Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Top Story: Confidential Disillusionment

Dear Readers,

The scene is Los Angeles. The year is early 1998. It is Oscar night and even though the most critically acclaimed film of the year was a 1950's set detective story nominated for 9 awards, there's no stopping the full-steam-ahead momentum of James Cameron's Titanic. But as they say in Hollywood, it's an honor just to be nominated. And one thing that L.A. Confidential had that Titanic didn't was a twisty script that made you pay attention or you'd get left on the side of the road, boy-o. The Screenplay Oscar was in the bag. But another win for the film–Kim Basinger as a Veronica Lake look-alike prostitute (you guessed it, with a heart of gold) in the Best Supporting Actress category hasn't held up as well over the years. She's not really asked to do much other than look pretty (check), but her performance doesn't even come close to Julianne Moore's heartbreaking turn in Boogie Nights.

And that's the thing about the movie 17 years later, although a solid film, it's not nearly as smart as it thinks it is. Forget about it–it's no Chinatown. Maybe being this week's film of choice for Hit Me With Your Best Shot from Nathaniel at The Film Experience will shed some light on the subject.

At the time, serious critics were falling over themselves praising the film. But watching the film over the past weekend (the first time I had seen it since watching it in the theaters in 1997), I was not as impressed. First of all, that script has some groan worthy lines. After Simon Baker-Denny (It's the Mentalist, my Dad loves him) is murdered after a gay tryst goes awry, Kevin Spacey calls it a homo-cide. Even Spacey's deadpan delivery can't sell that. Then when gossip columnist Sid Hudgens (Oh, my God–Danny DeVito! I love your work!) is bumped off, his demise is met with his murderer saying, "Hush-Hush!" Guys, that's the name of his magazine! Good thing it wasn't called US Weekly.

Then there's everyone's backstories. "My name is Russell Crowe. I can't stand when women are abused. Wanna know why? My father beat my mother and I had to watch!" "My name is Guy Pearce. Wanna know why I'm such a by-the-book cop? Because my father was killed and his murderer got away with it. Rollo Tamasi!" Everyone might as well have a needlepoint pillow of where they came from. Oh, wait. Lynn has exactly that in her secret room where she can truly be herself!

Which brings me to my Best Shot. It seems fitting that just as I became disillusioned by how great the film actually is, my shot would reflect the own disillusionment of Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) and what it really means to be a cop.

Ed has always seen things in black and white. There is no grey area for him. But as he investigates the Nite Owl shootings and becomes entrenched deeper into the case, he soon discovers that things are not always so cut and dry. After tracking down the three escaped suspects in the shooting, Ed and a fellow cop (who gets shot and killed) start a shoot-out with the suspects. Just as the third one tries to escape from him by going down an elevator, Ed shoves his shotgun in the door and pulls the trigger. We never see the killing, but Ed's face covered in blood tells us all we need to know. Perhaps these weren't the men at all? What if he killed innocents? The camera lingers on his face as we get to experience these emotions overcome him.

Even if the film wasn't quite what I remembered, just like Ed Exley isn't quite so certain of what he's just done, it'll be just our little secret, dear readers.  Off the record, on the QT, and very hush hush...

Monday, March 24, 2014

Blind Spot: Black Narcissus

[This post is apart of Ryan McNeil's Blind Spot Series at The Matinee. On the last Tuesday of ever month you watch and write about a movie that is considered important in the cinema lexicon, but that you've somehow missed along the way.]

I was raised Catholic and spent both my grade school and high school years at Catholic institutions. By the time I started attending school, the days of nuns being the only teachers had long since past. The few we did have didn't even wear habits, which kind of takes away the mystery of them. It's hard to be intimidated by an older woman in a cat cardigan. I longed for the days my father and aunts described in the 50s and 60s when the nuns, dressed head to toe in their black robes, meant business and weren't afraid to use a ruler on you when you stepped out of line. 

My favorite story was my aunt's encounter with a envious nun. All women used to have to cover their heads when they were in church and my aunt was so proud of a gorgeous new hat she had received. But while piously praying, her pride was knocked down a notch when her teacher kicked the hat right off her head! My aunt claims the nun was so consumed with jealousy of how cute she looked in her new headwear, that the only solution was to knock it right off her head. That's my aunts side of the story anyway. But we never think of nuns being petty or jealous in that way. It showed a different side of them that made them not as perfect as you would think. Wearing the same thing day in and day out, why wouldn't this nun have felt jealous of this little girl's fashionable accessory? Which is why the group of flawed nuns (especially the deranged Sister Ruth) in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's Black Narcissus (1947) remain so fascinating and perhaps aren't so different from that nun that knocked off my aunt's hat. 

