Sunday, May 29, 2016

OVP: Picture (2014)

OVP: Best Picture (2014)

The Nominees Were...

Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper, and Peter Morgan, American Sniper
Alejandro G. Inarritu, John Lesher, and James W. Skotchdopole, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Richard Linklater and Cathleen Sutherland, Boyhood
Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales, and Jeremy Dawson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky, and Teddy Schwarzman, The Imitation Game
Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner, and Jeremy Kleiner, Selma
Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce, and Anthony McCarten, The Theory of Everything
Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook, and David Lancaster, Whiplash

My Thoughts: I really have absolutely no excuses as to why these take me so long to finish up-I genuinely enjoy doing them and while I never get many comments (or any comments), I know people are visiting and reading these but some nine months later, we are finally coming to the end of the 2014 Oscar Viewing Project.  I will probably start up 2007 in the next week or so as that's our next stop on the OVP train and am praying that I don't take a gestational period to finish that one up, but encouragement is always appreciated-please peruse the below links and comment on articles if you enjoy reading these and going back to past Oscar races, as I surely enjoy doing the write-ups.  But enough self-promotion, let's close out 2014.

We'll start with The Theory of Everything because I feel like it, and because it's the sort of picture that probably is the least memorable, so let's build to something, shall we?  Honestly, the movie itself seemed inevitable, and I still can't get over how much I enjoyed the first thirty minutes, genuinely feeling like it might be the rare biopic that doesn't rely on the same repetitive tropes we always see from the genre, but instead letting a real-life story be properly intermingled with movie-making magic, with a charming lad meeting a lovely lady and fireworks start popping.  Unfortunately for all of us, the film can't really handle when reality and real-life come into the picture.  Stephen Hawking is an extraordinary human being, but onscreen here he is hardly complicated, and so much of his life is transformed into a stiff upper lip contest, rather than having much feeling, either outward or in "a woman's heart is a deep ocean of secrets" manner.  The film fails in that regard, and as a result becomes middling rather than something you recall with pangs of emotion.

Alongside it in the biopic genre is The Imitation Game, arguably the film I have been the most hard on throughout these write-ups, but it's with sound reason.  The film itself is not good, and poorly edited and plotted.  Forget for a second the homophobia the director and writers utilize in addressing Alan Turing's life-the entire plot is formulaic, and only a few moments in the film (like Joan Clarke telling off Alan Turing) feel at all interesting or have any mystery around the characters.  The film, for a movie that is so high stakes, never mounts the hurdle of us knowing how the story ends, which the best biopics consistently can accomplish (see our recent review of United 93 for a strong example).  The Imitation Game also severely underwrites the gay nature of the main character, and as a result he leaves a puzzle rather than something that the film is trying to solve for the audience.  Unless the director equates being gay to a mental illness, it's hard to distinguish the two without more information.  This is a pity because, due to the celebration the movie received from critics, this is surely the only major biopic we will ever get about the extraordinary Alan Turing.

Continuing our real-life direction, we have American Sniper, the true story of Chris Kyle, the most successful sniper in American history.  Chris Kyle's story is arguably the least well-known of these three, and also has the most potential considering the bravura acting from Bradley Cooper at the lead and the way that Clint Eastwood has built strong narratives around complicated heroes in the past.  And yet Clint's not giving us much to go with on the screen, even if some of his directorial decisions are thrilling.  Forget that he glosses over some of the more fascinating aspects of Kyle's character (accounts of his casual racism have been well-documented in the past) as I oftentimes say you need to adapt a biopic to make it more cinematic; still, the Kyle onscreen feels wildly underwritten and the focus of the film gets less interesting when it just excuses Kyle's morality issues with PTSD.  The unfortunate thing here is that American Sniper, unlike The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything, has the makings of a truly superb movie-it could have been Clint's best since Unforgiven.  But whether out of political prudence or simply the inability to see that a man who views the world in black-and-white is more interesting from the grey, Eastwood wasn't able to bring that to the screen.

