Tag Archives: Academy Awards

On The Artist…and artists

I squirrelled out of the house last night to see The Artist in a theatre. Unusual move for me; besides the limitations of my schedule, I just find it frustrating to hit the multiplex anymore. Sure, I miss the camaraderie of enjoying a film in a crowd and sharing the experience – horror and comedy benefit greatly, of course – but the tradeoff of rude talkers, thin walls and the cattle-like process that it has become is just not worth it. I have a large screen TV, a great sound system, and frankly I’d rather watch what I want on my schedule knowing that clean bathrooms and superior food and beverage are just a pause button away.

But I digress.

Back in the day Cia and I would make a point to see all of the nominated films prior to the Oscar telecast so that we could make an informed wager on who might take home the gold. As we reminisced about that while enduring twenty-plus minutes of trivia and advertisements on the multiplex screen, we laughed remembering how often the votes went the other way, and more often that not, how performances that moved us failed to even draw a nomination. I could write a long list from this year, of course, but I’ll save that for the recap tomorrow. It’s Oscar time.

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I felt that I had to see The Artist; it looked to be an incredible story and paid homage to an era I have much respect for. And Jean Dujardin seems to be as charming in person as his George Valentin character…at least as charming as George was when things were going well. I was totally swept away – the leads were incredible; the supporting characters as over the top as they would have been if they were in the film within a film (a wise choice by the director) and the score was exquisite. Not only did I wind up streaming the soundtrack when I got home, but I looked up some old Gene Krupa footage on You Tube and then dug out the biopic where Sal Mineo gave his masterful performance of the swinging drummer. Now that’s a tangent.

I guess what I felt during the artist was a smorgasboard of emotions – it was funny, romantic, dramatic and moving. When it was over I wished there was another reel; not because it was unfinished, but because I did not want those characters to leave me. And as I spent the better part of this morning spinning some music by old favorites like Ian Hunter, Herman Brood and The Kinks, I realized that I was feeling the same core emotion – the connection – that artists can bring to your soul if you’re open to it.

And tangents be damned, it made me realize that immersing myself in music and film and comedy isn’t a hobby, but it’s part of who I am, and I need to make more time to indulge myself. I saw my friend Ray Paul performing some Beatle covers earlier in the week and when the opening line of Norwegian Wood rolled off his lips, I immediately thought “that’s one of the best lines anyone ever wrote”. Synapses are firing. They might not all be Grade-A, but I need to get into fighting shape again.

So I find myself typing as the red carpet bullshit is droning in my ear. It’s time to throw out some predictions – and yes, I’m really pulling for The Artist – but I’ll circle back tomorrow with my thoughts on the Brit Awards (classy and funny), The Independent Spirit Awards (under-attended and surprisingly tame) and of course the Academy Awards. Let’s see how I do:

Best Picture: The Artist

Best Actor: Jean Dujardin, The Artist

Best Actress: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

Best Supporting Actor:  Christopher Plummer, Beginnings

Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, The Help

Best Director: Michael Hazanivicius, The Artist

Best Screenplay: Margin Call (Chandor)

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Descendants (Payne/Faxon/Rash)

Best Score: The Artist

Best Documentary: Undefeated

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Oscar? My, A Wiener!

When the best line of the night is delivered by a hologram, that’s not a good sign…

Old Hollywood crossed swords with New Hollywood last night, and it’s quite possible that they both took two steps backwards. Despite a blatant attempt to drag itself into the 21st century through young hosts and a plethora of social media references, most reports on the Oscar telecast agree that it was a major fail. Ironically, the two best presences on stage were Billy Crystal and Bob Hope – the former nailing two great jokes in a row before paying tribute to the legacy of the latter. And yes, the line of the night came from a hologram.

To paraphrase Neil Young, the show “started out real slow and then fizzled out altogether“. The opening montage placed co-hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco in an amusing maze of Best Picture references; digitally inserted into scenes so they could interact with the stars, and surprising us with cameos from Alec Baldwin and Morgan Freeman.

But from that point forward, it went down like a lawn dart.

