22 February 2015

87th Academy Awards - Live Blogged Results!

3:31 pm: Hey folks! Come on and check back at 8 pm for the start of this nonsense. Now, last year I somehow went 20 for 24 on categories. There's no way I'm hitting that this year, there are a ton of really insane things that could go a number of different ways. Hopefully I've addressed a lot of that stuff in my reviews of each major category these past few weeks. You can check out my thoughts on acting, screenwriting, director, and Best Picture. Stay tuned for more managed insight all night!

8:35 pm: You can't really get more charming than NPH and Anna Kendrick. And that background was actually really cool and 3D looking. Let's do that in a movie sometime.

8:44 pm:

Best Supporting Actor

Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Predicted Winner: J.K. Simmons

Actual Winner: J.K. Simmons

That rushing or dragging scene is the only moment that 99% of this country know from Whiplash. Still, it's a good moment. No surprises here, folks as JK finally nabs a very well-deserved Oscar for both this great film, his great role, and a lifetime of funny yelling at people.

Accuracy: 1/1

8:50 pm: Maroon 5 playing a track from Begin Again. So....bathroom break? They're getting dangerously close to the half-hour mark with only having presented one award. Why does anyone watch this ceremony? Just read all the winners when it's over.

8:57 pm:

Best Costume Design

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Inherent Vice
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Predicted Winner: Into the Woods

Actual Winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel

This is actually a sure sign that The Grand Budapest Hotel is going to clean up a ridiculous amount of awards. I was headed more towards the Academy's trend of honoring dumb historical-ish musicals, but the crowd loves this chick and it's apparently her fourth Oscar. I could have probably expected this the way Grand Budapest has been raging lately, but whatever.

Accuracy: 1/2

9:00 pm:

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy

Predicted Winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Actual Winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel

This was an amazing category where I actually loved all three Makeup nominees, and I sort of think that Guardians actually deserved this, because it was amazing, but that old-ass Tilda Swinton is actually super-convincing. Grand Budapest is so set to win every single one of these, which is amazing.

Accuracy: 2/3

9:03 pm: Doogie Howser's intro jokes are solid.

9:10 pm:

Best Foreign Language Film

Wild Tales

Predicted Winner: Ida

Actual Winner: Ida

This isn't a huge surprise, but I wouldn't have been shocked if Leviathan had had a little upset. That apparently wasn't to be. Ida actually seems pretty broadly liked and by the end of the Oscar Race it seemed to grow in notoriety far more than anything else offered here. Touching, smart guy, whoever this director is. Now play him off. Louder. LOUDER!

Accuracy: 3/4

9:18: This is just a terrible reminder that The LEGO Movie wasn't nominated for Best Animated Film...This is also the most extravagant Oscar performance ever.

9:25 pm:

Best Short Film, Live Action

"Boogaloo and Graham"
"Butter Lamp"
"The Phone Call"

Predicted Winner: "The Phone Call"

Actual Winner: "The Phone Call"

Fuck yeah! I love nailing these categories. Mostly because it helps my average a ton. I have no idea what this is about, even when they were showing clips just now my eyes were down on the keyboard typing the category. I also dig these guys completely not giving a shit about the music playing them off. Why not? This is their moment!

Accuracy: 4/5

9:28 pm

Best Documentary, Short Subject

"Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1"
"Our Curse"
"The Reaper"
"White Earth"

Predicted Winner: "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1"

Actual Winner: "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1"

Tight. What the fuck is "The Reaper" about? That looked nuts. I dig this series of phone-call centric nominees winning the short subject categories.

Accuracy: 5/6

9:46 pm:

Best Sound Mixing

American Sniper

Predicted Winner: Interstellar

Actual Winner: Whiplash

Wow, very cool. I didn't totally think that Interstellar could pull this off, lately it just didn't seem like a popular choice. I might have thought American Sniper or Birdman would be the one to upset it though, but this is a cool award for Whiplash. It's getting some good attention, maybe my call for it for screenplay isn't totally nuts.

Accuracy: 5/7

9:48 pm:

Best Sound Editing

American Sniper
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Predicted Winner: Interstellar

Actual Winner: American Sniper

This is totally not a surprise, and I'm more surprised that Sniper didn't win both of these. Whiplash really is that perfect mixing win, though, because it's such a music film that isn't really a musical. Sniper is so visceral and as it turns out, more popular than anything else here. I wonder if Interstellar will falter over visual effects.

Accuracy: 5/8

9:51 pm:

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

Predicted Winner: Patricia Arquette

Actual Winner: Patricia Arquette

I love these digs at like, Oprah and Streep. I don't think they are used to people making fun of them. Nice shot of Bruce Dern in the crowd. As for Arquette's win, that's a no brainer. Glad Arquette chose a little stump platform there, although I honestly had tuned out because of how boring the beginning of her speech was and how expected the win was. I want to write something like "fuck yeah, wage equality" but home come that keeps coming out as sounding sarcastic? It's really important!

