Tuesday, September 16, 2014

2014 Oscar Predictions: Best Picture


And now we arrive at the Best Picture race, and the weirdness that it brings.  The reality is that the Best Picture race isn’t quite as much fun to discuss this early out because with actors you have past history, and where their career has been heading for a few years and the like, but with Best Picture it’s all about that buzz in September, particularly considering that there are few if any likely nominees that have been in theaters recently, save for one:  Boyhood.

Boyhood is getting universal acclaim, and were we back in the days of the five-wide Best Picture race, my gut would be that Richard Linklater would be the odd-man-out and be taking a prestige Best Director nomination while Best Picture would go to something a bit more mainstream.  However, with a 5+ field, it seems likely that all Best Director contenders until the end of time make it also in the Best Picture race, so I’m going to predict that this also makes it here, though again, this is a bit “out-there” as far as Oscar is concerned (it’ll be the weirdest nomination since The Tree of Life).

I think it’s quite clear after Toronto that Harvey has a winner in The Imitation Game, which is getting mad plaudits from pretty much every corner of the universe, and after what’s been a fairly weak Box Office year for the Weinsteins, this is definitely something they will need.  Ditto Focus Features and The Theory of Everything, which is getting strong enough reviews for its leads that it will surely also compete here, even if it’s the sort of film that would have Seabiscuit-ed a few years ago (Best Picture, no Director).

On the near horizon we have the Jolie-Pitts, recently wed and both involved in major war stories this fall: both Fury (Pitt) and Unbroken (Jolie) seem likely to make the conversation, with Jolie probably in the hunt to become the fifth woman to receive a Best Director nomination and the first to score both there and acting (somewhere Barbra Streisand is wearing a Team Jen shirt). 

Christopher Nolan will be one of her competitors, and we'll see if he can either get his first nomination for Best Director or possibly break his record with Rob Reiner (both men have received three nominations at the DGA Awards while never translating that to Oscar's Best Director category).  If Nolan can make it for Inception, though, it seems certain he’ll also be a conversation topic for Interstellar.  Other longtime Oscar favorites like Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher), David Fincher (Gone Girl), Mike Leigh (Mr. Turner), and Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel) all are wandering around that 8-12th place position, and it seems likely we’ll see at least one of their names, though which one remains a mystery until we get a better bearing of where the rest of the field is headed.

In addition to Interstellar, there are two major films that could either be HUGE players with the Oscars or relegated to a nomination or two with the tech awards: Into the Woods and Selma.  Into the Woods is from Oscar-nominated Rob Marshall, who won this category twelve years ago with Chicago but since then has continually disappointed with high profile but lackluster fare like Memoirs of a Geisha and Nine.  Reviews will affect this film probably more than any other movie, as it doesn’t quite have the gravitas that Les Miz had that could sustain it against musical haters.

On the flip side is Selma, which I’m going big for this year, as it seems right up Oscar’s alley, and could also lend a bit of history if it scores in Pic and Director (Ava DuVernay would become the first African-American woman to be nominated for Best Director if she were successful).  However, in a year that is crushingly filled with biopics (in addition to those listed above, we also have Big Eyes and Wild at the edges of this race), this could end up going the way of The Butler.

There are a number of other films I could name-check (Rosewater, Whiplash, Inherent Vice), but probably the final serious contender would be Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman.  While he’s only pulled off a citation in this category once, his films are always in the Oscar conversation (Amores Perrros, 21 Grams, and Biutiful may not be everyone’s cup-of-tea, but they clearly are for AMPAS).  This may be too “out-there” to actually win the top trophy, but I think it’s got a solid shot at a nomination.

My Predictions: All right, I’m definitely going with Selma, Unbroken, Fury, The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, Interstellar, and Boyhood.  I think the buzz around it is enough to grab Birdman a citation, and considering that Oscar seems to like nine nominees here lately, I’m going to finish off with Foxcatcher, though I am starting to get a feeling about Wild (not sure why, just a hunch).

Is There a Winner?: Argo proved a few years ago that you can win without a Best Director citation, but Morten Tyldum is not Ben Affleck so I’m not sold on The Imitation Game quite yet.  I think your best bets right now are Unbroken (giving Jolie yet another Oscar?!?), Interstellar (if this is the Nolan we have been waiting for), or Selma (if the film is a landmark).  This race, though, after a pretty lackluster season, is finally starting to look interesting.

The Triple Crown of Cinematic Life Achievement

Yesterday the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced that movie star and frequent Sexiest Man Alive George Clooney was chosen to be their recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille Award.  Clooney, a fixture at the Globes, will surely give a great, funny speech, probably with more than one joke about how, at only 53 and as one of the biggest stars on the planet, he's hardly ready to be getting a lifetime achievement award.

And quite frankly, I'm kind of with hypothetical Clooney on this one.  I know that trying to figure out what is going on in the heads of the HFPA is a fool's errand, but seriously?  George Clooney?  He's not even Jodie Foster where he's been acting in major films since he was a teenager and so there's decades of work to rely on, covering up the fact that she also was far too young.  You just know that Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise, and Brad Pitt are coming in the next couple of years at this rate, and even they have all had more important cinematic careers than Clooney's!  There are so many other names that should have been listed, and so in honor of these missing names, I figured it was high time that we check in on the Triple Crown of Cinematic Life Achievement.

The Triple Crown of Life Achievement, for those of you too lazy to go to the above link (just kidding-love you!), is my name for those rare entertainers that have won the Kennedy Center Honor, AFI Life Achievement Award and the Cecil B. DeMille Award (I skip the SAG Life Achievement Award because it is pretty evenly split with television actors and because it is more for services to the industry than straight-up life achievement, though it's also a big deal-congratulations age-appropriate Debbie Reynolds on winning this year!).  In the past year (since we last checked in on this topic), we've seen an odd amount of movement on the list.  In the great news column, we had our 21st performer (and fourth woman) hit the triple crown, the one-and-only Shirley MacLaine, who got the Kennedy Center Honor this past year.  We also saw Tom Hanks complete his second leg of the tour, getting the Kennedy Center Honor (just the DeMille, oddly enough, is left, despite him being relatively young and that being the first leg for most performers).  And most exciting of all, we saw Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Woody Allen, and yes, George Clooney, begin their journey toward the title.

On the other side, though, proving that there's a ticking clock for even the most accomplished of stars on completing the trio, we had four people pass away without completing the list: Lauren Bacall (missing AFI), Robin Williams (missing AFI/Kennedy), Shirley Temple Black (missing AFI/DeMille), and Ruby Dee (missing AFI/DeMille).  You have to assume that Williams in particular would have been able to complete at least one more award in the collection, maybe completing the circle.  Sadly, they all left us before we could finish honoring them.

Looking ahead, though, I want to take a peak at where we're at for the remaining contenders, starting with the eight people that are just one award away from completing the set.  Here we go!

