Archive | January, 2014

The Producers (Guild, That Is): Win, Lose, or Draw

23 Jan

Well, the 2013/14 awards season  has just gotten even tighter. Especially the race for Best Picture, that is.  Anyone looking to the Producers Guild of America award to break what appears to be a three-way tie between American Hustle, Gravity, and 12 Years a Slave is probably convulsing in the agony of suspense right about now as the PGA managed the seemingly impossible by honoring co-winners. That’s right, we have a tie, a tie between Gravity and 12 Years a Slave, the buzzworthiest pair of contenders going all the way back to late summer/early fall rush of film festivals. Sorry ’bout it, American Hustle.

Now, how seriously should we awards fiends take this most recent development? Well, since its inception in 1990, the PGA’s Golden Laurel has never gone to co-winners; moreover, the PGA prize has foreshadowed the Oscar winner for Best Picture 18 times. Not bad, and that includes the seven most recent victors–everything from 2007’s No Country for Old Men to last year’s Argo. (The last split occurred when the PGA picked Little Miss Sunshine, and the Academy favored Martin Scorsese’s The Departed.) Furthermore, Academy rules are designed to make tie-votes virtually impossible, which is why we see far fewer of them in any category than we do in the results from some of the critics groups. To clarify, there has never been a tie for Best Picture in the Academy’s history though there were essentially two such winners at the inaugural event: Outstanding Picture (Wings) and Unique and Artistic Production (Sunrise).  Wings is now recognized as the official first Best Picture winner while the “Artistic” award was retired after the first year.

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Gravity (Warner Bros. Pictures) – Producers: Alfonso Cuarón and David Heyman

What I find so interesting, even compelling and maybe fascinating, is that Gravity and 12 Years a Slave cover some of the same ground thematically. Now, don’t get me wrong: I full well-understand the difference between a fluffy popcorn movie dressed-up in existentialist drag  (maybe vice-versa) and a harrowing real-life saga about identity and human rights, the difference between the visceral thrill of cutting edge special effects and “old-fashioned” storytelling that pierces the heart. Even so, these movies share a single thematic element, and that’s the terrifying prospect of someone having his/her whole world turned upside down and being powerless (or at least seemingly powerless) to do anything about it–whether that means being tossed into the dark stretches of space, never to set foot on earth again, or being effectively kidnapped and sold as mere property, never to see your family again, and not having the right to have your voice heard in protest. One dazzles the eye and delights the imagination while the other horrifies as it rips away at the foibles and frailties of humankind. Two stylistically and structurally different movies but one common element: dread, or fear of the unknown.  I think what makes this contest so hard for voters is that both movies are excellent in their own ways; they both work on the same primal level, so, really, it’s all a matter of taste. And reflection doesn’t necessarily help.

Maybe this weekend’s DGA awards will help clarify the confusion, but over the past several years, we’ve seen the Academy split Best Picture and Best Director honors with greater frequency than in previous 30 or 40 years. For example, last year Best Picture went to Argo while Best Director went to Ang Lee (Life of Pi). Similarly, during the 2005/06 contest, the Academy’s directors branch awarded Lee for Brokeback Mountain while the top prize went to Crash.  I can also easily imagine a situation in which voter frustration creates a clear path for a Best Picture spoiler, meaning  American Hustle. In all honesty, I can’t recall a Best Picture race quite as hard to call as this one. Oh sure, every race, every year, comes with its own unique set of factors; however, every year almost always includes one obvious frontrunner, sometimes two. Sometimes, there’s barely anything worth rooting for in the first place.

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12 Years a Slave (Fox Searchlight Pictures) – Producers: Anthony Katagas, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen, Brad Pitt, and Dede Gardner

I wonder what’s happening with the oddsmakers in Vegas right now. Luckily for me, I invest enough of myself in the Oscars each and every year without having to add money to the fun.  So, for now, I’ll just enjoy the race for what it is–and that includes a total of 9 contenders–and revel in the strengths and complexities of two amazing candidates–win, lose, or draw.

Thanks for your consideration…

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SAGs, Snubs, and Surprises

19 Jan

Wow. What a week. Last Sunday was the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s  annual Golden Globes shindig complete with disheveled and disoriented Jacqueline Bissett. Oscar nominations followed bright and early on Thursday morning; then, that very night, there was another soiree–the Broadcast Film Critics Association’s Critics Choice awards. Last night the stars were out in droves again for the Screen Actors Guild prizes. I covered the Globes last week. Now, I’m going to try to make sense of the rest of it, major category by major category. Meanwhile, read about Oscar’s biggest snubs and surprises in the sidebars to the right.