The film follows a group of British nuns in the Himalayas, lead by the stoic Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr). She is tasked with creating a school in the Palace of Mopu situated at the top of a cliff. It once housed the mistresses of of its former owner and that sexual energy still dominates the walls. The sisters, covered in their virginal white garments seem out of place in the exotic location. The wind blows through the halls of the palace creating a wildness that would never do back in Europe. Like Mariah Carey in a music video, the wind is constantly swirling about them, their wimples floating about unable to rest. At each turn the woman are confronted with the otherworldliness of the place. The film, shot in glorious technicolor, won Oscars for its Cinematography and Art Direction. And the exotic locations were composed almost entirely on the sound stages at Pinewood Studios. It's so beautiful and strange that the women forget themselves. Sister Philippa (Flora Robson) even becomes so distracted by the place that she ends up planting various flowers in what was to have been their vegetable garden. But the buds are really just a metaphor for what really is consuming the sisters: sex!

My GOD the film is erotically charged. Starting with the presence of their caretaker, Mr. Dean (David Farrar). Dean in his short shorts, sandals, and feathered sunhat is just a fanny pack away from being a dad on vacation in Disney World. But apparently his masculine energy is palpable. He makes Sister Clodagh confused with her feelings for him and the whole love/hate dynamic they have going on. Their scenes are filled with sexual tension  and longing looks. It doesn't help that he soon brings the local slut to live with the nuns–Jean Simmons with a bad self tanner and a series of bejeweled nose rings that look like a lady bug has landed on her nose. She later seduces the young General (Sabu), who saves her from being whipped. She rises to her knees and the way she looks at his crotch, biting her lower lip, leaves nothing to the imagination.

But Dean's masculinity is apparently just too much for Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) to handle. Her lust for him literally drives her mad. Early in the film, the Mother Superior states that Sister Ruth is a problem and foreshadowing the film's ending tells Clodagh, "I'm afraid she'll be a problem for you, too." Girl, you don't know the half of it. 

Kathleen Byron as Sister Ruth is all kinds of amazing. Watching her decent into madness is the highlight of the film and Byron is game for it all. I mean, just look at her sliding into frame, eyeing Dean up and down–taking all of him in like she would unhinge her jaw and swallow him whole. Or at least touch his manly chest hair.

That dirty old bird.

And it all builds up to the reveal of Ruth, stripped of her white garments and brandished like a brazen woman, clothed in a scarlet dress. She has renounced her vows and decided that she must be with Dean. If you couldn't tell by the way she is manically cackling, something has definitely snapped. As she applies her lipstick in the most disturbing and unsettling way possible, we see that any trace of humanity has left Ruth. She has become a zombie consumed with sexual passion and unwarranted hatred for Clodagh. Once she is rejected by Dean, her transformation becomes complete. There is a black murderous, jealous rage in her eyes and Clodagh is in her sites.

I don't want to say that the nun that kicked off my aunt's hat spiraled out of control in quite the same way that Ruth does. But it could have been worse. At least she didn't try to push my aunt off a cliff... 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Saturday Mornings Chat and Chew

Waitress: (sitting them down and hands menus) Here you go.

Tiffany: Thank you

Pat: I'll get a bowl of Raisin Bran

Waitress: Great

Tiffany: Tea

Waitress: (taking menus) Be right up...

Pat: You look nice.

Tiffany: Thanks

(Waitress returns)

Waitress: Raisin Bran. And some milk for you.

(Waitress sets down tea)

Tiffany: Thank you

Pat: You wanna share this?

Tiffany: Why did you order Raisin Bran?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Realistic Intimacy Amid the Surreal

Sometimes love, as it's depicted on screen, seems too romanticized to feel real. Love on film is epic. Men risk life and limb for it while the object of their affections swoon in ecstasy. Love on film is Ryan Gosling in a rain storm telling Rachel McAdams that he's waited for her all these years and built her the house of her dreams. (You can't beat a sexy bearded man and prime real estate.) It is Ralph Fiennes in a too-small bathtub with Kristin Scott Thomas (making it look cozy instead of cramped) declaring that he owns the hollow at the base of her neck and somehow making the possessiveness seem beautiful and not creepy. As Judi Dench says in Shakespeare in Love, "They make it pretty, they make it comical, or they make it lust, but they cannot make it true."

