Archive | February, 2015

That’s a Wrap: Oscars 2014/2015

23 Feb

Well, here I am contemplating today’s DFW metroplex ice storm, grateful for the opportunity that life has slowed down enough for me to indulge in my annual Oscar fascination even though I’m uncharacteristically uninspired by most of this year’s nominees. Of course, the good thing for any Oscar nominee is that it only competes against the year’s other films and not memories of Oscars past. If that were the case, I don’t really think too many of this year’s batch would even qualify for a nod, but I digress… I also freely admit that I used to be a much bigger Neil Patrick Harris fan than I am currently. Now, I find him mostly insufferable. Maybe he’s over-exposed?  Even as a nod to Birdman, his skivvies stunt was in bad taste, an all new Academy low, and I bet a lot of viewers turned off their TVs at that point. Didn’t Ellen do a bang-up job last year? Should we expect a ratings dip this year? Probably, but not just because of Neil Patrick Harris.

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In his speech, Best Supporting Actor winner J.K. Simmons implored viewers to call their moms; he emphasized that texting was not the same as calling. Good for him, (PHOTO: Getty Images via Examiner)

Okay, so after Mr. Harris’s lackluster but mercifully brief monologue, beautiful Lupita Nyong’o emerged to award Best Supporting Actor, and the winner, unsurprisingly, was J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) who has dominated his category this year thanks to his blistering portrayal of a merciless jazz conductor. I’m happy that it was this actor, who has been so good for so long in such enterprises as Law and Order and The Closer, not to mention those catchy Farmers Insurance commercials, which i’d still rather watch instead of Neil Patrick Harris. (His performance in Gone Girl was also a turn-off.) Plus, I LOVED Whiplash, the year’s sleeper Best Picture candidate, but I have a wee persnickety problem with Simmons,  and that is that it’s really hard to think of Simmons in Whiplash as a supporting player. Nope. He’s the second lead, the antagonist to star Miles Teller’s protagonist. Without Simmons, there is no movie. That noted, I don’t know that if I had had the chance I would have voted any differently even though Edward Norton was a lot of fun in Birdman. Right now, I can’t recall an outright supporting actor snub among 2014 releases.

Oh, and good call on the Academy’s part for honoring Whiplash‘s sound team. Perfect. The movie is all about its sound.. The audience has to hear every note–every nuance, every inflection–to fully absorb the story’s dynamics. What a way to go! Understandably, Whiplash also won for Best Editing, pretty much for the same reasons. What’s super amazing is that Whiplash won in a category normally dominated by movies that feature high-octane action sequences, including science fiction/fantasy extravaganzas and/or war movies: Gravity (2013), Hurt Locker (2009), Black Hawk Down (2001), Saving Private Ryan (1998), etc. Still, Whiplash, even as a micro-budgeted two-character study, is all about rhythm, so its  victory over the likes of American Sniper and the massive endeavor known as Boyhood (with 12 years’ worth of footage) is welcome, and, really, reveals Academy members to be quite astute. Yay! Three Oscars for Whiplash is smashing, but I was hoping that writer-director Damien Chazzelle would take home his own golden statuette for Best Adapted Screenplay. Oh, sure, Imitation Game‘s Graham Moore’s exceptional speech ranks among the evening’s highlights, no problem there, but Chazzelle’s story–based on his own short film–is quite the ride, with second and third act twists that up the suspense quotient. Now, that’s what I call storytelling.

Hooray for costume designer Milena Canonero of The Grand Budapest Hotel, her fourth win after Barry Lyndon (1975), Chariots of Fire (1981), and Marie Antoinette (2006); moreover, Canonero’s win signaled the first of 4 awards for Texas native Wes Anderson’s lavish comic caper, a win immediately followed by the Oscar for Best Makeup (Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier). Yay! On the other hand, I would have easily welcomed a makeup award for the super silly blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy. (Too bad Guardians of the Galaxy lost Visual F/X Oscar to the tiresome Interstellar, a major hit that did not snag as many nominations as predicted much earlier in the season.) Of course, The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s production design team of Adam Stockhausen and Anna Pinnock walked away with Oscars for Best Art Direction/Set Decoration. I think this has been a no-brainer ever since the movie opened last spring. Finally, The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s composer Alexandre Desplat won his first Oscar after 7 previous nods, sort of, one of which was also 2014’s The Imitation Game.  Win some, lose some, right Alex? After all that, I was primed for Grand Budapest writer-director Wes Anderson to duke it out for Best  Original Screenplay honors with fellow Texan Richard Linklater (Boyhood).

