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My Oscar Ballot 2013

It’s that time of year again.  Time to prognosticate about the Academy Award winners as best I can.  Unlike past years, this time around I feel like I’ve seen a lot more nominees than in past years.  Granted the expanded size of the Best Picture pool helps with that, but still – I did pretty well.  And I’m not done yet – we have plans to squeeze in another 2 or 3 films this week, but my ballot for the office pool is due, so I’m going to just lock in my picks now and go with my best guesses.  As always, the fine folks at EW helped me a bit on the shorts and the docs.

Best Picture – 7 of 9 films seen

What I’m loving this year is that very few categories, including this one, are a foregone conclusion.  There is a real horse race here, and if you’d asked me a couple of months ago, I would have told you Lincoln was just too strong not to win.  It’s got a mix that the voters love – historical fiction, strong acting, and Spielberg.  But the awards season has put a lot of momentum behind Argo, and once I saw it I understood why; and it’s getting my vote.  A BP winner that isn’t nominated for Director is rare, but if there was ever a year it could happen, this is it.  The dark horse here could be Silver Linings Playbook, which has a thinner plot, but acting that will knock your socks off (hence 4 noms for the leads).

Actor – 3 of 5 seen

Let’s be honest, there is one category this year that is a lock, and this is it.  Put your money on Daniel Day-Lewis for his deeply engrossing portrait of our 16th president.  Which is a shame, because Bradley Cooper is really amazing, and Hugh Jackman is…Hugh Jackman.  Need I say more about him?

Actress – 2 of 5 seen

I’m feeling guilty for being under-informed here, as I’ve heard how all the nominees were stellar this year.  I think we will very soon see Jessica Chastain pick up an award, and little Quvenzhané Wallis is fierce in Beasts of the Southern Wild, but this year I’m going with Jennifer Lawrence for her on-the-edge woman who can stand up to DeNiro.

Director – 4 of 5 seen

I’m going out on a limb here.  Steven Spielberg certainly made a great movie, and he’s got a lot of love out there.  But Ang Lee took what was deemed an unfilmable book and made movie magic.  He’s a creative visionary full of new tricks every time, and I’d love to see him win for Life of Pi.

Supporting Actor – 4 of 5 seen

This is a really tough category this year, as all the men I saw did a remarkable job with very different characters.  Alan Arkin was gruff but funny, Tommy Lee Jones was at his blustery best in Congress, and Christoph Waltz creates charisma and chemistry in vast amounts.  I originally was going to put my vote in Waltz’ corner, but I worry his role is too similar to what he last did for Tarantino.  So I’m going with Robert DeNiro, who showed vulnerability, emotion and compulsion in a way I’ve never seen before.

Supporting Actress – 3 of 5 seen

This one is Anne Hathaway‘s to lose, and a few of her speeches this season made me worry she would grate on voters’ nerves, and they’d go with the safer choice of Sally Field.  But I still think her scenes in Les Mis are so shattering she’s got what it takes to win this.

Documentary Feature – 0 seen

It sounds like a 3-way race this year – the critics adore the unraveling secrets of The Gatekeepers, or they like the tale of an artist’s second life in Searching for Sugar Man.  I’m going to bank on the momentum of LGBT activism this year, and vote for How to Survive a Plague.

Documentary Short – 0 seen

No idea, so I’m relying on EW and picking Inocente, about a homeless artist.

Foreign Language Film – 0 seen

I think it will get passed over in other categories, so this award will go to the Austrian favorite, Amour.  But Denmark and Chile have the dark horse chances here.

Animated Feature – 3 of 5 seen

All three films that we saw were pleasant and enjoyable, but I question if any of them is strong enough to win.  Brave certainly was a triumph of animation (her hair!), but from what I hear, Wreck-It Ralph hits the right nostalgic buttons and should win.

Cinematography – 4 of 5 seen

Some great vistas in several of these movies, but Life of Pi was a profoundly visual movie that comes alive on the big screen.

Makeup & Hairstyling – 1 of 3 seen

Sure it’s tough to make dwarves and hobbits, but I felt like all the bad oral hygiene and wild hairstyles in Les Misérables were disturbing enough to win this award.

