Archive | January, 2012

The SAG Awards Solidify the Oscar Race…or Do They?

29 Jan

^ Spencer

  • Best Supporting Female Actor in a Film – Octavia Spencer (The Help)

^ Plummer

  • Best Supporting Male Actor in a Film – Christopher Plummer (Beginners)

^ Davis

  • Best Female Actor in a Film – Viola Davis (The Help)

^ Dujardin

  • Best Male Actor in a Film – Jean Dujardin (The Artist)

The cast of The Help (left to right): Allison Janney, Chris Lowell, Mike Vogel, Sissy Spacek, Ahna O'Reilly, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Cicely Tyson, Jessica Chastain, and Mary Steenburgen

  • Best Cast in a Film – The Help

It’s tempting to think that the SAG awards are an infallible indicator of how the Oscars will go because the voting bodies of both awards have overlapping members, but winning a SAG award doesn’t always translate into Oscar gold.  That noted, I think Plummer, Spencer, and Davis are clearly well-positioned.  A lot of Oscar prognosticators like to think that winning the award for Best Cast portends the Academy’s choice for Best Picture, and that is frequently–though not always–true. For example, two years ago, the cast of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds won the top SAG award, but the Oscar for Best Picture went to Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker. During the 2006/07 race, the top prizes were split between Little Miss Sunshine (SAG) and The Departed (Oscar). On the other hand, last year the Screen Actors Guild award for the cast of The King’s Speech ran counter to a seemingly all-out consensus favoring The Social Network–and on Oscar night, The King’s Speech prevailed. Of course, The King’s Speech ‘s director Tom Hooper also won the prestigious DGA award en route to the Academy. Here’s what’s up this year. The DGA has honored Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) while the SAG award for Best Cast goes to The Help, which is clearly the most popular entry among moviegoers. The trouble is, its director, Tate Taylor, has been overlooked by his peers in the Academy, and that is not usually a good sign; meanwhile, Martin Scorsese, the director of Hugo, the most nominated film of the current Oscar race, clearly did not win the DGA award though the most nominated film is generally well-positioned to sweep the Oscars. Yep, it’s still a race. Stay tuned.

Also…

^ Jessica Lange accepts her SAG award for the TV drama American Horror Story. I'm thrilled for this chapter in Lange's career even though I found the series hard to sit through at times.

  • Best Female Actor in a TV Drama – Jessica Lange (American Horror Story)

^ Lifetime Achievement winner Mary Tyler Moore (above) was presented with her award by none other than Dick Van Dyke. The montage highlighting Moore's career inciuded all the familiar highlights: The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show--and its many spinoffs--as well as her Oscar nominated turn in Ordinary People, but failed to single out her Emmy nominated performance as NBC News correspondent and breast cancer survivor Betty Rollin in First, You Cry (1978), the landmark telefilm that helped bring the issue of breast cancer to the forefront of mainstream culture.

  • Lifetime Achievement Award – Mary Tyler Moore

For more on the Screen Actors Guild Awards:

http://www.sagawards.org/

Oscar Looks at His Own Navel and Likes What He Sees: Movies about Movies

24 Jan

Are this year’s Oscars about rewarding films that have something to say about the human condition and the times in which we live, or are they rewarding their own navel gazing? How so, you ask? Simply put, the two most nominated films are really nothing more than films about other films. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo leads the pack with 11 nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. Hugo is this esteemed American director’s homage to the work of France’s legendary master of silent films, Georges Melies. Conversely, the second most nominated film—with 10– is The Artist, from French director Michael Hazanavicius, which actually pays tribute to American black and white silent films (with extra nods to the likes of Citizen Kane and Vertigo). I’m not making this up: an American film about French films, or a French film about American films. Golly. I’m speechless.

I’m not saying that either film is a shabby device by any stretch, but to me they both just kind of sit there on the screen in their own admiration of themselves. The horror, the horror. Luckily, there are also some wonderful movies that are actually about human beings and great big  philosophical questions about the nature of life, etc. The remaining Best Picture nominees—for a total of 9–are The Descendants, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Help, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, and War Horse. Of these remaining seven, prospects of winning top honors are slim for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Help, Moneyball, and War Horse. The reason is because the directors of those films have not likewise been nominated by their peers in their specific branch of the Academy, and it is next to impossible for a movie to win Best Picture without the director also being nominated. It’s been 22 years, in fact, since Driving Miss Daisy managed such a feat—and Driving Miss Daisy at least had the advantage of being the year’s most nominated film, which helped because it meant that as it was nominated in so many categories it would likely be seen by more voters.  In this bunch, I would say that The Help, by virtue of being the biggest money earner, might still have a shot. The downside is that The Help boasts only 4 nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress (Viola Davis), and two bids for Best Supporting Actress (Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer).  Before I move on to the films that are the seemingly stronger contenders,  I will say congratulations to Scott Rudin for pushing his Extremely  Loud and Incredibly Close to the winners circle.  All the early buzz deteriorated into mixed reviews and lukewarm box office even with the likes of marquee names such as Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock.  Yes, it’s up for Best Picture—but that’s just about it. A whopping two nods: Best Picture (still something about which to brag I guess) and Best Supporting Actor (Max von Sydow).  Rudin’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo also made only a minor splash despite loads of publicity, but, indeed, snared one nomination in a major category.