Our final biopic of the bunch is undoubtedly the best.  Selma starts off in some ways at a disadvantage, much like Lincoln a few years back, in that it's trying to create a definitive story about a man who is so ingrained in people's minds that he's practically a comic book superhero.  The film smartly chooses only a short period of Dr. King's life, the lead-up to his march through Selma, Alabama, to focus upon rather than creating an exhaustive origin story instead, but it's still hampered a bit in its treatment of King as the main character, as the least interesting scenes are the ones that focus on him, with both his complicated relationship with Coretta Scott King and his reluctant attitude toward being a politician being underwritten.  The movie is at its most thought-provoking and true when its instead focusing on nameless, faceless people who stood up to racism, whether in a march or simply trying to vote.  DuVernay is unflinching in the way she addresses these scenes, giving us a sharp, harsh look at the long toll that racism took on millions of people in the 1960's, and how that still lingers in the lives of people today.

It's strange to pivot from the brutal history of racism in Selma to the frothy confection of The Grand Budapest Hotel, but the Best Picture category frequently makes strange bedfellows.  It's worth noting, of course, that prejudice rears its head quite frequently in the train sequences of The Grand Budapest Hotel, as Gustave M. and his young companion have to deal with a ruthless totalitarian government in the backdrop of their shenanigans and the quest to save their hotel.  The problem I had with Grand Budapest, which is generally delightful thanks to the central performance of Ralph Fiennes, is that it never acknowledges that the romantic plot-line is dead.  The true core of the story is the sacrifices that Gustave is willing to make to protect his friend Zero, not necessarily that we need an insertion of heteronormative behavior by having Zero "straight-labelled" by having a relationship with Agatha.  The Agatha story pulls away from the importance of Gustave to Zero's life, and makes the film nearly falter in the last ten minutes.  That being said, it's easily the best Wes Anderson film there is, and one I enjoyed tremendously, save for the end focus.

Whiplash is another film where the opinion is driven in part by the ending, though here it's in a way to save the picture.  Most of the film is not particularly good.  There's occasionally some great monologues out of JK Simmons, but Miles Teller's Andrew (as well as Simmons' ability to continue teaching) are both questionable at best.  We get the sense that Andrew didn't really exist until Terence Fletcher came into his life, and doesn't know how to function without him as a driving force.  Obviously he had to have had gumption to get to this university and ability, so why can't he find a balance with his girlfriend and father, both of whom we're meant to believe are important to him but never really seem that way, even if it's clearly pertinent to the narrative that they remain tokens of his lost innocence.  The ending, with him shattering his humanity in pursuit of perfection, is a strong metaphor and nearly makes the film seem great, but everything in front of it is tainted in some ways by a lack of believability and inconsistency in the main character.

We turn now to the two films that genuinely competed for the Academy Award, and if you've been following along you know that one of them is probably my favorite.  The thing about Boyhood is that based on the plot alone (filming, for twelve years, a narrative picture), it would be challenging and thought-provoking.  A million think pieces about devotion to your craft and wanting to tell the ultimate story are all there for the taking, but Boyhood is genuinely a masterful picture.  The film unfolds slowly, but increasingly, like in life, it feels like it's moving too fast, with us wanting more time with a specific chapter in Mason's life but knowing that, like life, it will quickly pass into the next phase.  The film operates under a simple "all of life is interesting" guiding principle, and it works because Linklater has faith in the characters that he has created.  Watching Mason's parents as they both embark on journeys that yield little and realizing that Mason's promise may be just as small-it's a fascinating commentary on the way that we live through our dreams, but life happens whether or not we want to punch the pause button.  I was floored by this movie, and left in awe as it ended, gifting us such a wonderful slice-of-life picture.

