27 January 2013

Oscar Zone, Vol. IV: Writing Nominations

Well folks, we're knee-deep into Oscar Season now, and so it's time again to take a closer look at a category of nominees - this week it's writing. Last week we toiled long on all the Actor's Chances. This year, the writing isn't nearly as clear-cut as in years past. All the more fun for us prognosticators - who will come away with the Golden Bald Man? Who the hell knows - but let's start analyzing the ins and outs of both of these categories anyway. As before, these will be listed from the least likely to most likely to win.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Flight: John Gatins

This was a bit of a bizarre nomination. Flight really doesn't have much going for it outside of Denzel, but it is the kind of creative redemptive personal problem script the Academy likes. There's really much more of a backlash against this thing than the creators had surely hoped for, and the chance that Flight wins this is nonexistent.

Amour: Michael Haneke

Foreign films winning this category is extremely rare, although not unpreccedented. Previous non-English winners include the Spanish Talk to Her (2002) and the German-language Swiss film, Marie-Louise (1944). So they got that going for them. Amour is pretty popular with snobby critics, and apparently the Academy, but virtually unknown outside of that. This doesn't really have any momentum to speak of and winning on Oscar night isn't a possibility.

Moonrise Kingdom: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola

This is probably the best Original Script of the lot, and Wes deserves a win at this point in his career. This is also the characteristic "quirky" nominee in line with previous winners such as Little Miss Sunshine (2006), Juno (2007), and Midnight in Paris (2011). This is probably the best script of the lot this year, but it's really just run out of buzz. Talk was hot about this flick over the summer, but its distributor hasn't treated it as well as some of the others on this list to properly market it to Oscar Voters. Still, it's got the makings of a recent classic winner, so an upset is possibl here.

Django Unchained: Quentin Tarantino

I wouldn't think that there was any way that QT would win this, and it seems as if he thought the same way when he received the Golden Glove in this category. That's the main rationale in ranking this sucker so highly here. It's a competent, n-word filled script, but not as good or ground-breaking as either his win for Pulp Fiction (1994) or his nomination for Inglourious Basterds (2009). The only reason he could win here is a from a significant Weinstein push, which is surely not out of the ordinary.

Zero Dark Thirty: Mark Boal

It's somewhat unfortunate that Quentin again has to go against the fearsome tight script from Mark Boal. Boal knocked him around with The Hurt Locker in 2009, and he ought to repeat here. 0D30 was one of the fastest, thoroughly researched, and well-constructed screenplays in years. It's certainly an achievement that deserves to be recognized. If we are to go along by measuring current nominees with projects they had won for previously, 0D30's screenplay surpasses The Hurt Locker, which is an admirable feat. 0D30 is also one f the more buzzworthy films of the past few weeks - it will be fresh in voters' minds and a win is almost guaranteed.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

Beasts of the Southern Wild: Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin

It's amazing that a small, obscure film like this got as many nominations as it did, but it's not really that well-known or infiltrative of the zeitgeist to pull off the upset here. It's about the equivalent of Amour in the Original Screenplay category. It has its fans, but they aren't nearly influential enough to give it any kind of fighting chance.

Life of Pi: David Magee

This flick got a ton of nominations this year, but hasn't really won anything to show its worth in this category. It's really this year's version of Hugo (2011) in that it will wrap up a ton of awards for its visuals, but since it's really a kind of shitty movie, it won't win anything of real substantial merit. Also considering the beloved and intricate source material, Magee did about the best job anyone could in adapting it, but the film version will still never compare to its literary version. The same cannot necessarily be said for any of the following nominees.

Silver Linings Playbook: David O. Russell

Dave has again leaned on his actors more than his script in his first film to receive a ton of Oscar attention after The Fighter (2010), and his first nomination as a screenwriter. While it's still a widely loved movie for sure, it actually seems to have crested its popularity this week, and much more attention has been paid to its acting than writing anyway. In the past decade the winner most like this one may be Sideways (2004), so it's certainly possible that this type of flick wins, but this isn't the year for it.

Argo: Chris Terrio

Ben Affleck's greatest movie has been riding a huge wave since its premiere and it ought to keep surging at the Oscars. Still, it has an incredible level of competition, mostly from Lincoln, despite what the Golden Globes says. It ought to put up a good fight in many categories, but considering the Globes was much more liberal in awarding this film and then actually did give this award to Lincoln, Argo's chances aren't good. Yet again, without a lot more chances elsewhere dwindling, this could be an apt consolation prize. All in all, though, it's unlikely.

Lincoln: Tony Kushner

This is a lock for Lincoln to win only second to Daniel Day for Best Actor. It's really the perfect mix of popular and widespread source material, the most hyped film going into the Season, and the most competent and effective screenplay of the year. It's an easy win for Kushner, although there really isn't a ton of precedent for heady historical dramas to win the Adapted Award lately. In fact, this award has been all over the place. The winners are usually extremely strong contenders for Best Picture, though, and with this the forerunner by a good margin, its chances at nabbing this are pretty damn high.

So that's your Writing Nominees, folks. Stay tuned next week as we dissect the nominees for Best Director! What do you think of these predictions?

22 January 2013

Oscar Zone, Vol. IV: Acting Nominations

So, with our total predictions set in stone, it's time to dig in and rant a wee bit more over the intricacies of each of the major categories - Acting, Writing, Directing, and Best Picture. We start with acting, the most glamourous of all the categories and the one that forever canonizes its winners in Oscar Lore. From now on all of these people will be "Oscar Nominees" (picture, Real Steel [2011]on DVD with Academy Award Nominee Hugh Jackman), but only a few will be Winners. For the male categories, both are nearly sure to be repeat winners, for the females, two new exciting young lasses could go home with the gold (both have also hosted SNL this year - keep reading).

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

We'll rank all of these in order from the least likely to win to the mostly likely to win:

Joaquin PhoenixThe Master

Joaquin is nasty in The Master and actually does outclass everyone else here in the talent he showcased. He also proves that he has the most insane commitment to acting of anyone in his generation by the simple revelation that I'm Still Here (2010) was a hoax. This one is all about politics and Joaquin isn't helping himself. He could care less about the award and hasn't bothered to campaign at all, even calling the entire ceremony "bullshit." You're not gonna win that way, pal, but the true actor that he is, Joaquin only really cares about the craft. He knows he's better than anyone else anyway, so who cares? It's an interesting development, the result of which is that he doesn't have a chance in hell at winning this thing.

Denzel WashingtonFlight

Denzel could nab his third Oscar here after Glory (1989) and Training Day (2001). Michael Phillips of The Chicago Tribune at least thinks he deserves it, and to be fair, he is the only thing that saves an otherwise shitty movie. That's ultimately what may hold Denzel back here, although being a great actor in a shitty movie did nothing to stop Meryl from winning for The Iron Lady (2011) last year. It's a bit of a long shot and there's not a ton of buzz behind the film at all - we'll give him basically no chance but a bit above Joaquin.

Bradley CooperSilver Linings Playbook

B-Rad has had a slew of somewhat more serious roles recently like Limitless (2011), The Words (2012), and the upcoming The Place Beyond the Pines (2013) sprinkled between wackiness like Hit & Run (2012) and twenty-five Hangover movies. Wouldn't it be special and awesome for The Hangover, Part III (2013) to be able to boast "Starring Academy Award Winner Bradley Cooper as Phil"? That makes me want to cheer for B-Rad even more, but even with the strong positive buzz behind his performance here, he's just a bit outmatched by the next two contenders, who have a bit more serious, meatier roles.

