Tag Archives: 86th Academy Awards

Oscar 2014 – Post Script

By D.G. McCabe

Another awards season has wrapped up, with the majority of Grand Canyonscope’s predictions proving correct!  Well, except for Mr. Hublot’s win over Mickey Mouse in the biggest upset of the night (and a couple others, but we were taking underdogs with those picks).

Granted it’s been a couple of days, but I have two quick thoughts on Sunday night’s outcome.

It turned out to be an especially predictable Oscar telecast – as proven by the most buzzworthy moment being not Ellen DeGeneres’ quality hosting performance or any of the award winners.  After all, we knew most of those were coming.  No, the most memorable moment was a semi-washed up actor introducing one of the biggest stars in American theater, Idina Menzel.  She both spells and pronounces her name differently there, Vincent Vega.

I still think there is a strong argument to be made that Gravity will ultimately prove a more influential film that 12 Years a Slave, but it is a silly argument to make.  These are two powerful, artistic films that are successful for very different reasons.  We should count ourselves lucky that these films exist – and hope that the films they inspire are equal to their success.

(c) 2014 D.G. McCabe

Oscar Preview 2014 – Best Director and Best Picture

By D.G. McCabe

Here we go with the last two categories – Best Director and Best Picture.

Best Director

1. Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity

Alfonso Cuarón takes a fairly standard plot and uses innovative shots and an extraordinary setting to create a masterpiece.  The camera work is just one aspect of the skill needed in this one, since handling fewer actors for longer periods can be more difficult than managing many actors over shorter periods.

2. Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave

While Cuarón uses innovative methods to tell a familiar survival story, McQueen uses the established conventions of European cinema to tell a groundbreaking story.  McQueen doesn’t really push the creative envelope as much as Cuarón, and that’s why he will finish a close second.

3. David O. Russell – American Hustle

Russell is quickly establishing himself as the premier actor’s director in Hollywood.  He gets great performances out of his entire cast in American Hustle and, by now, I’m sure a-listers are lining up to work with him.  The construction of the film just isn’t up there with the top two, however.

4. Alexander Payne – Nebraska

Payne is another quickly emerging Hollywood auteur, and Nebraska continues a streak of well-shot, poignant, family dramas.  A solid effort from an up and coming director just doesn’t have the juice to win this year.

5. Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street

If Goodfellas (1990), Raging Bull (1980), Taxi Driver (1976), Gangs of New York (2002), and Mean Streets (1973) can’t get Scorsese a Best Director statue, this one certainly won’t either.

Best Picture

Here’s the top of the heap – the category that everyone is looking forward to and debating.  To be honest it’s a two horse race – but what a two horse race!

1. 12 Years a Slave

I had to separate in my mind the movie that I think is going to win from the movie that probably should win.  I don’t want to take anything away from 12 Years a Slave – it is one of the best four or five movies of the last ten years.  So is #2 on this list, however, which I felt was more innovative from a technical standpoint and therefore potentially more influential.  One has to take into consideration who is voting – a great portrayal of historical trauma is going to beat a genre thriller every time in the Academy’s mind.

2. Gravity

12 Years a Slave should be required viewing for anyone who wants to understand American history – and it will win on Sunday night because of that.  Gravity is a more impressive artistic achievement.  Ultimately, both these films will be watched and re-watched for years to come, but Gravity pushes the envelope of technical achievement in the most technically difficult genre – thrillers.  It’s a shame they both can’t win, as they are easily better than many of the best picture winners from recent years.

3. American Hustle

Anyone who thinks American Hustle can win is banking on a concept that the heavyweights will knock each other out.  It has happened before in Oscar history.  Arguably Al Pacino and Jack Nicholson’s greatest performances canceled each other out in 1974, allowing Art Carney to win.  American Hustle has gotten a lot of support from the Acting Branch as its SAG victory suggests.  It won’t happen – American Hustle is a very good movie, Gravity and 12 Years a Slave are great movies.  There’s a clear difference, and the Acting Branch can differentiate between great ensemble performance and great films in general.

