Sunday, December 21, 2014

December Oscar Predictions: Acting Categories

We've gone through the visual and the aural categories, so we're now going to jump into four of the categories that everyone seems to want to discuss: what twenty movie stars are about to become the focus of every film podcast, discussion, and magazine (not to mention add a first paragraph sentence to their obituaries #morbidbuttrue)?  Let's find out!

Actor

Last year's race proved that, like every year, we could be in for a series of surprises here (no one saw Christian Bale coming), but right now six men have clearly made it to the front of the pack.  It's hard to see Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), Michael Keaton (Birdman) or Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) missing at this point-all three have key roles in likely Best Picture contenders and made it with the Globes and SAG.  David Oyelowo missed with the SAG Awards, admittedly, but he's got so much going for him and Selma has yet to peak-I think that it's hard to see him miss.  The remaining slot, however, seems to be a battle royale between Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) and Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler).  While both made it with SAG and the Globes, Gyllenhaal did score at the BFCA, which is usually a pretty solid indicator of eventual nominations.  Still, Gyllenhaal is very young and Carell is playing a real-life character, is unrecognizable, and has a lot of actorly tics to fall back upon.  If there is a Christian Bale in this field, perhaps it could be Ralph Fiennes, who stole every scene he was in in The Grand Budapest Hotel or Timothy Spall, who is surely going to be a major player for the BAFTA with Mr. Turner or Bill Murray for a film that got new life with the SAG/Globe nods or perhaps even a resurgent Bradley Cooper in American Sniper (he's been nominated two years in a row with AMPAS now-clearly they like him).  Still, I suspect that it's Jack Twist vs. Michael Scott for that final citation, and I'm going with...

My Predictions: Steve Carell, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Keaton, David Oyelowo, Eddie Redmayne

Actress

Best Actress has thrown us a bit in recent years.  Frequently we seem to have the exact lineup and then a Tilda Swinton or Emma Thompson end up missing.  Still, if any recent year seems to scream "2009!" it's this one, with a default winner in Julianne Moore (Still Alice), who is getting her Oscar partially for performance but mostly because "Oscar Winner Julianne Moore" feels like something we should all be saying.  Joining her will surely be Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) and Reese Witherspoon (Wild) the latter of which is in a film that is not catching on for some reason in other categories (perhaps after Into the Wild and 127 Hours the Academy is over the whole survivalist thing?), but in a year with few contenders that probably won't matter.  The final slot in theory could get crazy.  Amy Adams is always a threat, and she's playing a real-life person in a Globe-nominated role, but this movie feels like it isn't happening, doesn't it?  Hilary Swank is the best she's been in years with The Homesman, but the film hasn't caught on in a major way and it's not a threat in other categories so people might not see the film.  Marion Cotillard continues to be someone to keep track of, but even if she was just campaigning for one film, both The Immigrant and Two Days, One Night are both so small that it would be a tough sell-throw in vote-splitting and it becomes nearly impossible.  And Shailene Woodley, Jenny Slate, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw all needed some sort of major precursor love in order to keep their names in competition.  This is why I think the obvious fifth answer will be Jennifer Aniston, who after nods from the BFCA, Globes, and SAG, will nab her first Oscar nomination.

My Predictions: Jennifer Aniston, Felicity Jones, Julianne Moore, Rosamund Pike, Reese Witherspoon

Supporting Actor

In what was once a wide open race we now have a completely boring and potentially set race.  JK Simmons is about as likely to win this award for Whiplash as anyone possibly could be at this point in the game, and Ethan Hawke (Boyhood) and Edward Norton (Birdman) have already started looking for a tux.  Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher) and Robert Duvall (The Judge) round out the list of actors that scored with both the Globes and SAG Awards, and both are the sorts of actors that AMPAS would cling toward in a year where this list has no heat.  In years like that, when the list is being held together by performances no one is enthralled with, it's always good to look at the Best Picture contenders and see if any of them have stealth nominees.  Tom Wilkinson and Tim Roth (both for Selma) and Matthew Goode (The Imitation Game) both come to mind in this regard, though for some reason the Selma men haven't caught on in the way you'd expect and Goode is probably too bland and handsome to get a surprise nomination (Roth and Wilkinson have been nominated before, proving that they are liked by the branch).  There's also the possibility that Christoph Waltz gets in in yet another lead/supporting performance but the stench off of Big Eyes is starting to become pungent, and he's being taken along with it.

My Predictions: Robert Duvall, Ethan Hawke, Edward Norton, Mark Ruffalo, JK Simmons

Supporting Actress

The rare category that didn't go lockstep with the Globes and SAG Awards, we got a few new names in the race (well, one, but that's still exciting), and as a result this could go a few different ways.  It seems likely that four women have put themselves in positions to be nominated.  Patricia Arquette, whether or not she wins, is certain to be a nominee for the critically-rewarded Boyhood.  Emma Stone and Keira Knightley have plum roles in Best Picture frontrunners, and are the "right" age for this category-they're both in.  And when Meryl scores at the Globes and SAG Awards, she also scores with AMPAS, so count on Number 19 (and a lot of gracious "oh you" moments with Neil Patrick Harris when he calls out that incredible number) for Into the Woods.  The final slot could go a number of different ways.  The Globes went with Jessica Chastain, the SAG Awards scored with Naomi Watts, and the BFCA's added Tilda Swinton's name for Snowpiercer to the mix (though they also put Chastain's name down-it's a six-wide field).  While Chastain is probably what you'd consider the frontrunner for the fifth slot, it's worth noting that A Most Violent Year hasn't been released particularly wide yet and there's still quite a bit of scuttle around this spot.  In addition to Watts and Swinton, it would be foolish to totally discount Carmen Ejogo (Selma), Laura Dern (Wild), or even Rene Russo (Nightcrawler), all of whom have significant roles in films that actors' branch voters will be seeing already (this has worked for people like Marcia Gay Harden in the past).