Oh, and I as I correctly “predicted,” the race is led by American Hustle and Gravity, both with 10 nominations, while 12 Years a Slave is right behind with 9. Okay, here we go in the order in which the roll was actually called at Saturday’s Screen Actors Guild awards…

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^ Oscar Surprise No 1: Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) – Hawkins snagged the slot on the final ballot that many prognosticators had marked for Oprah Winfrey in Lee Daniels’ The Butler; however, Winfrey is not the only person associated with her film to be snubbed (more to follow). Meanwhile, props to Hawkins, for making the best of Blue Jasmine and earning her first Oscar nod after such triumphs as Happy-Go- Lucky and Made in Dagenham.

SAG: Best Supporting Actress – Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)

Yay! This woman fills my heart with gladness. Not only did she win the SAG award, thereby surging to the head of the pack in her Oscar category, she also scored a Broadcast Film Critics Association award the same day that she earned her Academy nod.

I still have issues with the trend of actresses being asked to prove their mettle by portraying suffering, especially at the hands of masculine brutality, but Nyong’o’s gut wrenching performance–as a woman debased and robbed of all her dignity through the horrors of slavery–transcends such considerations. It’s simply too excruciating in its every detail to ignore. Nyong’o biggest competition for the Academy statuette is likely Nebraska‘s June Squibb, an octogenarian who’s been acting for decades, including multiple Broadway gigs, but has apparently only now hit her stride in movies, holding her own against the likes of Bruce Dern of all people. I’m glad that Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) and Julia Roberts (August: Osage County) give such wonderful, crowd-pleasing performances in their respective films, but these are movie stars in secondary roles, rather than true supporting players (especially in Roberts’ case), and I can’t imagine either of them winning in this category.

Finally, if Nyong’o wins an Oscar, she’ll be the fourth black actress in less than 10 years honored in the supporting category, which shows some sign of progress–considering the 16 year lapse between Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost) and Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls)–but mainstream moviemakers still need to work harder to get the stories of black women, in leading roles, onscreen. In the meantime, I’m still floored that between the Emmys, the Golden Globes, and the SAG awards, Kerry Washington, the star of TV’s hot, hot, hot, Scandal, continues to go home empty-handed.

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^ Lupita Nyong’o

Oscar’s Final Five: Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave),  June Squibb  (Nebraska)
Julia Roberts (August: Osage County), and Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)

SAG: Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

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^ Oscar Snub No. 1: James Gandolfini (Enough Said) – The late and much beloved Gandolfini, best known for his Emmy winning turn as mobster Tony Soprano, was presumed to be a likely favorite for his final film, but his slot appears to have been filled by Jonah Hill for ever-more-popular The Wolf of Wall Street. Of course, Hill was just nominated in the same category two years ago for Moneyball. Also subbed? Will Forte (Nebraska)

Seeing Leto give an incredibly humble and moving speech at the SAG ceremony–with his mother in the audience–served as a powerful reminder of how remarkable his performance in Dallas Buyers Club really is. It’s not just that his HIV positive transgender hustler “Rayon” provides such a startling physical transformation–that’s the easy part…aside from the drastic weight loss. What’s remarkable is how deep Leto goes inside the character. It’s a complete reinvention: voice, body language, etc. Of course, skeptics will argue that Leto is just doing what any good actor would do. That’s his job, true enough, but many fine actors and actresses never go as far as Leto does as Rayon. Often times, actors, even good ones, get by on personality as much as anything else. Leto’s work in Dallas Buyers Club is a true tour de force. Dig the scene in which Rayon summons all her courage in order to make a tremendous sacrifice. Okay, no spoilers.

Like Nyong’o, Leto won a BFCA award this past week as well as a Golden Globe. Among his other honors this season are prizes from the New York Film Critics Circle and the DFW Film Critics Association.  He will almost certainly be called to the podium to accept an Oscar next month, but I’m not willing to rule out Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) though his film did not do as well in total nominations as expected. Regarding Leto, there’s also the consideration that while actresses have taken home awards for crossing gender lines, the same does not hold true for males. William Hurt’s turn in Kiss of the Spider Woman being a possible exception.

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^ Jared Leto

Oscar’s Final Five: Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), 
Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave),
Jonah Hill (Wolf of Wall Street), and Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

SAG: Best Actor – Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

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Oscar Snub No. 2: Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips) – Whew! What a shocker! Did anyone, ANYONE, see this coming? Hanks has been in this race every inch of the way the whole season: Golden Globe nod, SAG nod, and Broadcast Critics nod. Plus, his film is a Best Picture contender–and a true story on top of that. Is it because Hanks is already a two-time winner? Could it be that he campaigned just a little too hard?  Since American Hustle’s Christian Bale was never considered anything close to a sure-thing, it’s easy to peg him as the actor who knocked Hanks out of the running. I don’t consider the omission of Robert Redford (All is Lost) a true shocker since the movie barely made a blip on the mainstream radar.

