Posted on | May 4, 2015 | Add Comments
Filled with clever comedic character moments, noisy and never-ending battle sequences, and clues to where the franchise is headed next, Avengers: Age of Ultron may just be the most Marvel-y Marvel movie yet. On paper, that makes the movie sound sort of unbearable. (One of the best Marvel movies, Captain America: The First Avenger, felt little like one). Ultimately, that is exactly what makes the movie so entertaining.
Director Joss Whedon, totally exhausted by the all the expectations and pressure and guidelines thrust upon him, makes no attempt to challenge our notions about the superhero genre. Or to comment on the complexities of modern America. Or even to inject some fresh new ideas into the Marvel Universe. All he wants to do is make a solid, sturdy, slam-bang, good ol’ fashioned action movie. Assuming that was his only intention, he’s succeeded. And while I still left wanting more, and wondering what more is left for a director to do with Marvel, this is undeniably fun stuff.
Whedon’s script for the movie is centered around four or five enormous action set-pieces, all of which are loud, long, and explosive. Everything else in the movie (the comical team banter, an unexpected romantic plot-line, subtly revealing flashbacks) is structured around those action scenes. This is a classic action movie structure, and the actual plot is a classic doomsday adventure. The movie kicks into gear when Tony Stark/Iron Man and Bruce Banner/Hulk try to end all violence with an AI peace program, though they keep the plan a secret from the rest of the team. Sooner than later, things go terribly wrong and an evil robot named Ultron is stumbling around and discussing his plans for world domination. So, the Avengers are forced back into action in order to stop the end of the universe.
Hold on, isn’t that basically the plot of the first Avengers? And couldn’t that same basic storyline (team of superheroes overcome differences to save the galaxy) apply to Guardians of the Galaxy? The answer is yes, and yes. In terms of plot, there isn’t anything startling or new here. Not that Whedon doesn’t really seem to care. He also doesn’t bother investing any of the action scenes with any clever choreography or calming coherence (the scenes with a potential “wow factor”, like a Hulkbuster suit donned by Iron Man, were revealed in the trailers).
What does Whedon care about? The characters. It’s always been the little moments that stand out in these films, and the best sequences in Age of Ultron are the quieter ones. Hawkeye, Hulk, and Black Widow were shoved to the sidelines in the first Avengers movie, so it’s both fitting and gratifying that they’re given starring roles this time around. Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, and Scarlett Johanson are all more confident in their roles, and Whedon has given them all fine storylines (I can’t say anything more, for fear of spoilers). Ultron (voiced with a touch of wit by James Spader) isn’t a great villain, though he’s not a bad one either. But Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, two damaged twins with great power, are fine new additions to the series.
Unfortunately, that means Iron Man, Captain America, and Thora are all given less to do. Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans (as Thor and Cap) have never been charismatic scene-stealers, so it’s not exactly a shock that their characters’ earnest cluelessness fades into the backround. On the other hand, Robert Downey Jr. has always been the best thing about Marvel movies; surrounded by CGI blurs, he always brings knowing and needed personality. His performance here is easily his most mailed-in, least invested yet (which is not to say he doesn’t get some fine one-liners). You can’t really blame him, though. Seven years ago, the first Iron Man movie gave him a shot at rebooting his career. There’s no doubt he’s thankful for the superstardom these films have afforded him, but he seems a little worn down by it.
What do you I have to say about the movie’s finale? It ends with thirty minutes of things going boom, as every Marvel movie does, and it left me a bit exhausted. Will a Marvel movie ever end another way?
Age of Ultron has a lot going on in it, more so than any of it’s predecessors. It does not, however, have much to say. Whedon has made a highly efficient, largely effective action spectacle…and nothing more. The resulting movie is a good summer popcorn flick, and that’s a compliment. But the strength of a Marvel film can often be measured by whether or not, walking out of the theater, you are left excited for more. Am I? Not particularly.
Posted on | May 2, 2015 | Add Comments
TIFF Kids, a Toronto kid’s film festival (one of the world’s largest), is a twelve day spectacular of contemporary children’s cinema, collected from all around the world. Flick and Flack attended for their fourth time this year and managed to see some notable films. Here, Flack writes about three standout movies from his weekend in Canada.