Okay, so the five films most likely to win Best Picture are  (alphabetically): The Artist (10 noms), The Descendants (6 noms), Hugo (11 noms), Midnight in Paris (4 noms), and The Tree of Life (3 noms).  The nominated directors are  Hazanavicius, Alexander Payne, Scorsese, Woody Allen, and Texas’s Terrence Malick.  Of course, Scorsese and Allen already have Oscars in this category (for The Departed and Annie Hall, respectively); Payne was previously nominated  for  2004’s Sideways, and  Malick’s previous bid was for 1998’s The Thin Red Line.  I have to say that even though I’m not a big fan of either The Artist or Hugo, there is much delight to be found in this line-up. My three favorite movies of 2011 were The Help, Midnight in Paris, and The Tree of Life, so I’m good.  It’s especially gratifying to see The Tree of Life up for Best Picture and Best Director since it was overlooked by both the producers and directors guilds. Also, I’m happy for Allen’s success. His last nomination was for the Match Point screenplay; I don’t think he’s been nominated for directing since 1994’s Bullets Over Broadway, and he hasn’t had a film in the Best Picture lineup since Hannah and Her Sisters; that was way back in 1986. Midnight in Paris isn’t only Allen’s biggest hit in years and years, it’s,  I don’t know, a return to form, or maybe it’s just magical. There are a few high profile omissions; Spielberg, of course, for War Horse; Stephen Daldry for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Daldry has been nominated for his every film effort up to this point: Billy Elliot, The Hours, and The Reader. Hmmm: 4th time isn’t the charm, huh Stevie? David Fincher was a DGA nominee for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but that apparently was a fluke.

Okay, the nominees for Best Actress are Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Viola Davis (The Help),  Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn). I must say, I think there’s something almost perverse about Williams being nominated for playing cinema’s most legendary blonde bombshell who never earned an Oscar nod in her own right. Still, Williams’s nod is hardly a surprise. If there is a surprise in this bunch, it is that Rooney Mara is “in,” and Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk about Kevin) is not.  That noted, I still think the heavyweights are Close, Davis, and Streep—even so, Close will needs lots of sentiment to help her outshine Streep and Davis. I haven’t yet seen We Need to Talk about Kevin, mainly because as far as I know it has not yet opened in Dallas, so I can’t say whether Swinton was robbed. Well, she already has an Oscar (Best Supporting Actress: Michael Clayton, 2007), so she’s not hurting, exactly. Since this race seemed all but solidified two months ago, any disappointment seems moot. That noted, I have to say that I would have loved for Charlize Theron to have been recognized for her work in Young Adult.  Her performance as a deluded, self-centered writer who tries to get past the train wreck her life has become by breaking up the marriage of her high school sweetheart—if they were ever really sweethearts in the first place—packed a wallop, and it was the one performance by anyone of either sex that most surprised me in 2011. Theron had to make do with a Golden Globe nod as did Swinton, and like Swinton, Theron already has an Oscar (for the no holds barred Monster), so, again, it’s hard to feel too badly for her except that I do because I think her role in Young Adult as a different kind of monster (from the serial killer in the earlier film) could have gone so badly without just the right mix of talent, brains, and good looks that Theron personifies. I’d also like to give a huge shout-out to The Help’s Emma Stone. With all the hoopla for Davis, Chastain, and Spencer, Stone has somehow gotten lost in the shuffle as the character who makes a lot of things happen in The Help. This is the second year in a row in which Stone has done knockout work (such as Easy A) without scoring with the Academy. Well, with a career such as the one she’s building now—and she’s only 23—Stone is due to make something award worthy sooner or later.

George Clooney (^) received his third Best Actor nomination for The Descendants. Interestingly, Clooney has only ever been nominated for movies released during odd-numbered years. He won Best Supporting Actor for 2005's Syrianna; he was nominated as Best Actor for 2007's Michael Clayton, followed by 2009's Up in the Air, and now 2011's The Descendants. Frankly, I would have nominated him for 2000's O Brother Where Art Thou and 2010's The American, but I guess the timing wasn't right.

The Best Actor race is between  Demián Bichir  (A Better Life), George Clooney (The Descendants), Jean Dujardin (The Artist), Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), and Brad Pitt (Moneyball). Okay, so there are two major upsets in this race. The first is Leonardo DiCaprio (J.Edgar). I frankly thought DiCaprio was brilliant—brilliant, I say—as the legendary and legendarily shady, apparently demon plagued—chief of the FBI. On the other hand, the film was, in a word, laughable. In two words it was laughably horrendous.  Plus, it was a bit of a box office disappointment (mainly I would say because the reviews just didn’t match the hype, save for Leo’s performance specifically).  I’m also thrilled that I can now safely decline to watch Michael Fassbender impersonate a sex addict in Shame. My position was that I would watch the film if Fassbender were nominated. My reluctance has nothing to do with sexual addiction, per se, but with the idea of spending two hours with an addict of any kind. I’ve done it so much in my own lifetime  that I no longer find it fascinating. Plus, the two performers that slipped by DiCaprio and Fassbender are pretty worthy: Bichir in  the perfectly realized  A Better Life  and Oldman in an unflinchingly cold look at the intricacies of Cold War paranoia. Since Oldman has been shut out of much of the year end hoopla, his nomination is a welcome surprise, and I’ll go so far as to add that it is a triumph of substance over hype. That noted, the other three actors are the heavyweights–Clooney, Dujardin, and Pitt—and look closely: Clooney is also nominated for co-writing The Ides of March (Best Adapted Screenplay), and Pitt is listed as not only one of the producers of Moneyball, he is also one of the producers of The Tree of Life (though a final determination about which of that film’s many producers’ names will appear on the next ballot is pending ; I believe Academy rules only allow three per picture). The last casualty worth mentioning is Ryan Gosling who starred in Drive and The Ides of March. I think Gosling did strong work in two well-liked and/or lauded films, but I don’t  think either was enough of a breakout hit to  generate the momentum to make a nomination a certainty; therefore, he likely suffered from split voting.

