Monday, February 27, 2012

WHY CAN'T HOLLYWOOD PUT ON A BETTER OSCARS SHOW?

The 84th Annual Oscars are now history. There were few real surprises. Oh sure, Meryl Streep finally broke her 30 year string of losses with a Best Actress win for “The Iron Lady”, after everyone, including her, seemed to believe that it was Viola Davis’ year. And “Hugo” pulled a big upset over “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” besting it in the special effects category. As great as “Hugo” is, it didn’t deserve to win there. (Every ape was a CGI effect and that beat any train effect!) But the real surprise, year in and year out, is how dull the Oscars show is. With the amazing amount of resources in Tinseltown, why can’t they put on a truly wonderful show? Is it that hard to do something fresh, funny and relevant?
My original caricature of "The Artist", the big winner at this year's Oscars. (copyright 2012)
This year, we not only got Billy Crystal’s 9th time as emcee, we get so many of the same old gags he’s always done, that it felt like a show from the early 90’s when he started to host. Once again he inserts himself into movie clips, and sings a song that parodies the Best Picture nominees, and quips with lines that sound like Catskill leftovers. (Really, a joke about the French being joyless? After what they gave us this year with “The Artist”?) Some of his one-liners were sharp, like the topical references to Kodak’s bankruptcy but too much of his material felt phoned in from decades before.

Maybe because movies like Best Picture nominees like “The Artist”, “Hugo” and “Midnight in Paris” salute the past, it was appropriate that the Oscars seemed so retro. But other than turning the theater into a classic movie palace from the 1920’s, I don’t think nostalgia did the show any favors. Most of the tried and true formula that worked in past years felt utterly stale this year. With all the talent in Hollywood, why bring out Ben Stiller to once again do his droll exasperation bit as a presenter? Why serve up corny, over-produced dance numbers from troupes like Cirque du Soleil that have nothing to do with the industry? And why show the same ‘greatest hits’ clips package of old Oscar winners again and again and again?
Billy Crystal resorted to so much of the same old/same old as this year's Oscar host.
Of course when Oscar tries to jazz things up and get a little edgy, the results are often just as bad. The Robert Downey Jr. & Gwyneth Paltrow bit was grating and went on and on. The recurring documentary bits with actors talking about movies seemed woefully sexist due to a shockingly low number of actresses represented in it. (Were there any actresses interviewed except for Gabby Sidibe?) Even when the Oscars exhibit some fresh thinking, like keeping the “In Memoriam” segment simple with only still photographs, they ruin it halfway through by introducing film clips.

I don’t know what they pay a host, or the writers, or any of the other folks hired on to put together a show, but I’m sure they don’t come cheap. So why does the show always feel like it was slapped together in a week? You’d think with the size of the worldwide audience the telecast reaches, the Academy would feel obligated to bring together great minds to create the most prestigious of all award shows, but clearly that isn’t the case.  Why is it that Jimmy Kimmel’s writers can do such a sharp and contemporary spoof after the Oscars like they did with this year’s “Movie: The Movie” skit? Why aren’t those guys hired for an Academy Awards telecast?
Christopher Plummer has given a heartfelt and engaging acceptance speech all awards season long.


At least the speeches were roundly entertaining. Christopher Plummer is a born raconteur. The winners from “The Artist” are always genuinely delightful. And almost every below-the-line winner gave a tight and clever thank you. And none had to be played off either. If they can all be cogent and clever, why can’t the people who put the Oscars show together?

It wasn’t the worst Oscar show ever. Nothing this year came close to the cringe-worthiness of Rob Lowe singing with Snow White, or last year’s debacle with Anne Hathaway and James Franco. But who thought the “Wizard of Oz” focus group bit was a gem? Who approved the introduction of the lead acting nominees the same way they have been presented for the last few years? And for God’s sake, who was minding the control booth? How could anyone let that distracting microphone feedback plague the first two hours of the show?
Rose Byrne and Melissa McCarthy repeat their "Scorsese" drinking game from the SAG Awards.
Why is it that the Tony Awards are almost always brilliantly entertaining and deft? Is the talent pool in the Broadway theater community more stunning than that in Hollywood? I doubt it, but at least the Tony people don’t repeat so much of the same shtick year in and year out. Perhaps the Academy should concern itself less with trying to bring in a younger viewing audience, and more with simply trying to put on the best show possible. That means giving the six talented women from “Bridesmaids” something to talk about other than male anatomy, or repeat previously seen bits like their "Scorsese" drinking game from the SAG Awards. That means resisting superfluous dance segments. And that means not missing a golden opportunity to bring the crowd-pleasing Uggie from “The Artist” onstage to do something truly special. Good thing the filmmakers of “The Artist” knew what to do with him. Now if only the Academy would hire some equally visionary artists to turn their show into a truly stunning entertainment event.