Birdman also plays with time a bit, never really cutting away from our central Riggan, but here we get a more stylized look at the wonders of getting older.  Birdman functions on two levels for me.  One, there's the bitter, nasty Sunset Boulevard style look at celebrity, and in particular the way we worship and then discard the most famous of people in the world with little thought for their humanity or giving much reason as to why.  The second is the more relatable, uncomfortable look the film pushes on age.  Age, and the need to remain vital even if the zeitgeist has shifted away from worshiping your generation, is everywhere in Birdman and critically-important to the story.  Unlike most of his films, though, AGI makes these feel very real but never in a dour, lifeless way, but in a focus that crackles and shoots you from the side, like the way that Emma Stone's Sam is given so much validation just by virtue of her youth.  It's a biting, rich movie that has so many incredible ideas that it's hard to knock the Academy for choosing inarguably its gutsiest and finest Best Picture winner since No Country for Old Men.

Other Precursor Contenders: The Globes were definitely in their own direction in 2014, skipping over a couple of key nominees and actually rejecting the Best Picture victor, even if it wasn't in the Drama category.  Yes, The Grand Budapest Hotel topped Birdman in Comedy/Musical, along with St. Vincent, Into the Woods, and Pride, while Boyhood emerged victorious over Foxcatcher, The Imitation Game, Selma, and The Theory of Everything.  The PGA Awards were ten-wide unlike Oscar, so they actually included all but Selma in their lineup (likely due to Selma's bizarre under-the-radar campaign for the Oscar that ended in disaster for Paramount), with Birdman taking the top prize and Nightcrawler, Foxcatcher, and Gone Girl getting the remaining three spots.  Finally, at the BAFTA Awards they selected Boyhood as their victor, topping Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, and The Theory of Everything.  Looking at these, had the Academy stuck to its nine-wide field, it feels like Foxcatcher would have been the beneficiary rather than Gone Girl or Nightcrawler-it had the Best Director nomination, scored at the Globes/PGA's, and got multiple other Oscar nominations in general.  In a ten-wide field it's impossible to imagine it missing.
Films I Would Have Nominated: I would have kept Pride, which got that shock Globe citation and was one of my favorite pictures so far this decade.  I also would have gone with the cerebral Under the Skin, the dangerous Stranger by the Lake, the surprisingly effective Fault in Our Stars (what-we all have our favorites), the outstanding Wild, and the jarring Nightcrawler.
Oscar’s Choice: In one of the truly toughest-to-call Best Picture contests I've seen in years (which was weirdly duplicated one year later by an even harder call), Birdman took the cake away from Boyhood.
My Choice: Boyhood is far-and-away my favorite film of 2014, so this is an easy call for me.  I'd follow it with Birdman, Selma, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash, American Sniper, and The Imitation Game.

And there we have it folks-2014 is officially over with!  What are your thoughts on the cinematic year at large-were you more Team Boyhood or Team Birdman?  Are you still smarting over those Selma snubs, or is the lack of Nightcrawler making you break out into hives right now?  And overall, what was the best picture of 2014?  Share in the comments!

Past Best Picture Contests: 200820092010201120122013

Ranting On...Mitt Romney's #NeverTrump Movement

Mitt Romney's increasingly one-man band against Donald Trump has become a fascinating, if admittedly pointless affair.  After all, most Republican leaders in the party have coalesced around Donald Trump in his bid to become the president.  Mitch McConnell backed him very quickly, and it appears likely that Paul Ryan is more waiting to try and make a big moment for the nominee, rather than staving off an endorsement for moral reasons at this point.  Most of Congress (save a few stragglers like Ben Sasse and Ted Cruz), have gotten behind the New York businessman, as have people like Marco Rubio and John McCain who have been belittled on the campaign trail by the nominee.  The Bush Family, pretty much untouchable by the Republican establishment and even by Donald Trump due to their three national victories, have stayed above the fray and likely will continue to do so, but the Bush Family can get away with that-at this point they are more the Kennedy's of the Republican Party, all former glory and the third generation is young enough that they can brush off 2016 in the future.  Plus, they are showing little leadership other than abstention, so that sword has fallen to Mitt Romney, who is still insistent that Donald Trump should not be president.