Ratings were off ten percent as viewers started to bail during the telecast, knowing they could get updates without siting through some of the most painful banter ever written for a major awards show. Maybe they should have taken Ricky Gervais up on his offer to script a few jokes. Sure he’d offend a few people, but at least they’d be awake.

I like James Franco. But the dude seemed to disappear for large stretches of time, and judging by his performance I suspect they were for (wink wink) smoke breaks. Either that or he decided to channel his Freaks And Geeks stoner character because he realized that the “guy in a dress” thing had short shelf life.

I like Anne Hathaway. I think she’s talented and fearless and funny, and she’s as good of a singer as she is an actress. But she was a disaster as a host. Fawning over presenters like a tipsy schoolgirl at an adult party, she showed neither respect nor a sense of belonging. If people had concerns that a relative newcomer is not who people feel comfortable with to steer them through the night, she made their case.

I like Kirk Douglas. I’ve been a fan all my life and several of his films are on my all time list of greats, and I’m thrilled that he has battled through a debilitating stroke at an advanced age and continues to be involved in the industry. But what first started out as uncomfortable soon nose-dived into painful, whether he was milking the joke or truly addled. Watching him twist five nominees in the wind was as sad as watching Dick Clark trying to keep up with the New Year’s Eve countdown, and both were in front of a global audience. I know some thought that was the highlight of the show, but haters gotta hate.

Two presenters who tried hard

I like Randy Newman. And hey, no complaints. He was actually funny, and self-deprecating, and irreverent and grateful. Truly an oasis in last night’s desert. I think he has a future in the business.

I like Melissa Leo. I’ve been a fan of hers since Homicide, and I’ve been thrilled to watch her finally get recognition in recent years for strong roles in independent films. But as much as I love the F-bomb, it’s her OMG! persona that is starting to wear thin. Not quite Sally Field territory, but after accepting a slew of nominations for Frozen River and now The Fighter, I think the “pinch me” days are behind her. Still, kudos to a great actress.

I like short witty speeches. If you were still awake when Tom Hooper and Colin Firth accepted their awards, both were great examples of  how to leverage the opportunity with wit and humility. Firth put it best, saying “I have a feeling my career just peaked“. Aaron Sorkin also nailed his speech – wordy but fluid, naturally – with the right balance of deference and pride plus the bonus point for a closing personal remark that makes people like me remember to compliment him.

I like Lena Horne. But why did I get the feeling that singling her out was pandering to the race card issue rather than a genuine bow to her greatness? Yes, she was a trailblazer, and yes, it is Black History Month, but the fact that we still have Black History Month and still have to have actors like Halle Berry acknowledge that a trail was blazed for them shows just how far we are from being a society that has put prejudice in its rear view mirror.

As for the awards themselves, I was stunned that Tom Hooper won Best Director. It was reminiscent of Putney Swope, where voters didn’t want to tip the scales to a serious candidate so they cast a vote for someone they were sure wouldn’t win…and of course, he did. Hooper did a fine job, of course, but the exclusion of Christopher Nolan was just that much more obvious. I thought The King’s Speech was a fine film; I enjoyed it very much. But it was a character study, a play transported to screen, that was dwarfed by at least half its competitors.

At the risk of sounding like Old Hollywood, maybe I just miss times like these instead of an era when Chicago is the best we can do. And no, I’m not bitter just because I got my clock cleaned on my ballot after an early run of success. I missed on a few key gambles but hey – I beat the people in Mom’s basement.

And of course the In Memorium list missed some names…as always. Why is this so difficult every year? Who does this? They can’t keep track of famous dead people when there are gambling sites devoted to tracking that very list of names? (Attention witless Keepers of the Oscar Obituaries: Jane Russell is now on board for your next montage.)

But I’ll be back next year. Hope they hire a comic who can work the room.

Even if he’s dead.

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…and now, The Oscars

Finally, the big daddy of the back-patting events is upon us.

Tonight’s Oscar hosts are James Franco and Anne Hathaway, as the industry makes an obvious ploy to skew younger. That sentiment probably won’t carry over into the actual voting, where veteran actors who might have been bypassed earlier in their careers get rewarded at the expense of a newcomer who has his whole career ahead of him. Really…Al Pacino won for Scent Of A Woman? Paul Newman won for The Color Of Money?