(NOTE: This year, there were three people who bested me in their Oscar predictions. Followers Ron Fassler, Jeremy Fassler and last year's winner - John Barry. Bravo to all! 

However, Ron and Jeremy got the most right, tied with 18 correct predictions apiece. John Barry got 17 right. Yours truly was right on  16. Great Oscar forecasting runs in the family as Jeremy is Ron's son. They will each get a caricature of their choosing. Bravo you two! And John. And thanks to all who played.) 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

BEAT MY OSCAR PREDICTIONS & WIN AN ORIGINAL CARICATURE!

Ah, the Oscars. They’re upon us once again. So what’s going to win this year? Well, this year isn’t too hard to figure out. The same winners have dominated most of the previous season's awards and will likely reign at the Oscars too. Still, the Academy voters can often hand us a surprise or two. (Remember when “Crash” beat the heavily favored “Brokeback Mountain” for Best Picture?) That’s what makes the Oscars so much fun as there is always something unpredictable about them.



Still, we try. The important thing to remember is that while costume designers nominate costume designers, and screenwriters nominate screenwriters, everyone votes on the final ballot. So most of the awards are decided upon by voters less than expert. They tend to vote for the nominees where the work is most obvious: the most costumes, the most words, the most acting, etc. And the Academy follows trends, usually what the guilds and critics have already awarded.

So with that, I’m placing my bets. And I’d love it if you would do so as well. And here’s an incentive to do so. Make your predictions in the message board below and if you're the one with the most correct, and you beat me, I’ll draw an original caricature for you of your favorite actor or actress from a movie this past year. (Even if you don't beat me, the winner still get one. Cool, huh?) Sign up as a follower if you aren’t one already, and go to town!

Here are my predictions:

Best Motion Picture of the Year
·       “The Artist”
·       “The Descendants”
·       “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”
·       “The Help”
·       “Hugo”
·       “Midnight in Paris”
·       “Moneyball”
·       “The Tree of Life”
·       “War Horse”


THE WINNER WILL BE: “The Artist.” It should win handily. It’s cleaned up at the awards shows all season long and should do so at the Oscars too. And why shouldn’t it? It’s a movie that the Academy can be proud of as their selection because it’s brilliantly done, and it’s all about the movie industry. What’s not to love in that?

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
·       Demian Bechir, “A Better Life”
·       George Clooney, “The Descendants”
·       Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”
·       Gary Oldman, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”
·       Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”


THE WINNER WILL BE: Jean Dujardin. It could be close with Clooney, but I think the Academy will give it to Dujardin as he has become the breakout male star of the year. He’s also extraordinary in a tricky part that requires both high comedy and wrenching pathos. The Academy also tends to award at least one actor from their Best Picture selection. All that, plus the run of Best Actor awards from the Golden Globes to SAG to BAFTA bodes well for the Frenchman.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
·       Glenn Close, “Albert Nobbs”
·       Viola Davis, “The Help”
·       Rooney Mara, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
·       Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”
·       Michelle Williams, “My Week with Marilyn”


THE WINNER WILL BE: Viola Davis. Meryl Streep’s name could easily be called in this closest of close races, but “The Iron Lady” is a very flawed film and I think that will hurt Streep in the final tallying. Besides, Viola Davis did absolute wonders with her part, adding such gravitas to the movie, and “The Help” is a Best Picture nominee, giving Davis even more of an edge.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
·       Kenneth Branagh, “My Week with Marilyn”
·       Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”
·       Nick Nolte, “Warrior”
·       Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”
·       Max von Sydow, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”