Operation Arctic has one unbelievable, sort of ridiculous, insanely intruiging premise: a teen girl and her two younger twin siblings hide away on a helicopter in an attempt to locate their missing father, then end up stuck in Arctic Norway. With no one else around and a limited supply of canned foods to live off of, the dire situation only gets worse as polar-bear attacks and and harsh weather dampen the hopes of the three siblings. Go along with the over-the-top story of the film and you’ll be delighted by a well-executed, old-fashioned adventure yarn. The frigidly beautiful cinematography and some gripping bear battles are highlights.
Many of the best documentaries focus on topics that seem uninteresting and odd, but manage to turn them into riveting and informative films. Top Spin does just that. The doc follows three teen table-tennis players as they compete for a spot at the Olympics, balance school with sports, and discuss the joy and pain of competitive sports. It has all the boiling suspense and riveting action of a great sports movie, but with thoughtful, poignant interviews to add some depth.
Belgian sci-fi adventure Labyrinthus has it’s flaws, but manages to surprise more often than one would expect of a big-budget family film. The adventure begins when Frikke, an average teen, picks up a mysterious camera left behind by a masked biker. He soon realizes the object holds the keys to a dangerous but compelling video game, inside of which a young girl is trapped. Frikke is the only one capable of saving the girl, and it’s up to him to locate and stop the creator of the game. Labyrinthus is a bit like a digital-age update of Jumanji, though it’s darker in tone than that film. The multi-stranded plot does have some weak stretches, and most attempts at humor fall flat, but this is still a refreshingly imaginative adventure.
Posted on | April 15, 2015 | 1 Comment
Last year, we wrote and directed Amelia, a five-minute sci-fi drama. We shot it on location in Rhode Island. Now we’re thrilled to have the film accepted into Chicago’s CineYouth film festival. Amelia will play in the Drama Club shorts collection on May 9. Click here for more details.
Posted on | March 16, 2015 | 1 Comment
Some documentaries can be sloppily filmed, perhaps slightly unclear, or maybe even poorly constructed and still win me over because of their captivating subjects. But the best docs accompany their fascinating stories with filmmaking savvy, a unique point of view, and possibly an inventive spin on the genre.
Seymour: An Introduction, which opened in limited release last week, falls somewhere in between those two categories. It’s an intimate, ponderous, lovely examination of music, work, and life, directed with surprising and attentive subtlety by actor Ethan Hawke. There’s not a lot of cinematic flair here, but that’s a good thing. Hawke is rarely on screen and, instead of turning the movie into a movie-star showcase, he lets his subject do the talking.
Several years ago, he was at a dinner party when he found himself seated next to Seymour Bernstein, a piano virtuoso who stopped performing live at age 50 to teach students his instrument. Impressed by his kind, conversational dining companion, Hawke confided a new fear of stage fright to Bernstein, who had experienced similar feelings. Eventually, the actor realized this guy would make for a fine film subject.
And he does. Warm and slyly funny, endlessly talkative and erudite, Seymour is exactly the kind of person you would want to listen to for 90 minutes. Hawke paints this portrait of his subject by weaving together several sequences: a lunch discussion between Bernstein and a former student/New York Times writer; footage of piano lessons; and interviews in the man’s home (he’s lived in the same NYC apartment, alone, for fifty years).
This simple, straightforward approach allows lots of time for Seymour to discuss his opinions on classical composers, concert tours, the beauty of nervousness, the intense correlation between an instrument and it’s player, and the primal necessity of music.
Most directors would try to fill us in on every aspect of Bernstein’s life, but Hawke avoids such biographical predictability (likely either because of his politeness or Bernstein’s privacy) in favor of an informative approach that feels more riveting than introductory. At times, Seymour: An Introduction has the charming comfort of a big, warm hug. It’s not all absorbing entertainment; Bernstein tears up discussing his experiences in the Korean War, and chances are you’ll do the same. The movie moves covers a lot of history and skips between several sequences, but it steadily holds onto a relaxed, low-key, but provocative tone. As soon as you’ve seen the movie, you’ll want to mull over it’s ideas with friends and family. And then? You’ll be itching to start practicing an instrument.
So, that’s my take on the film, which I got the chance to see at NYC’s IFC Center. Afterwards, the audience was treated to a Q&A with Hawke and Bernstein no less insightful and delightful than the film. Hawke discussed his reasons for making the film, while Bernstein told sometimes hilarious, sometimes illuminating stories that were left on the cutting room floor. I walked away with a smile on my face and a head full of new ideas.
