24 February 2013

The Oscars! Live Results 2013

Welcome folks to our Third Annual Night of LIVE Oscar Blogging. We'll be running through the results in real time baby, and seeing how many of our predictions we got awfully, awfully wrong. Seth MacFarlane is hosting it up and the overdressed self-obsessed celebs are gathering to their seats. It's time to celebrate the most overblown self-congratulatory night in the nation! Let's get started! We'll place our predictions in bold and the winners in RED.

8:48 PM

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

Holy Shit! Did not see this coming at all! I thought this was a dead heat between Tom and Bobby, but Chris does it again after winning for a very similar role for Inglourious Basterds. I suppose his Golden Globe win was more prophetic than we all thought! This is a big shocker to start the evening - where may we go from here?!

Prediction Accuracy: 0/1

8:58 PM

Best Short Film, Animated

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

Somehow Paul Rudd's presentation here was worse than his Golden Globe presentation. I had officially called Maggie Simpson when I made my initial predictions, but anyone could have seen Paperman coming a mile away. It's really a great short, and quick enough to find and watch on YouTube if you so desire. Still, I'll go by the book on my predictions a month ago and chaulk this up to a winless streak so far. Damn.

Prediction Accuracy: 0/2

9:00 PM

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

I did not think Pixar was going to pull it off this year at all. Wreck-It Ralph seemed like it had a bit more good favour for it rather than the bizarro Brave story. Still, a Pixar win is never really an upset, is it? I need to start giving updates to predictions a week out, I knew "Paperman" would hit it. I guarantee I flubbed Best Editing and Adapted Screenplay, too.

Prediction Accuracy: 0/3

9:06 PM

Best Achievement in Cinematography

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

What, No Scarlett to present with the Avengers boys? Rough digs by Downey, Jr at the Academy and a little self-serving, pal. Still, they seemed to move on quickly. This was starting to look like it was going to go in the favor of Janusz or Roger, who will remain tragically ignored by the Academy throughout an incredible career. With the concept that this flick is last year's Hugo (2011), though, this was always Life of Pi's to lose.

Prediction Accuracy: 1/4

9:09 PM

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

Somewhat nice banter. Nothing great, though guys. Sam Jackson's red jacket is fantastic, though. So many deserving nominees this year, but again, Life of Pi and the tiger, Richard Parker was an incredible effect. It's the kind of effect that just about single-handedly wins an award like this. Kudos. Wait - is that seriously the wrap-it-up music this year? Kind of clever, but really marginalizing of some emotional speech moments!

Prediction Accuracy: 2/5

9:16 PM

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

Love when Jennifer Aniston and Channing Tatum are the best presenters of the night so far. Mirror Mirror was robbed! This was somewhat of a no-brainer, but still, there were many period pieces that could have scored here. Jaqueline has a decent nomination history, though, and the exquisiteness of Anna Karenina pushed it over the edge. I always feel like I have a stutter when saying "Karenina."

Prediction Accuracy: 3/6

9:19 PM

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

They are really cranking through these! The speeches have been really short - maybe they are really scared of Jaws coming to munch some heads. This ultimately isn't that surprising. The make-up effects in The Hobbit could be seen as repetitive or derivative of the earlier Lord of the Rings films, and they used more CGI this time around anyway. Still, that didn't take away from Christoph Waltz's win! Good on you, Les Mis

Prediction Accuracy: 3/7


This Bond tribute was billed as a really big thing. Are they just playing the theme and showing some clips from the crappier movies? Great.


Shirley Bassey sounded better in 1964.

9:32 PM

Best Short Film, Live Action

Buzkashi Boys
Death of a Shadow

Always a weird category for exactly why Jamie and Kerry just said - in the past it has been a good stepping stone towards A-List directors. Still, who cares for the most part. Nailed the call for Curfew, though, and it's nice to see a Christensen win. This is officially my proudest pick of the night so far, because who knows what the hell these other films are.

Prediction Accuracy: 4/8

9:35 PM

Best Documentary, Short Subjects

Kings Point
Mondays at Racine
Open Heart

Damn! Well, who knows who will win these things. Now that the more useless categories are out of the way, though, we can attest the rest of our predictions against the big awards.

Prediction Accuracy: 4/9


Getting kind of random with the groupings of BP noms and their presenters. What does Liam Neeson have to do with any of these films besides almost getting the title role in Lincoln? Also nice to see Argo's Zep "When the Levee Breaks" finding its way here. Did they make sure to point the needle on the right spot in IV?

9:43 PM

Best Documentary, Features

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

These movies actually look pretty important. Sugar Man really seems like the least important of any of these, but the dudes who did the excellent Man on Wire (2008) must have knocked it out of the park again. I say "must have," because of course I have not seen any of these. I'm just glad I'm back up to .500.

Prediction Accuracy: 5/10

9:50 PM

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

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

Yawn. Alright. There was never a chance Amour wasn't winning this. Moving on then.

Prediction Accuracy: 6/11

9:55 PM

Catherine Zeta-Jones sounded better in 2002. Wait, how did that happen? I was wondering what the hell Renee Zellweger was doing here during the pre-show...

10:00 PM

You know, sure, we've had like three musicals in the past decade or so that have made some waves at the Oscars. Is that really worth an entire tribute that takes show time away from some of the Best Documentary Short Winners' speeches? I mean, I give the latter a lot of shit, but they ARE talented Oscar winners. This is kind of bullshit.

10:05 PM

Viva la France!

10:12 PM

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

The TED 2012 bit was alright. How did this become the Les Mis show in the past ten minutes? This is a very musical-friendly category and this was never really seriously contended. More importantly, I'm back in the black for correct predictions.

Prediction Accuracy: 7/12

10:14 PM

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

Jew jokes with Ted, eh? It's nice that Seth can get his really obnoxious jokes out through this and the Kirk bit at the start of the ceremony. Really he only gets away with it through a ton of Self-depredation. Which is appropriate. Listening to Ted say "Zero Dahk Thirty" is crazy.

WAIT WHAT? A TIE?! That's possible? I'm giving myself the Zero Dahk Thirty win. I didn't know Oscars could tie. Well, call me McNabb I suppose. Props to both winners. Does this make each win a bit less significant? Damn. If this was anything but Sound Editing I'm sure it would be way more interesting!

Prediction Accuracy: 8/13

10:20 PM

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

Seth has found a great way to integrate a cutaway gag into a Live Oscar Ceremony and make fun of Christopher Plummer. He's bordering on brilliant, now. I can't wait until Amy picks up her statue, it's really just a matter of time. For now though, it goes to Hathaway. AND EVERY ACTRESS WHO HAS PLAYED CATWOMAN IN THE PAST DECADE HAS AN OSCAR. BOOM. And damn you can tell this was a well-rehearsed speech!

