Monday, February 29, 2016


To those who say the Oscars are always boring or predictable, this year’s ceremony warrants an adjustment of such an assessment. Indeed, the 88th Academy Awards weren’t just surprising, they were downright shocking in many an instance. From Chris Rock’s opening monologue to the Best Picture announcement, the show offered some true jolts.

Everyone knew that Chris Rock would be outspoken in his opener, but did anyone foresee him mentioning the raping and lynching of black people in the 1960’s? You can’t argue with his point about our nation’s shameful history of such horrors, but it was shocking to hear him express something like that at the top of Hollywood’s most self-congratulatory night.

“Spotlight” was the frontrunner for Best Picture for months, but by February 28 it had become an underdog. Losses to “The Big Short” at the Producers Guild Award and to “The Revenant” at the Director’s Guild and BAFTA rendered it a bit of an also-ran. Its losses in category after category Sunday night didn’t help matters either, despite an early win for Best Original Screenplay. But then just as you thought final presenter Morgan Freeman was going to announce director winner Alejandro Inarritu’s western had taken the top prize too, he uttered the name “Spotlight.” It’s the first movie since 1952’s “The Greatest Show on Earth” to win Best Picture and only one other Oscar in its year’s competition.

“Ex Machina”, with a meager budget of only $15-million-dollar, bested its four $100-million-plus competitors - “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, “The Martian”, “The Revenant” and “Mad Max Fury Road” – to take the award for Best Visual Effects. And in doing so, it became the effects Oscar winner with the lowest budget in that award’s history.

Sylvester Stallone was considered by most Oscar pundits to be a shoo-in for his reprise of Rocky Balboa in “Creed.” The experts over at Gold Derby called his victory an absolute lock. But Mark Rylance’s sly performance in “Bridge of Spies” prevailed as Best Supporting Actor instead in what was one of the night’s biggest jaw-droppers.

Despite all the ginormous press and publicity surrounding Lady Gaga’s Oscar nomination for Best Song, her victory was snatched by the latest Bond song that few thought much of. Her performance of “Till It Happens to You” rocked the auditorium, but the wildly enthusiastic applause she received for singing it would have to suffice as her only prize this Sunday eve.

And speaking of the Best Original Song category, two of the five nominees did not warrant an on-air performance by the Oscar powers that be. Bias, yes. Unfair playing field, absolutely. Tacky misjudgment, incredibly so.
“Mad Max Fury Road” was expected to dominate the technical awards, but it blew out all of its heady competition in the categories of costume design, production design, hair & makeup, editing, and both sound awards. (Everyone thanked helmer George Miller, but alas, the man most responsible for the film would not get any time at the podium as his name was not called as Best Director.)

Even with the god-awful ticker tape crawl listing those the winners wished to thank, the band still started to play off most of the winners, including Best Supporting Actress Alicia Vikander for “The Danish Girl.” Shocking that the producers of the broadcast wouldn’t let one of the key acting award winners finish unencumbered. Stupid too. Louis CK was hilarious but why should he get two minutes to do shtick before presenting when Oscar winners are robbed of their moment in the sun?

Despite rushing winners through their acceptance speech, the show’s creators found plenty of time for Chris Rock to milk a feeble Girl Scout cookies bit. Do Thin Mints deserve more screen time than the screenwriting winners? And isn’t the trolling of the audience the same Ellen Degeneres bit involving pizza from a few years back?

And while much of what Rock said in his opener were words the Academy needed to hear, too much of the comedy in the rest of the show contained terms that do not reflect well on Hollywood’s biggest night. Comparisons were made to the porn industry not once, but twice. Getting in Rihanna’s panties was too ribald of a joke and a bit sexist on Rock’s part to boot. And Jared Leto not only mentioned merkins in his presentation, but he extolled the audience at home to Google the term. These jokes may qualify as modern humor but they sully the conclusion to an Oscar season that already was way too controversial.

In fact, the Academy Awards overcompensated in trying to correct the perception that its voting membership is too old and too white at almost every instance. From funny filmed bits with Tracy Morgan to Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs’ lengthy apology to time given to presenters like Kevin Hart and Lou Gossett, Jr. to throw in their two cents, the attempt to course correct dominated the show, and the accumulative effect felt overwhelmingly heavy-handed.

The audience in the seats appeared to laugh nervously through most of it, but it got to be too much of an endless scold and it showed on their faces. Indeed, it is a shame that the Oscars didn’t nominate one actor or actress of color this year, but it’s also a shame that so much of the focus on diversity during the broadcast ignored Hispanic, Asian-American, and LGBT talents.

