a fairly weak category, though I’m also not going to deny how much June Squibb’s turn in Nebraska grew on me the second time through.
  • Left out: Margot Robbie in The Wolf of Wall Street, Lea Seydoux in Blue is the Warmest Color andJulianne Moore in Don Jon.

Her-Screenplay

Best Original Screenplay: American Hustle (Eric Warren Singer & David O. Russell), Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen), Dallas Buyers Club (Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack), Her (Spike Jonze), Nebraska (Bob Nelson)

  • Will Win: Spike Jonze, unless Hustle ends up pulling a sweep.
  • Should Win: Of these nominees, Bob Nelson for Nebraska.
  • Left out: Cormac McCarthy’s screenplay for The Counselor is far and away the most original and misunderstood work from last year. I’d also nominate Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig for their collaborative effort on Frances Ha.

12 Years a Slave script

Best Adapted Screenplay: Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke), Captain Phillips (Billy Ray), Philomena (Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope), 12 Years a Slave (John Ridley), The Wolf of Wall Street (Terrence Winter)

  • Will Win: John Ridley.
  • Should Win: Ridley is a fine choice, but so is Terrence Winter and the collaborative team from Before Midnight (although how the hell is that adapted? Adapted from two previous movies by the same people? The Oscars are dumb).
  • Left out: Sofia Coppola for The Bling Ring.

Gravity_SBullock

My predictions in the remaining categories (Will Win, Should Win):

Cinematography: Gravity, The Grandmaster

Animated Feature:  (I didn’t see any of these)

Costume Design: American Hustle,The Grandmaster

Production Design: Her, Her

Editing: Gravity, 12 Years a Slave

Foreign Language Film: (I only saw The Hunt and I didn’t like it. They need to change the rules for this dumb category).

Documentary: The Act of Killing, The Act of Killing

Makeup: Bad Grandpa, Bad Grandpa

Original Score: Gravity, Her

Original Song: “Ordinary Love”- Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, “The Moon Song”- Her

Visual Effects: Gravity, Gravity

Sound Editing: Gravity, Gravity

Sound Mixing: Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: Gravity

gravity

Gravity
Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Written by: Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón
Starring: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney

Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is a supreme technical achievement and a standard, if mostly engaging, story.  When I saw it for the first time, in IMAX and in 3D, I was astounded at the craftsmanship of some scenes but had an underlying “meh” about everything else.  After returning to the movie in theaters again, this time in a standard theater with the standard two dimensions, the flaws only became larger.

As Richard Brody aptly put it in The New Yorker:

Cuarón has done a formidable job of piecing together a plausibly coherent material world of space, of conveying the appearance of that setting and the sensations of the characters who inhabit it. But he has created those sensations generically, with no difference between the subjectivity of his characters and the ostensible appearance to a camera of those phenomena. He offers point-of-view images that are imbued with no actual point of view.

The movie works as well as it does because of the audience’s built-in history with Sandra Bullock, who plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a woman who is having a really bad day trying to get back to Earth after a space station accident.  Bullock carries the movie quite well, and is aided in parts by the effortless charm of George Clooney’s on-screen persona.

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REVIEW: Gravity

gravity movie

Gravity
Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Written by: Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón
Starring: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney

Behold the technical majesty of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity.  Watch as debris from a Russian satellite smashes into a repair operation led by an American astronaut team, sending them whizzing, floating and spinning in the beautiful, terrifying abyss.  Watch it and take it in, because that’s what you’re supposed to do.

I thought I did everything I was supposed to do with Gravity.  I saw it in 3D, I saw it in Imax and I saw it with a virtually sold-out crowd.  Why then, was it underwhelming?  There is an answer to that question, and it may be hard to hear for the many who have lauded praise on the film since its triumphant festival circuit.

This is a movie that was made solely for its own tech savvy.  It exists because of its technical mastery, not for any tangible idea.  Cuarón uses every cinematic element at his disposal to sustain uninterrupted awe, and it is one of the few movie-going experiences in recent memory that is truly exhausting.   By the time Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) hops from space station to space station and then back to (spoiler) Earth, her weariness is not just her own, but the audience’s as well.

Gravity_SBullock

Bullock carries the movie quite well, and is aided in parts by the effortless charm of George Clooney’s on-screen persona.  For long stretches, though, it’s just her dealing with whatever zero gravity obstacle Cuarón can throw at her.  There is a hefty bit of 3D gimmickry, more than there should be in a prestigious project like this, but for the most part it is effective as a grand aesthetic spectacle.  More troubling than screws and tears floating toward the camera, though, are the number of unnecessary tracking shots of Sandra Bullock’s ass.  The movie even ends on a close up of her heaving, wet-t-shirt-covered breasts.

Why?  Because Gravity is Cuarón’s playground.  The director of such rigorous works as Y tu mamá también and Children of Men has aimed his sights solely on the machinations of pleasure and terror, not as it applies to the characters, but to the audience.  This is movie as roller coaster, and the spectacle is undeniable.  It’s hard to put into words the awe of seeing a space station crumble and explode as the camera stays pinned to a twirling, panicked astronaut.   She then drifts hopelessly into space, as alone as any human could ever be.