Prediction Accuracy: 9/14

10:32 PM

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

OK, this was a tough category to predict. It seemed like Zero Dark Thirty was all set to nail it, but then Argo started coming on real strong in the critical last month or so. But hey - either way it was going to Goldenberg! This is a good indication that Argo will go on to win it all - there was only a slim chance it would do so without picking up this one. This is another prediction I would have liked to change in the last couple weeks, but whatever.

10:36 PM

I like that it's such a guaranteer that Adele wins that they're really only playing her song among all the other Best Original Song nominees tonight.

Prediction Accuracy: 10/15

10:48 PM

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

So lively, K-Stew is. Anyway, I didn't see this at all. It may indicate that Lincoln has some love yet outside of Daniel Day-Lewis' performance. It will certainly be an interesting night when we get down to it!

Prediction Accuracy: 10/16

11:09 PM

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

It seemed like this night was moving quickly, now it's just dragging terribly. This was another Golden Globe win that I didn't think would take with the Academy. My predictions are slipping a bit again and it's clear that there is some love for Life of Pi and Lincoln's Best Picture chances take another hit.

Prediction Accuracy: 10/17

11:12 PM

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")

Yeah, that's about right. At least they played a bit more of every song here after they showcased Adele earlier. And good that Seth got his own track in here performed by Ted's sex buddy Norah Jones. Also, yeah, Scarlett Johansson is now an Academy-Award nominated singer. I remember thinking it ridiculous that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were Academy Award-winning screenwriters, too, but look at Ben now! Probably!

Prediction Accuracy: 11/18

11:23 PM

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

Fearsome category this year. With Argo's surge of late, this could have been better predicted. Nice win, and by now there's no reason why Argo won't win it all. I can also do no better than tie my best set of predictions, and that's only if I win everything from here on out. That's not looking good.

Prediction Accuracy: 11/19

11:26 PM

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

Hey! Look at that! QT strikes back against Mark Boal! Why didn't I believe the Golden Globes, more?! Nice win here and apparently Django has gotten a bit more love from the Academy despite its controversies, notably in the script itself. Still, it is a great script and deserving here.

Prediction Accuracy: 11/20

11:33 PM

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

It wasn't Ben or Kathryn, so who cares? Still - quite a surprise here, and it's clear that as it would turn out, no one really gives a shit about Lincoln. This is really pretty crazy - does Life of Pi actually stand a chance at Best Picture now? Ang Lee is certainly deserving - moreso considering how drastially different of a film this is from his previous win for Brokeback Mountain (2005).

Prediction Accuracy: 11/21

11:40 PM

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

There we go. This was a tough ride for a while between her and Jessica Chastain, but even with a little trip up the stairs, Jennifer has an Academy Award in addition to being really hot, really beloved, and still the headliner of a soon-to-be billion dollar worldwide franchise. And she's still so likable! We love you, J-Law!

Prediction Accuracy: 12/22

11:46 PM

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 was Daniel Day's award to lose, but this nomination should still help to legitimize the otherwise joke cinematic careers of Hugh and Brad. Joaquin could care less. Denzel is still the best part of Flight that's not the plane crash. But for all intents and purposes, Daniel Day is well on his way to becoming an actual real-life Kirk Lazarus. Congratulations! AND he gets points for what may be the best joke of the night - Daniel's Margaret Thatcher, Meryl's Lincoln, hell yes.

Prediction Accuracy: 13/23


Best Motion Picture of the Year

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

Damn - a Jack Nicholson / Michelle Obama / Michelle Obama's bangs triple introduction? Fantastic! Ben nails it and we all need to respect him now, I guess. No more douche posts, I swear. Argo is certainly deserving, as so many films were in this very competitive year.

Well, the long season is finally over. It's time to get some sleep, lick my wounds, and work on my awful predictions for next year.

Goodnight, everybody!

Final Prediction Accuracy Tally: 14/24

18 February 2013

Trends: The Commercially Successful Oscar Winner, 2008 - Present

Everyone has a different idea of what the Oscars represent. To some they are an aloof ceremony that foregoes recognizing the biggest films of the year. Where are all of Michael Bay's Golden Statues? The man has been robbed, so sayeth every 14-year old boy who saw Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) opening night. On the other hand, the Awards could be seen as a total popularity contest - only honoring films that fall within this very thin spectrum of critical and commercial success.

This is not always the case. As recently as 2009 we had the ultimate battle between the highest grossing film of all time (AVABAR) and The Hurt Locker. The latter of course won it all and became the lowest grossing Oscar Best Picture Winner of the past thirty years. Other films find success through their very nomination itself, leading to the so-called "Oscar Bump" (a fine breakdown of which may be found here, which calls it a "Boost." whatever). Note how a film like The Artist (2011) was able to more than double its gross after its nomination.

What's the point of all this? For whatever reason, we are in the age where Oscar Films have become a mainstream part of the zeitgeist and not just obscure films picked by an aloof Cabal of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. There is some factual doubt that is ever was the case, but the image of a stodgy, secret, ablative society that judges who gets these awards persists in common culture.

Anyway, let's go through the last few years, all the way back to 2008. That year is important in Best Picture history, because it represents the critical breaking point for mainstream vs. obscure critical darling films. Chris Nolan's The Dark Knight (2008) was left out of the ballot box, and instead the Oscar eventually went to the highest-grossing nominee of that year, Slumdog Millionaire (2008) ($141,319,928). By the way, did you know that Slumdog made $141 million? I had no idea before looking this up. The only other film to crest the century mark was The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), which in my memory, was the only major nominee that year. How did that happen?

Let's look at Box Office Mojo's breakdown for that year here. You can see that Button made most of its buck through natural success. Slumdog, though, gathered its cheddar in three big phases - pre-nomination, post-nomination, and post-win. It's clear that the nomination itself helped this film, as did the win, because everyone wanted to see what the fuss was about. Slumdog may not rank as one of the best Best Picture winners of all time, but it is still a pretty good movie. The general discontent that surrounded this thing and the perceived snub of The Dark Knight led to an expansion of the number of nominees in the Best Picture Category. This was a veiled attempt to allow both the normative nominees (those critical/commercial thin-line walkers mentioned earlier) and the bigger successes. This has had a varying degree of success. Most notably, though, it has also allowed really crazy crap like Winter's Bone (2010), The Tree of Life (2011), and Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) into the Oscar Discussion. Which is awesome.

$100 million is a fair standard for a widely successful film. Judging the Best Picture Oscar Nominees since Button and Slumdog in 2008, we get the following numbers:

2009: 5 (AVABAR, UP, The Blind Side, Inglourious Basterds, District 9)
2010: 5 (Toy Story 3, Inception, True Grit, The King's Speech, Black Swan)
2011: 1 (The Help)
2012: 6 (Lincoln, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Argo, Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook)

We may also note that in 2010, The Social Network and The Fighter came pretty damn close to our standard with $96 million and $93 million respectively. Also, this year still has some room to grow, with Zero Dark Thirty (2012) at $88 million right now and almost certain to pass $100 if it gets some Oscar Love.