The voters are one thing; the show is another. Perhaps the most shocking part of this telecast was that once again the Academy missed its chance to put on a sterling tribute for the gazillion eyeballs watching. Rushing winners off-stage, distracting ticker tape thank you’s, and dirty jokes did little to class up the show. And once again, the show failed to include some critical losses in the “In Memoriam” tribute. Where were the likes of George Gaynes, Amanda Peterson, Gunnar Hanson, and most egregiously forgotten, Uggie the dog, who was so pivotal to the success of the Oscar winning Best Picture of 2011 “The Artist.” The Academy is so boneheaded that they don’t even include the beloved canine actor who would have gotten a huge round of applause from an adoring audience in the Dolby Theater and watching at home.  In fact, such missteps and mistakes once again proved that despite its PR, resources and budgets, the Oscars still have trouble putting on a smart show.

Why can’t they? The Tony’s do it almost every year, and the Emmy’s often do too, so why can’t the biggest awards show on the planet truly rock? Even with its cutting edge host, and surprise winner after surprise winner Sunday night, the most shocking thing during the show remained the unevenness and tin ear of those putting on the broadcast. #OscarsTooCrass, no?

Saturday, February 20, 2016


Original caricature by Jeff York of "The Year in Movies 2015" (copyright 2016)
This year’s Academy Awards may be remembered best for two facts - one great, and one not so great. The positive fact is that this is the hardest race in decades to predict what film will take Best Picture. This year remains a battle for the top prize amongst three frontrunners - SPOTLIGHT, THE BIG SHORT and THE REVENANT. Any one of them could be called come the night of the 88th Oscars on Sunday, February 28th. That will render the Oscars exciting in a way they rarely are. Usually by now, we know most of the winners (we still do in the other categories) but this year, the top award defies certainty.

Yet, despite that and the slate's incredible group of nominations, the 2016 Oscars will likely go down in history for its dubious distinction of its membership not voting one actor or actress of color into the elite five of each of the four acting categories. Suddenly, a great year gets all but been dismissed by this egregious fact and a stinging, glib hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. 

The fact is that the Academy is too white and too conservative and too many members don't watch enough movies or screeners. Still, there are so may wonderful facts to laud amongst this year’s nominees. Here are some of them:  

Original caricature by Jeff York of Charlize Theron in MAD MAX FURY ROAD (copyright 2016)
Three of the eight nominees for Best Picture have female protagonists. ROOM, MAD MAX FURY ROAD and BROOKLYN all have women in the leads. And the Oscars saw fit to nominate a sci-fi movie (THE MARTIAN) and a dark comedy (THE BIG SHORT) for its top prize too. That's unusual. And wonderful.

The two films with the most nominations this year – THE REVENANT and MAD MAX FURY ROAD -  both star Tom Hardy. I’d say that actor, nominated for Best Supporting Actor for the former, is having quite a moment, no?

The veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins received his 13th Oscar nomination (SICARIO) which is a record for a living Director of Photography.

Original caricature by Jeff York of Daisy Ridley in STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (copyright 2016)
The five nominations that THE FORCE AWAKENS received has enabled STAR WARS to now tie the LORD OF THE RINGS series as the franchise with the most nods ever at 30.

At the tender age of 25, Jennifer Lawrence is now the youngest actor ever – male or female – to earn four Oscar nominations. She's up for Best Actress this year for her serio-comic work in JOY.

Leonardo DiCaprio now joins Marlon Brando, Peter O’Toole, Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino as an actor who has received five nominations by the age of 41. He garnered his fifth this year for THE REVENANT, of course.

Alejandro G. Iñárritu (THE REVENANT) is the first director since David Lean to be nominated for Best Picture and Best Director the year after he won both awards in the previous year's competition. 

Emma Donoghue (ROOM) becomes the first female writer to earn a screenplay Oscar nomination for adapting her own work.

Original caricature by Jeff York of Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett in CAROL (copyright 2016)
Carter Burwell, one of cinema’s greatest composers, was finally nominated for an Oscar for his marvelous music for CAROL. He should’ve been nominated many times before, for the likes of FARGO and TRUE GRIT, but finally the Academy has recognized his tremendous talent.

EX MACHINA is the lowest budgeted film ($15M), adjusted for inflation, to have received a Visual Effects nomination. And its AI character effects are not only stunning, they're seamless.

Cate Blanchett (CAROL) and Kate Winslet (STEVE JOBS) join the 'actress club' of those who've received seven nominations. Amongst those who have? The tony company of Meryl Streep, Bette Davis, Greer Garson, Jane Fonda, Geraldine Page, Judi Dench and Katharine Hepburn.

With BRIDGE OF SPIES earning six Oscar nominations, Steven Spielberg directed films have now earned 128 nominations, the most by any director ever. He breaks the previous record of 127 held by director William Wyler.

