Sunday, March 2, 2014

Something for Everyone: Oscars 2014

And you thought, I forgot. Just sliding in by a hair (or is it a hare? going back to that race between a turtle and a rabbit), here are my predictions for tonight's Academy Awards, made extra special by a celebration of The Wizard of Oz's 75th Anniversary, complete with appearance by Judy's three adult children, Lorna Luft, Joey Luft, and the indomitable (not dead!) Liza Minnelli.

Best Picture

This is really a 3 way race between Gravity, American Hustle, and 12 Years a Slave. Captain Phillips and Her are longshots given their lead actors failed to secure Best Actor nominations, while Philomena and Nebraska may be too indie to gather a strong enough contingent of Academy voters (Nebraska was one of my favorite films of the year and should find its audience not in the indie cinemas of the metropolis, but in the hearts of anyone who has lived a rural existence - aka Mom and Dad please rent this when it comes out). Wolf of Wallstreet received too many mixed reviews, though Dalllas Buyers Club could sneak away with the statue, especially should Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey win in their respective categories. As usual, the heir-apparent to this award will be more apparent as the evening unravels. If Gravity sweeps the technical categories, the momentum could be on its side, though if American Hustle manages to take statues in all 4 acting categories it could look near invincible. And what about 12 Years a Slave? Perhaps the most important film of this year, the most gut wrenching, and I suspect the film that shall be remembered and shown in classrooms ranging from Film Studies to American History to African-American Studies for years. For 12 Years, the tone may set at the start of the ceremony with Best Supporting Actress category. Should Lupita knock out Jennifer Lawrence, it could give the film momentum to go all the way. In all likelihood, American Hustle has a chance of two, maybe three of the acting Oscars (Cooper's curls could trump Leto's rouge, plus he is a former nominee). More than a tale of winners and losers, this year's collection of nominees are all fantastic and worth a viewing. The Times has Gravity taking Best Director, with 12 Years sneaking away with Best Picture. However, I feel like gambling this year, and would love to see Dallas Buyers Club walk away with prize.

Best Actor

A category without one time favorites Tom Hanks and Robert Redford, Matthew McConaughey has this on lock, though he could be pushed out by 12 Years a Slave's Chiwetel Ejiofor. McConaughey physical transformation, not to mention his metamorphosis from dumb, pretty leading man to indie movie creeper (Paperboy, Killer Joe), has earned him wide praise from everyone in the industry and this viewer especially. If Joaquin Phoenix were on better behavior or drank the Kool-Aid that is Awards Season Promotion, he could have walked away with this prize for his touching appearance Her, this category's equivalent of Sandra Bullock in Gravity (he is onscreen throughout and his only scene partner, an unseen Scarlett Johansen). Alas Leo, like poor Amy Adams, will have to wait for a better received movie and another year to get his Oscar, something he has been chasing since The Basketball Diaries and Who's Eating Gilbert Grape? And then there's Bruce Dern. giving a lovely performance in Nebraska, a film no one seemed to watch. Restrained and internalized, it is lovely to watch, but will beat out by the HIV positive, drugged up, rodeo clown McConnaughey conjures in Dallas Buyers Club.

Best Actress

For my dollar, Cate Blanchett has this one in the bag. Sure, she already has one. But that was in the Supporting category in a somwhat (forgive me) forgettable movie playing a movie star who won 4 Academy awards herself. Isn't it time Ms. Blanchett earned something with her own stamp upon it? Not to mention she is brilliant, volatile and unstable, like a Blanche (which she recently played to great acclaim) let loose from the sanitorium, yet at times clear and exacting as any 5th avenue matriarch. This is not to say she is without competion. Meryl Streep, the seemingly omni-present nominee, eats up the movie meant to contain her, August:Osage County, yet for all her tumbles, outbursts, and cancer bob, she fails to incite the true terror and desperation in the on-screen Violet I saw in 2005 (played by the indispensable, theatre master Estelle Parsons, returning to Broadway this spring in a limited run). Streep's performance captures the acid and wit of Violet, but fails to capture the fast paced driver with no clear trajectory conjured by Ms. Parsons (to see her rush down the stairs, full speed, then immediately halt, pilled out, at the bottom step, proved terrifying in its own subtle way. How many grandparents/parents/friends do we have who seem to be driving with no headlights - or no driver?). Given Streep just won for The Iron Lady, this is an almost arbitryary, though fully earned, nomination. Judi Dench managed to strike a chord as Philomena, the title character of the film by the same name, on the hunt for a son she once gave up. While her performance is comendable, it lacks some of the fireworks seen in other nominees (especially Streep and Blanchett), and thus make for a heartening but not gut wrenching performance (I much preferred her in Notes on a Scandal). Perhaps Dench should take great pride in the fact that her film proved to not only be a star vehicle for her, but a legitimate Best Picture nominee (of which Blue Jasmine and August: Osage County were not). On other hand, Sandra Bullock manages to carry her entire picture, literally defying gravity or a need for a male lead/co-star (George Clooney only accounts for about 1/3 third of the movie). Bullock channels the best of herself in this film (completely self-aware as in Miss Congeniality or The Heat, independently strong willed as in Blind SideCongeniality, and The Heat, brittle and avoiding her emotions (Crash), not to mention summoning her early career action flicks (Speed 2, Congenialty). Despite this combination of all her skills 1) she just won a few years ago and 2) her only scene partner for most of the film is herself. Oscar voters tend to enjoy their actresses to have a strong connection (standoff) with their costars a la Silver Linings PlaybookMonster's BallThe ReaderThe Blind Side, and Erin Brockovich. Though if the Academy turns to its The Hours or even The Iron Lady days, Ms. Bullock could find herself the surprise winner on Oscar day. Alas, Amy Adams. Sweet, adorable, talented, dedicated, acclaimed Amy Adams. After years of lingering in the Best Supporting Category, Adams has finally graduated to the Leads. Despite her Golden Globe win, I fear she will remain always a nominee never a winner (a modern Glenn Close or for many years Kate Winslet). At least this year. While her costumes are by far the most striking throughout the film and use of accents and disguise put to great use, she is not the true star of American Hustle. Not to mention, the Academy gave the Lead Actress to a David O. Russell muse just last year, Silver Linings Playbook's Jennifer Lawrence. However, if the Academy should really get in a conundrum about Woody Allen's bizarre (and possibly criminal) parenthood, the Academy could turn its attention to a deserving darling next in line for Oscar gold. In the end, my money is on the great Cate Blanchett, a woman who has earned rave reviews in limited theatre runs of A Streetcar Named Desire and Uncle Vanya, with a possible steal by Amy Adams. The only real major snub in this category was Emma Thompson for Saving Mr. Banks. Her work superb, she seemed to be appearing in a different movie than everyone else, one much darker, deeper, and less Disneyfied.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Like his Dallas Buyers brethren McConaughey, Jared Leto has this one in the bag, in this a case a shimmery handbag, as he gracefully embodied party-transgirl Rayon. Jonah Hill largely (no pun intended) repeats his loveable schitck, but an ward-winning performance it is not. Bradley Cooper's curls are adorable and his acting is actually quite good, but he too will be put on the wait list, along with Amy Adams and Leonardo DiCaprio. Glenn Close has been there for years. Michael Fassbender's adamant dismissal of the Awards race, after a snub from his performance in Shame, will get him no votes this year, and while Barkhad Abdi is this year's newcomer along with Lupita N'yongo, they both will take promising careers away from tonight's ceremony, but sadly no hardware.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Jennifer Lawrence scored a surprise win in this category at the Golden Globe awards and for many is the front runner. This is the tightest race of the year, and while I would love to see Lupita N'yongo take the award for 12 Years, or better, my favorite, June Squibb from Nebraska, the Academy will crown Lawrence with her second Academy Award (despite some spotty and inconsistent dialect work), this generations own Jane Fonda.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Sochi, So Much