Production Design – 3 of 5 seen

You might remember this category as “Art Direction” but basically think of it as sets, props, etc.  I felt like they really tried to go for it in Les Mis, but there were a lot of varied locations in Lincoln that involved some challenging set decoration, and I think it will win.

Original Screenplay – 1 of 5 seen

Shocking!  Only 1 seen!  And quite frankly I don’t see the script as the strength of Django Unchained.  The buzz is this will come down to a race between Zero Dark Thirty (which has been skirting controversy) versus Amour.  I’m going with the former, because I think the Oscar voters are above the petty criticisms against Mark Boal’s journalism.

Adapted Screenplay – 5 of 5 seen

I think this is really coming down to two book adaptations – David Magee adapting an “unfilmable” novel (Life of Pi), and Tony Kushner distilling a huge tome of a book on Lincoln.  While my heart is with the former (because I read the book), I think Kushner created strong, believable dialogue from an academic work.

Animated Short Film – 0 seen

With both Pixar and The Simpsons entering shorts this year, it could be a tough race.  My friend Emily swears by Head Over Heels, and EW says it will be Adam and Dog.  I think I’m going with the latter just because I like animals.

Live Action Short Film – 0 seen

I’m going with Asad, which is about Somali refugees, which is very topical.

Visual Effects – 2 of 5 seen

Usually this would go to a superhero blockbuster like The Avengers (after all, The Hulk is fully animated).  But the seamless integration of an animated tiger (and a zoo of other animals) in Life of Pi should take the award in its sizable teeth.

Costume Design – 2 of 5 seen

The ones I saw in Les Mis and Lincoln were good, but with this category you should always go with the showiest period drama – so this year it will be Anna Karenina.

Film Editing – 4 of 5 seen

No question for me – the relentless tension of Argo, particularly in the final 30 minutes, is a testament to the power of strong editing.

Sound Mixing – 5 of 5 seen

I’ve seen all 5!  So you’d think I would  be able to tell you the winner without hesitation, but this is one of the toughest categories for me.  That being said, I think a musical is already a tougher challenge for a sound mixer (sound effects + music + singing), and we all know by now that Les Misérables used live singing.  So it gets my vote.

Sound Editing – 4 of 5 seen

This is the one where sound effects themselves are recognized, and I once read you should always vote for the loudest movie.  Of the four films I saw, that means I need to go with Skyfall.

Original Score – 4 of 5 seen

Lots of good choices here, but I have to give my vote to Life of Pi.  When you consider that for long stretches the movie has no dialogue, it’s the visuals and the score that carry it forth to greatness.

Original Song – 4 of 5 seen (heard?)

The song from Ted was cute (and I loved the movie), but Seth McFarlane is going to have to settle for the honor of being host for the night.  I looked at ScottE when “Suddenly” came on during Les Mis and mouthed, “What is this?” and then realized it was the Oscar bait that was added.  And it was not that great.  The clear, unadulterated winner this year will be the fabulous Adele, with the title theme for Skyfall – one of the best Bond songs in decades.

So that’s it!  As I said, I’m not done watching these movies – I’ll most likely catch Zero Dark Thirty this weekend, one of the other animated features, and perhaps a third movie if I can squeeze it in.  I’ll post in the comments before the Oscar ceremony if I think these viewings would have changed my ballot at all, but my pool picks are now locked.

How about you – any favorites you think I missed?  Do you think Spielberg and Lincoln can pull out top honors?  And what are you most looking forward to during the broadcast?  Post in the comments, or respond via Facebook or Twitter!

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My Oscar Ballot 2011

The Oscars are tonight!  After checking out a few last-minute movies, I can now give you my Oscar picks.  Sadly I missed the shorts again this year, but I’ll do my best with my predictions. Feel free to post your own here, and we’ll see who does well!

I’ve been doing my best to catch up on the nominees, but there are only 5 categories where I’ve seen everything (same as last year!) – Director, Supporting Actress (we’re watching Animal Kingdom on DVD this afternoon), Art Direction, Cinematography and Sound Mixing.  But you know I do my homework and I never do worse than half.  So listen up!

