Friday, February 22, 2013

I Love the Movies: Argo-Gonna-Get-It

I love the movies. Perhaps to an excess. Countless nights are spent in front of my computer streaming movies of all genres, quietly enjoying the magic of moviemaking (and the comfort of sweatpants and robe). Add to that the number of times I have gone to the movies by myself, delightfully undistracted by friends and oftentimes by any other moviegoers altogether (such an occurrence happened yesterday: in an attempt to finish my Oscar viewing I sat through Life of Pi with exactly one other audience member, while at Argo I was able to enjoy a private screening - free to guffaw and yell back at the screen as I wished). So, maybe I have a movie problem. Some would call it passion. Some would call a waste of money (to the austere of mind I rarely get popcorn and always bring my own beverage). But, when it all is said is done, I love the movies, always have, and there is no time I enjoy more than Oscar season. This year has been one of the more interesting races, with several potential favorites, snubs, twists and turns along the route of precursor words, and some would-be record breakers (I'm looking at you Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild). Here are my predictions and analysis of this year's Oscar race.

Best Picture
Thought Lincoln seemed the unbeatable critics' pick early on, Argo has drawn a second breath while Lincoln's pace as slowed, giving Argo the slight edge in this race. Other potential contenders are Silver Linings Playbooks with its ubiquitousness in the acting categories, not to mention producer Harvey Weinstein's aggressive campaigning for what has proved the gem in his crown of films this year. With eleven nominations, Life of Pi would seem a strong contender, but without any nominations in the acting categories, it has a tough road to travel. Django Unchained proved to be too steamy for Academy voters, a common reaction to its director-auteur Quentin Tarantino. That, and the fact that Tarantino was not only liberal with his of blood and nudity in this movie, but that ever troubling N-word, something white Hollywood voters are hesitant to embrace, celebrate, even mutter. In my opinion, Les Misérables was an incredibly long, decadent production, that remained on one single note from start to finish. Zero Dark Thirty had too many critics, both from the film industry and the White House itself. A good film no doubt, Kathryn Bigelow scored her big win a few years ago with The Hurt Locker and can count her inclusion in this year's awards (five nominations in all) as her arrival as an outside-insider, much like her colleague Tarantino. Beasts of the Southern Wild, that little film that could, was possibly my favorite out of the whole bunch (in part, I am sure, because of my affinity for Louisiana and fried gator), but has little chance of picking up any awards on Oscar night. After poor performances at most of the pre-Oscar awards and its long forgotten early release, perhaps it's the journey that has mattered more than the destination for this charming little film. Which leaves me with Amour, a little seen foreign film that has managed to pull itself out of the margins of minor categories and compete with the big boys (it also has nominations in the screenplay, directing, and acting categories). Almost guaranteed to win Best Foreign Picture, Amour could perform "an outside smoke," and go five-for-five, honoring the contribution of French New Wave cinema to today's Hollywood and scoring one of the biggest upsets in recent memory. With the shocking exclusion of Bigelow, Tarantino, and Affleck from the directing category, this year's awards are a bit of a toss up, but I'm putting my money on Argo. CIA intelligentsia mixed with Hollywood schmaltz, the redemption of Gigli star Affleck, and perhaps its best secret weapon, John Goodman (see last year's The Artist), Argo will snag the top award on Sunday.

Best Actor in a Leading Role
Not much can be said to argue the likelihood of Daniel Day-Lewis taking this award for an unprecedented third time, unless Silver Linings pulls off an historic four-for-four in the acting categories or the Academy decides to reward the singing and dancing of its former host Hugh Jackman. Sorry boys, he drank your milkshake in There Will Be Blood, and he is going to win your Oscar on Sunday night. Rather, I'd like to discuss the inclusion (or rather exclusion) of some of the other nominees. Jackman and Cooper both deserve their nominations, a first for both men, helping them both leap from theatre geeks turned action heroes and Hollywood heartthrobs, to actors of reputable gravitas. I didn't see The Master (and I think many others did either), but this supposedly great film could have potentially made it into the Best Picture category had its release and marketing been better managed. Joaquin Phoenix can count his nomination as a great victory, a return to his once-high standing as a promising actor, that seemed to give Mr. Phoenix the ghost for a few years (see that terrible beard and that terrible documentary he made/grew). Which leaves me with Denzel Washington. Ahh, Denzel. Everybody loves Denzel. I hate Denzel. I really do. In my scathing eyes, he comes off as an self-righteous prick, and apparently when he plays one, he receives an Oscar nom (see Flight and Training Day). (Rumors in the theatre circle swirl about his ride and contemptuous conduct during the sold-out runs of both Julius Caesar and Fences.) Now to be fair, I did not catch Flight when it was in theaters, but is it not the same-old Denzel routine? Any other years, Ben Affleck would have made it into this category, but his performance too muted and reactionary compared with the overstuffed cast of Hollywood hacks he had to compete with (Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, and Phillip Baker Hall, just to name a few). Rather, I would have liked to see John Hawkes's touching performance as a horny man with polio in The Sessions make it into the pack (as it did at the Globes and the SAG awards). And what about Jamie Foxx? He received little attention for his performance in Django Unchained, a brave choice of a role. Dare I suggest that there is only room for one black man in the Best Actor category, and when he is available it is always Denzel? That may be too simple of an estimation, but Mr. Foxx's work was far from poor. Nevertheless, no one will be talking about anyone but Daniel Day-Lewis Oscar Sunday.