If there is a surprise in the Best Supporting Actress race, it’s the appearance of Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids, and even she isn’t that big of a surprise since she’s already earned a SAG nomination—and why not, she’s a regular scene stealer and an absolute delight in the role of an  assertive  female with a healthy appetite  for romance. I guess what makes it somewhat surprising is that after weeks, if not months, of speculation that Bridesmaids would sneak into the Best Picture race,  it was cast aside, leaving only nominations for McCarthy and the screenplay by SNL ‘s Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumola. McCarthy is vying for the Oscar against the likes of the aforementioned Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer (the latter seemingly poised to win) in addition to Bérénice Bejo (The Artist) and Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs). McTeer is a previous Best Actress nominee for 1999’s Tumbleweeds. You should also check out her Songcatcher (from 2000) if you have not yet done so. Some Oscar insiders would likely argue that Shailene Woodley (playing George Clooney’s teenage daughter in The Descendants) was unjustly overlooked. I would not be one of those people. I thought she was good; I did not think she was great. As I noted on my blog, I would have been happy if this category were full of nothing but women from The Help: Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Bryce Dallas Howard, and even Cicely Tyson (a strong performance in a role that is barely more than a cameo).

^ Nick Nolte has earned his third Oscar nomination for playing the father/coach of two brothers who compete in the thrilling world of martial arts. When the movie first came out, skeptics zeroed in on the superficial similarities between it and 2010's The Fighter, which was nominated for 6 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director (David O. Russell); it won Oscars for Best Supporting Actress (Melissa Leo) and Best Supporting Actor (Christian Bale). Though Nolte is up against legend and sentimental favorite Christopher Plummer, his nomination is still a nice touch and might generate interest in a film that never found its audience while playing in theaters.

The Best Supporting Actor race is a mixed-bag. Oh sure, there’s frontrunner Christopher Plummer (Beginners), but where is presumed candidate number 2  Albert Brooks as one of the baddies in Drive, a Ryan Gosling vehicle—so to speak—that was shut out in almost every category (it snagged a nod for Sound Editing)?  How that happened is beyond me, but I guess the problem wasn’t necessarily with Brooks; it appears the Academy just didn’t like the movie on almost any level. Instead, Plummer will duke it out with Kenneth Branagh (as Laurence Olivier in My Week with Marilyn), Jonah Hill (Moneyball),  Nick Nolte (Warrior), and the aforementioned Max von Sydow.  Well, isn’t this one grizzled looking batch of veteran nominees?  82 year old Plummer received his first nomination two years ago for The Last Station; Max von Sydow, also 82, was previously nominated for 1988’s Pelle the Conqueror; Nolte, 60, has two Best Actor nominations to his credit (The Prince of Tides, 1991; Affliction, 1998). I would say that the third time might be the charm for him, but Plummer looks unstoppable at this point. Next to those guys, Kenneth Branagh, a mere 51, is practically a toddler. He has a batch of nominations for directing and starring in Henry V (1989) and for scrupulously adapting Hamlet for the big screen in 1996. The newcomer here is 28 year old Jonah Hill, who’s only been working professionally in movies since 2004. Not bad. I don’t know that any of these nominees is a surprise because they’ve all been getting buzz in one form or another, but the omission of Brooks still comes as a bit of a shock. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I was disappointed that Corey Stoll’s brilliant reckoning of Ernest Hemingway in Allen’s Midnight in Paris was overlooked. Although Stoll received plenty of early buzz—including an Independent Spirit nomination—it was hard to sustain against a lineup of esteemed vets.  Too bad. Stoll really delivers the goods as he serves up a slice of what moviegoers expect Hemingway to be like. It’s both seemingly dead on while also being a bit of a put-on. How is that possible? Also SOL:  Andy Serkis, who generated a huge goodwill campaign for his motion capture performance as the central ape figure in the Planet of the Apes reboot. Also forgotten: Patton Oswalt as the not so hapless schmoe who becomes Theron’s backup buddy in Young  Adult.

Okay, that’s what’s up in the major categories. Hugo and The Artist dominate the technical categories though Emmanuel LubezkI (The Tree of Life) will be hard to beat for Best Cinematography. The Conspirator, another 2011 film that I truly loved, was also ignored, but I’m not surprised at this point. I just don’t think it was flashy enough either for most filmgoers or the Academy. Here are a few more items of note: there are only two Best Song nominees (“Man or Muppet from The Muppets and “Real in Rio” from Rio), so why bother? The latter is by none other than Sergio Mendes, yes, that Sergio Mendes from back in the day (with the Brazil 66 outfit).  There are five nominees for Best Feature Length Animated Film, a rarity—but one of the five isn’t Cars 2, which famously lost to Happy Feet back in 2006. Of course, the sequel to Happy Feet is also not on the list, but Rango, Puss in Boots, and Kung Fu Panda 2 are—along with Chico and Rita and A Cat in Paris. Sounds fun.  I’m saving my last shout-out for writer-director J.C. Chandor. His Margin Call, starring Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons and  Zachary Quinto, among others,a taut piece of filmmaking about the 2008 banking crisis, was a hit with critics, but a hard sell with moviegoers. Luckily, Chandor was not forgotten among screenwriters, but who wants to compete against a legend like Woody Allen or a powerhouse like Wiig whose film was a blockbuster, but, hey, that’s what makes the Oscars so much fun.