Accuracy: 6/9

10:00 pm: Hey, look at that, another perfectly timed bathroom break. Thank you for saving "Glory" for the end. I should stop drinking.


Best Visual Effects

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
X-Men: Days of Future Past

Predicted Winner: Interstellar

Actual Winner: Interstellar

Yay! This sort of reminds me of how 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) also won for this category, which is of course, the only Oscar Stan Kubrick ever won. Very fitting for Interstellar. More visual effects projects need to aid our understanding of the universe.

Accuracy: 7/10

10:07 pm:

Best Short Film, Animated

"The Bigger Picture"
"The Dam Keeper"
"Me and My Moulton"
"A Single Life"

Predicted Winner: "Feast"

Actual Winner: "Feast"

Aww, "Feast" looks so cute! I correctly called all of the short subject awards, by the way, no big deal. I really want to watch "Feast" now, it looks awesome.

Accuracy: 8/11

10:09 pm:

Best Animated Feature

Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of The Princess Kaguya

Predicted Winner: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Actual Winner: Big Hero 6

Okay, I really like how much NPH is addressing the snubs. He's doing an excellent job, but I wonder if any of that will rub the Academy the wrong way. Probably not. This is a bit of a surprise over How to Train Your Dragon 2, which had fallen into the default pic after everyone virtually assumed The LEGO Movie would be a lock. Don't worry, years from now everyone will remember The LEGO Movie over both of these as the superior work. Fuck, everyone does now! Unfortunately, I now need to win out to match my prediction accuracy from last year! That sucks and isn't going to happen...

Accuracy: 8/12

10:18 pm: The president of AMPAS is a middle-aged black woman? How the hell wasn't DuVernay nominated?

10:21 pm:

Best Production Design

The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Predicted Winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Actual Winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel

No surprise here at all. Grand Budapest's production is the best part of a very good movie. I now totes expect Grand Budapest to win the most awards at this ceremony without winning Best Picture. Or maybe it will! Staaaayy tuned!!

Accuracy: 9/13

10:25 pm:

Best Cinematography

Roger Deakins, Unbroken
Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman
Dick Pope, Mr. Turner
Robert Yeoman, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski, Ida

Predicted Winner: Lubezki

Actual Winner: Lubezki

So Lubezki is officially the hottest cinematographer out there. Two wins in two years. Now I just sort of wonder if the single-take gimmick will get stale...no, it'll probably be out there more than ever. It's a telling trait that that could happen and it'll all look like crap because talent at the height of Lubezki is rare.

Accuracy: 10/14

10:43 pm:

Film Editing

American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game

Predicted Winner: Boyhood

Actual Winner: Whiplash

Holy shit, is Whiplash becoming a thing? Damn my screenplay prediction looks awesome right now. I wish I had been a little more adventurous. Boyhood has only won for Supporting Actress and Birdman has only won for cinematography. Sit on that for a while. Definitely a cool win, but I officially can't do better than last year now. Crud.

Accuracy: 10/15

10:47 pm: Terrence Howard was blown away by...The Imitation Game to the point where he's rendered speechless when introducing it? And then he blows through Selma? I'm not racist for thinking that's off, right?

10:50 pm:

Best Documentary Feature

Finding Vivian Maier
Last Days in Vietnam
The Salt in the Earth

Predicted Winner: CITIZENFOUR

Actual Winner: CITIZENFOUR

I was almost thinking the Academy would shy away from this and stick with Virunga or something, but hopefully this win brings attention to a film that brings attention to the nuance of Eddie Snowden instead of the blind labeling of him as an American traitor. It's a pretty amazing film and speech here, considering the right wing backlash. Yay Hollywood! I mean, that NPH joke sums up the reductive nature of the National Attitude towards him and simultaneously negates that speech. Kind of a jackass move. I wonder if he teed up a possible joke for every nominee or just counted on CITIZENFOUR winning.

Accuracy: 11/16

10:59 pm: It's got to be kind of tough to come up with two different presentations for both the Grammys and the Oscars within a few weeks of each other. I think this is a little more epic, but either way I want to see John Legend's wife cry again when they win. Nice standing o and shot of Oyelowo crying. Then a shot of Chris pine crying?! Why is Chris Pine crying?! Did they just scan the crowd for anyone crying? I hope so.

11:06 pm:

Best Song

"Everything is Awesome" from The LEGO Movie (written by Shawn Patterson)
"Glory" from Selma (written by Common and John Legend)
"Grateful" from Beyond the Lights
"I’m Not Gonna Miss You" from Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me
"Lost Stars" from Begin Again (written by Gregg Alexander, Danielle Brisebois, Nick Lashley and Nick Southwood)

Predicted Winner: "Glory"

Actual Winner: "Glory"

Ha! I actually like that little bit between Travolta and Adele Dazeem and the tacit acknowledgment that Travolta can't pronounce anyone's names. Did Common and Legend even have time to make it back to their seats? For a film that hardly got any nominations, this crowd is loving Selma. Common rules, by the way. I've actually never liked him as an actor, but he's the man and a sublime wordsmith. And again, Chris Pine is down with the brothers! First one up to clap!