4. Dallas Buyer’s Club

Like American Hustle, this one has strong performances.  Like 12 Years a Slave, it deals with historically traumatic social issues.  Unlike either of those movies, it feels disjointed and unfocused at times.

5. Nebraska

Rounding out our “this is all the nominees there should be” segment is Nebraska.  It is hard to argue against including it, but harder to argue that it really has that extra oomph to pull off an upset.

6. Captain Phillips

This one has a lot to commend it for, it is accurate and intense.  The Academy didn’t really like it though, as noted by Tom Hanks being left out of the Best Lead Actor race.

7. Her

This one had the potential for heavyweight status on Oscar night, but something just doesn’t feel right about it.  Great timely concept, check.  Up and coming director, check.  A-list performances, check.  Timely subject matter, check.  Resonated with audiences, meh, not so much.

8. Philomena

I can’t really comment on this film, beyond the fact that it doesn’t seem particularly noteworthy.  It may just another good film that gets nominated because the Academy likes it and we need 9 nominees for some reason.

9. The Wolf of Wall Street

Opening up the field to nine movies virtually guarantees that whatever movie Scorsese makes that year will get nominated.  The Wolf of Wall Street seems a bit too much like a remake of Casino set on Wall Street.  I haven’t seen it, so I can’t confirm that.  Based on mixed reviews and people I know who have seen it though,  I can tell you that if we had 8 nominees, it wouldn’t make the cut.

That’s it for Oscar Preview week!  Enjoy the ceremony on Sunday Night!

(c) 2013 D.G. McCabe

Oscar Preview 2014 – Best Actor/Actress

By D.G. McCabe

More acting Oscar fun!  It looks at first glance like a fairly competitive year, until you take a look at the results of award season so far that is…

Best Actor

1. Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyer’s Club

Who thought that McConaughey would be winning every award in sight, well, ever?  If you saw Dallas Buyer’s Club you’d know why.  His portrayal of Ron Woodruff, the AIDS afflicted roughneck and businessman, is at once heart-wrenching and funny.  Barring a major upset, he’s probably a shoe-in.

2. Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave

It’s a kind of a shame that McConaughey is the clear favorite, because in any other year, Ejiofor would win for his role as Solomon Northrup in 12 Years a Slave.  Still, despite McConaughey’s great performance, great performances alone don’t make legendary films.  We’ll be watching Ejiofor for many years for this one, and I don’t know if I can say the same for McConaughey.

3. Christian Bale – American Hustle

If there were an Oscar for miraculous transformations, Bale would win by a touchdown for his turn as Irving Rosenfeld.  Oh wait, there is an Oscar for that, Best Hair and Makeup, and American Hustle wasn’t nominated.  Way to go Academy, way to go.

4. Bruce Dern – Nebraska

I haven’t seen Nebraska, but Dern has been around forever and has a filmography longer than most screenplays.  I’m sure his performance as Woody Grant is great, but there’s just too much competition here to justify the occasional “lifetime achievement Best Actor Oscar” for Dern.

5. Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street

Haven’t seen this one, but it’s a Scorsese movie so I’ll check it out eventually.  Unfortunately Leo’s about to go 0-5, meaning he may have one of those “lifetime achievement Best Actor Oscars” in his future.  To be clear, this is what they gave Al Pacino for “Scent of a Woman” (1992).

Best Actress

1. Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine

Strange how the lead actor categories mirror each other this year.  Cate Blanchett has been winning everything in sight for her role as Jasmine, will probably win the Oscar.  However, Blue Jasmine does not appear to be in the highest pantheon of Woody Allen films based on the reviews I’ve seen.  Odds are will be seeing #2 a lot more in the future.

2. Sandra Bullock – Gravity

I haven’t seen Blue Jasmine, so I don’t understand how Bullock could not win for Gravity.   I guess the actors branch (SAG Awards) are the experts, but her performance as Dr. Ryan Stone is incredible, with an added degree of difficulty.  She was, after all, the only actor on screen most of the movie.