Thanks for your consideration…

Printable List of Oscar nominees:

http://a.oscar.go.com/media/2012/pdf/nominees.pdf

Variety.com Oscar scorecard of films with multiple nominations:

http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118049089/

The Golden Globes Add Luster to the Race for Oscar

16 Jan
  • BEST MOTION PICTURE DRAMA – The Descendants
  • BEST MOTION PICTURE MUSICAL OR COMEDY – The Artist

^ Streep

  • BEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA – Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady)

^ Williams

  • BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL OR COMEDY – Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn)

^ Clooney

  • BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA – George Clooney (The Descendants)

^ Dujardin

  • BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL OR COMEDY – Jean Dujardin (The Artist)

^ Spencer

  • BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Octavia Spencer (The Help)

^ Plummer

  • BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
  • BEST DIRECTOR – Martin Scorsese (Hugo)
  • BEST SCREENPLAY – Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)
  • BEST ANIMATED FILM – The Adventures of Tintin
  • BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM – A Separation

Madonna (above) won the Globe for the song she co-composed--and sang-- for the movie about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, which she also co-wrote and directed; to clarify, she does not act in the movie. At any rate, her song will not be in contention for the Oscar as it was deemed ineligible per Academy guidelines that stress a song should be utilized throughout the body of the film rather than randomly placed in the closing credits. I've included a link to the full story at the end of this article.

  • BEST SONG – “Masterpiece” – Madonna and James Harry (W./E.)
  • BEST SCORE – Ludovic Bource (The Artist)

^ Morgan Freeman: Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Winner. Good job, Morgan!

No, I didn't watch the telecast, but I caught some of the red carpet coverage, and the consensus seems to be that Angelina Jolie (above) was the hottest of the hot. Charlize Theron and Reese Witherspoon also earned raves.

Did the Globes bring any clarity to this year’s Oscar race? Not necessarily. Look closer: Neither top dramatic film (The Descendants) nor top comedic film (The Artist) took honors for directing. Instead, that award went to Martin Scorsese for Hugo. Furthermore, the screenplay award went to yet another film (Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris).  That’s a lot of sharing the wealth, so no consensus just yet. I actually enjoy the Oscars most when there is a real race rather than a real no-brainer.

Also, please keep in mind that just 6 years ago, the Hollywood Foreign Press gave top honors to Brokeback Mountain, including Best Motion Picture Drama, Best Director (Ang Lee) and Best Screenplay while all but ignoring Crash–which was only nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Matt Dillon) and Best Screenplay (Paul Haggis and Ralph Moresco); however, on Oscar night, Crash was named Best Picture, so the Academy’s taste is not always in line with that of the Hollywood Foreign Press. The studios know that, by the way, so they skew their awards campaigns accordingly.

What else? Well, I think Glenn Close’s chances for finally snagging an Oscar (for Albert Nobbs) are just about kaput. A win here would have elevated her profile considerably. Of course, sentiment can work wonders, but this one now looks like a contest between Streep and Viola Davis (The Help). By the way, Close’s 5 Oscar nominations include three for Best Supporting Actress (The World According to Garp, 1982; The Big Chill, 1983; The Natural, 1984), and two for Best Actress (Fatal Attraction, 1987; Dangerous Liaisons, 1988). Close actually boasts 12 Golden Globe nominations, but her two wins are for work in television (the series Damage, and the adaptation of The Lion in Winter); meanwhile, I think promoting Michelle Williams as Best Actress in a Comedy for My Week with Marilyn is a bit of a stretch, but it’s a strategy that worked for Williams, courtesy of the Weinsteins. Williams will almost certainly snag an Oscar nomination, which I think does not bode well for Charlize Theron in Young Adult.  Wah. My thought is the Oscar roster will look something like this: Close, Davis, Streep, Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk about Kevin), and Williams. Still, I’m pulling for Theron. Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) could sneak in as well, but it’s hard to figure whom she would bump from the race at this point.

On the other hand, what a great week for Christopher Plummer (Beginners) and Octavia Spencer (The Help), with their Globe wins reaffirming their positions as front runners among the supporting candidates just a few days after winning Critics’ Choice awards. Let’s see if they can hold their leads through the SAG awards in barely less than two weeks.

George Clooney won Best Actor in a Drama right on schedule. I still think Brad Pitt has a real shot at claiming the Best Actor Oscar due to the strong work he did in two outstanding 2011 releases (Moneyball and The Tree of Life); however, I think Clooney has something in his favor that Pitt might lack, which is that Clooney has a certain “likeability” factor–and when all is said and done, Oscar voters are film professionals, yes, but they are also just people, and people vote for what they like. Simple as that. Clooney and Pitt will no doubt be joined by Jean Dujardin, and probably Leonardo DiCaprio (J.Edgar). I think the fifth slot is still very much in play, with Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Demián Bichir (A Better Life), Michael Fassbender (Shame), and Ryan Gosling (either Drive or The Ides of March) near the head of the pack.