Accuracy: 12/17

11:16 pm: What the fuck? Why is Lady GaGa singing us Sound of Music tunes?

11:21 pm: Damn, Julie Andrews looks good.

11:22 pm:

Best Original Score

Alexandre Desplat, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alexandre Desplat, The Imitation Game
Johann Johannsson, The Theory of Everything
Gary Yershon, Mr. Turner
Hans Zimmer, Interstellar

Predicted Winner: The Theory of Everything

Actual Winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel

I told you! Grand Budapest is winning everything! It's crazy! This virtually means that The Theory of Everything will go home with no awards, unless that Eddie Redmayne buzz as of late pulls through and he dethrones Keaton. There is some chance in the Adapted Screenplay category, but Whiplash seems like much more the darling right now. This is awesome how that turned out.

Accuracy: 12/18

11:30 pm:

Best Original Screenplay

Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye, Foxcatcher
Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Predicted Winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Actual Winner: Birdman

Crap. I'm starting to slip hard. How did Grand Budapest miss this? More importantly, is this a sign that Birdman will upset Boyhood. I'm not thinking about that. It's nice to see Eddie Murphy making peace with some national institutions he hasn't really gotten along with lately, namely the Academy and Saturday Night Live.

Accuracy: 12/19

11:33 pm:

Best Adapted Screenplay

Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
Jason Hall, American Sniper
Anthony McCarten, The Theory of Everything
Graham Moore, The Imitation Game

Predicted Winner: Whiplash

Actual Winner: The Imitation Game

Whiplash would have actually been a really weird win, considering it was based on a short film that Damien Chazelle made. Graham Moore was the more conventionally expected winner, so fuck me for going out on a limb. I really thought the night was trending towards Whiplash, too. I now haven't predicted a winner right in the past three categories. This speech is actually really emotional and probably more relevant and immediate than any of the other politically charged messages of this night (of which there's been lots. That's a good thing).

Accuracy: 12/20

11:41 pm:

Best Director

Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

Predicted Winner: Linklater

Actual Winner: Iñárritu

Wow, so this is really really swinging Birdman's way, which is shit for all my predictions. Iñárritu becomes a rare single-night double Oscar winner. He could become a three-way winner with a Best Picture, which would be a few shades of impeccable. I was looking so solid there for a while. This sucks. Help me, Julianne Moore. Actually, at this rate, Keaton may also pull through for Birdman after all.

Accuracy: 12/21

11:48 pm

Best Actor

Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Predicted Winner: Michael Keaton

Actual Winner: Eddie Redmayne

I like how they played the same scene to showcase both Keaton and Stone's performances. That film has so many good outlets for these great actors. Anyway, this win is unbelievable. The kid is obviously excited, which is cool, but it's still more a totally bait-y role than a totally immortal, career-defining / honouring role like Keaton's was, so it's kind of an all-around bummer. Also my prediction totals are truly terrible now.

Accuracy: 12/22

11:54 pm

Best Actress

Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Predicted Winner: Julianne Moore

Actual Winner: Julianne Moore

I haven't seen Wild, what the hell was that cornea donation scene? Anyway, thank yo, Julianne Moore for being a great easy pick that makes me seem less stupid. How the hell was I 20/24 last year. I'm just going to keep reminding you of that to demonstrate that I don't totally suck at this.

Accuracy: 13/23


Best Picture

American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

Predicted Winner: Boyhood

Actual Winner: Birdman

Was that a little Barney magic with those predictions? Cool. Not as fun as selfies or pizza, but cool. Sean Penn, lighten up, Michelle Obama did this last year. These little vignettes for each nominee are really cool. Iñárritu wraps it up and completes a stunning trifecta of Best Screenplay, Director, and Picture. Consolation for Mike Keaton I guess. Damn you Birdman for completely wrecking my picks, I thought you were totally fizzled out although in October I thought you were a lock and also my personal pick for Best Film of the Year.

Final Total Ultimate Accuracy: 13/24

Not the worst year I've had, above .500 but waaaay worse than I thought I'd do, honestly. Not many of these were totally in the dark, but it ended up being the Birdman and Grand Budapest show, which I had figured to some extent but not this significantly. So these winners will immediately be canonized, and I think a lot of them will be pretty significant and well-remembered down the line. Until next year, folks - it's been real!