Hugh JackmanLes Misérables

"Academy Award Winner Hugh Jackman is...THE WOLVERINE!" See, you can't get enough of this kind of schtik. Hugh Jackman is an underrated actor. Now, I know what you're thinking, how can I say that the guy who had turns in such terrible bloated affairs as Van Helsing (2004) and Australia (2008) is overrated? Really, Hugh is such a mystery and so simple at the same time. He's a blushing Australian Broadway Star who is also deeply, insanely committed to the comic book character Wolverine, as well as the major impetus for getting other stars to sign on to this week's Movie 43 (2013). He's like a Korean Bagpipe Player - a walking contradiction. But there's nothing really more perplexing to him behind that - he loves what he does and there's nothing really else to him. Les Misérables is his chance to showcase both his musical and film talents. Plus he was good in The Prestige (2006).

Daniel Day-LewisLincoln

Here we are, the big granddaddy of all acting. Daniel Day is a beast and there's only a very slim chance that Hugh upsets him here. He has decades of Academy Love behind him and has reaped up every award he needs to going into this to all but be assured of victory. Of course, it's not totally clear-cut. It's easily not as impressive as his turn as Dan Plainview in There Will Be Blood (2007) which was a near unanimous lock for victory. His Lincoln will tower (literally and figuratively) over anyone else who attempts to assume that role, though, and win or lose provide the definitive portrayal of the man for some time to come. Is that worth an Oscar? Joaquin wouldn't care, but it's in the bag for Danny here.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

This category really comes down to two women who are almost eery mirror images of each other in the same stages of what should be long, illustrious careers.

Naomi WattsThe Impossible

Quick - name what The Impossible is about. Give up? If you guessed that it's a film about the 2004 Indonesian Tsunami that primarily stars White People, you'd be correct. The problems inherent with this sort of racial focus aside, Naomi has been widely nominated for both indie and mainstream roles, though her only previous nomination with the Academy was for 21 Grams (2003). Both The Impossible and her role in it has mostly slid under the radar this year, even when she's the only really established actress in this category. There's no real chance she wins.

Quvenzhané WallisBeasts of the Southern Wild

Quick - name what Beasts of the Southern Wild is about! I still couldn't really tell you. It's the kind of film that remarkably has gotten some love here, and even more remarkable is recognizing the fine performance of...however you say that young lady's name. Quvie, as her friends call her, is the youngest actress ever to be nominated in the Lead Actress category at 9 years old, although the Supporting Actress category gets little tykes like her all the time. There are plenty out there who would like to see her win, but there's not really enough mainstream momentum anywhere for her to do it. Nice way to start a career, though, Quvie.

Emmanuelle RivaAmour

And so of course in this bizarre year, we've also got the oldest nominee in this category ever, with a nearly as long name, Emmanuelle at 85 years young. Emmanuelle's heyday was in French films of the 1960s, but if she makes it to the ceremony in a few weeks she may pull off an upset here. Amour, by all means is a great film, but does it have the politics behind it to shake up some paradigms? This is a year that distinguishes itself on wholly American storytelling platforms like Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln. I don't think we're going to honor an old Frenchwoman acting in this Austrian film.

Jessica ChastainZero Dark Thirty

There's no reason why Jessica can't win this, especially if Jennifer Lawrence continues being nearly as glib about her winning chances as Joaquin Phoenix. Jessica is certainly a more traditional Oscar pick and a win over J-Law wouldn't really be an upset. At this point, though, I'm just inclined to believe that Silver Linings Playbook has more positivity and appeal going for it than Zero Dark Thirty. There's a lot less controversy and plenty more love for its acting. Jessica and Jennifer couldn't be acting more differently going into this thing - it'll be a fun brawl no matter who comes out standing.

Jennifer LawrenceSilver Linings Playbook

J-Law just hosted the hell out of SNL, although she didn't have a lick of good material to work with. That's really just a testament to the ease of her acting, folks. The only major concern right now is both her Golden Globes acceptance speech, which some viewers may have interpreted as disrespectful, and likewise her SNL monologue. Or will the Academy find it refreshing? Indeed it's the kind of candor you get with J-Law. Then again, as Thelma Adams of Yahoo! News puts it, she's the 22-year old headliner of a half-billion dollar franchise - what does she care?

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

This is a ridiculous category this year. Every nominee has already won a statue, and there isn't a clear favourite unlike many years where this category tends to be locked up by November.

Alan ArkinArgo

I'm not sure why Alan is here. He's not particularly great in Argo, but I suppose the Academy had to pretend that they're liking that movie. Really, without any nominations for Ben, I get the sneaking feeling that the Academy just hated this film. But, that doesn't really make sense - Hollywood loves Positive Hollywood Films! I digress. Alan's not winning, which is about the only clear prediction I can make here.

Philip Seymour HoffmanThe Master

PSH has a towering performance here, although all of these must really be measured against the Oscars the nominees won previously. Hoffman nabbed a bald man for Capote (2005), playing the eponymous character. Is he better here playing the possibly eponymous Master? It's tough to say with the roles being so completely different. Perhaps that's a testament to another deserved win? No, too much Joaquin has leaked into this one, and PSH isn't really campaigning that hard or in the moment at all. He's probably got the best chance of any of the actors nominated for The Master to win, and it's an advantage that he got called for Supporting here. The fact that this great film only received acting nominations could be an indication that the Acting Branch of the Academy dug this flick, but if that's the case, then Silver Linings Playbook beat it by one nom anyway. The Master ought to go down as one of the best films ever to never win a single Academy Award.

Christoph WaltzDjango Unchained

Going with our assessment of Actors as "Was it equal or better to their last win?" we find Christoph basically transplanting his Landa character from his previous win for Inglourious Basterds (2009), in time, geography, and disposition. There's still no actor who handles Tarantino dialogue more beautifully, but this isn't a groundbreaking performance anymore. It's impressive that he could do the same song and dance routine on the side of righteousness this time around, but there's no spark that he had the last time around. His Golden Globe win is the only reason I've ranked him above PSH, but that Foreign Press takes care of its own.

Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook

I'm imagining this as like a reverse-Norbit effect. If you don't remember, there's a conspiracy out there (that I subscribe to), that Eddie Murphy lost his Oscar for Dreamgirls (2006) because of his crazy shitty performance in Norbit (2007) right before the Award Ceremony. This notably didn't work with Natalie Portman, nor for Sandra Bullock, who simultaneously won a Razzie and Oscar in the same year (for All About Steve [2009] and The Blind Side [2009]. Guess which one she won each award for!). What does any of this have to do with Bobby De Niro? Well, I think his performance in Silver Linings Playbook was magnified because of the past decade of really shitty De Niro performances. I mean, look at this list: Stardust (2007), Righteous Kill (2008), Everybody's Fine (2009), Machete (2010), Little Fockers (2010), New Year's Eve (2011). Granted, a film like Machete wasn't really terrible, but it's a totally hammy performance out of Bob. This isn't the De Niro we want to remember. Just when we've totally forgotten how great this guy is, he comes back with Silver Linings Playbook and provides a great role that isn't a mobster, serial killer, or otherwise a crazy person. De Niro hasn't been nominated in twenty years, and he hasn't won in thirty years. More and more I can see the Academy bowing and honoring history's greatest actor.

Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

So let's go back to our paradigm. Which actor on this list had a role this year that was equal to or better than the role for which they won previously? The only one that comes up as a definitive yes is Tommy Lee Jones here. General history has overlooked Thaddeus Stevens, and Tom does for him tenfold what Daniel Day did for Abe. He generated a tremendous amount of buzz after the Golden Globes just by being unamused. Does the Academy care about viral scowls? Do they interpret his unamusement as seriousness toward his craft or indicative of him being a stick in the mud? The Academy looks after its stodgy own and this is all coming up Tommy.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

In a batch of crazy up in the air acting categories this year, it's almost easy to forget this one - a possible lock but no clear winner.

Jacki WeaverSilver Linings Playbook

The Academy apparently has a strange love for everything Jacki Weaver does. She was also a surprise nomination with Animal Kingdom (2010). Of all the great performances coming out of Silver Linings Playbook, hers had the least buzz going into the Awards Season, and there's not a good chance she comes up with anything here. Director David O. Russell famously swept the Supporting Acting awards for his last feature, The Fighter (2010) (Christian Bale and Melissa Leo), but the love for Silver Linings, if they go anywhere, are destined for Jenn or Bob this time around.

Helen HuntThe Sessions

Where has Helen Hunt been these last few years? She of course won for
As Good as It Gets (1997), but everyone won for that movie. The Sessions is a weirder pic, and it's surprising that John Hawkes wasn't nominated while Helen was here. This is basically the equivalent to Denzel in Flight, mentioned above. Kind of a shitty movie with some good performances, though The Sessions doesn't have a big cool plane spinning out of control to open it. There's nothing especially notable that Helen does here that she hasn't done before, both in better and worse movies. Without a ton of buzz for the handicap sex romp, she'll go home without a statue.

Amy Adams, The Master

Another one that The Master won't win. This has become the Amy Adams category as of late, with her seeing three nominations in the past five ceremonies - the others being Doubt (2008) and The Fighter (2010). AND she was clearly snubbed for The Muppets (2011) last year. She deserves to bring home the gold one of these years, but the aforementioned issues with The Master will continue to plague her this year. As far as performances go, she was better in The Fighter anyway, when she lost to her fellow actress in that film, Melissa Leo. Amy's got a ton of talent and both broad and indie appeal. This isn't her year but she'll be back.

Sally FieldLincoln

I hated Sally Field in Lincoln, but then I realized that I don't hate Sally Field. She just does that good of a job as the crazy nagging wife Mary Todd to Daniel Day's Lincoln. Lincoln has three acting nominations and a lot more nominations and other critical love around it to justify a bit of an upset for Sally to win. If she wins she can join Daniel Day with her third Academy Award for Best Actress (after Norma Rae [1979] and Places in the Heart [1984]), which would be really crazy. Will she give another "you really like me" speech? I hope not.

Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables

Anne is the only lock I'd give to all these categories besides Daniel Ray Lewis. Every bit of Les Mis' marketing has centered around her performance and everyone who has had the slightest passing interest can picture her distinctive scene belting out "I Dreamed a Dream" like none of us knew she could do, live on set. This has caught on with the Academy and the American people alike. Anne is already America's darling - why not give her a nice pretty statue to make it official? She's overpowering Amy and Sally right now, and she ought to keep plowing through to the ceremony.

So there you go. That's the lowdown on ever single nominee. What do you think? Do you agree with my analysis or did I muff something up? Will De Niro beat Lee Jones? What about Jessica and Jennifer? The Award Ceremony comes on ABC on February 24th - until then, let's keep arguing in the comments:

18 January 2013

Oscar Zone, Vol. IV: Nominations & Predictions

Now that we've settled into a little bit of Oscar Season and the Golden Globes have come and passed, welcome to the Fourth Edition of the Oscar Zone - Norwegian Morning Wood's ultimate source of Oscar Knowledge, Predictions, and Inevitable Failure. It's always a tough spot of the year, dealing with Oscars. On the one hand they're fairly meaningless - a win is much more an indication of which studio was able to lobby politics in its favor the most rather than an accurate judgment of the integrity of the year's best films. Still, it's the most prestigious official award you can get in the film industry, and Oscar certainly has a way of canonizing its recipients as some of the best. It also immortalizes some films in ways nothing else can. Why else would anyone in 2013 care about Crash (2005)? For good or ill, they're a big deal and have a huge impact on the industry, if only for being the sole reason why some films are made.

They're also pretty fun to predict, talk about, and argue over. That and Box Office Predictions are the closest thing nerdy film snobs have to a Fantasy Football Season. Without further adieu then, here are our predictions for all 24 categories. First, though, here is how we've done in years past, and you'll actually note that I've gotten better each year:

2012: 16/24
2011: 14/24
2010: 12/24

Ugh, I'm really bad at this. Let's get to it. Predicted winners in BOLD.

Best Motion Picture of the Year

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

This is a race essentially coming down to Lincoln, ArgoLife of Pi, and Silver Linings Playbook. While Silver Linings is hitting at the right time and is the only film since Warren Beatty's Reds (1981) to score an acting nod in every category, romantic comedies (which is the closest genre you can put this in) very rarely win Best Picture. Likewise, the love of Life of Pi is evident from the ridiculous amount of nominations it received as well as the idea that since the Academy outright snubbed Ang Lee on Brokeback Mountain (2005) they may try to rectify it here.

Ultimately this seemed in the bag for Lincoln - which can also be seen as righting a past wrong (his snub in '99 when Saving Private Ryan lost to Shakespeare in Love and its Weinstein Machine), until Argo kicked ass at the Golden Globes. The American voters in the Academy ought to shine much higher on the American epic, Lincoln, although Hollywood does love depictions of its own, as seen with The Artist (2011) last year. It's ultimately a tough pick, but as Spielberg and Affleck come down to it again, the heady historical drama (see also: The King's Speech [2010]) ought to win the day.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln
Hugh Jackman for Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix for The Master
Denzel Washington for Flight

This is essentially coming down to Dan and Hugh, but there isn't really a question that the towering performance of Lewis will leave him with an unprecedented third Best Actor Trophy. As the Golden Globes indicated, everyone is in love with this performance. While it's not as totally in the bag as his turn in There Will Be Blood (2007), if he nails the Screen Actors Guild Awards on January 27th, it's all but assured.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva for Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts for The Impossible

This is shaping up to be the most interesting race of the night. You've got two great young acting talents, J-Chast and J-Law battling it out through two breathtaking, career-defining roles. They both have recent nominations in their history (Jessica for Supporting Actress in The Help [2011], Jennifer for Leading Actress in Winter's Bone [2011]). They also both won their respective Golden Globes in the drama and comedy categories. No matter who wins, it won't be the last time either of them is nominated. Although Zero Dark Thirty was so entirely driven by Jessica's performance, I'm giving the edge to Jennifer. It's very unlikely that anyone else from Silver Linings wins, but it's clear that the Academy was enamoured by the acting. Will her dig at Meryl at the Globes hurt her? This could sure go either way - what will the SAGs think?