Missing Only the DeMille: We'll start here since I'm royally peeved that George Clooney (who should have won in like fifteen years-I'm not a complete grump and wanting to deny him wholly) got what could have gone to a number of other, more age appropriate stars.  There are still four people that have somehow never won the DeMille (I'll put everyone's ages in parantheses): Tom Hanks (58), Meryl Streep (65), Mel Brooks (88), and Mike Nichols (82).  Of the four, I am certain that Meryl will win it at some point, even though Meryl has almost enough Golden Globe statues to make her own chess set with them (the DeMille could be the King!).  I am also confident that Hanks will win as soon as HFPA remembers they haven't given him a statue (I genuinely believe that they think they've already given him one-that's the only explanation for him winning after Clooney).  I am far more doubtful of both Brooks and Nichols, though Brooks especially is a huge miss for the Globes, considering he's been nominated four times and never won, and this would be a brilliant way to honor a comedic legend.

Missing Only the Kennedy Center: With Shirley MacLaine off of this list, we're now down to three men: Michael Douglas (69), Al Pacino (74), and Harrison Ford (72).  Last year I said MacLaine was the least likely to win of the four, and she was the first to do it, so this proves I know little, and so I'm going to second guess my thoughts from last year with Al Pacino are wrong, as he is slowly becoming less and less relevant and hasn't done what his peers like Robert Redford or Robert de Niro have done: staged an awards comeback.  However, Ford/Douglas/Pacino are incredibly famous movie stars and the Kennedy Center Honors has five recipients each year, including two typically for film, so this isn't particularly hard for them, but I think that Pacino is least likely to win this, with Douglas actually the most likely; he consistently makes movies and is extremely well-regarded in the industry (and for what it's worth, he's the youngest).  Ford doesn't have any Oscar-loving, which probably hurts him.  If he ever made a genuine play for another nomination, I think the accolades would come pouring in and he'd pull this off in the same way that Meryl did with The Iron Lady.

Missing Only the AFI Award: With the death of Lauren Bacall, we now only have one person who has won the DeMille and the Kennedy Center Honor but lost the AFI: Robert Redford (78).  Honestly, what's the hold-up here?  Redford's been a movie star for decades, is great behind-the-camera as well, continues to make important pictures like All is Lost and reinvented the independent cinema scene with Sundance.  Plus, he seems to be relatively well-liked.  I honestly don't get this-they need to jump on honoring him immediately (they haven't announced the 2015 winner-let's make it Redford).

Only has the Kennedy Center Honor: Here we run into a conundrum: the Kennedy Center Honors (and to a lesser extent, the DeMille Awards), honor not only for cinema but also television, theater, and the world of comedy.  As a result, we have people who are most noted for Broadway (James Earl Jones (83), Angela Lansbury (88)), stand-up (Lily Tomlin (75), Steve Martin (69)), and television (Oprah Winfrey (60)) who also have made significant contributions to cinema, though that may not be their primary claim to fame.  Because of this split in mediums, many of these people may stay in this first position indefinitely (though Martin could probably advance to at least the DeMille).  There's also Joanne Woodward (84), who won this award in conjunction with her husband Paul Newman (not to impugn Ms. Woodward, but that probably helped), as well as John Williams (82) who probably isn't famous enough with the mass public to win one of the other two awards.  Your best bet other than Martin to advance would surely be Julie Andrews (78), who would give a perfectly divine speech with the Globes if they let her, and is famous enough with the mass public to get them the ratings they're hoping to win.

Only has the DeMille: Considering that they generally go young with this award you have people like George Clooney (53) and Jodie Foster (51) who are infants in terms of these honors and have hopefully a couple of decades to inevitably win the next two trophies.  Time isn't necessarily the friend for reclusive stars like Doris Day (either 90 or 92, and don't you love that someone as famous as she can still hide her real age?), Gene Hackman (84), and Woody Allen (78), none of which would probably show up even if the Kennedy Center or AFI came a-knocking.  Anthony Hopkins (76) is getting up there in years and surprisingly hasn't parlayed his English sophistication into a Kennedy Center Honor, but considering he works constantly (we saw him earlier this year in Noah) he may just get there.  Finally, there's legendary Sophia Loren (79), whose lack of a Kennedy Center Honor is probably the strangest thing in this article after Tom Hanks missing the DeMille-surely the Kennedy Center Honors, which love to give trophies to artists from around the world, would like to honor the most famous Italian actress of all-time?

Only has the AFI Award: Tom Hanks moved on up from this classification, but in a bold move, we had a new name to this list (the AFI is the least likely of the three to go first): Jane Fonda (76) finally got some love for her many decades of filmmaking this past year with her win.  She's joined by George Lucas (70) as someone who has only won the AFI trophy, and while I suspect that Fonda will never get this entire circle (she's too controversial to get a government-issued award like the Kennedy Center Honor), she could still grab the DeMille and Lucas will surely get the Kennedy Center Honor before his career is over.

Hasn't Started Yet: I could list the likes of Roberts, Cruise, Bullock, Washington, and Pitt, but I'm going to stick with only people over the age of sixty (though Denzel actually hits that number in December so maybe it's about time to add him to the roster?).  Some names off the top of my head (there are surely more-share them in the comments): Diane Keaton (68), Samuel L. Jackson (65), Julie Christie (73/74-another mystery!), Glenn Close (67), Robert Duvall (83), Cher (68), Jeff Bridges (64), Maggie Smith (79), Michael Caine (81), Judi Dench (79), Ellen Burstyn (81), Christopher Plummer (84), Bette Midler (68), Jessica Lange (65), Helen Mirren (69), Francis Ford Coppola (75), Catherine Deneuve (70), Sissy Spacek (64), Kathy Bates (66), Vanessa Redgrave (77), Arnold Schwarzenegger (67), Goldie Hawn (68), Norman Jewison (88), Rita Morena (82), Milos Forman (82), and Liza Minnelli (68).  And there are surely others...which again is why it is so sad that George Clooney, young, spritely, decades-left-of-his-career George Clooney was chosen this year.

But seriously, congratulations.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Happy Birthday Prince Harry!!!

John's Dream Man
Sigh...it's weird to think that what John F. Kennedy Jr. was to a generation of women and gay men alike Prince Harry is to Millennials.  I think I realized that I was into the bad boys from Harry first-all of my friends were desperately in love with the handsome Prince William growing up-the dapper future king was quite a heartthrob when I was growing up, but I was always far more into his naughty, ginger-haired younger brother with the crazy blue eyes.  The past decade has proven me right as Harry, who turned thirty today, is still gorgeous and the world's most eligible bachelor.  Plus, since he's far less likely to be king now that Kate and Will have Baby No. 2 on the way, why not make do on that promise about trying men out if things didn't work out with Cressida.  I'm ready and willing!  

And now, 29 more pictures...






























OVP: Live Action Short Film (2013)

OVP: Best Live Action Short Film (2013)

The Nominees Were...


