Archive | January, 2015

Oscars 2014/2015: Best Actor

24 Jan
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In addition to the Academy’s snub of Selma director Ava DuVernay, I’m also calling foul on the omission of English actor David Oyelowo, simply mesmerizing as the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. So larger than life, so steeped in legend, is King that portraying him presents a hefty challenge for anyone, the equivalent of playing Gandhi or Abraham Lincoln, per Ben Kingsley and Daniel Day Lewis, both of whom won Oscars, btw. Oyelowo perfectly matches King’s cultivated, mellifluous Southern tones, but this great actor truly triumphs as he shows a man who only gradually grows into –and realizes–his tremendous power. (PHOTO: Paramount Pictures vis NPR)

Before I review the Best Actor contenders, as I indicated I would in the last post, I want to revisit the Selma controversy and the fact that its director Ava DuVernay was overlooked, thereby missing out on the chance to make history as the Academy’s first ever female African-American Best Director contender. Of course, even during all those decades when the slate of Best Picture nominees was limited to five, it was just as common as not for the director(s) of one of those five finalists to be ignored in the Best Director race, as was the case with Steven Spielberg (both Jaws and The Color Purple), Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy), Barbra Streisand (The Prince of Tides), and Joe Wright (Atonement); moreover, Streisand’s snub is comparable to those of Randa Haines (Children of a Lesser God), Penny Marshall (Awakenings), and Valerie Faris (one half of the team behind Little Miss Sunshine). Furthermore, two years ago the Academy nominated Kathryn Bigelow’s riveting Zero Dark Thirty for Best Picture and more, but Bigelow, who smashed the glass ceiling when she won the Best Director statuette for 2009’s The Hurt Locker, was ignored. Too much of a good thing? Okay, here’s my point: we know these things happen, but an open ended number of Best Picture slots–no less than five, no more than ten–only invites further discrepancies. I still think the Academy needs to stop chasing demographics by ensuring that there is room for a big “popcorn” extravaganza, the kind that excites 14 year old boys (or, okay, frat boys), just to boost ratings. By the way, how many escapist blockbusters are among the Academy’s final 8 this time? None, really, though for awhile it looked like Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar had a chance. Instead, Interstellar finds itself competing in a smattering of technical categories. I actually find that encouraging since I also pretty much hated Interstellar. Meanwhile, going back to DuVernay, consider the following statistic reported by Entertainment Weekly, citing Los Angeles Times research from 2012: “the directors branch is 91 percent male and 90 percent white” (Sperling 82). Uh, doesn’t this represent a credibility problem on some level since these numbers in no way represent real life in the 21st century?

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So far, Michael Keaton has won a Golden Globe, the Online Film Critics Society award, the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association award, and a Broadcast Critics’ Choice award. He shares honors with Oscar Isaac (A Most Violent Year) from the National Board of Review. He’s also in line for a Screen Actors Guild award.

Now, on to Best Actor. What we have right now appears to be a two way race that could easily turn into a three way race. On one hand, we have Michael Keaton (Birdman), a veteran enjoying his first nomination in a career that spans more than thirty years, everything from early comedy hits such as Night Shift (1982) and Mr. Mom (1983) to the ghoulish Beetlejuice and the hard hitting recovery drama Clean and Sober, both in 1988, followed by two installments in the blockbuster Batman franchise (1989, 1992). Keaton hasn’t had a strong leading role in years though he stole a few scenes in 2010’s The Other Guys. He’s ripe for a comeback, that’s for sure, and his role as a former movie super-hero trying to reinvent himself as a Broadway thesp, seems right on time. That Birdman has snagged 9 nominations only helps.

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Eddie Redmayne’s only major award at this point is a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama. Mostly, he’s been trailing Keaton. As of this writing, he is currently in the running for a SAG award and a British Academy Award.

On the other hand, relative newcomer Eddie Redmayne benefits from a role requiring complete transformation: British physicist Stephen Hawking, famous not only for the best selling A Brief History of Time but also a heroic, death defying battle against neurodegenerative disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Audiences, and that includes people who vote for awards, definitely respond to Redmayne’s strenuous effort, and his vehicle works on two familiar levels: a true story, AND, again, a role that requires physical transformation, thereby drawing attention to the most obvious aspects of an actor’s craft. He’s young, and now that he’s proven his acting mettle, he’s likely to receive more choice offers.