Okay, I must also extend congratulations to Jessica Lange for winning Best Supporting Actress in a TV Drama series, per American Horror Story; likewise, kudos to Claire Danes for winning her second Globe in the category for Best Actress in a TV Drama series (for Homeland). If you’ll recall, Danes  was a mere 15 years old when she won her first GG for 1994’s short-lived My So-Called Life; she won last year, as well, for the telefilm Temple Grandin.

Okay, Oscar nominations are a week from tomorrow (Tuesday, January 24th); the SAG awards are Sunday, January 29th.

Thanks for your consideration…

Madonna Best Song eligibility controversy:

http://www.hitfix.com/blogs/awards-campaign/posts/why-was-madonnas-masterpiece-deemed-ineligible-for-the-best-original-song-oscar

Official Golden Globes site:

http://www.goldenglobes.org/

WGA vs USC

15 Jan

If you haven't yet caught up with Todd McCarthy's Win Win, you owe it to yourself to add it to your list of "Must See" flicks sooner rather than later. Though released to generally laudatory reviews early last year, the film has mostly been on the back burner for much of the current awards season. This comedy-drama about a lawyer turned part-time high school wrestling coach, who schemes to mentor a teenage runaway, features typically strong performances by the likes of Paul Giamatti (r), Amy Ryan, and Bobby Cannavale as well as the stunning debut of 17 year-old Alex Shaffer (l). Btw: McCarthy's previous films include The Station Agent and The Visitor, which helped propel veteran actor Richard Jenkins to an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. McCarthy is a previous Academy nominee for co-writing the screenplay to 2009's animated hit Up.

This blog entry is all about competition among screenplays, especially as that concerns two races for adaptations. First, here are the nominees for the Writers Guild of America’s Best Original Screenplay award:

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY  (alphabetized by title)

  1.  50/50 by Will Reiser
  2. Bridesmaids by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
  3. Midnight in Paris by Woody Allen
  4. Win Win by Tom McCarthy w/Joe Tiboni
  5. Young Adult by Diablo Cody

Here’s a little something to keep in mind. Professional screenwriters nominate the works of their peers in both the WGA as well as the first round voting for the Oscars. Of course, the Academy’s membership is smaller, more exclusive, so securing a WGA nod does not necessarily guarantee a slot on Oscar’s final ballot. Here is something else to consider: in order for a film to be considered for the WGA prize, it must be filmed in accordance with the guild/union’s regulations. I guess what that really means is union vs. non-union projects. Every year there are a number of high profile films that do not make the cut with the WGA but find favor with the Academy anyway, so the same films are not necessarily in competition for both awards, which means there’s plenty of margin for a surprise. For example, last year, the WGA honored Christopher Nolan’s highly imaginative screenplay for Inception while the Academy favored David Seidler’s fact based The King’s Speech, which was the presumed Best Picture frontrunner. To clarify, Seidler’s script was not WGA eligible, thus the split. Even so, the WGA winner is more often than not a safe bet come Oscar time. Just ask Young Adult’s Diablo Cody. She won both awards 4 years ago for Juno. On the other hand, Woody Allen has been nominated for the WGA prize more times than he has been nominated for an Oscar; likewise, he’s won four WGA awards, plus a Lifetime Achievement thing, vs two screenwriting Oscars. Besides Annie Hall (1977) and Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), he won guild prizes for Broadway Danny Rose (1984) and Crimes & Misdemeanors; the Oscars for those years went to Robert Benton for Places in the Heart and Thomas Schulman for Dead Poets Society, respectively.  This year, some of the ineligible films include The Artist, Beginners, and The Iron Lady.

Speaking of Allen, this could be another big win for him [1], but I’m not willing to count out either Bridesmaids or Win Win just yet.

WGA ADAPTED SCREENPLAY (alphabetized by title)

  1. The Descendants by Alexander Payne w/Nat Faxon & Jim Rash (based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemming)
  2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steven Zaillian (based on the novel by Stieg Larsson, originally published by Norstedts)
  3. The Help by Tate Taylor (based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett)
  4. Hugo by John Logan (based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick)
  5. Moneyball by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin w/Stan Chervin (based on the book by Michael Lewis)

Now, here is where things get interesting for me. The USC Scripter Award, given by the Friends of the University of Southern California Library almost every awards season since the late 1980s, specifically honors screenplays adapted from books and short stories–and not, to clarify, adaptations of plays, such as 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy, which won both the Oscar and the WGA. I like the idea of the Scripter, but it’s not slam dunk as far as forecasting the Oscar. Granted, last year Aaron Sorkin won just about every prize imaginable for The Social Network; however, two years ago, both the Scripter and the WGA prize went to Up in the Air by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner (from the novel by Walter Kim) while the Oscar went to Geoffrey Fletcher for Precious (from the novel, Push, by Sapphire). During the 2002/03 awards season, almost nothing seemed more certain than a win for David Hare’s adaptation of The Hours, which, again, won both the WGA and the Scripter, yet on Oscar night it was Ronald Harwood’s screen transfer of Wladyslaw Szpilman’s autobiography, The Pianist, that won the Academy’s golden statuette. Other Best Adapted Screenplay winners, such as Traffic (2000) and The Departed (2006), are based on hit movies and TV shows from other countries and are, therefore, ineligible for the Scripter.