Best Actress in a Leading Role

A tough one to call. It's possible that any of these five women could take the top prize, though Naomi Watts stands the slimmest chance, her film ill-reviewed and a box-office bust, it failed to score in a nomination in any other category. Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence are have been the front-runners so far, and I imagine to these young ladies will meet in this category again, duking it out to be Hollywood's go-to gal (each has already received one nomination in previous years). While Lawrence has the huge box office of The Hunger Games backing her, not to mention the SAG award, Ms. Chastain could pull that rare coup of winning an Oscar and a Tony in the same year, given her outstanding reviews in the recently closed The Heiress. These young ladies took the award in their respective categories at the Golden Globes, I suspect it will be the mysteriously charming (and recent SNL host) Lawrence who takes the award this year. Not so fast though. Should Quvenzhané Wallis or Emmanuelle Riva take the award they will make history as the Academy's youngest or oldest winner, respectively. As I mentioned earlier, Amour's road to Best Picture could begin with an upset in this category. Notable snubs in this category belong to Rachel Weisz in The Deep Blue Sea, the performance of the year according to New York Magazine, if only anyone had seen it. Along that line, I found Marion Cotillard's work in Rust and Bone both breathtaking and brave, but apparently only one Frenchwoman can make it into this year's Oscar race. Helen Mirren might have made it into the race, if Hitchcock was not such a dud of a film, and Dame Maggie Smith might have made an impact had her work in Quartet and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel not been a duplicate of that which she so effortlessly produces on Downtown Abbey. In the indie circuit, Michelle Williams offered up another brave and layered performance in the little seen Take This Waltz, but too many similarities to Blue Valentine may have detracted voters. And then there is Jennifer Westfeldt. I loved Friends with Kids and thought it could have easily been a tenth nominee in the Best Picture category. Her witty dialogue, sweet, open heart, and honest portrayal of a modern New York woman could have found Ms. Westfeldt not only an honoree in this category, but also as a screenwriter and director. Perhaps the Bridesmaids buzz has worn off. While many predict Lawrence to take the award this week, I am going out on a limb (a very old and feeble one) and predicting Rive for the win. Wallis can be content to be the next Abigail Breslin.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

The other tough category. While none of the Lead Actress nominees have an Oscar already under their belt, this category is blooming with previous winners. While Christoph Waltz pulled off a surprise at the Golden Globes (where Robert De Niro was not nominated), he just received an Oscar for Inglorious Bastards not too long ago, as did fellow nominees Arkin and Seymour Hoffman. With DiCaprio not even nominated (he could have finally picked up his first Oscar), the race comes down to two elder statesmen of the acting community: Robert De Niro and Tommy Lee Jones. While it has been nearly twenty years since Jones won his golden man, it's been an even longer drought for De Niro. In fact, it has been a decade since he has even been nominated. Despite the tears and the football hysteria he brings to his performance, I find myself favoring an award for Jones. Of course, in the grand scheme of the night, an award for either gentleman would prove a serious boost to Lincoln or Silver Linings, especially when paired with expected awards in the leading categories. By a slim margin, I think De Niro will take the award with a standing ovation, possibly being the only representative from Silver Linings to reach the podium.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Seen as one of this year's weaker categories, Anne Hathaway put this one in the bag as soon as the trailers for Les Misérables were released. While not my favorite rendition of the song (give me Patti LuPone, Elaine Page, Aretha Franklin), you have to hand it to a woman who can believably play Fantine and CatWoman in the same year, garnering the best review performance in each of those prospective films. Hathaway has been waiting a long time to capture her first Oscar, and as a former host, she has the Academy's admiration, not the mention their votes. Sally Field is two-for-two in her pervious Oscar attempts, but I think this nomination will be counted as a return to the spotlight (and hopefully better films), in the same way it will be for previous winner Helen Hunt. Alas, Amy Adams will again be forgotten, as she tallies another nomination to her resumé, but other actresses have had to wait a long time for their first win (Kate Winslet, Shirley MacLaine), and some are still waiting (Glenn oh-so-Close). Jacki Weaver's nomination seems more an accolade for Silver Linings than her individual performance; despite her solid acting, it is a surprisingly small role to receive a nomination. I would have much rather seen Nicole Kidman's slutty, steamy, messy performance in a horrible blonde wig (aka The Paperboy) receive a nomination, but critics were generally mixed in their reviews and summer releases consistently have a hard time surviving until Oscar season. Hathaway for the win, Adams for the double martini.

