Monday, February 25, 2013

FEW SILVER LININGS IN THIS YEAR'S OSCAR SHOW PLAYBOOK


Joseph Gordon-Levitt, host Seth Macfarlane and Daniel Radcliffe in a half-baked 2013 Oscars musical number.


Why does Hollywood have such a hard time putting on a great Oscar show? Can’t they do something that equals the Emmy’s show that Jimmy Fallon hosted two years ago? What’s keeping them from putting on a show as assured as when Neil Patrick Harris hosts the Tony’s? Sadly, Tinsel Town whiffed it again this year. Just like last year when Billy Crystal tried gamely but mostly recycled old shtick (http://exm.nr/Q1gAYC), Tinsel Town seems incapable of making the industry’s most important night feel fresh and truly special.

Why is that? God knows the AMPAS spend millions on the show and has access to the greatest entertainment talent on the entire planet. And the Oscar Show take months to prepare but it sure doesn’t seem like it. Heck, Denzel landed the plane in “Flight”; why can’t the Oscar producers get an Oscar show to take off and tell jokes that don’t crash & burn?
William Shatner as Captain Kirk in a drawn-out bit that felt like it went on for light years.
I thought that when Seth Macfarlane was announced as host he’d add a genuine sense of modern humor to it. But what’s fresh about breast jokes that Blake Edwards vamped better in 1981’s “S.O.B”? What’s new about William Shatner dragging out old Captain Kirk shtick? Maybe if it was Chris Pine spoofing his version of Kirk, but no, Macfarlane gives 10 minutes of screen time to the old James Tiberius in a discolored uniform.

Macfarlane’s nothing if not a pop culture maven, but he didn’t do any of the countless imitations he can do. He barely sang. And the dance numbers he put himself in were under-rehearsed. Compare what he did with the game but ill-prepped Daniel Radcliffe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt to what Fallon got Tina Fey, Joel McHale and Jon Hamm to do in the “Glee” spoof they opened the 2011 Emmy’s with. There’s no comparison. The Emmy’s number killed. Macfarlane’s bits killed time. Slowly.

He also made a lot of awful, snide jokes that were too disrespectful for the Oscars. If you’re going to bring up Rex Reed’s awful comments about Melissa McCarthy’s weight (http://bit.ly/125bNB2), the punchline should be about Reed, not Adele and her weight. And jokes about Lincoln being shot, Von Trapp children being carted off to concentration camps, and Ben Affleck’s “Gigli” disaster demonstrated that Macfarlane really had a tin ear out there. His Kardashian hair joke got some laughs, but hirsute women humor strikes me as less gag and more gagging at something like this most esteemed of awards shows.
Anne Hathaway knew she'd win and gave a charming, humbled and prepared speech.
Thankfully, the actual Oscars had enough contests to make many races like Best Supporting Actor, Director and Best Editing incredibly compelling this year. And most of the speeches were either swift or eloquent or both. Anne Hathaway was nervous but thoughtful in her Best Supporting Actress speech. Ang Lee was humbled and yet still appropriately prepared. And who knew that Daniel Day-Lewis coud be so funny? His bit regarding presenter Meryl Streep being asked to play “Lincoln” first resonated better than almost all of Macfarlane’s material.

It was moments like Daniel Day-Lewis' record-setting third Best Actor victory, and Ben Affleck’s long but compelling speech about his comeback when “Argo” took Best Picture, that made the show very strong at times. Christopher Plummer also contributed some nice moments when he made his witty and urbane comments about wanting to work with the Best Supporting Actress nominees. And for once at the Oscars, the musical numbers were terrific, with the likes of Shirley Bassey, Adele and Barbra Streisand all excelling in powerhouse solos.
Barbra Streisand croons "The Way We Were" during the 'In Memoriam' segment.
But then good musical numbers could have been even better with a little more time and thought. I loved the salute to recent movie musicals but couldn’t they have included “Moulin Rouge” and “Hairspray” too? I loved all the time spent honoring 50 years of Bond, but where the hell were the six 007’s? And wasn’t there an opportunity to do something with 2012's stellar animated feature characters like Wreck-It Ralph, ParaNorman or Sparky from “Frankenweenie” somewhere in the broadcast?