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Alan Arkin for Argo
Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master
Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln
Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained

This is an insane category in that every nominee has already won an award, making it one of the most competitive races ever. Yes, for once, the Supporting Actor Oscar Winner is murky. I landed on Tommy Lee here through eliminating everyone else. Christoph Waltz easily wooed the Hollywood Foreign Press into his Golden Globe win, but he was better, or at least fresher during his last win as Landa in Inglourious Basterds (2009). PSH had a dominating performance, and since it was an especially featured role that could have gone leading, that may be in his favor, although the Academy seems to hate The Master. This could easily go to De Niro as sort of a capstone to his career, like they did with Alan Akrin for Little Miss Sunshine (2006), but this hasn't been the case lately (see: Mickey Rourke losing for The Wrestler [2008] to Sean Penn's Milk [2008]). With Tommy's scowl gone viral, who's doesn't want to see more of him in the spotlight?

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams for The Master
Sally Field for Lincoln
Anne Hathaway for Les Misérables
Helen Hunt for The Sessions
Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook

This was preordained from that first trailer for Les Misérables. The specific moment that Anne won her Oscar - her single take, live on-set rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" has been the centerpiece of all of Les Mis' marketing for good reason - it's the one guaranteed shot at Oscar that it has. Of course, it will probably walk away with quite a bit more.

Best Achievement in Directing

Michael Haneke for Amour
Ang Lee for Life of Pi
David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg for Lincoln
Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild

Kudos to however Spielberg knocked Affleck and Bigelow out of this competition. Maybe he enlisted Bill Clinton to help him. In one of the wackier categories that doesn't line up at all with either the Golden Globes or the DGA Awards, Spielberg and Ang are really the only consistent nominees. Lincoln has far more widespread love than Life of Pi, and the Academy has shown that it loves them directors that can recreate them historicky period times - it's his to lose.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Amour: Michael Haneke
Django Unchained: Quentin Tarantino
Flight: John Gatins
Moonrise Kingdom: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola
Zero Dark Thirty: Mark Boal

I can see this going to Moonrise, it's the kind of quirky (awfully clichéd word to describe a very nuanced film that's otherwise hard to describe, I know) pic that has soared here in the past (Little Miss Sunshine, Juno [2007]), but it's totally out of momentum by now and the seriously crazy journalistic lengths Mark Boal undertook should be recognized. He did just win this award for The Hurt Locker (2009), and it's fun to see him go against Tarantino again in the same category. QT nabbed the Globe, but he was pretty shocked at it. Will the Academy approve such liberal use of the n-word? I think not.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

Argo: Chris Terrio
Beasts of the Southern Wild: Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin
Life of Pi: David Magee
Lincoln: Tony Kushner
Silver Linings Playbook: David O. Russell

The past five awards have all been based on books with similar Best Picture momentum. It also helps that Tony Kushner's adaptation an navigation of complex 19th-Century politics is astoundingly clear, concise, and impactful. Most of these were also nominated for WGA Awards, but we won't find that out until February 17th, a week before the Oscars. We won't need to, Lincoln is all over this.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

Brave: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman
Frankenweenie: Tim Burton
ParaNorman: Sam Fell, Chris Butler
The Pirates! Band of Misfits: Peter Lord
Wreck-It Ralph: Rich Moore

Holy shit - the Best Animated Oscar is actually contested! While I dug Brave, there were many who thought Pixar had slipped a little, and that's reflected in my prediction here. Indeed the flick was kind of out there. The inclusion of The Pirates! Band of Misfits is intriguing and also makes this category full of three claymation pictures. That might indicate that claymation is hot among voters this year, in which case the best of the lot may be Frankenweenie. Wreck-It Ralph, though, had a far more engrossing hook, brand, and box office haul, causing me to lean in its favor.

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

Amour (Austria)
War Witch (Canada)
No (Chile)
A Royal Affair (Denmark)
Kon-Tiki (Norway)

Amour was nominated for Best Picture...and is the only Foreign Language Film so nominated. Doesn't that mean it's the best Foreign Language Film? The same thing happened with animated films Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010) - it's kind of a foregone conclusion it'll win here, which is spectacular, because this category is crazy hard to predict some years. The lack of the French film The Intouchables (2012), which for a long time was a foregone conclusion as an Oscar favourite, is a little surprising, but since Mike Haneke already cleaned up among his own Foreign brethren at the Golden Globes, he'll probably go for the kill here.

Best Achievement in Cinematography

Anna Karenina: Seamus McGarvey
Django Unchained: Robert Richardson
Life of Pi: Claudio Miranda
Lincoln: Janusz Kaminski
Skyfall: Roger Deakins

It's clear that there is some Life of Pi love with its astounding 11 nominations, but it's not really favoured to win that many. That expression of love ought to come through here, although Kaminski is 2/5 at the Oscars and if Lincoln sweeps, it's his. Roger Deakins, however, is 0/9 at the Oscars and really deserves a little Golden Bald Man as sort of a Career Achievement Award. The cinematography of Skyfall was also one of its more notable, if not its best aspect. Still, I don't think the Academy will go for it.

Best Achievement in Editing

Argo: William Goldenberg
Life of Pi: Tim Squyres
Lincoln: Michael Kahn
Silver Linings Playbook: Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers
Zero Dark Thirty: William Goldenberg, Dylan Tichenor

Editing is another nice way to acknowledge how much the Academy loved a film without really giving it a major award. 0D30 has plenty of love but is a bit to divisive for them to really back in anything major (except maybe Jessica for Best Actress). This could of course mean that Argo leaves empty handed, which seems highly unlikely. If it ends up making a run for Best Picture, this ought to fall its way.

Best Achievement in Production Design

Anna Karenina: Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Dan Hennah, Ra Vincent, Simon Bright
Les Misérables: Eve Stewart, Anna Lynch-Robinson
Life of Pi: David Gropman, Anna Pinnock
Lincoln: Rick Carter, Jim Erickson

The production design of The Hobbit was exceptional and deserving, but Les Mis is hitting a bit harder right now. Return of the King wowed in 2003, but that was riding a ton of Lord of the Rings buzz that hasn't followed the more middling Hobbit. Experts at Gold Derby have pointed out that this category has not gone to a film set in contemporary times in twenty years, and many of its experts have sided with Anna KareninaLes Misérables, or Lincoln. Looking at the last few winners though, Hugo (2011), Alice in Wonderland (2010), and AVABAR (2009), it seems like by far this category fancies fantasy rather than period productions. That splits this category between The Hobbit and Life of Pi, and with its 11 nominations, the latter has the advantage.

Best Achievement in Costume Design

Anna Karenina: Jacqueline Durran
Les Misérables: Paco Delgado
Lincoln: Joanna Johnston
Mirror Mirror: Eiko Ishioka
Snow White and the Huntsman: Colleen Atwood

Dueling Snow White tales aside, at first this may seem like the perfect category for Anna Karenina. It's a dopey period movie that no one really saw, and follows a long line of recent winners such as Marie Antoinette (2006), Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007), The Duchess (2008), and The Young Victoria (2009). It's predicted to win by a wide margin, and I wouldn't be surprised if it did. However, in all these years, no film has contested here that has had as much support as Lincoln. Both The Return of the King and The Artist won here when they were nominated with plenty of additional Best Picture support. However, however, this year is looking to be much more like 2010, where The King's Speech won Best Picture, but many other awards were split - it was nominated here and lost. I think that will hold true for Lincoln and we'll see another crappy period flick nab the honor.