And sometimes this screws over a more deserving veteran actor. Yes, I’m talking to you, Henry Fonda! No way Burt Lancaster shouldn’t have won in 1981 for his amazing performance in Atlantic City!)

But I digress. The Oscar host thing has always been a conundrum. Bob Hope owned the role for years, as did Johnny CarsonBilly Crystal did it well and got to keep the job for a while, seemingly alternating every couple of years with Steve Martin and Whoopi Goldberg. But lately it’s been as volatile and unpredictable as a Charlie Sheen alibi; the only repeat host in the last ten years was Jon Stewart in 2006 and 2008 (Steve Martin hosted in 2003 but co-hosted in 2010). Stewart was excellent, but has the grind of his Daily Show schedule. But Wolverine Hugh Jackman was incredibly game and entertaining and got raves for his stint, yet wasn’t asked to repeat?

Perhaps tonight will be fine; Franco is a likeable guy, and Hathaway proved she is as fearless as she is talented when she joined Jackman onstage a few years ago. But for the self-proclaimed “Hollywood’s Biggest Night“, one would expect a real game-changer at the helm. And as afraid of him as they obviously are, I think any awards show not hiring Ricky Gervais is settling.

Here is the list of nominees.

I’m pretty much sticking with the picks I made right after the nominations came out, although The King’s Speech has picked up incredible momentum since then, along with Geoffrey Rush. But I have a feeling that the Darren Aronofsky magic touch will again become the Darren Aronofsky curse; Mickey Rourke lost to more established Hollywood veteran Sean Penn, and Annette Bening has never won for Best Actress despite four nominations. (No truth to the rumor that Natalie Portman got pregnant to sway the sympathy vote.) I also wouldn’t bet my life on Supporting Actress, as this is a category where teenagers can and do win, especially when they are playing more of a lead role.

My predictions for tonight’s winners:

Best Picture: The Social Network
Best Director: David Fincher, The Social Network
Best Actor: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
Best Actress: Annette Bening, The Kids Are Alright
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Best Original Screenplay: Christopher Nolan, Inception
Best Cinematography: Wally Pfister, Inception
Best Score: Trent Reznor, The Social Network

While you await tonight’s ceremony here are some treats to pass the time:

Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter act out the Best Picture nominees

Ricky Gervais wrote an opening script for Franco and Hathaway

You can bet on anything – even the In Memorium montage.

Racetrack odds on tonight’s favorites to Win…Place and Show mean nothing!

***

Tomorrow: The winners, the losers, the analysis.

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Awards Weekend! First, The Indies…

The Film Independent Spirit Awards will be broadcast this evening. Hosted by Joel McHale, the event is known for being a loose and casual affair; the last two events were held inside a tent on the Santa Monica beach (2009) and in a downtown LA parking lot (2010). Libations flow, no one plays a winner off the stage, and some memorable speeches come tumbling out of the mouths of the presenters and nominees. And as the last awards show prior to tomorrow’s Academy Awards presentations, many will ponder about the momentum that some of these films and actors have built up.

Of course, the Oscar tabulations are already signed, sealed and delivered. But what’s Tinseltown without a little drama?

More and more films blend the line between “indie” and “studio”, a separation that is more about funding than location. Luminaries like Quentin Tarantino and The Coen Brothers have their heart and mind firmly in the independent mode when it comes to the type of material that they choose, but their successes have moved them into a financial category that dwarfs their former associates. I’d rather focus on the fact that films like Black Swan and The Wrestler are finally being appreciated by a wider group of people (Oscars, Globes) rather than pinch pennies and mince words. Despite some thundering clunkers, 2010 had its share of good films.

Here is a list of the nominees. You can watch the broadcast at 10pm ET/PT and guess along with me, but since the ceremony took place earlier today, the list of winners is no doubt all over the web. Don’t Google! Walk away from your computer and enjoy the suspense. If you must sit at your keyboard, avoid the news sites and watch and chat live with IFC host Matt Singer.