At the end of the day, the Oscar show should be the most entertaining awards show that Hollywood puts on. And the numbers and skits should blow our minds. But the show can’t even best the entertainment quotient of the bare bones budgeted Golden Globes. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler killed as hosts there this past January. Why can’t the Oscars be as relevant, sharp and focused? Why did so much of the Oscar Show material have to be so sexist and racist? And is it that hard to give any one of the five actors from “The Avengers” just one decent line?
Daniel Day-Lewis was elegant, thoughtful and funny while accepting his record 3rd Best Actor Oscar.


Bob Hope, Johnny Carson and Billy Crystal excelled as Oscar hosts because they struck the right balance between making fun of the town and being reverential towards the industry. Comedians like David Letterman, Jon Stewart and Chris Rock by and large failed because they brought too much snarkiness and not enough respect. Hugh Jackman did a wonderful job hosting the Oscars in 2009 and even won an Emmy for his efforts, but Hollywood should be able to find an equally suitable host if Wolverine is off making another X-Men movie, right?
Jennifer Lawrence looked stunning in the gown she'd later trip on, becoming one of this Oscar's funnier moments.
I hope the producers of next year’s show ask Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to host. Or Jimmy Fallon. They’d know where the line is and never cross it. And I bet they’d have capitalized on Jennifer Lawrence’s tripping and whip out some zinging ad-libs. Where was Macfarlane when that happened? My God, Billy Crystal would’ve been all over that, likely asking Jack Palance to do some one-hand push-ups next to her while she was laid out on the ground. Now that would’ve have been a helluva Oscar moment. Unfortunately this year, despite Bond’s anniversary, I was left shaken and not very stirred.  

Friday, February 22, 2013

MY HOPES FOR THIS YEAR'S ACADEMY AWARDS CEREMONY ON SUNDAY



I’m very confident that Seth Macfarlane and the producers of this year’s Academy Awards show will shake things up and be the right combination of naughty and nice. If they go over 3 hours, they’ll only have themselves and some awful dance numbers to blame. Still, here’s a wish list for the event this Sunday, February 24th:

I hope more voters pick “Argo” out of honor rather than retaliation. (http://bit.ly/15aicbM)
I hope the directors show Steven Spielberg the love they didn’t show Ben Affleck.

I hope Barbra Streisand sings “The Way We Were” during the ‘In Memoriam’ section.
I hope she doesn’t get paired with Seth Rogen to present.

I hope Seth Macfarlane pulls out all the celebrity imitations he can muster.
I hope he doesn’t do ‘Peter Griffith’ unless it’s to parody Brando in “Apocalypse Now”.

I hope that Daniel Day-Lewis gives a speech for the ages.
I hope that the band doesn’t cut him off if his speech goes on for ages.

I hope that Jean Dujardin’s English is better this year when he presents Best Actress.
I hope that if Emmanuelle Riva wins her English is better than that of Dujardin.

I hope the Best Supporting Actor winner acknowledges the tight race.

I hope Tommy Lee Jones smiles if he wins.

I hope that Anne Hathaway doesn’t act shocked when she wins as it won’t be.
I hope she & James Franco spoof their awful hosting two years somewhere in the show.

I hope the band doesn’t play off anyone.
I hope that no one thanks the lawyers because then I’ll wish I could yield the baton.

I hope that Stomp stays at home.
I hope I don’t have to stomp my feet in protest over superfluous dance numbers.

I hope that all six Bond’s show up for the salute to 50 years of 007.
I hope Adele wins Best Song in an otherwise weak category. (Like every year. Sigh.)

I hope that there are tons of beautiful choices for best dressed on the red carpet.
I hope the red carpet yields some awful ones too so Joan Rivers can have a field day.

I hope Jennifer Lawrence wins because I want to hear a hilarious acceptance speech.
I hope that she doesn’t read off index cards. That goes for every winner!

I hope that “Paperman” or “Adam and Dog” wins Best Animated Short. (http://bit.ly/W9g8jY)
I hope that they don’t have Verne Troyer or Danny DeVito introduce the category.

I hope that Uggie from “The Artist” presents the short nominees. (That’s appropriate!)
I hope that he presents with his owner/trainer Omar Muller! That would be very appropriate.

