Tag Archives: Academy Awards

Most Popular Film: An Idea

Yesterday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced a new Oscar category: Achievement in Popular Film. Many pixels have been broadcast on the pros and cons of this idea. If the Academy wants to go this route, there’s no think piece or celebrity rant that’s going to stop them. However, they should go all in with the idea. Here’s how:

1. “Nominate” the five highest grossing films of the previous year. For releases that straddle years, the Academy can institute a cut off of February 1. January and February are notoriously slow months at the movies anyway.

2. Allow the audience to vote during the show. Make it interactive!

3. Cut off the voting right before Best Director and announce the winner. This will isolate the “prestige” of the “big four” categories.

Thoughts?

(C) 2018 D. G. McCabe

2016 Oscar Nominations – Initial Reactions

And so we have it.  Eight Best Picture Nominees.  I’ve seen five of them, and have written reviews of two (Brooklyn and Bridge of Spies), and I’ll have reviews for Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, and The Big Short soon enough.  It’s early in Oscar/Awards season, but here’s what I think so far about the Best Picture Nominees in alphabetical order.

The Big Short

I liked The Big Short, but it isn’t getting a ton of buzz as a Best Picture favorite. It wasn’t nominated in a lot of other categories, and it hasn’t been a huge hit at the box office.  Assessment: A strong ensemble film about an important topic, but not really a contender.

Brooklyn

Brooklyn is a poignant and well constructed film, but much of its power rests on the performance of its lead actor, Saoirse Ronan.  If Ronan starts winning “Best Actress” awards, look out.  Otherwise, this one probably doesn’t have the narrative heft to overcome some of the other nominees.  Assessment: Possibly a contender, depending on how the acting awards go.

Bridge of Spies

If this movie had a new actor and director in the lead, everyone would be heaping praise upon it.  Unfortunately we hold Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg to otherworldly standards, so great for them doesn’t really cut it with the Academy anymore. Assessment: It unfairly won’t win anything.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Is Mad Max: Fury Road an excellent action film?  Certainly.  Is it this shocking revelation, the greatest action movie of all time?  I think that’s a bit much.  It’s good, but it won’t overcome favorites in more Academy-friendly genres.  Assessment: It’ll get some votes and could be a darkhorse, but I just don’t see it winning.

The Martian

The Academy loved Gravity (2013), and The Martian occupies the same narrative space.  However, it’s not quite the spectacle that Gravity was, so I think that works against it here.  Assessment: If Gravity didn’t win Best Picture, this won’t either.

The Revenant

The Revenant has gotten the lion’s share of the buzz in recent weeks, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s peaked too early.  I can’t comment on its merits since I haven’t seen it yet, so that might change my assessment.  Assessment: The early favorite.

Room

Room is getting some late buzz, and Brie Larson’s performance has been driving a lot of it.  I’m going to put this one in the same category as Brooklyn for the time being.  Assessment: Like Brooklyn, it depends on how the acting awards go.

Spotlight

Based on reviews and buzz, Spotlight is a prototypical Best Picture winner.  Based on a true, contemporary issue?  Check.  Strong performances?  Check.  Nominations in other categories?  Check.  It seems like the safe choice, and the Academy loves the safe choice.  Assessment: The favorite if The Revenant’s buzz starts to fizzle.

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe

Oscar Preview – “Big Four” Categories

It continues to be an unusually busy week – so in the spirit of “something’s gotta give” this post may be the only Oscar Preview post that I have a chance to write. Better discuss the Big Four Categories in that case:

Best Director

This feels like Richard Linklater’s year. I know Birdman has gotten a lot of buzz lately and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is just as accomplished, if not moreso, than Linklater. I’m still leaning toward Linklater.

It really is a tough choice. Granted last year was too, but Gravity and 12 Years a Slave are such different films that you could see a divergence between voters who emphasize storytelling and those who emphasize technical achievement. Birdman and Boyhood each have a little bit of both, so it’s harder to make a clear split between a director emphasizing story versus one emphasizing audiovisual artistry.

Yes Inarritu won the Director’s Guild Award, but the Director’s Guild has a much different composition than the Academy (the DGA has more members than the Academy’s Director’s Branch for example). I’ll go with Linklater here.

Best Actor

This is another close category this year. It comes down to Eddie Redmayne for playing Stephen Hawking versus Michael Keaton in Birdman. Redmayne has been cleaning house this award season and is the clear favorite. The Academy loves physical transformation and prestige biopics, so usually it would be a slam dunk for Redmayne.

I still think Redmayne is going to win, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Keaton did. The big trinity of Best Actor favorite aspects is typically physical transformation, prestige biopic, and career achievement. If you look at Best Actor winners over the years, the winner usually meets one of those three criteria. Redmayne meets two out of three, but Keaton beats him in the third one. It depends how many voters feel that Keaton deserves an award for his body of work and this is his last shot, while simultaneously feeling that Redmayne has a bright future and will get more chances. I don’t think a lot of voters think this way – but I could be wrong. In any event, Redmayne is the smart choice here.