Posted on | March 2, 2015 | Add Comments
Breezy and light but undercut with a stinging melancholy, Catch Me If You Can (2002; available on iTunes) finds Steven Spielberg straddling between drama and comedy, and creating a classy, perfectly constructed based-on-a-true-story 60′s caper. It’s seems like an odd choice for Spielberg to direct at this point in his career; it is neither an “Important” historical drama that reasserts his brilliance nor a fantastical adventure that again proves his powers as an entertainer. Doesn’t matter. It’s hard to imagine a more delightful, thoughtfully made late-career film from one of our great working directors.
Adapted from the eponymous non-fiction memoir by the film’s subject, Frank Abegnale Jr., the film begins with a clever game-show scene that gives us our first glimpse of Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio). After a few scenes from 1969, which give us a look ahead, the film skips back to 1963. Frank is a teenager living happily with his loving parents Frank Sr. (Christopher Walken) and Paula (Nathalie Baye) until money problems threaten their middle-class bliss. The family moves out of their spacious home and into a smaller apartment, and then Paula cheats on her husband. The two divorce and Frank, moody, confused, and horrified, runs away from home.
There are two early scenes in the film that hint at where Frank’s life is heading. In the first, his father gives him a cheque book as a birthday gift and tells him he can have anything he wants. Later, Frank is bullied at his new school. Then he walks into French class and convinces everyone he’s a substitute teacher, until his parents are notified. Yet these are mere glimpses of what Frank is capable of. After running away from home, he pretends to be an airplane pilot and gets a job at Pan-Am. Then he forges cheques listing the airline company’s name, and gets away with stealing millions of dollars. And then he gets a job as a doctor, saying he went to medical school. And then he gets a job as a lawyer saying he went to law school. The entire film has this absurd, but absurdly entertaining, “And then he did this” flow, partly thanks to the relaxed and entirely cohesive script by Jeff Nathanson. Within the space of a half-hour of screen time, we see him go from innocent, contented boy to a bittered son of separated parents to man of luxury, riches, and happiness. But is he really happy? Frank asks out a stewardess, spends a night with a prostitute, and occasionally meets up with his dad, but he never settles anywhere or with anyone. Things won’t stay like this forever, of course, and it’s not long before a humorless FBI agent named Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) is on Frank’s trail.
Spielberg is on peak form here, swiftly switching gears from ridiculous rich-kid comedy to equally ridiculous cat-and-mouse caper comedy. He clearly relishes the chance to do a 60′s period film and the attention to detail (the Aston Martin Frank cruises around in, the Pan-Am clothing, the spacious suburban houses) is just right. So are all of the actors, especially DiCaprio. As Frank, he’s slick and crafty, a skilled smooth talker. But DiCaprio infuses the role with undertones of guilt, sorrow, and loneliness that make us feel sympathy with him to the end. Hanks has surprisingly little screen time, but makes the most of it by taking the role of goofy government agent and going a little deeper. Walken is also great as the well-meaning but delusional father, and Amy Adams has a fine supporting part as an innocent love interest.
There’s top-notch work all around here, from cinematographer Januz Kaminski, who deftly switches from sunny and optimistic to cool and dark, from John Williams and his suspense-bulding score, and from legendary opening-credits designer Saul Bass, who has a great title sequence here.
Still, it’s Spielberg’s balancing of tones that keeps the whole thing marvelously afloat. There are moments of sorrow and depression and we do get our heartstrings sufficiently pulled. But Spielberg also knows not to dwell on the darker aspects of the story for too long. Instead, he keeps the movie flying smoothly and steadily, like one of the Pan-Am planes Frank pilots. Catch Me If You Can may appear to be a “minor” work by a great director, yet it entertains us (without dinosaurs!), moves us (without Nazis!), and holds us in utter fascination for it’s entire two-and-a-half hour length, not unlike Frank held bankers, pilots, doctors, and the government in awe.
Posted on | February 24, 2015 | Add Comments
Despite plenty of surprise Oscar winners, Neil Patrick Harris’ 87th Annual Academy Awards show often felt safe, sometimes sedate, and comfortable with being fine but forgettable. Sure, there were the inevitable offensive jokes (“American Sniper with Bradley Cooper. The most prolific sniper in history, with over 160 confirmed kills. Or, as Harvey Weinstein calls it, a slow morning.”) But for most of the show Harris settled for innocuous predictability.