I hope that this year’s Oscars are classy, witty and yield the best show in years.
And I hope if they’re bad, they’re ‘off-the-rail’s terrible - - more fun to write about that way.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

COULD THIS BE THE MOST EXCITING OSCAR CONTEST IN YEARS?


I think it could be. Why? Believe it or not, that snubbing director’s branch of the Academy might have thrown the whole ball of wax into turmoil when they failed to recognize Ben Affleck for his direction of ARGO. And they likely turned his film from a strong contender into a certain winner.
Original caricature "The Year in Movies 2012" by Jeff York (copyright 2013)
ARGO, along with LINCOLN, ZERO DARK THIRTY, and SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK seemed to be the four frontrunners before the nominations were announced back in January. But a lot has happened since then. Not only did the Academy’s director members overlook Affleck but unwittingly, the slight seems to have had the effect of inspiring other guilds and critics to correct the Oscar error and honor both the actor/director and his film repeatedly. ARGO has now taken Best Picture and Best Director at the Golden Globes, the Broadcast Film Critics, the BAFTAS, and it won Best Ensemble at the SAG Awards too. All in just the past four weeks. ARGO triumphed with the Producers Guild Awards and the Directors Guild Awards as well.

So all those victories mean that now ARGO is the absolute  frontrunner. And that’s extraordinary since nobody thought the film had a shot when Affleck missed getting that director’s nod from the Academy. In fact, ARGO now looks like it might be the best bet of the night come Oscar time on February 24th. There are a few other certain locks in addition that evening, but there are many more contests that are anyone's guess. 

I still think that Daniel Day-Lewis and Anne Hathaway look pretty unbeatable. And it will be history-making if Day-Lewis wins because he’d be the only three-time Best Actor winner in Oscar history. There are a few other awards that are as easy to predict, but so many other categories can go so many ways this year. It's easily the most up for grabs Oscars in years. 

And that’s probably a good thing. It will certainly make the ceremony more interesting. Hell, even suspenseful! And it will give you, my faithful followers, a better chance to beat me in The Establishing Shot's Oscar pool. So, without any further ado, let’s make some predictions, shall we?

BEST PICTURE – ARGO
I think it should be LINCOLN, but ARGO undoubtedly has all the momentum as previously discussed.

BEST DIRECTOR – STEVEN SPIELBERG
With Affleck out of the race, it seems to boil down to a contest between Spielberg and Ang Lee. Many think underdog Ang Lee will take it because Spielberg already is the king of Hollywood, but I think the Academy will ultimately recognize the impressive directorial achievement that LINCOLN is. Spielberg is a technical master no doubt, but his work with all those actors in the movie was something special.


BEST ACTOR – DANIEL DAY-LEWIS
If DDL doesn’t win, it will be the greatest upset since CRASH took Best Picture instead of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. It would be a tragedy too since Day-Lewis gives a towering performance that is one for the ages.


BEST ACTRESS – JENNIFER LAWRENCE
She seems to have the edge right now with all the torture controversy that has dragged down ZERO DARK THIRTY and in turn, Jessica Chastain’s terrific performance, doesn't she? Some think AMOUR's Emaunelle Riva, the oldest Best Actress nominee ever at 85, is closing in fast on Lawrence, but I'm not as sure. I don't think enough people will have seen AMOUR to vote for Riva. Still, that possibility would make for an extraordinary spoiler. But if you saw Lawrence's interview with David Letterman a few weeks back, wouldn’t you want to see that funny girl give an Oscar acceptance speech? I know I would. (If you missed J-Law's appearance with Dave, you can view it here http://bit.ly/Xwxsx3