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PHOTO: Huffington Post

Jared Leto sauntered onstage and made a funny joke about Meryl Streep, and then announced the winner for Best Supporting Actress. Again, no surprise: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood), and she looked lovely! Well, good for her. Oh, and that speech about women deserving equal rights. WOW! Whatta way to tear the house down! (This a good thing, I assure you!) The audience ate it up, seemingly led  by, yes, Meryl Streep. Alas, after months of build-up, Boyhood stalled right then and there, a bit of a surprise  Sure, Alejandro González Iñárritu won the Directors Guild Award for Birdman, so his cleanup at the Oscars could hardly be called an upset; however, I really thought that Texan Richard Linklater’s vision and commitment  to Boyhood would impress Academy members more, resulting in a consolation prize in the screenwriting category. Nope. Linklater lost in the Best Original Screenplay category to  Iñárritu and company as well. (Unofficially, I still feel Selma‘s Carmen Ejogo was, to put it mildly, robbed.)

I wasn’t really surprised when Big Hero 6 won for Best Animated Film because my students overwhelmingly gave it their vote when polled about their favorite movie of the year. Okay, now I will definitely watch it. That noted, it was still a shock that the also incredibly popular Lego Movie was snubbed, meaning no nod at all. Less surprising though no less disappointing was the Academy’s snub of Rio 2, a great big colorful gift of a movie, but that’s just me I guess.

Applause, applause for Common and John Legend for “Glory” from Selma. The song was stirring, the audience loved it, and I respect anyone who quotes Nina Simone in an Oscar acceptance speech. I’m glad “Glory” won even though I have a soft spot for “Everything is Awesome” from the aforementioned Lego Movie. The other song nominees included the moving “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from the documentary chronicling 60-70s music and TV star Glen Campbell’s struggle with Alzheimer’s, Glen Campbell: I’ll be Me (emotionally, if shakily, performed by Tim McGraw). Also, trivia alert in that “Lost Stars” from Begin Again (performed by Adam Levine of Maroon 5) is co-written by Danielle Brisebois, whose name is familiar with anyone who remembers her stint as young Stephanie, Edith Bunker’s niece, on All in the Family and the retooled Archie Bunker’s Place.

Most of the show was just dull, dull, dull, and so predictable. Do I care that Julianne Moore won an Oscar for Still Alice, a  movie that most Americans have not seen? (Approximately $8 million at the box office and counting.) Well, okay, I guess, and now the movie will likely expand its audience thanks to its Oscar cred. I guess that’s a good thing for a movie starring a reputable actress over 50. I like Moore well enough, and I alway have, but I can’t seem to work up much enthusiasm for watching her play a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. [Still Alzheimer’s?] I’d rather watch Glen Campbell’s documentary. At least he’s not ACTING, ACTING, ACTING for the camera. This is the one time when I feel like I must draw the line at what at least appears a calculated stunt on the Academy’s behalf. Over the past week, I’ve read articles unanimously agreeing that Moore surely had this one in the bag, on her fifth nod, while also arguing that she’s been better in other offerings, including her recent Cannes triumph, Maps to the Stars. Oh, and to clarify, I’m not especially bowled over by Redmayne’s gimmicky performance, but he at least has the advantage of portraying an important, complex, real-life historical figure. Still Alice is based on a novel, but it’s still fiction however well-meaning. I have a hard time believing the movie’s sole purpose is and was to land Moore an Oscar. My personal pick for Best Actress, among the official nominees, would have been Reese Witherspoon (Wild), and I have already gone on record with that. Unofficially? Hilary Swank, brilliant–as usual–in The Homesman, or maybe Jenny Slate in last summer’s buzzworthy indie, Obvious Child.