Personally, I'm a little shocked by Mitt Romney taking such a hard, principled stand against Donald Trump because my opinion of Romney is not one of hardened principles.  While their demeanor could not be more different (Trump being loud, boisterous, and profane, Romney being subdued, prim, and deeply religious), they aren't that far apart in terms of personal biography or political beliefs.  Both were the sons of wealthy men, who grew up to go to illustrious Ivy-covered schools, who had controversial success in the business world, and then went into politics trying to gain favor based on that business success.  Both tried to hide their tax returns on the campaign trail (side note: anyone else's hypocrisy meter going off the charts over Mitt Romney being the one demanding that Trump release his tax returns?), and both have made conversations about income equality that were pounced on by the Democrats (47% vs. housing crisis, anyone?).  Plus, Romney made a big deal four years ago about gaining Donald Trump's endorsement, despite Trump saying just as controversial and racially-charged things then (it still gets me that people don't think of the birth certificate ridiculousness as being deeply racist).  All-in-all, Mitt Romney in many ways caused Donald Trump on the Republican Party's freight-train-how is it that he should be the one standing against him?

Perhaps it's because Mitt Romney is frightened about Donald Trump being his legacy?  Let's not forget that Trump probably wouldn't be in the place he is now were it not for Romney elevating him in 2012.  I will admit right up-front to having a relatively low opinion of Mitt Romney, but I do think of him as a man of pride and a man who is likely concerned about things such as legacy.  The thought of a devout Mormon with an idyllic marriage handing off his party to a twice-divorced boor who changes his opinion every twenty minutes on major issues and could destroy the party and country, that might be too much to bare.  Romney may not be much, but if he's at least self-interested, he has to realize that Trump will in some ways will be laid at his feet unless he largely protests his candidacy.

However, it's hard not to see that Romney either needs to put his money where his mouth is or risk being seen as opportunistic once again.  After all, his quest to have a third party candidate run in the presidential election in order to give the conservatives and establishment Republicans a shot at clinging to someone other than Trump is hardly going anywhere, and was never destined to be much of a solution.  The reason for this is the only person who could have translated that candidacy into something real, something that might actually win the White House, would be Romney himself.  After all, there is no better candidate suited for a national race than Mitt Romney.  He just ran, he has universal name recognition, has a campaign apparatus that could easily be reassembled and knows donors who would bend over backward for him.  While I initially thought that Romney was simply making waves to try and be an alternative at the convention, he should have gotten his team out, flooded Texas by grabbing his most ardent supporters' signatures, and then run himself.  Ben Sasse or the like would be a fine vice presidential nominee, but he's not famous enough to start a movement.  The fact that Mitt Romney, who has twice run for the White House and most definitely still has that itch, didn't run shows he isn't as serious about stopping Trump as he says he is.  He could have taken the presidency away from Trump, humiliating him and while likely handing the White House over to Hillary Clinton, accomplished his goal.

There is, of course, still the possibility that Romney could do that.  While running a winning campaign is probably out of the picture (Texas being off the table for a conservative pretty much guarantees that he can't win the electoral college), he could put his name in states that he was likely going to over-perform (Mormon-rich states like Utah, Idaho, and Nevada seem like the best contenders), or try and 'Ralph Nader' Trump by running in Florida and Ohio.  He also could put his money where his mouth is and endorse Hillary Clinton (let's be honest here-you have to bet some of the Bush Family is secretly going to cast the ballot for her, despite what you hear them pronouncing publicly).  It would be the noble thing to do, giving some of his supporters (particularly, again, the Mormon populations in states like Nevada and Utah), cover when they abandon their Republican roots for a cycle, but that would require a lot of will that Romney has not utilized in his career.  It would be extremely noble, and would improve my estimation of him immensely.  However, his current stand of simply #NeverTrump without offering either himself or Hillary Clinton as an alternative, is not gaining him any points.