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – TOMMY LEE JONES
This category is an utter toss-up.  It's anybody's game. Christoph Waltz just won at BAFTA and he won the Golden Globe too. Alan Arkin is awesome playing a heroic Hollywood producer which has to be catnip for a lot of Oscar voters. And let's face it, Robert DeNiro is way overdue having not won since RAGING BULL in 1980. But isn’t Philip Seymour Hoffman’s accomplishment really the one we should be crowing about? I think so, but so many things affect an Oscar win, not just the performance. Because of that, I’m predicting Tommy Lee Jones because he just got the SAG award, and actors make up the largest wing of the Academy too. But this category is going to be a real nail-biter that Sunday night.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – ANNE HATHAWAY
Despite the backlash and satirical videos (http://bit.ly/VucMrr), Annie should be able to prevent the tigers from coming at night and turning her dream to shame.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – DJANGO UNCHAINED
Many are predicting Michael Haneke for AMOUR, but will sound guys vote for a small, foreign language film over such a big hit as Tarantino’s latest? I doubt it, so I predict Q will win his second Oscar for the very ‘writerly’ script he crafted that is DJANGO UNCHAINED.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – LINCOLN
If the time for LINCOLN came and went, then writer Tony Kushner is in trouble. But I think because he’s a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, he has a prestigious edge over the other nominees.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – LIFE OF PI
This category could go a number of ways. Do the voters honor the dark moodiness of LINCOLN? The lushness of ANNA KARENINA? How about the legendary Roger Deakins who's never won an Oscar? He made something quite gorgeous out of the latest Bond thriller SKYFALL. (And he just won the BAFTA for it too.) It's a tricky category this year, but I think LIFE OF PI might have the edge. Every shot in this masterpiece was stunning. And that should be easy to see, even for the novices. 

BEST EDITING – ARGO
Again, a number of nominees here could take it. I think that LIFE OF PI and ZERO DARK THIRTY could easily win, but I'm predicting ARGO. (It can't just win Best Picture, right?) It stands to reason that part of the reason ARGO was so effective was due to its nail-biting tension which its crackerjack editing had a lot to do with. So ARGO it is.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – LIFE OF PI
John Williams is a legend and could score his 6th Oscar for LINCOLN. On the other hand, Mychael Danna’s score for LIFE OF PI was big and dramatic. And Thomas Newman is long overdue, plus he just won the BAFTA for his work on SKYFALL. And isn't it about time Alexandre Desplat got some Academy love too? Could his score for ARGO prevail here as part of a sweep? Maybe, but I think I'll go with the movie where the music was most notable. That's probably how the average voter regards categories such as this. They don't appreciate all the nuances, but they know what they like. And hear. And LIFE OF PI's music was more essential with so little dialogue throughout the journey at sea.

BEST SONG – SKYFALL
In a category that is usually an utter embarrassment, how can the Academy voters not give it to a good song from a movie that is a global phenomenon and happens to be sung and penned by the international superstar Adele? The answer is they can't. This is an easy one to predict. Almost as much of a lock as Hathaway.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM – AMOUR
If a foreign film ends up making the list of Best Picture nominees, how can it not win the foreign language category? It can’t.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE – WRECK-IT RALPH
I would love to see FRANKENWEENIE prevail in this category, but alas, the Annie Award went to the big hit Disney pic. They’re both terrific films, but I suspect Ralph will wreck the poor pooch’s chances.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN – LES MISERABLES
Again, what sets and locations will the average voter notice and thus vote for? Perhaps a period piece with gigantic Parisian ones, with a huge ship canal and a lumbering barricade? Certainement!


BEST COSTUME DESIGN – ANNA KARENINA
Everyone in the Academy votes for the final ballot so that means the movie with the most costumes or most obvious costumes usually wins. Thus, this Keira Knightley period piece should win for its exquisite Russian pageantry. 

BEST SOUND EDITING – ZERO DARK THIRTY
Sound categories are hard to call. How much do the voters know about the nuance of sound? Arguably, very little. And what's the difference between the sound in ZERO DARK THIRTY versus things like SKYFALL or DJANGO UNCHAINED? I think that most Academy members equate sound editing with complicated location shoots or action sequences that require real sound effects mixed with those created in a studio. Hence, a film like ZERO DARK THIRTY probably has an edge. The final half hour of sound during the Bin Laden compound raid was an amazing mix of location recording, sound design and Alexandre Desplat's sparse but eerily synthesized music.

BEST SOUND MIXING – LES MISERABLES
This category is a little easier to predict due to all the press that  director Tom Hooper and his sound team received for recording the actors singing live throughout LES MISERABLES. I wish they would have auto-tuned the straining Russell Crowe a bit in post, but nonetheless, the movie's recording achievements are still significant and will likely be rewarded.

BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING – THE HOBBIT
My guess is that all those snaggle-toothed dwarfs with their grungy beards and putty noses will eclipse Anne Hathaway’s spotty hooker complexion and lost teeth. (I'm catty, but still not as mean as Rex Reed!)