My Predictions: Patricia Arquette, Jessica Chastain, Keira Knightley, Emma Stone, Meryl Streep

And those are my predictions in the acting races.  Unlike some of the other categories we'll look into, there's a decent chance that all of these people will be discussed before my final Oscar predictions, but since discussing actors is always a joy, why not take to the comments and give it a try?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Jeb Bush Presidential Announcement: Winners and Losers

Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL)
This past week, if you were sitting under a rock, you might have missed that we essentially got our first major presidential candidate in Jeb Bush.  Yes, Bush hasn't "officially" started to run, but his entrance into the race even in an exploratory phase puts an increased likelihood that one of the major players of 2016 will in fact be ready to play.

As a result of this, it's worth asking the question of who is helped and who is hurt by a Jeb Bush candidacy.  Obviously presidential races have a way of turning out differently than you would have expected (who would have thought, for example, how much birth control would factor into the last presidential election, or that a birth certificate would play a role in the race four years before that?), but there's clearly tea leaves to be read when it comes to Gov. Bush's entrance, so I figured we would process who wins and who loses with his entrance into the race.

The Winners

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)
Sen. Rand Paul

Rand Paul has to be doing the happiest of dances right now when it comes to Bush's entrance.  Paul and Bush have wildly different approaches to the government-no one can impugn Sen. Paul's libertarian/limited-government credentials, and as a result he will not be wrestling with the same base as Gov. Bush within the Republican Party.  Bush's entrance also means that many of Paul's most formidable opponents will be competing for the same piece of the pie, which is great in a primary where you may win proportional delegates, but the buzz from the media, which focuses a lot on the winner of the race and eliminates contenders that underperform (as I've mentioned before, this is a terrible process in desperate need of a fix, but it is still our process).  If Paul starts scoring early victories because Bush splinters support and the vote, that's most definitely a good thing (look at how someone like Barack Obama eight years ago used early victories to cement the nomination).

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Hillary, it should be noted, gains little from Jeb Bush in the primary.  In fact, one could make the argument that it hurts her (I'll be doing that in a second).  But I'm including Hillary in the winners column for now because no one seems to be able to touch her in the primary, and in the general Bush helps Hillary Clinton out tremendously.  One of the major arguments against Sec. Clinton in the general is that her candidacy will feel too much like going back to the past.  With Jeb Bush as her opponent, that's a harder pill to swallow.  Yes, he makes it exponentially harder to win Florida, but swing states that got affected pretty badly toward the end of the Bush administration with layoffs (such as Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania) will have an easier answer of whether you want a Clinton or a Bush in charge of the country.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren

As I mentioned above, Hillary takes a hit when it comes to the primaries, however, as all of the attacks against Bush will be "failed policies of the past" and that argument could leak over to the Democratic primary, which could only help Elizabeth Warren, who has fast-emerged as the leading opposition candidate to a Clinton presidential run.  Warren also benefits greatly if someone like Rand Paul is the Republican nominee, which becomes more likely against Bush-two candidates that could be considered toward the more extreme end of their parties will make it easier for the other to win the actual general election.  After all, if it's Warren v. Paul for the White House in 2016, one of them will win even if independents don't really like either.  Two-party system, that's how we roll.

Sen. Rob Portman

Rob Portman was one of the first candidates to get himself out of the presidential race, and as a result, made at the very least a bold decision.  The question has been since then whether or not he made a smart decision, but his long odds on that query improved with Gov. Bush entering the race.  The reality is that Portman's best shot at the presidency is to be Veep for eight years and make a play for the office in 2024.  Portman has a long history of support for the Bush's, and served in two prominent positions during President George W. Bush's administration.  I would imagine that Portman would be at the top of the second slot list for Jeb, if not the right-of-first-refusal candidate, so actually having Bush in the race will surely help Portman's chances at a higher office.

Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR)
Gov. Mike Huckabee

We now have Bush in the race, who will be fighting for the establishment wing of the party (and it's worth noting, this is the part of the party that usually wins the primaries).  You have Rand Paul as a champion of the Tea Party and of the growing libertarian faction.  But you still need someone to fill the void in terms of the social conservatives, and Huckabee, who still does well in polling despite being largely ignored by the media, would be the heir apparent if he so chose to go that route.  Huckabee gains not only because another fracture in the establishment wing helps him gain ranking within the primaries, but also because he can lump most of his opponents in with Bush on issues like immigration, making it easier for him to gain ground with the religious right, who is clearly feeling abandoned in the party and wants to throw their decreasing but still significant clout behind a candidate.