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling

Hitchcock: Howard Berger, Peter Montagna, Martin Samuel
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Peter King, Rick Findlater, Tami Lane
Les Misérables: Lisa Westcott, Julie Dartnell

This award has actually quite often gone to the bigger blockbuster films such as Star Trek (2009), The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005), Return of the King and The Fellowship of the Ring (2001). If The Hobbit wins anything, it's this one, but with films such as La Vie en Rose (2007) and The Iron Lady (2011) also pulling this award out, it's really fair game. I give an edge to Peter.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

Anna Karenina: Dario Marianelli
Argo: Alexandre Desplat
Life of Pi: Mychael Danna
Lincoln: John Williams
Skyfall: Thomas Newman

No one is really running away with this so far this year, I'm leaning towards Lincoln based on its strong support elsewhere, but like cinematography, Life of Pi could very well pull away with this one. In years prior this has gone to sweeps (The Artist, Slumdog Millionaire [2008], Return of the King), near-sweeps (The Social Network, Brokeback Mountain) and totally random picures (Up, Atonement [2007]). Betting on John Williams and Lincoln is fairly safe, although this by far his best score. Life of Pi did conquer at the Globes, and the score is damn good, so a win there would not be surprising.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song

Chasing Ice: J. Ralph ("Before My Time")
Les Misérables: Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer ("Suddenly")
Life of Pi: Mychael Danna, Bombay Jayshree ("Pi's Lullaby")
Skyfall: Adele, Paul Epworth ("Skyfall")
Ted: Walter Murphy, Seth MacFarlane ("Everybody Needs a Best Friend")

To be honest, I'm just glad we have a good field of nominees here instead of the two we had last year, even though that gave The Muppets (2011) a nice easy win. Incredibly, no James Bond theme has ever won an Academy Award - that will end in 2013. Everyone loves Adele, and she might as well add an Oscar to her ridiculously long list of Awards. "Skyfall" is a spectacular track, both for the movie it's featured in and for everyday casual listening - this really can only be rarely said for movie songs (but often for Oscar-winning movie songs - I love me some Three 6). Les Mis had a bit of a cheap shot here and has been criticized for creating the original song "Suddenly" purely to get some Oscar recognition. It's one of the weaker songs in the film for good reason, being shoved in there arbitrarily. And would I like to see Seth MacFarlane go home with an Oscar in addition to his hosting duties? Hell yeah.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

Argo: John T. Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, José Antonio García
Les Misérables: Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson, Simon Hayes
Life of Pi: Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill, Drew Kunin
Lincoln: Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, Ron Judkins
Skyfall: Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell, Stuart Wilson

When musicals or movies with heavy music influences are nominated here, they tend to win (Dreamgirls [2006], Ray [2004], Chicago [2002]). Les Mis fits the bill pretty solidly for the production of its sound content, which is vital for this film. Still, it has also gone to bigger flicks like Inception (2010), The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), and King Kong (2005), a testament to how vital sound is to the creation of these big fantasy and action worlds - in which case, Life of Pi or Skyfall may seem destined to pull out the win. There's also of course sweepers like The Hurt Locker and Slumdog Millionaire, and if Lincoln sweeps, this is Andy, Gary, and Ron's to lose. So, that basically leaves Argo with no chance, but I'm not convinced that the musical can't win here.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

Argo: Erik Aadahl, Ethan Van der Ryn
Django Unchained: Wylie Stateman
Life of Pi: Eugene Gearty, Philip Stockton
Skyfall: Per Hallberg, Karen M. Baker
Zero Dark Thirty: Paul N.J. Ottosson

War movies rule this category - dating back to U-571 (2000). Since then it's gone to Pearl Harbor (2001), Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), and The Hurt Locker. The only recent loss that's worrisome is last year's War Horse (2011), but let's face it, that movie sucked anyway. Even though there's actually little war in Zero Dark Thirty, the sound editing is precise, adds great tension to the narrative, and is integral to the viewing experience of that final raid of bin Laden's pad in Abbottabad. There's not a great chance this goes to anyone else.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

The Avengers: Janek Sirrs, Jeff White, Guy Williams, Daniel Sudick
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, R. Christopher White
Life of Pi: Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik De Boer, Donald Elliott
Prometheus: Richard Stammers, Trevor Wood, Charley Henley, Martin Hill
Snow White and the Huntsman: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, Phil Brennan, Neil Corbould, Michael Dawson

This is a raucous category this year. The Avengers surely deserves to win for this. The Hobbit certainly deserves to win for this. This category, though, does heavily favor nominees also nominated for best picture (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button [2008], AVABAR, Inception [2010], Hugo). The only flick here that really fits that bill is Life of Pi, and that film has been widely praised for only its visuals anyway. And to be fair, Richard Parker is worth that Avengers single take or the crazy double-sets of The Hobbit anyway.

Best Documentary, Features

5 Broken Cameras
The Gatekeepers
How to Survive a Plague
The Invisible War
Searching for Sugar Man

So we at last move on the crappy categories that are really up for grabs. No one really knows how these will turn out. There's usually only one or two big docs a year and those get the Oscar nods obvi. There isn't anything totally apparent this year, but Searching for Sugar Man supposedly has some buzz, and yeah I've kind of heard about it before, though it's a little foggy. That's good enough for my prognostication here.

Best Documentary, Short Subjects

Kings Point
Mondays at Racine
Open Heart

If there's anything worse than Feature Docs it's Short Subject Docs. What an awful, awful category. We might as well get the dartboard out. Open Heart would mean that both docs would feature stories from Africa. It's getting the best odds, though, so sure, I don't care.

Best Short Film, Animated

Adam and Dog
Fresh Guacamole
Head Over Heels
The Simpsons: The Longest Daycare

This is the only really juicy category in this section of the Oscars because we actually get to see half of these before other animated films like Ice Age: Inconsequential Drift (2012) and Brave (2012). To that, we'll go with Maggie Simpson's Oscar Debut here, because Dave Silverman and the rest of The Simpsons lore deserve an Oscar. It's not actually favoured, but with my rule about kind of knowing about something and letting the most popular nominee win - The Longest Daycare is all over this.

Best Short Film, Live Action

Buzkashi Boys
Death of a Shadow

So we're finally on our last category here. It's fitting that I get exhausted and don't care by this point, because really, these categories are impossible to predict. I actually did try to watch some of these this year, and then found myself doing ANYTHING ELSE with my time. Siding with Derby again, Curfew it is.

So folks, that's it. How will these predictions fare? My lifetime correct pick rate is 58%, which is pretty awful. Let's boost that over 60 this year. Over the weeks to come we'll also be taking a closer look at the acting, writing, directing, and Best Picture races. Those are really the only ones that matter. The ceremony comes on February 24th, hosted by Seth MacFarlane.

17 January 2013

First Impressions: Zero Dark Thirty

With the wide release of Zero Dark Thirty (2012) this weekend past much more of the nation got a chance to lay their eyes on this divisive film. Like The Hurt Locker (2009) before it, director Kathryn Bigelow has sunk her teeth into contemporary American warfare like few others are capable of. Still, this film is not only about the final raid of Osama Bin Laden's hideout by Seal Team Six, but the immensely arduous decade-long process that got us there. SPOILERS for sure to follow in this open discussion, but you know that bin Laden dies at the end (right?). Of course, that's not really the point of this film.

Torture me Timbers!