Esteban Crespo, Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn't Me)
Xavier Legrand and Alexandre Gavras, Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)
Anders Walter and Kim Magnusson, Helium
Selma Vilhunen and Kirsikka Saari, Pitaako Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)
Mark Gill and Baldwin Li, The Voorman Problem

My Thoughts: All right, I'm going to start right off the bat by saying that I just finished yelling a series of profanity that would make David Mamet say, "simmer down, kid," as this is the second time that I have written this post, as Blogger is a pain-in-the-butt sometimes and totally just deleted my original version of the post.  As a result, I'm going to be an hour behind schedule for the day and this isn't quite going to have the same ring as I had last time with the post.  However, I'm a completist so I'm going to write this for our OVP again (show your appreciation for my determination to bring you all of these articles in the comments if you're feeling generous!), but if this post randomly deletes again I'm throwing my computer out the window (and I live on the third floor so it's not surviving).

We'll keep the same order as before, which meant that I started with the one person in the above series of photos that you actually recognize, Martin Freeman, who is the star of The Voorman Problem.  Freeman plays a therapist who is assigned a patient named Voorman (played by Tom Hollander, whom you would recognize as the chief protagonist in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End).  Voorman thinks he is God, and as the movie plays on we learn that he almost certainly is a deity of some sort.  The two play off each other well in the film, sparking a great deal of chemistry, but the movie itself never really takes off.  The plot is probably the biggest fault here, as you know exactly what is going to happen the moment the nurse says that Voorman thinks he is god, and the humor isn't enough to carry the predictability.

This isn't quite the case for Do I Have to Take Care of Everything, the second Finnish film to ever receive an Oscar nomination (the first being 2002's The Man Without a Past).  The movie is about a pair of parents getting their two young daughters ready for a wedding, with Murphy's Law on full display (they cannot find the gift, then they break it, the girls think it's appropriate to wear their Halloween costumes, and coffee is spilled on everything).  The movie's twist is that the wedding isn't actually that day, and the four of them end up crashing a funeral of a person they have never met.  You see this mishap coming pretty early on, but the four leads are all amiable and clever enough that you don't mind too much, and part of me wanted to spend more days with this family, one of two films I felt that way about in this category, which is always a good sign.

The other film that I felt that way about was the terrific Just Before Losing Everything starring Lea Drucker as Miriam and Denis Menochet (you'll recognize him as the dairy farmer in the opening scene of Inglourious Basterds) as Antoine.  This is one of those films where everything works, starting out deceptively on an ancillary character, and then slowly moving into the view of our main character of Miriam.  This is one of those rare movies that doesn't feel like a short film-you expect it to continue onward, but of course it's only a half hour long.  Playing an abused woman, we see the world through Miriam's eyes, and frequently what we would assume would be sympathy for a woman abused by her husband and trying to get out (she's getting her severance check in hopes of starting a new life, which is why she has gone to work) is instead greeted with scorn and disdain (there is a moment later in the film where one of her coworkers has the gaul to say that Miriam shouldn't have come to her employer and friends for help, and it doesn't remotely ring as unbelievable).  The ending of the movie is pitch perfect, as are the performances from Drucker and Menochet (honestly better than some of the nominated actors from last year), and the cinematography in particular deserves a shout-out (I love the way the wide shots almost feel like everyone is being watched, getting further into Miriam's mind; a very Martha Marcy Mae Marlene vibe).  Definitely one of the best short films I've ever seen.

Sadly, AMPAS also nominated one of the worst short films I've ever seen in That Wasn't Me.  It was deceptive in the opening scenes of the film that it might be interesting (it's the most "cinematic" looking of the five films), but after a while you are treated to one-dimensional portrayals of characters and a host of condescending cliches.  The film, about child soldiers in Africa, is so generic that you almost don't need names for any of the characters, and of course there's only one soldier that shows any sort of humanity, and he's the one who ends up going with the white lady to a different life.  It's predictable, borderline racist, and a complete waste of an Oscar nomination.

The final film would usually have made it to the worst slot if it hadn't been for That Wasn't Me being a genuinely bad movie (and not just bad in relation to a great movie).  Helium is also a host of filmic cliches, this time involving a precocious young child dying of cancer teaching a lonely janitor that there is wonder in the world.  I get that cancer is a topic that should be discussed in film, but there must be a better way to address it than a precocious child teaching a jaded adult about the world-I mean, the story notes are so familiar you can picture a dozen episodes of Grey's Anatomy or ER that have done the same thing, and probably with better actors than Helium.  About the best thing I can say about the film is that it has some pretty remarkable special effects for a movie that almost no one was going to be able to see (considering we don't generally screen short films).

Other Precursor Contenders: Voorman actually was nominated last year at the BAFTA Awards and so we got an entirely new set of nominees this year (it's worth noting this is a strange turn-of-events, as usually when BAFTA and AMPAS nominate films in different years, it's historically AMPAS nominating the film first, like Charlize Theron and Monster).  Island Queen, Keeping Up with the Joneses, Orbit Ever After, Room 8, and Sea View were the nominees, with Room 8 taking the win.
Films I Would Have Nominated: Sadly they don't put short films before films with regularity anymore (don't you wish they did?) and so I don't get to see enough nominees to complain.
Oscar’s Choice: AMPAS cannot resist awards bait, so they chose Helium (thankfully over likely second place That Wasn't Me, the other baitiest movie).
My Choice: Just Before You Lose Everything is so much better than all of the other films nominated that I was genuinely angry that it lost on Oscar night, and it takes a lot after all of these years to really get me riled up about an unjust Oscar win.  I would clearly give it the trophy, with Do I Have, Voorman, Helium, and That Wasn't Me behind it.

Those are my thoughts-what are yours?  If you've seen the films, are you with me that Just Before I Lose Everything was far-and-away the best nominated film in the category?  Or are you a defender of Helium (or worst still, That Wasn't Me)?  And has Blogger ever deleted one of your posts?  Share in the comments!


Past Best Live Action Short Film Contests: 2012

Shane Dawson and the YouTube Problem

Shane Dawson
Later this month (September 23rd to be precise), Shane Dawson, YouTube personality and former owner of the best Bieber haircut on the planet (and that includes Bieber himself) will be releasing his first feature-length movie, Not Cool.  The movie, made in conjunction with Starz recent Project Greenlight-inspired The Chair, has released a trailer and will get some theater time in Los Angeles and New York before being available on iTunes.  For Dawson, a YouTube creator for the past six years, it is a major step in his career and one his fans (myself included) have been rooting for for a while.  All-in-all, this should be a great thing, right?

And yet, I'm not quite there yet.  Honestly, I want to be.  I have chronicled my love of YouTube on this  site sporadically (though clearly I should do it more often as most of the YouTube articles tend to be the site's most read), and Dawson really has been my favorite of the producers of YouTube content.  It might be because there's clearly talent behind what he's doing on his channel.  Dawson tries it all: music video parodies, skits, vlogs, confessionals, collabs-if it's a YouTube stock-and-trade, he's done it (I think he's even done a makeup tutorial).  And by-and-large he's been relatively successful-it's rare that Shane is in a video and he doesn't make you laugh or smile at least once.