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS – THE LIFE OF PI
This shot from LIFE OF PI of the tiger Richard Parker is not real. It's a CGI effect. In fact, all the animals in this movie were CGI creations. It will win for that, and richly deserve to.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT – PAPERMAN
Don’t be surprised if ADAM AND DOG wins here, but I think the Disney charmer PAPERMAN may have a slight edge due to its optimistic and lyrical romanticism.

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT – CURFEW
This one is the most accessible of an intense lot of very dark live action shorts this year, and that should get it more Oscar votes than the others. They're all special though, and I could see any of them being called.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT – OPEN HEART
OPEN HEART is about Rwandan children getting much needed open-heart surgery as part of a humanitarian mission. It’s all very inspirational and incredibly moving. That should tug at the (ahem!) heartstrings of the Academy. 

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE – SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN
This film about looking for a long lost rock star has won a dozen awards throughout the festival circuit and awards season, including a special jury prize and audience award at Sundance just last month. It seems to have the most momentum so that's my pick.

Those are my predictions. What are yours? Share your picks and if yours best mine, you'll win the prize of an original caricature of your favorite actor or actress done by yours truly. Oh, and in case there’s a tie, what film will win the most Oscars, and how many?

Remember, the Oscars are Sunday, February 24th.  And you have until the 23rd to enter my contest here. I am looking forward to this year's show like few in the past. And I hope that Seth Macfarlane rocks the house. (I think he will.) And remember, if ARGO wins, Ben Affleck will get an Oscar. Not for directing the film but for producing it. Something tells me Ben’s going to have a very good night. (And then he gets to go home with Jennifer Garner too. Some guys have all the luck.)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

2013 OSCAR NOMINATED SHORTS STAND TALL



For the last few years now, the Motion Picture Academy has released their Oscar nominated shorts for general movie audiences a few weeks before the awards ceremony. 2013 is no exception with the short form animated, live action and documentary films being released wide this weekend. And to ensure an even great audience, the Academy will make the shorts available on iTunes and VOD starting February 19th. (Find out how to see them here: http://bit.ly/wrPvnv)

So, are the films worth a look? The short answer? Absolutely. The five animated ones are particularly exceptional this year. And just as I’ve done before (http://exm.nr/LMGnlm), here are my mini-reviews of this year’s nominees:

“Maggie Simpson in The Longest Daycare”

“The Simpsons” expanded from their long-running TV series to a feature length movie in 2007. And now they’ve got an Oscar-nominated short under their belts too. This one stars Little Maggie, the pacifier-sucking baby, who finds herself placed in a daycare center where she runs afoul of a bratty baby who likes killing butterflies. When she discovers a caterpillar about to turn, it becomes her mission to save the wiggle worm from the violent youth. This adventure is full of societal zings, but it also has a sweetness to it that is rare in the Fox series. I was quite moved, actually, and I hope the franchise continues to explore new territory in the world of short-form animation.

“Fresh Guacamole”

The animator Pes is a visual satirist, and in this pithy stop-motion short he makes some fresh guac out of unusual objects - a grenade, a Christmas light, a baseball, etc. They all contribute to a cheeky yet appetizing concoction that plays with our expectations and our taste buds. It made me laugh numerous times in just two minutes and boy, did I have a craving for Mexican afterwards!

“Head Over Heels”

It’s not unusual for an old married couple to grow farther and farther apart, but in this dissertation on dysfuntion, Walter and Madge are so distant they’re not even on the same plane in their house. She’s walking around on the ground floor while he lives his parallel life up on the ceiling. This British export finds witty ways to comment on the disintegration of communication with our couple sharing the frame and yet not relating. I’m not sure how they shot all this exactly, but it’s a stop-motion wonder that will have you laughing and re-examining your relationship with your significant other as well.

“Paperman”

My favorite, and the one I think will take the Oscar, is a Disney cell-animated effort about a young man who has an instant connection with a comely young lady while waiting for the train one morning. He then spends the rest of the seven-minute short trying to get her attention from his downtown office space via paper airplanes. The near misses are a delight and this breezy romantic comedy has a sweeping passion to it that’s rare even in features. And it’s done in black and white too, so it has a retro feel to it that makes it seem all the more like an instant classic.