So let's talk straight away about the torture in this film. Kathryn herself has some great things to say about it here. She argues that she is merely depicting torture without putting a political spin on it, merely emphasizing its role without condoning or condemning. To some extent that is true. All of 0D30 plays very linear and straight forward, which heightens its ability to tell a historical story. For this reason it purports and then demonstrates convincingly that it is telling a very accurate story. This is the kind of film that can be shown in history classrooms years from now thoroughly demonstrating what it took to find the man who committed the greatest foreign attack on American Civilians in history.

Even though the torture is accurate (and with a combination of highly public Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib scandals as well as many corroborating firsthand accounts, any argument otherwise is fairly suspect), its very presence in this film is still saying something significant, despite what Bigelow attests. It demonstrates the lengths we went to find bin Laden, the moral compromises we made, and all of our seething anger and will that was fruitless for so long.

Ultimately, the film subtlety sides against the torture ("enhanced interrogation"). Only when the practice is outlawed are the CIA able to think more creatively and undertake a deeper investigation of the links to bin Laden. The impetus and initial data behind this investigation, though, is clearly detainee testimony. It's therefore saying that the torture wasn't the whole means towards the search, but it provided the data required to build some leads.

Al Qaeda only exists as it does in the real world - a mysterious organization that only seems to surface during a national disaster or terrorist attack to remind us why we're fighting. It overlays a constant tension throughout the film and (if you haven't memorized the dates of tragic events) any scene can end up in an explosion. It's easy to forget what we're up against (both in the film and in real life), when we seem to just be hacking away and getting no where. Suddenly lives are lost and the pressure to stop the insanity is reinvigorated.

We don't like seeing the good guys as the ones torturing. So much of this film actually is full of this, though - the Americans are the ones at center beating the hell out of their enemies but generally coming up with nothing, dead ends, or getting blown up themselves. The scenes are brutal and dehumanizing, allowing us to break our enemy down to the level we believe them to be - shitting their pants and walking around on all fours - humiliated and degraded. Is such brutality justified in the grander scheme of the search for bin Laden as both revenge and prevention of future attacks? This is no better exemplified in Maya (Jessica Chastain).

"She's a Killer."

Jessica Chastain has been surging lately via a ridiculous string of 2011 movies, including Take Shelter, Coriolanus, The Debt, The Tree of Life, The Help, and Texas Killing Fields. And yeah, she won at least one award for all of those. This is the first movie though where she's really front and center, carrying the whole thing from beginning to end. Her will and confidence drives every bit of the Hunt for bin Laden and the entire film. She pushes that single goal (as she says to CIA Director Leon Panetta [James Gandolfini], she's done nothing else in her career) so much farther than anyone else was willing to and far beyond when her superiors thought it was no longer important.

There isn't any real explanation for this drive, other than her being a woman who is just consumed by her work. There isn't an indication of whether or not she had family affected by 9/11 or any other connection. She lands in the film on her feet and keeps striking from there. The only indication of her reasoning is the 9/11 tape played as the film opens. The idea, of course, is that that snippet is the only justification anyone should need in pursuing bin Laden until his death.

There is a lot more external factors that affect Maya. There is the constant danger of living abroad in a country that hates you. There is rejection and suspicion by superiors. There's also her best friend in the office, Jessica (Jennifer Ehle) who dies due to her own belief that money trumps ideology, which is a much more western way of thinking than can apply in the Middle East. Maya knows that is a fallacy, but is too tempted by the possible lead to properly advise against the meeting of an al Qaeda doctor at Camp Chapman. The result is one of the only attacks in the film that far ahead you can see coming, but the destruction of both a promising lead, Maya's only friend, and the reassertion that this task is nigh impossible greatly tightens and forwards the narrative.

The other actors in the film do a great job, too, although they are fairly outshined by Chastain. Notable is Mark Strong as a mid-level CIA boss whose own conviction in avenging 9/11 aligns with Maya's, but isn't strong enough to convince his own bosses for a strike. It's an intensity Strong usually brings to villainous roles, and in a film that straddles the idea of the Americans needing to make moral compromises to acquire their target, he works well.

We got him!

Lastly, we come to that final gripping scene of Seal Team Six invading Osama's secret complex in Abbottabad, Pakistan. It's a supremely well shot scene, full of rising tension, stunned awe at both atrocious and heroic acts committed by the Navy SEALs, and even bits of humor. It's the culmination of a decade of planning and intelligence, which leaves Maya alone at film's end in tears both at the joy of completion of her mission and the knowledge that she hasn't done anything else with her life. Indeed the film solely demonstrates from start to finish her hunt, which consumes her life.

As for Seal Team Six, they're depicted as the true American Heros that they are. They are one part jokey bros, but much more thoroughly are executing their job through teamwork, intelligence, and supreme skill and discipline. It's nice to see Joel Edgerton from Warrior (2011)  and Parks and Recreation's Chris Pratt (jacked up) leading the way here, both really walking that line between likable dudes and cunning systematic killing machines. They also seem like great guys to hang out with - that's just how I picture my Seal Team Six.

So much of 0D30 is just direct action. There is little room for metaphor or political bias. It is extremely clean cut and literal storytelling. In as much, Kate Bigelow has proved herself again to be the best modern warfare director ever. There is always going to be controversy in films that canonize recent history like this. It's almost akin to how the creation of Facebook is culturally remembered through The Social Network (2010). The Hunt and Assassination of Osama bin Laden will now be remembered through Zero Dark Thirty. While The Social Network certainly put a directly manifested spin on its events, the parsimonious outlay of events in 0D30 ought to make it a reliable bit of history for years to come, despite Seal Team Six's insistence that they do NOT pop their collars.

13 January 2013

Because it's Ripe for Parody: The Character of Bane

It seems as if we've lately had a second rush of articles featuring The Dark Knight Rises (2012). By this point it's completed its theatrical run and everyone got a copy of it on Blu Ray for Christmas and has watched it forty times. Some of you may have even gotten the entire Nolan Trilogy. At this point we've settled our feelings and half of us seem to detest the final entry that could never live up to The Dark Knight (2008) while others appreciate the grandiose exit and bow on the part of Chris and Christian. At any rate, it's time to talk about the muscle head himself, Bane.

Like Heath Ledger's Joker before him, Bane is the most captivating part of his Batman film, for good or ill. His presence was most effective in IMAX where his voice was clear, loud, and shook deeper and stronger than any other sound in the film. Outside of that clarity, though, his voice tends to get muffled or misinterpreted, which is ripe for easy parody. We're not really concerned with that though, because 1) despite the haters, his voice isn't all that incomprehensible, and 2) if it's an easy joke to make we might as well avoid it and strive for something a little deeper.

So let's focus on two major Bane parodies as of late that work really well. They are helped by the proliferation of DVD materials and plenty of opportunity to re-edit, find sets, and play around. Both derive their humour from placing Bane in unfamiliar situations, thereby accentuating the fact that he's really a pretty weird dude. That is where the major humour comes from - not from his voice itself, but from what that voice is saying as a reflection of his intense character juxtaposed in more banal situations. Such an attempt emphasizes the absurdity of the existence of Bane himself. In the first parody, Bane, as played by Chris Kattan somehow (and he has such dedication to the role) finds a job as a telemarketer post-TDKR, courtesy of Funny or Die. This forces his personality to adapt to a mediocre life in Gotham where his skills of fighting in the dark and killing nuclear physicists help him no longer. Take a gander:

Yes, that is THAT Chris Kattan. Mango himself. He's apparently back from Bollywood and is now doing Funny or Die videos. He strangely pulls off Bane, or at least a Bane who hasn't worked out in a while. It's kind of strange, because Kattan has the exact opposite body that Bane has. This hasn't really convinced me that Kattan is worth paying attention to at all, because his career after A Night at the Roxbury (1998) has seemed to go in the opposite direction of co-star Will Ferrell's. I'm sorry, Chris, I give no love to Corky Romano. But that's not the point here, the point is really a postmodern interpretation of Bane - applying identical vocal mannerisms to mundane office situations while simultaneously subtracting him of all power and intimidation by lifting him out of his comic book movie surroundings results in a damn funny three minutes.