I don't know about you, but I am having trouble connecting with this 2014 Winter Olympics Games. For starters, it's the Winter Olympics, a mix of sports that I have rarely seen and even more rarely participated in (Skiing? A mini-breakdown a la 2004 in comparison to 2012's zip line fiasco - yikes). Plus, there is all that snow. Considering the snow, the conditions, the situation and the months (miss you Ben, Rita, Granny, and Jessica), I am just not up for much winter fun. In fact, driving along snow clotted roads in subzero temperatures, Winter Fun seems a cruel jock or an impossible dream. Where is spring? Where is life?

Then there are the human rights issues, specific to these games, the gay rights involved in the whole matter. How can the whole world unite for a time of apparent peace, equality, and fellowship, when its populations's queers are pushed to the margins or encouraged to not participate (tragically, brutally encouraged to no longer live by some). It would be one thing if Russia seemed unaccustomed to its gay cousins, like an elderly grandmother chuckling about men she once knew who were 'light in the loafers,' rather than clearly against them, like a Nazi regime despising its Semitic roots. How can I support such superstars as Maria Sharapova, a female tennis star and almost by default a gay icon, embracing Sochi as home without addressing the anti-gay messages sent by its capitol. Maria, do you think many of your hetero fans give a hoot about your candy project, Sugar-pova?

Am I simply unpatriotic or uninterested? To be honest, I don't care how anyone performs on their blades, boards or luges, and a considerable part of me hopes to watch usually underrepresented countries like Iceland, Norway, Greenland, even Canada dominate this Olympics as opposed to the American deluge usually experienced in the summer olympics (best believe I still rooting for the Williams' sisters in singles and doubles come 2016). The winter olympics most interesting star, Johnny Weir has been excluded in part because of his desire to work outside the sport, but also the very evident distaste for gays in the Sochi air. Where are the Tara Lipinskis, Nancy Kerrigans, Tanya Hardings, and Brian Boitanos? Surya Bonaly and her illegal backflips, a Josephine Baker (or possibly more accurate Grace Jones) on ice?

To add fire or confusion (you decide) to the matter, I currently do not have cable television. Instead, my viewing pleasures consist of what I can find on Netflix and Hulu. This puts me slightly removed from popular culture and What Is Happening This Minute, but at the same time, if it has anything to do with Kimye, baby Northwest, Teen Mom, The Bachelor, or Joe Boehner's tan I am not interested.

A Winter Olympics I'd like to see? The pot holes filled on Washington Street. Sidewalks shoveled and cleaned so pedestrians don't have to dangerously wander into oncoming traffic. Donations of warm clothing and food to the needy. An increase in the availability of Bourbon at any given hour as it proves the only remedy for the cold temps.

It's highly unlikely I should find myself viewing much of these Olympics unless I should find myself at a bar or friend's house broadcasting the breakdown. And while I commend the athletes, the true meaning of sportsmanship, and the coming together of nations, no energy will be spent on my part watching nor celebrating these Olympics.

Instead, let us devout that viewers' energy to discourses on our cities and towns, to human rights, to getting along, to understanding and celebrating (not tolerating - I hate that term) each other and our differences, and most importantly to driving safely on these shitty snowy roads! Am I being cold? Tise the Season.