Film very rarely captures all the little, mundane things that encompass a relationship–the messiness and the silences. The everyday things that make it feel lived-in. Which is why it seems odd to think that one of the most truthful relationships on screen involves the out-there concept of a couple erasing each other from their memories. Somehow Michel Gondry's mind-bending film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, from Charlie Kaufman's Oscar-winning script, with all its imaginative flights of fancy seems to keep its couple grounded in reality. And 10 years after its release, it still feels as fresh as ever in its storytelling and remains one cinema's best and most honest love stories. That film's relationship is also the center of this year's inaugural edition of Hit Me With Your Best Shot from Nathaniel at The Film Experience.

Eternal Sunshine has always held a special place for me since the first time I saw it in the theaters 10 years ago. I went because I loved the weird worlds that Charlie Kaufman had created with his previous screenplays for Being John Malkovich and Adaptation and, of course, for my favorite actress, Kate Winslet. I went in with high admiration for both already, but came out of the theatre with an even greater adoration. The work from both was new and exciting. Kaufman had managed to give us the cerebral head-trip we had come to expect from his work, but elevated it by giving it a pulsing heart. While Kate as Clementine Kruczynski seemed infused with a different energy. Usually restrained to period films, she came alive in her orange hoodie and multi-colored hair as if we'd never seen her on-screen before. I saw the film 3 times in the movie theatre (which at the time was a lot of money for me) finding new things to discover at each viewing. And rewatching it again this past weekend for the countless time, I was still uncovering and still moved by Joel and Clementine's story.

The moment that always affects me the most is the one that I've chosen as my Best Shot. Joel (Jim Carrey, also at his best) is in the process of erasing his former girlfriend Clementine from his memory. After one too many fights, perhaps already starting to drift apart, the two have broken up for good. Joel discovers that Clementine has already had him erased from her own memory (she's the impulsive one) and Joel, more in retaliation than actual want, decides to undergo the procedure as well. But as the memories of the couple are replayed in his mind, he realizes that whatever present pain he might feel is not worth the lose of the love he had. It is in this moment that is the turning point in the film.

The couple, nestled under the covers, perhaps on a lazy Sunday, are protected from the outside world. The light shines through the blanket like sun through a chapel's stained-glass window, illuminating Clementine as she makes a confession. When she was little she had an ugly doll that she gave her name to. She would yell at it to be pretty hoping that it would transform herself as well. Its the kind of painful memory that shaped Clementine into becoming the woman she is. By allowing Joel to peer into her soul with such trust, free of judgment, she allows her love to make herself vulnerable to him. At that moment, it is just the two of them. That intimacy that they share is the catalyst Joel needs to remember that this is what love is all about. It is ugly and beautiful. It's not being afraid to share yourself with someone else among a fort of blankets and secrets. Knowing that no matter what animosity may later arise, there was always glimmers of close perfection. Quite simply, it was real.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Year in Advance Oscar Predictions 2014: Best Supporting Actress

And so we've come to the end of my Year in Advance Oscar Predictions with my picks for Best Supporting Actress. This time a year ago, no one had ever heard of Lupita Nyong'o, let alone predicted her to win an Oscar. But the Academy loves a Cinderella story and this year's potential nominees literally could include Cinderella herself. She may be joined by another of her fairy tale co-stars looking to score her first nom, a previous winner in this category, and a couple of recent Best Actress nominees hoping midnight hasn't struck on their Oscar prospects.
* * *

Best Supporting Actress
Emily Blunt Into the Woods
Viola Davis Get On Up
Marcia Gay Harden Magic in the Moonlight
Anna Kendrick Into the Woods
Rooney Mara Carol

