Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Oscars Post-Mortem 2013


Jennifer Lawrence made me and almost everyone on the planet swoon, Daniel Day-Lewis embraced Meryl Streep which I’m pretty sure caused the Tree of Life to reemerge in the garden of Eden, Joaquin Phoenix remains the weirdest human being on the planet, Ben Affleck has somehow become the most likeable person on the planet, and Seth MacFarlane has seen your boobs. Oh, and, Kristen Stewart. That happened. 

The Telecast

One thought kept rolling through my mind on Sunday evening as Seth MacFarlane was doing Seth MacFarlane things: Haters gonna hate.  Hosting the Oscars has become a job with no upside lately; either you crash and burn completely (Franco & Hathaway), you’re too safe (Billy Crystal, Hugh Jackman), or you’re too much of an outsider and/or too crass (MacFarlane, Jon Stewart).  Not everyone’s going to be happy all the time.

Newsflash: MacFarlane has been making Family Guy episodes for the past fourteen years.  If anyone thought no lines were going to be crossed, and that it was going to be some sort of all-class Bob Hope type of night, then the word na├»ve doesn’t even begin to describe that person.

Anyway, yes, some jokes were great, some fell flat, and a few even—*gasp*—crossed a line or two.  But that’s par for the course.  The cries of sexism on the night were definitely really odd to me. One of my favorite Oscar Pundits, Kris Tapley, put it this way: “Amid all the cries of sexism, did no one take a breath and consider that one of the most sexist franchises ever was being honored?” (Referring to the “50 Years of Bond” tribute).

Beyond the host, though, the telecast was quite long, and I’m not sure that all of the musical stuff really fit together.  Did we need Adele to perform “Skyfall” in ADDITION to having the song during the Bond tribute? Why not just put them together?  Did we need Norah Jones to do the song from Ted?  Probably not.  Did I need more Hathaway in my evening than absolutely necessary by the insistence that the cast of Les Mis do a number?  No, but again, this show is not going to make everyone happy all the time, and you, me, and everyone need to accept that.

The Awards

Caution: Photo may solve world hunger.
I predicted 18 out of 24 categories correctly in this year’s Oscars, not anything to write home about, but in the weirdest year since I’ve been doing this I can’t be too upset about that score, considering that was a bit higher than average compared with most of the Oscar pundit “experts.”   Allow me to lay out a few items that I’ve learned this year about predicting Oscars, and a couple of thoughts on the awards in general.

(1) Precedents are useful, but should not be taken as Gospel.

I shied away at the last minute from predicting Christoph Waltz to win Best Supporting Actor in favor of DeNiro due to Waltz’s lack of a SAG nomination.  Only ONCE since the SAG awards started in the early ‘90’s has an actor/actress in any of the four categories won an Oscar without a SAG nomination, and that was Marcia Gay Harden for Pollock.  Waltz had all the momentum in the world, and DeNiro had yet to win a single precursor award for his role despite being nominated in all of them. That was stupid.  

Argo was a big fat anomaly from the beginning.  Failing to score a nod for Ben Affleck for Best Director, it would become only the fourth film ever to win Best Picture without that director nomination, which is why many had thought Lincoln would take it.  However, it would have been even more rare for it to win all of the guild awards it had won without actually winning the whole thing.

(2) The Oscars Favor Best Picture Nominees in Tech Categories...Kinda.

But not always, or with any sort of predictable consistency.  Lincoln took home Best Production Design over Anna Karenina (one of the bigger surprises of the night), although Anna Karenina still took the award for Best Costume Design.  All other tech awards were brought home by a Best Picture nominee, except for Skyfall’s shared win with Zero Dark Thirty for Sound Editing.  

(3) Daniel Day-Lewis and the words “Greatest Ever” may now be used in the same sentence.

I’m not saying that he absolutely 100% IS the greatest ever, I’m saying that this is now a conversation we can, and should start having.  Having secured his third Oscar for a leading role, he is now ahead of everyone past or present, including the likes of Spencer Tracy, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Pacino and DeNiro (not that Oscars are the end-all-be-all for this conversation, but, it’s at least very significant to the discussion).  History usually allows us the room we need to let these determinations ferment, but with Day-Lewis it’s simply too much evidence to ignore.

Hey, cool, an Oscar.
(4) Clooney.

Remember that time when MJ made his sixth three pointer in a row at the 1992 NBA Finals and just shrugged? Yeah, I’m pretty sure that was George Clooney accepting the award for Best Picture on Sunday. He didn’t make a speech (only producer not to make a speech for the film), and just stood there with a wry smile on his face, like “Cool.” What a man.