Friday, May 27, 2016

OVP: Young Bess (1953)

Film: Young Bess (1953)
Stars: Jean Simmons, Stewart Granger, Deborah Kerr, Charles Laughton
Director: George Sidney
Oscar History: 2 nomination (Best Art Direction, Costume Design)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

I doubt I will ever be able to get through a Jean Simmons movie, ever, and not think "man does she look like Vivien Leigh."  I mean, it's remarkable, isn't it?  It's like Tom Hardy and Logan-Marshall Green crazy.  That's literally the first thing I thought as Young Bess began, but then my mind pivoted to how strange Golden Age biopics are, particularly in the way that they try to encompass all of the grandeur of history with the very staid, G-rated mores of what was required onscreen at the time.  Young Bess is a bit of a piffle, and probably would have been better off had they not relied so heavily on history and just made up a story, but there it is and as a result we get a dated, rather dull look at the early life of Queen Elizabeth.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film starts where it eventually ends, on the day that a young Princess Elizabeth (Simmons) finds out that she is to be the Queen of England, but the film quickly recedes into flashback, where we see Elizabeth as a child next to her rather ridiculous father King Henry VIII (Laughton, because of course Charles Laughton plays this role again), and we get a lot of foreshadowing with Henry intermittently hating his daughter and thinking her the greatest thing ever.  In one of the more ridiculous scenes of the film, Henry watches his daughter as he's dying and suddenly has an epiphany that she is his "true successor," which seems to jive with history, well, not, at all, as Henry VIII was a famously chauvinistic monarch who couldn't possibly have seen anyone other than Edward as his rightful heir.

Like any good Classical Hollywood film, the movie is centered primarily on a love triangle, this time between Princess Elizabeth, her paramour Thomas Seymour (Granger), and the woman he truly loves, Elizabeth's former stepmother Catherine Parr (Kerr).  It's actually slightly interesting earlier on in the love triangle because our prime heroine doesn't seem to be the love of Seymour's life-he's clearly more in love with Catherine, and seems to only caddishly be interested in the young princess in hopes of perhaps utilizing his power over her should she become queen (side point-considering she was second inline and they rarely mention that Edward, who is a spritely lad in the film is sick, how likely was it that Elizabeth would become queen to the point that literally everyone talked about it).  However, Hollywood can't have such a thing and as the film progresses he turns out to equally love her too, and is cleared of his roguish behavior when Catherine Parr dies, and he is free to seek Elizabeth, but it's too late, as he is executed by his jealous brother, who does so in the name of the sickly boy king.  The film progresses with Elizabeth, defiant, becoming queen after the deaths of her two siblings, and standing tall and proud on a balcony, knowing she's fulfilled her destiny but lost her great love.

The film's silliness is not necessarily a match for its costume work, which is actually quite good and was Oscar-nominated.  Legendary designer Walter Plunkett (who at this point had already done both Gone with the Wind and Singin' in the Rain) finds a lot of excuses to gown up both of his leading ladies, but the work is impeccable and has an eye for detailing-I loved the way that Jean Simmons wears her dress in the final scene, as if she's forcing it to stand upright (though I suspect the costume designers had a say there), and the Tudor green dress was a particular favorite (you can see it here), as it's both ugly and incredibly detailed, something you might not notice until looking at the movie for a while, but that is perhaps the way a complicated queen would dress.  The film isn't as inspired in some of the supporting roles (dressing Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard as promiscuous is hardly thinking outside the box), but overall it's rather strong work.  The art direction is good, but nearly as uniform as we see a lot of the same empty castle and very little detailing into drawing rooms or trying to transform much outside of every other castle you see in a movie-there's nothing distinctive or sticking out in the way that warrants a lot of attention, and it borders on being a default nominee if we're being honest.

Those are my thoughts on this 1953 movie-what about yours?  If you've seen Young Bess, were you laughing a bit at how silly the treatment of history was, or were you swept up in the epic love triangle?  For those that haven't, are you frequently struck by the similarity between Simmons and Leigh?  And do you think Charles Laughton just kept playing Henry VIII for the food?  Share your thoughts below!

OVP: Director (2014)

OVP: Best Director (2014)

The Nominees Were...

Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

My Thoughts: I know this has very little to do with the price of eggs, but am I the only person who is always kind of struck with the same thought of "he's really good-looking" every time I see a photo of Bennett Miller?  I have followed his career for over a decade now, and yet it's always a surprise for some reason when I see that piercing gaze and crooked half-grin, and suddenly I'm shell-shocked and playing with my hair.  Anyway, though, we've discussed all of these movies multiple times (like most of awards season, the end stretch is filled with important contests, but the victor is pretty well hinted at).  As a result, I'm going to give away who takes the bronze right now by going to his movie, and that is...

Wes Anderson, someone I never really expected to admire in quite this way.  I remember the first time I caught The Royal Tenenbaums on DVD (it was at my best friend Chris's house in high school, and I was not impressed), and honestly I've left most of his films roughly in that same spot-I get the appeal, but I don't love the movie in the way that his most devoted of followers seem to do.  However, The Grand Budapest Hotel is perhaps the first film, really, where I was smitten (at least the first live-action film).  Anderson's playfulness is still there, but with a grown-up's sensibility, and he is aided by a remarkable piece of work by Ralph Fiennes.  The direction in the film is occasionally quite inspired, and I rather liked some of the snow-covered camera shots and the way he pieced those scenes in, even if Anderson's touches (the cameos, the twee-ness), don't always resonate with me.  All-in-all, though, it was the first of his films that I watched, thoroughly enjoyed, and didn't feel like he had to abandon his own sense of self in order to get to that point, so well done.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is another director that delivered royally in 2014.  I'd say maybe I'm getting soft in my old age, but wait until we get back to 2015 and I have to discuss his gargantuan slog The Revenant and then we'll talk once more.  Birdman, though, there's an energy that I've never seen from him.  The camera-work we've already discussed (click on that Cinematography link below-actually click on all of the links, as there's so much content and fun there to enjoy and I frequently check comments from old articles so don't worry about missing your point to engage), but he genuinely seems to care about these characters, and not just in a "let's see what it's like to destroy their souls" sort of way that he gets in most of his motion pictures.  I feel like Riggan is a thoroughly conceived creation, someone that has a beginning, middle, and an end, but it doesn't feel like his misery (and there is some there) is being forced at us by a director that has become famous for films that occasionally resemble torture.  I truly hope AGI returns to this world in the not too distant future, as it's a wonderful compromise and shows that he can excel in ways that perhaps even he didn't expect were possible.

While AGI and Wes Anderson shocked me this time by making films that I actually enjoyed, there was no such luck for Bennett Miller, who didn't followup Moneyball (hands down my favorite of his movies) with something else I could sink my teeth into, but a dour, dry piece of cinematic toast.  Foxcatcher is the type of film you watch and are baffled by the choices of the director, which surely doesn't boast well for Miller.  After all, why give us such blatantly homosexual overtones with the characters and not follow through with them (you're already probably risking the defamation lawsuit as it is)?  Why introduce a world-class actress like Vanessa Redgrave onto the screen and then give her virtually nothing to do?  And why did you allow your lead actor to essentially let his makeup do all of the acting?  There are occasionally some nice shots (I loved the laps around the expansive, immaculate estate), but that's not a good movie, and the story direction here is all wrong.  At least he's still sexy, though, so he's got that until he returns to baseball.

Richard Linklater actually just did a remarkable film about baseball, but here we have something a little bit more momentous than his great 2016 cinematic entry.  Boyhood is the sort of project that is kind of made for this category, as investing that much time and energy into a film and telling an autobiographical story with actual movie stars is the stuff that cinematic legend is made out of; quite frankly, I wouldn't be shocked if someday people talk about Linklater's quest to make Boyhood in the same way they do David Lean and Lawrence of Arabia or Orson Welles and Citizen Kane.  It's that good of a story.  And it's that good of a movie-the direction here is fabulous.  It speaks to Linklater's confidence as a storyteller and director that he was able to make such a grand, consistent movie without the benefit of reshoots or go-backs.  Boyhood is sentimental without appearing cloying, and the kind of movie where it stands out on its own and yet you can't help but project your own story up on that screen.  Easily his most impressive directorial achievement, and that's saying something.