Emily Blunt Into the Woods

The Role: Blunt reteams with her Devil Wears Prada co-star, Meryl Streep, in the movie version of Stephen Sondheim's musical. Blunt plays the part of the Baker's Wife. To break the spell cast on her by a Witch (Streep) to remain childless, she must bring back certain items from the woods. 
Why She'll Be Nominated: Although Joanna Gleason won the Leading Actress Tony for her performance as the Baker's Wife in the original production of Into the Woods on Broadway, I have a strong feeling that Blunt will be campaigned in the Supporting category here. As we've just recently witnessed with Julia Roberts in August: Osage County, even when you are the main protagonist and have more screen time, you NEVER try to compete for a Best Actress Oscar against Meryl fucking Streep. The Witch may have the catchiest songs and a fabulous transformation, but the Baker's Wife is really the heart of the story. As a new mother (Blunt just gave birth to daughter Hazel on February 16), the story of a woman's longing to have a child could resonant with voters. She may also not be the first to come to mind as the star of a musical, which only gives her the potential to impress with the quality of her singing voice. Even though she may have four Golden Globe nominations, it seems the never-nominated Emily Blunt is about due to receive her first Oscar nomination. 

Viola Davis Get On Up

The Role: In this biopic about the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, Davis plays his estranged mother Susie Brown. She was only 16 when she had him and  young James and his mother grew-up in extreme poverty. His mother left him when he was still a young boy to fend for himself.
Why She'll Be Nominated: The last time Davis worked with director Tate Taylor on another Southern drama, The Help, she earned her second Academy Award nomination (and some say robbed of a win) for her performance as a maid in 60's set Alabama. Hoping lightening strikes twice for the pair, Davis is looking to score her third career nomination (if she does, she would have more acting nominations than any other Black actress in history). With two Tony Awards and training from the prestigious Juilliard school, Davis is well-respected and highly regarded in the acting community. The fact that she recently lost the Best Actress Oscar could have voters giving her a make-up nomination here as a substitute. My only hesitation is if the role is large enough to merit attention, but her first nomination in Doubt come about with only 10 minutes of screen time. Needless to say, she is more than capable of making the most of any size part and her prominence in the just-released trailer is certainly promising.

Marcia Gay Harden Magic in the Moonlight

The Role: I don't know! Woody likes to keep the plots of his films under wraps. The actors in the film don't even know the complete story as they're only given the pages of the script that they're in. If I had to take a wild guess, I would say she plays the disapproving mother of Emma Stone's character that happens to find a romance of her own while on vacation in the South of France. 
Why She'll Be Nominated: History has shown us that it is virtually impossible for a successful Woody Allen film to be followed by another one of quality (Vicky Cristina Barcelona was followed by Whatever Works, To Rome With Love unfortunately followed Midnight in Paris). With a profitable box office (a female driven film making money? The world is round, people!) and Oscar love for last summer's Blue Jasmine, the odds aren't looking so good for Magic in the Moonlight. But the last time Woody set a film in the 1920's (we do know that much about the film), Dianne Wiest won in this category for Bullets Over Broadway and co-star Jennifer Tilly also received a nomination. And his last French set film (Midnight in Paris), was his all-time biggest box office champ. Working in a Woody Allen movie is also a great way to score a Best Supporting Actress nomination (his films have received 10 nominations and 4 wins in this category). So it seems like a safe bet that two-time nominee (and winner for Pollock) Marcia Gay Harden could be finding herself in this category once again.

Anna Kendrick Into the Woods

The Role: As the glass slipper-losing, fairy tale princess, Kendrick plays Cinderella in the movie musical. It's your typical rags to riches story. Oh, and she talks with birds. Here's her big number: "On the Steps of the Palace".
Why She'll Be Nominated: Oscar Nominee Anna Kendrick's profile certainly has risen since her Best Supporting Actress nomination for Up in the Air back in 2009. With the surprise success of Pitch Perfect and scoring a Top 10 Hit on Billboard Hot 100 with her performance of the movie's song "Cups", she seems to have secured her place as a hot, young star to watch. This year alone she has six new movies coming out including the movie version of another musical, The Last Five Years. But it seems the Tony-nominated actress's best attempts at a nomination this year will come from her supporting role in the high-profile Disney movie musical. The role of Cinderella brought awards recognition to Broadway star Laura Benanti during the most recent Broadway revival. Hopefully Kendrick can translate her new-found success, musical skills, and comedic timing to steal scenes and capture the Academy's attention. 