The Losers

Gov. Chris Christie

Chris Christie has had a mixed year at best.  While the Midterm elections couldn't have helped him more if they tried, his association with Bridgegate and his dwindling approval numbers back home have made 2016 an all or nothing situation (he won't be able to have this sort of momentum in 2020 while someone like Rand Paul or Marco Rubio might).  Putting all of your chickens in one basket is occasionally a good political strategy (Bill Clinton did it to great aplomb in 1992), but it's still risky, and Christie and Bush will be fighting over the same set of donors and supporters, but Bush will be doing it with decades worth of loyalty toward a family that defines the Republican Party, and Christie will be doing it largely on his own.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)
Sen. Marco Rubio

I still wonder if Rubio dares to enter the race if Gov. Bush actually takes the leap.  Same state candidates rarely make a play for the nomination against each other if only because you exhaust your home base of donors if you do that.  Rubio has a long career ahead of him (though ask someone like Evan Bayh what waiting your turn feels like), and Jeb Bush is one of his mentors.  I find it doubtful that he ends up running with Bush in the race, but considering that's all anyone talks about when you refer to Rubio, his leaving the presidential race could have a huge effect on his authority and ability to gain media attention in Washington.

Sen. Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz doesn't really care if the establishment doesn't like him.  If he runs, he's in it to stick it to the powers-that-be.  He's the candidate Sarah Palin would have been in 2012, except without as much name recognition and with a stronger field.  His abilities, however, are largely built on a house of cards and aren't actually pragmatic, but generally candidates like Chris Christie and Rand Paul are reluctant to call him on it for fear of the Tea Party reprisal.  Jeb Bush doesn't care about that.  Bush is going to win the primary, if he wins, with establishment support, and of all of the candidates, is the least likely to win Cruz's supporters.  As a result he's the only candidate that isn't afraid to call out Ted Cruz, something that he isn't used to from fellow Republicans, which could pose a problem in the debates.

Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA)
Gov. Mitt Romney

Romney is in a similar situation to Chris Christie, except unlike Christie he has a national base of support.  He, like the Bush family, has been in the Republican Party for years.  Still, when it comes down to it, who will the donors support-the man whose family has won three presidential races and he himself successfully won statewide in the most important swing state in the country (twice), or the man who just lost the presidential election to the much-loathed Barack Obama?  2014 has been the year of making Mitt Romney feel good, but that doesn't mean that he'll be able to translate that into another win come next year.

President George W. Bush

Sorry, bro, but your long retirement is coming to an end.  No matter how hard he tries, Jeb Bush will not be able to escape the long shadow cast by his older brother, and he shouldn't even try.  Avoiding what people are certain to think is a stupid idea, and you should try a different tactic.  Still, though, President Bush is going to have to come out of retirement to campaign, and is going to have his administration's foibles brought forth every chance both Democrats and Republicans get, which won't be as feel good as George H.W. Bush's comparisons.

And those are my winners and losers with Jeb Bush's announcement.  Who am I missing-what other people do you think gain or lose from a Bush candidacy?  Share in the comments!

December Oscar Predictions: Aural Categories

Yesterday we took a look at the visual categories for the Oscars, and so today it makes sense that we investigate the auditory categories, the four awards that go to what you hear.  You know the drill if you read yesterday's post (and if not, click on over and get started at the beginning, a very good place to start) and so let's begin!

Original Score

This year appears to be the year of Alexandre Desplat.  Desplat has an astounding five eligible films out, and while it's easy to dismiss The Monuments Men and Godzilla as also-rans, his last three contenders all have Best Picture buzz going for them: The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Unbroken.  It's worth noting that you can be nominated as many times as you want in this category and that Desplat, a 6-time Oscar nominee, has never won the trophy so I suspect he'll make it for at least two citations, if not all three.  The music branch is notoriously cliquey with this category, and so it's a good bet to go with past nominees and then maybe one first-timer (who inevitably goes on to win, which is why someone like Desplat collects nominations like Tic Tacs but never actually scores a trophy).  While perpetual nominee John Williams doesn't have an eligible score this year, several favorites in the category have major contenders.  Hans Zimmer's Interstellar recently landed him a Globe nomination, and while AMPAS runs a bit hot and cold with him, they may want to make up for his high profile snub last year.  Marco Beltrami has The Homesman and has scored random nominations when the film didn't have a chance before (as has Thomas Newman for The Judge), though neither man has the "must nominate" stamp that someone like Williams has (though Newman comes close after Saving Mr. Banks last year).  Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have become surprisingly strong contenders with the Oscars in recent years (AMPAS's rare foray into modern music) and so Gone Girl isn't out of the question.  Since there's usually at least one first-timer, look out for Johan Johannsson's The Theory of Everything, which has the sort of lush and flowing score that usually can grab you a first-time nomination.  Other than Johannsson, no one else quite calls out to me for the "first-timer" slot, though it's worth noting that there's a number of additional former nominees that could randomly make it if AMPAS is feeling like they need an invite back: Danny Elfman (Big Eyes), Alberto Iglesias (Exodus: Gods and Kings), A.R. Rahman (The Hundred-Foot Journey), James Newton Howard (Maleficent), and Howard Shore (Rosewater) all spring to mind.