I don't know why I'm ending on Morten Tyldum.  After all, when he got this nomination, my first thought is "really-they are risking the hot water of not nominating Ava DuVernay and they don't even have the cover of claiming it was to give it to Clint Eastwood?"  I mean, the guy's name is unfortunately apt (sorry-I'm sure he's lovely in person, but that is a moniker that feels invented for the stuck-up rich guy in an Adam Sandler film), but his direction in The Imitation Game is atrociously bad. The film has no stylistic vision, it's a straight biopic (that was not an unintentional pun), and it has such random choices in terms of when to cut back and when to shoot forward-randomly we're out at sea or in a flashback where Alan is the same sort of child he was as an adult.  Shocking!  The story feels false almost throughout, and when it does find a fine moment it's a happy accident that is due to the saving grace of Keira Knightley.  I might have been able to stomach a Best Picture nod in the expanded field due to the import of the subject, but Best Director-not a chance.

Other Precursor Contenders: Best Director is one of those rare fields where the Globes, Guilds, and BAFTA awards all have the same number of nominees (aside from the supporting actor races, this is the only OVP category where this is the case).  This does not guarantee uniformity, however, as we saw with the Golden Globes where Miller and Tyldum were ousted in favor of Ava DuVernay and David Fincher (Gone Girl)-the win went to Linklater.  The DGA also skipped Bennett Miller, but did so to get Clint Eastwood into the lineup (one of those rare years where Clint had traction but couldn't translate at the Globes or the Oscars in this category), and gave their trophy to Inarritu.  Finally the BAFTA Awards randomly decided to give out the Miller and Tyldum slots to James Marsh (The Theory of Everything) and Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), meaning that this is the first year since the expanded fields where every director of a Best Picture nominee landed at least one major precursor (Linklater took the BAFTA).  As a result, it's kind of hard to predict who was in sixth place, though popular opinion at the time was between Eastwood and DuVernay, and considering that his film did better and he's beloved by AMPAS, my guess is that Clint just missed out.
Directors I Would Have Nominated: Well not Morten Tyldum, that's for damn sure.  I would have thrown in Jonathan Glazer for his mesmerizing Under the Skin, proving that occasionally a giant hiatus doesn't lead to disappointment (though come on dude-you can get more than one out a decade).  I also would have included Dan Gilroy's challenging, provocative look at the media Nightcrawler, which is stylistically wonderful and told like a horror film even though it isn't obviously one, but what an inspired way to present your movie.  Honestly, that film just looks more impressive with age.
Oscar’s Choice: In what I genuinely think was a close race, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu pulled off a slight upset over Richard Linklater to take his first Best Director trophy.
My Choice: I actually really love what AGI is doing in his picture, but Linklater is batting in the all-time leagues with Boyhood so it's not much of a competition.  Anderson is in third (we already covered that though-pay attention), followed by Miller and finally Tyldum.

Those were my thoughts-how about yours?  Do you still fly your flag high for the Birdman camp or are you with me in Boyhood town?  Who was closer to that Oscar nomination-Clint or Ava?  And does anyone want to defend the Morten Tyldum nomination?  I'm hearing cases down in the comments!

Past Best Director Contests: 200820092010201120122013

Thursday, May 26, 2016

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Debbie?

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz
I have never once claimed to be a fan of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and have the record to prove it.  While we agree on a number of different political issues and while it is a Democratic tradition for the party's most loyal to bag on their DNC chair (they never raise enough money or create a unifying message or get enough of the base to vote-it's a relatively thankless job even when you win...unless you're Howard Dean and even he couldn't translate that into a second bid for the White House), DWS has been a constant source of embarrassment for the party.  She's frequently considered to be someone who looks out for self over party, is disliked by a number of people in the party, and is a poor ambassador to the public.  Even as a Hillary Clinton supporter myself I thought her handling of the debate schedule was ridiculously poor, particularly considering the mileage the Republicans got out of their frequent debates (their eventual nominee has them largely to thank for winning the nomination, and as has been evident in the past few weeks, he's hardly lost any base support for the bad press they got).  And as a general rule under her tenure we may have won the presidential election, but we've lost countless gubernatorial and congressional seats, and been wiped out in entire regions of the country like the south on a legislative level.  All-in-all, she's been a weak sauce chair, and someone who surely doesn't deserve that position, and as I linked above, I've been on-record previously as someone who wants her removed from the position.