15 February 2015

A Closer Look at the 2015 Best Picture Nominees

Here we are folks, a week out, so it's time to check out the big prize - the category that everyone really cares about and the one that will join eighty-six other films in the immortal ranks of cinema history. Best Picture. For your own reference, you can check out our looks at the actors, screenplays, and directors, along with all the other crap here. So let's get into Best Picture, ranked from least likely to most likely to walk home a winner:


We'll start with the biggest outside shot. Whiplash is a well-liked film that has a solid amount of support but it's not quite Best Picture material. It's a bit left of mainstream and a showcase for really authentic character work rather than the kind of industry-friendly narrative the Academy usually likes. Damien Chazelle is so young no one will really feel bad for him missing out, same for Miles Teller. J.K. Simmons is already a lock for Best Supporting Actor and I still think it could make some waves in Adapted Screenplay, but it won't earn Best Picture.

The Imitation Game

There is some chance that The Imitation Game pulls out a very unexpected win. It's a Weinstein film that everyone's parents seem to enjoy and it's totally in the vein of a The King's Speech (2010)-sort of classic historical persecution story that transcends some of those trappings to showcase a bunch of well-known up and coming actors giving their best work in years. It's all a little on-the-nose, and Oscar seems to more often than not anathema to such blatant attempts to court it. This could very well walk away with nothing, or maybe it really surprises with the kind of win that isn't actually surprising at all.


For all the rage against Selma's lack of deserving nominations this year, I think pundits tend to forget it is a Best Picture nominee. And maybe all that anger at injustice is enough to knock out an upset here. The support does seem more niche than mainstream, though, and the lack of nominations in the first place is a fair indicator of the Academy's general indifference, especially when there's so many nice, wholesome white nominees this year that are far more tempting to vote for. An unbelievable win here would be an incredible sign of the times and a huge reparation for its lack of other nominations, but those chances seem slim.

American Sniper

There is hardly a film with less timely buzz here than American Sniper, and since it stands out as not only the most financially successful of every Best Picture nominee, but one that made its money very very recently, there's no counting it out. Whether for good or ill, and no matter what political side you're on, its controversy has also made it a pretty buzzed about topic as of late. Clint Eastwood is also a pretty familiar face for any Academy voter. So why doesn't it feel like a winner? Maybe it's its partisanship or controversy that the Academy wants to steer clear of, especially with all the heat it's taken already this year.

The Theory of Everything

This is the kind of movie that no one will really remember a year from now, or even six months from now, but it also fits so neatly into the kind of picture that the Academy loves. It's a strange year for those historical disability/persecution biography films that are almost over-the-top in their bid for Oscar's favor. The Theory of Everything is gaining more ground than even The Imitation Game, though, and if the charge for Ed Redmayne is legit over Keaton there could be enough support her for this to take it all. There is also a lot of support here and there, from Score to Screenplay. But the next three flicks just have too much momentum now.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

I think people are still counting this one out despite its solid awards wins so far and great buzz. Its resume includes a Golden Globe win over Birdman and big hauls for writing, including the WGAs. There is a sense of justifying this and the following two films, and voters seem to think that Wes Anderson finally deserves some recognition. It's also a beloved film that seems to kick the notion that voters only care for recent releases. In fact, its longevity seems to have helped it stick in peoples' minds for a long time, which also speaks to its quality. It's tough to say if this is Anderson's best film, but that doesn't totally matter - as long as it's the one that voters buy into enough to hand him Best Picture.


Birdman has DGA, PGA, and SAG wins, so wait, why are we even talking about Boyhood? Well, things don't always line-up, but if there's any film on this list that could make for an easy upset, it's this. It's a movie about movies, but not only that, it's about artistry and acting, in addition to being an extreme technical achievement. All of this should win over just about everyone and with a cast and production crew that is all incredibly likable and deserving, it really seems like a lock, if not for Boyhood matching it at nearly every turn.

Predicted Winner: Boyhood

The Best Drama Golden Globe went to Boyhood, and that along with its BAFTA is impressive enough, but it has also dominated a lot of critics circles while being equally as impressive a technical achievement as Birdman. It's also full of delicious acting to appease that branch and its enough of a classical family drama story for most of the Academy to get behind while being gimmicky enough to earn support from those looking for a more diverse Best Picture winner. I still think Boyhood is the safest bet to walk away with winning the whole thing, but to be honest, there's not a single film here whose win would surprise me.

So what do you think? It's actually a fairly interesting race this year, which is good for everybody. What's your pick for what the Academy thinks is the Best Picture this year?

09 February 2015

A Closer Look at the 2015 Directing Nominees

Here we are again, folks - another week closer to the 87th Academy Award Ceremony, so it's time to take a gander at the Nominees for Best Director. You can check out our dishes on the Actors and Screenwriters here and here, but today it's time to get into the folks who are nominally the most responsible for the execution of a film, or at least those who are typically blamed for either its success or failure. Best Director often lines up with Best Picture, although that's certainly not always the case (Argo [2012], of course being the famous recent example of a Best Picture winner without a nomination in this category). And with the DGAs and BAFTAs in the can, we have a clearer idea of who might win this. Who are we kidding, there's no telling. That's the fun part!

Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher

Bennett Miller has been behind the helm of a few prestige-style flicks that have been pretty Oscar-friendly, such as Capote (2005) and Moneyball (2011), although neither of these films actually won much besides a Best Actor win for Philip Seymour Hoffman. Most of the buzz around these flicks didn't really involve the director, even though Miller was previously nominated for Capote. Still, it's not like there's a feeling he's due or anything and Foxcatcher is starting to look like another Moneyball - a well-liked, highly nominated film that will walk away empty handed.

Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

I have never heard of Morten Tyldum before, but he's actually been pretty successful in Norway. There is nothing exceptionally special about the direction of The Imitation Game, at least in any sense that elevates it outside the realm of your typical historical biopic. That's sort of exactly why he's nominated, though, because the Academy nominally loves this stuff. In a year where other artists made some stunning directorial work, though, it's all the easier to ignore him.

Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

This could be a sly pick, because even though this is only his first Best Director nomination, there's a general sense of "How the hell is this Wes Anderson's first Directing nomination?" The Grand Budapest Hotel is also gaining steam, although perhaps not as much as Birdman lately. Then again, there's the common dismissal of Anderson by the Academy and his specific and particular style has never really won over voters. Maybe he's getting to the point where people are understanding what he's been trying to achieve and peers are appreciating his work. Unlikely, but again, would not necessarily be surprising.

Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman

One of the greater moments leading up to the Oscars is right here - it's actually looking like a bit of a battle for Best Director! Iñárritu has wrapped up the Golden Globe and the DGA and is actually looking like a decent lock. Of course, Linklater just got the BAFTA, and is leading a lot of the critics circle award tallies. Obviously the directing for both is a tremendous feat from logistical standpoints, and part of the great irony is year is how both these films are on the opposite spectrum - a 12-year passion project vs. a single-take film. It ought to come down to who impressed the Academy more, and I might call Iñárritu's work the higher achievement, but I think Linklater just has the greater support right now.

Prediected Winner: Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Linklater has built up a nice career that many people respect and just like Wes Anderson there's a definite "Why has he never been nominated?" vibe going on. Birdman has ended up being weirdly divisive which may be its downfall on February 22nd. Boyhood is by far the safest choice, although it is a fallacy to believe that the Academy always makes safe picks, after all, they sided with Ang Lee's Life of Pi (2012) over Spielberg's Lincoln (2012). Birdman is weirdly surging and Iñárritu is favored in the precursors, but when it's split like this, some predictive award has to be wrong, and the DGA/Globes tend to be more wacky than the BAFTAs/Academy Awards. Who knows. I still feel like this is Linklater's to lose, but he could very well lose it if he's not hustling his ass to get those final votes off this week.

06 February 2015

Hello Jupiter Ascending, or Why Do Blockbusters Fail?

I am always impressed by a few directors who get to keep on making movies. Tim Burton tends to churn out more crap than gold these days, but they're at least fairly successful and moderately well-liked by their intended mass audience. M. Night Shyamalan is one who had one to many absolute failures (critically, financially, and culturally) to keep his auteur vision going, but he even seems to be failing enough as a journeyman blockbuster director for people to stop giving him work. Then there's the Wachowskis.

The Wachowski Siblings, Andy and Lana, seem to have this mysterious carte blanche in Hollywood after The Matrix Trilogy. Sure it was a pretty significant movie event with each one of those three big aspects pumping hard (critical/commercial/cultural), but when do we stop believing in a director's ability to give us a good movie again? I actually don't have much of a problem with Speed Racer (2008), although it seems to be universally derided. The plot is incomprehensible, but the production design is amazing and it's also fabulously well-cast. Needless to say, though, I'm in the minority.

They followed that bomb up with Cloud Atlas (2012), which is also fine in its own right. It just cost $102 million to make, which is absurd for a big dense film with multiple timelines and plots. It always felt more like a passionate personal thinking project than anything that anyone would actually enjoy. This combined with Speed Racer and the latter disappointing Matrix sequels, which exchanged indecipherable philosophical quandaries for earned resolutions (then discarded all that while Neo fought Smith like Dragon Ball Z), and you've got a pretty lackluster string of what was once a pretty awesome post-Bound (1996) career going.
He's a space wolf!

That brings us to Jupiter Ascending (2015). I'd like to point out that even though the marketing effort for this thing has been pretty strong, in my head I called it Jupiter Rising so often I had to double-check the title to make sure I was right when titling this post. Jupiter Ascending is just really clunky, and apparently really on-the-nose, given that Mila Kunis' character has the awkward and not-prophetic-at-all name of Jupiter. Whatever. The movie looks kind of cool, even if it also seems really dumb and silly, and I like enough of what a lot of the Wachowskis have done (even if no one else really does) to give it a shot. But we're not here to discuss whether or not I'm going to see this film.

We're here to discuss if everyone else and their neighbor is. They're not. Why?

On the surface this seems like a total win. You've possibly got an Academy Award-winning actor playing the villain (Eddie Redmayne - who is no where near any of the marketing [probably to not hurt his Oscar chances...]), two likable leads who are peaking right now in Kunis and C-Tates, directors who have competently handled complex big screen genre material before (regardless of their inability to communicate mainstream ideas, they can handle the hell out of action sequences), and a plot that beckons towards a classic hero's journey in an original sci-fi opus. This should be the next AVABAR (2009), right? I am compelled by the question of why it's not. Why does this look stupid when AVABAR didn't? And AVABAR was an extremely stupid movie after the fact, but how come it looked so cool going into it (and parlayed that into $700 million)?

Last year I was writing this article about how ridiculous and pathetic March 2014 was, and I got talking about how Noah (2014), despite containing some interesting subject material and a possibly experimentally dark direction for a blockbuster to take, will get no audience at all almost solely on the basis of its inaccessible source material. There was another recent film that I am always fuddled by, that found itself in a similar position, which was Gore Verblinksi's The Lone Ranger (2013). To add to this discussion, I also want to talk about The Rock's Hercules (2014), which was by all means a pretty fun and thrilling film that just bombed to hell. Why?

I think it's interesting how critics tend to groupthink and then pile on films like these early, which tends to set the tone for how a film is talked about. None of these are exceptionally poorly constructed, at least not to the extent that the three-piece slaughterhouse of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014), Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014), and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) were, and those were all pretty successful films financially. I would solidly argue that Hercules is a better film in every possible way than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which came out around the same time. It has a more artfully constructed tone, a better understanding of its own themes, a cognizant plot, more compelling characters, and more charismatic performances by its leads. If critics are picking movies to jump on, how come they jump on The Lone Ranger but not The Amazing Spider-Man 2?
Also you can't have a Hercules movie that debunks the
Hercules myth. No one thinks that Hercules actually existed.
I hope.

Perhaps it's just because the big difference between the films I've listed as successful Summer 2014 films (and thank goodness, most of the actually successful films last year were pretty damn good as well) is that franchise tag. There's something to be expected for dumb loud flashy action films that are intended for the 13-year old boy in all of us that just wants to see shit smashed together. Noah was insistently more darker and thought-provoking, although it was still filled with scenes that made no sense. Perhaps there's a key there, that when a movie takes itself as serious as Noah, it shouldn't have scenes of Ham saving a chick in the city and bringing her back only to have her trampled and killed because of Noah with no repercussion to any character moments later. Sorry, SPOILER, but seriously, if you see it coming and have hope that a likable character will do something that makes sense, you're mistaken. When movies that purport to take themselves as serious art pieces trip up, it's amplified much more than when Transformers makes piss and fart jokes with robots.

Critics aren't that useful, though, right? Something like only 50% of moviegoers go frequently, and presumably some percentage of those people would be the real cinephiles who are hunting down online news and critical opinions. Again, this critical consensus isn't that influential directly, but it helps set the narrative. When enough influential critics get on board against a movie, and this is sometimes years before a film comes out - so it's more the entertainment news reporters, but when enough of them lambaste a film's early, troubled production it becomes difficult for any smaller critic or reporter following up or transmitting the news to form a divergent opinion, lest they be ostracised by the critical community. Infrequent moviegoers, while they may not be researching a film themselves, probably have a friend who is, and they can see that off comment on Facebook that embeds itself as a negative opinion. Therefore this narrative is formed before something even comes out. Battleship (2012) is a solid example of this. Its subject matter was deemed far too stupid and unwatchable before it came out, even though it's no worse than any Transformers movie.

And I should clarify at some point, that I don't think these are necessarily good movies, but I just don't see them as any worse than other blockbusters who gain much more money. Actually I do think some of them are much better. But why are these narratives chosen? If you look at my list of "Competently-made-yet-universally-hated" Blockbusters (Jupiter Rising Ascending, Noah, The Lone Ranger, Hercules, and Battleship), I think the inherent problem in each is the source material. There's just no one out there who gave a shit about the story of Noah's Flood, or The Lone Ranger and Tonto, the "untold true story" of Hercules, or a two-hour advertisement for the U.S. Navy. It's that groan factor. You hear "Hey, they're making a big-budget epic about Noah's Ark!" "Awww maannnn. That sounds dumb." That's my gut reaction, to be honest. And I keep using Transformers, just because it's easiest - but why, when we hear "Hey, they're making a big-budget epic about Robots that are also Trucks!" is our reaction "Oooohh maaann!!"

Maybe it's just intrinsic. Enough people either saw the cartoon show to get a vague idea of the personalities and mythology involved while it was cheesy enough that we could easily picture a live-action treatment being exciting and awesome. This blinds our thought process to the fact that the film itself is still wretched, but that's not even important anymore. It's flashy enough to get a long life on television and home streaming and has just the right level of plot skimming that it's not even important to clue into. It's also generally a lot more cheery and digestible.