This trailer, though, reeks of more of the same, and doesn't give me a lot of comfort for Dawson.  The film looks almost like a Wayans Brother parody of a high school movie it relies so heavily on clunky expositional dialogue and cliche (all you're missing is Anna Faris).  Dawson, at 26, doesn't look young enough to be playing a character lost in the world, and while there's clearly some winks to his YouTube audience (I spot you Aunt Hilda!), for someone that has spent so much time saying that he's going to leave behind his YouTube roots and what is in front of the camera isn't really him, he seems to be relying pretty severely on them as a crutch in this movie.

It's worth noting that even the most casual of his fans couldn't see that Dawson has clearly changed quite a bit in the past year from the personality we've known and loved for so many years.  Some would cheekily blame it on his haircut, but the guy who has spent most of his career working on self-deprecating humor has gotten a little more cock in his walk, as it were, and is frequently recognizing that he has ended up being pretty damn good-looking.  His videos don't seem to have the same level of time investment as they used to (he's done only three music videos this year, and only one of them in the past five months, a parody of Avril Lavigne's "Hello Kitty").

He also seems temperamental regarding failures, which has made him seem a bit whiny.  I'm speaking specifically regarding his Bomb(dot)com segments on Sundays, where he doesn't appear and it is instead hosted by Alexis G Zall, a tween with a filthy sense of humor who says lines clearly written by Dawson.  Viewers have hated the series, complaining both about the misdirects in the adverts (Shane was featured in almost all of the screen grabs but had little to nothing to do with the videos) and the content (Zall is grating and doesn't seem at home in Dawson's world and has become the Cousin Oliver of his channel).  The fact that he not only hasn't ended the series but has shamed his viewers about not liking the installments (in an ill-advised vlog that I believe was eventually taken down) says that he's starting to become tone deaf to why people tune into him every day.  Quite frankly, while I don't know Dawson, and this seems pretty high school to speculate on his mood, I do get the feeling that he is largely over the YouTube phase of his career but knows it would be foolish to end it without establishing himself more strongly in another medium like film or television, particularly considering the incredible amount of money he's making on the site (he still gets 3-4 million views a week).

The problem is that Dawson's talents, if the film is any indication (and I could eat my words here in two weeks-it's rare, but on occasion a trailer is not remotely indicative of the quality of an actual movie), may not be enough to make it into the world of mainstream movie or television.  Looking at Dawson's channel, it's hard not to see that the best and most interesting character on the channel is not one of his one-note wigged creations, but Dawson himself.  A complicated, introverted young man with a troubled childhood and weight problems, the actual Dawson has frequently said in interviews that he doesn't bare a lot of resemblance to what comes across onscreen, and that shows a solid willingness to go the distance in creating a career.  The problem is, though, that if you build your entire brand around a specific personality you have trouble transitioning into other mediums.  Look at how difficult it is for successful TV actors to move into other venues or other TV series, and they have a more universally-acknowledged fame-people want more of the same, a lesson that Dawson is learning.

And quite frankly, it's a lesson that all of the "older" (born in the 1980's) YouTube personalities are starting to learn as their fans grow up.  It's frequently joked about by all of them that they are making their videos for tweens, but I would be willing to be that the bulk of their audience is older and more in their early twenties, certainly older than the fans of up-and-coming personalities like Cameron Dallas.  As a result of this, there is a ticking clock on their YouTube careers.  They are not TV shows that people are going to be fine tuning into at any age-there's a shelf life for when you are going to be cool on the internet, and I think most of these personalities are aware of this.  It's why you saw Camp Takota earlier this year from Grace, Mamrie, and Hannah (which at this point seems like a best case scenario for Dawson, who won't have the novelty advantage that those three women had of "YouTubers! In a Movie!").  It's why you've seen shifts to scripted content from Joey Graceffa and Sawyer Hartman.  It's why Tyler Oakley has made a point of interviewing larger names on his channel like Michelle Obama and One Direction and is starting to make more television appearances.  These personalities know that in order to survive as long-term entertainers they're going to have to expand their marketability, just like any actor.

And this is why I'm truly worried about Dawson's career.  Honestly-we've never really seen him expand or get out of his comfort zone and so much of his comedy and bits are based on him being a screw-up figuring himself out.  That just doesn't fly as you near thirty (for the record, this also doesn't fly on dates either-you can not have your life completely in order at thirty, trust me, but don't lead with that-you should have it figured out for the most part, or at least have a clear action plan), and if Dawson cannot expand past that he's going to be in trouble maintaining this level of fame.  The reality is that most of these personalities, like almost all child stars, are going to become forgotten within five years time.  Only a couple will have the moxie, determination, and let's face it, luck to make a true career out of what they started on YouTube (for the record, I think Tyler Oakley, who clearly gets how the game is played and always puts 100% into everything he puts out in all avenues, is probably the most likely to succeed), and if this is all Shane Dawson can put out, I worry he might not be one of the lucky ones.

Those are my (admittedly harsh-I really do like him, but sometimes you need to bring the hard truth) thoughts on Dawson.  I'm hoping I am wrong (I'll definitely be seeing Not Cool), but what about you.  Have you noticed a recent change in Dawson's personality/channel?  Are you excited for Not Cool?  And which YouTubers do you think will go the distance and still be relevant five years from now?  Share in the comments!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

OVP: Animated Short Film (2013)

OVP: Best Animated Short Film (2013)

The Nominees Were...


Daniel Sousa and Dan Golden, Feral
Lauren MacMullen and Dorothy McKim, Get a Horse!
Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares, Mr. Hublot
Shuhei Morita, Possessions
Max Lang and Jan Lachauer, Room on the Broom

My Thoughts: I told you we'd be there by the end of the week (what, the week starts on Monday?)!  Yes, we are now on the back-end of the 2013 OVP, but as an extension of our intermission, I'm going to cover two sets of short film categories.  When I decided over two years ago to do the Oscar Viewing Project and restart my blog I left the documentaries and short films off the list both because documentaries don't tend to age particularly well (time and information is always leaning forward, and hindsight makes certain things clearer) and because short films are incredibly difficult to track down even from the last couple of years.  However, I did make a promise that if I did complete a Short or Documentary category that I would chronicle it as part of the OVP, so I am going to do that now!

We'll start with the film that all of you have seen so that I can keep your attention as long as possible: Get a Horse!.  The short film played in front of Frozen theatrically (and don't you love that Pixar and Disney air short films before every animated film now?), and I have to say was a delight from start to finish.  A callback to old-school Disney (really old school, like Steamboat Willie style), it features Mickey, Minnie, Peg-Leg Pete, and Clarabelle amongst a host of iconic company characters running in and out of a screen.  The animation is beautiful, particularly the crisp interaction between black-and-white and color as the characters run between the two worlds.  There's something to be said for deducting points for sexism (Minnie is always being rescued and fought over by the men in the cartoon), but the film's setting is clearly not modern and the fact that Minnie gets a few punches in helps in this regard.  Overall, this is the sort of film that gets an unfair advantage because of its wider audience, but it's still a fluffy delight.

Since we're in a light-hearted mood and the short films rarely allow for that, we'll stay there and go with Room on the Broom.  Based on the picture book by Julia Donaldson, this film may or may not have gotten a wide release as well; I don't know if this is true because I didn't see the sequel, but did this really play before Thor: the Dark World in the States?  I read that on a number of internet websites but cannot find conclusive evidence of it.  If so, that's an odd pairing for a comic book movie not only because this is very much a children's movie, but because it is pretty long as far as animated short films go, easily the lengthiest of the short films nominated last year at thirty minutes.  It stars a cavalcade of stars including Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins (who was in two Oscar-nominated films last year-random fact of the day) and Gillian Anderson as the witch who keeps finding room on her broom for more creatures.  The story is fun and occasionally the sight gags of the witch are great (particularly in her showdown with the dragon), but the film drags too long and could have been shortened by a species or two.

Possessions was the sole anime entry in this bunch (anime actually has a difficult time with Oscar despite its prevalence in the animation industry, and only Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli can consistently score when it comes to AMPAS).  In Japan this film was part of a larger collection of animated films called Short Peace and was accompanied by a video game.  This particular entry was about a man in an abandoned shrine who encounters spirits and must work to fix a collection of fans in order to set them free.  It's a lovely concept that doesn't quite work.  I have to admit that I don't always respond well to anime, not really enjoying the jumpy editing and clunky dialogue that accompany it (Miyazaki's films I fare better with as we'll see later when we get to The Wind Rises in the animated feature race, but they don't follow the same editing techniques), and this was particularly true for the heavy hand that tackles Possessions.  I like animation going toward deeper and harder subjects, but by-and-large this film left me pretty cold.

Sometimes with animation you have to decide whether you are judging the story or the actual drawings on-display in the film.  Overall with Feral we get a pretty calm and traditional story about a boy raised by wolves that is brought back into society, only to find that society isn't quite the place for him.  This has been discussed time-and-again in literature and the cinema, with varying levels of success, and there's nothing new or interesting being said by Feral to garner our attention.  However, the actual animation here, minimalistic and black-and-white, is gorgeous, and you frequently feel like you're watching the actual characters leave the artists' pencils as you're watching-a very effective and fascinating trick to make up for the humdrum story.

We end with Mr. Hublot, an interesting if not quite successful film about an inventor who rescues a robot pet dog who disrupts his staid and OC-driven life (he frequently is straightening pictures and turning on and off lights in his home).  The animation in this film, I have to say seemed pretty traditional to me, though it might be a bit out-there to people who only hit Dreamworks/Disney films when it comes to the cartoons, but the story was better than most of the other nominees, at least in the way it treated its main character.  Mr. Hublot is a man who suffers and wants a better life, and that's something that's clearly on display and also something that is difficult to get across in eleven minutes, so well done in that regard.

Other Precursor Contenders: I cannot seem to find a list of the films that ShortsHD had accompany these animated movies, so I cannot say ones that were clearly well-respected in that regard (don't you just love them for putting the nominated shorts in theaters so you can see them the way they were meant to be seen?).  The BAFTA Awards went with a completely different set of nominees, with Sleeping with the Fishes outdoing Everything I Can See from Here and I Am Tom Moody, while the Annie Awards gave their trophy to Get a Horse!, which bested Despicable Me 2: Puppy, Gloria Victoria, My Mom is an Airplane, and The Numberlys.
Films I Would Have Nominated: Sadly they don't put short films before films with regularity anymore (don't you wish they did?) and so I don't get to see enough nominees to complain.
Oscar’s Choice: AMPAS went with the French gadgetry of Mr. Hublot.
My Choice: The winner for me is pretty easy-while other nominees may have been a bit edgier, you cannot beat the quality cinema that is Get a Horse!.  The rest of the list is pretty difficult to arrange, to be honest, but I will go with Feral, Mr. Hublot, Room on the Broom, and Possessions to round out the list.

Those are my thoughts-what are yours?  Did you see these animated films, and if so, who were you cheering for?  Were you like me and going with Mickey or did you lean more in Oscar's direction with Hublot?  And can someone clear up the Thor/Broom rumor please?


Past Best Animated Short Film Contests: 2012

The 25 Most Intriguing Races of 2014

A few months ago, I did a rundown of the twenty most intriguing races of 2014, and I figured it was time for a follow-up.  Politics is an extremely fluid beast, and with all of the primary elections now done (and a pretty routine primary season it was, Eric Cantor and Neil Abercrombie not withstanding), it's time to exclusively focus on the general election.

While there are no races on that list that I don't find intriguing still (politics is an interesting topic for me, and even when a race becomes less competitive watching the margin of loss and the exit polling is a fascinating endeavor), I do think that a few of the races on that list have shifted.  California's 21st district, for example, no longer seems like a likely option for the Democrats and I don't know if Wendy Davis will be a great indication of where the Texas Democratic Party is headed, even with her raising an abnormally large sum of money (see Meg Whitman for a comparable example).  That being said, you'll see a few holdovers from the last list, though even they have had a slight shift in their focus and why I am intrigued.  Unlike the June list, all of the below races are expected to be somewhat to extremely competitive, though that may not remain so in the coming weeks.  Without further adieu, then, these are the 25 races whose results I am most anxious for as we move into November (presented alphabetically by state).

Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK)
Alaska Senate

These races are alphabetical, but honestly, this would be the number one ranked race if we were going by importance, so I'm glad it's first.  While other races have taken this title throughout the year, this battle appears to be the most significant contest in the race for the Senate.  If Democratic Sen. Mark Begich wins a second term, there is a strong chance that the Democrats have held onto the majority.  However, if we are seeing a victory from Attorney General Dan Sullivan, you're likely looking at Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  There is no other Senate race I would say is so indicative of who will control the Senate, and with polling in the state historically being sketchy, we may not have any idea until November of which side ultimately takes this battle.  I will say that Begich, who was running a near perfect campaign up until the last few weeks, went too far in his negative attack ads against Sullivan and is going to have to either continue the full court press and hope it works, or do a quick turn (despite what people consistently say, negative campaigning is generally effective).  Either way, if you're sending money to an important race or are trying to influence a specific person to vote, Alaska is where your attention should go.

Arizona-1

There are three interesting House races happening in Arizona, but of the three, the race to reelect Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick is surely the most interesting (primarily because I think the Democrats lose the second district and hold the ninth, but the first could go either way).  Recently, the Republicans may have played the wrong hand by depicting Kirkpatrick in an ad as a woman wearing high heels walking around Washington (Kirkpatrick ran a clever ad focusing on the cowboys boots she's had since she was eighteen as a counter).  Either way, this is the sort of battle that Democrats have been focusing on their "War on Women" message, as well as one where Latino voters will be crucial.  Kirkpatrick and Mitt Romney won this district two years ago, making it one of those rare seats that did ticket splitting with the national ticket (this increasingly is a rarity).  Kirkpatrick's support of the DREAM Act was a risky move with moderates in the district, so she has to be hoping that it plays strongly with the 18% of the district that is Latino.  Definitely a late-in-the-night race to watch for in November.

Former Rep. Doug Ose (R-CA)
California-7

One of those rare Republicans who has some solid moderate credentials and survived a contentious primary, former Rep. Doug Ose has to be a dream candidate for the California GOP: great profile, former member of the House, and can self-finance.  So far he's been doing well, gaining moderate and even Democratic support in the district.  Still, Rep. Ami Bera does have a district that went (narrowly) for President Obama.  This is one of several races that President Obama's network may be worthwhile and critical to Democratic victories-a number of Democrats across the country are in districts the President won by single digit points, but they have to overcome the historical drop-off Democrats experience in midterm elections.  Quite frankly, these are the districts (and I'll highlight a few of them in this article) where President Obama, who has been anathema to Democrats on the campaign trail, may be worth sending out to campaign to boost Democratic turnout.  Either way, this is one of the two truly fascinating California House races this cycle.

California-52

The other one, however, is probably the most fascinating, and one where I think the Democrat is currently the underdog, though polling has been mixed and this is a coin toss race.  Openly gay former San Diego City Councilmember Carl DeMaio is running for the GOP, meaning that if he were to win he would be the only openly gay member of the GOP caucus in either house of Congress.  Like Bera, incumbent Rep. Scott Peters won his first term in 2012 and is in a district that President Obama won but by a slim margin, so the Democratic base is there but DeMaio is popular and running the better campaign.  This should be one of the country's closest races, and thanks to the Pacific time zone, one of the last ones called.

Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO)
Colorado Governor


There are three major races in Colorado this year (it’s worth noting that CO-6 voters are the only voters in the country where you would get to vote in a true tossup Senate, Gubernatorial, and House race, so if you live there and don’t vote, you should respond no the next time someone asks if you’re a responsible citizen), but the gubernatorial intrigues me most because it’s the one where the outcome seems the most influx (the Senate race has about a 60% chance of going to Democratic Mark Udall and the House race has about a 60% chance of going to Republican Mike Coffman, both the incumbents).  Immigration and gun control dominate this race, and incumbent Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) could win or lose as a result of either to former Rep. Bob Beauprez.  Turnout will be extremely key here, and will be a solid indication of where Colorado, one of the most vital swing states in the country, is headed come 2016-if the Democrats run the board for the fourth straight election in a row this could be over as a viable state for the GOP.  However, if Republicans win here there’s clearly some game left to play.

Connecticut Governor

Connecticut is one of three solidly Democratic states with Democratic governors that have entered true tossup status (you’ll see one of those states on this list later, the other is Illinois, which may be a lost cause for the blue team at this point as Gov. Pat Quinn is insanely unpopular).  The same has to be said for first-term Gov. Dan Malloy, who has persistently run within the margin of error but a couple of points behind former Ambassador Tom Foley (for the record, this is a rematch of the 2010 election that Malloy won in one of the closest margins of that cycle).  Still, this is a very Democratic state and with New England going sharper and sharper blue, Malloy could win based solely on the letter behind his name (it’s happened before).  This will be a pretty decent barometer for the Republicans that they aren’t getting their wave if Malloy wins, as this is one of three governor’s races I would suspect they pickup at this point in the cycle.

Florida Governor

Our third gubernatorial race in a row (there are eight on this list, actually, and that’s not including Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, all of which I suspect will switch hands; for all of the focus on the Senate, the gubernatorial races this year have a LOT to offer politically), this is a race that has been fought hard with tens of millions of dollars likely to be spent by November, but overall incumbent Gov. Rick Scott (R) has taken a small but not insignificant lead over former Gov. Charlie Crist, who switched parties to run for this seat.  Like everything involving Florida, this seat hearkens back to the White House and the race for 2016, as having the governor of the largest swing state be on your side would be a vital asset.  Expect Hillary Clinton to make one of her few stops this election cycle on behalf of Crist as a result of that (Bill Clinton, despite a very testy relationship with Crist, has already stopped by), and perhaps even a stop or two from President Obama, as Crist’s biggest obstacle may not be swing voters but instead Democratic base voters who are lukewarm about his candidacy.  While the media will call whoever wins the Senate the winner of the night, the victor of the Florida governorship would probably be a close second.

Gwen Graham (D-FL)
Florida-2

Easily one of the oddest races, in my opinion, of the cycle.  Rep. Steve Southerland (R) has held this district for two cycles, and while he had a close run in 2012, this is a Romney seat and one that, while marginal, consistently votes straight ticket.  And yet, Southerland is one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents in the country thanks to a truly spectacular campaign run by Gwen Graham, daughter of legendary Florida politician Bob Graham (both a former governor and senator, and the guy Al Gore should have picked in 2000 as he would have won the White House).  Some pundits have even gone so far as to say Graham is in the lead, but public polling in the district is shockingly hard to find.  Either way, this is not quite a canary in the coal mine (since Graham is outperforming most of her fellow Democrats), but it’s surely one to tune into, particularly if the Democrats are having a rough night as it may be a rare silver lining.  If Graham wins, watch for her to be mentioned for higher office almost immediately, as Florida’s Democratic bench is famously lacking.

Georgia Senate

Part of the problem with only including 25 races is that there are more than 25 interesting ones, and Georgia has one of those races.  I could have just as easily included their gubernatorial race, which has shown a slight edge to Gov. Nathan Deal (R), but could well turn into a race for State Sen. Jason Carter, grandson of former President Carter if Democratic turnout is high enough in Atlanta.

Still, though, Georgia’s Senate seat is the one where the intrigue is happening.  Most polling in the state has shown David Perdue (R) with a small but not impossible to overcome lead against Michelle Nunn (D) in this open Republican seat.  I said above that Alaska is the most pivotal race in this cycle, but if the Democrats lose there Georgia is probably their next best option, though Perdue clearly has the slight advantage here.  Two factors are critical in Georgia-one is Nunn’s ability to get out unregistered voters, which is a major push in the state and why First Lady Michelle Obama made this the first stop on her fall campaign tour; Nunn will have to do spectacularly well with African-American voters (who will largely decide this race-a lot has been said this cycle about the importance of African-American voters in key races, and that’s the most true in Georgia’s Senate and gubernatorial elections).  The second is how well Libertarian candidate Amanda Swafford does this cycle.  A lot of focus so far this cycle has been on the near certain runoff in Louisiana and how Mary Landrieu may be the deciding factor in the Senate (if the Republicans only win by six seats, she would certainly be), but Georgia is also a possibility for a runoff if no one hits 50% (this happened in 2008 when the sixty seat majority was on the line for the Democrats).  If this goes to a runoff and the Senate majority is still in play (a very realistic scenario), expect tens of millions in outside money to go to the Peach State.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann (I-HI)
Hawaii Governor

After the shocking loss by incumbent Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) in the Aloha State, the playing field is completely restacked.  Under normal circumstances, State Sen. David Ige (D) would be in the lead in this strongly blue state over former Lt. Governor Duke Aiona, but former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann is running as a third party candidate and is making life extremely difficult for Ige, since Hannemann is a former Democrat with strong name recognition in the state, so his third party stance probably isn’t inflated in the polls (though Hannemann has become a bit of a joke as far as actually winning elections in the state, considering this will be his third in a row where he will be clobbered, even if he only reaches 10% of the electorate that could swing the state to the Republicans).  This is a state where you can expect to see President Obama, who is wildly popular in the state, out on the campaign trail for Ige, which will be slightly awkward since he didn’t back him in the primary (politics=strange bedfellows).