That being said, the recent movement to get DWS out of the chair has me thinking what the correct move for the Democrats would be right now.  The party is toxic, and unlike the bulk of the primary season, we have a situation now where the Republicans look like they're more unified than the Democrats, something that doesn't look good as the primary season closes.  Debbie Wasserman Schultz, particularly with her public scuffles with the Sanders' campaign (which, it's very clear, she hasn't supported and didn't want to win the nomination), has created a great sense of animosity between herself and the Vermont senator, who has gone so far as to say that, were he elected president, he would have her removed from her position, and has gone on record as endorsing her primary opponent.  Removing her from the position could be seen by many as a peace offering to the Sanders' campaign and its supporters.  After all, it's going to look bad when she tries to silence the Sanders campaign on the floor of the DNC, and really there's literally no worse person to tell the Sanders campaign that their movement has ended than DWS.

But it's also problematic.  While I do feel she overstepped her bounds as DNC Chair, giving in to the Sanders' campaign here doesn't feel particularly appropriate since Hillary Clinton will, of course, be the nominee.  Clinton has generally been supportive of the chairwoman (which has been reciprocated), and this feels like she'd be doing this not because Wasserman Schultz is doing a bad job, but because it's good politics, which carries its own risks.  After all, if Sanders gets this what's to stop him from using his supporters as leverage to get more things from the Clinton campaign?  Would he then demand greater control over the platform, veto power over Clinton's VP selections, perhaps even the veep slot for himself?  It's a risky game, and Clinton knows it.  If she thought that it would get the Sanders team behind her she'd probably say "game on," but it's more complicated than that.

It's also worth noting that Wasserman Schultz, who has shown great ambition in her career and likely wants to parlay her role as Chair eventually into either a Senate/gubernatorial campaign or perhaps a spot in the House leadership, isn't going to necessarily go without a fight.  While it'd be difficult to see her staying on if Clinton or President Obama called on her to resign, she could use her surrogates to attack the president or Sen. Sanders publicly, particularly if she would be replaced by a man (there were rumors, published in a salacious Politico article about a year ago, that DWS was even planning on attacking any move to replace her as anti-woman when former Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak was under consideration for the position).  While there are women who could replace Wasserman Schultz quickly to nullify this argument (Donna Brazile being the most obvious contender), does the Democratic Party risk cleaning out its top person so close to an election cycle?  After all, Wasserman Schultz does have her plus sides, namely that she knows how to drive out strong base voters (like liberal women and Jewish-Americans) in a place like Florida, which is critical to the Clinton camp (if they win the state, they win the election-Trump can't take the race without it).

So I'm a bit stumped.  Honestly, all of this renewed attention is not helping Wasserman Schultz, and if I were her I'd probably look at the bigger picture and maybe give up graciously right now.  After all, she'll certainly be out come November/December regardless of what happens-there's too much baggage there.  And by staying in the spotlight as an easy target for the Sanders campaign (it's much easier to target her and not risk "damage the party" talks than it is to go after Hillary Clinton), she's endangering her House seat, as her primary opponent has now raised mountains of cash.  Losing her House seat would endanger any future elective plans that the congresswoman has-she'd no longer have a shot at House leadership, and would be a loser if she ran statewide.  One has to assume that the congresswoman realizes this, and President Obama also gets that having his own DNC Chair lose a primary would look terrible.  If I were DWS I would entertain going off the top spot, but Hillary Clinton and President Obama-it might not be worth the trouble to ask her to leave.