“Adam and Dog”

If any short can beat “Paperman” it’s this one, a true underdog about…well, a dog. Adam discovers a playful pooch in his Garden of Eden and they soon become inseparable. Filmmaker Minkyu Lee creates the miraculous here, with amazing life-life movement in all of his cell-animated animals, and two human leads. (Yes, Eve shows up halfway through). His backgrounds are characters too, as the lush offerings of the environment are brought to full realization in every frame. And the dog character here could give Uggie from “The Artist” a run for his Milk-bones. He’s more charming and delightful than most human actors ever are on screen.


Four of the five nominated films in the live action short category this year are intense dramas. There isn’t anything that comes close to the sunny optimism of the winning short “God of Love” from two years ago (http://bit.ly/Z1N3ru). Still, they’re all entertaining, even if they are dark and moody. Here’s my mini-review of each mini-film:


“Asad”
This is a bleak but riveting film about it a Somalian boy named Asad who is feeling the pull to become a pirate versus the honest fisherman vocation he had hoped for. It’s a tough film to watch, made all the more harsh and realistic by its superb location work and all Somali refugee cast. Still, you do care for the boy’s dilemma and there is some cheeky wit around the periphery, particularly at the end. And director Bryan Buckley, who is one of the greatest TV commercial directors of all time, has made a film a million miles away from that world that shows his directing talent to be one with no limitations.


“Buzkashi Boys”
Similar in many ways to “Asad”, this coming-of-age saga concerns two boys in Afghanistan who long to escape the doldrums of their lives in their third world cities. These Kabul youth rush off to watch a Buzkashi match, the Afghan sport of brutal horse polo with a dead goat, and dream of a better life. Director Sam French has filmed a harsh and unflinching tale, full of quiet despair and striking location work all over Kabul. His film will make you feel deep empathy for the boys’ plights, despite their affections for such an awful sporting event.


“Henry”
The title character here is an elderly concert pianist who believes that his musician wife has disappeared. His memories of her keep colliding with his search and flashbacks of his past keep interfering with the present. There are times this film plays like a psychological thriller, but Montrealer filmmaker Yan England is after something deeper here. This is about the devastation of aging and it reminded me of the similarly themed Best Picture nominee “Amour”. Both are frank and tragic dissertations on love and loss.


“Death of a Shadow”
Director Tom Van Avermaet’s tale is a surreal one about Nathan, a soldier who died in WWII and is now being held captive by a sinister collector of death shadows. He’s tasked with capturing the deceased in their last throes and he’s just two shy of the quota that will get him another shot at life. Is the collector the devil? Perhaps so. But much is left to the imagination here with no Rod Serling-esque explanations. In fact, it’s all rather blind until the very end. This thriller is an unsettling journey, shot with burnished browns and yes, sinister shadows throughout every scene. It’s period noir, full of dread and sadness, and could very well sustain a feature length thriller.


“Curfew”
My favorite of the bunch is the most accessible, and thus is likely to win the Oscar. “Curfew” concerns Richie, a ne’er-do-well slacker who is in the midst of slashing his wrists when he gets a phone call from his estranged sister begging him to watch her daughter Sophia for a few hours.  Richie cleans himself up and jumps at the chance to connect with his niece, even though he hasn’t seen her since she was a baby. She turns out to be quite a handful and their odd couple pairing gives their nocturnal bonding session a darkly comic tug-o-war. Writer/director/star Shawn Christensen is a triple-threat here and you can expect to hear a lot from this big talent in the coming years.

One of the nice embellishments of the shorts presentations this year is that they're hosted by past Oscar winners in the shorts categories. “God of Love” writer/director/star Luke Matheny hosts the live action ones, telling pithy anecdotes about life after winning his award. And animators William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, who directed last year’s cartoon winner “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” (http://exm.nr/LMGnlm), regale us with their tales of pitching features to studios and how it’s much easier to get them to okay a short film.

That’s my take on these worthy competitors that you should seek out before the Oscars. And with the shorts premiering on iTunes and VOD on February 19th, there’s really no reason any movie buff should, ahem, give these films short shrift.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

WHY BEN AFFLECK WON THE DGA (AND KEEPS WINNING AWARDS FOR ARGO)


Last night the Directors Guild of America awarded Ben Affleck its award for best director of a film for his work on ARGO. So what does the DGA know that the directors’ branch of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (the Oscars) doesn’t know? As it turns out, a lot. Let me count the ways:
Ben Affleck with his best director of a film prize last night at the DGA Award.