This Texas native is proving to be the favorite, what with a SAG, a Globe, a BFCA award, and an Oscar nod in one week.  He’s also a DFW Critics Association recipient.  Like Leto, McConaughey underwent a jaw dropping physical transformation in order to portray colorful real-life Texan, Ron Woodroof. Barely more than skin and bones when given a mere 30 days to live (circa 1985), Woodroof (who may not have been as stridently hetero as depicted in the film) lived for several more years, metamorphosing into an activist for more humane treatment of AIDS patients. Woodroof’s is an incredible story, and McConaughey more than does it justice, but–also like Leto–there is more here than a gimmick. We’ve all known that besides being good looking, McConaughey  is a heck of an actor, We’ve known it since he played creepy ex-high school jock Wooderson in Dazed and Confused; however, once McConaughey became a star in the heavily-hyped A Time to Kill (from the John Grisham novel), he lost focus and appeared to take roles, mostly in romantic comedies, based on the size of the paycheck  or the exoticism of the locale.  His road back to respectability began with The Lincoln Lawyer (2011) and then continued with the likes of Bernie and Magic Mike (both 2012) and 2013’s Mud, which enjoyed a healthy run in the spring/summer months.

Even with all of these recent victories, I’m not entirely convinced McConaughey is a lock for the Oscar. For example, Bruce Dern (Nebraska) looms as a sentimental favorite. Plus, if 12 Years a Slave pulls ahead in the Best Picture race, Chiwetel Ejiofor might benefit as well.  Also, consider that the lineups for SAG prize and the Oscar do not correspond 100%. Golden Globe winner–for comedy–Leonardo DiCaprio (Wolf of Wall Street) was out of the SAG race, but his movie is proving to be quite popular in spite of polarized reviewers.

Meanwhile, consider that Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), shockingly absent in this race, won his first Best Actor Oscar for playing an AIDS patient exactly 20 years ago.

MattMCDBC

^ Matthew McConaughey

Oscar’s Final Five: Christian Bale (American Hustle),
Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street),
Chiwetel Ejiofor  (12 Years a Slave), and Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

 SAG: Best Actress – Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

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Oscar Snub No. 3: Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) – Emma Thompson earned raves–as well as Golden Globe and SAG noms–for portraying P. L. Travers, author of Mary Poppins, in Saving Mr. Banks. It’s Thompson’s best role in years, but the movie itself received a lot of bad press for the way it doctored the story about how Travers repeatedly balked at the idea of selling the rights to her books to corporate entertainment maestro Walt Disney (Tom Hanks). Thompson’s omission is not a true head scratcher since there were always only three sure-things: Blanchett, Bullock, and Judi Dench (Philomena). Thompson, Adams, and Streep (August: Osage County) were always waiting in the wings for only two slots. Btw; Streep is now in Oscar race number 18, y’all.

I’m still not ready to rule out Sandra Bullock (Gravity) just yet, but I can see that Blanchett is far and away the frontrunner. She’s had a great week, what with the SAG award, the Globe, the BFCA Critics Choice award, and, of course, the Oscar nod; moreover, at this point, Blanchett has won well over a dozen prizes for her portrayal of the  titular character in Woody Allen’s latest, a bi-coastal variation on A Streetcar Named Desire in which a former high-riding Manhattanite (Blanchett) hits the skids and moves to San Francisco where her working class sister and single mom (Hawkins), lives, but things go steadily from bad to worse.

Blanchett won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 2004’s The Aviator, in which she impersonated Katherine Hepburn. Since then, she’s been scarce in the movies per her theatre work in Australia. It’s possible she’s being recognized as much for a “comeback” as she is her actual performance, which shows a lot more skill than heart in my estimation. Maybe I’m just bummed that Blue Jasmine is so obviously a retread. And, yes, Blanchett has portrayed doomed Blanche DuBois–Jasmine’s antecedent–onstage.

Additionally, even though Blanchett was declared “Best Actress” at the BFCA Critics Choice awards, there were strings attached because both Bullock, also a People’s Choice winner, and Amy Adams (American Hustle) were named winners at the same event: Best Actress in an Action Movie and Best Actress in a Comedy, respectively.  Adams won a Golden Globe for her work in the allegedly comedic American Hustle as well. Her current Oscar nod is the first time the Academy has recognized her as a leading actresses after an incredible four races for Best Supporting Actress.

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^ Cate Blanchett

Oscar’s Final Five: Amy Adams (American Hustle), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine),
Judi Dench (Philomena), Sandra Bullock (Gravity),
and Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

SAG: Best Ensemble: American Hustle

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Oscar Snub No. 4: Lee Daniels’s The Butler – With an all-star cast led by Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, the likes of Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard, along with cameos by such luminaries as Jane Fonda (as Nancy Reagan) and James Marsden (as John F. Kennedy), this loose adaptation of a true story about a man who worked behind the scenes in the White House for three decades seemed ripe for Academy consideration. Generally well-reviewed, and a solid box office hit (spending at least two weeks at #1 and earning over 100 million dollars), the movie was consistently recognized in one form or another throughout the entire season, including a SAG nomination for Best Ensemble. Alas, the movie was shut-out of every single category. Hard to fathom in a year with nine Best Picture nominees. Also shut-out entirely: Fruitvale Station.