Best Actress

There isn’t much question that Julianne Moore is the clear favorite. Physical (or at least mental) transformation, plus prestige biopic, plus career achievement would make her unstoppable here in most years. In this year she has those plus not winning an Oscar before plus having won every major award in the category this year. There are other fine performances in this category, but this one feels like a done deal.

Best Picture

I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen 7 of the 8 Best Picture nominees. Let’s start from the bottom and work our way up.

The Surprise Nominees

Whiplash is the one I haven’t seen, but it’s a bit of a surprise nomination. Surprise nominees don’t win Best Picture, especially in this era of 5-10 nominees. The same goes for The Grand Budapest Hotel, a fine film but once again, a surprise nomination.

The British Films

The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game are British performance pieces. These types of movies can really clean house at the Oscars (The King’s Speech (2010) and The English Patient (1996) being prime examples). It’s hard to see that happening this year with two such movies being nominated, effectively canceling each other out.

The Historical Dramas

Selma and American Sniper are excellent films. Both are the kind of films we may look back on one day and ask, “How did that not win an Oscar?”

The issue is that too many people have started looking at any film about recent history through a biased political lens – demanding a depiction of history that conforms to their understanding of how things really happened. Endless online editorials and think pieces from the likes of Slate, Salon, and the Washington Post reinforce this problem. This type of debate would be entirely appropriate if we were talking about two documentaries, but we are not.

Works of narrative film should not, and in many ways cannot, be viewed the same way as documentaries. Many of the best documentaries apply the concept of Cinema Verite, presenting fact without comment, with images speaking for themselves. The concept of Cinema Verite cannot by definition be applied to works of fiction. Yet here we are, criticizing two fine films because they do not depict history exactly as it happened (or as we like to think it happened). Unfortunately this likely means no Oscar for either Selma or American Sniper.

The Contenders

This leaves us with Boyhood and Birdman. Boyhood was cleaning up in early awards, Birdman has been doing so with more recent awards. This happened a little bit last year too, with 12 Years a Slave having early victories and Gravity (and oddly enough American Hustle) coming in late to have what was seen as momentum.

Having known my share of theater and arts people, such folks love films about themselves. This is how Saving Private Ryan lost to Shakespeare in Love in 1998. When in doubt, movie people are going to want to give themselves a pat on the back. In some ways, both Boyhood and Birdman give them the opportunity to do so.

Birdman shows that movie people care about art (despite what theater people think of them). It plays into concerns that artistic cinema is being crowded out by summer blockbusters. It uses a ton of tracking shots. It has an ambiguous ending. It stars a Hollywood veteran who has always been more appreciated inside the industry than outside the industry.

Boyhood is a lengthly passion project by a director who has always been more appreciated inside the industry than outside the industry. It shows that movies can be about regular people, allowing Hollywood to scream, “Hey we’re just like you!” The long production and continuity of the the final product demonstrates fantastic editing and directorial vision.

Let’s read the tealeaves and see what the Academy wants to tell us this year. Do they want to say, “Look we understand regular people,” or “Look we care about art?” It’s a battle of dueling movie industry insecurities. Since the Academy Awards are nothing if not an annual display of how much movie people supposedly care about art, this means Birdman will likely win.

Do I think Birdman is the best movie of 2014? No. Fellow nominees American Sniper and Selma are superior films, and time may look upon other 2014 films that weren’t nominated more favorably than Birdman. But if it’s between Birdman and Boyhood, the smart pick is Birdman.

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe

Oscar Preview Week – Visual Effects (Or, Yes We are Very Late)

Oscar Watchers!

The big show is coming up on Sunday night.  Yes this Sunday night.  It may surprise the whole 30 of you who read this blog and don’t know me personally that <gasp> rambling on about movies isn’t what I do for a living.  It’s been a busy week, but here we are.

I have seen 7 of the 8 best pictures.  But more on that later.  Now we start with Best Visual Effects.

Nominees: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Interstellar, Guardians of the Galaxy.

Holy sequels, Batman!  With Hollywood churning out big budget sequels like Twinkies, we’re going to see more and more of this.

Should Win: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. 

Like always, I will defer to the Visual Effects Society Awards, since they are the experts.   Like most moviegoers, I can’t pretend to appreciate the technical nuances of special effects.

Will Win: Interstellar.

I haven’t seen Interstellar but it’s the only non-comic book, non-sequel nominated.  There is a backlash brewing in Hollywood and I can see a lot of people picking this one because of what it’s not.  It’s a shame, since it wouldn’t win on the merits but rather because Hollywood types are getting sick of comic book movies.

(c) 2014 D.G. McCabe

 

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