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Eddie Redmayne’s Oscar victory comes as he basks in the throes of newlywed bliss; he and Hannah Bagshawe married only two months ago. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

Again, even though J. K. Simmons, Patricia Arquette, and even Julianne Moore gave incredible speeches, their victories were entirely predictable. On the other hand, Eddie Redmayne’s Best Actor triumph for portraying Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything was a wee bit of a surprise. Oh sure, Redmayne won the SAG award, a reliable Oscar indicator, so his Oscar win wasn’t a HUGE surprise, but given the Academy’s love for Birdman, Redmayne’s victory over sentimental favorite Michael Keaton has to register as an upset on some level, at least to Keaton. That noted, as much as I admire Redmayne, he wasn’t my first choice. I would have gone with either Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) or, yes, Bradley Cooper (American Sniper). Oh, I know, American Sniper has plenty of detractors, most of whom direct their vitriol toward the movie’s politics, but I see it much differently, to be addressed later; however, i have to say that Cooper’s performance as Texan Chris Kyle, the titular real-life figure ironically killed on American soil after serving multiple tours of duty in Iraq, took me by surprise. I’ve often found Cooper a lightweight: likeable, sure, but sometimes over his head in dramatic–or weighty–roles, but not so in American Sniper. There are moments in the film in which his acting choices startle(d) me, and I can’t say the same for Redmayne as his physically intense performance impresses on a much more obvious level. And I’m not alone. I read two articles over the past week heralding a last minute surge in Cooper’s favor. (Unofficially, I still think Selma‘s David Oyelowo deserves props.) 

In the end, the two most nominated movies, Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel, tied for the most awards: 4 for 9 in both cases. Birdman‘s take also included cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, a rare back-to-back winner in his category. [John Toll was similarly honored in the 1990s with Legends of the Fall and Bravheart.]   Last year, you’ll recall, Lubezki finally took home the gold for Gravity in his sixth Oscar race. In Birdman, Lubezki creates movie magic by working in long, seemingly unbroken Steadicam shots. A neat trick, that, but I was rooting for 11 time nominee Roger Deakins (Unbroken). I loved Unbroken, maybe my favorite movie of all 2014, and Deakins is consistently worth watching as evidenced by the likes of Skyfall (for which he won the American Society of Cinematographers award), the 2010 True Grit reboot, and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, among others.

Meanwhile, all 8 Best Picture nominees won awards. Aside from Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Whiplash: American Sniper (Best Sound Editing, aka Sound Effects), Boyhood (Best Supporting Actress), The Imitation Game (Best Adapted Screenplay), Selma (Best Song), and The Theory of Everything (Best Actor). On the other hand, how is it that the second or third most moving segment of the whole night had nothing, NOTHING, to do with any film released in 2014? Of course, I’m referring to Lady Gaga’s absolutely stellar rendition of songs from The Sound of Music, not the least of which was the gloriously rendered title tune. Then, for Julie Andrews to come on stage immediately afterward, so obviously moved, there’s that word again, so gracious. That’s the difference between making a movie for the ages and making one, such as Birdman, for the moment. Furthermore, keep in mind that in spite of all the huzzahs, Birdman has proven only slightly more accessible than Moore’s Still Alice. Per Box Office Mojo, Birdman has earned a relatively moderate 38 million on a budget of 18 million. Not impressive. No, the movie, about a former movie super hero trying to stage his own Broadway comeback, plays mostly to viewers who dig show-biz insider jokes (including, obviously, Academy members). Oh, and speaking of inside jokes, as tasteless as Best Picture presenter Sean Penn’s green card crack was regarding Iñárritu’s win for Birdman, I’m willing to let it go if Iñárritu is since he and Penn have a history, meaning 2003’s 21 Grams. Still, it wasn’t Penn’s best move, yet we’re used to it by now whether we should be or not, but I digress. On the other hand, and for what it’s worth, the one Best Picture nominee to overwhelmingly connect with moviegoers, American Sniper ($320 million + three weeks at no. 1) is also the title that has most seriously divided media hacks. Hard to imagine that fifty years from now anyone will care about the too-meta-for-its-own-good Birdman, with its trippy camera work, non-ending, and convenient casting (as a former Batman portrays the former Birdman), or even Neil Patrick Harris, but the hills will always be alive with the sound of music…

Thanks for your consideration….