That’s not, however, entirely a bad thing. The opening number, “Moving Pictures”, was an ode to the escapist and inspiring power of movies, with costumed extras, clips, and a cameo from Anna Kendrick. It was rather delightful and, after so much controversy, refreshingly uplifting. Unfortunately, we’ve seen this kind of thing (host appears inserted in movie scenes and tells us how great movies are) performed at countless other Oscar shows. And though this year’s crop of nominees would’ve provided plenty of joke material, Harris opted to honor classic films we’ve seen countless times. Where were the Boyhood jokes? The pre-recorded video where Neil Patrick Harris grows up over twelve years? Where he marches along side MLK? Fights alongside Bradley Cooper? Luckily, a crotchety Jack Black interrupted Harris midway through with a hilarious song about Hollywood’s superhero problem.
On the whole, it was an enjoyable opening number. But almost immediately, it became apparent the show had major script problems. Around half of Harris’ jokes fell flat. The back-and-forth quipping between presenters was often awkward and stiff (Kendrick and Kevin Hart seemed to barely acknowledge each other). Worst of all was a prolonged briefcase gag that didn’t reveal it’s unfunny punchline until the last minutes of the show. Why did Harris’ “predictions” turn out to be a recap of the show’s big moments? My guess is the producers wanted to catch up viewers who tuned in at the end on everything that already happened (isn’t that what Twitter is for?).
To the producers’ credit, there were some truly winning moments. Lady Gaga toned down her antics but wowed with her astonishing voice during a 50th anniversary medley of The Sound of the Music, and Julie Andrews came out to congratulate her. Otherterrific musical performances included Tim McGraw’s tearjerking rendition of Glen Campbell’s “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” and Adam Levine’s flawless falsetto on Begin Again‘s “Lost Stars”. (Jennifer Hudson’s sorta bland In Memoriam number and Tegan and Sara’s candy-colored “Everything Is Awesome” spectacle were less awesome). The night’s high point came, as I had expected, when John Legend and Common performed their Selma song “Glory”. With Legend’s impeccable voice, Common’s rhythmic rapping, a soulful chorus, and lyrics that mention Ferguson, it was a poignant and undeniably affecting highpoint.
Neil Patrick Harris’ highpoint, meanwhile, came around halfway through the show. In a live video clip, Harris was shown backstage, struggling with a bathrobe caught in the door. Reluctantly, he walked away, dropping the bathrobe and clad only in underwear. Within seconds, clued-in cinephiles got the reference: Michael Keaton’s near-naked Times Square walk in Birdman. It was totally hilarious, and it only got better when Harris pushed the face of an anxious reporter away and then told a drumming Miles Teller “Not my tempo”. This type of movie in-joke comedy was sorely missing from much of the rest of the broadcast, but triumphed here.
As for the actual awards, I didn’t totally triumph with my predictions; I correctly forecasted 15 out of 24 categories. For the first ten or so, I guessed every one right (surprisingly, I did best in the technical categories and even correctly guessed the Best Documentary Short category). Though many of the big categories turned out different than I’d expected, in many ways, I wasn’t surprised. I predicted voters would award Original Screenplay to Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel, but they instead opted for Birdman (great dialogue, memorable characters). And I was wrong in thinking Whiplash‘s examinations of ambition and perfection would garner it the Adapted Screenplay prize; the award went to the tightly structured The Imitation Game. J.K. Simmons, Patricia Arquette, and Julianne Moore, respectively, all seemed to have won the Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Actress awards before the show began, and they all collected their trophies. Best Actor, meanwhile, didn’t go to Birdman‘s Michael Keaton (I thought that would be a sentimental career-achievement sign of respect) but to The Theory of Everything‘s Eddie Redmayne, who physically transformed himself for the role of ALS-suffering scientist Stephen Hawking.
And then there were the two biggies: Best Director and Best Picture. I predicted Boyhood would win both, or perhaps Birdman would nab one of the two. Wrong. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s dazzling dramedy walked away with both, again proving the Academy’s love for showbusiness stories (Shakespeare in Love, Chicago, The Artist, Argo etc.). As Oscar writer Mark Harris mentioned in an article, the Academy undoubtedly connected to the film’s story of a faded blockbuster star trying to prove his artistic integrity with a daring new project Hey, we can do more than superheroes, was the message conveyed by the win.