Best Picture

Ten nominees still seems ridiculous – but at least this year they are all strong and well-reviewed.  We managed to get to nine of them, which I’m rather proud of.  After careful consideration, I really think the Academy is going to play it old school and honor the very worthy The King’s Speech, but of course The Social Network is the potential spoiler if young Hollywood exerts its influence.  Honestly I think a decade from now we’ll look back and wonder why Inception wasn’t considered a strong contender.

Best Actor

Last year I was hoping Colin Firth would win, and this year he will get it.  The Academy loves a male character that is overcoming a disability of any kind, and Firth is going to be honored for two strong roles two years running.  I will also tip my hat to Jeff Bridges who was really strong in True Grit.

Best Actress

Just like last year, the hottest contest amongst the acting categories is here.  It’s a shame that Jennifer Lawrence isn’t a front-runner, as she made Winter’s Bone what it is.  It’s also a shame Julianne Moore wasn’t nominated, as she was stronger than Annette Benning, in my opinion.  The winner will be Natalie Portman, for her fierce portrayal of one (or is it two?) fierce woman, while dancing like a true ballerina.

Best Supporting Actor

Two years running, this category is a an easy pick – Christian Bale all the way.  I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it, but his crack-addicted boxer/trainer is his best work to-date.  I’ll still give props to Geoffrey Rush, who in another year could have walked away with the prize for his excellent, excellent performance.

Best Supporting Actress

This category could be the most interesting of any this year.  The conventional wisdom for some time was that Melissa Leo had it locked up.  But after an ill-advised self-promoting ad campaign, I think voters reconsidered.  And if they really watched The Fighter, perhaps they recognized what I saw – that Amy Adams was in fact stronger in the movie.  So I’m going out on a limb here and say that the two actresses will split the vote, and running up the aisle will be newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who was charming, strong and quite funny in True Grit.

Best Director

It’s rare that the Academy splits the Director/Picture winners between two films, but it’s become increasingly common in recent years.  I see that trend continuing here, as David Fincher brought together many elements to make The Social Network so compelling.

Best Documentary Feature

I’ve only seen one of the nominees – it’s got buzz, and a director that will likely only show up to the ceremony in disguise – so it’s all about Exit Through the Gift Shop.  I have heard great things about Inside Job, but I suspect that Academy members are trying to forget the pain of the recession and move on.

Best Documentary Short Subject

This is a shot in the dark – I’ll go with Entertainment Weekly‘s prediction of Killing in the Name, which deals with the fallout from a suicide bomber in the Middle East, a very timely topic.

Best Animated Feature

Pixar is still the king – Toy Story 3 was another triumph.  Who didn’t cry watching it?

Best Foreign Language Film

The only one I’ve heard much about is Mexico’s Biutiful, but I’ll throw my hat in with the Golden Globe-winning Danish film In a Better World.

Best Cinematography

I would say three of the five nominees have a good shot at this one.  Generally I find the Academy likes to award a film that shows a lot of landscapes and imposing settings, so my gut says the winner is True Grit‘s visuals by Roger Deakins, a frequent nominee that has never won.

Best Original Screenplay

Really tough call.  Inception was so inventive, and The King’s Speech is certainly at the front of the pack.  I am most likely to be wrong in this category than any other, but I think there is going to be a consolation prize given to The Kids Are All Right, which was given a lot of praise when it first came out for presenting an original family.  That’s thanks to scribes Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Easy choice again this year – The Social Network was all about rapid-fire dialogue, written by the expert, Aaron Sorkin.

Best Visual Effects

If Inception doesn’t win, I’ll eat my new fedora.

Best Animated Short

This could go any direction – so why not an environmental piece – Let’s Pollute?

Best Live Action Short

Two of EW‘s writers said they think a strong contender is Na Wewe, which is set in Burundi.  Sounds great to me.

Best Art Direction

Several good options this year; I’m going to say it’s the striking colors and visuals of Alice in Wonderland.