The close-up of Stone’s face that follows that sequence reflects Earth and space while her helmet fogs up.  Even here, the effects do not relent.  There are quiet moments in Gravity that are as visually stunning as the relentless action sequences, but even in those moments the movie felt defined by its technology rather than enhanced by it.

Many have and will likely continue to compare this to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, but that would be extremely misguided.  Gravity attempts to justify its technological means with a human element, and who better to do this than two of Hollywood’s most charming stars?  It is not a cold, calculated examination of a technological takeover, though.  It is a technological takeover, and a beautiful one at that.

Grade: C

Our (Belated) List of Favorite Movie Directors

1. Martin Scorsese- It may seem unimaginable that nearly three years ago director Martin Scorsese had yet to hold an Academy Award in his hands, but it is the disappointing truth. The once would-be Catholic priest entered the film making world with hits like Boxcar Bertha and Mean Streets which put him at the forefront of New Hollywood with his violent, audience-specific films. Though Francis Ford Coppola felt he was unfit to helm The Godfather: Part III, Scorsese quickly overshadowed Coppola to become an icon of his own, creating films filled with themes related to violence, machismo, Italian-American identity, immigration, Catholicism and New York City. Five decades of classics like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and The Departed, Scorsese set a style of quick editing, rock and roll soundtrack and frequent collaboration with actors and editors who claim Scorsese to be a living encyclopedia of film history. The film that did it for us: Though he’s created modern epics including a personal favorite, Gangs of New York, Scorsese’s talents are most apparent in Taxi Driver, a film with some of the most carefully constructed technical detail and powerful themes of isolation, violence, sex and how they are related and lead to destruction.

2. Stanley Kubrick– One of the unprecedented visual artists in all of cinema, it’s hard to not love movies when Stanley Kubrick makes them.  His gift for telling a compelling story is aided by those infamous distant shots, able to encompass the idiocy in The War Room (Dr. Strangelove) or gravity-defying in the great beyond (2001: A Space Odyssey).  He never told the same story twice, but each film carries with it his distinct visual flair,  helping him to create some of the most fully realized worlds the movies have ever seen.  Kubrick is one of the biggest influences on American cinema not only because of his artistic genius, though.  His ruthless dedication to his vision of the material led to feuds with his actors and the writers of the source material (both on The Shining.)  Perfectionism is costly, but with it he created many things that are, in fact, perfect.  The film that did it for us: There’s never been a more beautifully filmed comedy than Dr. Strangelove, and there are few as horrific.

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The Best Potter Films, So Far…

Before The Deathly Hallows begins the end of the Potter films, we decided to look back at the films, from their beginnings trapped within the pages of JK Rowling’s books to the emerging of an original identity on the screen.

1. The Prisoner of Azkaban 2004

In a near tie for first place, The Prisoner of Azkaban makes its way to the top for being the first Potter film to not only hold its own against the books, but break out from them and create an identity of its own. The first film to finally stylize the setting using clever cinematography, narrative rhythm and creative art direction came as a surprise to fans. It was much darker, more mature and more enthralling than the previous installments.  See the opening scene that hints at masturbation for further proof. Much of this is attributed to director Alfonso Cuaron, who previously directed the Spanish youth sex odyssey Y Tu Mama Tambien before attacking this adaptation. Guillermo del Torro and Marc Foster turned down the project, fearing it was too happy and full of light. Luckily Cuaron found the gloom and realism even in the magical world of Hogwarts.

2. The Order of the Phoenix 2007

Just like The Prisoner of Azkaban redefined the way the Harry Potter world would be told and constructed, The Order of the Phoenix built on those changes, exploring what an even larger budget, larger sets and more visual effects could do for the story. David Yates was the perfect person to take over the rest of the series and handle the edge and seriousness the rest of the story had to offer. With a story drawing on really interesting themes like repression and rebellion, it’s about as fun and appropriate as it gets for a struggling-to-grow-up story.

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ARCHIVE REVIEW: Y tu mamá también

Image courtesy of Time Out New York

Y tu mamá también
Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Written by: Alfonso Cuarón & Carlos Cuarón
Starring: Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal and Maribel Verdú

Alfonso Cuarón’s sexed-up road movie had every critic buzzing back in 2001 when it was originally released.  Not in outrage over it’s sleazy, over-sexed characters, but its expert handling of mature themes in a vibrant, entertaining way.  It’s hard to see how the producers of the Harry Potter franchise looked at this film and said “There’s our guy.”

The film begins with teenage sex.  Tenoch (Diego Luna) is saying farewell to his girlfriend as she prepares to depart for Italy with the girlfriend of the other main character, Julio (Gael García Bernal).  It’s an erotic start to a movie that has the highest sex scene to run-time ratio (more than five in 105 minutes) I’ve ever seen.

Once the girlfriends are out of the picture, the two horny best friends let loose.  From partying and getting high at a friend’s bungalow to getting smashed at a relative’s wedding, the two boys admire the notion that time you enjoy wasting is not wasted.

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