Why did American Hustle capture the  SAG award that many, including the promoters of the SAG event, believe can be used to predict the Academy’s pick for the Best Picture Oscar? Simply, it’s because American Hustle is all about acting. That’s right, the movie is all about acting. Okay, it’s also about the Abscam Scandal from the 1970s, but only loosely. The plot is just the framework upon which to show off the flashy performances. Actors love that. It makes them feel better about what they do. Of course, the characters in American Hustle are not actors by trade, not really, but they’re always acting. Two of the principles are con-artists, which means they’re always performing, playing a part (or parts); meanwhile, another character is a Federal Agent way in over his head, orchestrating (or trying to orchestrate) an elaborate sting operation. (The Sting? Now, that was a great movie!) Anyway, the agent is also often playing a part as he clumsily finesses his way into the inner-circle of politicians and other shady characters. And, of course, those shady characters are pretty good at bluffing as well.

American Hustle sends a meta-signal right from the beginning. The first scene shows Christian Bale, always known for extreme physical transformations, at it again. Instead of being shockingly thin, as in his Oscar winning The Fighter,  Bale sports an obvious bloated and/or flabby gut through his unbuttoned shirt. Then, the actor, who indeed has a full head of hair, wears some kind of appliance to appear completely bald on top with fringe on the sides, per Ben Franklin; however, because his character is so self-conscious about his baldness, he quickly goes to work fashioning a hairpiece (stage/yak hair with spirit gum) that forms the basis for an elaborate hairpiece. Okay, do you get that? A normally thin actor with a full head of hair appears fat and all but bald, which is one form of costume, and then adds another layer of costume. See? Again, the movie is all about performance–that and outrageous wigs. The director tells you that in the first scene. Without slipping a single spoiler, I’ve just told you everything you need to know about American Hustle.  Actors love it.

Even so, the SAG Ensemble prize doesn’t always translate into a Best Picture Oscar. Yeah, sure, last year’s Argo snagged both awards, but that was a movie with a large cast–and an actor/director (Ben Affleck) running the show. On the other hand, 2011’s The Help, a massive hit with a predominately female cast, took the top SAG prize while the Best Picture Oscar went to the gimmicky over-hyped The Artist.  If American Hustle goes on to win the Academy’s top prize, I’ll understand why, but I still think 12 Years a Slave represents traditional Academy fare, history lessons, movies with strong humanitarian messages that voters can feel good about honoring. In this case, deservedly so. On the other hand, Gravity is pure cinematic magic, and, oh, isn’t this race fun!!! Just keep in mind that historically movies with corresponding nods for Best Director have a better shot at the top prize, which doesn’t bode well for, say, Her, Philomena, and a few others.

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Members of the award winning cast of American Hustle: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Jennifer Lawrence

Oscar’s Final Ballot: American Hustle, Captain Phillips,
Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena,
12 Years a Slave, and The Wolf of Wall Street

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Oscar Surprise No. 2: Alexander Payne (Nebraska) – Payne, a previous Best Director nominee (aside from his work as a screenwriter) for 2004’s Sideways and 2011’s The Descendants, occupies the slot on the ballot that seemed destined for Paul Greengrass, a 2006 nominee for United 93, as indicated by DGA roster. Interestingly, back in 2006, Greengrass was Oscar nominated by the Academy though his picture was overlooked for top consideration. Additionally, that same year, he was overlooked by this peers in the DGA. What a switcheroo,

Oscar’s Final Five: Alfonso Cuaron  (Gravity), Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), Alexander Payne  (Nebraska) David O. Russell (American Hustle), and Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)

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Oscar Snub No. 5: Best Cinematography, Claudio Miranda (Oblivion) – Miranda won in this category last year for Life of Pi, and he should be back in the race for the exquisite Oblivion, starring Tom Cruise and Andrea Riseborough (above). Miranda was also shut-out of the American Society of Cinematographers race. Oblivion really would have been an ideal fit for Best FX, Best Editing and Best Art Direction as well. Happily, the movie’s production designer, Daren Gilford, has been recognized by members of his own guild if not the Academy.

Thanks for your consideration…

Complete list of Oscar nominees: http://oscar.go.com/nominees

Sorry ’bout It

15 Jan

Well, I can’t believe I’m writing this, but it’s time for me to ‘fess-up. After covering the Oscars almost religiously for 30 years or more, long before such things as blogs, I will actually be out of the loop during tomorrow’s announcement of this year’s nominees. Not only am I in the midst of a family crisis  that’s almost movie-like in its extraordinary circumstances, I will put in a full 8 hour day tomorrow, followed by convocation activities that will keep me on campus until at least 8:00 p.m. Of course, I’ll have time to check the Internet to at least peruse the official list of contenders, but I won’t be able to write a word about any of it until Friday evening; however, I’ll give it my all when I get the chance, and I’ll also be covering this weekend’s SAG awards as per usual.