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Bradley Cooper (American Sniper) is on a roll. This is his third Oscar nomination in three years: Best Actor, 2012 (Silver Linings Playbook), Best Supporting Actor, 2013 (American Hustle), and now in the fact-based film based on the life of Texas native Chris Kyle, who was killed just as the film was still in pre-production. (PHOTO: Warner Bros./Very Aware)

I think American Sniper‘s Bradley Cooper is the potential upset in the bunch. I’m not predicting an upset, but I won’t be the least bit surprised if Cooper is called to the podium come awards night. Cooper was overlooked by both the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press (the Golden Globes) and the Screen Actors Guild. Furthermore, he was relegated to the “Action Movie” category at the Critics Choice awards; therefore, his presence among the final five here is, yes, a surprise, but it also means strong support for the movie as a whole–as further evidenced by its inclusion in the Best Picture category. Plus, American Sniper director Clint Eastwood is definitely known for his winning ways among actors:  Gene Hackman (Unforgiven, 1992), Tim Robbins (Mystic River, 2003), Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman (both in Million Dollar Baby, 2004).

Once upon a time, Cumberbatch played no less than Stephen Hawking in a BBC telefilm, earning a BAFTA nod in the process. Now, he’s for an Oscar and a BAFTA award in a race with another actor playing Hawking. Full circle.

If I were voting, I’d be inclined at this point–knowing that I’ve yet to see American Sniper though I plan to soon–to go with Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), my personal pick in the tortured British gents sweepstakes; the other being Redmayne as Hawking. Yes, Cumberbatch gives a commendable performance as Alan Turing, mathematician turned WWII code breaker, later vilified–criminalized–for being homosexual, but that’s not the only reason why Cumberbatch holds such appeal for me. What I really like about Cumberbatch is how he manages to be both serious actor AND full blown movie star. This six foot hunk of masculine gladness is incredibly easy on the eyes, sure, but he’s also an adventurous actor, from his work as Sherlock Holmes to a key supporting role in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and his standout villain, Khan, in Star Trek Into Darkness. He’s also appeared in The Hobbit movies and has even played Julian Assange. Plus, he made quite an impression as a relatively benevolent plantation owner in last year’s Oscar champ 12 Years a Slave. True movie stars are becoming rarer and rarer, but Cumberbatch wears the ideal well.

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Besides Oyelowo and Cumberbatch, my favorite male performance of the year–also un-nominated–is that of Brit Jack O’Connell, mind bogglingly good, in Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, the incredible story of Louis Zamperini, an American Olympic athlete who survived one harrowing turn after another as a WWII soldier. Generally kindly reviewed and a bona fide box office smash, Unbroken was largely ignored by the Academy, which only fuels discussion that the directors’ branch is just a well heeled boys club. Unbroken’s only nod is for Roger Deakins’ striking cinematography, but with 10 prior nods, including 2012’s Skyfall and 2010’s True Grit, and no wins thus far. I am not too optimistic about his chances this year. I don’t know if sentimentality counts anymore. In the meantime, O’Connell has claimed “newcomer” laurels from the likes of the National Board of Review and is up for “Rising Star” from the British Academy. (PHOTO:  Universal/Derby Telegraph)

I generally like Steve Carrell, and I know he’s treaded near Oscar territory in the past, such as an attention getting star turn in Dan at 40, and colorful supporting performances in oh so many vehicles, such as Little Miss Sunshine, but I think his nomination for playing dangerously delusional John Du Pont in Foxcatcher is a sham, a waste. Overall, the movie is incredibly tense, maybe the most relentless movie I’ve seen in that regard since 1999’s Boys Don’t Cry, and while Carrell benefits from an effective makeup job, especially a proboscis that seems to enter a given space before the rest of his body, almost making it seem as though he really MUST look down his nose at everyone,  and while he sounds a lot like the real Du Pont in his halting monotone, the effect is still very much a stunt, a one-note wonder, and, again, I’m allowing that Carrell succeeds as a fairly accurate impersonation, and that he gives exactly the kind of single minded performance director Bennett Miller wants–as though Du Pont were somehow empty on the inside–but I just don’t think it’s worthy of highest honors. Again, while I’m generally a fan of both Carrell and Mark Ruffalo (a Best Supporting Actor nominee for Foxcatcher), I was most impressed by the same film’s Channing Tatum, who played the most difficult role, a down on his luck wrestler–and Olympic gold medalist–sucked into Du Pont’s lavish lifestyle but with unforeseen conditions and consequences. His character is the one who experiences the most emotional changes, and that’s what held my attention.

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Two years ago, the Academy nominated 9 year old Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) for Best Actress. Barely a decade prior to that 13 year old Keisha Castle-Hughes snagged a nod for Whale Rider. Who knows why, but the Academy seems more inclined to recognize child actresses rather than child actors. Now 20, Ellar Coltrane, seen in this collage, was recently named the year’s Best Young Actor by the Broadcast Film Critics. PHOTO: Matt Lankes via The Guardian.