The second parody, the Auralnauts Outtakes Edit focuses on Bane's quest to introduce healthier eating habits to Gotham, which is beyond hysterical. It works through an overdub of Bane's voice while retaining some of the other characters' dialogue, but in some cases everything is switched. It is also a clever edit by playing around in some places, such as giving him a reaction to the "You suck, Bane!" and pausing on Batman's face while he blares "Pump the Jam" in the Batpod. Such a moment in the film is meant to elicit deep introspection on the character of Batman fulfilling his inital goal of becoming a symbol for Gotham. Instead, a clever music choice totally changes the moment into insane patheticism, and one that will stay with me the next time I watch TDKR for real. Here is the whole thing:

Both of these work because Nolan so carefully crafted the mysteriousness of the Bane character. Like the Joker, he seemingly appears out of no where with no other purpose than to be who he is. It's what Bruce Wayne is forcing himself to be, and who he'd like to be in his own world (he gets the greatest conflict of this in Batman Begins [2005] where Alfie repeatedly chastises him for ignoring his father's legacy and "Bruce Wayne's friends" over Batman) Separating the identity between man and costume is an integral theme to any superhero work (mostly). Both Bane and the Joker have no use for this, which again, makes them perfectly dangerous enemies for Bruce.

There's this disconnect between Bane and the real world, which works great in the film. Part of a major criticism of TDKR seems to be how Bane can suddenly find out so much about Bruce Wayne, where his R&D is, and how he can show up halfway across the world to taunt Bruce in prison. Likewise we may question how Bruce was able to travel back to Gotham and make a big fiery bat signal so quickly and with great timing. These aren't problems though - they further the myth of both characters and heightens their mystery and the extent of their abilities.

But back to that disconnect - Bane's actions and motivations are so crazily out there that placing him in mundane situations such as trying to ask out a girl at the office or discussing fiber with a client become hilarious. It's humour by way of showing how intense and melodramatic the guy is. The Dark Knight Rises is worth another look, Bane being the major reason why.

02 January 2013

Thirteen Things to Look Forward to in 2013

The New Year is upon us folks - it's 2013, and it's going to be a wild one. In many ways, 2012 was a huge seminal year. We had an Olympics, and Election, and a few natural disasters that changed the world. It was also this interesting year for movies. The biggest films of the year, The Avengers, and The Dark Knight Rises both felt like these huge culminations of years of anticipation. Anything else almost seems like an afterthought. Where do we go from here? The slate for 2013 is actually full of a large number of epic original ideas, as well as the typical continuations of franchises, some of which have been shining bright and will look to continue to do so, while others are striving desperately hard for some rejuvenation. With all this, 2013 is really a hangover year - nothing really momentous is going on - hell, we all thought the world was ending two weeks ago, we didn't make any plans at all. Nevertheless, here are Thirteen Things we Think Might be Cool in the Year of Our Lord 2013.

#13: Oz the Great and Powerful (03/08)

Wicked Cunt of the West?
This film has a high potential for suck, but we're not making judgments so rashly. Jim Franco is typically up to task in any film he's cast in, and a flick as wonkers as this looks up his alley. It's also easy to hate on Sam Raimi's mishandling of Spider-Man 3 (2007), the last blockbuster he tackled (or did he?) but lest we not ignore his otherwise impressive track record. Of course, it's not like anyone was really aching for an Oz prequel, but the trailer looks intriguing enough, and the mysterious handling of which leading lady will become the Wicked Witch (Rachel Weisz or Mila Kunis?) remains unanswered in the marketing material so far. If they keep this unanswered this movie actually becomes interesting. If not, I don't think this is the Halfbuster to live up to the high standard of Marches past, particularly 2012's Hunger Games. Until these questions are answered though, we're still pretty jazzed for how cool this flick can be.

#12: Warm Bodies (02/01)

I'm still trying to wrap my head around this. It seems like Twilight with zombies, but a quite a bit less melodramatic and weepy about the whole thing. It's incredible that we're still finding ways to fool around with zombie tropes - I mean, honestly, I thought Shaun of the Dead (2004) did enough fooling around with the genre nearly a decade ago (yes, decade, folks). Still this has got Malkovich, James Franco's brother, and some clever source material. Check out the trailer and judge for yourself.

#11: Pain & Gain (04/26)

How insane ought this thing to be? Wahlberg, Mackie, the Rock, a ton of crime, muscles, and Michael Bay. Mike seems to grow increasingly forgiving of his own insanely juvenile nature and that's a good thing. We need this voice lighting up cinemas - it's just too easy to reflect our culture and make fun of these kinds of idiots. There also really isn't enough material that deals with insane 90s Weightlifting Culture, which is ripe for satire due to this fine line the guys walk between genuine masculinity and simple overcompensation. Will Pain & Gain help us find our manhood? Did we ever lose it? Some people did - those people need a pump - and we're pumped to see this. Check out the trailer.

#10: Star Trek into Darkness (05/17)

So dark.
Yeah this title is a little doofy - have these all been singular treks through stars (summing up the show and films quite literally I suppose), and in this one we'll trek into darkness? It's kind of an attempt to make a title into a clever phrase that's not really a phrase or that clever. J.J. I will never forgive you for this awful title. With Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) and Thor: The Dark World (2013) the word "dark" is being used a bit too much in big blockbuster titles to be taken seriously anymore. All these complaints aside, another fantastic trailer has eased our trepidation a bit. Benedict Cumberbatch is turning into 2013's Mark Strong, playing an assortment of spectacular villains with this and his role as the voice of both Smaug and the Necromancer in the forthcoming The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013). Back in the day, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) grew to become by far the best Trek flick. Will the second in the new generation of Trek flicks do the same? Plot details are few and far between, but Cumberbatch's villain is already the most interesting part of the film. What a voice! J.J.'s destruction of Vulcan and his fucking with the timeline in Star Trek (2009) already proved that he's not afraid to be bold in this universe (and why not, J.J. has an understanding that nothing he does is really permanent - it doesn't alter either the stories of the past or the inevitable reboots to fit the whims of the future). It'll be a trip to see how he jacks up Kirk and the gang here. Trailer - zing!

#9: Iron Man 3 (05/03)

It's tough to make a call on this movie. While it may have the best trailer of the year, showing moments of pain (Tony banged up in the snow), drama (his pleas to Gwyneth), big action set pieces (Tony's house getting blown to hell), and smaller emotional moments (that lonely suit drag at the end), there's also a bit of mystery here without a lot of plot relevation. That's really the perfect hype device - generate emotional investment without giving away what actually happens in the film. There's two big concerns we have though: 1) Iron Man (2008) and most of the subsequent Marvel films have gone counter to Nolan's Batman films, showing that you can have a lot fun, lose all that brooding, and still craft a quality superhero film. That doesn't appear to be the case at all in a franchise that has built itself on the fun charisma of Robert Downey, Jr. 2) How much of this will repeat the mistakes of Iron Man 2 (2010) and focus more on building a greater universe? Iron Man served to introduce us to Marvel's Phase 1, will 3 do the same for Phase 2? We have reservations - but hey, this trailer does its job and our interest is peaked.