Boyhood‘s story (kid grows up) seems more universally relatable, since everyone was once a kid growing up and not everyone was once a very unstable movie star. But the Academy chose to go with a story personal to them. Boyhood may have been too slow, uneventful, artsy, maybe too good for the Oscars. Make no mistake, I thought Birdman was brilliant, but it just wasn’t Boyhood. No movie is, and that’s not only because of the filming-for-12-years thing. It’s the kind of film you feel genuinely lucky to have seen and truly grateful that someone thought to make it. Ultimately, Linklater’s movie walked home with a single Oscar (for Arquette). The one-time frontrunner lost a few key prizes and was left with as many prizes as…How to Train Your Dragon 2!? Birdman‘s final tally was a respectable four wins, tying with The Grand Budapest Hotel (which swept many technical categories) for the most. Whiplash also was next, with three wins; Boyhood and the other four Best Picture nominees each won a single award.
Finally, I want to discuss up the Academy’s struggle with race, which has been a topic of discussion since Selma was largely shut out of the nominations. How did the show handle it? Much the way the largely white SNL did, during their 40th anniversary special: a few mildly awkward, pretty funny jokes and then quickly sidestep the issue. ”Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest…I mean brightest” Harris joked during his opening line. Pretty daring first joke, sure, but that doesn’t solve any diversity issues among the nominees. Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs (herself an African-American woman) would’ve been wise to discuss the problem during her speech. She could’ve talked about how the problem exists not just in the Academy, but in the actors Hollywood casts. David Oyelowo wasn’t nominated and that was unfortunate, but not many other non-white actors were major contenders. That said, many Oscar winners chose to address important issues during their acceptance speeches. Imitation Game screenwriter Graham Moore talked about attempting suiccide at 16, then encouraged viewers to “stay weird”. During his Best Picture speech, Iñárritu asked for better treatment of Mexican immigrants in America. And Patricia Arquette called out unequal pay among men and women (Meryl Streep liked that).
Overall, this was a pretty average Oscar telecast. It wasn’t a straight-up disaster in the vein of Hathway/Franco or McFarlane. At the same time, it’ll be forgotten quicker than both those shows. Like Ellen DeGenres, Harris appealed to all demographics and pleased everyone…but ended up wowing nobody. And did I mention Boyhood should’ve won? Anyway, this particularly insane awards season is over…which means it’s time to through out some 2016 predictions. Here are a few: The Hateful Eight. The Revenant. Steve Jobs. Joy. Miles Ahead. The End of the Tour. Spielberg’s latest. And…Episode VII?
Posted on | February 22, 2015 | Add Comments
The final day of the festival is finally here! That’s right, the festival has come to an end after many snowstorms and much perseverance. I began the final day with Finn which I had heard lots of good things about, prior to viewing the film. The movie follows the titular boy who discovers his family history, musical calling, and mysterious instructor. But everyone is not as they seem and the baffling past will come to be revealed by the end of this film. While it suffers from predictability, Finn is at first glance nothing but an average family drama. But as it continues on, the film becomes increasingly more and more interesting as the plot continues to unravel. Mels van der Hoeven stands out in an impressive cast as Finn whose boyish curiosity leads to conflict and…Watch the film, already!
Next up was the second Youth Filmmakers Showcase, this time the Multi-Regional edition. They ranged from zombie epics to magic gum to invisible girlfriends. While it may not have been the strongest collection of shorts the festival has showed, it was still fun to see what young filmmakers had to say. One highlight was GIFTS, a surprisingly violent murder-mystery that made you put the pieces together with little help from the filmmakers.
For the closing night screening, Belle & Sebastian was the perfect fit. I had never seen it before myself, so it was a pleasure to see something new. Sebastian, a young boy on the France/Switzerland border, meets Belle, the so-called “beast” who’s really a shaggy dog with large, cute eyes. But the story is more than cute; it’s moving, emotional, and memorable in all the right ways. Asides from some phenomenal performances from all the lead actors notably, like Finn, the young lead. The main standout, however, is the cinematography which is never better than the opening scene. As Sebastian is daringly lowered from a cliff, I clenched my seat in suspense. The breathtaking shots of the landscapes are fantastic, but it never gets better than the opening scene.
Of course, the highlight of the day had to be the awards. As predicted by both Flack and I, Song of the Sea took home the big prize that was Audience Choice. Thanks to the audience at the final screening, Belle & Sebastian scored the second spot while Finn clocked in at third. Wind, a thoroughly entertaining short, took home the award for best short and Scrap Wood War was the Jury Choice.