So what can we say about this trend? Of all these films, none in the past two years could be considered Blockbuster Tentpoles (defined as high-budget event films with heavy studio backing and the goal of mainstream appeal, released in either the Summer or Christmas Season). The only films of these sort are AVABAR, UP, Toy Story 3, and Inception. Of these, AVABAR is sort of an anomaly due to its launch at a perfect time of 3D Spectacle and while the pair of animated Pixar films were legitimately some of the most critically and commercially successful films of their years, they never had a real shot at Oscar Success in the major categories (they picked up nods for Best Animated Film as well as Best Score and Best Song, respectively). That basically leaves us with Inception as the only Best Picture Nominee since The Dark Knight that fits in the mold of The Dark Knight. Yeah, that does make sense.

Looking at this lot, it's clear that 2010 and 2012 offered us some of the more meatier Best Picture entrees. The Best Picture battle between The King's Speech and The Social Network that pitted heady historical drama with razor-tongued modern history surely drove interest in the race both culturally and at the cinema. Likewise, we may realize just how bad a year 2011 was in that a film like The Artist was able to run away with the Grand Prize with virtually no competition.

Our current nominees offer us mostly drama films with hints of modern warfare (Zero Dark Thirty), fantasy (Life of Pi), history (Lincoln), and revisionist history (Django Unchained). There's also a musical (Les Miserables), a foreign film (Amour), a family drama hidden in a romantic comedy (Silver Linings Playbook), and a classic independent subject and feature (Beats of the Southern Wild). And they may be taken down by a spy film much more unique and revolutionary than Skyfall (2012), albeit without any of the cache (Argo).

None of these are really all-powerful blockbusters. Some are indies scrapping the barrel. Most lie in this weird spot that's suddenly only reserved for Oscar films. We've gotten to a point where there's no reason to see a film like Argo in theaters unless it's an Oscar Nominee. Just look at The Master (2012), which is superior to all of these, yet burdened by its inaccessibility. Thus we find another part of the package. Oscar movies must not only be critical and commercial successes, but they must be marketable as well. It's a new age where strategic positioning for nominations and wins can greatly extend the life of a film, and this cash flow becomes the source of the ongoing studio desire to finance such films, in addition to the prestige associated with the industry's highest awards.

So what are we left with now? The Oscars aren't really recognizing the best films of the year (The Master), the films that will prove the most culturally (and industrially) influential (The Avengers), or even give a single nod to a mainstream blockbuster film superior to the one that started all this jazz (The Dark Knight Rises). What are they all about then? How about just a fun night with some legitimately decent flicks? I'll take it.

This trend will continue. These middle-ranged $100 mill dramas are what Oscar splits its back on. They're mainstream enough to have mass appeal, strong marketing pushes, and a wide base of support while maintaining credibility as being smaller underdogs or "hidden gems" of some kind that elicit a kind of independent sensibility, even if the term doesn't necessarily apply. And of course, Best Picture is just going to whoever has the most support. In the past couple years, that's been both The Artist (The 71st Highest Grossing Film of its year and the 7th Highest Grossing Best Picture nominee), and The Hurt Locker (116th for the year / 8th among BP noms).

In short, who knows?

The Oscars come on this Sunday, 2/24/2013. Who do you think will win it all? Leave a comment below or vote in our poll to your right!

14 February 2013

The Long Halloween Vol. IV: Simpsons Edition - Valentine's Day

Unfortunately for all the single people in the world, love is in the air today, but fortunately for all the hitched people, love is in the air today! Happy Valentine's Day, folks! As we celebrate Cupid rising from the grave, our thoughts turn to The Long Halloween - Norwegian Morning Wood's year-long glance at the very best holiday specials each month. In our four years of doing this crap we've exhausted most of the best TV shows, so now we're just focusing specifically on what The Simpsons has to offer us. For Love Day, that would be "I Love Lisa" (S4;E15).

In many ways, "I Love Lisa" is a hallmark episode that established many great jokes and characters. The big one, of course, is the fact that for the first time it established Ralph as Ralph Wiggum, son of Police Chief Wiggum, supposedly because they were both "fat and dumb," according to the DVD Commentary by showrunner Al Jean. This really let the character of Ralph take off although the more classic quotes ("I bent my wookie", "These taste like Grandma", etc) would come later. Still there's gems such as "My doctor said I wouldn't have so many nosebleeds if I kept my finger outta there!" and of course, playing off Miss Hoover with lines like "The children are right to laugh at you, Ralph" when he eats his red crayon and then glues his head to his shoulder.

The real meat of this episode comes through the accidental love between poor little Ralph and Lisa Simpson. As the norm, The Simpsons really pinpoints a common awkward childhood moment - the idea that Valentine's Day really sucks for unpopular kids at all ages of life. When you're eight years old, giving paper valentines to your classmates is this weird way of saying "I like you" and if you gave or received an "I LOVE YOU" card, well my friend, that was it. You'd clearly be locked into a relationship with that classmate for the rest of your life, as was the thinking at the time. It's simultaneously a meaningless expression of liking someone, yet it feels pretty significant. It's like Facebooking or poking today - there is some very basic level of being pleased with the association of a peer, but nothing really that deeper about it, although it may be construed otherwise. It's a complex batch of emotions that The Simpsons just nails here. Lisa, out of pity, gives Ralph his lone valentine for the day (the now immortal, "I Choo-Choo-Choose You!"), and thus, despite all attempts to curtail its force, is born an Ageless Love. At least until Lisa breaks down, publicly denounces Ralph, he deals with it through his acting performance, and they settle on being friends.

There are a few great things about the timing of this episode. The appearance by President William Jeffeson Clinton may seem inconsequential but a bit anachronistic now, however it's important to that this episode premiered on February 11, 1993 while our Greatest Saxophone Playing POTUS took the Oath of Office a mere three weeks prior. Once you recall the typical 8-9 month production schedule for Simpsons episodes and this is quite the feat.

It's also nice that the episode actually rolls in a Valentine's Day special and President's Day special all in one. President's Day is an underrated February Holiday, so of course NMW hasn't counted it out before. Yet, in addition to all the Valentine's Goodness, this also captures bits on just about every President through a Springfield Elementary School play - from the Mediocre Presidents to FDR, Lincoln, Nixon, Clinton, and of course our man George Washington. We get to see the greatest reenactment of Lincoln's assassination from a Terminator-like John Wilkes Booth, played by Bart in a scene that grips the audience and Ralph's aforementioned compelling portrayal of a tortured soul George Washington, fueled by his pain and heartbreak over Lisa Simpson (Rex may still have been able to do better. Where did this kid go in future School Productions?). Some of the audience shots in this episode are incredible, from their disillusionment (also in Krusty's Special, more on that later) to the edge-of-your-seat drama in the final act. It's really a groundbreaking turn for the otherwise one-note character development of Ralph, even if it didn't last long. Take the words of a gruff Groundskeeper Willie, fresh off a Scotty impersonation while watering down Orange Drink ("I didna cry when me own father was hung for stealing a pig, I'll cry now!"). The sheer amount of jokes in that previous sentence ought to indicate how high the writers were hitting it during this episode and many more during the show's greatest run during this stretch.