My Predictions: Gone Girl, The Imitation Game, Interstellar, The Theory of Everything, Unbroken

Original Song

As Alone Yet Not Alone proved last year, trying to predict what happens in this category is a completely pointless endeavor, but I'll give it a shot anyway.  Despite a surprise exclusion from the Globes, I still feel like "Lost Stars" in Begin Again is going to be a nominee-it's too central to the plot and critically-acclaimed for them to completely ignore the film (though I do think the producers should have submitted two songs, as the film could have gotten a pair of nominations considering the relative dearth of contenders this year).  I suspect that with its likely Best Picture nomination that something like "Glory" from Selma (which could well get the Globe win) will nab Common and John Legend their first Oscar nominations, and the same could be said for "Mercy Is" from Noah (sung by the legendary Patti Smith, pictured above).  Though she missed for "Grateful" at the Golden Globes, six-time nominee Diane Warren is always a threat, and Beyond the Lights may want to find some sort of cache in the season.  Coldplay tried and failed last year with "Atlas" from Catching Fire, but could be back with "Miracles" from Unbroken (though that film's nomination count is very much in flux right now).  Continuing a weird trend for AMPAS, the Globes once again nominated The Hunger Games with Lorde's "Yellow Flicker Beat" but despite names like Taylor Swift and Coldplay surrounding the films in the past, the Oscars haven't taken a look at this massively successful franchise.  The Globes also went with Annie and "Opportunity" and as a result we shouldn't really discount the song, though that feels like the sort of thing that happens at the Globes and not the Oscars (the same with Lana del Rey's "Big Eyes").  In the past The Lord of the Rings was able to score multiple song nominations, but The Hobbit hasn't been able to duplicate that trick despite two attempts, and "The Last Goodbye" will probably be passed over as a result.  If the Academy is feeling sentimental they may go with Glen Campbell's farewell song "Not Going to Miss Me" in his documentary (it's worth noting that if nostalgia is rife with AMPAS, and occasionally it is, 45 years ago Campbell sang another Oscar-nominated song in True Grit).  And finally there's always the ear candy hook of "Everything is Awesome" from The Lego Movie if AMPAS voters can't get it out of their head.

My Predictions: Begin Again, Beyond the Lights, The Lego Movie, Noah, Selma

Sound Mixing

Here's where I'm gong to defer a bit to insiders-I have read that Interstellar, which I would normally consider a slam dunk in this category is being (rightfully) disregarded in this category due to a number of technical issues with the sound mixing, and as a result while it's definitely in the running, I'm not going there quite yet.  Where I am going is the musicals.  This category famously loves musicals, and as a result I'm assuming that Into the Woods is not only a lock, but could well be a winner.  A lot of sites are really high on Get on Up, but doesn't that film feel a little bit ancient at this point?  It could well score (two musicals isn't unprecedented here), but I'm going to put a pin in that for now.  If Clint Eastwood manages to make any sort of indent on the Oscars this year, the sound categories are probably the place to start and so you should look out for American Sniper.  Franchises such as The Hobbit and Transformers have done marvelously here before (in the case of the latter film, they've never actually missed), but if fatigue sets in either of them could miss.  This is yet another category where the strength of something like Unbroken is going to be tested-if it does well in other categories, it could carry over here.  The same could be said for The Imitation Game or Selma, as Best Picture frontrunners frequently end up getting a random citation in this category (the same could be said for Whiplash, which has the added bonus of being musically-oriented).  The sound categories frequently pickup a film that may have been forgotten throughout the year, so don't completely forget about something like Fury, Godzilla, or Edge of Tomorrow, as they might randomly make the cut if the films have more cache than we expected.  And considering its gargantuan Box Office, this is one of the few categories where Guardians of the Galaxy has a shot to pull a surprise nomination if Hollywood is feeling thankful for a new franchise.

My Predictions: American Sniper, Into the Woods, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Unbroken, Whiplash

Sound Editing

The differences between Sound Mixing always seem to matter a bit more when it comes to nominations (so frequently they end up being won by the same film).  It's important to note that musicals and Best Picture winners are MUCH more likely to score a coattail nomination in Mixing than in Sound Editing, where they're far bigger sticklers for action movies, effects films, and anything related to transportation.  That last point is probably where Godzilla may make its biggest dent.  The constant tanks, planes, and cars involved in the film make this category easily its best shot at a nomination.  War films like Fury and Unbroken definitely have a leg-up in this regard, as does a space film like Interstellar (which won't have the same sort of technical clucking that it will in Sound Mixing).  American Sniper could pull a Lone Survivor and get its only two nominations in the Sound category after initially being considered for a larger pool of categories.  The Hobbit and Transformers have similar sorts of questions as in Mixing-is the Academy tired of them (in which case there's plenty of other options) or will they go once more to that well (in which case these are serious contenders)?  Guardians of the Galaxy may make it if the film has as many fans in the Academy as it does in theaters, though The Avengers wasn't able to score for this category, and that was considerably more popular.  And finally, because I think it's a fascinating story, I wonder if others will be drawn to the way that Noah used real life sounds from storms (some of the tracks were actually from Hurricane Sandy) and give it a surprise nod?

My Predictions: American Sniper, Fury, Godzilla, Interstellar, Unbroken

Those are my sound categories, next we'll tackle acting, but in the meantime what are your thoughts about these categories?  Any films you think I missed the boat on?  Any films that you expect to do better or worse?  And what film do you still need to see that you're sure will score here?  Share in the comments!