3. Meryl Streep – August: Osage County

I didn’t get a chance to check this one out.  I would never count Streep out, and I hope she gets one more Oscar before she retires (to tie Katherine Hepburn).  But this probably won’t be that year.

4. Judi Dench – Philomena

This is another one I didn’t get a chance to see, but I’ll repeat my above comment.  I hope Dench gets another Oscar, since she certainly deserves one, but once again, not this year.

5. Amy Adams – American Hustle

This nomination surprised me.  Of the ensemble in American Hustle, I found Adams’ performance to be the weakest.  She’s a great actor, that’s a given, but this one just didn’t connect with me as a great lead performance.

More preview tomorrow!

(c) 2014 D.G. McCabe

Oscar Preview 2014 – Documenataries

Documentaries!

By Katy Cummings

Since Dan asked me to do a guest spot in honor of the Oscar season, I thought I’d take a crack at the two documentary categories.  I’ve tried to pick my favorite as well as the one I think will win (for the Oscar pools).  Enjoy!

First up, the Feature Length Docs:

The Act of Killing:  This has to be one of the most unusual documentaries ever made.  Men who had been members of Indonesian death squads in the 1960s (who are now in high positions of power in the government), reenact their war crimes as sources of pride.  It was very hard to watch.  I wish the director had provided a little more context (for us ignorant Americans who knew nothing about the conflict), and also provided a little more narrative structure. It was innovative but ultimately not compelling enough for a win.


Cutie and the Boxer:
   This one was my personal favorite.  The tale of Japanese artist Noriko Shinohara  and his (I would argue) equally talented, long suffering wife Ushio had a lot to say about love, resentment, sacrifices, and self respect without ever getting preachy or grandiose. I would love for it to win, but I think it may be too small scale to get the Academy’s attention.

Dirty Wars:  My least favorite of the feature lengths, this is what happens when a great topic gets in the hands of a terrible filmmaker.  This story follows the investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill as he uncovers information about drone strikes and America’s secret wars.  I could not stand Scahill’s overwrought and self-important narration.  Brace yourself for clichéd lines like “I knew investigating this story would put my life at risk, but I had to go deeper.” I will be actively angry if the Academy chooses this, but I think it may be too political for their taste anyway.


20 Feet from Stardom:
  This was another great one and the documentary I’ll be betting takes home the gold.  20 Feet shines a spotlight on the women who have supported some of the greatest music groups of the last 60 years.  This is another movie, like Cutie, that allows personal stories to say a lot about large topics like music history, race, gender, and stardom.  Makes you think and feel all at the same time.

The Square:     I thought I would get around to watching this one this week, but unfortunately I have not L  I hear that it’s a really great from-the-ground perspective on the Egyptian revolution. I will definitely be watching it when I can, but I’m still putting my money on 20 Feet for the win.

And now, the Best Documentary Shorts:

CaveDigger:    Go see this movie right now. Seriously, here’s the link to it: http://vimeo.com/ondemand/9849.  This movie rocked my socks.  It’s about a man pursuing what he loves (art and digging caves) in the face of almost universal indifference and misunderstanding. His work is spellbinding and beautiful and I hope he makes a million bajillion dollars because of this movie. It’s not An Important Topic so I don’t know if it will win, but I’m picking it anyway because gosh darnit, it should.

Facing Fear: As much as I just ranted about CaveDigger (have you watched it yet??), this movie was pretty amazing too, and may have a slight edge for the win.  It tells the tale of a reformed NeoNazi who randomly meets a gay man whom he beat almost to death years earlier.  An incredible story about what it means to forgive others and to forgive yourself.

Karama Has No Walls:  This movie was basically raw footage from the ground during the Yemeni uprising in 2011.  I wish I could say I liked it better, but frankly the pacing was slow and it was kind of like watching a 40 minute long YouTube video shot on a hand-held cameraphone. Not my favorite.