I’ll be back later with a review of the show and my comments.

Well, that was pretty boring.

Host Joel McHale did what he could, opening with a sense of irreverence, a wink at some of the nominated films, and a gaggle of cunnilingus jokes, but no one else picked up the ball for the rest of the evening. The filmed bit combining the “reading of the rules” and “the magic of 3D” was amusing, but the only other attempt at humor was presenting In Memorium 2011 a year early. Celebrating the industry deaths that would occur over the next twelve months had great potential, but a technical glitch ruined the pace and sucked the life of it. Still, it’s good to prepare oneself for the loss of Mad Men star Jon Hamm from excessive consumption of clove cigarettes and fake alcohol.

Presenters joked all night about the cold (the tent was on the beach) but people were visibly bundling up, and the slick surface caused many to slip (and one winner to fall not once but twice). And the noise level increased exponentially, no doubt from attendees hitting the bar to pound down more Jameson’s in a show of support for one of the evening’s sponsors.

Another oddity was the announcement of two awards that had been presented prior to the telecast – one for cinematography and the other for screenplay. Really? You couldn’t squeeze two more awards into a two and a half hour program? Overall, no huge surprises. But no memorable speeches and no water cooler moments.

Well, unless you want to count Paul Rudd’s threesome with Rosario Dawson and Eva Mendes

Here is a list of the winners:

Best Feature: “Black Swan”
Best Director: Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan”
Best Screenplay: Stuart Blumberg, Lisa Cholodenko, “The Kids Are All Right”
Best First Feature: “Get Low”
Best First Screenplay: Lena Dunham, “Tiny Furniture”
John Cassavetes Award: “Daddy Longlegs”
Best Female Lead: Natalie Portman, “Black Swan”
Best Male Lead: James Franco, “127 Hours”
Best Supporting Female: Dale Dickey, “Winter’s Bone”
Best Supporting Male: John Hawkes, “Winter’s Bone”
Best Cinematography: Matthew Libatique, “Black Swan”
Best Documentary: “Exit Through the Gift Shop”
Best Foreign Film: “The King’s Speech”

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One Week to Oscar; Thumbs Up to Gene Siskel

It only seems appropriate that Gene Siskel was born the month before the Oscar telecast, just in time to measure up the prior year and share his opinions on who would win and who deserved to. Today, twelve years after his death, Siskel remains an indelible mark on the film critic landscape, a trailblazer in the form. Given his absence and Roger Ebert’s health struggles, the Siskel and Ebert shows I treasured for so many years are now a bittersweet memory.

As one who makes top ten lists, I always looked forward to theirs. Click here for a list of Gene’s Top Ten, year by year, from 1969 through 1998. Of course, the Worst Movies of The Year lists were fun as well. I didn’t always agree with him, but I always enjoyed listening to him defend his choices.

I’ll make my Oscar guesses next weekend. Wonder what Gene would pick?

Happy Birthday, Mr. Siskel. It’s just not the same without you.

The official Gene Siskel website

Top 10s from both during the Siskel and Ebert years

The Gene Siskel Film Center

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Brit Film Awards and Dead Namesakes

The 64th Annual British Academy Film Awards were announced today, and I guess it’s no surprise that The King’s Speech would take Best Picture over there. But that is some serious momentum in a category that was all but conceded to The Social Network  not so long ago. Only two weeks until the Academy Awards, and it looks like we might have a couple of horse races after all. The major awards went this way:

Best Picture: The King’s Speech

Best Actor: Colin Firth

Best Actress: Natalie Portman

Best Director: David Fincher

Best Supporting Actor: Geoffrey Rush

Best Supporting Actress: Helena Bonham Carter

That’s four of the big six going to The King’s Speech; only Carter would be considered an underdog for the Oscar, although Christian Bale still looks like the favorite over Rush. The Brits do love their own (Rush is an Aussie, close enough) but momentum-leading Melissa Leo wasn’t even nominated for a BAFTA.

I’m just thrilled that the brilliant dark humorist Chris Morris won an award as first-time director for Four Lions. Maybe there is hope for award ceremonies.