There are plenty of other great moments, in particular from Homer and Skinner. The latter has one of his more public Vietnam flashbacks / freakouts (Bart - "Cool, I broke his brain!") as well as some choice lines ("...a wonderful evening of theatre and picking up after yourselves."), and a bit with Homer ("And now as our evening comes to an end-" Homer stands and interjects: "WHOO HOO!!" Skinner continues, "-with a thorough retelling of the life of George Washington!"). In general, though, the adults are just here to be goofy, provide terrible advice and intrusion into their children's lives, and take a backseat to the drama unfolding between the third-graders. Just look at Homer's theft of Flanders' diploma from Oral Roberts University.

Lastly, we have one of the more epic insights into the world of Krusty the Clown and the history of his show. Apparently it's been on the air for 29 years and has ranged from a Carson-like talk show to the standard children's afternoon variety show it resembles now. It's clear that Krusty must be ancient, a great send-up of Hollywood, rampant commercialization, and the decadence of celebrity. I wouldn't mind more footage of Sideshow Raheem ("Angry. Angry young man.") and the bit about Bart owning the Krusty Home Pregnancy Test ("May cause birth defects") is terrible and awesome. An underrated moment is Wiggum's account of landing tickets to the show, which cuts to an encounter Krusy in a porno theater. The editing implies that it's just a flashback in Wiggum's mind, but Lisa indicates that he said it outloud  ("That story's not appropriate for children."). Finally, Krusty's Ayatollah joke is so dated, even for 1993, but that's part of how awful he really is. Yet he is a global star.

So turn up the "Monster Mash" and pop in this great episode to celebrate the season of Love and Presidents! Oh, to be Michelle Obama right now...

10 February 2013

Oscar Zone IV: Best Picture Nominations

Well folks, we're two weeks out of the Big Night - the 2013 Oscar Ceremony. Over the past few weeks, we've thoroughly analyzed the potential candidates to win awards for Acting, Writing, and Directing. Now it's time for the most prestigious award of the night - Best Picture. A lot goes into Best Picture - it is the combined effort of writing, acting, directing, editing, usually a catchy score and good production, but mostly it's whatever film was able to bribe its way through the Hollywood Award Circuit and is most beloved by the stodgy old Academy. You may check back to this post to cover the rest of those minor, crappier categories, like Documentary Short and stuff, as well as to see our original picks for Best Picture. Yeah, we've changed our minds since then. So, now in order from least likely to most likely to win:

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Despite renewed interest in New Orleans and Louisiana with the Super Bowl last week, there is not a lot of attention on this film. That may be because Beasts of the Southern Wild has nothing really to do with New Orleans besides a general setting in a Louisana Bayou against an upcoming storm. Still, it's a miracle this little film got nominated, and an even bigger miracle that a young lady who stole all the craziest letters in the alphabet to make her name was nominated for Best Actress (Quvenzhané Wallis). It's a great achievement for the film but it's going against a slew of powerhouses in the industry, and besides, Hollywood doesn't care about Black People anyway. Just look at the photo of the nominees, it's like a chocolate Where's Waldo game.

Django Unchained

Speaking of Black People, there also isn't a chance that Quentin's Southern Western Germanic Epic Tome wins best picture. For one, it has way too many instances of the N-word. More importantly, though, it's not as groundbreaking of a film from a cinematic standpoint as his two other highest Oscar profile films, Pulp Fiction (1994) and Inglourious Basterds (2009). I'd contend that it is a groundbreaking southern western allusion to the aforementioned Germanic Epic Tome with some of the strongest Black Characters in the past decade along with an unyielding black and white morality and brutal assessment of our own horror-filled history that everyone in this country needs to watch and appreciate. But it won't win many Oscars.

Les Misérables

Chicago (2002) won it all a decade ago, can this musical repeat that feat? It's unlikely. Chicago's win wasn't all that memorable and there's a lot stiffer competition this time around. Anne will have her spot in the sunlight when she brings home the Best Supporting Actress Award, but that will be it for this one. It doesn't have the snappy following that many of its rivals have pulled off this year, and despite its following, hasn't been pushed over a critical or cultural breaking point to secure a spot in our hearts like some other flicks have. In short, it's just not up to snuff. Maybe it can legitimize Hugh Jackman's career for a time. Not like he cares, though.


This is another smaller movie that was off the radar before its nomination here. Foreign films don't really have a shot at Best Picture, though, and it won't be widely distributed or seen enough to gain traction before the Big Night. It's only shot is in honoring longtime veteran director Michael Haneke and a handful of actors who had their day 50 years ago such as Best Actress Nominee Emmanuelle Riva. But honestly - you want to talk about honoring an old Director and this is in the same category as Steven Spielberg, who actually only has three Oscars to his name, not a Best Director since Saving Private Ryan (1998) and not a Best Picture since Schindler's List (1993)? Any rationale for Haneke is double for Steve, Mike's out of luck.

Life of Pi

Much of the following nominees are thoroughly and distinctively American in nature. Life of Pi (2012) represents the only film with a legitimate shot that also has some international flavor to it. This has been a trend of late, with wins for such films with international connections such as The Artist (2011) (France), The King's Speech (2010) (UK), and Slumdog Millionaire (2008) (UK/India). It could also be seen as recognition of Ang Lee, who is proving himself to be if not the most gifted Director in Hollywood, then certainly the most versatile, who the Academy snubbed of Brokeback Mountain (2005) in favor of Crash (2004). It is also a virtual lock in many of the technical categories, and that block may push it here, although they're a fairly small number within the Academy. Most likely it will end up like last year's Hugo (2011), which won a ton of awards, but nothing really important.

Zero Dark Thirty

There is a good spirit behind this film, and through some strategic interviews, some of the torture controversy has lessened of late. Still, the controversy really is still there, and it's far too bold of a film for the Academy to recognize with so high of an honor. It has a nice following and can be seen very much as a superior follow-up to Katherine Bigelow and Mark Boal's winner of just about everything important in 2009, The Hurt Locker. With such a recent win, though, the Academy could easily justify spreading the love around a bit more, and although this has a popular and loyal following, there are other teams that have long deserved recognition. All in all, the wins for The Hurt Locker may be what most prevents another here, although of course it's not without precedent.