THE 2012 USC SCRIPTER FINALISTS (alphabetized by title):

  1. A Dangerous Method by Christopher Hampton (adapted from the nonfiction book A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein by John Kerr and the 2002 stage play The Talking Cure by Hampton)
  2. The Descendants by Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash (adapted from Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel [itself an expansion of her first published short story, “The Minor Wars”])
  3. Jane Eyre by Moira Buffin (adapted from the 1847 book by Charlotte Brontë)
  4. Moneyball by Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, and Stan Chervin (based on Michael Lewis’ book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game)
  5. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan and author John le Carré

Okay, look closely: the only overlap between the WGA and the Scripter are The Descendants and MoneyballThe Descendants‘s Alexander Payne already has an Oscar (for 2004’s Sideways), and he’s well positioned for yet another win as he is also a likely Best Director nominee; meanwhile, Moneyball‘s Steve Zaillian is competing against himself (for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) in the race for the WGA. Academy rules prohibit performers competing against themselves, but that rule does not apply in other races, so Zaillian might end up with a pair of Oscar nominations though he could likely cancel out himself during the final stretch.  I am definitely disappointed that The Help is not also on both lists: it’s a huge book with lots of characters and multiple points of view, yet writer-director Tate Taylor does an admirable job of streamlining and getting to the essence of it. On the other hand, I’m quite pleased that Tinker Tailor Solider Spy–ineligible for WGA honors–is in the mix. John Le Carre’s original spy novel is dense, complex, and a real challenge for readers with its various code names, flashbacks, and flashbacks within flashbacks. Michael and I both read the book in anticipation of the movie, and we were quite pleased with the relatively smooth translation–especially since the film version begins with a sequence that the reader isn’t fully privvy to until about the midpoint in the original.  Well, we were both so pleased with ourselves, but the minutes the credits began rolling, the woman behind us intoned, “Well, I’m confused.” Read the book.

The USC Scripter winner be announced on Saturday, February 18th; the Writers Guild Awards will be presented Sunday, February 19th.

Thanks for your consideration…

[1] Since I wrote this, Allen has added a Golden Globe for Midnight in Paris to his stash of awards though he’s reportedly not enthralled by the whole brouhaha.

Variety article about WGA eligible/ineligible films:

http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118048150/

Writers Guild Awards:

http://www.wga.org/awards/awards.aspx

USC Scripter Awards:

http://www.usc.edu/libraries/scripter/

The Broadcast Film Critics Choose, and Their Picks are “Choice.”

13 Jan

The Artist won more awards, but it was still a big night for audience favorite, The Help. Viola Davis (far left) won Best Actress while Octavia Spencer (far right) won Best Supporting Actress. Furthermore, the whole cast shared the award for Best Ensemble. From left to right: Davis, Jessica Chastain, Emma Stone, Allison Janney, Cicely Tyson, Ahna O'Reilly, Chris Lowell, and Spencer. Is The Help now the movie to beat for the SAG Award for Best Ensemble?

The Broadcast Film Critics Association’s “Critics’ Choice Awards” have been around since the mid 1990s; however, they’ve only been televised nationally for the last decade. Even with the TV coverage, the event doesn’t make as much of a splash with viewers as, say, the Golden Globes, which are often held on or around the same week in January. Of course, like the Globes, and the SAG awards, the Critics’ Choice Awards are often promoted as some kind of crystal ball for all things Oscars, and that is often–though not always–the case, so let’s take a look to see what we can see:

  1. Best Picture – The Artist
  2. Best Actress – Viola Davis (The Help)
  3. Best Actor – George Clooney (The Descendants)
  4. Best Director – Michael Hazanavicius  (The Artist)
  5. Best Supporting Actress – Octavia Spencer (The Help)
  6. Best Supporting Actor – Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
  7. Best Acting Ensemble – The Help
  8. Best Original Screenplay – Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)
  9. Best Adapted Screenplay – Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin w/Stan Chervin (Moneyball)
  10. Best Cinematography – TIE: Janusz Kaminski (War Horse); Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life)
  11. Best Art Direction – Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo (Hugo)
  12. Best Editing – Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
  13. Best Costume Design – Mark Bridges (The Artist)
  14. Best Makeup – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
  15. Best Visual Effects – Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  16. Best Animated Feature – Rango
  17. Best Foreign Language Film – A Separation (Iran)
  18. Best Documentary – George Harrison: Living in the Material World
  19. Best Song – “Life’s a Happy Song” (The Muppets)
  20. Best Score -Ludovic Bource (The Artist)

Okay, so The Artist's Ludovic Boucer won the Critics' Choice award for Best Score, but director Michael Hazanavicius has come under fire for borrowing a significant chunk of music from Bernard Herrmann's classic score for Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, starring Kim Novak (l) and James Stewart (r). Novak has even gone so far to blast The Artist in full page Variety ads, comparing the appropriation to rape. Well, I don't know about the whole "rape" part, but I do know that I recognized the use of Herrmann's music immediately (and this was before Novak spoke out publicly). Anyway, I found it distracting: it took me out of the movie I was watching. That noted, Herrmann is listed in the closing credits, so there is no ethical issue involved. Furthermore, because 80% of the film's score is original, it is still eligible for Academy consideration.