#8: The Wolverine (07/24)

How can we be pumped about this film after X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) was so infuriatingly terrible? There are a few simple reasons - the first being a simple change in screenwriter (Chris McQuarrie [Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol {2011}]) and director (Jim Mangold [3:10 to Yuma {2007}]). Beyond that, though, this film is finally doing what many more comic book films could be doing right now - telling an experimental story (similar props to X-Men: First Class [2011]). They're taking a character thoroughly developed in four previous films and telling the story of him in a focused setting, his time in Japan. The marketing has acted accordingly - appearing elusive and classy instead of the soulless insane cash grab and botched attempt at fan service at the expense of a narrative his first solo film was see (poster at right). Did we really need an awful film to establish a character who has already been the unquestioned lead in three previous films before we could finally play around with the stories we tell about him? Do we need another Superman movie reestablishing a universe before we branch out into some actually innovative or fresh stories? It's irritating that we had to burn one on Origins to get to this point, but we also have Hugh Jackman's unyielding enthusiasm for this character to thank for his tremendously high number of portrayals. He clearly has no intention of branching out anywhere, and why should he? Wolverine gave him a career, as much as he'd probably be content just belting out tunes on Broadway (why not do both?) It's that kind of rarity (only paralleled by Nic Cage's enthusiasm in continuously playing Ghost Rider) that has kept this franchise alive and going in bold new directions.

#7: The Return of Community (02/07)

Will we actually get this one? Or will NBC keep pushing the greatest show on television back and back until we only get a Season 4 on DVD (or Netflix, at this point)? The Show is set to come on in February the week after the Final Ever Episode of 30 Rock. Is it too much to ever ask for both at once? Without showrunner Dan Harmon and the presence of Chevy Chase in only about half the episodes there's no telling how the hell this Season is going to end up, but we're betting it's still going to miles above any other comedy airing right now in its meta-obsession, genre bending storylines, and hilarity. For the past three months NBC has teased and tortured the small group of fans it actually has for this show in favor of hitching its entire wagon to The Voice (which has paid off). Why is it we keep yelling at them while they make money?

#6: Elysium (08/09)

I know next to nothing about this movie except for three things: 1) Director Neill Blomkamp gave us the very cool original story District 9 (2009) and has been apparently tinkering with this and Halo kind-of since then. 2) Matt Damon looks like this. 3) Sharlto Copley looks like this. Is that really enough to make this thing our #6 most hotly anticipated cultural item of 2013? Absolutely.

#5: Pacific Rim (07/12)

Finally, a live action Big O movie
Just as we're awaiting the new original film from a supposedly visionary director, Neill Blomkamp, we're sure as hell awaiting the new original film from visionary director Guillermo del Toro in Pacific Rim. All this needed was a name, a director, and a poster to look real cool, but then we got a trailer that promised a ton of maddeningly fantastic monster smashing action. It's about time we updated Kaiju for the modern CGI age that didn't involve Matthew Broderick. It may not spin the genre like Cloverfield (2008) did, but it looks cool and fresh and we're ready to eat it up. Besides, we'd watch Charlie Day and Idris Elba in anything. I'm just hoping that somehow the Iron Giant gets in on the action. He's already a superhero after all.

#4: The World's End (10/25)

It's about damn time Edgar Wright, Nick Frost, and Simon Pegg complete the Cornetto Trilogy. It's a testament to the high pedigree everyone involved has attained that it's taken them six years since Hot Fuzz (2007) to get this thing in theaters. While Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz had very clear targets of both homage and parody, The World's End is slightly less clear as very little marketing material has emerged so far. It seems as if end-of-the-world movies may be game, which would be suitably epic to conclude the trilogy. It's a bummer they couldn't get this off before everyone went nuts thinking 2012 would be it, but we'll take it in 2013 anyway. I'm also fairly excited for the chance to reference Shaun of the Dead twice in one post.

#3: This is the End (06/14)

Yes, the second end-of-the-world comedy on this list, This is the End seems like something a bunch of Apatow friends threw together at the last second and then added a crazy amount of postproduction effects. We can't think of a better way for them to work. The cast is an absolute dream of future comedy legends. The trailer is basically a single scene that perfectly encapsulates the insane crude tone of the movie, a reflection of real-life, and a ton of hilarious jokes. 2013 may be an epic year for comedy, as the remainder of this list will show. This film looks to be above anything else a cinematic experiment with tons of A-list comedians playing versions of the popular perceptions of themselves in some completely insane scenarios. We're on board.

#2: Anchorman: The Legend Continues (12/20)

We've got almost an entire year to build up anticipation for this, and it's tough to really know right now whether or not it's going to be worth it. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) is an immortal comedy film whose metaphysical nature extends far beyond the confines of a single reality, or even comes close to our reality. Will and Adam McKay of continued this sort of acceptable level of insanity in Step Brothers (2008) and then went far over the top in their surrealist treatment of reality The Other Guys (2010). It's a tough task to fill, but with everyone back on board and a satisfactory, if not quickly completed teaser out there, we're looking up.

#1: The Hangover Part III (05/24)

Leading the Wolfpack again
That's right. Todd Phillips apparently isn't following the script, but we wish he would. It's pretty creative in a postmodern sort of what to find different, equally hilarious ways to change the beats of a plot without changing the plot itself, at the same time offering new jokes, action pieces, upping the ante and switching the entire color palette of a film to suit a new style based on a new setting. I (and I suspect I alone) have a tremendous appreciation for The Hangover Part II (2011) that did all of this to build upon The Hangover (2009), a Golden Globe-winning comedy, mind you, and the best we've seen since...well, since Anchorman. Part III ought to be the ultimate capper to this insane trilogy devoted to bad behavior, and we're waiting for it with baited breath more than anything else in 2013. Now we'll just have to see if Justin Bartha actually has something to do this time around. Most likely not. As for the wives, the partying, and the glory of Galifianakis, we're on board with more of everything.

Close calls:

Someone tell Tom Cruise and Will Smith that they're both accidentally making the same movie - Tom's Oblivion and Will's After Earth both look sort of interesting, and so we'll probably sort of try to see them. At least between these, Elysium, and Pacific Rim we're getting a ton of big-name original sci-fi epics. It's as if after we spent all our franchises in 2012 we're forced to start from scratch.

That is, of course, except for Man of Steel, Thor: The Dark World, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, all of which are unnecessary stories with characters we're pretty familiar with. I may be the only one of this opinion, but I don't believe that Superman needs to be stuffed into a Batman-like "dark" story, and the only successful progression of the character in Singer's Superman Returns (2006) is how he actually solves the world's problems without using violence (by yes, lifting three big things). Who the hell knows what to expect out of The Desolation of Smaug except that it will be another crazy colorful journey through Middle Earth like An Unexpected Journey (2012) was. As for The Dark World, Thor (2011) was great, so as soon as we see ANY details about this flick like a plot, trailer, or a still we'll start getting a little hard. Until then, we're a hard "meh."

So that's 2013. How will these flicks fare when they're finally released after months upon years of anticipation? They'll probably be awful and misguided, but we'll be there sucking them up anyway. Cheers!
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