And just for fun, here’s a short little list of movies I expect to be in the discussion for Oscars around this time next year:

August: Osage County
Nebraska
The Wolf of Wallstreet
Inside Llewyn Davis
Gravity
Labor Day
Before Midnight
The Counselor

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Final Oscar Predictions 2013

Back in January, I spent a lot of time putting together a coherent set of predictions for the Oscar Nominations.  As I stated in that column, it was a very weird year for prognosticating movie awards.  That trend has continued in a lot of ways throughout the various precursor awards shows, although surprisingly, the Best Picture race is not nearly as close as I thought it would be at this point.

Of the eight major categories, there are three that I will point out that are fairly locked up, while the other FIVE have legitimate neck-and-neck races going on.  In the years I have been doing this, there haven’t been nearly that many open races in the major categories—like, not even close.  No one knows anything this year.

So, I’d say don’t waste your time reading a ton of predictions this year, except that I want you to read mine.  But have a look around the interwebs and it will be humorous to you just how wildly different everyone’s predictions will look.  Again, no one knows anything this year.

As usual, I have laid out below my predictions, complete with my perceived percentages for the winners, and what I think could win, should win, and should have been nominated.  Feel free to follow along and revel in my failure, or my success.  Enjoy, and if you happen to be tuned in to the Oscars on Sunday evening, follow me over on twitter @adamswindow and see my meltdown firsthand after my predictions go haywire.  But please don’t judge me, because again, no one knows anything this year.

BEST PICTURE:  Argo
% Sure: 98
Could Win: Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook
Should Win: Amour
Should Have Been There: The Master
Comments: This category is going to be an anomaly of epic proportions no matter how it turns out.  Argo will be only the 5th film to ever win Best Picture without a Best Director nomination.  If it somehow loses, however, it would be unprecedented to have won the number of precursor awards that it has without winning the big prize at the end.  It’s lack of a director nomination makes it just open enough that a shocker here could be in store.


BEST DIRECTOR:  Ummmm, Steven Spielberg, I guess??
% Sure:  Negative 25%.  I’ve never felt more uncertain about a prediction, ever.
Could Win: David O. Russell
Should Win:  Michael Haneke, Amour
Should Have Been There: Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master
Comments: Since Best Director normally goes hand-in-hand with Best Picture, and we know that won’t happen this year since Affleck wasn’t nominated, this category is going to be the most fun to see the winner announced on Sunday night.  I think 4 of the 5 nominees have a legitimate chance of winning, and here’s how I see it playing out:

Spielberg: 30%
David O. Russell: 27.5%
Michael Haneke: 22.5%
Ang Lee: 20%
Benh Zeitlen: 0%


BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

% Sure: 95
Could Win: Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Should Win: Daniel Day-Lewis
Should Have Been There: Denis Levant, Holy Motors
Comments: When DDL wins this award, it will be the first time a male actor has won three lead actor Oscars.  And it will be well deserved.


BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE:  Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

% Sure: 60
Could Win: Emmanuelle Riva, Amour  
Should Win: Emmanuelle Riva
Should Have Been There:  Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea
Comments: Emmanuelle Riva, age 87, has gained some major steam of late for her amazing performance in Amour, leaving Jessica Chastain in her wake and catching up to Jennifer Lawrence.  Any of the three could win, but I think it’s a two-horse race between Riva and Lawrence.  The Academy loved both movies, as each was nominated for director and best picture.  Silver Linings Playbook is the more commercially friendly movie and was nominated in all four acting categories, something that hasn’t happened in over 30 years.  I think those elements are just enough to push it over the edge and give Lawrence the win.


BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:  Robert DeNiro, Silver Linings Playbook
% Sure: 30
Could Win: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Should Win: Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Should Have Been There: I’m just glad that Waltz and Hoffman were both nominated. If I had to pick one, I’d go with Javier Bardem in Skyfall.
Comments: Actually, this category is almost as difficult as Director. Jones, DeNiro, and Waltz could all win and I would not be surprised. This is stupid. I quit.


BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:  Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
% Sure: 99.5
Could Win: Sally Field, Lincoln
Should Win: Gotta give it up to Ms. Hathaway here.  She was excellent.
Should Have Been There: Ann Dowd, Compliance
Comments: Ok, phew, we’re finally back to a category I’m sure about.  Equally certain is that Hathaway will somehow find a way to annoy the ever-living crap out of me on Oscar night.


BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:  Django Unchained
% Sure: 60
Could Win: Amour
Should Win: Moonrise Kingdom
Should Have Been There: Holy Motors
Comments: Another wide open race here between Django Unchained and Amour.  Tarantino lost this award in 2009 when The Hurt Locker ousted Inglorious Basterds, even though most thought he was the favorite to win.  I think this award will be really indicative of who will win Best Actress—if Amour somehow wins this, then I think Riva also wins Best Actress rather than Jennifer Lawrence.


BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:  Argo
% Sure: 80
Could Win: Lincoln
Should Win: Lincoln
Should Have Been There: 21 Jump Street
Comments: Your Best Picture winner is going to take this one.  If it doesn’t, look out.


BEST FILM EDITING:  Argo
% Sure: 90
Could Win: Zero Dark Thirty
Should Win: Argo
Should Have Been There:  Looper
Comments:  I simply cannot see Argo winning Best Picture without also taking home this award.  If it fails to pick up this Oscar early in the evening, look out for a BP upset.


BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:  Life of Pi % Sure: 70
Could Win: Skyfall
Should Win: Skyfall
Should Have Been There:  The Master
Comments:  The only thing holding me back from saying Life of Pi is sure to win this, is that Roger Deakins, cinematographer of Skyfall, has been nominated many times and had an amazing career, yet never won the award.  He is sorely overdue.  And Skyfall is great work and deserves to be awarded.  But Life of Pi is no weak candidate here, and its aesthetic is so tightly woven into its story that I think it might just be too hard to ignore.  


BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN:  Anna Karenina
% Sure: 60
Could Win: Les Miserables
Should Win: Lincoln (Full Disclosure: haven’t seen Anna Karenina)
Should Have Been There: Moonrise Kingdom
Comments: I’m very hesitant to predict this, because Les Miserables could easily take it, and this category usually likes to award films nominated for Best Picture over non-nominees (a trend you will see reflected in the rest of my predictions, as well).  Hopefully Anna Karenina is just too much of a behemoth in this category to ignore in favor of lesser (although good) work in Les Miserables.


BEST COSTUME DESIGN: Anna Karenina
% Sure: 55
Could Win: Les Miserables
Should Have Been There: A nod for Beasts of the Southern Wild would’ve been cool here.
Comments: Les Miserables could easily take this and I wouldn’t be surprised, but Anna Karenina has beat it out in a number of precursor awards.  Another coin-flip here. Whatever.



BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING:  Les Miserables
% Sure: 90
Could Win: Whatever
Should Win: Whatever
Should Have Been There: Holy Motors
Comments: Just going with the theory that it’s a Best Picture nominee against non-nominees. Whatever, moving along...


BEST SOUND MIXING:  Les Miserables
% Sure: 90
Could Win: Life of Pi
Should Win: Les Miserables
Should Have Been There: All good noms, I suppose.
Comments: Big musicals with a lot of nominations rarely lose this one. Easy money.

BEST SOUND EDITING:  Life of Pi

% Sure: 75
Could Win: Zero Dark Thirty
Should Win: Life of Pi
Should Have Been There:
Comments: Tiger and other zoo animals. Ship sinking. Mysterious island. Streets of India. Lots of sound effects here. This is a tough category, but I’m fairly confident in my prediction.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:  Life of Pi
% Sure: 100
Could Win: The Hobbit
Should Win: Life of Pi
Should Have Been There:
Comments: The last time a non-Best Picture nominee beat out a Best Picture nominee in this category was in 1970.  Last year, I bet against these odds and my prediction ended up being wrong.  Not making that mistake this year.  As Life of Pi is the only BP nom in the visual effects category, bet against it at your own risk.


BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM:  Wreck-It Ralph
% Sure: 70
Could Win: Brave
Should Win: Wreck-It Ralph
Should Have Been There:
Comments: There’s a little bit of a race here between Pixar and Disney.  Pixar has dominated this category throughout the years but faltered last year when Cars 2 disappointed and Rango took home the prize.  Brave is better than Cars 2, and has some amazing animation, but Wreck-It Ralph is the better story, is more innovative, and is the better film overall.  I think people will be glad to award Disney for their work here.  


BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:  Amour
% Sure: 110
Could Win: That’s My Boy.  It wasn’t nominated, but it has as much of a chance as any of the four nominees not named Amour.
Should Win: Amour
Should Have Been There: Holy. Freaking. Motors
Comments:  A foreign film that was nominated for Best Picture has never failed to win this award.  The only question here is whether Amour can take home any other awards it was nominated for besides this one.  


BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:  Searching for Sugar Man
% Sure: 89.5
Could Win: The Invisible War
Should Win: Considering I haven’t seen any of the nominees...I will abstain.
Should Have Been There: The Queen of Versailles
Comments: Sugar Man will win.  Moving along...


BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: Life of Pi

% Sure: 75
Could Win: Lincoln
Should Win: Lincoln
Should Have Been There: The Master
Comments: It’s either Life of Pi or Lincoln here.


BEST ORIGINAL SONG: “Skyfall” by Adele

% Sure: 110
Comments: Easy. Moving along.


BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM:  Curfew

% Sure:  79.5
Could Win: Death of a Shadow
Should Win: Curfew...the only one that was even remotely good.
Comments:  Hey, I’ve actually seen all these! They were not a very good slate this year, but Curfew was the only one that I could legitimately see winning here...the other nominees were all well-shot, but were all some combination of manipulative, contrived, or inconsequential, in my estimation.  Curfew was fun and moving, and to boot was the only English-language nominee.  


BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM:  Paperman

% Sure:  90
Could Win: Adam and Dog
Should Win: Paperman
Comments:  I think Disney will win it’s first of two awards with this category, with the emotional and retro Paperman.  Adam & Dog is probably the more meaningful film, and is wonderfully animated, but Paperman just makes you feel the feels and also has a cool visual style to it, the combination of which I think will be more than enough to get it the win.  


BEST DOCUMENTARY, SHORT SUBJECTS:  Open Heart

% Sure: 50
Comments: No comments, because literally no one cares about this category, including me.



Friday, February 1, 2013

Review: 'Amour'


I won’t ever forget the last time I spoke with my Grandpa.  He didn’t get out of bed too often in the last few months of his long life, and although he wasn’t terminally sick yet on that day, I knew it was only a matter of time until the next illness would just be too much.  I knelt beside his bed and held his hand. We talked about fishing, chasing pretty girls, and whether I could help him “go sue some people;” nothing of much consequence, yet nothing of greater significance.  I sat next to him until he was getting noticeably tired from talking, I told him that I loved him very much, and when I walked out of the room I knew in my heart that it would be the last time I saw him.

In Amour, recently nominated for Best Picture for this year’s Oscars, director Michael Haneke explores the universality of this type of experience, and portrays the realities of aging and death in a way few films ever have.

An aging but vibrant middle-class French couple, Georges and Anne (Jean-Louis Trintignant, and Emmanuelle Riva, who was Oscar-nominated for her role) experience misfortune when Anne suffers a stroke one morning at the breakfast table.  This comes as no surprise to the viewer, since a sequence at the beginning of the film shows firemen breaking into the couple’s Parisian flat to find Anne’s dead but delicately arranged body on the their bed, covered with flowers and dressed in fine clothing.  

We know that life has taken its course with Anne, what we don’t know is how her stroke affects her life, as well as Georges, their family (a middle-aged daughter played by Isabelle Huppert), and acquaintances as her condition deteriorates throughout the film.  No stranger to depicting harsh realities throughout his oeuvre, Haneke doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable truths of terminal care; we see long sequences of Anne attempting menial tasks such as opening a book or putting on her reading glasses with her one good arm, and Georges assisting her into and out of her bed and wheelchair.  As she becomes less and less able to take care of herself, Georges must help Anne with her restroom, feeding, and speech therapy needs, and one particularly painful sequence involves a nurse giving a mentally detached Anne a sponge bath while she murmurs “hurts” over and over.   

Riva and Trintignant are brilliant in their roles, but Haneke’s direction is what allows them to shine, and is what made the film so magnetic to me.  Haneke films always take a bit of a voyeuristic approach, and his commanding presence behind the camera can tend to feel as though he is a character himself in the film.  The story contains such specificity that it could only be told by someone with first-hand experience.   Every shot he takes, every movement by an actor, every line of dialogue, every set piece or costume choice, is deliberately chosen and painstakingly considered.  The precision on display is simply unparalleled in 2012 cinema.

If you’re familiar with his prior work, you know that Haneke (Funny Games, Cache, The White Ribbon) has a penchant for violence, and startling his viewers.  Although there is no bloodshed in Amour, and is centered on two characters who are deeply in love, it is no less violent than his prior work due to the sheer nakedness of the subject matter.  Accordingly, as Anne continues on a downward spiral, Georges is increasingly perplexed at how to best care for his Love, and once she is gone, life doesn’t exactly reach out and offer the catharsis one might think he deserves. The earth keeps spinning, clocks tick at precisely the same rate, and a withered old man is unceremoniously spat out on the other side.  And so it goes with life.

Haneke captures this surrealism expertly.  Although I do feel that I was able to reach some closure on the last day I saw my grandpa, the surrealism of it is what I remember most about that experience. At that moment, I looked around the room that my grandparents had lived in my entire life, and thought about how the furniture, decorations, picture frames and such were mostly the exact same as they were in my first memories of that home, and would continue on just as they always had. Like in the movie, it felt harsh and unfair, as though the place that sourced so much love and happiness over the years couldn’t be bothered to trouble itself with the frailty of its own beating heart, and the inevitable sadness it was soon to host.  

A scene near the film’s end shows a pigeon that flies into Georges and Anne’s flat from their courtyard and begins poking around, and although literary devices are used sparingly in this film, the symbolism is well-executed here.  The pigeon is confused, and not really looking for a way out, but trying to cope with the unnatural state it finds itself in.  

I suppose all of us are.