All in all, it was a great festival that will surely rank highly in the pantheon of past fests. From great…Wait a second, the Oscars are on! We’ll see you next year, at the movies.
Posted on | February 22, 2015 | Add Comments
If you’ve read anything about the Oscars, you’ve heard about the neck-in-neck Best Picture race between Boyhood and Birdman, one of the closest in years. Since its summer release, Richard Linklater’s 12-year coming of age drama Boyhood has been racking up critics raves, which were followed by critics awards and then big wins from the Golden Globes and BAFTAS. Those two ceremonies, however, don’t have a lot of overlap in their voter-body with the Oscars. Meanwhile, the Producer’s Guild, Director’s Guild, and Screen Actor’s Guild share many of the same members with the Academy, and in theory are more helpful tell-tale signs. So when Alejandro González Iñárritu’s dazzling backstage dramedy Birdman swept all three ceremonies, the tides began to turn.
For months, Boyhood seemed like the little movie that could go all the way from a small indie release to the Oscar podium. But Birdman, a more conventionally showy Oscar favorite, has gained enough traction to make a win seem unsurprising. Besides, it’s a movie commenting on movies, which the Academy clearly loves (think The Artist and Argo).
So…why am I predicting Boyhood for the big win? The film has a timely yet timeless quality that feels perfect for a Best Picture winner; it also encapsulates 12 years of culture into one moving film. And, in a year that has seen the Academy nominate a large number of independent films, it seems like the right time for an indie champion. I’m also predicting Richard Linklater for Best Director. Sure, Iñárritu’s direction is more in-your-face dazzling (one-take camerawork, drum soundtrack, breathless dialogue) but Linklater’s long-term hard-work will likely be rewarded. All that said, I’m anything but sure about my picks. Birdman certainly could take Best Picture, or Iñárritu could win Director and split the big two with Boyhood (assuming it wins Best Picture).
Personally, I’m rooting for (and predicting) Boyhood for both awards…and, in such a close race, perhaps we should listen to our hearts.
Posted on | February 22, 2015 | Add Comments
Everything from predictions to analysis of the hosts is here and it’s all ready for you to devour just before Oscar night:
The Oscars have always been a momentous occasion, one which for the past six years we’ve had a great time celebrating with you. This years marks the 87th time little gold men have been given out to the best of the year’s films. Debates over the relevancy of the show have long been discussed and while the announcement a few years ago that Academy voters may be mostly white, male, and older has certainly sparked much debate, that doesn’t mean that bloggers, fashonitas, critics, and I will cease endless analysis around the big night. What it does mean is that the winners and losers of February 22nd will be taken with a grain of salt; we know that this isn’t the collective opinion of 20-something black women, 70-something asians, and 40-something hispanics. The fact that it’s mostly 63 year old white men (yes, that is the average voter) might help to explain some of the nominees.
Take for instance, the Best Actor category. The past year had a lot of fantastic performances, many of which are up for the award. Michael Keaton had quite the comeback, Eddie Remayne showed he has some serious acting chops, and Bennedict Cummberbatch weilded his brainy Britishness to charming effect. Throw in Bradley Cooper and Steve Carell, whose films I didn’t see, and you have all five nominees. Now, the three performances I did see were great, but which actor had the most memorable turn of the year?
My vote goes to David Oyelowo whose performance as Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma was flawless, yet didn’t warrant a nomination. He perfectly conveyed the worn-out, yet unwavering drive behind the brilliant, yet flawed King. One of the greatest things about his performance was his ability to approach the man as a man, not a historical icon but a real person dealing with complicated dilemmas. His scenes with Carmen Ejogo as his wife were some of the most powerful moments on screen all year. And yet the Academy failed to recognize him, as well as the film’s director, Ava DuVernay.
Asides from the social squabbles, there is of course the night’s entertianment. Neil Patrick Harris is this year’s host and while he did succesfully host the Tonys four times and the Emmys twice, competing with last years show hosted by Ellen DeGeneres will prove difficult. DeGeneres scored the most views since 2000, averaging 43.7 million viewers tuning in. Her selfie with Bradley Cooper, Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey, Angelina Jolie, and Julia Roberts (just to name a few) became the most retweeted Twitter photo ever. Throw in some pizza delivery and musical numbers, as well and you’ve got a show. It seemed as though the Oscars had finally overcome their identity crisis.