Original caricature by Jeff York of composer John Williams (copyright 2015)
With his nomination for the score of the new STAR WARS movie, John Williams now has earned 50 Oscar nominations, the most of any living nominee. Only Walt Disney received more in his time with 59.

So, bravo to the Oscars this year for their incredible accomplishments. But let's go back to that #OscarsSoWhite smite and the truth of the matter. As egregious as it is that Idris Elba wasn’t nominated for BEASTS OF NO NATION, or that Michael B. Jordan was overlooked for CREED, along with the Academy snubbing Oscar Isaac for supporting actor in EX MACHINA, and Benicio del Toro for the same award in SICARIO, Elba was  the only actor of color whom most Oscar pundits thought to be a shoo-in. The others were long shots. That's not saying that they've couldn't have been nominated and added more diversity to the lily white listings, but the odds were never in their favor. 

The fact is that there are too many outstanding actors and actresses every year that fail to make the cut of five in each of the acting categories, no matter what their ethnicity. Last year, the Academy failed to nominate such superlative lead actor performances as Ralph Fiennes for THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, Jake Gyllenhaal for NIGHTCRAWLER, David Oyelowo for SELMA, Ben Affleck for GONE GIRL, Ellar Coltrane for BOYHOOD and Miles Teller for WHIPLASH. Indeed, it's sad that Will Smith's terrific performance in CONCUSSION was passed over, but at least he’s in good company in the world of Oscar's omissions.

#OscarsCategoriesTooSmall, anyone?

And now, without any further ado, here are my best guesses for what will take home Oscar gold a week from today:

BEST PICTURE – THE REVENANT. After the DGA and BAFTA, it may have a slight edge.

BEST DIRECTOR – Alejandro Inarritu. It'll be two in a row. Wow.

BEST ACTOR- Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s finally his year.

BEST ACTRESS – Brie Larson. Tough competition, but she’ll prevail.

Original caricature by Jeff York of Sylvester Stallone in CREED (copyright 2015)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Sylvester Stallone. Deserving, actually. And who can resist the fact that he's been nominated for playing Rocky again, 39 years after he was up for Best Actor in '77? Ah, no one.

Original caricature by Jeff York of Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander in THE DANISH GIRL (copyright 2016)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Alicia Vikander. Her role in THE DANISH GIRL is a lead and that always helps. What helps even more? A lot of folks think she should be nominated here for her other great performance this year - EX MACHINA. Me too.



BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – THE REVENANT. It will be Emmanuel Lubeski’s 3rd in a row. Incredible!

BEST EDITING – MAD MAX FURY ROAD. How it was cut was so crucial to its success, and so obvious to even the most untrained eye.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – THE HATEFUL EIGHT. Not Ennio Morricone’s best score, but he’s never won in competition, and it will likely be too hard for the Academy to resist correcting such a slight. I'd have given it to  him for THE MISSION, THE UNTOUCHABLES, and THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG – “Till It Happens to You” from THE HUNTING GROUND. This is Diane Warren’s 8th nomination without a win, so she'll finally take the prize, with a little help from co-writer Lady Gaga.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN – MAD MAX FURY ROAD. Get ready to hear it announced as the winner for a ton of its technical prowess.



BEST COSTUME DESIGN – CAROL. I’d give it to Max myself, but the Oscars usually go with the prettiest costumes. Could be CINDERELLA too, if not the one I've predicted. Both are from the brilliant and ubiquitous Sandy Powell.

BEST SOUND EDITING – MAD MAX FURY ROAD. Almost all of that sound was created. 

BEST SOUND MIXING – THE REVENANT. It's tough recording sound outside, let alone in the wilderness. The Academy will likely notice and award accordingly.

BEST DOCUMENTARY – AMY. It’s a wonderful tribute to Amy Winehouse's talent and tragedy. And it has been winning everywhere else too.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM – SON OF SAUL. Any movie that has a Holocaust theme usually has an edge. It also helps that this film is terrific.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE – INSIDE OUT. The only sad thing is that it probably should’ve been up for Best Film too, but the Academy tends to keep animation out of such top categories.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT – WORLD OF TOMORROW. This was the funniest choice among the five. And even the edgiest in its way, so if it wins, the Academy will be very bold.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT – A GIRL IN THE RIVER. This category is always hard to predict, but this film about a murder investigation may very well have the advantage as its story is so utterly compelling. 

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT – SHOK. For my money, the winner here should be STUTTERER, but more often than not, the  Oscar goes for the heavier selections in this category. We shall see...

Those are my predictions. What do you think will win? Share your predix in the commentary section below. I'd love to hear what you think will prevail. And no matter, it should be a nail-biting broadcast in at least one way. I can't wait to hear what Chris Rock says about the diversity issues as well. #OscarHostSoSpotOn!