THE WINNER WILL BE: Christopher Plummer. I’m tempted to say he is the lock of all locks this year, but then that was said about Lauren Bacall back when she was considered a sentimental shoo-in for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “The Mirror Has Two Faces.” Still, Plummer has won almost all the awards going into the Oscars where Bacall had not. And his award will be for the great performance as well as for his long and distinguished career. I think he’s a lock.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
·       Berenice Bejo, “The Artist”
·       Jessica Chastain, “The Help”
·       Melissa McCarthy, “Bridesmaids”
·       Janet McTeer, “Albert Nobbs”
·       Octavia Spencer, “The Help”


THE WINNER WILL BE: Octavia Spencer. However, this category is one where there are often surprises. (Right, Ms. Bacall?) Jessica Chastain was the breakout female performer of the year with her exemplary turns in "The Help", “The Tree of Life” and “Take Shelter” and three other movies as well, so she could be a spoiler. Or if there’s a big sweep for “The Artist” Berenice Bejo could be swept into the winner’s circle. Still, I’d put the smart money on Octavia Spencer for her turn as the maid who stopped taking shit and started putting it in her pies!

Best Achievement in Directing
·       Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”
·       Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”
·       Terrence Malick, “The Tree of Life”
·       Alexander Payne, “The Descendants”
·       Martin Scorsese, “Hugo”

THE WINNER WILL BE: Michel Hazanavicius. Usually, the director Oscar goes hand-in-hand with the Best Picture winner. Since “The Artist” is the favorite for top film, I think the Academy will honor Hazanavicius accordingly.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
·       Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”
·       Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo, “Bridesmaids”
·       J.C. Chandor, “Margin Call”
·       Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”
·       Asghar Farhadi, “A Separation”

THE WINNER WILL BE: Woody Allen. This is a tricky one. While it might be smarter to pick Hazavanicius here again, I suspect that the Academy will honor the Woodman for his delightfully clever “Midnight in Paris.” It’s a great script and Oscar has always loved Woody. I think they’ll send some love his way in this category because he’s up for Best Director too.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
·       Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, “The Descendants”
·       John Logan, “Hugo”
·       George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon, “The Ides of   March”
·       Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin, “Moneyball”
·       Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughan, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”


THE WINNER WILL BE: “The Descendants.” It’s a great adaptation, and the movie is probably the one that would finish second in the Best Picture balloting. It’s the likely winner in an incredibly good category this year. Any one could win the adaptation Oscar, very possibly John Logan for "Hugo", but I think the Academy will go with “The Descendants.”

Best Achievement in Cinematography
·       Guillaume Schiffman, “The Artist”
·       Jeff Cronenweth, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
·       Robert Richardson, “Hugo”
·       Emmanuel Lubezki, “The Tree of Life”
·       Janusz Kaminski, “War Horse”


THE WINNER WILL BE: “The Tree of Life.” Its cinematography was the most extraordinary this year. Every image was a marvel of framing, light and composition. Lubezki’s work here is a remarkable achievement, poetic really, and it should be rewarded.

Best Achievement in Editing
·       Anne-Sophie Bion, Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”
·       Kevin Tent, “The Descendants”
·       Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
·       Thelma Schoonmaker, “Hugo”
·       Christopher Tellefsen, “Moneyball”

THE WINNER WILL BE: “The Artist.” This category is always tricky. Do Academy voters really know that much about the intricacies of editing? But since “The Artist” is the frontrunner for Best Picture and it is a deftly edited and tightly put-together film, I predict the Academy will check that box.

Best Achievement in Art Direction
·       Laurence Bennett, Gregory S. Hooper, “The Artist”
·       Stuart Craig, “Harry Potter & the Deathly  Hallows: Part 2”
·       Dante Ferretti, Francesca Lo Schiavo, “Hugo”
·       Ann Seibel, Helene Dubreuil, “Midnight in Paris”
·       Rick Carter, Lee Sandales, “War Horse”


THE WINNER WILL BE: “Hugo.” The film got 11 nominations and should win this category. The art direction of that train station was amazing, as were the recreations of silent film tableaus, and the hidden passageways to the clocks. All of the other entries are worthy too, but “Hugo” should prevail.

Best Achievement in Costume Design
·       Lisy Christl, “Anonymous”
·       Mark Bridges, “The Artist”
·       Sandy Powell, “Hugo”
·       Michael O’Connor, “Jane Eyre”
·       Arianne Phillips, “W.E.”