In this digital age, an awards show that has run anywhere from two to nearly four and half hours can begin to feel a bit tedious, at least to the 20 year olds with their hipster fingers ready to cement their thoughts permanently into social media. The show’s producers have tried it all. They tried two hosts instead of one, to add some excitement into the mix but of course that ended with an akward James Franco accompanied by an overexcited Anne Hathaway. After that, they tried to go back to their roots with the classic Billy Crystal, only to cater to younger and raunchier audiences the next year with Seth Macfarlane. Neither of those two hosts really worked because they were either too dated and not in touch with the audience (Crystal) or they totally ignored what the Oscars were about and decided to turn it into more of a crude roast (Macfarlane). What the Oscars really need is a host that can cater to many demographics: the movie buffs, those just there to watch the celebrities, the people who have watched all 87 Oscar ceremonies, and those just there to post something on Twitter. DeGeneres and Patrick Harris seem to fit into the perfect categrory of contemporary comedians, while still weilding the classy old-school quality. They may not be your absolute favorite host, but they succeed in appealing a little bit to a lot of people.
All of this talk about the show itself can sometimes can get in the way of what it’s really all about: no, not the fashion, the films. So, let’s take a look at the nominees. The two easiest of the major categories to predict are undoubetdly the Supporting Actor and Actress awards. J.K. Simmons and Patricia Arquette, respectively, were both phenomenal and have already won the SAG and Golden Globe awards. I’m putting my money for Michael Keaton in the Best Actor category, although Eddie Remayne is so hot on his heels that it could go either way. For Best Actress, Julianne Moore is a lock mostly because she’s never won. Director will go out to the amazing Richard Linklater and Best Picture?
If Boyhood doesn’t win it’ll be quite a shock. A few bloggers have said that Birdman will steal it and while I agree it’s certainly the runner up, I don’t think even the Academy could ignore the sheer scope and originality of Boyhood. It’s a film both seismic in ambition, while genuine in it’s emotion. In a year with so many great films, this was the one that will be remembered for years to come. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what the Best Picture category is supposed to decide? Not which film is your favorite (Boyhood is my favorite), or the one you could watch the most (I can’t wait to watch it for the third time), but the one that represents the year on a whole. If you look back at the past 87 years of cinema, which of the eight nominees deserves to enter into the pantheon of all-time greats alongside The Sound of Music, Casablanca, Gandhi, Gone with the Wind, Annie Hall, Lawrence of Arabia, The Godfather, and more? I say Boyhood and I sure hope the Academy does too.
Posted on | February 22, 2015 | Add Comments
Confused by all the excitement and outrage surrounding this year’s Oscars? Do your homework before the show today, and read my Oscar essay about Selma, American Sniper, Boyhood, and more. Predictions are included at the end. Here’s the speech/essay:
The awards season hoopla that surrounds the Oscars repeats itself each and every year and, to some extent, with little difference. Months of movie-geek forecasting, last-minute controversy, and other, lesser awards shows lead up to the big night, the Super Bowl of Hollywood, the Oscars. Actually, the show shares a few traits with that football spectacle, though it takes place not at a crowded fields and a packed arena but a Hollywood auditorium and at a podium. Yet like the Super Bowl, the Oscars are the outcome of tireless hype, careful marketing, and a whole lot of preparation; likewise, they inspire obsessively geeky debating, cheers of joy, some unsullied loser faces, and post-event speculation. And then, after a couple of weeks, the dust cloud of glitz and glamour fades away. Remaining hints of Oscar excitement are buried in awards blogs where anxious film-nerds are already predicting next year’s winners. By the time fall comes around, the film world is already revving its engine up again, preparing for another tough battle for gold.
This year’s “battle for gold” has been a little different, and I’m not just saying that to get your attention. Larger debates about race and politics have been at play, lending the event an unexpected touch of “importance”. It’s common for a few films to have their awards standings lightly, slightly tarnished by historical inaccuracy or a celebrity dispute or something else no one could’ve expected. But this year, two films, Selma and American Sniper, didn’t just have to politely sidestep a minor dispute; they had to face industry-wide discord head-on.