Oscars 2014/2015: Best Supporting Actress

1 Feb

So, last Sunday night I settled in for the Screen Actors Guild awards, anticipating an outcome not unlike the Golden Globes, and that’s pretty much what I got, and keep in mind that as the Screen Actors Guild’s membership overlaps, somewhat, with the Academy’s actors branch, there’s every reason to take heed.

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Do you know one Best Supporting Actress award Patricia Arquette did not win this season? The one from the Los Angeles Film Critic Association. Of course, that’s because she actually won that group’s award for Best Actress, ha! (PHOTO: JoBlo via YouTube)

So, let’s take a closer look at this year’s Oscar race for Best Supporting Actress. The smart money is on Patricia Arquette (Boyhood). So far, Arquette has captured the greatest share of high profile prizes in her category: Golden Globe-check!; SAG award-check! Broadcast Critics’ Choice-check! Dallas-Fort Worth Critics Association award-check! Indeed, this has pretty much been Arquette’s race to lose ever since she won the first award of the season, from the New York Film Critics Circle. Well, even though I still have a hard time working up any enthusiasm for this movie, I am happy for Arquette. She, as has been duly noted, comes from a long line of performers–grandpa Cliff Arquette made his name by taking his “Charley Weaver” character on a number of TV shows, including Jack Parr’s Tonight Show stint and Hollywood Squares; sister Rosanna made a splash in the early 1980s with the likes of The Executioner’s Song, Baby It’s You, and Desperately Seeking Susan. After working steadily in movies for several years, starting in the late 1980s, she hit in her stride playing a psychic in TV’s Medium, for which she earned an Emmy. It’s funny to think that during the show’s run of six and half seasons, she was already in the midst of working on Boyhood.

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I’m happy for Dern, seen here in Wild.  I still think her performance as Citizen Ruth (1996) is one of the greatest comic inventions ever. EVER. If you have not seen this fearless wonder yet, please add it to your movie bucket list. (PHOTO: Fox Searchlight via

In the event that Arquette loses her lead, Laura Dern (Wild) is well situated to pull ahead as a sentimental favorite.  Nominated for playing Reese Witherspoon’s much adored mother in a series of flashbacks, Dern is second generation Hollywood, daughter of Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd, both with multiple Oscar races to their credit. Dad Bruce was nominated just last year for Nebraska (his second go-round) while two of mom Diane’s three Oscar nominations are in films co-starring her famous daughter: David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990) and Rambling Rose (1991), in which Laura portrayed the title character and earned her only prior Oscar nod. Acting since she was a teen, Laura Dern has chalked up an impressive filmography that includes everything from Mask and Blue Velvet (also David Lynch) to Jurassic Park; likewise, she has forged a successful TV career as well, earning Emmy nominations for Enlightened, Afterburn, Ellen (the famed “Puppy” episode), and Recount, in which she gave by all accounts an unforgettable performance, love it or hate it, as Katherine Harris, the snarky, self-important Republican lackey charged with supervising the recount of Florida’s ballots after the notoriously bungled 2000 presidential election. Her latest role is far removed from Harris. It’s somewhat slight in nature, which might explain why Dern has sat out much of the awards season, overlooked as a contender at both the Golden Globe and SAG awards, among others.

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Best Supporting Actress nominee Emma Stone (Birdman) is currently earning raves as Sally Bowles in the Broadway revival of Cabaret.