Well, perhaps, The Artist really is the pic to beat after all. Of course, just because the critics love it  doesn’t mean the Academy will love it equally; after all, last year all the critics’ groups–including the BFCA–could not get enough of The Social Network, but The King’s Speech proved to be the favorite among the guilds, that is, the people who make movies–and those accolades were in some ways better indicators of Academy outcome. My take is that The Artist, a French film that pays homage to classic American films–black and white silent films in particular–is a lot of fun, and well done for what it is, yet it suffers from a lack of gravitas or even originality for that matter. Scene after scene plays like something almost too familiar: Singin’ in the Rain, Citizen Kane, Sunset Boulevard, The Nutty Professor, and even Forrest Gump, among others. In the end, the movie just seems to be about other movies. I don’t get that that’s such a huge achievement, and I’m surprised that so many film critics have fallen all over themselves to honor something so derivative. To clarify: I don’t think the actual filmmakers ever intended for their whimsical pastiche to be a major awards contender, but the minute star Jean Dujardin won Best Actor at Cannes, and the Weinstein brothers secured U.S. distribution, the movie was set-up to be prime Oscar bait, thereby inviting as much skepticism as praise.

Otherwise, I’m glad to see Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer front and center in their respective categories. The Oscar for Best Actress still seems very much up for grabs, mainly between Davis, Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) and Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), but maybe the tide is turning in Davis’s favor. I’d like that, but it’s too early to start making bets.  Also, I’m glad to see Spencer getting attention after being overshadowed by her co-star Jessica Chastain in much of the year-end voting. My hunch is that the Best Supporting Actress Oscar will go to either Chastain or Spencer. Of course, Chastain has had a remarkable year, but Spencer’s performance is wonderful in a “bigger than life” kind of way. Actually, Spencer and Chastain make a great pair in their many scenes as Spencer’s no-nonsense Minny has her patience tested by Chastain’s ditz with a heart of gold. Furthermore, and this is not a prediction but an observation, The Help is so chock-full of glorious performances that it could be the start and finish of the Best Supporting Actress slate, what with the likes of Chastain and Spencer, as well as Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, and Bryce Dallas Howard.  I’d love to see that happen, honestly.

In spite of George Clooney’s Best Actor win for The Descendants, I still think Brad Pitt is the “upset” about to happen. Let’s see how it goes with the Globes.  It also looks as though Christopher Plummer is unbeatable, and that’s not a bad thing because Beginners is a wonderful movie. Have you seen it? Have you seen the trailer at least?  Also, what about that tie for Best Cinematography? Oh sure, Lubezki is clearly the favorite at this point in the game; meanwhile, Kaminski, with whom Lubezki tied, isn’t even nominated for the guild award. I also think Robert Richardson (Hugo) is looms as a possible spoiler come Oscar night.

Btw: Plummer is being referred to as an Oscar nominee in this clip for his performance in 2009’s The Last Station.

Okay, the Globes are next. I also plan follow up entries on the ASC awards as well as a comparison-contrast between the Writers Guild and the USC Scripter awards.

Thanks for your consideration…

The official site of the Broadcast Film Critics Association’s “Critics’ Choice Awards”:

http://www.criticschoice.com/

Entertainment Weekly article about Kim Novak, Bernard Herrmann’s music from Vertigo, and The Artist:

http://insidemovies.ew.com/2012/01/09/kim-novak-slams-the-artist-for-using-vertigo-theme-artist-director-michel-hazanavicius-responds/

The American Society of Cinematographers: Lights, Camera, Action!

11 Jan

The last of the guilds–that I follow–has announced its nominees for the year’s best. This time, it’s the American Society of Cinematographers. Here’s the short-list:

  1. Jeff Cronenweth (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
  2. Hoyte van Hoytema (Tinker Tailor Solider Spy)
  3. Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life)
  4. Robert Richardson (Hugo)
  5. Guillaume Schiffman (The Artist)

Okay, if–and that’s a big “if”–there is a glaring omission, it is that of Janusz Kaminski for Spielberg’s War Horse.  We finally saw War Horse yesterday, and it’s a pretty good movie, but not a great one. One thing I’ll give credit to Spielberg and Kaminski for is that the movie was reportedly shot on film, bucking the trend to shoot digitally, and it looks amazing. In interviews, Spielberg even boasts that there are very few CGI shots in the whole film. In other words, much of the movie’s spectacle was created live and in camera rather than produced later in the lab.  That’s way cool, but I do think there is something a bit “off” in that this film, which is about WWI, feels less like a movie shot on location today and more like a movie about WWI as it would have been made in Hollywood during the 1930s, ’40s, or ’50s, and I do not know if that is a good thing or not. It seems strangely retrograde. That noted, I must, of course, add that if War Horse had come out in the early-to-mid 1930’s it would have been in black and white.

This is all the commentary I have time for tonight, but I definitely have more to add. There is a lot going in awards land over the next several days, and I hope to cover most of it.

The Directors Guild Gets the Girl

10 Jan

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the only film among the current crop of DGA nominees that features a woman as one of its protagonists, but look closely at this image, which is currently featured on the Internet Movie Database: the male character played by Daniel Craig is featured more prominently than is the female played by Rooney Mara. Why?