Friday, December 19, 2014

OVP: Topper (1937)

Film: Topper (1937)
Stars: Constance Bennett, Cary Grant, Roland Young, Billie Burke
Director: Norman Z. McLeod
Oscar History: 2 nominations (Best Supporting Actor-Roland Young and Best Sound Recording)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

They don't make 'em like they used to do.  That's such a bizarre cliche, mostly because you frequently don't want them making them like they used to do.  In a lot of ways films have shifted to reflect modern tastes, and someone like, say, Susan Hayward wouldn't really be in place in today's modern dramas-she'd come across as too histrionic.  However, when it comes to screwball comedies, then yes, they don't make them like they used to, mostly because they don't really make them at all.  The screwball comedies, films like The Awful Truth and The Thin Man and Bringing Up Baby-they sort of exist in the past like Impressionist paintings and Baroque music.  Luckily for me, Turner Classic Movies still runs them and so I caught the charmingly daffy Topper this past week.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film stars Cary Grant and Constance Bennett as George and Marion, two Manhattan society types with a great idea for fun but not much of an idea for responsibility.  They're regularly galavanting around town, trying to find a good time, but oftentimes not taking any personal responsibility for themselves and driving cars like mad men.  They have an old friend named Cosmo Topper (played by Roland Young, and frenemy may be a better word at the beginning of the picture) who is the exact opposite-Topper is predictable and very responsible, but he receives no joy from life, and neither does his social-climbing wife Clara (Billie Burke, and yes that is Glinda the Good Witch), who spends most of her time berating Topper.

You can kind of see where this is going, with both sides needing to find an equilibrium with the other, but there's a twist-George and Marion die about a third of the way through the movie.  I knew this was coming, but otherwise would have found this a bit shocking.  Being that this is a screwball comedy, it doesn't phase them in the slightest, however, but they do realize that in order to get to heaven they probably need to do something worthwhile with their lives, and as a result they decide to help Topper to get a little bit more joy out of life and to stand up to his wife.  In the end, after a series of madcap adventures, Topper in fact does this, and the couple are granted access to heaven.

The plot of this film is probably why it couldn't work today.  Modern audiences would view George and Marion as being completely callous and dangerous with their driving, rather than an utter delight, and while a berated Topper is believable, he's hardly what you'd call a character that works as a leading man (though I can't help but cast Eddie Redmayne, Emma Stone, and Richard Jenkins for these parts in my head).  Still, that doesn't mean the film isn't totally worthwhile, because it most definitely is.  The chemistry between the two leads is absolutely wonderful.  This was the first major comedy hit that Grant had that wasn't opposite Mae West (random fact that I am guessing most don't know: Cary Grant's career actually started with Blonde Venus opposite Marlene Dietrich and a pair of major hits opposite Mae West, but he didn't become a headliner in the way he is remembered today until 1937), and it's worth noting this is probably one of the last films he would make as a leading man where he didn't get top billing (that went to the more famous-at-the-time Bennett).  It's also worth noting that during the late 30's/early 40's that Grant was incredibly smart with both his scripts and his leading ladies.  Constance Bennett is utterly charming, though largely unknown today, and has wonderfully wry chemistry with both Grant and Young.  Grant would follow up this film with performances opposite Irene Dunne, Katharine Hepburn, and Rosalind Russell, showing that his agent clearly knew what he was doing.

The film received two Oscar nominations, one for Roland Young as the title character and another for Best Sound.  Young is okay most of the time, and occasionally even fun (though in my opinion Bennett and Grant always steal the show), though I'd question a bit his supporting role.  He's not only the title character, but he seems to have more screen-time than either Grant or Bennett despite what the billing may indicate, and it seems like he got this nomination more out of the way that Hollywood operated in those days (either you were a star or a character actor).  I would have liked to have seen a little bit more either slapstick sensibility from him or appreciation for his new self as the film went on, as that would have gotten me a bit higher on the performance.  The sound nomination is surely for the effects that happen throughout the film, where Bennett and Grant are frequently speaking in a voiceover (which would have been a less common effect then than it is now), and I suppose that's impressive, though the rest of the film never really seems special in that regard and it seems weird to call it one of the year's best for a trick.

Overall though, this was a comedy delight even if it's never quite as good as Bringing Up Baby or The Philadelphia Story.  For those who have seen it-what are your thoughts?  Do you like the first film better, or are you partial to one of the sequels?  Do you think that Roland Young deserved his Oscar nomination, and perhaps even a win?  And what are your thoughts on Cary Grant's leading ladies-who is your favorite?  Speak up in the comments!

December Oscar Predictions: Visual Categories

It's nearly Oscar nomination time, and so I'm going to be doing my final round of predictions over the next week (we've had three rants this week, so I'll be skipping our usual Friday discussion for a bit of the Academy).  After this we'll get the BAFTA and the rest of the guild nominations, and then I'll do my final, official predictions on the eve of nomination morning.  As always, it's most fun if you predict in the comments with me, so feel free to click that button!

Production Design (Art Direction)

It'll always be Art Direction to me, even though it's technically called Production Design now.  For this category, though, about the only thing to me that feels like a sure thing is Into the Woods.  Fantastical worlds, beautiful sets, and lots of different options, and Dennis Gassner is a regular in this category that usually gets in for far less BAIT-y projects.  Tim Burton projects always win when they are nominated here, but Big Eyes hasn't been able to get much press at all, and usually he has a stronger fantasy template to work with.  I think that with the increased visibility of The Grand Budapest Hotel that Adam Stockhausen, who broke through last year with an Oscar nomination for 12 Years a Slave should be able to double that count with Wes Anderson.  Maleficent has the advantage of a weaker than average year for fantasy worlds, so Dylan Cole/Gary Freeman may finally get their first citations.  It's hard to tell what the strengths of a film like Unbroken (big giant sets) or Interstellar (big giant worlds, most digital though) will be.  If they're still players in the Best Picture race it's not unthinkable to say that they won't score here, though categories like Cinematography or Visual Effects make more sense.  Exodus: Gods and Kings is certainly the sort of film that Oscar normally would go for (incredible world-building, which is very much en vogue in Production Design), but do they really want "Oscar-nominated" on this stinker?  Historically this category has borrowed quite a bit from the Costume category, so a nomination for Mr. Turner isn't unthinkable (and though they didn't go for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy a few years back, I wouldn't rule out Best Picture frontrunner The Imitation Game).  And if in doubt, bet on Middle Earth: though the last installment missed, the previous four didn't, and I would imagine Dan Hennah still has a variety of supporters.