One more: with all the hoopla regarding the 12 years it took director Richard Linklater to complete Boyhood, and the lavish praise for supporting nominees, Patricia Arquette (the anointed frontrunner) and Ethan Hawke, it seems a little puzzling that Ellar Coltrane has not likewise been recognized since  his assignment, aging from 7 to 18 in front of Linklater’s probing camera, required the greatest risk, a willingness to be open and vulnerable while enduring his own adolescence. If Linklater had not cast just the right actor in the leading role, the whole project would have likely failed; after all, dozens upon dozens of child actors have fared delightfully well as half-pints only to lose their most adorable qualities during those trying teen years, often appearing embarrassingly stiff, amateurish, and out of place whereas they were once considered “naturals.” Now, of course, we know that Linklater must have chosen well since his film is such a strong contender.

Check here later for a SAG update and/or a rundown on the Oscar race for Best Supporting Actress.

Thanks for your consideration…

Sperling, Nicole. “The Woman Who Made History.” Entertainment Weekly. 30 January 2015. Print. 6 February 2015.

Oscar Post 1: Crown Thy Good with Girlhood, Anyone? Anyone???

17 Jan


Well, I think we were all expecting something a little different from the Academy this week, and by that I mean what we expected to see were signs of progress in the Best Director race. Five years after the lone victory by a female in the Academy’s Best Director category (Kathryn Bigelow, Hurt Locker),  many Oscar prognosticators anticipated a historic Best Director nomination for Ava DuVernay (Selma) which would have made her the first African-American female in her category. Would she have won? Who knows? Should members of the Academy’s male dominated–and likely white male, to be sure–directors branch have nominated DuVernay just to make history or to be politically correct? Of course not. But the whole thing still stinks. I think my sweetie nailed it when he opined that if Selma, which chronicles the landmark 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery led by Dr. Martin Luther King  Jr. and others, had been directed by a white man, it probably would have fared better. Yep, I can hear it now, some well meaning guy blathering on and on in TV interviews about how much he was influenced by Dr. King in college and all that, the director’s long held vision and all that. Once upon a time that would have seemed courageous, but now we know, among other things, that perspective is everything, and there are points of view that are equal to and sometimes even greater than that of the, what, staus quo.

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Director Ava DuVernay (Selma) came close to making history this past week as the first-ever African American female Best Director nominee. She also would have been only the fifth female and only the fourth African-American in the same category, a year after Steve McQueen and 12 Years a Slave. Of course, everyone who knows anything about Hollywood knows that African American females are simply under-represented in feature films, Tyler Perry’s steady output notwithstanding. TV, of course, is much more progressive, what with producer Shonda Rimes leading the way with the likes of Scandal, starring Kerry Washington, and the high stakes shenanigans of How to Get Away with Murder, starring the fabulous Viola Davis; meanwhile, DuVernay joins the ranks of Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou) and Dee Rees (Pariah), African-American women who wrote and directed highly praised films and then watched the Oscars from the sidelines. Still, DuVernay has made history in a different way as the first African American female to direct a Best Picture nominee, and that’s no small accomplishment. Furthermore, no less than Oprah Winfrey has made history as well as the first African American female to produce a Best Picture nominee.  I also feel compelled to include my own shout-out to Martinique born Euzhan Palcy, the first black woman to direct a feature for a major Hollywood studio, 1989’s anti-apartheid drama A Dry White Season, from MGM, for which Marlon Brando earned a Best Supporting Actor nod and for which Palcy won French César honors. Good company, indeed. (PHOTO: Collider.com)

Of course, the Academy’s directors branch is still very much a boys club, and even if those guys don’t mean to act aggressively or harshly toward women, they are still very much informed by their own myths and preconceptions. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m not excusing them. No, no, no. On the other hand, I feel compelled to share that since Thursday’s announcement, I have discovered, per the IMDb, that the directors branch includes only two African-American women among its ranks, one of whom is DuVernay, invited on the heels of 2012’s acclaimed Middle of Nowhere; the other is Kasi Lemmons, whose filmography includes 1997’s mesmerizing Eve’s Bayou.

Meanwhile, to make a wee comparison, this year’s presumed Best Picture frontrunner is Boyhood, written and directed by Austin’s Richard Linklater. By now, everybody likely knows that Linklater and his cast, including Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor nominees Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, respectively, shot the film one week at a time over a 12 year period. I can’t seem to get too excited over this movie, and one reason is that it just reminds me too much of 2011’s Tree of Life, also from an Austin based filmmaker, Terrence Malick.  What do you think?