I don’t expect too many surprises tomorrow morning, but the Academy often throws something unexpected into the mix, either the out-of-nowhere inclusion–for better or worse–or the eye-opening snub.

I full well expect American Hustle, Gravity, and 12 Years a Slave to dominate the Best Picture race.  For some reason, I think American Hustle, by virtue of its strong cast, or Gravity, because of its technical brilliance, will earn the most nods though it’s not my style to predict the number of nods any film might garner. Fruitvale Station and Lee Daniels’ The Butler are strong contenders as well.

For Best Actress, Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) seems invincible, but she’ll be joined by four other nominees anyway, and they will surely include Sandra Bullock (Gravity) and Judi Dench (Philomena).  Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) and Amy Adams (American Hustle) appear well-positioned, but Meryl Streep (August: Osage County) is, quite obviously, a huge Academy favorite.  Personally, I’d love to see Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Enough Said) in the race, but that’s not the direction the course has taken so far.  Way, way out on the periphery are Brie Larson (Short Term 12) and Lake Bell (In a World…).

For Best Actor, I have two faves, and they are Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave). I still haven’t caught up with Nebraska starring Bruce Dern, another probable nominee. Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips) looks solid too. Other than that, there are a few question marks, such as Robert Redford (All is Lost), Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station), Idris Elba (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom), and Forest Whitaker (Lee Daniels’ The Butler). I don’t think Hugh Jackman (Prisoners) has much of a chance anymore. Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street) might make the cut as a possible spoiler.

For me, the Best Supporting Actor and Actress races begin and end with Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) and Lupita Nyong’0 (12 Years a Slave), respectively. A nice touch would be the likes of June Squibb (Nebraska) and James Gandolfini (Enough Said). I think Julia Roberts is the best thing about August: Osage County, but I also think positioning her as a Best Supporting Actress candidate is a bit of cheat. If her character is not the equal of the one played by La Streep, she is surely no less than a second lead, but of course the same can be said of the late Gandolfini; after all, he  is the male romantic lead in a hetero love story.

I’ll give Gravity all its due in the world. Technically, it’s unsurpassed among this year’s slate; however, I still hope Oblivion isn’t locked out of the race entirely. It’s a gorgeous piece of cinema that deserves to be celebrated in Oscar’s official history book.

Okay, now the wait begins….

Golden Globes and Game Changers

13 Jan

Call me a party pooper, but  I don’t think  Golden Globes co-hosts co-hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were nearly as funny this year as they were last year, but they were still pretty funny.  I just sensed that their timing was a bit off somehow, but no matter. I don’t watch awards shows for the hosts. I watch for the awards.

Were there any game-changers in the mix? Let’s see….

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Best Supporting Actress – Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)

It’s not really a surprise that Jennifer Lawrence won a Globe given the Hollywood Foreign Press’s fascination with movie stars, and Lawrence is one of the biggest stars on the scene thanks in no small part to the phenomenally successful  Hunger Games franchise. I have mixed feelings about American Hustle, but Lawrence scores as the comic relief.  She’s already won at least once this season prior to the Globes, so there’s no reason to think she won’t be nominated for an Oscar come week’s end, but I don’t look for her to win that race just a year after nabbing Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook. That’s not the way the game is played.

Jared Leto

Best Supporting Actor – Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

Best Supporting Actor winner Jared Leto is on a roll. He’s already been proclaimed this year’s likely Oscar victor by the editors of Entertainment Weekly.  Well, whatever happens, happens. Leto has been deserving of a good role for a long time.  Twenty years ago he feared being typecast as just another pretty face when he co-starred with Claire Danes in tv’s My So-Called Life. He was in his twenties at the time though he was playing a high school studentBig screen stardom beckoned but nonetheless remained elusive. Leto even put acting on hold for awhile, but I don’t think anyone noticed–until he made a stunning comeback.

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Best Director – Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity)

It’s been a good week for Cuarón, what with his Golden Globe and Directors Guild nomination. Right now, he’s being honored for having a vision and being able to turn that into a reality. Let’s see if he actually wins the DGA.

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Best Actress in  a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy – Amy Adams (American Hustle)

I’ve seen Amy Adams at awards show after awards show for years, ever since she first attracted attention for her supporting turn in the indie Junebug (2005).  Though she’s been honored by some of the less visible–if still prestigious–groups in the interim, Adams has never been called to the stage to accept a trophy; moreover, most of her previous nominations have been for supporting roles. Now, she’s poised to earn a Oscar nod for Best Actress, but she’ll still likely face-off against such heavyweights as Cate Blanchett and Sandra Bullock. On the other hand, she did just beat Meryl, didn’t she??

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Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy – Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)

Many prognosticators were likely taken surprise by DiCaprio’s win for Best Actor in Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. Bruce Dern (Nebraska) was the perceived frontrunner based on the season thus far, but being last out of the gate has its advantages. Still, I don’t think Leo is a lock for an Oscar nod as he’s competing against actors playing more sympathetic characters in movies that have not divided critics the way The Wolf of Wall Street has, something that was no doubt a factor in the studio publicist’s decision to position this movie as a comedy.