THE WINNER WILL BE: “The Artist.” Even though "Anonymous" has all those Elizabethan beaded gowns, I think "The Artist" will take this category for its glamorous rendering of fashion from the 20's. 

Best Achievement in Makeup
·       Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnston, Matthew W. Mungle, “Albert Nobbs”
·       Nick Dudman, Amanda Knight, Lisa Tomblin, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2”
·       Mark Coulier, J. Roy Helland, “The Iron Lady”



THE WINNER WILL BE: “The Iron Lady.” Meryl Streep marvelously embodies British PM Margaret Thatcher, but she’s  helped by the incredible make-up job that makes her look so much like her too. Bloody good show!

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
·       John Williams, “The Adventures of Tintin”
·       Ludovic Bource, “The Artist”
·       Howard Shore, “Hugo”
·       Alberto Iglesias, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”
·       John Williams, “War Horse”

THE WINNER WILL BE: “The Artist.” There was no movie this year where the sound of the music was more crucial.  Plus, it’s a wonderful score. Vibrant, cheeky, sexy and moving.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
·       Bret McKenzie – “Man or Muppet” from “The Muppets”
·       Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown, Siedah Garrett – “Real in Rio” from “Rio”




THE WINNER WILL BE: “Man or Muppet.” Only two to choose from, but I think the Muppet equity will help with more Academy members. 

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
·       David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce, Bo Persson, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
·       Tom Fleischman, John Midgley, “Hugo”
·       Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, Dave Giammarco, Ed Novick, “Moneyball”
·       Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush, Peter J. Devlin, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”
·       Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson, Stuart Wilson, “War Horse”


THE WINNER WILL BE: “War Horse.” Sound awards are confusing to most Academy members who don’t know much about the nuance of that craft. This award is between “Hugo” and “War Horse” with both films having to manage sound in big settings. Because “War Horse” is outside and concerns the complexities of war, I think it has the edge.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing
·       Lon Bender, Victory Ray Ennis, “Drive”
·       Ren Klyce, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
·       Philip Stockton, Eugene Gearty, “Hugo”
·       Ethan Van der Ryn, Erik Aadahl, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”
·       Richard Hymns, Gary Rydstrom, “War Horse”

THE WINNER WILL BE: “War Horse.” Again, I think all the various sounds from battle scenes and such will strike most Academy voters as the trickier achievement.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects
·       Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler, John Richardson, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2”
·       Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman, Alex Henning, “Hugo”
·       Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor, Swen Gillberg, “Real Steel”
·       Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White, Daniel Barrett, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”
·       Dan Glass, Brad Friedman, Douglas Trumbull, Michael Fink, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”

THE WINNER WILL BE: “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” Every ape in this movie was a CGI effect. Remarkable. If the Academy doesn’t give such an accomplishment the gold, they’ll give it to “Harry Potter” for his curtain call.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
·       “A Cat in Paris”
·       “Chico & Rita”
·       “Kung Fu Panda 2”
·       “Puss in Boots”
·       “Rango”

THE WINNER WILL BE: “Rango.” More saw it. And it was hilarious. Very adult. And so original.

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
·       “Bullhead” (Belgium)
·       “Monsieur Lazhar” (Canada)
·       “A Separation” (Iran)
·       “Footnote” (Israel)
·       “In Darkness” (Poland)

THE WINNER WILL BE: “A Separation.” This film has won most of the foreign language awards from critics groups and such, and I can’t see it missing here. Especially since it’s also up for a screenplay Oscar.

Best Documentary, Features
·       “Hell and Back Again”
·       “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front”
·       “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory”
·       “Pina”
·       “Undefeated”

THE WINNER WILL BE: “Hell and Back Again.” I’m at a disadvantage here, having not seen most of these. However, the buzz seems to be with this one so that’s my prediction.

Best Documentary, Short Subjects
·       “The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement”
·       “God Is the Bigger Elvis”
·       “Incident in New Baghdad”
·       “Saving Face”
·       “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom”

THE WINNER WILL BE: “Saving Face.” Again, I’ve not seen this one or any of the nominees, but “Saving Face” is about plastic surgery in Pakistan and it is supposed to be an affirmation of the human spirit, which the Academy often rewards.