Selma, once considered a possible front-runner, was only nominated for two awards: Best Picture and Best Song. Why? The Selma filmmakers opted only to send screeners to the Academy, not other award-show voters, which meant the film was largely shut out of vital pre-Oscar award-show signifiers. There was also an inordinate amount of press lathered on the LBJ-Civil Rights kerfuffle, which involved historians chastizing the film for it’s less-than-squeaky-clean depiction of our 36th President . Both those factors certainly had something to do with the less-than-expected show of love for the film. But it’s hard not to look at the Academy-voting demographic (94% white, 76% male, average age of 63) and think some outmoded views on gender and race may have gotten in the way of nominations for lead actor David Oyelowo and director Ava DuVernay (who would’ve been the first black woman to get a Best Director nomination).
Clint Eastwood’s Iraq-war thriller American Sniper, another late entry into the race, got six nominations (Best Picture, Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Editing, and Sound Editing and Mixing). How did Sniper, which received a fair share of tepid reviews, manage to get so much attention, while Selma, easily one of the best-reviewed films of the year, got sidelined? For one thing, critics don’t vote for Oscars. That demographic I previously mentioned (white, male, and old) may be the type of group that could get behind a film critic David Edelstein called a “Republican platform movie”, despite criticisms of glorified combat sequences and disparaging depictions of the Iraqi people. The Academy also loves a populist favorite and, perhaps perplexingly, Sniper may fill that spot: despite an R rating, the film has made 250 million dollars. Selma, meanwhile, has made 31 million, a third of what Sniper made in it’s first weekend.
So what do all these statistics mean? Are Oscar voters really racists who just love a good, old-fashioned war movie? No (actually, most of them are probably very nice people). But things need to change. I haven’t seen Sniper, but I did love Selma, a terrific film, made by a thoughtful director and starring one incredible actor. Aside from diversity, it was a great movie, and I’m not alone in wishing it had gotten more nominations. So, how will things change? On the bright side, this year’s controversy (which sparked a hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite) may influence voters to diversify future nominees. Yet the problem really lies in the heart of Hollywood. Many reporters have pointed out that all twenty acting nominees this year are white. A disheartening statistic, sure, but even if, say, David Oyelowo had gotten nominated there would still be more white nominees than those of other ethnicities because Hollywood is a largely white industry.
Now let’s look up on the upside. Take a good, hard look at the nominees for Best Picture. Yes, Oscar-baiting Weinstein-approved period pieces The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything are on the list. But you’ll also notice the Oscars really love independent movies, the kind that might not have gotten nominated twenty years ago. We can partly thank the new Best Picture rules. In 2010, ten, not five, films were allowed nominations and in 2012, the limit changed again: five to ten is the magic number(s?). I for one, like those rules (though ten would make more sense). But while many predicted the change would allow more big-budget crowd-pleasers to sneak in, the opposite has happened. At the 2010 show, a Hollywood epic (Avatar) lost to a small-scale war-drama (The Hurt Locker). While the Academy next chose a period-piece (The King’s Speech) over a zeitgeist-capturing tech-tale (The Social Network), they’ve since given the big prize to a silent French comedy (The Artist), a quirky thriller (Argo), and a slavery epic (12 Years a Slave), while nominating a diverse range of films (The Tree of Life, Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Her, to name the most esoteric).
This year continues that trend, with four of the eight Best Picture nominees being either independent or artsy or both. Those four films are Wes Anderson’s decades-spanning comic-caper The Grand Budapest Hotel, 30-year old Damien Chazelle’s drumming-drama Whiplash, Alejandro Iñáritu’s sorta-one-take showbiz dramedy Birdman, and Richard Linklater’s 12-year coming-of-age epic Boyhood. While acknowledging and bemoaning the Oscar’s lack of diversity, the Academy deserves at least a little credit for recognizing films both big and small. Some writers have complained that 2014 was a weaker-than-usual year for movies, but I was exhilarated, moved, surprised, and wowed by many films, particularly Whiplash, Selma, Birdman, The Wind Rises, We Are the Best!, Ida, Life Itself, The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, and two big-budget surprises, The LEGO Movie and Edge of Tomorrow. My favorite, however, is Boyhood, a film that evoked feelings of poignancy, honesty, beauty, and the thrill of cinema in ways I’ve never experienced at another movie. For my money, it’s going to walk away with Best Picture (though look, up in the sky and watch out for Birdman) and the 12-years-in-the-making win will be well-deserved.
Michael Keaton (Birdman)
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Best Supporting Actor:
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Best Supporting Actress:
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Best Original Screenplay:
Best Animated Feature:
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Best Foreign Language Film:
Best Documentary Feature: