Category Archives: Oscars

90th Academy Awards: A Liberal’s Reverie

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My friend has run an Oscar pool for almost forty years (I tied for the win last night–maybe we need a tiebreaker) and for most of those years my mother has entered. Not this year. She lives on that planet that FoxNews viewers inhabit, the one where Hillary is a crook and Donald Trump is a great president. When I called her up to get her picks Saturday night she said she was skipping this year. Something about how the movies were no good and how she hated Jimmy Kimmel.

Well, she was right to skip the telecast. I haven’t checked the far-right Twitter-verse today, but I’m sure they are not happy. The show basically was a liberal’s wet dream, preaching inclusion and diversity, a three-and-a-half hour “Kumbaya” sing-a-long. There were shout outs to Mexico, Dreamers, the Parkland students, transgender performers, #MeToo, #TimesUp, and even a Native American actor (Wes Studi) introducing a clip honoring veterans.

This is all fine with me, but it certainly reinforces the image of Hollywood as a bunch of left-wingers (except for Jon Voight and Kelsey Grammer). I think the apotheosis of this was when Ashley Judd, Salma Hayet, and Annabella Sciorra took the stage to talk about sexual harassment and introduce a clip on diversity in film. The three women have in common being assaulted by Harvey Weinstein–Sciorra claims she was raped, and looked fragile. It was both an amazingly daring move for the usual staid Oscars to make, as well as one that felt uncomfortable.

Moments like this were peppered throughout the show, some working, some not. The big crowd-pleaser was Frances McDormand, who has sort of become Hollywood’s strict mom (I’m glad she actually smiled and laughed this time). She had every female nominee stand, and uttered two words that probably make film executives shudder–“inclusion rider.” That is a rider in a contract that can mandate that participation in a film, both above and behind the camera, be fifty-fifty in terms of gender. If someone as big as Jennifer Lawrence or Emma Stone insists on one, what are studios going to do? Hire more female cinematographers and directors, for one.

The awards were doled out largely as forecast, with no surprises. The Shape of Water hung on to win Best Picture, but almost every other Best Picture nominee got something–except for Lady Bird, the one film directed by a woman, which was shut out. Roger Deakins finally got an Oscar after fourteen tries, and James Ivory, who directed the great Merchant Ivory films of the ’80s, received his first Oscar at age 89, the oldest winner in any category, ever. He had to wait a long time, but Kobe Bryant, the former basketball star, got one in his first try, for Best Animated Short. This outraged many, because Bryant was accused of rape some years ago (he also has more Oscar wins than Alfred Hitchcock, Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, and Marlene Dietrich combined–one).

As for the show itself, I like Jimmy Kimmel and think he should be a permanent host, a la Bob Hope, but the ratings tanked. He had some good jokes (but why was he asking Steven Spielberg for pot?) but we can do without the stunts. Last year it was bringing in a tour bus load of fans, this year they went to the neighboring multiplex with snacks. Kimmel seems to think that we need to know that he hasn’t lost touch with the common man. Well, he may not have, but Hollywood has. There was a nice moment though when Mark Hamill introduced himself to Gal Gadot.

In addition to McDormand’s shout out to women (and Chloe Kim) I liked some smaller moments, such as Guillermo Del Toro stating, “I am immigrant” (four of the last five director awards have gone to Mexicans). But some things backfired. A performance of the song from Marshall, “Stand Up for Something,” included ten activists. But they weren’t identified, just stood stock still has if waiting for Scotty to beam them up (I was looking for Emma Gonzalez from Douglas High School, but alas she was not there).

Coming off looking good were Kumail Nanjiani, both in his presenting duties and an appearance in the diversity clip(future host?), and Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph, co-presenters who killed, reassuring viewers that there were many more white people to come, talking about their aching feet,  and complimenting each other about expelling body fluids on film.

As mentioned, he ratings were way down for the show, which may be because there were no blockbusters nominated (if Black Panther manages to wrangle some nominations, an uptick may happen). Maybe they should get Dennis Miller to host, and my mom way watch again.

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The Tenth Annual Gone Elsewhere Oscar Challenge

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Time for this year’s Oscar Challenge. It’s simple–just pick the winner in each of the 24 categories.

I suggest you simply cut and paste the list of categories below in a comment and type your choice of winner next to it. If you change your mind, either edit your comment or post a new one. I will take your last predictions as official.

Best Picture:
Best Director:
Best Actor:
Best Actress:
Best Supporting Actor:
Best Supporting Actress:
Best Original Screenplay:
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Best Foreign Language Film:
Best Animated Film:
Best Cinematography:
Best Editing:
Best Production Design:
Best Costume Design:
Best Song:
Best Musical Score:
Best Documentary Feature:
Best Documentary Short Subject:
Best Makeup and Hairstyles:
Best Animated Short Subject:
Best Live Action Short Subject:
Best Sound Editing:
Best Sound Mixing:
Best Visual Effects:

The nominees can be found all over the web, including here.

Deadline will be anytime before the first award is given. The Oscar show is March 4th.

The 90th Academy Awards: Time’s Up, James Franco

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After the Oscar nominations are announced, the usual chatter is about snubs. Probably the biggest perceived snub this year ties in with the biggest news story this year from Hollywood: sexual harassment. So it is somehow fitting that James Franco, who recently won a Golden Globe for Best Actor (in a Comedy or Musical) for The Disaster Artist was left out of the Oscar party after he had to deal with accusations of impropriety.

Of course, some may have just not thought he deserved it. But the assumption is that he was punished for his misdeeds. In an ideal world, the artist is separated from his faults, but I think the Academy must have breathed a sigh of relief that his possible nomination won’t be a story for the next six weeks. Casey Affleck, who won despite settling lawsuits for sexual harassment, wouldn’t have won this year. He might not have been nominated. The tradition is to have last year’s winners present this year’s Oscars (to the opposite gender), but Affleck may not even be invited to do so.

It is presumed, with no shred of evidence, that Denzel Washington got Franco’s spot for Roman J. Israel, Esq. Washington is now in rarefied air, as this is eighth nomination for acting. Only Jack Nicholson, Laurence Olivier, Spencer Tracy, and Paul Newman have more. But Meryl Streep is in the stratosphere, breaking her own record and notching her 21st nomination for The Post (the first film she’s been nominated for that was also nominated for Best Picture since Out of Africa in 1985). I wonder if Streep can even name all the pictures she’s been nominated for. Surely even she might forget One True Thing or Music from the Heart. In the ionosphere is composer John Williams, who after his nomination for Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi, now has more nominations than any other living person, with 51.

Some other tidbits: Mary J. Blige becomes the first person nominated for an acting Oscar (Best Supporting Actress for Mudbound) and Best Song in the same year. Timothy Chalamet, at 22, becomes the third youngest to be nominated for Best Actor (only Jackie Cooper, 9. and Mickey Rooney. 19, were younger).

There is some diversity this year, so the OscarsSoWhite hashtag won’t be around. In the Best Director category is a black man (Jordan Peele) and a woman (Greta Gerwig). There’s also a Latino (Guillermo Del Toro). Peele and Gerwig are the fifth nominations for blacks and women, respectively (there has never been a black woman nominated in this category). It took 90 years, but there is finally a nomination for a woman in the Best Cinematography category, Rachel Morrison for Mudbound. On the other hand, Wonder Woman was completely skunked (Logan becomes the first comic-book film to get a Best Screenplay nomination, something Wonder Woman was expected to do by many).

In the Best Supporting Actor category, we have a nomination for Christopher Plummer for All the Money in the World. Plummer, who is already the oldest person to win an acting Oscar, is now the oldest to be nominated (breaking Gloria Stuart’s record). This is also the role that was played by Kevin Spacey, until his career was brought down by sexual harassment charges, and Plummer replaced him, shooting scenes over nine days only two months ago.

In the category of “when will I get nominated or when will I win,” Roger Deakins gets his 14th nomination for Best Cinematography for Blade Runner 2049. Will his futility end this year? I hope so, but in technical categories, only the film is mentioned on the ballot, not the name. If people don’t know he’s the cinematographer, he won’t get sympathy votes. Finally getting a nomination in the Best Documentary Feature category is Steve James, who was famously snubbed for Hoop Dreams, this time getting in with Abacus: Small Enough to Jail. The weirdest nomination is for basketball superstar Kobe Bryant, for the animated short Dear Basketball. If he wins, would he be the tallest winner ever (he’s 6′ 6”)?

I think we’ve got a bead on who will win the four acting Oscars, but the biggest mystery is Best Picture. As with the last two years, the winner of the award will still be a matter of suspense until the opening of the envelope. Two years ago, Spotlight only one other award before winning Best Picture, and of course last year Moonlight won in the famous envelope snafu. I expect something like that this year, along with a comedy bit surrounding the last envelope (will Jimmy Kimmel come out to make sure it’s the right envelope? Maybe Matt Damon could present it).

Oscar 2017: Best Actress

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By my count, Oscars have gone to actors playing mute or deaf characters four times–Jane Wyman in Johnny Belinda, John Mills in Ryan’s Daughter, Marlee Matlin in Children of a Lesser God, and Holly Hunter in The Piano. You can also add Jean Dujardin for his (almost) wordless performance in The Artist. If all the advance word is true, a another may be added this year. It seems Oscar loves performers who don’t speak.

But it’s still early, so things may change. This is how I see the Best Actress race at the end of October. In alphabetical order:

Annette Bening, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. Will Annette Bening ever win an Oscar? She’s playing a juicy role, that of Oscar-winner Gloria Grahame. The question is whether this film will be released this year. It’s been pushed back all the way to December 29th. One thing is for sure–she won’t lose to Hillary Swank again.

Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water. The front-runner, playing a mute woman who falls in love with a strange creature. The film is sci-fi, so it has something of an obstacle to overcome, but the advance word is great.

Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The film has been a hit at festivals, and judging by the trailer McDormand is given some memorable lines. She’s been nominated four times before, so seems to be an Academy favorite.

Margot Robbie, I, Tonya. She received a Gotham Award nomination, so apparently the film is not a joke. Tonya Harding certainly is a role full of comedy and drama, and Oscar like performers who play real people. Would Tonya Harding attend the ceremony?

Kate Winslet, Wonder Wheel. Woody Allen is always good at getting women Oscar nominations. This would be Kate’s eighth total, for what is said to be a meaty role of a woman living on Coney Island during the ’50s.

Also possible: Brooklynn Prince, The Florida Project; Meryl Streep, The Post, Judi Dench, Victoria and Abdul; Saorsie Ronan, Lady Bird; Jessica Chastain, Molly’s Game.

Oscar 2017: Best Actor

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Taking a look at the movie calendar for the rest of the year, the Best Actor Oscar race looks unusually skimpy. Sure, there’s Tom Hanks in a Steven Spielberg movie, but other than that the biggest stars didn’t make movies this year of had flops. This has set up what is perhaps the easiest forecast of the upcoming Oscar campaign.

Because there’s only one obvious nominee, I’m going take some very wild-ass guesses. In alphabetical order:

Chadwick Boseman, Marshall. Boseman, who has specialized in playing the great black men of the century (Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and now Thurgood Marshall) stars in a legal drama when the hallowed Supreme Court justice was a lawyer. Interestingly, it is not based on Devil in a Lemon Grove, a popular book about Marshall defending black boys for murder in Florida. This all depends on the impact of the film. If it doesn’t open with a splash, Boseman will be forgotten, no matter how good he is.

Daniel Day-Lewis, The Phantom Thread. No one knows much about this movie, but we do know that Day-Lewis and director P.T. Anderson teamed for one of Day-Lewis’s three Oscar wins (There Will Be Blood). Day-Lewis’s announcement that this is his last film may help him get a nod, but he’s said that before.

Domnhall Gleeson, Goodbye, Christopher Robin. Another actor playing a real person (author A. A. Milne), which the Academy loves. Gleeson, the son of Brendan Gleeson, has been in many good movies over the last few years, and again, it all depends on how the film is received. Looks like a weepie.

Hugh Jackman, The Greatest Showman. What’s that, another real person? Yes, Jackman plays P.T. Barnum in a musical. Couple with Jackman’s gritty finale as Logan earlier in the year, he really displays his range. He got a nod for Les Miserables, and if this film is a hit I think he’s a safe bet.

Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour. It seems folly to announce a winner in October, but Oldman may have this sewn up now, playing Winston Churchill (yet another real person) in tons of makeup. Oldman was only been nominated once before, but has the kind of respect (imagine a man playing Sid Vicious and Churchill). The film has been by critics and Oldman has been anointed.

Other possibilities: Jake Gyllenhaal, Stronger; Michael Fassbender; The Snowman; Tom Hanks; The Post; Bryan Cranston; Last Flag Flying; Sam Elliott; The Hero.

The 89th Oscars: The (Correct) Envelope, Please

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To get to the elephant in the room, let’s talk about the flub first. It will overshadow anything else from this Oscar ceremony, the 89th, and is right up there with Sacheen Littlefeather and Robert Opel, the streaker, in terms of Oscar moments of sheer nuttiness.

To recap, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bonnie and Clyde (both looking fresh from the plastic surgeon’s office), presented Best Picture. To that point, La La Land looked like the film to beat, picking up six awards (though it did not win near as many as some people thought it would). Beatty opened the envelope, and appeared to be vamping, checking to see if there was something else in the envelope, and looking like he was just teasing the nominees. Dunaway, taken aback, chided him, so Beatty handed her the envelope and she said, “La La Land.” General pandemonium, and two of the producers managed to give acceptance speeches. Beatty hung around, though, and the third producer said, “We lost.” The producer at the mic, Justin Horowitz, announced there had been a mistake, and that Moonlight had won Best Picture. To prove he was not joking, he held up the right card. Gasps, and the La La Land crowd exited the stage and was replaced by the Moonlight contingent.

Host Jimmy Kimmel, at first blaming Steve Harvey (who famously mixed up the name of Miss Universe) found Beatty there to take his lumps. The star realized something was wrong, as he had the Best Actress envelope and card, but instead of pointing it out to someone who could so something about it, he simply handed the envelope to Dunaway, who read out the name of the film on the card.

PricewaterhouseCooper, the accounting firm that has had the Oscar account for 83 years, will now have some explaining to do, and there will doubtless be tense meetings between them and the Academy in the coming days. The best guess as to what happened: there are two envelopes for every award, one at each end of the stage, locked in cases. Each of the holders of those cases know every winner. In error, Beatty and Dunaway were handed the extra Best Actress envelope (as Emma Stone pointed out, she still had the original envelope in her hand while she was addressing the press). Beatty did not notice that the envelope said “Best Actress” on it (a close-up verifies this), and the confusion resulted.

So, why didn’t Beatty ask for help, and after Dunaway, really quite innocent in all this, read the wrong name, why didn’t the PwC person immediately come out? Two minutes went by, and it was a stagehand that pointed out to the La La Land producers that a mistake had been made. Methinks a head or two will roll at PwC, and the Academy may seriously question the continued connection.

There have been mix-ups before, but nothing on this scale. In 1933, Will Rogers presented Best Director and upon opening the envelope said, “Come on up and get it, Frank.” Frank Capra started for the stage, but unfortunately for him it was Frank Lloyd who won. In 1964, Sammy Davis Jr. was given the wrong envelope, but it was caught in time. Davis quipped, “Wait until the NAACP hears about this.”

This brouhaha overshadows what I consider the biggest upset in the Best Picture race since 1982, when Chariots of Fire bested Reds. So how did Moonlight do it? It was, adjusted for inflation, the lowest-budgeted film ever to take the top prize. It is the first film solely about black America (I don’t recall any white faces, maybe some teachers in the school), and it’s the first film with a gay protagonist to win (when Brokeback Mountain lost to Crash, it was thought the older voters couldn’t tolerate a gay-themed film. Finally times have changed). It is also a critic’s darling–it was second on both the Sight & Sound and Film Comment polls for best film of 2016 (La La Land was 16th on Sight & Sound’s poll, and didn’t even make Film Comment’s). To put it simply–it is the most indie-ish, to create a word, film to ever win Best Picture.

It has become almost routine for Best Picture and Best Director to be split. While it usually happened about once a decade from the mid-’20s to the mid-’90s, it has happened eight times in the last nineteen years, close to a fifty-percent rate (that’s even considering a stretch from 2006-2011 when they matched). Clearly, the younger voters have no problem splitting their ticket, as is usual at festivals like Cannes, when they never match. La La Land won some technical awards, some musical awards, Best Actress and Best Director, but was not judged Best Picture. Why?

Certainly there may have been some that simply thought Moonlight was better, and may have voted for director Barry Jenkins as well. But what about those who voted for Best Director winner Damien Chazelle (now the youngest director ever to win, breaking an 85-year-old record) but did not vote for La La Land? I am not in the industry and know zero Academy voters, but I can surmise that it was a market correction–after last year’s bad press over #Oscarssowhite, some voters were determined to make sure this Oscar ceremony showed diversity. There was a Black person nominated in each acting category (two of them won, for only the second time) and perhaps voters figured they’d honor La La Land’s artistry but show they aren’t prejudiced by voting for Moonlight. There may be also a bit of anti-Trump backlash, as well. The first Best Picture of his presidency is about gay black men.

I began to sense an upset early on, when La La Land lost both sound awards and then editing. But it began to pick up steam, and though it lost Original Screenplay, that was expected. Once Chazelle won I thought it was in the bag. I was wrong.

Other than that, the show was the usual bloated affair, clocking in as the longest in about ten years. Jimmy Kimmel was an affable host–he was not to blame for the snafu in any way, so I hope he is invited back. His only cringe-worthy moment was bringing in a bus-load of tourists into the theater. In what I’m sure was meant to be charming, the stunt came off as “Look, watch the great unwashed interact with their betters,” and went on too long. The parachuted candy worked much better. The Matt Damon trolling was brutal but, I admit, funny. He must be a damn good sport.

Some Oscar tidbits: Casey and Ben Affleck now become the 16th pair of siblings to win Oscars. Affleck had ceded favorite status when he lost SAG and his sexual assault charges hovered over him. But the SAG win was over-rated for Denzel Washington; he had never won one, but had won two Oscars.

Kevin O’Connell, a sound mixer, received his 21st nomination this year. Sounds great, and it is, but he had never won. He did this year, for Hacksaw Ridge. In his acceptance speech he looked like he would explode with relief. Greg P. Russell, who has 17 nominations without a win, was nominated for 13 Hours, but was removed when he got caught campaigning. It would have been a delicious irony if the film had won but he didn’t get a statuette.

Mahershala Ali is the first Muslim to win an Oscar. All told, I count five Black people who won Oscars, which I think must be a record. Coupling that with Moonlight’s win (although the three producers of that film are white) is really the story of the night–the Academy has tried to be more diverse, and it seems to have worked.

The Ninth Annual Gone Elsewhere Oscar Challenge

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Time for this year’s Oscar Challenge. It’s simple–just pick the winner in each of the 24 categories.

I suggest you simply cut and paste the list of categories below in a comment and type your choice of winner next to it. If you change your mind, either edit your comment or post a new one. I will take your last predictions as official.

Best Picture:
Best Director:
Best Actor:
Best Actress:
Best Supporting Actor:
Best Supporting Actress:
Best Original Screenplay:
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Best Foreign Language Film:
Best Animated Film:
Best Cinematography:
Best Editing:
Best Production Design:
Best Costume Design:
Best Song:
Best Musical Score:
Best Documentary Feature:
Best Documentary Short Subject:
Best Makeup and Hairstyles:
Best Animated Short Subject:
Best Live Action Short Subject:
Best Sound Editing:
Best Sound Mixing:
Best Visual Effects:

The nominees can be found all over the web, including here.

Deadline will be anytime before the first award is given. The Oscar show is February 26th.

The 89th Oscars: The Hollywood Reach-Around

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“Who do I have to blow to get nominated?”

People who don’t like the Oscars often cite the notion that it is a bunch of Hollywood elites congratulating themselves. This was further elucidated, especially by conservatives, after Meryl Streep went off on Donald Trump at the Golden Globes. To this I say–well, duh. Of course entertainment awards are mutual masturbation sessions. Do the Oscars mean anything? Except for a boost in box office for some films, absolutely not. They are garish, silly, and often boring. But I am fascinated by them.

I can pinpoint my interest in the Oscars. For the 1971 awards, Life magazine (is there anyone old enough here to remember it?) ran a two-page spread with a picture of all the nominees. I didn’t know who most of them were (Jeff Bridges, who’s he?) but something about it compelled interest. My parents let me stay up, even though I was only ten years old, and I haven’t missed a show since then. I have studied and handicapped Oscars for years, I think because they combine my love of movies with my love of sports. These people are really like horses at the big race.

So, for those who have a kernel of interest, this year had two big stories. One is that La La Land tied a record, set by All About Eve and Titanic, for most nominations with 14. This was pretty much expected, and the film has to be considered a runaway favorite (if Damien Chazelle wins the DGA, it’s all over). This will make for a boring awards show, especially for those who hate the film (and I have heard from some). There is a backlash against it by those who find it silly, unrealistic, and without any depth. But I doubt this backlash will effect any voters–they are all in the movie industry, Note some of the recent Best Picture winners–Argo and The Artist. Both about Hollywood. The suspense on February 26th will be whether La La Land breaks the record for wins, which is now a three-way tie between Ben-Hur, Titanic, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. 

The other, larger story, is that seven actors of color were nominated, a record (six of them are of African lineage, one is East Indian). Three black women are nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category, a record for any acting category. Barry Jenkins is the fourth black Best Director nominee, and in a first, a black woman was nominated in the Best Editing category (both for Moonlight). Two black men, Denzel Washington and Pharrell Williams, are producers in the Best Picture category, and three of the Best Picture nominees are about black American life.

I think this last sentence is key–I may be incredibly naive, but I don’t think there’s racism at work in the nominating process. This year saw a lot of black nominees because there were good movies with a lot of black actors. If Hollywood continues to make these films, #OscarsSoWhite will permanently go out of business.

But certainly there is a historic lack of representation of black winners. I was struck by two factoids from his year’s nominations: Viola Davis is the first woman to receive three nominations, and Octavia Spencer is the first black woman to receive a nomination after she had won.

Snubs? Well, there are always some, even if they have to be invented. I suppose the closest thing to one is Amy Adams getting passed over for Arrival even after it got all the necessary nominations for a Best Picture win–director, screenplay, and editing. I suppose her nomination went to Ruth Negga of Loving, who gave a very good but understated performance–no obvious clip for her–which goes against a lot of Oscar history. Or maybe it’s Meryl Streep, getting nominated for a technically good but ultimately frivolous role in Florence Foster Jenkins. It’s Streep’s 20th nomination; she has lost more times than the runner-up, Katharine Hepburn, was nominated.

Another supposed snub was Deadpool getting completely shut out. After nominations from the PGA and WGA, some Oscar ninnies were giddily wondering if it would get a Best Picture nomination. Except for Heath Ledger’s nomination for The Dark Knight, no comic book movie has ever gotten an above the line nomination, and it wasn’t about to start with Deadpool. Let’s get real.

A few perpetual bridesmaids: Kevin O’Connell got his 21st nomination for Sound Mixing for Hacksaw Ridge. He has never won, and holds the record for Oscar futility. He’s in the same category with Greg P. Russell, who has now 17 nominations without a win (this time for 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi). They will probably both lose to La La Land.

In the music category, Thomas Newman got a nod for Passengers. His family has wracked up a lot of Oscar nominations. Uncle Alfred had 43 nominations and nine wins. Cousin Randy has twenty nominations and two wins, but didn’t win until his 16th try. So Thomas can take solace, he now has 14 nominations without ever winning.

Over the next 33 days I’ll put up my thoughts on who will win, as I always do. It might be pretty easy this year, although I’m already struggling over who will win Best Makeup and Hair Design.

1966: Qui Tacet Consentire

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1966: It was the year Star Trek and Batman debuted on television. Charles Whitman, in the first mass murder in U.S. history, killed 16 people from a tower at the University of Texas. And Adam Sandler, Halle Berry, and J.J. Abrams were born.

At the movies, it was still the era of biggest is better. The number one film at the box office was The Bible: In the Beginning, and second was Hawaii, both almost three hours long. British films were also prevalent, earning many Oscar nominations and occupying a golden age for that country that has never really returned. Two of the five nominees for Best Picture were British, including the winner.

alfie_originalAlfie was one of the British films nominated, and it was the star-making turn for Michael Caine, who plays an amoral cad who seduces a number of women and treats them quite badly. It’s only Caine’s performance that lets us tolerate his bad behavior. It was directed by Lewis Gilbert and written by Bill Naughton, based on his novel and play. It also starred Shelley Winters as what we might today call a cougar, and Jane Asher, who is now best known as being Paul McCartney’s girlfriend while he was in The Beatles. Also known for it’s theme song, “What’s It All About?”

russians_are_comingThe Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming is something of an unusual film when it comes to Best Picture nominees–it’s a farce. A Russian sub gets grounded off the coast of Massachusetts, and panic sets in among the locals. It was directed by Norman Jewison, with a script by William Rose, who also wrote It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, which bears much resemblance to the tone of this one. Alan Arkin received an Oscar nomination for his film debut as a Russian sailor, and it features a host of other well-known actors, such as Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint, Brian Keith, and Jonathan Winters. It’s one of my favorite comedies.
the_sand_pebbles_film_posterThe Sand Pebbles is a very typical film of the era, a lumbering road-show picture, three hours in length. Directed by Robert Wise, it tells the story of a U.S. gunboat trying to keep the peace in China in the 1920s. It starred Steve McQueen, who earned his only Oscar nomination. The parallels to the Vietnam War are there if you look for them. Interesting about McQueen–he had a persona as the outcast for almost his whole career. It’s not too many modern stars who played basically the same role over and over again.

whos_afraid_of_virginia_woolfOne of the splashiest films of 1966 was Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf?, the star-studded adaptation of Edward Albee’s scathing play about marriage. The directorial debut of Mike Nichols, the stars were two of the most famous people on the planet, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, as the constantly warring Martha and George. Sandy Dennis and George Segal are the unsuspecting guests that stop in for a nightcap. There is perhaps more drinking in this film that any other ever made. Taylor and Dennis won Oscars for their roles.

220px-a_man_for_all_seasons_1966_movie_posterThe winner for Best Picture was A Man for All Seasons, directed by Fred Zinneman. A very British, very stately, very PBS sort of film, it tells the story of Sir Thomas More, played by Oscar-winner Paul Scofield, as he defies King Henry VIII in his attempt to divorce his first wife and marry Anne Boleyn. This period of time has been seen in many films and TV shows (such as The Tudors and Wolf Hall) but this was one of the first (other than the sillier The Private Life of Henry VIII). Robert Shaw makes a robust king.

All of these films have something to their credit–there’s no clinkers here–but my vote would have gone for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which still manages to be viscerally exciting fifty years hence.

Other notable films that year that some might think should have nominated were Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; Michaelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup; and, of course, Don Knotts in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.

 

Oscar 2016, Best Actress: Strawberry Blondes Forever

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Emma Stone in “La La Land”

This year’s prospects for the Best Actress Oscar are pretty deep, compared to other years. They are especially good for actresses of color, but may end up being dominated by redheads. I’d bet the farm that the winner will fit in one of those categories. Now that Toronto and New York are over, more pictures have been seen by those that beat the drums.

In alphabetical order:

Viola Davis, Fences: She’s a shoo-in if here isn’t a category dispute. She won the Tony for this role, but in the Supporting Actress category. The studio may want to push her for Supporting, where she would probably be the favorite. She’s way overdo for an Oscar.

Ruth Negga, Loving: The film doesn’t seem to be getting the reception that it seemed like it would on paper, but Negga, as one of the participants in the Supreme Court case that found anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional, seems like the best bet for a nomination.

Natalie Portman, Jackie: This film kind of came out of nowhere for Oscar bloggers, but is getting buzz for not only Portman, but for Best Picture. It covers the few days after JFK’s assassination. Portman is a previous winner, but some are suggesting she still may win.

Emma Stone, La La Land: This redhead’s your favorite as of now, a well-liked actress who is getting rave reviews for the film that is now in the catbird’s seat for Best Picture. It is also possible she (and her co-star Ryan Gosling) could be nominated in the Best Song category, as they each wrote a tune for the film. That would be unprecedented.

Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins: This is a light role for Streep, and if nominated it would be her twentieth nomination. She’s probably on the bubble, and we’ll have to see if any other actresses supersede her. I think she was terrific, though, and wouldn’t begrudge her another nomination.

Also possible: Amy Adams, Arrival or Nocturnal Animals (redhead); Annette Bening, Twentieth Century Women; Jessica Chastain, Miss Sloane (redhead); Isabelle Huppert, Elle (redhead); Taraji P. Henson, Hidden Figures.

Oscars 2016, Best Actor: Who Wants Thirds?

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The putative front-runners for the Oscar for Best Actor this year are both two-time winners, and both have already cemented their status as Hollywood legends. One of them seems a sure thing for a nomination, the other is in a movie that no has seen yet, but seems to have Oscar written all over it. But could a first-time winner sneak in?

Right now, barring Fences being an absolute disaster, four of the Best Acting nominees feel fairly certain, in films that have already been seen and pleased audiences. The fifth spot could go any number of places.

In alphabetical order, here’s my take:

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea: This movie was a Sundance hit and is eagerly anticipated. Affleck, who has one nomination under his belt (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) seems likely here, if his recent legal problems don’t hamper him (he was sued for sexual harassment; there was an out-of-court settlement).

Ryan Gosling, La La Land: As of today, La La Land may be the favorite for Best Picture. Emma Stone is getting most of the accolades, and just may be the favorite for Best Actress (that’s coming up right here next month) but Gosling may be along for the ride for his role in a musical. When actors do something different from their usual pesonas voters take notice. Gosling has one nomination also, for Half-Nelson.

Tom Hanks, Sully: Believe it or not, but Hanks has not been nominated for 16 years, not since Cast Away. He only has five nominations total, and has been passed over for what were thought sure-fire nominations in recent years. But Sully is a hit, and Hanks is the major part of it. Could he be the second man to win three Best Actor Oscars (after Daniel Day-Lewis)? I wouldn’t be shocked.

Nate Parker, Birth of a Nation: This is my going out on a limb pick, and it wasn’t so until recently. But revelations about Parker being charged with rape (but acquitted) have cast a pall all over the film. However, there seems to have been a backlash against the backlash, with Parker appearing at screenings and receiving ovations. Time may cool things down. But don’t put any money on it.

Denzel Washington, Fences: Again, Fences has not been seen by any press, and Washington’s previous two directorial efforts garnered zero Oscar nominations. But there’s a lot of hope for this, as it has a black cast and given the cultural climate would ease a lot of wounds if it here a hit. Washington has won two Oscars, one for Supporting Actor (Glory) and one for Best Actor (Training Day).

Also possible: Joe Alwyn, Billy Lynn’s Long Half-Time Walk; Joel Edgerton, Loving; Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Snowden; Michael Keaton, The Founder; and Miles Teller, Bleed for This.

Oscar 2016: #OscarsMaybeNotSoWhite

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Birth of a Nation

When the Oscar nominations are announced on January 24th, what everyone will be looking for is not necessarily who gets nominated, but what color they are. A third straight year of no people of color being nominated would be a public relations disaster even bigger than last year. Fortunately, there are several films being released later this year that have black themes, and I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb to say that there’s about a 99.9 percent chance that one of the twenty performers nominated will be an African-American.

I’ll get into that further in my posts on the various acting categories, but I’ll start with Best Picture. So far this year the pickings have been slim, and in looking over the slate of films coming out later this year, only a few films jump out at me. Usually I can guess about five out of ten films right (the nominees are anywhere from five to ten films) but I wouldn’t put much hope in that this year. This is the kind of year that could be very kind to small indies or to blockbusters. A nomination for Captain America: Civil War? Not completely out of the realm of possibility.

Here, in alphabetical order, are ten films I’m banking on, as of now. Only one has been released.

American Pastoral, Oct. 21, Ewan MacGregor. Although I am somewhat hesitant because this is the first film directed by MacGregor, it should be remembered that because of the large preponderance of actors in the Academy, actors turned directors are treated very kindly. One of two Philip Roth adaptations this year (the other, Indignation, probably won’t be nominated in this category, though it may be better), American Pastoral is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel on a weighty subject: a successful Jewish businessman’s life is turned upside down by the radicalization of his daughter during the 1960s.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Nov. 11, Ang Lee. Lee’s films can’t be ignored. I loved the book, but as I read it and envisioned it as a film I wondered how it would succeed as a film, since much of its comedy comes from description, not from plot or dialogue. It’s about a unit of soldiers who are honored as heroes at a Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving game, and the hypocrisy of it all. I will be interested to see Steve Martin as a Jerry Jones-type owner.

Birth of a Nation, Oct. 7, Nate Parker. This film has been a favorite for an Oscar since it wowed them at Sundance and got purchased by Fox Searchlight for 17.5 million. Purposely co-opting the title of D.W. Griffith’s racist masterpiece, Parker writes, directs, and stars in this story of the slave rebellion by Nat Turner. Oddly, the film may have hit some trouble with the relevation that Parker was once charged with rape as a college student, but acquitted. Will that stick until Oscar nominations? Hard to tell. A reminder that no person of color has ever won the Best Director Oscar.

Denial, Sep. 30, Mick Jackson. Haven’t heard a lot about this film, but after seeing the trailer it hits a lot of Academy buttons. It is the true story of a woman who is sued for libel by a holocaust denier. As the stereotype goes, films about the holocaust, however tangential, strike chords with Academy voters, and this at least seems to be a well-done project. Starring Rachel Weisz and Timothy Spall as David Irving, the denier.

Fences, Dec.16, Denzel Washington. Washington’s only other feature as a director, Antwone Fisher, didn’t exactly thrill many, but this adaptation of August Wilson’s play will provide several opportunities for black actors to be nominated, notably Viola Davis and Washington himself, as a former Negro League ballplayer turned trash collector who is dealing with issues in his own life and the world around. If this is any good at all, it should garner several above the line nominations.

Florence Foster Jenkins, Stephen Frears, Aug. 12. The only one of these ten that people can now see, it’s a crowd-pleaser about the world’s worst singer. Films about entertainers usually do well with the Academy, but this is a twist given she’s bad. But it could strike a nerve with actors who secretly may feel that they have no talent. It’s a lush period piece, which helps, and while Meryl Streep has not been in as many Best Picture nominees as you might think, (both of her wins for Best Actress were in films not nominated for Best Picture) her performance, as well as the “comeback” of Hugh Grant, should help.

La La Land, Dec. 2, Damien Chazelle. The writer/director of Whiplash is back with another musical film, this time about the relationship between a jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) and a waitress (Emma Stone). Hard to know with this one, as an original musical hasn’t been nominated for Best Picture since (and check me if I’m wrong) Doctor Dolittle in 1967.

Loving, Nov. 4, Jeff Nichols. While Birth of a Nation has gotten most of the Oscar buzz for black-themed films, it may be this film that sneaks in, and I’m going to make it my ridiculously early pick as winner. Directed by Jeff Nichols, who has made several fine independent films, it details the plaintiffs in Loving v. Virginia, a 1967 Supreme Court case that tested Virginia’s miscegenation laws. I know so many mixed-race couples these days that it may come as a shock to people today that interracial marriage was once outlawed. Look for Ruth Negga, who plays the wife, to be a breakout star.

Manchester by the Sea, Nov.18, Kenneth Lonergan. The Academy has been hit or miss with Lonergan, but this film was another Sundance sensation, being bought by Amazon for 10 million. It stars Casey Affleck as a man returning to his home town to assume legal guardianship for his late brother’s son. Said to be almost unrelievedly bleak, maybe too much so to get traction in this category.

Miss Sloane, Dec. 9, John Madden. I’m going with this film, knowing almost nothing about it, as my zeitgeist film. Jessica Chastain is the title character, a lawyer fighting for gun control measures. May not do well in fly-over country, but among the liberals of Hollywood this could strike a nerve–if it’s any good.

Other possibilities: The Light Between Oceans, Sep. 2, Derek Cianfrance; Snowden, Sep. 16, Oliver Stone; Sully, Sep. 9, Clint Eastwood; Hell or High Water, Aug. 12, David Mackenzie; and Silence, Martin Scorsese. This last film, about missionaries in Japan, would seem to be prime Oscar bait, but a release date has not been announced. It will probably be released in award-season, but might be pushed to 2017 as well.

Oscar 2015: Black Millionaires Matter

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The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences gets so many things wrong, but they lucked out when they hired Chris Rock to host this year’s ceremony. Little did they know that he was the perfect host to handle the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. Though ratings were way down, I think it’s safe to say that those that tuned in were waiting with baited breath for one of the greatest social commentators of our day to sound off on the problem of lack of diversity in Hollywood.

He did not disappoint. In my view, he walked the tightrope like Philippe Petit, occasionally making a slip but staying on the wire. He spent the whole show talking about it, making it a one-issue broadcast (not one mention of Donald Trump–if there had been a black nominee or two we would have heard Trump’s name numerous times). I can’t imagine how someone like Neill Patrick Harris would have handled it–badly, I suspect. Rock took the controversy, grabbed it by the horns, and basically took Hollywood to the woodshed, where they squirmed but took it, knowing they had it coming.

The Academy’s producers, David Hill and Reginald Hudlin, also bent over backwards to make Hollywood look like a rainbow coalition. By my count, 17 presenters were people of color. Rock also added a few filmed bits that were quite funny, especially one that imagined black people in “white” roles, with Rock playing a stranded astronaut, a la Matt Damon, who isn’t going to be rescued, since it would cost $2500.

Rock’s monologue was sharp. He started with expected quips like “Welcome to the White People’s Choice Awards,” but then went on to cover both sides of the argument. It was clear that he was annoyed that there were no black nominees (he gave a shout-out for Michael B. Jordan, introducing him as “should have been nominated”) but then putting things in perspective when he said that in the fifties, black people were worried about getting lynched, not who was going to win Best Cinematography. Many attacked Rock on Twitter for this, thinking me meant that black people had no problems now. But they seemed to miss his next joke, which was that the “In Memoriam” montage would be made up of black people shot on their way to the movies.

Rock also aimed some darts at Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. The latter started the boycott, and Rock put her in her place by suggesting she was as welcome at the Oscars as Rock was in Rihanna’s panties, and that Smith may have been snubbed for Best Oscar, but it also wasn’t fair that he made twenty million for The Wild, Wild West. What it all boils down to is that regular black people do have plenty of things to worry about, whether it be police brutality, unemployment, and high incarceration rates, not whether zillionaire Will Smith gets an Oscar nomination.

The most bizarre part of the night was when Rock introduced the Academy’s new “minority outreach” director, and out came Stacey Dash, former actress and current Fox News commentator. Several wondered what was going on, but I got it right away–Rock was using Dash, the useful black idiot for white racists, who has suggested there shouldn’t be a Black History Month or that the BET Awards are racist, to parody the whole controversy. What wasn’t clear was whether Dash was in on the joke. She seemed nervous, as if a gun was pointed at her from the wings. Several in the audience looked aghast, particularly The Weeknd, who did a face palm.

Interestingly, the moments that fell flat were those that made fun of Asians, who apparently aren’t included among minorities who feel slighted. Sasha Baron Cohen, as Ali G,, made a very tasteless joke, and trotting out three Asian kids as the accountants played right into stereotypes.

Now, as for the winners and losers. Of course the biggest surprise was Spotlight winning Best Picture. It won the first award of the night (Best Original Screenplay) and the last and nothing in between, making it the first Best Picture to win less than three overall Oscars since The Greatest Show on Earth in 1953, the only other post-1940 film to do so. Most had their chips on The Revenant, which won the DGA (and indeed, Alejandro Innaritu won the directing Oscar, his second in a row, only the third to do so) and BAFTA. Some had an inkling it might be The Big Short, which won the PGA. But Spotlight prevailed. Perhaps it was because of the preferential ballot–it might not have been the leading vote-getter on the first, second, or even third round, but was the film that more people put second or third. The Revenant, judging by anonymous voters interviewed in the Hollywood Reporter, was hated by some, who thought it was beautiful but empty, like a Road Runner cartoon, and were tired of hearing how difficult it was to shoot. They honored Innaritu and Leonardo DiCaprio, but then voted for Spotlight.

The other surprise was Mark Rylance beating Sylvester Stallone in the Best Supporting Actor category. In retrospect, this is not hard to figure out. I even doubted Stallone would be a nominee, thinking that too many would not be able to get past the thirty years of schlock between good Rocky films. When they saw that name on the ballot, they thought, “Wait a minute, this is the guy who made Cobra.” Rylance is a respected British stage actor, whom Hollywood usually love out of envy.

Another mild surprise was Ex Machina beating out Star Wars and Mad Max for Best Visual Effects, and in doing so, had the first woman to ever win in this category. It could also be considered a surprise that in Best Song, after Lady Gaga brought the house down with her song about campus rape, “Til It Happens to You,” a James Bond song that no one admitted to liking won..Sam Smith, the winning songwriter, then erroneously took credit as the first out gay man to ever win an Oscar.

The Academy tried something new to keep things moving–a crawl that winners could use to thank the multitudes. It didn’t really work, as it went by too fast and seemed just like a series of first names, when it didn’t look like a weather alert. As for playing winners off the stage, the orchestra used familiar movie themes, but they might want to rethink using Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.” Wagner was a notorious anti-Semite, and it was a bad choice to play off the winner of Best Foreign Language Film, a movie about a concentration camp.

A few bits of trivia. Emannuel Lubezki won his third consecutive Oscar for cinematographer, a first, while fellow nominee Roger Deakins is now 0 for 13, losing to Lubezki for three straight years. Composer Thomas Newman is now also 0 for 13, losing to Ennio Morricone, who at 87 is now the oldest person to win a competitive Oscar. Diane Warren, who must have been sure she would win Best Song after Lady Gaga killed, is now 0 for 8.

Michael Keaton joins a select group of actors who have been in two consecutive Best Pictures, while Mad Max: Fury Road, which dominated the middle of the night, is the winningest Australian film of all time (the winning costume designer, Jenny Beavan, set tongues wagging by wearing a leather jacket with a skull on the back).

I thought it was one of the better Oscar shows in recent years, and Rock was the best host since the Steve Martin days. As I read somewhere today, he probably won’t be back, at least not next year, as it’s a draining job. They seemed to be auditioning next year’s host: Sarah Silverman, Kevin Hart, and the team of Tina Fey and Steve Carell all did bits, though Louis C.K. was the best with his take on the Best Documentary Short award (years ago Jerry Seinfeld gave out the same award and commented how depressing they all sounded, probably killing his chance of hosting). Or maybe the team of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe?

Perhaps the lasting image of the 88th Academy Awards will be Girl Scouts roaming the theater, selling cookies to famished attendees. Kate Winslet looked at box of Tagalongs as if it were an exotic dish she had never heard of, and Morgan Freeman, the show over, pawed into a box of Thin Mints held by Michael Keaton. The closing music, after Chris Rock closed with “Black lives matter,” was “Fight the Power,” by Public Enemy. Perhaps an N.W.A. song could have been chosen, but I don’t know if any of them pass network standards.

The Eighth Annual Gone Elsewhere Oscar Challenge

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Time for this year’s Oscar Challenge. It’s simple–just pick the winner in each of the 24 categories.

I suggest you simply cut and paste the list of categories below in a comment and type your choice of winner next to it. If you change your mind, either edit your comment or post a new one. I will take your last predictions as official.

Best Picture:
Best Director:
Best Actor:
Best Actress:
Best Supporting Actor:
Best Supporting Actress:
Best Original Screenplay:
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Best Foreign Language Film:
Best Animated Film:
Best Cinematography:
Best Editing:
Best Production Design:
Best Costume Design:
Best Song:
Best Musical Score:
Best Documentary Feature:
Best Documentary Short Subject:
Best Makeup and Hairstyles:
Best Animated Short Subject:
Best Live Action Short Subject:
Best Sound Editing:
Best Sound Mixing:
Best Visual Effects:

The nominees can be found all over the web, including here.

Deadline will be anytime before the first award is given. The Oscar show is February 28th.