Best Costume Design

Again, there were a lot of wild and fanciful costumes in Alice in Wonderland, so I think that will win (not much else to say about that movie, except it was pretty to look at).  Normally a period piece would win, but The King’s Speech is full of very subdued outfits, and the Academy will find True Grit‘s costumes to be too grungy (which is a shame, as I was impressed).

Best Film Editing

The true crime is that Inception wasn’t nominated here, even though it’s major sequence of overlapping dreamscapes was amazing.  That being said, the rapid shifts of time and place in The Social Network should win the prize.

Best Sound Mixing

Big explosions and lots of gunfire – Inception.

Best Sound Editing

See above – Inception.

Best Original Score

I’m actually hoping the Academy doesn’t award schmaltz, and instead gives a deserved award to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, whose score was a major reason The Social Network was so impressive.

Best Original Song

I can’t handle Randy Newman winning for another of his trite tunes!  So let’s give this one to Dido’s song from 127 Hours – “If I Rise.”

Best Makeup

The nominees here are not ones anyone has seen, so let’s assume it goes to the creature feature – The Wolfman.

So how about you folks?  How do your picks stack up?  Will young co-hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway knock it out of the park?

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Two overdue reviews

Here are a couple movies I saw several weeks ago, and I’m a bit behind in getting my reviews up on the blog.

Sex and the City 2

The critics have been brutal in talking about this movie, which I think has been somewhat unfair.  Although some of the issues are legit, on the whole I felt this movie did exactly what was intended – to provide a light-hearted escapist experience for die-hard fans of the show.  And in that, I think SATC 2 succeeded.

The plot, thin as it is, revolves around Samantha having an opportunity to travel to Abu Dhabi as the potential publicist for a luxury hotel.  This seems like the perfect opportunity for the girls to join her, as they are either escaping their troubles (Carrie and Charlotte) or enjoying new freedom (Miranda).  Hijinks ensue, of course.  Oh, and the whole movie starts with a super-gay wedding featuring Liza Minnelli singing a song perhaps best left alone.

One criticism of the movie, which I think is sound, is that this felt like a long episode from the series.  That brings with it the problem of potentially giving some of the girls the short end of the stick in the story department, which is certainly true this time around.  The movie is very much focused on Carrie’s marital struggles with Big and the unexpected appearance of Aidan.  And if Carrie drove you crazy in the series with her self-destructive behavior, then you’re in for a whopping dose of the same in this movie.  Meanwhile Charlotte gets the ‘B plot’ with her worries that she’s not the perfect mother and wife she wants to be.  That leaves Sam and Miranda with very short bits that are nice but lack any depth.

All that being said, the movie is still a hoot!  I went with “the girls” and we laughed hearty and often.  It was often over the top, and I’d say most of us didn’t care.  There was also a very good scene between Miranda and Charlotte which brought on laughter and tears.  I have a feeling that “SIP!” is going to become Miranda’s catch-phrase.

Overall, I liked the movie – it was a great time.  But it certainly wouldn’t stand on its own for those new to these characters.  For hardcore fans, this movie gets a B+.  But for non-fans, it’s a C.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Creating a movie based on a video game is sketchy at best.  We’ve seen many failures in the past (Mortal Kombat, anyone?), so one wondered what possessed the powers-that-be at Disney to greenlight this film.

Don’t get me wrong – Prince wasn’t awful.  There were a number of amusing moments, particularly from Alfred Molina’s turn as a Tea Party conservative from another age.  The desert views are all lovely – often done better than in SATC 2, actually.  And of course there is the wonder that is Jake Gyllenhaal’s abdominal area.  Perhaps just building a movie around that isn’t such a bad idea…

The plot is relatively simple – powerful Persia seeks to overtake a holy city that is accused of trading arms with the enemy.  Three brothers disagree, then fight, some people die, and there’s a lovely princess.  Throw in a dagger that can turn back time a few moments and you have a fantasy yarn.

But the direction is heavy-handed and a number of the actors just phone in their performances.  One also wonders why the whole of Persia speaks with such pronounced British accents.  I also felt like the action sequences were uneven – while some kept you in the moment, others just seemed dull and uninspiring.