My Predictions: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Into the Woods, Maleficent, Mr. Turner, Unbroken

Cinematography

Pity Roger Deakins.  Every single year it seems like it might finally be "his year" all-the-while watching his films fall by the wayside to a more stately contender.  This seems to be happening this year with the fall of Unbroken as a Best Picture frontrunner, though I suspect Deakins, the most nominated living cinematographer without a win, will get yet another citation (going for the all-time record).  Gaining in his stead could well be last year's winner Emmanuel Lubezki, who does bravura work in Birdman that pretty much everyone has noticed (that long shot is wildly celebrated).  Hoyte van Hoytema has constantly been on the verge of a nomination, and with Wally Pfister not being behind Interstellar this year, he may FINALLY make the cut (I was so certain he'd make it last year for Her, though, so I am keeping my hopes for both he and Greig Fraser's Foxcatcher tempered).  Dick Pope hasn't been invited back since his surprise nomination seven years ago, but Mr. Turner has been getting absolute raves for its cinematography and if it's even somewhat big with Oscar I think he'll make it.  Bradford Young has a couple of different films that are eligible this year (including A Most Violent Year), but Selma is definitely his best shot, especially if the film picks up steam.  Benoit Delhomme is also another cinematographer that is trying to make his breakthough, with The Theory of Everything's noted golden hue potentially taking him over the finish line.  And of course if the fairly chummy branch wants to randomly honor one of their favorites, they have plenty to pick from: Bruno Delbonnel (Big Eyes), Dion Beebe (Into the Woods), Robert Elswit (Inherent Vice), Matthew Libatique (Noah), and Rodrigo Prieto (The Homesman) all have made it before and could do it again.

My Predictions: Birdman, Interstellar, Mr. Turner, The Theory of Everything, Unbroken

Costume Design

The costume designers' branch is arguably the most fun of the visual categories, not because I love costumes most of any aesthetic aspect of film (I'd lean toward Cinematography) or because they make the craziest decisions (that'd be Makeup), but because they're the least likely to hold things like Box Office or Best Picture nominations into account when making their decisions.  They have their hang-ups, of course (not enough modern ware, too focused on period dramas), but by-and-large they are more likely to honor a film that has completely been forgotten like WE or Anonymous than another branch would be in the face of such failed reviews or Box Office.

As a result, I wouldn't totally discount the critically-lambasted Exodus: Gods and Kings which features work by Oscar-winner Janty Yates (who won for another Ridley Scott epic fourteen years ago, Gladiator)-if it becomes Oscar-nominated, it will happen here before anywhere else.  A more likely contender would be Colleen Atwood, who is near certain to add an eleventh Oscar nomination (and possibly a fourth win) for Into the Woods (Atwood could theoretically double-nominate for Big Eyes, but I suspect they want to spread the wealth).  She'll have to face off against Anna B. Sheppard, who is still in the hunt for her first trophy but has a great fantasy feature in Maleficent.  Milena Cananero is another three-time Oscar winner who could make it for the brightly-colored threads featured in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Mark Bridges is another Oscar winner making a play, though his work in Inherent Vice might be too modern-they might be better off going with Jacqueline Durran for Mr. Turner, though that would be her first nomination that wasn't related to dressing Keira Knightley.  There's also Ruth E. Carter who could be back for a third nomination with Selma, though she inexplicably missed a few years ago for Inglourious Basterds.  Those are the likely nominees (all former contenders), though in a year with few period pieces the branch could surprise with an obscure feature like Grace of Monaco, Saint Laurent, Belle, or even The Immigrant, which would land six-time nominee Patricia Norris (who holds the record in the category for most nominations without a win) her seventh citation.

My Predictions: Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Into the Woods, Maleficent, Mr. Turner

Film Editing


As a general rule this is the easiest category to predict.  Go with four of the leading Best Picture contenders, add in a film that is clearly an editing showcase (likely a prestige action film) and you call it a day.  And that may well be where this goes.  I suspect we'll see Selma, Birdman, and Boyhood all make the cut, and with Oscar-winner William Goldenberg manning the ship, The Imitation Game could well be the fourth.  Goldenberg could be a double nominee (he did that two years ago with Argo and Zero Dark Thirty) if he makes it for Unbroken, but that film has fallen a bit and I don't quite see it making the cut without more oomph.  Another clear contender if the film does well with the Academy is Whiplash, which relies heavily on very obvious editing, which is a plus for this category.  The Theory of Everything or The Grand Budapest Hotel could be serious players if their films do better than expected, though neither is an obvious editing triumph.  I suspect that we're more likely to see something like Interstellar (Nolan films frequently get nominated here) or Fury (with 3-time nominee Jay Cassidy in charge) if we go too far off the Best Picture path.