Okay, boys, girls, and everything in between, the Directors Guild of America has spoken.  Here are the current DGA nominees for feature films:

  1. Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)
  2. David Fincher (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
  3. Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
  4. Alexander Payne (The Descendants)
  5. Martin Scorsese (Hugo)

Let’s unpack this: if there is a surprise inclusion, it has to be David Fincher.  This is actually Fincher’s third time in the race (for feature films). Just last year, he was in the running for The Social Network; three years ago, he received his first nod–for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. (He also has a pair of nominations for his work in commercials.)  I frankly believe Fincher was robbed when he was glossed over for awards recognition for Zodiac, but I digress. Nonetheless,  his propensity for dark material (Zodiac, Seven,  and Fight Club)  made him an ideal choice to make an American film based on Stieg Larsson’s international best seller about a disgraced journalist who teams with the titular character to solve a 40 year old mystery at the behest of a old moneyed Swedish industrialist.  To clarify, the late author’s trilogy had already been made into a series of Swedish films and/or mini-series that had even been nominated by the Academy. To further clarify; Fincher’s film, though designed for American audiences, is still set in Sweden with a mix of American, English, and Swedish actors.  Though highly anticipated for the better part of a year, Fincher’s film has not proven to be a box office blockbuster, and the critics–despite some high profile raves–have been all over the map: some praise the movie for actually being closer to the book than the Swedish films while others complain about changes in the last act and, perhaps, a softening of some of the material, especially the presentation of the female protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, a computer hacker with a brutal background who doesn’t have much use for people. My own take is that the material is dark, but I’ve seen darker, and as a whodunit, it’s a bit clunky though packed with surprises.

On the other hand, since The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was just nominated for a Producers Guild Award last week, maybe Fincher’s nod here isn’t such a surprise.

There are two other relative surprises: Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese. Both men have several DGA nominations, and have won at least once each; both also have DGA lifetime achievement awards. This is Allen’s fifth DGA nomination The others are for Annie Hall (1977-w), Manhattan (1979), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), and Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989). This is Martin Scorsese’s 8th nomination. He won for  2006’s The Departed. He was also nominated for Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), Goodfellas (1990), The Age of Innocence (1993), Gangs of New York (2002), and The Aviator (2004). He boasts another win, as well, for his work on the pilot episode of  HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. Allen’s nomination is a bit of a surprise because even though his film has always seemed like it could very well figure into the Best Picture race, depending on how many nominee ultimately figure in the race,  many prognosticators believed that Allen would have to be satisfied with a nomination for his screenwriting rather than his directing. This nomination, on top of recent nods from the PGA and the WGA,  seems to show that both Allen and his film are definite contenders. Scorsese is a bit of a surprise in that Hugo is arguably the closest thing to an animated film to ever compete for the DGA prize; on the other hand, by all accounts, the movie was shot like a traditional feature film–in 3D–with “live” actors on sets designed by Oscar winner Dante Ferretti (The Aviator, and Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street), so maybe it’s not an animated film. I guess I need to go and see it for myself, and I will–right after I see War Horse.

Speaking of War Horse, Steven Spielberg didn’t make the DGA final cut, nor did Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life) or Tate Taylor (The Help). I’m not willing to count Spielberg or Malick out of the race–for the Oscar–just yet. Even so, Spielberg already has three competitive DGA awards (The Color Purple, Schindler’s List, and Saving Private Ryan), plua a Lifetime Achievement thing, so he can’t be smarting too badly over this little snub.  My guess is that Taylor, already a Writers Guild nominee for adapting Kathryn Stockett’s novel for the screen, might have to “settle” for “only” a screenplay nomination come Oscar time.

Here’s why the guilds (including the SAG, the DGA, the WGA, and the ASC) are important. Unlike, say, all the critics’  groups, guild members are basically working members of a given profession: actors, directors, writers, cinematographers, etc. Likewise, the Academy is made up of film professionals (okay, the organization includes many retirees, but I digress). Here’s what you have to keep in mind. The first round of Academy voting goes something like this: actors nominate actors, directors nominate directors, etc. Everyone gets to vote for Best Picture; I believe there is some kind of committee that handles Best Foreign Film; therefore,  some of the same people who vote for the guild awards will also be on board to nominate films in specific categories. Of course, Academy membership is much more exclusive than guild membership. For example, the DGA consists of members who work in feature films, television, and apparently commercials. Membership in the directors branch of the Academy is pretty much limited to directors who work primarily in film; nonetheless, there is every reason to expect some overlapping of nominees, but there is almost always some variation between any given guild and the Academy’s picks. For example, last year Christopher Nolan was nominated by the DGA for Inception, but he was overlooked by the Academy (though his film was not). In his place, the Academy opted for Joel and Ethan Coen’s True Grit redo; otherwise, the two groups were in-sync: Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech-w), Daren Aronofsky (Black Swan), David O. Russell (The Fighter), and the aforementioned David Fincher.

The DGA is a great big deal within the industry because there have only been six times, since the late 1940s, in which the winner of this particular guild prize did not also go on to win the Oscar; likewise, the Academy typically awards Best Picture and Best Director to the same film. The last DGA winner to not win with the Academy was Chicago‘s Rob Marshall (during the 2002/03 awards season); he lost the Oscar to Roman Polanski (The Pianist) though Chicago still won the Oscar for Best Picture. Of course, during the 1985/86 race, no less than Mr. Spielberg won the DGA for The Color Purple even though he was overlooked by the Academy, which instead lavished its prizes on Sydney Pollack and his film Out of Africa.  More recently, Ang Lee won the Academy Award and the DGA for Brokeback Mountain (2005), but Lee’s movie lost the top Oscar to Crash. Thank god.

Of the current bunch, I’d say Fincher is the dark horse.  Other than that, it’s a hard one to call. I think it would be fun if the Academy nominated Allen, Scorsese, and Spielberg just because the three of them are arguably the three most celebrated American directors of the last 30-40 years, and it would make a great showdown if they were all nominated at the same time.  I can see the cinephiles drooling now. Stay tuned.

Thanks for your consideration…

The Directors Guild of America:

http://www.dga.org/