Hooray, at long last, for wonderful Emma Stone (Birdman). I’ve been rooting for this dynamo to earn an Oscar nod since being wowed by her righteous comic turn in 2010’s Easy A, a high school variation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.  Stone deservedly scored a Golden Globe nomination for that one–which I hope to write about in depth one day; the very next year she shone even brighter with splashy roles in Crazy Stupid Love and The Help, a box office blockbuster and Best Picture nominee. Regarding the latter, she was particularly good as an aspiring journalist–and well meaning daughter born of white privilege. In a cast that included Best Actress nominee Viola Davis, Best Supporting Actress winner Octavia Spencer, and Best Supporting Actress nominee Jessica Chastain, Stone held her own, and I could have easily supported a Best Actress nod had it materialized. For me, The Help reigned as 2011’s best acted movie, hence its SAG award for Best Ensemble, and everyone in it was award worthy, but I digress. Now, Stone is nominated for playing Michael Keaton’s slightly shifty daughter, fresh from rehab, in Birdman.

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Knightley was nominated for Best Actress for 2005’s big screen adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a mere two years after making a splash in a string of 2003 releaes: Bend It Like Beckham, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Love, Actually.

Kiera Knightley’s Best Supporting Actress nod for The Imitation Game goes a long way toward redeeming the actress after a lackluster performance in Anna Karenina, a lavishly mounted production–with Oscar winning costumes by Jacqueline Durran–that succeeded in spite of Knightley’s leading performance rather than because of it. Actually, 2014 was a pretty good year for Knightley, considering not only The Imitation Game but also the generally well reviewed Indie Begin Again, co-starring Mark Ruffalo (from writer-director John Carney, of Once). On the other hand, am I the only person who cringed every time the trailer for Laggies, with Knightley as an unemployed free spirit, played? In The Imitation Game, Knightley plays Joan Clarke, a brilliant mathematician who worked as code breaker right alongside Alan Turing during WWII; the two were briefly engaged to be married in spite of Turing’s homosexuality. As good as Kinghtley is as Clarke, I almost feel as though both she and Stone are slumming in this category. In other words, Kightley is a star, not a supporting player, and the Academy will have plenty of chances to honor her in a role more befitting her leading lady status, but this nomination is a nice touch for now.

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The role of Into the Woods’ witch has been played on stage by the likes of Bernadette Peters, Cleo Laine, and Vanessa Williams; meanwhile, original cast member Joanna Gleason won a Tony for her portrayal of The Baker’s Wife, now played on screen by Emily Blunt, one of Streep’s underlings in 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada.

The Witch is arguably the plum role in Stephen Sondheim’s revisionist take on such popular fairy tales as Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel. Streep established her vocal chops awhile back–and she has a grand time playing this extreme character, bringing a lot of shading to the role; however, as wonderful as she is, I don’t think she has much of a chance. She’s going for Oscar number four, and it’s only been three years since she nabbed number three (2011’s Margaret Thatcher biopic, The Iron Lady). Nobody will groan if Steep wins because she’s practically an institution and such fun at awards’ shindigs. Even if she loses, this lady is unstoppable as evidenced by the fact that six of her 19 Oscar nods have come in the past decade, and, to clarify, Streep is 65. Few of her peers work as steadily and on such a heightened scale. Listing her string of Oscar nominations is one of my favorite things. Here goes. First, two wins for Best Actress (Sophie’s Choice, 1982; The Iron Lady, 2011); one win for Best Supporting Actress (Kramer vs Kramer, 1979);  two additional nods for Best Supporting Actress (The Deer Hunter, 1978; Adaptation, 2002), and thirteen for Best Actress (The French Lieutenant’s Woman, 1981; Silkwood, 1983; Out of Africa, 1985; Ironweed, 1987; A Cry in the Dark, 1988; Postcards from the Edge, 1990; The Bridges of Madison County, 1995; One True Thing, 1998; Music of the Heart, 1999, The Devil Wears Prada, 2006; Doubt, 2008; Julie & Julia, 2009, and August: Osage County, 2013). Brava.

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In Selma, Carmen Ejogo (l) etches a finely nuanced portrayal of Coretta Scott King (r), one that should be receiving major accolades, and not just because the actress uncannily resembles her real-life counterpart. That’s just a bonus.