Rooney Mara Carol

The Role: In writer/director Todd Haynes' adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's The Price of Salt, Rooney Mara plays department store shopgirl, Therese Belivet, in 1950's New York City. After seeing Carol (Cate Blanchett) in her store, Therese is immediately attracted to her (despite having a boyfriend) and forms a relationship with the older woman. 
Why She'll Be Nominated: There's been awards buzz surrounding this film since it was announced and it only just started filming yesterday! Mara, who already scored a Best Actress nomination for David Fincher's Girl With a Dragon Tattoo, took over this part from originally cast Mia Wasikowska. But the role would be an awards' magnet for whomever plays the lesbian lover opposite two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett and working alongside Oscar nominee Haynes in this period-set drama. She also has an advantage by playing a co-lead, giving her more material and time to develop a more complex character. Mara has worked with some impressive directors (Fincher twice, Steven Soderbergh, Spike Jonze, Terrence Malick) over the past few years and seems to be compiling a filmography that's the envy of every young actress in Hollywood. It seems likely that she'll continue to be on Oscar's radar in the upcoming years.

Other Possibilities: Annette Bening The Search, Jane Fonda This is Where I Leave You, Keira Knightley The Imitation Game, Jena Malone Inherent Vice, Sarah Paulson Carol

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Year in Advance Oscar Predictions 2014: Best Supporting Actor

I'll be the first to admit that, historically, this is my worst category at predicting so far in advance. It's always hard to know exactly which roles will land, how parts will be campaigned, and, most importantly, if there's enough there to warrant a nomination. The 5 men I've decided on consist of 3 previous winners in this category, a veteran character actor that seems to have a buzz-worthy role in a hit from Sundance, and a relatively new movie star trying to prove his worth as an actor by scoring his first Oscar nomination.

Best Supporting Actor
Benicio Del Toro Inherent Vice
J.K. Simmons Whiplash
Channing Tatum Foxcatcher
Christopher Walken Jersey Boys
Christoph Waltz Big Eyes

* * *

Benicio Del Toro Inherent Vice

The Role: Del Torro teams up with Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel. He plays a character named Sauncho Smilax, the attorney to main character Doc (Phoenix), who is called upon time and time again to get his friend and client out of scraps.   
Why He'll Be Nominated: Del Toro is just one of those actors that I tend to always choose for nominations. He's so talented that I feel anytime he's involved with something, it's worth taking notice. Nominated twice before (and a winner for Traffic), it seems the Academy likes him as well (although, he hasn't been nominated in over 10 years). I haven't read the novel yet, but hear the part he plays is relatively small–with the potential to steal scenes. Anderson has apparently said the film feels like a Cheech and Chong movie. If anyone could make the Academy take notice of a stoner flick, it's him. Hopefully, Del Toro's turn in the film will be just the sort of tasty treat the Academy will crave.

J.K. Simmons Whiplash

The Role: Reprising his role from the award-winng short on which the film is based, Simmons plays a hard-ass, profanity spewing...jazz instructor that challenges Miles Teller to be the best damn jazz drummer he can be.
Why He'll Be Nominated: Whiplash, which was already a hit at Sundance last year when it won the Jury prize for best short film, was a big winner at the festival again this year when it took home the top Audience and Grand Jury prize for dramatic film. Almost all of the reviews have singled out Simmons for his performance in the film as a definite standout. The actor, who has been working steadily for years in television and commercials and been giving solid supporting turns in Oscar nominated films like Juno and Up in the Air seems to have finally found a role that allows him to shine. If the film's Sundance success translates to wider audiences, it seems that Simmons could be looking at his first Oscar nomination. 

Channing Tatum Foxcatcher

The Role: Taking on the real-life role of Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler Mark Schultz, Tatum plays the brother of fellow Olympian and murder victim Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo). Dave was shot by millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carrell) on his estate where the brothers trained. The film is based on the autobiography that Mark wrote about the event.
Why He'll Be Nominated: Already named the Sexiest Man Alive by People magazine, it seems that being just a pretty face (and abs and ass and...) just isn't enough for Channing Tatum. Although he's shown himself to be a talented actor in both comedy and drama (he's especially good in his Indie Spirit nominated role in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints), it seems that tackling this part could bring him the kind of respect afforded other handsome male stars, like Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise before him, that had to prove their worth with the Academy. 21 Jump Street co-star Jonah Hill scored his first Oscar nomination working with director Bennett Miller. Perhaps the director will be the key to scoring Tatum's first nomination as well. Just imagine the ads if the two make a third Jump Street film...  