The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life: I wanted to love this movie; I certainly loved the subject, 110 year old Alice, who at the time of filming was the world’s oldest living Holocaust survivor (sadly, Alice passed away last Sunday). She was a remarkable woman with an amazing reserve of optimism and perseverance (she still played the piano every day!!).  I wish the documentary had let her story stand on its own more, instead of relying on heavy-handed narration.  Still, it was a pretty good one, and I recommend watching it if you can to check out Alice’s amazing perspective on life.

Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall:  This movie made me want to commit suicide.  I guess I should say more about it.  It tells the story of a prison that runs a hospice for its oldest inmates primarily by using other inmates as volunteers.  We spend 40 minutes watching an old man die, with an extended shot of his corpse in a body bag at the end for good measure.  I could have skipped this one.  I don’t think it’s a winner.

That’s it.  Happy Oscar watching, everybody!

(c) 2014 Katy Cummings

Oscar Preview 2014 – Best Visual Effects

By D.G. McCabe

As an avid fan of “boom boom, smash smash,” I’ve always had a soft spot for the visual effects category.  Here’s a preview:

1. Gravity

Let’s see.  Visual Effects Society Award – check.  Most visually stunning film of the year – check.  Probably going to sweep some other technical awards – probably check.  I think we have our winner here.

2. Iron Man 3

Superhero films tend to do well in the visual effects category, and Iron Man 3 was quite a marvel (pun intended) to behold.  The final sequence of the film had a lot going on but didn’t suffer from motion blur, for example.  Another fine effort from the special effects team at Marvel Studios.

3. Star Trek: Into Darkness

I found the effects in this one to be a bit busy at times, but stunning nonetheless.  It certainly has higher grade special effects than the old, 60’s TV series.  No actors painted turquoise with antennae on their heads in this one!

4. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Great dragon!  But one great dragon does not an Oscar winner make, despite the pedigree of the studio behind said dragon.

5. The Lone Ranger

No I didn’t see this one.  No I don’t know anyone who did.  No I don’t have any plans on seeing it.  All I have to say is for as much money as they dumped into this turkey, it BETTER have some decent special effects!

(c) 2014 D.G. McCabe

Oscar Preview 2014 – Best Supporting Actor/Actress

By D.G. McCabe

Oh the acting categories.  Generally speaking these are considered to be the “glamor” categories, since this is what gives all the glamorous people an excuse to dress so glamorously.  Full disclosure – I haven’t seen all of these movies.  I’ll indicate which movies I’ve seen and which I haven’t.

Best Supporting Actor

1. Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

Saw this one. Jared Leto has been winning everything in sight this awards season, and with good reason.  Television badboy, above average rockstar, guy who is apparently obsessed with Japanese culture – none of this descriptors seem to indicate that Leto could succeed in the role of the tough drag queen, drug addict, and AIDS patient Rayon.  He nails it though, and if he wins on Sunday night, it will be well earned.

2. Michael Fassbinder – 12 Years a Slave

Saw this one.  Fassbinder hasn’t been winning much for this role – a villainous slave master and sexual predator.  In any other year I think he’d be a favorite, as his portrayal of Edwin Epps is monstrous and terrifying, but avoids the kind of mustache twirling that would tempt a lesser actor.

3. Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips

Didn’t see this one.  I can’t comment on Abdi’s performance, since I didn’t see his portrayal of Somali pirate Abduwali Muse.  Academy members love a rags to riches story though, and Abdi is a Somali immigrant from the upper midwest who was working as a limo driver before he was cast as a central character in a Tom Hanks vehicle.  Pretty compelling if you go in for that sort of thing.

4. Bradley Cooper – American Hustle

Saw this one.   Cooper should buy David O. Russell an expensive automobile, because if it weren’t for this and last year’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” I’m pretty sure he’d be relegated to rom-com/gross out comedy purgatory.   His turn as as the repugnant Richie DeMaso is quite a departure from his usual roles so far in his career.

5. Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street

Didn’t see this one.  It seems that Hill snuck in right under the wire for an Oscar nomination here.  I haven’t seen The Wolf of Wall Street, and knowing Scorsese’s history as a great manager of actors (maybe the best ever), I’m sure his take as Donnie Azoff is a worthy performance.  My prediction is that we’ll be wishing him better luck next time.

Best Supporting Actress

1. Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle

Saw this one. I know that the Screen Actors Guild disagrees with me, but American Hustle would be an above average period piece if it weren’t for Jennifer Lawrence.  As the dim witted Rosalyn Rosenfeld she adds humor to what could easily have been a fairly humorless and routine tale of deception and the death of the American dream.  I don’t think there have been many actors or actresses her age that could carry a film like that from a supporting role.

2. Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave

Saw this one.  I’ll admit that it’s a bit of a battle royale this category between Lawrence and Nyong’o.  Nyong’o if phenomenal as the abused slave Patsey, and draws the audience into her character’s tortuous life.  12 Years a Slave is a terrifying, night terror of a film, and Nyong’o’s performance is a big part of that.  It really depends on the taste of the Academy members for drama or comedy for this one.

3. Julia Roberts – August: Osage County

Didn’t see this one. Was this an excuse for the Academy to get Julia Roberts to come to their little awards ceremony and sit in the front row?  Maybe, but all the reviews I’ve seen indicate that she nails it as Barbara Weston-Fordham.  There are few actresses that can measure up to Roberts when she’s at the top of her game.

4. June Squibb – Nebraska

Didn’t see this one. Nebraska got some great reviews and seems to be a classic ensemble piece.  June Squibb plays Kate Grant, the wife/mother of the two main characters.  Squibb has had a long career, most of which is on stage.  Given that the Academy’s membership skews older and more classically trained, she could surprise some people.

5. Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine

Didn’t see this one.  The Academy likes performances from independent films – to a point that is.  Woody Allen’s films have been a notable exception – traditionally Oscar gold for actors and actresses of all ages.  I haven’t seen Blue Jasmine, but Sally Hawkins performance as Ginger is the latest in a long line of Allen nominees, including this year’s best Actress favorite, Cate Blanchett.

(c) 2014 D.G. McCabe

Oscar Preview 2014 – Animated Shorts

By D.G. McCabe

It’s that time of year again!  Between now and the Oscars we’ll be doing our annual Oscar preview articles, starting with this year’s nominations for animated shorts.  I’ve ranked them in order of how I think they’ll stack up for Academy voters.

Get a Horse!

This one should be familiar to patrons of Frozen (2013). It’s a revival of classic Mickey Mouse hijinks, before the character was made into a soulless corporate icon.  The animators even spliced in Walt Disney’s voice from Mickey cartoons made between 1928 and the 1940’s before he handed off the mouse’s voice work to other, presumably less rich, performers.  While the title of this website indicates that I’ve always been more of a Donald Duck fan, I enjoyed this one.  I also think the nostalgia value makes it the favorite.

Possessions

Anime hasn’t always played well with Oscar voters (a notable exception being 2001’s Spirited Away), but Possessions has the potential to be a rare winner for the artform.  It starts out a bit slow, but it is funny and engaging.  I would say that if Mickey doesn’t win, expect a win from this one.

Room on the Broom

The British love their Julia Donaldson adaptations.  Coming on the heels of 2009 Oscar winner “The Gruffalo” and its 2012 nominee “The Gruffalo’s Child,” this one is as charming and well animated as expected.  While it is good, I don’t think that the Oscar voters are necessarily going to warm to it as much as a new Mickey Mouse cartoon.

Mr. Hublot

Now comes the story of a robot man and his robot dog.  It’s kind of fun, but a bit slow, and frankly, a bit weird for most Oscar voters, who tend to be dodgy old folks with too much time on their hands.  I liked it, but I don’t think they will.

Feral

The animation in this one is beautiful.  It is the story of a boy who apparently thinks he’s a wolf, and apparently has magical powers of some sort.  It is obviously not intended to be logical, which probably hurts it with Academy voters despite the beauty of its animation.

(c) D.G. McCabe