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Best Actress in Motion Picture Drama – Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

No game changer here: Blanchett is the frontrunner. Her lead in the race for the Best Actress Oscar  may very well be more certain than Jared Leto’s is in his. As evidenced last night by the tribute paid to writer-director Woody Allen, Blanchett is in good company with scads of actresses who have earned top honors for their performances in Allen films, most recently Penelope Cruz (Vicky Christina Barcelona, 2008).

MattMCDBC

Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama – Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

Matthew McConaughey may very well turn out to be the man to beat for the Oscar in his category. Of course, the nominations have yet to be announced, and the Best Actor race is hugely competitive. No doubt, he’s well positioned–and not just because of his stunning transformation. I’m happy for the Texas native, but I’m also stunned that Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) is not owning this category.

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Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy – American Hustle (l -r: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Any Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Jennifer Lawrence)

Yeah, okay, American Hustle is a comedy,  I guess. It’s clever in spots, outrageous in others, and some of the dialogue elicits laughs, but it plays more like imitation Scorsese than anything else, and Scorsese isn’t necessarily known for laff-riots.  Again, this movie seems to have been positioned as comedy for the sake of expediency.  Still, I think this may very well turn out to be the  Academy’s Best Picture spoiler due to its glamorous all-star cast, the sort of thing that appeals to the Academy’s largest voting bloc: actors and actresses.

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Best Motion Picture Drama – 12 Years a Slave

Of course, we expect to see two Best Picture winners at the Globes though often one of those films also captures Best Director honors, but that didn’t happen last night, so that means the race for the Best Picture Oscar is still wide open with 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, and Gravity all looking to break away from the pack.  The way the nominations are divvied will provide further clues…maybe.

The rest of the bunch–for movies–include: Best Animated Film – Frozen; Best Foreign Language Film – The Great Beauty  (Italy); Best Original Song – “Ordinary Love” (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom); Best Original Score – Alex Ebert (All is Lost), and Best Screenplay – Spike Jonze (Her).

You’ll have to look elsewhere for TV coverage: http://www.goldenglobes.com/awards

Thanks for your consideration…

DGA Award: One Step Closer

7 Jan

Based on what we know about the correlation between the Academy and the Directors Guild of America award, these five directors may very well be one step closer to an Oscar–or at least an Oscar nod–thanks to today’s announcement of DGA nominees.

Okay, here we go:

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Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity)

Alfonso Cuarón, born in Mexico, has arguably achieved greater acclaim in Hollywood and abroad than in his own country. He earned three Ariel nominations (the Mexican Oscar equivalent) for 1991’s Sólo con tu pareja (Love in the Time of Hysteria), but that was a long, long time ago. Since then, he scored an Academy screenwriting nod for Y Tu Mamá También though the film’s reception was much less enthusiastic back home. Additionally, he took an imaginative leap and achieved mainstream success with 2004’s Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban, my personal favorite of the enormously lucrative Harry Potter franchise. A few years later, Cuarón dazzled critics with Children of Men, a dystopian thriller adapted from a novel by English mystery writer P.D. James. Now, with Gravity, Cuarón’s appeal is ever-more-international if not out of this world.

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Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips)

The inclusion of  England’s Paul Greengrass makes this race interesting. The director of The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum was up for an Oscar–though not a DGA award–back in the 2006/07 awards season for United 93.  The politically conscious director’s credits also include Bloody Sunday which, like Steve McQueen’s The Hunger, looks at the troubles in Ireland.

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Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)

London born Steve McQueen is a first-time DGA candidate; likewise, he’s never been in an Academy race though he’s much lauded overseas for The Hunger, about the hunger strike of IRA leader Bobby Sands, and Shame, a look at the world of a sex addict–both of which star Michael Fassbender, who also appears in 12 Years A Slave.

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David O. Russell (American Hustle)

David O. Russell was shunned by the DGA for last year’s Silver Linings Playbook, but the Academy thought otherwise and nominated Russell for both writing and directing the Best Picture contender. On the other hand, Russell competed for both groups’ honors back a few years ago for The Fighter. Now that Russell has guided three performers to Oscar winning glory (Christian Bale and Melissa Leo in The Fighter; Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook), his reputation as an actor’s director is firmly in place, a far cry from some of the legendary on-set skirmishes from a decade ago.

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Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)

Scorsese is the heavyweight here.  Not only is he a three time DGA winner, including a Lifetime Achievement Award, he boasts an Oscar for 2006’s The Departed. Two years ago, he was nominated by both the Academy and the  DGA for Hugo (in 3-D).  His filmography includes seven Best Director nods (in addition to a handful of screenplay nominations) from the Academy and now nine DGA nominations for feature films.