Best Director

What a category. With the exclusion of Tarantino, Bigelow, and Affleck (the Golden Globe winner), this category seems wide open. Though Hollywood giant Steven Spielberg lurks in these waters, I have a feeling the Academy will choose to honor another nominee, anoint a new master. Ang Lee could pick up the award for Life of Pi, but the steam seems to have vanished from that sail, not to mention he won not too long ago for Brokeback Mountain (another year where the Best Director and Best Picture trophies did not match up). While I would love to see young filmmaker Benh Zeitlin win for Beasts of the Southern Wild, he has little chance in both this and the screenwriting category. Which leaves David O. Russel for Silver Linings or Michael Haneke for Amour. Each are also nominated in the screenwriting categories, and a win here could take them all the way to the Big Prize. While Haneke will fall to Tarantino in the screenwriting category, he will pick up the Best Director trophy and Amour will make its presence felt at this year's awards. Let's tune in Sunday and find out. I'll bring the champagne, and we shall toast to another fantastic year at the movies.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Come On In, Boys

I was recently visited by the men of The Watchtower. Flouting pamphlets of Earth's demise, they approached my door. Sitting upstairs in my 'loft' apartment, I heard the doorbell ring and scurried down the stairs to greet what I thought was one of Mom's clients or the UPS guy. Imagine my surprise (and theirs) to find two well dressed men in business attire, asking to talk to me. "Well, good morning gentlemen," I said, decked out in my usual sleep ware combo: sweat pants, tank top, bandana, bath robe. I'm not sure if I had even brushed that morning. No matter, these were men at my door, asking me questions.

They began with their usual spiel, hello, we're from The Watchtower, Jehovah, Revelation, blahtidy, blah, blah. They asked me if I was familiar with their organization, and I said, "Oh, yes. I used to live in New York and have seen The Watchtower headquarters in Brooklyn, just across the water. They were impressed by this. I coquettishly mentioned my love of New York and how much I miss living there. One of the gentlemen (not the cute one with the great gray tweed pants, but the less attractive one with the discolored teeth - damn you protocol!) asked if he could read something to me. I leaned and batted my eyes, expecting to hear him recite the vows he had been rehearsing for our upcoming nuptials. Without a moment of hesitation, he instead went into his well-rehearsed recitation of 1 John 2:17: "The world is passing away and so is its desire, but he that does the will of God remains forever." They continued to chat about how the world is evil and it's ending and asked if they could give me one of their pamphlets. "Oh, yes, please," I replied, taking the city-disaster-scene inscribed brochure from their eyes. "What's your name?" they asked me. "Bradley," I said, gleaming from head to toe, "I hope to see you boys again."

As they drove away in their flashy silver economy car, I let out a cackle befitting an overweight sea-witch, howling like a mad dog. When my mother saw the pamphlet in my hands, she just laughed and walked away, leaving me to laugh sadistically at the unsuspecting boys I had just tortured. Returning upstairs, still cackling, I felt like Bette Davis, warning the boys it was going to be a bumpy night.

They never called back.


Their visit has stayed with me the last couple of days, not only because I framed the flyer on my bedroom wall, but because their visit had me feeling like myself again: wry, ornery, dangerous. For you see, I am back in the Broad Meadow again, the city and I needing some time apart. It has not been easy to leave my single person's life in the Big Apple and return to a small town in Indiana, living with my family in a spare room, humbled as I sort my shit out. But do not fear, for as those boys showed me, the pluck and vigor that marked my New York existence, the sticky-sweet bitchiness that I served customers for three years, still remains, perhaps even stronger, clearer than before. And don't worry, you'll be hearing from me again soon. Sorry I went away for a while. But the Bradley is back.