Best Short Film, Animated
·       “Dimanche”
·       “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore”
·       “La Luna”
·       “A Morning Stroll”
·       “Wild Life”



THE WINNER WILL BE: “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.” I am happy to say that I have seen all of these and by far the best one was the one about the written word. I think the Academy will see it that way too.

Best Short Film, Live Action
·       “Pentecost”
·       “Raju”
·       “The Shore”
·       “Time Freak”
·       “Tuba Atlantic”

THE WINNER WILL BE: “Time Freak.” It’s the wittiest of them all and it has a great ending, which none of the others do.
Now, if there’s a tie, we’ll have to bring in a two-part tiebreaker to determine the winner. Here it is: What film will win the most Oscars? And how many?

So, go big or go home, Oscar prognosticators! And may the best fan win!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

THIS YEAR'S OSCAR SHORTS COME UP A LITTLE SHORT

This year's Oscar shorts have come up a little, well, short.  They're still worth a look for any avid film fan or Academy Awards buff, if you can find them in your city. (They're in limited release, hitting the art house circuit this week in places like Chicago’s Landmark Century.) But be warned, while good, greatness seems evasive this year. Even Pixar’s entry left me a little more “meh” than “mesmerized.”
"The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore"
The best of the animated entries this year is THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS OF MR. MORRIS LESSMORE. It’s a whimsical piece about the transformative power of words and story. The directors are William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, and they mix a number of animation techniques in their short including 2-D, CGI, and miniatures, all to great effect. The whole concept floats on air and will have you up in the clouds as well.

DIMANCHE/SUNDAY is pretty funny with its sly put-down of Sunday rituals from church to dinner at grandma’s, but the Canadian entry drifts away at the end without much of an ending. Maybe it’s trying to say that’s how Sundays are too.
"Dimanche/Sunday"
The other three animated shorts had their charms, though I wasn’t grinning during any of them. Pixar’s aforementioned LA LUNA looks as fantastic as any of their features or shorts, but its story about harvesting stars from the moon felt a little trite and ran out of steam once the conceit was demonstrated. WILD LIFE, another Canadian entry, was a droll story about the exaggerated letters home from an Englishman discovering the American frontier. Its painterly landscapes were fluid and masterful, but the storytelling was a bit sluggish. And I’m not sure what to make of A MORNING STROLL with three wildly different animation styles to convey its simple story adapted to three different time periods: 1959, 2009 and 2059. Of course, its future portrays America as yet another zombie dominated wasteland. Doesn't anyone see a STAR TREK horizon for us anymore, with a better tomorrow for our planet?

As for the live-action shorts, I liked TIME FREAK by Andrew Bowler and Gigi Causey the best, mostly because it made me laugh out loud. In its story, a friend visits his scientist roommate’s lab and discovers that his bud has invented a time machine. Unfortunately, the scientist is a neurotic who obsesses too much over the everyday, so rather than use his new creation to travel back to ancient Rome or the beginning of time, he uses it to endlessly recycle a conversation from two days ago when he was tongue-tied after running into a woman he has a crush on. It reminded me of GROUNDHOG DAY and how we too often let the little things in life ruin our existence.
"Time Freak"

RAJU is a subtly harrowing story about a German couple adopting an Indian boy who turns out to have been kidnapped from his natural parents. It’s a taut dissertation on the lengths one will go to establish family and saving third world children from a less-than-stellar existence. 
"Raju"
The other three didn’t deliver as well. PENTECOST treats altar boys like European footballers, but it’s a little hard to laugh at haranguing priests/coaches in this day and age. THE SHORE is a subtle story about an Irishman seeking redemption from a friend he left behind 30 years ago, but its mix of slapstick and pathos never let either really take hold effectively. And TUBE ATLANTIC was just an ugly exercise in killing birds in the name of salvation for an old man with only days to live. In fact, a number of the shorts this year used animal’s death or threat of death as fodder for laughs, including DIMANCHE/SUNDAY and some of the animated honorable mentions also on the docket. Funny, but I seldom find any animal’s death to be a cause for laughter in any movie, long or short form. In fact, I find it too often to be merely bad form. And with the limited amount of time allotted for shorts, it seems like precious time wasted.