  ARGO is terrific.
For a long time, ARGO was the film to beat. It won Best Picture at the Telluride Film Festival back in September and was considered to be the movie that would prevail come Academy Awards time. Roger Ebert also predicted that it would win the Best Picture Oscar around that time, long before a dozen Academy qualifiers like ZERO DARK THIRTY or LES MISERABLES had even opened (http://ti.me/SPB4Z9). It was an audacious call but Ebert knew greatness when he saw it. And he knew what kind of movies win Oscar’s biggest prize - smart, moving, involving ones like ARGO.

ZERO DARK THIRTY stole some of the thunder when it debuted in December, with somewhat similar subject material, but ARGO still made over 100 Ten Best Lists, including mine. (http://exm.nr/Wjgwpk) No surprise as it got a Rotten Tomatoes score of 96% when it first came out and the American Film Institute picked it as the film of the year. The consensus view has always been that it’s a great movie. And all its recognition through awards season, from the Golden Globes to SAG to the PGA and now the DGA, is a reminder of that undeniable opinion.

    ARGO is a director’s movie.
There are many superb aspects to the film, but first and foremost it is a director’s movie. And Ben Affleck is the man who brought the tightly wound script, the inspired performers and all the top-notch production values together to make this outstanding thriller. In an auteur’s world, Affleck has last word. And his work speaks volumes.
Ben Affleck and his fellow cast members celebrate their ensemble win for ARGO last weekend at the SAG Awards.

Name actors help get movies made.
The fact that Affleck also was going to headline ARGO as an actor probably got it greenlit as much as anything. Big stars help studios cough up the cash because a name above the marquee helps them feel assured of ROI. And it doesn’t hurt to have people like Affleck and George Clooney partnering to produce films like ARGO. The Hollywood community knows what it takes to get a film made, and big actors throwing their clout around can always help. That kind of thing does not go unappreciated in Tinsel Town.

    Ben Affleck is one of the good guys.
His over-exposed J-Lo tabloid years almost a decade behind him now, Affleck is loved by the community, audiences and critics alike. He’s also one of the nicest guys in Hollywood. During commercial breaks at this months awards shows, he is up greeting friends and colleagues alike, going from table to table, showing his love for the business. A little networking always helps in Hollywood. And on a personal note, I can tell you first hand that Affleck is a wonderfully personable fella. A decade ago, as a creative director in advertising, I worked with him. We were working on a Blockbuster commercial together, promoting his PROJECT GREENLIGHT TV show, and he couldn’t have been more cordial, witty or self-deprecating. He was the coolest guy in the room but never acted like anyone other than a team player. What’s not to love with a guy like that?
Ben Affleck onscreen in ARGO.


  Ben Affleck is a helluva director.
Perhaps the Academy didn’t notice. Perhaps they’re jealous or petty. Perhaps they wish they got to come home to Jennifer Garner each night. Whatever the reason, they screwed up big time by not nominating him for an Oscar. If they think ARGO was a fluke they haven’t been paying attention. For some time now, Affleck has proven himself to be a terrific helmer of movies. Haven’t they seen GONE BABY GONE or THE TOWN? Affleck’s three films showed what a assured hand he has in directing actors, filming on location, creating tension with crack editing, and putting together the best talent above the line and below it to make truly superb films.

In some regards the director’s branch of the Academy may very well have done Affleck a favor. By not nominating him, whether by their forgetfulness or envy, the Academy’s directors have managed to put his snubbing front and center this awards season. And that may be helping give him that little extra push with others to make up for the branch’s egregious oversight.

The Oscars are still weeks away and a lot can happen in that time. Harvey Weinstein could push through a campaign that makes SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK a major contender again. There could be a LINCOLN surge as people realize that they’ve been ignoring it all season long when balloting for Best Picture. Heck, the older contingency of the Academy could create a groundswell for AMOUR. But right now, it looks like the Best Picture Oscar is going to ARGO. And while he won’t get a Best Director Oscar, Affleck would win one for producing the movie. And in lieu of his snubbing, that may be his ‘consolation prize’. Helluva prize that.