Iowa Senate

I believe I read somewhere where they said Rep. Bruce Braley (D) has done everything he possibly can to lose this election, but that still might not be enough, and I 100% agree.  Despite Iowa’s stance as a swing state, this was a seat that was expected to stay Democratic (beloved Sen. Tom Harkin is retiring in the Hawkeye State) because Iowa seems to like a balance in their senators, but State Sen. Joni Ernst has run a brilliant campaign and has kept this very close in the polls.  Still, Braley has gained in recent weeks and it’s hard to argue that the momentum is slightly on his side as long as he can stay gaffe-proof in the debates (expect Ernst to attack Braley hard on his off-the-cuff attack on farmers earlier in the year that may well cost him the election).  This is a must win for the Democrats if they want to hold the Senate, which is probably why both Clintons and Joe Biden will be in the state over the next week, and Michelle Obama will be out for Braley next month.

Iowa-3

With the retirement of Rep. Tom Latham, Democrats have one of their absolute best chances of picking up a seat in Iowa (the district went for President Obama twice despite sending a Republican to the House both times).  Former State Sen. Staci Appel, initially a candidate I was a bit skeptical on, is running an incredible campaign against former House Chief of Staff David Young, and despite a strong push by his former boss Chuck Grassley (the king of Iowa politics), Young has struggled in minimal polling and Appel would probably win if the election were held today.  This race may depend significantly on what happens in the Senate race-if either Braley or Ernst hit a major speed bump, it’s hard to imagine it won’t hurt their candidates in the swingiest of Iowa’s four districts.  It’s worth noting that if either Ernst or Appel win, Iowa would be sending its first woman to Congress (the only other state not to have done so is Mississippi, which won’t happen this cycle).

Former Rep. Bob Dold (R-IL)
Illinois-10

This race is definitely a proxy for all of the competitive races in Illinois (not just here, but in the 12th, 13th, and 17th districts as well), but this is the one that has a rematch of two years ago with former Rep. Bob Dold (R), who barely lost to now Rep. Brad Schneider (D) thanks to President Obama performing so well nationally.  The big question for all four of these seats, but particularly here (since I would wager Dold is the better of these two candidates on the ground but the demographics of the district ever so slightly favor Schneider) is what sort of impact Gov. Pat Quinn will have on down-ballot Democrats.  If his race is isolated to the top of the ticket, then Democrats like Schneider will stand a chance.  However, if Democratic turnout is suppressed by people not liking the governor that will hurt candidates like Schneider (as well as other House incumbents) in a big way.

Kansas Governor

If you had said two years ago that the election results political junkies would be most looking forward to on election night would be coming out of Kansas, you would have been told to put down the paint thinner.  Still, though, it’s hard to imagine a place that has a bigger question mark behind it than the Sunflower State.  The gubernatorial election has taken a backseat to the madness of the Senate race, but make no mistake-Gov. Sam Brownback (R) is in deep trouble after a rough first term where he may have gotten too conservative even for ruby red Kansas.  House Minority Leader Paul Davis (D) has run the sort of campaign that stands out in a state where being a Democrat is a huge liability, and has taken the lead, but as we’ve seen in Florida’s gubernatorial race, incumbent Republicans have a solid shot at bouncing back the more time you give the electorate, so don’t write the end of Brownback’s career just yet.  Still, I’d rather be the Democrats than the Republicans right now in this race.

Greg Orman (I-KS)
Kansas Senate

The weirdest election of the cycle?  Absolutely.  Sen. Pat Roberts (R) has run one of the worst campaigns by an incumbent this cycle, and it’s showing in the polls.  Roberts probably would have been embarrassed but fine had Democrat Chad Taylor not dropped out of the race and endorsed Greg Orman, an Independent former Democrat whose affiliation in Washington if he were to win would be a giant question mark (though you have to believe he’s made a deal with the Democrats-at least I would assume so considering Taylor’s exit).  Either way, Kansas is a distraction that the Republicans have to pay for hard now, and the Democrats don’t have to put in a dime (Orman will be running on his own there, likely without any help from the DSCC), so this is a huge hit for the GOP on a map they didn’t want disrupted.  The results of this race will largely depend on A) whether Democrats can get Chad Taylor off of the ballot, which is headed to court in the next couple of weeks and B) whether or not Orman can stand up to the pressures of a real campaign against a very determined national party.

Maine Governor

In a race very similar to not only four years ago in the Pine Tree State, but to the Hawaii gubernatorial election this year, this race will be won or lost based on the support of a liberal third party candidate.  Four years ago Gov. Paul LePage (R) won in a tight race and has since become one of the most controversial major political figures in the country, particularly in lashing out at other politicians and the media.  In a head-to-head battle there’s no doubt that Rep. Mike Michaud (D) would crush the unpopular LePage, but with independent Eliot Cutler running in the double digits (he got second place four years ago to LePage, besting the Democrat), they could well split the vote in a state that has a strong third party contingent.  Michaud is doing his best, though, to shore up Democratic and progressive support, recently having President Bill Clinton stump for him in the state.  It’s also worth noting that if he were to be elected Mike Michaud would become the first openly gay person elected governor of a state.

Michigan Governor

Six months ago you would have had everyone fretting about the Senate, not the gubernatorial race in Michigan, but six months is an eternity in politics and the Wolverine State has seen a bit of a reversal of fortune here.  While none of the once competitive House races appear to be competitive this cycle, it is looking increasingly likely that Rep. Gary Peters (D) will hold the Senate seat for the Democrats after a rocky first start to his campaign.  The governor’s mansion is held by Rick Snyder (R), however, and polling has shown him with a 1-2 point lead over former Rep. Mark Schauer.  This is a tight race, and while the fundamentals of the national electorate tend to favor Snyder, this is a blue state and if Democrats come home to roost he could be in trouble.  This race will largely be dependent on how well Schauer can do with Detroit turnout, as a city that has been ravaged by bankruptcy and water shortages may not want to get out and vote.

Stewart Mills (R-MN)
Minnesota-8

Rep. Rick Nolan (D) has run a truly awfully campaign, and it’s starting to show.  Honestly, of all of the incumbent Democrats running for reelection in Congress this cycle, Nolan has run in my opinion the worst campaign.  I said this frequently last cycle when the Democrats insisted on backing Nolan over the more modern political stylings of State Sen. Tarryl Clark that he did not seem up to the task of running a 21st Century campaign for high office, but you cannot argue with the DFL leadership (this is why ultra blue Minnesota has had such trouble winning the governorship over the past twenty years-they like to pick the old-timey politicians from the Iron Range rather than from the emerging electorates in the suburbs).  Nolan staged an unlikely comeback after serving in the House in the late 1970’s to win a fourth non-consecutive term, but has not adapted to the 24-hours news culture that mandates more fundraising and sticking to talking points.  As a result, Stewart Mills (who looks more like the love interest in a Hallmark movie than a congressman), is running neck-and-neck with Nolan in one of the last rural districts that the Democrats dominate on a federal level.  Watch this race go down to the wire, but if Nolan wins, it will not be based on turnout from Dayton/Franken and the blue nature of his district, not his abysmal campaign skills.

Nevada Lieutenant Governor

One of only two races that aren’t Governor’s, Senate, or House on this list, the Nevada Lieutenant Governor’s race is probably the most important race that you won’t see called on CNN on Election Night.  The race is seen by many as a proxy between Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) and Gov. Brian Sandoval (R), who may be fighting against each other in the marquee Senate election of 2016.  Their preferred candidates (State Rep. Lucy Flores and State Sen. Mark Hutchinson, respectively) have run decent campaigns, but the candidates at this point almost don’t matter.  Reid knows that if Flores wins, Sandoval won’t run for the Senate since that would risk his gubernatorial seat going to the Democrats, while Sandoval knows that it would stay with the GOP if Hutchinson won.  Adding additional complications to this argument is that Reid may be retiring in 2016, giving Sandoval the frontrunner status (Reid, a man who cares quite a bit about legacy, isn’t going to take well to handing his seat to a Republican and not a hand-chosen successor).  Definitely watch for this one in November.

Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (R-NH)
New Hampshire-1

I included Scott Brown’s race here earlier in the year, and Republicans still seem to be pretty excited about Brown’s chances, but polling and his performance on the campaign trail make me believe that race won’t be too close.  This race, however, is going to be brutal and could go a number of different ways.  Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) and former Rep. Frank Guinta will face off for the third time, and Shea-Porter will get her fifth straight nail-biter.  Polling here is limited, but it’s worth noting that Shea-Porter has outperformed polling every time she’s run for election so that may be a bad indicator.  Guinta is the better campaigner, and probably would be the favorite by a longshot if he were the incumbent, but Shea-Porter has a really good rapport with the grassroots in the district and could pull off yet another upset.  This is a below-the-line race to keep an eye on though, particularly if Shea-Porter is victorious (the dynamics of the federal electorate indicate she shouldn’t be).  Watching this with eagle eyes has to be Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) who is up for reelection in two years and has to be wondering if the Granite State may have become too liberal to elect a Republican to Congress.

New York-1

Rep. Tim Bishop (D) represents one of those districts that is always more competitive in theory than in practice.  Bishop frequently is talked about as a potential target only to see Republicans skip the race and move onto something more promising.  It’s certainly a tantalizing seat, considering that President Obama only won it by a half a percentage point and Bishop won four years ago by less than 500 votes (one of the closest races in the nation).  State Sen. Lee Zeldin is his opponent, and the real question is, if there’s a wave, Tim Bishop becomes the John Spratt/Ike Skelton/Gene Taylor of 2010: a longtime Democrat in a Republican district that finally is taken down.

North Carolina Senate

There has been no better litmus test for the national parties than North Carolina, which has been one of the most expensive and hard fought contests in the country (side note-I get that you are able to be a senator and there is a drive and a prestige that comes as a result of that, but sometimes I wonder why oh why swing district politicians put up with this constant campaigning-it has to be exhausting and extremely disheartening to constantly be berated from both sides of the aisle).  Sen. Kay Hagan (D) and NC House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) are not what you’d call dynamic politicians and this isn’t going to be won based on personality in the way that Mark Pryor and Mary Landrieu are hoping for an upset, but the slight differentiation between the two seems to have benefited Hagan more, particularly in getting out more female voters (this race, like Ann Kirkpatrick’s, has been ground zero for the “War on Women” campaign ads), and in going after Tillis for his cuts to education (unlike Louisiana and Arkansas, this race hasn’t nationalized in quite the same way, which has assuredly assisted Hagan).  This is definitely a true tossup race and could go either way, but again, Hagan’s camp has to be feeling slightly better than Tillis’s at this point.  For the record, this is another must win race for the Democrats, as they need this seat much more than the Republicans do considering their narrowing path to the majority.

State Sen. Nina Turner (D-OH)
Ohio Secretary of State

This is really more of a placeholder for a number of Secretary of State elections in 2016 battleground states that are being waged across the country.  DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has made getting more Democrats elected Secretary of State (where they will get to decide election laws) a key priority in 2014, and has singled out campaigns in Ohio, Iowa, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada as critical wins for the party.  Ohio is the most interesting of these five, though, not only because it’s a pivotal swing state in a presidential election thanks to its high electoral vote count and perch in election lore as an indicator of who will take an election, but also because of the controversies surrounding the incumbent.  Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) has become the poster boy for Democrats’ distrust of Republicans in charge of elections, wanting to limit early voting hours in a state where African-Americans make up a disproportionate number of those that vote early.  State Sen. Nina Turner (D) has to contend with a lot on her end as well, namely Ed FitzGerald, a scandal-plagued Democrat running for governor who may pull down the rest of the ticket.  Watch for big names to fly into this seemingly small race, and look at this seat (as well as those in the other four swing states) to get an indication of where election fights will be happening two years from now.

Wisconsin Governor

Every election cycle an incumbent or two becomes surprisingly vulnerable even when the logistics of the race shouldn’t make them so.  Gov. Scott Walker (R) won a close race in 2010 and won a slightly less close recall in 2012, and at the time, most Wisconsin Democrats figured they were DOA in 2014.  After all, enthusiasm severely waned in the race and all major Democrats in the state passed on the seat, leaving millionaire Madison School Board Member Mary Burke to win the nomination.

Of course since then the Democratic enthusiasm in the state has hit fever pitch, and Walker is clearly in a lot of trouble.  Ethics problems may seem on the surface what is causing the nail-biter polls (at this point Burke is probably leading by a point or so in aggregate polling), but the reality is that Burke is hammering Walker on his lack of economic growth (the unemployment numbers in Wisconsin outpace most of their neighbors), which is hurting him far more effectively than Tom Barrett’s collective bargaining attacks in the past two elections.  This could be the upset of the cycle, particularly considering that Walker was one of my Top 3 predictions to be the Republican nominee in 2016.

West Virginia-3

We’ll end with longtime Rep. Nick Rahall (D) and his quest for a 20th term in Congress.  This is the most conservative seat in the country where a Democrat is seeking reelection (it went for Mitt Romney by over 30-points), and State Sen. Evan Jenkins has run a very strong campaign trying to nationalize the race.  Rahall’s ads have won plaudits (particularly his one mimicking the famed Pace Picante/New York City ads), but that may not be enough for an incumbent that has long relied on ticket-splitting in a political environment where ticket-splitting is dying.  Rahall’s fate may mimic a number of southern Democrats in the Senate who cannot fight the growing Republicanism in their home states.

And that’s the end of the road for this article-quite a doozy, if I may say so myself.  I’m sure you have opinions on races I included or left out, so share them in the comments-what other races are there that you’re intrigued by and what races on this list don’t seem that interesting?  Click below and speak your peace!