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Meet Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first ever African-American to serve as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and only the third woman to hold the position. This week, she was put in the awkward position of defending a slate of nominees that has been questioned for being too white and too male. (PHOTO: Reuters/International Business Times)

I loved Tree of Life, but enough already with the navel gazing infatuation with what it means to come of age as a white male in this culture. I don’t want to devalue the experience or knock Linklater, but this is familiar territory going as far back as, but by no means limited to, 1986’s Stand By Me, directed by Rob Reiner (based on a novella by Stephen King).  I was somewhat relieved when a morning TV show host expressed a concern that Linklater might very well be honored for Boyhood‘s behind the scenes narrative, the whole 12-years-in-the-making thing, rather than what’s on screen. I think this TV host is on the right track, and no surprise there, not really. Selling “narratives” is a huge entry in the Oscar playbook: the comeback, the hugely successful movie that nobody wanted to make, the actor laying everything on the line to sit in the director’s chair, etc. Look at Sylvester Stallone, a little known actor who wrote 1976’s Rocky as a leading role for himself out of desperation; ditto Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and  1997’s Good Will Hunting.

Meanwhile, what about Ana DuVernay’s narrative? She got the break of a lifetime when she stepped into a project for which Lee Daniels (an Oscar nominee for 2009’s Precious and the director of 2013’s prestigious The Butler) had already been signed. Remember when Meryl Streep stepped into 1999’s Music of the Heart with only weeks’ notice after Madonna bowed out of the fact-based film? More narrative, right? Plus, let’s face it, the scale of Selma, with huge crowd scenes, is impressive. Maybe not to the degree of Gandhi or The Last Emperor, but close.

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I don’t think Wes Anderson’s cartoony caper The Grand Budapest Hotel has much of a chance at the evening’s biggest prize, which will likely turn into a tight race between Birdman and Boyhood. Still, 9 nods is impressive. At the very least, I think we can expect Anderson’s film to walk away with Best Production Design, possibly Best Costume Design and Best Hair/Makeup as well. For my money, Anderson’s visually sumptuous romp is the most sheerly delightful entry in the bunch even though it’s hardly profound. Still, kudos to the terrific cast, which includes Tony Revolori, Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, and Jason Schwartzman among others.

Still, maybe DuVernay might have been penalized due to controversies surrounding the movie’s historical accuracy. That seems a bit of a stretch given the number of biopics and/or docudramas that have also been called into question for one thing or another yet still managed to score with Oscar voters. On the other hand, maybe DuVernay, however hypocritical, is being held to a higher standard. Still, Selma was all but shut out of most races, including Best Actor (David Oyelowo), ultimately snagging only two nods, which indicates the movie just wasn’t liked by most Academy voters. On the other hand, the movie pulled in enough votes to earn a place on the Best Picture roster, along with Boyhood (6 nods), American Sniper (6 nods), The Imitation Game (8 nods), The Theory of Everything (5 nods), Whiplash, and the biggies: Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel, both of which scored 9 nods; however, given the Academy’s track record of selecting Best Picture winners with corresponding Best Director nominees, the field narrows considerably from eight to four, with only Linklater, Wes Anderson (Grand Budapest), Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman), and Clint Eastwood (American Sniper) on board–well, on board with Bennett Miller, of Foxcatcher, whose chances are surely doomed since his movie is NOT in the running for Best Picture. Miller supplants The Theory of Everything‘s Morten Tyldum who, along with Linklater, Anderson, Eastwood, and Iñárritu are in line for the prestigious Directors Guild Award. The fact is that DuVernay, who was Globe nominated, was shunned by the DGA.

Reese-Witherspoon-Filming-Wild-Pictures

Besides producing and starring in Wild (as seen here) and co-producing Oscar nominated Gone Girl starring Rosamund Pike, Reese Witherspoon also starred in 2014’s The Good Lie, a movie about Sudanese Lost Boys and the American woman who helps them settle into their new lives.