If Scorsese wins, he’ll have to do it without me. I’ve already seen American Hustle, which plays as though director Russell is trying to out-Scorsese Scorsese (with Christian Bale trying to out-De Niro De Niro). Plus, I saw Wall Street in the 1980s and The Bonfire of the Vanities in 1990, so I feel like I’ve seen all of this already. Plus, and please don’t hate me, but I think that Scorsese and Wolf of Wall Street star Leonardo DiCaprio often bring out the worst in each other. After their last collaboration, the ghastly Shutter Island, I just want to turn away from the screen even during commercials for their latest. Still, a big name such as Scorsese’s might be enough to pull focus from Cuarón and McQueen and their presumed frontrunners.

Meanwhile, Lee Daniels’ The Butler might have peaked too early as the fall’s initial prestige offering.  Still, none of these men–and no women–are lightweights. On the other hand, last year Ben Affleck (Argo), Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), and Tom Hooper (Les Misérables) were all nominated for the DGA trophy, yet they were MIA on the Academy’s final ballot though their films were in the Best Picture race, so we could still be in for a few surprises.

Thanks for your consideration….

The Directors Guild of America: http://www.dga.org/awards/annual.aspx

Rest in Peace: Juanita Moore, a Classic American Actress

4 Jan
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In an interview featured on the Imitation of Life DVD, actress Juanita Moore (above) reveals that in spite of her Best Supporting Actress nomination for 1959’s Imitation of Life, she scarcely worked for two years after the film’s release.

Oh my gosh, how shocked am I to learn just this morning that Oscar nominated actress Juanita Moore passed away earlier this week. Her lone Oscar nod came for 1959’s lavish Ross Hunter/Douglas Sirk remake of Fannie Hurst’s tearjerker Imitation of Life, a story about two single mothers, one white and one black, raising daughters during trying times.

Moore’s character loves her daughter dearly though friction mars the relationship. The daughter is a light-skinned African American who “passes” for white, and Moore’s Annie Johnson wishes her daughter would just be happy with–and proud of–who she is instead of being plagued by doubt and confusion. At the same time,  Annie is willing to make a tremendous sacrifice to ensure that her daughter finds all the peace and happiness she so desperately seeks.

This is one of the grandest and weepiest of all Hollywood melodramas, and much of its success can be attributed to Moore’s radiant performance. Yes, on one hand, for a woman who seems to have settled for second-best most of her life, Annie Johnson seems too good to be true, too happy to be a supporting player (or less ) in the lives of her friend and employer, a glamorous if high strung actress played by Lana Turner, and, again, that headstrong daughter. On the other hand, Moore invests the character with great dignity and hard earned strength, and that’s what makes her so compelling. Oh sure, she’s still playing a domestic–the help, as it were–and, yes, she probably  has as much screen time as Turner, calling into question that supporting player status; however, Moore’s  Annie is more polished and less simple-minded than the equivalent character enacted by Louise Beavers in the 1934 adaptation, a portrayal marked by even more subservience and a thick–stereotypical–dialect as noted  in the DVD featurette. (Meanwhile, any movie that depicts two single mothers raising their children under one roof begs for a queer analysis.)

Though Moore is best remembered for Imitation of Life, she appeared in dozens and dozens of movies and TV shows, including Tammy Tell Me True and The Singing Nun starring Sandra Dee and Debbie Reynolds, respectively. Both of them, like Imitation of Life, childhood favorites that I still watch today if given the chance. Actually, I have plenty of chances to watch Imitation of Life, the DVD of which prominently features Moore in an accompanying documentary. She was still acting as recently as the year 2000, in which she appeared in Disney’s The Kid, starring Bruce Willis.

An article  in the Huffington Post hails Moore as only the fifth African-American to be nominated for an Oscar, but that’s a bit misleading. Of course, she follows on the heels of Hattie McDaniel (1939’s Best Supporting Actress winner for Gone with the Wind), Ethel Waters (Best Supporting Actress for  Pinky, 1948), and Dorothy Dandridge (a Best Actress nominee for 1954’s Carmen Jones), but that would put her fourth on the list not fifth. My guess is the writer of the Huffington Post notice also means to include James Baskett, who actually won an honorary Oscar for his portrayal of Uncle Remus in Disney’s Song of the South (1946), a movie that has not aged well though Baskett’s breakthrough is not to be discounted. Incidentally, Moore’s daughter in the film was played by two actresses: as a youngster by Karin Dicker, and as a teenager by Susan Kohner, who also earned an Oscar nomination (though, to clarify, Kohner was not of African-American descent).  Also, the Huffington piece indicates that Moore was 99 though adds that reports of her age vary. Indeed, on the IMDb, Moore’s birth year is listed as 1922, making her 91 at the time of her death.

Coincidentally, Moore worked with Dee in both Tammy Tell Me True and Imitation of Life as the latter portrayed Turner’s high-spirited daughter. Additionally, the IMDb shows that Moore appears uncredited in Waters’s Pinky, in which Jeanne Crane–one of the whitest actresses on the planet–earned her sole Best Actress nod for playing, again, a black woman who “passes” for white.  Hmmmmm…..more to add on this subject, but not today.