My Predictions: Birdman, Boyhood, The Imitation Game, Selma, Whiplash

Makeup and Hairstyling


Without a doubt the weirdest and most difficult category to predict when it comes to the Oscars.  Honestly-a film can be a surefire contender and then it randomly skips.  Look at Into the Woods or The Hobbit this year-both seemed certain to make the Top 7, if not the Top 3, but when the bake-off was released neither of them were to be found.  Still, I suspect that even with it on the bakeoff a movie like Noah (where precisely was that makeup?) or The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Jamie Foxx looked terrible in that movie) will probably be skipped for more traditional work (watch both of them make it-this is that kind of category).  My guesses are more along the lines of Guardians of the Galaxy (it's the year's biggest hit and makeup has an important place with a lot of major characters in the film) and Foxcatcher (again, the transformations of the lead actors were noticeable).  The third nomination could go to another transformation of a movie star (Maleficent) or to the aging-up of Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything, or even the old age work that consumed Tilda Swinton in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

My Predictions: Foxcatcher, Guardians of the Galaxy, Maleficent

Visual Effects


The Visual Effects branch also has a bake-off, but this year that didn't help matters much as Noah was the only realistic contender that missed the cut.  Films like Interstellar and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes seem intent on dueling for the win (though, despite its tepid reception, Interstellar remains close to the front of the line), so really we're just looking at three final contestants.  The Hobbit has made it every single outing in this category and though there seems to be fatigue setting in, it's hard to see it missing in a category that it has owned (winning 60% of its chances), so I am keeping it.  The final two slots are a battle between four films: Maleficent, Guardians of the Galaxy, Godzilla, and Tranformers: Age of Exinction.  On the surface Guardians seems the easiest to dismiss, but it's also the year's biggest hit and that helps hugely in a category that focuses on the blockbusters.  Transformers hasn't always made it here like it has in Sound, but even with awful reviews it's still something to pay attention toward.  Maleficent seems to recall Snow White and the Huntsman from a few years back, a film that shocked when it got its citation, possibly because this category almost always has male leads.  And Godzilla was technically lovely and got plaudits from critics, but doesn't it feel a bit forgotten/over by now in a way the other films don't?  Any combination of these four films for the final two slots wouldn't surprise me, but right now I'm going with...

My Predictions: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Hobbit, Interstellar, Maleficent

And those are my current visual category nominees.  Tomorrow we start looking into the auditory categories, but in the meantime-what are your predictions here?  Who are you rooting for?  Share in the comments!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

OVP: Captain Kidd (1945)

Film: Captain Kidd (1945)
Stars: Charles Laughton, Randolph Scott, Barbara Britton, John Carradine, Gilbert Roland
Director: Rowland V. Lee
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Original Score)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

Charles Laughton is one of the most unlikely of movie stars.  Portly, always, with a rough temper and consistently playing bad guys he is hardly what you'd have considered a fine choice to be one of the biggest headliners of the 1940's, but that's what happens sometimes-Hollywood gives the public what they want, and films starring Laughton is what came as a result of that.

(Spoilers Ahead) This is one of those many pictures that Laughton starred in in the 1940's (he would make twenty films during the decade), a historically inaccurate look at the life of William Kidd, a 17th Century pirate who was more famous than most and more ruthless to go along with it.  He manages to trick King William III to let him sail to India with a crew of pirates in order to bring a ship back from India.  The Indian Lord Fallsworth and his beautiful daughter Lady Anne (Britton) are taken aboard at this juncture, though Lord Fallsworth is soon murdered in an "accident" by Kidd, who then destroys the other ship, but wants to find a way to both bring back his loot from the beginning of the film (a treasure plundered from a ship called the Twelve Apostles) and also become a gentleman in the court of the king (seriously-the guy has mad social-climbing ambitions).

Thankfully for Lady Anne, who has found herself on a ship full of pirates ala Keira Knightley, she's got her own personal Orlando Bloom in the form of Randolph Scott (random thought: is there a better modern day analogy for Randolph Scott than to call him the 1940's Orlando Bloom?) as an undercover pirate who is out to avenge the death of his father, who was the captain of the Twelve Apostles.  Through some swashbuckling sword-fights and a smartly timed trip to shore, the two manage to escape Captain Kidd's clutches, incriminate him to the king, see Kidd hanged at the gallows, and then get married with a fleet of ships from the king as a wedding present.  Seriously-that's how the film ends.  It's the 1940's-what do you expect?

Honestly, the entire endeavor seems rather silly even if you disregard the gross historical inaccuracies (never mind that Kidd went back to New York, not to London before he was eventually hanged-the better question is how did Tower Bridge show up in one scene 200 years before it was actually built-was it time-traveling pirates...cause that's a movie I want to see?!?).  Laughton is always insanely watchable even if he's a giant fussbudget and a bit too worldly and proper to be believable as a pirate.  I've always found Randolph Scott insanely dull onscreen, a bizarrely popular movie star who doesn't seem to have enough charisma to be a compelling leading man, and who at 47 is too old to be playing this part and twenty years the senior of Barbara Britton.  The film is occasionally fun (I loved the pirate quarrel at the beginning of the film), but once it becomes Laughton vs. Scott I sort of lost interest, as Laughton is always more interesting even if he's being a bit hammy and scenery-chewing in certain scenes.