 With all the hue and cry about who didn’t get nominated, especially a certain female director, I do think Reese Witherspoon deserves credit for coming as close to anyone as this year’s Most Valuable Player. A whopping nine years after enjoying a Best Actress victory for her dynamic performance as country & western singer-songwriter June Carter Cash in Walk the Line, and suffering through a series of ho-hum offerings in the interim (though Four Christmases raked in considerable dough), Witherspoon restaked her claim as a major talent and a crackerjack business woman as well, what with producing the fact-based Wild, clearly a grueling enterprise, earning smashing reviews and a Best Actress nod in the process; moreover, the savvy Legally Blonde star also co-produced the crowd favorite Gone Girl, adapted by David Fincher from Gillian Flynn’s massive best selling mystery about the search for a missing woman (Rosamund Pike), one with famous parents, and the increasing scrutiny placed on the woman’s suspicious husband (Ben Affleck). Witherspoon bought the rights to Flynn’s novel soon after publication, no doubt as a vehicle for herself, but the director she hired had other plans. Rather than give into ego, fire the director, and regroup, Witherspoon trusted her instincts and allowed the director to do his job which worked out well, considering that Ms. Pike has now scored her first Best Actress nod, making Witherspoon the producer of not only her Oscar nominated vehicle but also the co-producer of a competing vehicle, but either way, it’s a win-win for the new mogul and likely an Academy first.  

In my next post, I’ll write about the Best Actor race.

Thanks for your consideration….

The Golden Globes and I Are Back. No Surprise?

11 Jan

Hi, long time no see. I’m glad to be back. I didn’t think it would happen. The past 7-8 weeks have brought some tumult in my life, too much for my comfort level, so I had to let a thing or two go and just deal with what was right in front of me. I will say right up front that my Oscar coverage will be limited this year. I know I will not be posting about the nominees this Thursday due to commitments beyond my control; however, I have already started writing columns about some of my favorite movies.

In the meantime, here are highlights from the Globes:

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Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) Yay! These days, I have to really plan in order to go to a theatre to see a movie, and Whiplash, in which he plays a relentless conductor, is one that has eluded me. I hope Simmons’ award buzz keeps this one in theatres awhile longer. I’ve been a Simmons fan for quite awhile thanks to his TV series work, such as Law & Order and The Closer. I’ve got my fingers crossed for him to continue his roll with an Oscar nomination–at least.

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Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood) – Committing to a project 12 years in the making is huge, and Arquette has earned the best reviews of her career. She’s on her way.

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Best Director of a Motion Picture: Richard Linklater (Boyhood) – I don’t know why I can’t get excited about this movie, but I am happy that the Texas native is doing so well this season. Certainly, filming a movie over 12 years says a lot about his vision, determination, and ability to persuade.

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Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy: Amy Adams (Big Eyes) – Adams follows her Oscar nominated and Golden Globe winning role in 2013’s American Hustle with this Tim Burton biopic about the strange career of painter Margaret Keane, whose paintings of waifish, big eyed children became pop-culture sensations in the 1960s though Keane reluctantly allowed her business savvy husband to assume all the credit until after their divorce, at which point a lawsuit with a startling twist ensued. I liked Big Eyes, and I’m happy for Adams’s success, but the film may be a wee bit quirky for Oscar voters’ tastes. I’m not sure she’s a lock; after all, she did not make the cut for the Screen Actors Guild award.

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Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy – Michael Keaton (Birdman) – Is Birdman really a comedy? Yes, I laughed, but I don’t know that it was “Ha-ha funny” as the old saw goes. Still, the role of an actor trying to reinvent himself as serious thesp decades after walking away from a super-hero franchise seems tailor made for the versatile actor who achieved superstar status after playing Batman in two films in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

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Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama: Julianne Moore (Still Alice) – What a year it’s been for Moore, what with the Cannes Best Actress award for Maps to the Stars and, now, Still Alice. She actually earned Globe nominations for both films (one comedy, one drama). Unless she splits votes with herself, she’ll likely score a nod for Still Alice, in which she plays a linguistics professor with early onset Alzheimer’s.

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Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama : Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) – Good for Redmayne. He’s been working toward major stardom ever since the likes of My Week with Marilyn and Les Miserables. His performance as physicist Stephen Hawking, who has persevered, no thrived, in spite of ALS, is transformative. Even so, I was rooting for Benedict Cumberbatch as WWII code cracker, and father of modern computing, Alan Turing in The Imitation Game. No matter, get ready for a showdown between Redmayne and Keaton with David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr in Selma waiting in the wings.

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Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy: The Grand Budapest Hotel. Texas filmmaker Wes Anderson moves closer to Oscar glory, just two years after his delightful Moonrise Kingdom. This was one of the first truly heralded movies of 2014, and it was released as far back as March, but now it’s racking up awards. Oh, and between Anderson and Linklater, what a great night for Texas filmmakers!

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Best Motion Picture Drama: Boyhood. Like The Grand Budapest Hotel. this movie has been in play for several months. Right now, it looks like the Oscar favorite, but I think latecomer Selma has the best opportunity to generate momentum.

 

Thanks for your consideration. I’ll be back.