That's also a factor in each of these films. Noah, The Lone Ranger, and Hercules in particular had a maudlin air about them, even if the latter two were able to splice in some decent character humour that's virtually lost in a sea of self-seriousness. The same can almost be said for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but most Transformers tend to be decidedly cheery, or at least mask their pain in sex and chrome.
Also Johnny Depp fatigue doomed this movie.

I have actually thought about The Lone Ranger a lot, because on the surface that movie had everything going for it, but you never felt like you bought in. It had an extreme level of commercialisation with every plug and tie-in possible (who out there bought The Lone Ranger LEGOs expecting it to be like Harry Potter or Star Wars?). It was trying so hard to position itself as THE film of Summer 2013 but it just never had a shot.

Again, maybe this was intrinsic. It had early accusations of racism, fairly true accusations of anti-Americanism, bland what's his face...Armie Hammer, variances in tone, and a complex subtext that frankly, refuted all of this, but was tough for an average filmgoer to comprehend. It also simply came out smack in the middle of a very long summer where every single weekend there was a film trying to loudly proclaim it was the end-all finale of ALL EPIC BLOCKBUSTERS EVER. Things became more noise than diversified voices, and all the commercialisation wasn't clever or a fun reminder like Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) bobble-heads. It was an irritant.

If we're contrasting with Guardians, it's also because that seemed to be a movie that "got it" while The Lone Ranger appeared like another line in a long, reviled copycat Hollywood system, even though to be honest, structurally The Lone Ranger is far more innovative and its subtext is far more subversive. But that's another good question - what does it take to take charge of a nation's culture for a few weeks?

Hey 2013, what film was your Summer film anyway? Man of Steel? How do you judge what the fan community wants? Was it Pacific Rim? But the critics and even the regular public rejected that one. Was The Lone Ranger not geeky enough? It was certainly no lesser of a film than Man of Steel, in many ways it was far superior. For some reason the appeal of seeing Superman on screen in a serious adult treatment or seeing giant robots clobber giant monsters has a far better initial sound than the idea of seeing The Lone Ranger. Even with the William Tell Overture! It's bullshit. Sorry this got so sidetracked about me liking The Lone Ranger. No one talks about this film anymore, or Noah or Battleship. They're without conversation. They won't appear on T-shirts thirty years from now.

Let's get back to that question - are they not nerdy enough? Is there something intrinsic to these films that fails to inspire a devoted fanbase that will keep it alive through conversation and references for years to come? Maybe it is that seriousness. Then again, our benchmark, Transformers: Age of Extinction isn't influencing any nerds. Quick, name Stanley Tucci's company. Or character. Or any line he says that isn't this. Any reader of this blog understands that I'm constantly concerned about our lack of culturally significant original films.

I wish this movie was as good as "Four Five Seconds."
Which brings me all the way back to Jupiter Ascending. Why did you title your movie so stupidly, Wachowskis. All you needed to hear is "Wachowski" and "Jupiter Ascending" and you could predict this film's fate. It's so sad. By all regards, this film is bonkers insane, and as one of those entertainment journalists (is that what I am? I'm only comfortable with that in really REALLY loose terms), maybe I'm to blame in part for its incoming failure by automatically looping it in with Noah and Battleship as total failures. It just looks so damn stupid. If you break down what I said up there a bit more, Mila and Chan are only successful in comedies, the directors have abused their fans' trust for far too long, and the one good thing about franchise filmmaking is that you already have some understanding of character going in, so when Robert Downey, Jr. smirks, you know why. It's engrossing. Who the hell knows what any of these people in Jupiter Going Up are doing or why we should care. It's all sound and fury signifying nothing.

So maybe I'll be totally wrong. Jupiter Ascending becomes the highest grossing movie of the year and wins seventeen Oscars next year. No. That won't happen.

But will you see it this weekend? If not, stream The Lone Ranger.

02 February 2015

A Closer Look at the 2015 Screenwriting Nominees

We're another week closer to Oscar Sunday, so naturally we're taking some more time to look deeper into the more important Award Categories. You may check out our Acting Round-Up here, but today we're all about writing. I always think the writing is one of the most important aspects of a good feature film, even if most studios will revise the hell out of any given work. That's less the case many times for small projects like these that can find a way to succeed with more freedom, independent production, and the oft-shared responsibilities of screenwriter and director in these kinds of films. So let's assess the merits and chances of these nominees:

Best Adapted Screenplay

Jason Hall, American Sniper

I'm more and more torn about American Sniper, namely because it's getting to be by far the most popular of the contenders, at least in terms of recent box office success and thanks to its inherent controversy (from its subject matter to its...fake baby), it's on the tip of everyone's brain. It doesn't seem to have much going for it with its Screenplay, though, which is the one thing no one seems to be buzzing about. It would be a shock actually if Sniper won anything, and this would be a rare nab.

Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice

The Academy didn't really seem to like Inherent Vice, but I'm also thinking that P.T. Anderson will be due one of these days. It is his fourth screenwriting nomination, after all, and he's considered by many critics to be one of our greatest living directors. He is, however, usually compared to Kubrick, who in all his years as a filmmaker only won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects on 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Really makes you think that this shit doesn't matter at all, huh?

Anthony McCarten, The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything gets boosted because there feels like a good chance this thing starts winning everything on February 22nd. It's adored by the Academy and the subject matter is ripe for nice conservative love of historical disability flicks. Like American Sniper, though, the screenplay isn't really what this film is known for, and it would make much more sense if it was honoured for acting, along with some possible nods in Score and stuff. Still, a win here wouldn't be shocking.

Graham Moore, The Imitation Game

In recent weeks this is actually looking like the one to take this prize, and by all accounts it fits the bill pretty well. The Imitation Game is another kind of film the Academy loves, and it's full of new and old actors who lavish every inspiring trailer-made line of dialogue that flows perfectly. It's also pretty possible at this point that this is the only award it'll win, which would make this a really fitting consolation prize for a decently well-liked film that doesn't have a chance to win Best Picture.

Predicted Winner: Damien Chazelle, Whiplash

This is still my really bold prediction. Whiplash is certainly a more interesting screenplay than either The Theory of Everything or The Imitation Game, and everything about this race in recent years feels more about recognizing young talent. It's an artfully crafted story and Chazelle has gotten a lot of praise for both his writing and directing, and plenty of publicity through J.K. Simmons mentioning his awesomeness whenever he wins an award (which has happened a lot). It's more of an interesting bug in the minds of voters than The Imitation Game even if it's much less widely seen or more easily digested. I can see myself falling on my face for this, but I do want to look awesome when it nails the surprise win.

Best Original Screenplay

Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler

I am really impressed that Nightcrawler got a nomination here, although it's bizarre that this is the only outlet for this film to shine while Jake Gyllenhaal isn't recognized in the Best Actor category. It's clear that Nightcrawler is pretty unloved by the Academy, even though it has a lot of appreciation from critics. I'm not sure the screenplay is as strong as the performances anyway, even if it offers the kinds of turns that are rare for the genre. It doesn't really have a shot here.

Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye, Foxcatcher 

This is an interesting addition, and I'm actually curious if Foxcatcher makes some heads turn at the Ceremony with some surprise wins. It's represented in a lot of big races, although it is absent from Best Picture. The screenplay does a great job weaving this delicate tension throughout the picture, although I also think that this is another film that is supported by its acting more than its writing. While it had a lot of momentum leading up to its debut, I think a lot of that is exasperated now.

Richard Linklater, Boyhood

This is a kind of rare low rating for Boyhood, and I think it will win a solid number of awards, but just not for screenplay. With everything surrounding this film, the screenplay is logistically impressive, although it may be more the director, producer, and actor's ability to pick it up once a week for twelve years and execute it thoroughly. This notion of course speaks to the strength of the script itself, that it didn't get stale or tired after that time. Actually, I'm not sure about the writing history of Boyhood, did they update it on the fly to include modern sensibilities as time marched on? Or was it all written at once to be timeless? Maybe this is actually awesome, although that still doesn't make for a great coherent original writing piece. Well, here you go.

Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo, Birdman

Impressive feats of logistical prowess inhabit the big contenders this year, and the screenplay of Birdman had to excellently account for the nature of its pseudo-one take shot. It had to be timed beat for beat to allow every actor to get into place, and the dialogue must have not only rang true to the characters, but be precisely timed so that one scene could flow into the next without complete disarray. It's also like editing the film while writing the screenplay, because it's not like bits of unused or untrue dialogue could be thrown out or trimmed later. It's such a remarkable achievement that comes down to the writing (see? I at least think one movie is based more on its writing than acting) that really deserves to be honoured. I am therefore not entirely sure why, but no one is really paying attention to this and everyone seems to instead be dishing on Wes Anderson.

Predicted Winner: Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Like the other great Anderson writer/director nominated for his screenplay, Wes Anderson has a handful of nominations under his belt, but he's usually ignored by the Academy. This is his third writing nomination as a matter of fact, with a fourth coming in the Best Animated Film category for The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). This award would very much be honouring his career of really good, really quirky writing, and finally putting a stamp on Wes Anderson-esque dialogue. The Grand Budapest Hotel's journey as of late has been somewhat improbable, and it's now a legitimate contender to upset both Birdman and Boyhood for not only this award, but the Best Picture race as well. There's almost little doubt that it sweeps a lot of technical awards, but this would be a very strong indicator that it's a real threat elsewhere as well. The script itself is good, there is no other picture this year that balances so many characters with so little screentime while still maintaining really authentic believability in each.

So, who do you think is going to win each Screenwriting Category? Do you agree with me on Whiplash? Are these really the best written films of the year?
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