The film landed one Oscar nomination, for Best Score, though not to impugn nominee Werner Janssen's nomination too much but this was the final year where basically any studio could guarantee a nomination for Best Score just by submitting at least one eligible film.  As a result Captain Kidd was actually one of 21 nominees in this category.  The music is exactly what you'd expect from a pirate film, and doesn't really compare with some of the contenders it was facing that year, including Miklos Rozsa's Spellbound.  I doubt very sincerely that in a five-wide field this would have been one of the ones that made the cut-the score only comes out when they need to cover some action, and relies too heavily on cliches (the light, frilly music whenever Lady Anne comes on, the ominous notes starting at least thirty seconds before we see that Captain Kidd is about to do something unspeakable yet again).  It occasionally takes away from the film, and even if it is boisterous to listen to on its own, that doesn't mean that it's any good when it comes to aiding the story.

Those are my thoughts on this pretty forgettable pirate adventure-has anyone else seen it (it's in public domain, so it's probably one of those $2 DVD's you see in a K-Mart bin)?  If not, what are your thoughts on the careers of Randolph Scott and Charles Laughton?  And anyone want to speculate why they made it so easy to get an Oscar nomination for music back in the day?

Ranting On...The Interview and Why Sony Made the Wrong Decision

I remember in the wake of the Aurora shootings two years ago, my mom was visiting me.  We had planned on seeing the film The Dark Knight Rises that Saturday morning, and there was a bit of a question between the two of us over whether or not we would go see the film, with worry being a factor after the horrible deaths in Colorado and whether or not there would be copycat crimes across the country throughout the weekend.  We quickly decided that giving in and changing how we live our lives would be a silly and cowardly thing to do, and so we went, bought our popcorn, and watched Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy play the villains, not letting the real-life villains dictate how we would live our lives.  Occasionally in life you have to take a small stand against something scary, and that was what we decided to do that day to prove that freedom is occasionally worth taking a risk when you're not sure how things might turn out.

I kept thinking of this story with the news yesterday that The Interview, the Sony film starring James Franco and Seth Rogen, had been pulled from its release date on Christmas after every major theater chain in America declined to see the film for fear of threats from a group likely associated with North Korea promising "9/11" style terrorist attacks on theaters showing the film.  It's understandable why the theater chains wanted to pull the film, both from a safety and from a pragmatic perspective.  Obviously no theater chain wants to put at risk the lives of the patrons, and if there was a specific threat to a specific theater they would need to deal with that threat.  And of course there's an incredible amount of money at stake here.  It's not just that The Interview would potentially have lowered receipts, but a trickle-down to other films being released at the same time could cost Hollywood astronomically, as movies like The Hobbit, Into the Woods, and Night at the Museum 3 will combined make into the hundreds of millions of dollars over the next couple of weeks.  This is a monetary cost that Hollywood just can't bare right now, particularly considering the lowered expectations of so many films this year.

And yet, this course of events deeply, deeply disturbs me.  I have never seen something like this in my lifetime, and I'm guessing most people haven't.  I have, of course, seen strong reaction through the years to controversial films.  Movies like The Passion of the Christ, Zero Dark Thirty and 2016: Obama's America come to mind as films that produced a great amount of ire, even protests, and a healthy call for boycotts of the films, but all of them were allowed to air in theaters without reprisal against those who saw the films.  Even a film like Song of the South is kept from home video release not because of public outcry, but because Disney doesn't want to release the film due to its racial stereotypes.  The Interview is the first time I've ever seen a film not released to the general public because of a terrorist threat.

This fact should terrify us all.  One of the paramount things that makes us Americans is our right to free speech, both to say what we want, no matter the controversy, and (equally important) to hear that free speech if we so choose.  I get why these theaters chose not to put this film forward and I understand why, in the face of the outcry, Sony chose not to release the picture, but that doesn't mean I agree with it.  From a purely business standpoint, it invites any number of groups to threaten if they don't like a film.  What's going to stop another country or another terrorist group from threatening a film or TV show and making it so that that film isn't shown?  From a personal freedom standpoint, every nick and dent that we put in our personal freedoms as a concession to terrorists or threats makes us less free.  This is the entire argument against something like the Patriot Act.  Hell, it's even a part of the argument by the NRA and other gun advocates regarding the second amendment (though there's a lot more historical interpretation against their readings of the second amendment than there is for advocates of the first and fourth...but that's a topic for a different day).  The point is that we should not lightly give up our rights when terrorists threaten our way of life, because by giving in we do, in fact, let the terrorists threaten our way of life.

This is why I was so deeply disturbed a few years back when Comedy Central refused to air the prophet Muhammad in a series of South Park appearances.  When we acquiesce to terrorist groups, we are giving away our freedom of speech.  There's a reason "we do not negotiate with terrorists" is a strong policy-it's because we do not want groups whose ideals and goals run counter to everything that our society stands for to be dictating how we police, govern, and live.  It may seem small in a world where we are constantly hearing about shootings, discrimination, and unrest, but The Interview and its ban mean something more than just a movie.  It means that we let our fear of an unknown nameless group dictate how we lived our lives.  That's petrifying to me, and it should be petrifying to anyone who appreciates and celebrates freedom.  I personally hope that Sony and these theater owners reconsider their release plans for this film, and I want them to know that I will be there in line and ready to buy a ticket, not just because I want to see the movie, but because men and women have bled and died so that I have the right to see that movie.  And no amount of threats are going to keep me from honoring their memory and their sacrifice for me.