This might be a decent movie for a rental, but I’d say skip it on the big screen unless you have a dire need to see Jake in all his super-sized glory.  I give it a C+.

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Iron Man 2 review

Iron Man 2

I had the chance to see this sequel with my brother and his wife.  We’d seen the first film together, so it seemed appropriate.   And although I didn’t really expect it to live up to the fun of the first, would it be close?

Not so much.

The main issue with this movie is pacing – the story is just too long to kick into high gear.  While the first one moved along at a good pace filling in the details of Iron Man’s origin, this one dwelt too long on the plight of Stark Enterprises.  And even when the story did really get going, it went along the path of heavy action, typical of a summer blockbuster.  The first film excelled due to a lot of witty repartee and surprising situations.

Despite the script, the cast does the best they can with what they have to work with.  Robert Downey Jr. continues his duty as that guy that you either love or hate.  Gwyneth Paltrow does an admirable job with her increased role as Pepper Potts.  And Sam Rockwell plays a sleazeball to the hilt – we know he must be a jerk because his palms are orange from self-tanner.  (And he sounded so much like one of my co-workers, it was disturbing.)

Most under-utilized in IM2 is Scarlet Johansson, playing the part of Black Widow, although that particular name never comes up.  Unfortunately she’s stuck just doing a few “gotcha” poses in tight lycra, which doesn’t live up to what that character was in comic books.

So let’s get down to brass tacks – should you see this movie?  You might want to, especially if you liked the first, or enjoy superhero movies.  It’s fun, and you’ll have a good time, but perhaps not a great time.  Should you rush out and see it in the theater?  Only if you love big action sequences with lots of explosions.  But if you crave a good story to go with your popcorn, wait for the DVD.

My grade – B

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Logorama

Here is this year’s Oscar winner for Best Animated Short film, Logorama.  WARNING!  This contains strong language and violence.  Not appropriate for the kiddies.

Click here to check it out.

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Alice in 3D

Alice in Wonderland

We had one of those unfortunate viewing experiences when we went to see this movie last weekend.  The house was mostly packed and behind us was an incredibly obnoxious family complete with a kid that wouldn’t stop coughing on ScottE‘s neck.  Which is why I’m convinced he’s had “the plague” the last few days.

So it’s remarkable that despite the bad environment I still enjoyed the film.  It wasn’t amazing but excelled in the areas I expected it to.  Under the direction of Tim Burton you knew that it would be a little bizarre and almost creepy.  The personalities were bigger than life.  And the weirdness of Lewis Carroll’s characters was that much…weirder.

The script is an amalgamation of Carroll’s two Alice books, which made the story itself a bit odd and meandering.  It lacked substance and the bookend stories of Alice’s life outside Wonderland (called Underland in this movie) seemed odd and out of place.  My other disappointment was with Mia Wasikowska in the lead – she was a bit milquetoast and didn’t seem as wide-eyed with her environment.

Fortunately the characters of Underland were clever and richly drawn.  Johnny Depp is truly off his rocker as the Mad Hatter and so is his erstwhile companion, the March Hare.  Helena Bonham Carter is a delight as the big-headed and vitriolic Red Queen, while Anne Hathaway floats around to the point of absurdity as the White Queen.  But my favorite by far was the Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry) – he made you wish you could just fade in and out like that at will yourself!

The animation throughout Underland is top-notch and you’ll be dazzled by the colors.  Which may lead you to ask – is it worth seeing in 3-D?  My answer is – not really.  I felt like so much more could have been done and instead the 3-D filming was done as an afterthought.  In the future I’m keeping in mind that if a 3-D presentation wasn’t the main goal of the director (e.g. Avatar, Coraline), then it’s not worth the extra bucks.

Overall this is a good film, but not a great one.  I give it a B.

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Photo courtesy ABC/Rick Rowell

 

Another year has come and gone for the Oscars, which culminated in last night’s underwhelming broadcast.  Like any year it was not without some moments worth watching.  So in case you missed it or took a potty break at a crucial moment, I’m here to tell you the best and the worst from last night’s ceremony and the red carpet.

Best Dress in a Leading Role

Amongst the flurry of ruffles that clung to actresses this year, I was more interested in those that chose sleek chic.  Tough to pick just one winner, but I’m going to go with Amanda Seyfried in this Giorgio Armani Privé gown that struck a lovely angle across the skirt.  Covered in Swarovski crystals, this was an elegant stunner.  Her hair and makeup were also very appropriate.  Honorable mentions go out to Queen Latifah, Penelope Cruz and Sandra Bullock who each wore very different dresses which flattered their figures.

Worst Dress in a Supporting Role

Love me some Sarah Jessica Parker.  But this dress is truly horrid for her.  She deserves better support (and shape) from her couture.

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Photo courtesy AP/Matt Sayles

 

Worst Dress in a Leading Role

What the hell was Charlize Theron thinking with this thing?  It’s as if someone sprayed lavender Easy Cheese on her breasts.

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Most Comfortable on the Red Carpet

Gabourey Sidibe, who gave the most amazing quote to Ryan Seacrest when asked about her lovely Marchesa gown.  “If fashion was porn, this dress is the money shot.”  You go, girl!  We really should be friends, because I think we’d have fun hanging out.  I’m just saying.  Call me!

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Most Uncomfortable on the Red Carpet

I could care less about Miley Cyrus (seriously, why is she invited?) but whatever stylist put her in this too-tight corset should be flogged.  Or perhaps rewarded.  It depends on your perspective.

Best Acceptance Speech

Perhaps she was just given the award for her body of work as a whole, but you have to love Sandra Bullock’s speech.  Anyone that throws in not one, but two references to making out with Meryl Streep (as she infamously did at the SAG awards) is a winner.  She also gets kudos for what she did at the Razzies.

Dullest Acceptance Speeches

Sorry to the sound guys, but you kind of sucked.  I’m all for relegating those two categories to the technical awards.  Think of it this way – you get a hot presenter!

Best Impression of Kanye West

Elinor Burkett who was a producer for Live Action Short Film winner Music by Prudence got into some weirdness with the movie’s director – read more about why it all went down here.

Worst Hosts

…in a long time.  Someone please bring Ellen Degeneres back ASAP.

Dead People Faux Pas

I know that the producers have to cut down on who gets included.  But to not even acknowledge Farrah Fawcett or Bea Arthur is questionable at best.  Maybe they were more known for TV, but still…  And what was with the mega-montage for John Hughes?  How does he rate?  And what sadistic stylist dressed Molly Ringwald?

Score is 0 – 1

Adam Shankman was a producer, so no surprise he tried to bring back the big choreography numbers to go along with the Best Score nominees.  Naturally he threw in a bunch of his favorite dancers from So You Think You Can Dance.  And although that’s fun for a fan of that show (It’s Kayla! Wasn’t that Ade?), the choreography itself was baffling.

Most Inspiring Presenter

No one can turn a moment into something completely monumental the way Oprah can.  She almost made me cry!

Most Unnecessary Change

Please tell me what having 10 Best Picture nominees really did for the show.  Were more people watching because An Education or A Serious Man was nominated?  I think not.  And even if they did tune in because they loved District 9, how fulfilled were they to watch it lose in every category for which it was nominated?

Classiest Winner

Nobody does it quite like Mo’Nique.  A woman who is redefining what it means to be a star in Hollywood.

One Small Step for Womankind

You knew she was going to win the minute Barbra Streisand walked out as a presenter, but it’s no less historic for Kathryn Bigelow to take home the Best Director award.  Say what you will about her movie, but I do think she deserved it.

So that’s my quick recap – what did you think?  And how did you do on your Oscar picks?  I did rather well on mine, getting 16 out of 24 correct this year.  Had I listened a bit more to Entertainment Weekly‘s predictions, I could have scored closer to 20!  But it was enough for me to tie in my office pool, so I’m happy.

Now we return to the rest of the year in movies.  First on my list – Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.

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