Rest in peace, dear Juanita.

Thanks for your consideration…

Juanita Moore Huffington Post obituary: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/02/juanita-moore-dead_n_4529541.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular

Juanita Moore at the Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0601428/

The Producers (Guild, That Is)

2 Jan
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Congratulations to Megan Ellison, credited as one of the producers on two of this year’s PGA award contenders, American Hustle and Her. Last year, Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures released Oscar contenders Zero Dark Thirty, which earned a Best Picture nod, and The Master, which reaped three acting nominations (including one for Joaquin Phoenix who also stars in Ellison’s Her). Just a few short years ago, Ellison served as an executive producer of the acclaimed remake of True Grit from Joel and Ethan Coen. Yes, Ellison is the daughter of billionaire businessman Larry Ellison, so she likely had a few advantages getting started in her field, but she’s only 27, and her record speaks for itself.

Well, the Producers Guild of America has announced its nominees for the annual Darryl F. Zanuck award for Best Picture, and most of the biggies are represented: American Hustle, Gravity, and 12 Years a Slave–and, okay, The Wolf of Wall Street–for starters. I see one glaring omission, and that is Lee Daniels’ The Butler though I feel confident the Academy’s final roster will look a bit different as is typical. It could be argued, as well, that Fruitvale Station should be another top contender though as noted elsewhere in this article, it is being honored with a special award. Another possible slight is the all-star adaptation of August, Osage County, but we’ll see how that one plays with mainstream audiences. Right now, it’s too early to tell. On the other hand,  Spike Jonze’s idiosyncratic Her hasn’t gone wide yet, and it’s already being embraced by the guild and other organizations.

If I’m surprised by any of the PGA’s choices, they would likely be Blue Jasmine and Saving Mr. Banks. The former, while well-reviewed, especially regarding lead actress Cate Blanchett, hasn’t been a success on the level of director Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris from 2011; meanwhile, Saving Mr. Banks, despite raves for Emma Thompson (as Mary Poppins writer P.L. Travers) and Tom Hanks (as Walt Disney), has suffered backlash due to its questionable handling of factual material.

When the PGA began handing out awards however many years ago, it seemed the emphasis was often–though not exclusively–on more commercial fare, and why not? After all, producers like making money, which doesn’t mean that they don’t have other aspirations as well, but, sure, a well made movie that pleases audiences and makes lots and lots of money seems just about right.  At any rate, this race seems like an evenly matched batch of mainstream and alternative fare.

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This year, the PGA will recognize Fruitvale Station with its Stanley Kramer award for socially conscious filmmaking. Remember that just a few short weeks ago Kramer’s Judgment at Nuremberg was inducted into the National Film Registry.

How will today’s announcement affect the Academy? That depends on whether the Academy opts for five nominees or as many as ten.  The difference could be that great since the Academy has backtracked on its previous resolution to open the race to 10 nominees in order to increase the odds of recognizing summer blockbusters and expanding its audience by attracting a younger fanbase; however, after two years, Oscar’s ruling board scuttled the plan when ratings did not meet expectations, and the Academy’s credibility was called into question.  Of course, it would have been too simple for the Academy to just go back to five Best Picture nominees, thereby maintaining the status quo, so now we never know how many Best Picture nominees there might be–only that there shall be no less than five and no more than ten. I guess that’s some means of maintaining suspense. Still, since five of those finalists are automatically factored-out of the Best Director race, what’s the point?

Here we go:

American Hustle (Columbia Pictures)
Producers: Megan Ellison, Jon Gordon, Charles Roven, and Richard Suckle

Blue Jasmine (Sony Pictures Classics)
Producers: Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum; Aronson is director Woody Allen’s sister though she’s not new to the biz

Captain Phillips (Columbia Pictures)
Producers: Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca, and Scott Rudin

Dallas Buyers Club (Focus Features)
Producers: Robbie Brenner and Rachel Winter

Gravity (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Producers: Alfonso Cuarón and David Heyman

Her (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Producers: Megan Ellison, Spike Jonze, and Vincent Landay

Nebraska (Paramount Pictures)
Producers: Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa

Saving Mr. Banks (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
Producers: Ian Collie, Alison Owen, and Philip Steuer

12 Years a Slave (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Producers: Anthony Katagas, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen, Brad Pitt, and Dede Gardner

Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount Pictures)
Producers: Riza Aziz, Emma Koskoff and Joey McFarland

For a complete list of all the nominees, including Best Animated Film and all the TV categories, please use the following link.

Thanks for your consideration…

Official Producers Guild of America press release: http://www.producersguild.org/news/151419/Nominations-for-Theatrical-Motion-Picture-Animated-Theatrical-Motion-Picture-and-Long-Form-TV.htm