The full list of nominees and winners can be found here.

As to the second part of today’s title, I was stunned ten days ago to read that Neil Young, Robert Young and Tony Levin all died on February 3rd.

I was briefly logging on to a news website and almost spat out my coffee wondering why the loss of a rock legend, a classic TV Dad and one of the best bass players ever to walk the Earth had not gotten even a crawl mention on CNN. Turns out that while celebrity deaths do happen in threes, the deceased were not the people I imagined but instead were an English footballer, a former Olympian and a jazz drummer.

Condolences to the families and friends of the actual deceased of course. And while I should have remembered that TV’s Robert Young left this mortal coil twelve years ago, I’m happy to report that Neil Young and Tony Levin are still alive and rocking. Like Meatloaf sang, two out of three ain’t bad.

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Academy Award Nominations (and Razzies, Too!)

The Oscar nominations were announced this morning with few surprises…

I don’t know why they do this at such an ungodly hour (5:30am PST!) unless it’s to capitalize on a full news cycle, including green rooms filled with likely nominees ready to haunt the set of AM YourCityNameHere or The View. Imagine being on set at a talk show and having your agent tweet you to quietly slip out the side door since your name didn’t get announced.

(Hey…that’s Christopher Nolan slipping into that cab…)

Is Nolan so good that he’s being taken for granted? Even if Following didn’t make its mark until after the similarly structured Memento broke big, all the guy has done is make successful motion pictures that combine escapism with intelligence. I could see overlooking Batman Begins but The Dark Knight was a critical and popular success. His filmscapes are daring; for him to go from Insomnia to the world of Batman and Inception shows huge range. And he wrote and directed most of these films.

Two Academy Award nominations for screenplay, including this year. But not one nomination as Best Director; his omission for this latest masterwork is inexcusable.

The King’s Speech led all films with a dozen nominations; True Grit followed with ten and both Inception and The Social Network have eight. Roman Polanski’s film The Ghost Writer was blanked, as was Shutter Island. Black Swan might have been overtaken by The King’s Speech as the likely main competition for The Social Network.

Colin Firth is probably as close to a lock as there has been in recent memory, but the other acting categories have at least a strong two-way competition. The wild card could be True Grit’s Steinfeld stealing a win if Adams and Leo split votes for The Fighter.

Here are the six major categoriesthe full list can be found here.

Best Picture: “Black Swan,” ”The Fighter,” ”Inception,” ”The Kids Are All Right,” ”The King’s Speech,” ”127 Hours,” ”The Social Network,” ”Toy Story 3,” ”True Grit,” ”Winter’s Bone.”

Best Actor: Javier Bardem, “Biutiful”; Jeff Bridges, “True Grit”; Jesse Eisenberg, “The Social Network”; Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”; James Franco, “127 Hours.”

Best Actress: Annette Bening, “The Kids Are All Right”; Nicole Kidman, “Rabbit Hole”; Jennifer Lawrence, “Winter’s Bone”; Natalie Portman, “Black Swan”; Michelle Williams, “Blue Valentine.”

Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, “The Fighter”; John Hawkes, “Winter’s Bone”; Jeremy Renner, “The Town”; Mark Ruffalo, “The Kids Are All Right”; Geoffrey Rush, “The King’s Speech.”

Best Supporting Actress: Amy Adams, “The Fighter”; Helena Bonham Carter, “The King’s Speech”; Melissa Leo, “The Fighter”; Hailee Steinfeld, “True Grit”; Jacki Weaver, “Animal Kingdom.”

Best Director: Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan”; David O. Russell, “The Fighter”; Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech”; David Fincher, “The Social Network”; Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, “True Grit.”

My immediate hunch picks are in red, but I’ll revisit this in more detail as we get closer to February 25th.

On the other side of the coin, there’s always Ashton Kutcher, Megan Fox, Twilight and the Sex In The City movie franchise, all proud nominees for this year’s Razzie Awards. (I link you to the Wikipedia listing because the Razzie site is loaded with pop-ups.) Like their nominations, their ceremony also usually occurs one day prior to the Academy Awards.

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