Who will I be rooting for, come Oscar night? Really? Maybe none of the above. Oh, I like Arquette well enough, and I won’t complain if she wins, especially since I have not seen her performance. Maybe I’ll be a smidge happier if Dern wins, but I won’t be heartbroken if she loses. The truth is, I don’t think any of these performances come close to matching the power of Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King in Selma. Born in London, of Nigerian and Scottish descent, Ejogo previously portrayed Coretta Scott King on television in 2001’s Boycott. Her credits also include the lead role in TV’s Sally Hemmings: An American Scandal. At any rate, Ejogo commands the screen in Selma, playing a woman who loves and supports her husband but refuses to be pushover even though doing so would be much more convenient. Ejogo plumbs emotional depths I had not expected; after all, she’s not the lead, and who expects a supporting player to make a vivd impression in a movie about such a towering historical figure as Martin Luther King? For my money, no performance, in any category, in all of 2014 was as persuasive as Ejogo’s.  She was robbed, and now I don’t care who wins Best Supporting Actress.

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Snowpiercer features a Tilda Swinton and amazing production design. Coincidentally, Swinton also appears in Best Piicture nominee The Grand Budapest Hotel, a film also noted for lavish design.

Tilda Swinton, who won in this category for 2007’s Michael Clayton, was hardly robbed,  but reports persisted that voters were strongly interested in her performance as a sour faced lieutenant on a futuristic train with a militantly enforced class system in the slam-bang Snowpiercer, the English debut of South Korean director Joon-ho Bong (The Host). Indeed, Swinton eked out a nod for a Critics Choice award via the Broadcast Film Critics Association and picked up honors from the Las Vegas Film Critics Society. An Oscar nod for Swinton would have been a kick and added life to this roster. Alas, not to be. I was also hoping that Snowpiercer would have been recognized by Academy members for its over-the-top production design. Alas, also not to be though the film, also starring Chris Evans, Octavia Spencer, Jamie Bell, and John Hurt, has scored multiple prizes at film festivals in Asia and in the United States.



No surprise that Arquette and J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) won supporting honors, but SAG voters still had a trick or two up their sleeves…

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Eddie Redmayne looks shocked as he holds his SAG award for The Theory of Everything. The 33 year old Brit also claims a Tony for Best Featured Actor for John Logan’s Mark Rothko inspired play, Red. (PHOTO: Reuters/International Business Times.)

We’ve known all along that the Oscar for Best Actor would likely wind up as a two man race between Michael Keaton (Birdman) and Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), but Keaton seemed to have a slight edge for two reasons: 1. Sentiment; 2. His Birdman is one of the year’s two most nominated flicks; however, SAG voters were more inclined to recognized Brit, and relative newcomer, Redmayne for his deep immersion into the role of genius Stephen Hawking. This is significant because the SAG winner for Best Actor almost always goes on to win the Oscar. Indeed, this has been the case for the past 10 years, so has Redmayne pulled ahead to the head of the pack?  Still too close to tell. On the other hand, Birdman’s cast was honored with the SAG’s best ensemble acting award, thwarting Boyhood‘s momentum.

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Even though I thought Julianne Moore’s SAG speech could have been more gracious, I loved her emerald gown. (PHOTO: Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, I did not love Julianne Moore’s SAG victory speech. The actress is sitting pretty now, only weeks away from what will likely be a triumphant Oscar night–for her fifth nomination. Just as I have a hard time getting excited about watching Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, I confess that I can’t work up much enthusiasm for watching Moore play a a woman with Alzheimer’s, that is, early-onset Alzheimer’s in Still Alice. I like Moore, especially in supporting roles, but I just don’t think I like her well enough to take Alice’s trip with her. At any rate, she lost me during her SAG acceptance speech when she more or less mocked her big break on TV’s classic daytime drama, As the World Turns. When Moore  began her stint on the show she was a mere 25, and she ultimately won a Daytime Emmy for her work as Frannie Hughes who also had a twin, Sabrina. Many young performers would be grateful for such an opportunity. There was no need for Moore to be so dismissive of her past just because she has gone to bigger and better things. I wish she hadn’t done that.

Next up? Best Supporting Actor

Thanks for your consideration….