Christopher Walken Jersey Boys

The Role: The Oscar winner plays Gyp DeCarlo, the New Jersey crime boss that had ties to The Four Seasons (the real DeCarlo was also involved with Frank Sinatra). This is the film version of the Tony award-winning musical based on the lives of the popular singing group.
Why He'll Be Nominated: Although this particular role was not an awards magnet when the show was on stage, the reason I think Walken could score here is for the simple fact that he's Christopher Walken. This category tends to go for performances from seasoned actors and Walken, being directed by Clint Eastwood, and the only known "name" in the film could be the kind of performance that the Academy goes for. I'm just hoping that this performance is as good as his charmingly sinister role as the tap-dancing pimp in Pennies From Heaven, which should have brought a nomination in this category years ago...

Christoph Waltz Big Eyes

The Role: Playing opposite Oscar hopeful Amy Adams in this Tim Burton film, Waltz plays "artist" Walter Keane. Keane became a celebrity in the 60s due to the popular paintings he claimed ownership for that were, in fact, created by his wife.
Why He'll Be Nominated: After winning a pair of Oscars in this category for roles that were arguably leads, it seems that Waltz may find himself with a third nomination (it would be his first for a non-Tarantino film) for a another role that could potentially be a lead as well. We'll have to wait to see whom exactly the focus of the film is on. It sounds like more of Margaret Keane's story to me. And if Harvey Weinstein wants to make the campaign all about getting Amy a win, it seems logical that putting Waltz in supporting would put the focus more on her. Waltz who seems to take delight in playing villainous roles, could find himself rewarded once again for taking on this unlikable figure. 

Other Possibilities: Josh Brolin Inherent Vice, Johnny Depp Into the Woods, Robert Duvall The Judge, Garrett Hedlund Unbroken, Mark Ruffalo Foxcatcher

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Year In Advance Oscar Predictions 2014: Best Actress

My picks for Year in Advance Oscar Predications continue with a look at Best Actress. There are definitely some familiar faces on my list this year, with no less than 3 out of the 5 women that just competed in this category this past year. Is it too soon for them? Well, one of them is named Meryl Streep, so...And Oscar favorites Cate Blanchett and Amy Adams will be hard to ignore with these roles. Throw in an It girl about to have a busy year and an underrated actress set to potentially hit big with an anticipated adaption of a wildly popular book and you have the actresses that make up my early choices.

Best Actress
Amy Adams Big Eyes
Cate Blanchett Carol
Rosamund Pike Gone Girl
Emma Stone Untitled Cameron Crowe Film
Meryl Streep Into the Woods

* * *

Amy Adams Big Eyes

The Role: Adams plays real-life artist Margaret Keane who created kitschy paintings of children with large eyes that became all the rage in the 1960's. The only problem was that her husband (Christoph Waltz) took all the credit for their creation and success. After their divorce, she sued him for plagiarism and the case made its way all the way to federal court where the two had  to compete in a live paint-off.
Why She'll Be Nominated: With 5 nominations and no win yet, Adams is rapidly approaching "overdue" territory. She just received her first nomination in this category for American Hustle where she was seen as the only viable option to dethrone Cate's inevitable victory, so it seems like we should start seeing a "Give Amy the Oscar" campaign happening very soon. Big Eyes is being directed by Tim Burton who is usually hit or miss with the Academy, but he's reunited with the writers of his biggest award winner, Ed Wood. The film is also being distributed by The Weinstein Company who will no doubt be heavily campaigning for Adams. Amazingly, all of Adams' previous nominations were for fictional characters. So perhaps the key to the win is this based-on-a-true-story tale.

Cate Blanchett Carol

The Role: The recent Best Actress winner plays Carol Aird, a wife and mother in 1950's New York City that starts a romantic and sexual relationship with a young shop girl named Therese (Rooney Mara). While in the midst of a divorce from her husband, Carol and Therese embark on a road trip out West.
Why She'll Be Nominated: Although she just won her second Oscar (out of a total 6 nominations) it's safe to say that the Academy likes her. They really like her. Maybe another nomination back-to-back is a little much, but the reason I think she'll land another so quickly is because of the pedigree of the film and the potential of the role. Blanchett is reteaming with her I'm Not There director Todd Haynes, a man that knows his way around a period piece, but more importantly knows his ladies. This is his first project since directing Kate Winslet to an Emmy win in Mildred Pierce and he's also adapting the film from Patricia Highsmith's novel The Price of Salt. The last time Cate appeared in a Highsmith adaptation we got her scene-stealing role in The Talented Mr. Ripley. With The Weinstein Company behind this one as well (Harvey won't stop until he gets credit for ALL the nominations!), my only hesitation in predicting this is that it starts filming this week in Ohio and may not be ready in time for the end of the year. 