Silver Linings Playbook

This has been nearly the hottest film of all these as of late. The strongest indication that Silver Linings Playbook's upset potential is the Actors Voting Block of the Academy. David O. Russell is developing a crazy good reputation for being and Actor's Director, and with nominations in every acting category, it's clear that this is a loved Actor's film. It's also becoming a strong possibility that De Niro overtakes Tommy Lee Jones for Best Supporting Actor. If that happens (and J-Law also triumphs over J-Chast), David O films will have produced four Acting Statues in the past two years (the others being Melissa Leo and Christian Bale for The Fighter [2010]). Silver Linings' actors have also been selling the hell out of this movie, and it's currently the only Best Picture nominee that has been in the Top Three of the Box Office for the past three weekends. The only real threat to its anointment is the fact that Romantic Comedies just don't win in this category. The Weinsteins, therefore, have begun trying not to sell it as such. How will it turn out? Who knows, but don't count this one out.


A few weeks ago, this seemed invincible. In an exciting Oscar Season such as this one, though, any film's domination is tenuous. You'll find that we picked this to nab it all during our initial predictions, but that doesn't seem as likely now. As much goodwill as this thing has, interest in the film peaked last November and December. These days everyone has Silver Linings and Argo (2013) on their minds. For the aforementioned reasons to honor Spielberg, this could pull off what would now be a mild upset, but still a deserving win. When the fact keeps settling in that that Spielberg, for all his power, praise, and adoration, has but a single Best Picture under his belt, and that was twenty years ago, a win here seems more certain. It's certainly a safe, traditional pick and wouldn't stir anything too saucy on the part of the Academy, very much like The King's Speech. The only indication that it will lose is really the sheer amount of important indicator awards picked up by Argo. Argo's other nominations, though, are inconsistent with previous winners. If the Show adheres to years past, Lincoln takes it all.


So, here we are. Argo just won the BAFTA for Best Picture, but that was less likely to go to the more uniquely American film, Lincoln than what American Academy voters may decide. Still, add that to wins from the Golden Globes, PGAs, SAGs, and DGAs, and it seems like it's a foregone conclusion to give Affleck the Big Prize. Of course, we may note that the grand total of films that have won this Award without a Best Director Nomination since the 1930s is one (Driving Miss Daisy [1989]). Argo is also unfavoured in any other category. The last film to only win Best Picture was Mutiny on the Bounty (1935). So, this will either be the first time in nearly eight centuries a film will accomplish this feat, or it will pick up something else as well (likely either Editing over the favored Zero Dark Thirty, or Adapted Screenplay over the favored Lincoln). OR it won't win anything at all. If it picks up one of these awards at some point during the evening, it will likely go on to Best Picture. If not, Lincoln is more likely, but certainly not a total lock. There are a few big underlying questions - does the Academy honor Ben's achievement as a director as they did with his writing for Good Will Hunting (1997)? How will they feel about their industry in the forefront, saving the day in this film? Why is the frontrunner for Best Director unnominated?! Ultimately, it's going to be a wild night.

Who do you think is going to win the Big Prize? Vote in the poll on the upper right side bar!

08 February 2013

Profiles: Soderbergh: As Soon as I Realized He was my Favorite Director, He Retires

Today, despite the Fishy Blizzard striking the majority of the Northeast, we see the arrival of Steven Soderbergh's (supposed) last theatrical film, Side Effects (2013). This comes on the heels of a slew of quality films by the director in recent years that I have consumed and suddenly realised that I loved. Soderbergh is an intriguing director. He has simultaneously eschewed critical and commercial success for experimental films and yet has made a handful of films that have benchmarked the past decade of filmmaking. I am no aficionado of his work and my review here will be far from complete. In this profile, I will highlight his more publicly experimental projects as well as demonstrably excellent recent output and sudden retirement.

Early Soderbergh - What a Scamp!

Steve came on the scene with Sex, Lies, and Videotape in 1989. It launched Soderbergh's career as well as helped the entire Independent Film movement of the 1990s. While it doesn't have the cool jazz music, montages, or widely varied multi-character narratives that characterize recent Soderbergh, it's still very much a Soderberghian film because of its basic idiosyncrasy. It was a film bold in character with independent financing but mainstream appeal and distribution. Its content was also nothing like any of Steve's later work.

For the rest of the 90s, Soderbergh didn't achieve all that much, which is also typical of his career. After a big hit instead of capitalizing on studio work he kept a low profile and ignored popular acceptance. Out of the seven films he directed, only three grossed over $1 million, and only one, Out of Sight (1998) grossed over $2 million.

Middle Soderbergh, or Middlebergh

At the turn of the century, Steven gave us his three greatest critical, commercial, and cultural successes. Between Erin Brockovitch (2000) and Traffic (2000) he was one of an extremely small number of directors to be nominated twice for the Best Director Academy Award in the same year (he won for the latter, his only win). For good measure, Traffic may be the most Soderberghian film for reasons stated earlier, the most exemplary being with a dense narrative with a high volume of characters. What's more is his tenuous relationship with studios, which reflects his fiercely independent background. He battled with Fox over casting Harrison Ford and refused to submit to studio pressure, eventually finding someone else to finance the film. The role went to Mike Douglas, and he had a hit on his hands.

In 2001 Soderbergh made Ocean's 11 (2001), which remains the single coolest movie ever created. In part this style took over his remaining mainstream studio movies, if only because it became his most famous and distinctive. He builds his plot events through simultaneous montages, careful editing and camera placement (including many lingering focuses, foreshadows, and callbacks), and a focus on many characters at once, all of which require careful and repeated viewing with an intact mind to comprehend. While 11 remains the high mark of that particular franchise, the same features are incorporated into the middling 12 (2004), and the successful 13 (2007).

The high success of the Ocean's films gave Soderbergh tremendous clout with every real Star remaining in Hollywood, as well as enough critical and commercial power to direct whatever he could have wanted. Instead he spent most of the rest of the decade making tiny films and other crazy ones with unique distribution methods, such as Bubble (2005). Bubble was shot without a script or professional actors and debuted simultaneously in theaters and on the movie television channel HDNet, with a DVD release four days later. Why would Soderbergh pull such a crazy move that goes against every established principle of Hollywood film distribution? It's the same reason Netflix is producing and releasing shows like House of Cards in big chunks designed for custom viewing. The distribution method favors the distributor and not the consumer. Soderbergh strove to allow his audiences to consume the film in any manner they chose and had access to the technology to do so. It should be the future of media distribution - but there isn't another director in Hollywood that's currently willing to experiment the way Soderbergh does.

Late Soderbergh and His Supposed Retirement

Soderbergh followed up Ocean's 13 with Che (2008), a two-part, four and a half-hour Spanish-language epic concerning the South American Communist Revolutionary Guerrilla. It did not receive studio support and to date has not made its budget back. This still doesn't matter to Soderbergh, though. He made the film because he wanted to make it and thought it would be a good film. He is not concerned with the film finding a life or making a healthy profit. He doesn't even really care if it's seen by anyone. First and foremost he tends to be an artist. Where this gets mucky is when watching things like Ocean's 12 and believing that statement.

So, we now move on to his previous five studio films, all of which have seemed to catch on and really establish his techniques and style as a director. These are, The Informant! (2009), Contagion (2011), Haywire (2012), Magic Mike (2012), and today's Side Effects (2013). The first two star Matt Damon and the last three will all star Channing Tatum. How did Channing Tatum become the go-to actor for Steven Soderbergh? That is a question that shall never be answered.

The Informant! is an especially wacky film about not very wacky things, but it has a very defined high concept, a trait that tends to encapsulate the remainder of Soderbergh's work - The Whistleblower Movie, the Epidemic Movie, the Spy Movie, the Male Stripper Movie, and the Pharmaceutical Movie.

Contagion is really in Soderbergh's wheelhouse. It's a film about an event with the perspectives and narratives at every possible level sewn together chronologically with flawless ease. Soderbergh should direct every film that's like this. It is a true ensemble, and just as a few characters tend to emerge as emotional centers, they die off or are thrown aside in favor of a more genuine account of events. It's built on layers of Scorsese-like sequences that show many things happening at once, which is perfect for a film where a lot happens in a very short period of time. This is the best way to create moving visual art - a congealment of images based on narrative and sequence that stir cognition and reflection. It's brilliant.

Haywire is an intriguing movie. Somehow Soderbergh provided MMA Fighter Gina Carano her first acting gig and in doing so, gave her the chance to beat up Obi-Wan Kenobi, Magneto, G.I. Joe, and Zorro all in one picture. It's a spy film but confined, built on long, natural scenes instead of the more characteristic callbacks and simultaneous happenings. In essence it's not quite Soderberghian, except for the fact that not being Soderberghian is a very Soderberghian trait. It contains a simple narrative and is probably the least deep of all of this final run. It's also a very fun movie, which is more the direction Steve's gone in his final years.

I didn't see Magic Mike. Right now, although I have read it's a very fine film with a very strong performance out of Matt McConaughey, I just have no urge to watch male strippers. I'm sorry - maybe some day. Needless to say, when characterizing Soderbergh's cinematic adventures as bold and idiosyncratic, though, this fits the bill.

That brings us to Side Effects. Opening today, this brings back Tatum, Jude Law from Contagion, and Soderbergh newbie Rooney Mara. Soderbergh has claimed that this will be his final theatrical film and is getting some great reviews. Is Soderbergh going out on top with his best film yet? Will this lure him back? Studying the past twenty years of his filmmaking as well as his relationship with everyone from critics to studios to audiences suggests that he is perfectly content just doing whatever he wants to do. For now that involves him painting and doing whatever the hell else he wants. Supposedly he cranked these out so that he could stop making movies when he turned 50. It has been a tremendous output of quality - really four great movies within a year and a half of each other. It's spectacular. So, now he's done. Caput. These past five films will someday rank among his best - but if you're going to go out, why not do it while achieving the 5-Great Films Test?

If you're braving the storm, go see Side Effects instead of Identity Thief (2013) this weekend. I'm sure you'll be happy with your decision in the morning.

What do you think of Soderbergh's career? Mouth off in the comments below.

06 February 2013

The Comedic Wake of Chappelle Show

Once upon a time, along time ago, Wednesday nights were epic nights for laughter on Comedy Central. A decade ago, the one-two punch of South Park and Chappelle Show at their peaks were a comedy event and not nearly as lauded as they should have been. For now, it is but a distant memory. As Workaholics and Kroll Show come on in a few minutes, more nad more my thoughts turn to the brilliance of yesteryear. How did David Chappelle find such success and cast such a long shadow?

There have been a tremendous amount of shows similar to Chappelle since Dave's very public exit from the show after the second season concluded in 2004. It's similar to the wake of sitcoms that were approved in the late 80s / early 90s in wake of Roseanne and Seinfeld taking off. There's been attempts to replicate the racial comedy of minorities in work like Mind of Mencia, David Alan Grier's Chocolate News, and the recent show that's taken off somewhat better than its predecessors, Key & Peele. There has also been longtime comedians and SNL alums getting their shots and failing, such as David Spade's Showbiz Show and Norm MacDonald's Sports Show. Finally there has been a slew of other shows that have attempted to work as vehicles for other comics, including Nick Swardson's Pretend Time, Jon Benjamin Has a Van, Important Things with Demetri Martin, and The Burn with Jeff Ross.

Now, some of these shows weren't all that bad. Alright, they're all pretty bad. Only Jeff Ross is still on the air, and his brand of hyper-offensive humour has found a niche, but it won't really last. Despite the laugh they get, none of these really had the staying power of Chappelle in comedy history. That's the nagging question that's been bugging me. All of these shows would be impossible if not for Chappelle. Not only for its groundbreaking nature bringing quality sketch comedy to basic cable, but because Comedy Central has spent the past ten years attempting to catch lightning in a bottle again. Why has it eluded them?

To answer this, we need to look at Chappelle itself. Why was this one of the funniest shows of all time? I believe it is so well-liked because at its heart is a lot of goodwill. Dave had a charisma, self-awareness, and genuinely kind nature that has eluded the rest of these comics. There was a lot of naturally racist humour, but at all times it tended to laugh at itself, sometimes overtly (Such as Dave in the "Niggar Family" sketch, commenting outright, "Oh this racism is killing me inside!"). Dave had a natural ability to level with his audience, taking them aside during his monologues and identifying with them. ALL of them. A lot of racist humour fueled Chappelle but there were also these sorts of "doo doo butter" or masturbation jokes ("Granny no!"), or to go even broader, sketches like "When keeping it real goes wrong" or the slow motion sketch, that elevated the show above a one-note tone that others like Carlos Mencia have yet to achieve.

Dave really connected with the audience. His monologues were able to reassess attitudes before and after sketches, pointing out what he wanted people to get out of them, and then admitting stupidity afterwards. Entire episodes hinged on this kind of treatment, such as "Greatest Misses" (S2;E11). Such an episode could not work without both his careful but natural delivery of introductions, admitting at the same time how awful the sketches were, but also how funny they were. He continuously related to his audience and thus demonstrated his goodwill. He was one of us, he didn't look down on us, and expected us to meet him at both his high level of comedy and social critique. Through an accepting, congenial attitude, he was able to achieve this. By doing what hardly anyone else in Hollywood would ever do - walk away from a $50 million deal on basic principles, a perceived misinterpretation of his work, and a general discomfort with fame really only cemented the concept that Dave was and is a good, genuine human being.

This is the basic problem with many other comedians who attempt shows like this. You can only get away with such ridiculous things or offensive insensivity if they have that turn - the moment where you know it's a joke and the comedian isn't a total douchebag. Jeff Ross is surprisingly good at this, actually do to his remorselessness. He never indicates a need for an apology while delivering his niche brand of comedy. While watching Kroll Show, though, I realized this is really why Nick Kroll fails out there. He just comes across as such a douchebag, there's nothing positive about his humour. There's no turn where he can look at the audience and say "Yes, I'm not a huge douche," despite many chances to do so. He's just unlikeable. Nick Swardson, David Spade, and Carlos Mencia had the same problem. Others like Norm MacDonald, Jon Benjamin, and Demetri Martin are positive, likeable, funny comedians, but really just victims of wildly incorrect vehicles for their styles. Key & Peele have potential, but ultimately they will always appear as Chappelle Show lite. They aren't bold enough to take the humour and sketches as far as they need to go really make a creative mark on the medium. They also grossly miscalculate the needs of the audience, often coming up with parodies or jokes that we are supposed to relate to, but fall flat. Kroll does this, too. His parodies of things like Bravo Reality shows don't work because his audience doesn't watch enough Bravo reality shows to get the joke, and has no desire to do so any time soon. The show then seems to become less parody and more recreation. Chappelle was able to always end a parody with something really ridiculous in order to reveal the insanity of the initial subject matter. This doesn't exist in the work of the many imitators.

There was much more that made Chappelle great. Its excessively low budget led to some excessively goofy moments - among them very obvious doll stand ins for stunts (General Cornrow Wallace), terrible green screen effects ("Dee cards don lie!"), and other cheap thrills. It all made up the attitude of the show, though, and the swagger that Dave could carry on, again, made possible by a very tongue-in-cheek, self-aware line of thinking and carrying himself, made it endearing rather than a detraction. It was also boosted by the occasional cameo, whether it be from Mos Def, Jamie Foxx (Black Tony Blair), Carson Daly, John Mayer, or the RZA, it gave the show some credentials. The musical guest also added another dimension to the show. Dave's selection of sincere artists such as Kanye, Common, Black Star, and even the riff of Dead Prez's "Hip Hop" gave the show tremendous credentials both within the hip-hop loving community and as an outlet for quality rappers.

Now, there are a few shows that we have neglected to mention here that have also attempted to fill this Chappelle gap. Tosh.0 absolutely fails in showcasing its host as a genuine kind of guy, and goodwill or favor to his audience is nonexistant. It is still widely popular, but will it be remembered as fondly as Chappelle in ten years? No, because its content will be fueled by YouTube. There was also those few marvelous weeks of Secret Girlfriend, which had about three big laughs, but mostly served to completely attempt to boost the frail egos of its audience. The experimental format is applaudable, but completely unrealistic. If you forget this gem, each character addressed the camera as "YOU," who then acted on his own within the show, getting laid and being really cool all the time. It was really a classic expression of cognitive dissonance, but ultimately failed.

Lastly there's Ugly Americans and Workaholics, which have both had some success through being both hilarious and relatable. They understand audience needs and inhibit them, they don't look down on them. They're actually likeable and their intentions are genuine. They're the kind of shows that will last, also partly because they are branching out on their own (tho Ugly Americans owes as much to a show like Futurama as Workaholics owes to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. But that's for another post.

I'm rich, beotch!

04 February 2013

First Impressions: Argo

In between an epic Super Bowl Weekend that pitted the Baltimore Murderers against the San Francisco Homophobes (unfortunately, only one of those names are ironic), I did manage to catch one of the hotter Oscar films and likely the eventual winner of the whole thing - Argo. Now, I may have to deliver some apologies to my dear friend Ben Affleck, who wasn't nearly as douchey in this film as I've been lead to believe previously. Well, as an actor he was still kind of a douche, even if he ultimately didn't really give that much to the role. As a director, though, he's certainly landed as one of our most competent out there.

And not even one "Ayatollah Ass-a-hollah" chant in the
whole picture
Argo is the story of a crazy, heretofore classified slice of American History that's really as much a part of Canadian and Iranian history as well. The singling out of American interests and downplaying the perspectives and roles of other nations is a political problem with Argo, but as a stand alone film, this thing is incredible. It tells the tale of a CIA operative who went undercover as a Canadian filmmaker to bust some escaped hostages out of Tehran circa 1980. Now, Iran in the early 80s wasn't nearly as glamourous as you may think. Despite the common Iranian stereotypes of bosomy half-naked models, rampant alcoholism, and far too much freedom, it turns out that the nation was actually quite conservative and hostile at the time. So naturally, it was kind of tough getting the handful of Americans out of the country.

Now, like I said, this is an excellent film even if it's not really historically accurate. The entire first two acts establish how high the stakes are, both on a personal level and on an international level. This interplay drives the film and each character battles between doing what they believe and what may help his or her country. Once the action really hits Tehran, the danger is at a constant high, with an incredible amount of tension and suspense throughout the remainder of the film, even though we know they come out OK. It's an incredible achievement. Of course, there really wasn't a hold-up in the Airport or a daring last second runway escape, and the mission was never cancelled at the last second from the High Command, potentially derailing the entire operation. That's alright, though. History doesn't always get it right - and by right, I mean it's not always as suspenseful and interesting as a movie could be. This movie takes history as a jumping off spot and improves upon it, capturing the feelings of danger and tension and places them upon the audience. It does exactly as a movie of its kind should do. The film captures emotion, not historical accuracy.

There is the tricky part of this film that indirectly insults or disparages some of our allies though. In the film the Americans who escape the embassy are turned down by the "Brits and Kiwis" and then just kind of play patty-cake in the Canadian Ambassador's crib until Ben Affleck comes and saves them. After the whole fiasco, the Americans disavow knowledge of the antic so that tensions would not escalate while Iran still held the other hostages. Thus, the Canadian Caper is born. The film seeks to honor the previously under-acknowledged American Tony Mendez's role in the Caper and downplays the Canadians. In reality though, both the Brits, Kiwis, and Canucks all helped out quite a bit. Despite this playful, thoroughly Americanized romp through history, the film retains the desperation, confinement, and outstretched odds that defined the situation.

This leisure suit brought to you by McDonald's
The film has perhaps become notable for having plenty of very authentic 1979-isms, even if the actual historical narrative is bunk. There's big glasses, big moustaches, sideburns, and whatever hairdo Affleck is rocking throughout the flick. It's a distinctly effective period film that features other elements of the time in meta-ways, such as opening with an era-appropriate "Big W" Warner Bros Logo. It all gives the flick a certain flavor that transports the audience back to the days of rampant inflation, wavering wishy-washy Carter policies, disco, and smoking. What an age to be alive.

The film does actually trade in its disco chops for a much better alternative - a rare, although recently less so, instance of Led Zeppelin music, "When the Levee Breaks." Apparently the catch was that he had to go in and change the shot so that when the needle drops it lands on the correct spot on IV that corresponds with where "Levee" starts playing on the Album. That's the best Zeppelin movie trivia you'll hear all day, folks. It's worth it - the song creates one of the best diegetic song moments of the year as the wayward Americans party for one last night of forced captivity while Ben and the Ambassador debate whether or not they will actually have the go ahead for the mission. It's a tough mix of emotions. Enter Zep.

Speaking of the Ambassador, he's played by veteran actor Victor Garber, who along with other veterans like Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, and John Goodman, form an incredible cast that tends to outshine Ben himself. Indeed, he tends to prove that he's a much better Director than he ever was as an actor. To pair this with the one Oscar he does have for writing Good Will Hunting (1997), and you wonder if he really wasted that decade he spent trying to act. Such is the curse of good-looking people in Hollywood. And don't think too hard about the fact that he's playing a Hispanic character, Tony Mendez himself doesn't really seem to identify with that race and also doesn't care.

I won't complain about Airport Security again. Taking
your shoes off is a pain but at least you don't
get shot for being an infidel.
An underrated element of Argo's brilliance is that it is essentially a deconstruction of the spy film more than Skyfall (2012) or even the Bourne series could pull off. It is one of the few films to treat spy work realistically. Ben Affleck doesn't just land in the country and approach a party in full tux right away. The film deals with the tension, terror, and minute details involved in sneaking in and out of a country that hates you and will kill you without a second thought if your cover was ever blown. There isn't any heroism here proven by gunplay or seduction. The heroism comes from a dude doing his job, getting others to buy in to both his cover and undercover identities, and leading people out of danger through avoiding violence, not instigating it. It's so subtle that it almost doesn't strike at first as a spy film. There are so much other things going on - heady political action, a slight critique of Hollywood from the inside, and not to mention Tony's own personal family problems that seemed slightly shoed-in.

Finally, there's some extra bits to wrap up here. The fictional film (that is never actually made), Argo, really appears sincerely atrocious and a completely blatant Star Wars (1977) rip-off. I mean, it has a straight-up Blue Chewbacca front and center, along with the droids, a sexy princess, a young hero, and a strange, racist Fu Manchu-looking villain. Even the Iranian Guards were like wtf is this? It's tough to believe that anyone would ever get pumped or excited for the sci-fi Argo, basically an Asylum-level mockbuster production akin to Transmorphers (2007) or Almighty Thor (2011). Luckily for every single person involved, the whole thing was just a cover. What's also notable is that the film featured a suddenly recurring robot, who has also been featured in music videos and the adult swim show, NTSF:SD:SUV::. That thing really gets around.

Lastly, this film will probably win Best Picture this year, indicated by its sweeps of nods at the Golden Globes, PGAs, DGAs, and SAGs. In a very unusual year, it could very well only pick up a statue in that category, possibly only scoring Editing or Adapted Screenplay as well. Keep in mind there was no Best Director nomination, which is really insane. Literally, outside of the 1930s, the only film to win Best Picture without a Directing nomination has been Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

02 February 2013

Oscar Zone Vol. IV: Directing Nominations

Welcome again folks to our needless build-up to the Oscar Ceremony on February 24th. You may vote right now for who you think will win Best Picture on the top tab on the immediate right of your screen, but today we're talking Best Director. We have gone through the writing and acting nominations, and you can see the whole gamut of our predictions right here. But who will bring home the Directing Statue? Keep reading to find out:

We'll rank these from least to most likely to win:

Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild

It's amazing that anything from this picture was nominated. Not for lack of quality, but it's more the kind of film the Internet usually rags on for being awesome but snubbed by mainstream award shows. Well, this year it's received plenty of attention from the Academy, but ultimately it really is just too small and obscure of a film to pick up any major awards. That's the only way this can work - lovers of this film need to still say that this isn't getting the recognition it deserves, and they can't do it if it wins and becomes really popular. It's one of the farthest long shots for Best Picture and arguably even farther for Benny here.

David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook

David O is an actor's director, and all his actors love him for it. Bale snagged an Oscar with him for The Fighter (2010), which was another well recieved film that made it to the top brackets, but like Silver Linings, just isn't the kind of film that wins a lot of major awards besides acting.This may be hitting its most-buzzworthy stride right about now, though, which is the only thing that could go in its favor. Still, with directors voting for this one and not actors, David O's chances are slim.

Michael Haneke for Amour

Oscars are curious things, really. Often they can stand in for many more things than just one filmmaker's vision on screen. They act as makeshift lifetime achievement awards (see, Scorsese), or make-ups for past slights. The following two directors fit these characteristics. Austrian Michael Haneke has been around forever (he definitely saw some SHIT GO DOWN BACK IN THE DAY), and though he's far from a household name, he's well known by the crowd voting for him, and this could be the rare foreign film that branches out into the major award categories, not just Foreign Language Film. Still, no one in the major populace knows who the hell he is, and his chances ultimately aren't that realistic.

Ang Lee for Life of Pi

Here is that past slight we were talking about.Ang Lee should have won for Brokeback Mountain. You know it. He knows it. Paul Haggis knows it. With all of Life of Pi's nominations this year it also seems as if the Academy may finally know it. Successfully filming a supposedly unfilmable book is always a great accomplishment, and an award here wouldn't be unwarranted. The only thing really going against him is the huge support for the next dude, the only two who are nominated for both an Academy Award and DGA Feature Film Award.

Steven Spielberg for Lincoln

Let's first mention two directors who did a better job than Steve did with Lincoln this year. Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck have not only made a great pair of films in Zero Dark Thirty and Argo, respectively, but they are also the most-talked about pair of directors these past few weeks and were both snubbed for this award. It would seem like a cinch for Affleck to grab this after Argo has been cleaning up, including the Golden Globes. The DGA Awards are tomorrow night and the winner there will reveal very interesting things for the Oscars. Or not. It's tough to say what an Affleck or Bigelow DGA would mean. Maybe just that the Academy is cray. Without the competition of one of our most exciting yet douchey young filmmakers and a woman who insanely and generally continues to put her life and carrer in danger, Spielberg has this in the can. He's not even campaigning all that much, besides the occasional Clinton endorsement. There isn't a reason at all that he doesn't win this, though he's really not the one who should this year. Lucky bastard.

So that wraps up the Directors. There won't really be a big surprise this year, but that's mostly just because any worthwhile potential nominee was shoved aside for yes, some deserving individuals, but not really the hottest directors of the moment. Up next we'll finally analyze every single Best Picture nominee. Stay tuned!

Who do you think the Best Director of the year was?
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