Rosamund Pike Gone Girl

The Role: The British actress takes on the role of Amy Dunne, a former New Yorker that moves to her husband's home state of Missouri after he loses his job writing for a magazine. Amy despises her new life in Middle America and her marriage becomes strained with her husband (Ben Affleck). On the day of their 5th wedding anniversary, she goes missing...
Why She'll Be Nominated: Rosamund Pike has been steadily working for years in supporting parts of prestigious films where her costars get all the credit (Pride and Prejudice, An Education, Made in Dagenham). Hopefully with this film (she won the part over such big name stars as Charlize Theron, Natalie Portman, and Reese Witherspoon–who is a producer on the film), she will have the chance to have her profile elevated and stand out for her talent. It sure doesn't hurt that Gone Girl is based on the best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn (who adapted her work for the big screen and apparently drastically changed the ending). But the main potential to catch Oscar's attention is the involvement of director David Fincher at the helm. His past three movies (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo) have all scored acting nominations and with Amy being the most complex and juiciest part, it seems like a safe bet that Pike will be continuing that nomination streak.

Emma Stone Untitled Cameron Crowe Film

The Role: In a film that was at one point titled Deep Tiki (um, good thing we're still searching for a title), Stone stars in this Hawaiian set romantic dramedy as Air Force pilot Captain Allison Ng. She teams up with a disgraced US weapons consultant (Bradley Cooper) to oversee the launch of a spy satellite. 
Why She'll Be Nominated: 2014 is looking to be a busy year for Emma Stone. She has no less than 4 major films debuting this year, starting with the sure-to-be-huge sequel to The Amazing Spider-Man, the lead in Woody Allen's 1920's set Magic in the Moonlight (which could potentially help her awards traction), the first comedic film from Oscar nominated directer Alejandro Gonzaléz Iñárritu, Birdman, and this film, that could be her best shot at her first Oscar nomination, from Academy Award-winning writer/director Cameron Crowe. Crowe's most recent films haven't exactly fared well with Oscar the way his previous efforts have, but this film sounds more along the lines of Academy favorite Jerry Maguire and less like We Bought a Zoo. And for some reason, I'm getting a very Silver Linings Playbook vibe from it (maybe that's just because of the presence of Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper) and that film was loved by the Academy in a big way. The film also stars Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, and Alec Baldwin, but it seems like Stone, who is well-liked in the industry and seems poised for a nomination soon, especially as the object of affection in this adult rom-com, is the best bet for recognition. (Hey, it worked for Jennifer Lawrence.)

Meryl Streep Into the Woods

The Role: Careful the choices you make, Children will listen...to Meryl Streep as a signing witch that curses a Baker and his Wife to remain childless. She also just happens to have Rapunzel locked in a tower and is really just looking for the potion to turn her young and beautiful again (much like every actress in Hollywood). 
Why She'll Be Nominated: Eh, perhaps you didn't see the name? It's Meryl fucking Streep. She gets nominated for everything! (I know that's not technically true, but it's a pretty safe bet that if she's in something that's being released at the end of the year and even remotely Oscary–she's getting a nomination.) Director Rob Marshall brings this musical fairy tale to life adapted from the Stephen Sondheim Broadway show. Bernadette Peters, who played the Witch in the original production, didn't manage a Tony nomination (although Vanessa Williams did in the most recent Broadway revival), but the role is the show's flashiest and the Witch has all the best songs ("Last Midnight" and a new one written just for Meryl and the film). And perhaps you didn't notice that Meryl Streep will be playing the part? Plus she gets to play both haggard, old wench and glamorous diva in the same performance. So, should I put her down for double nominations for this role?

Other Possibilities: Jessica Chastain Miss Julie, Angelina Jolie Maleficent, Nicole Kidman Grace of Monaco, Carey Mulligan Far From the Maddening Crowd, Reese Witherspoon Wild

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Year In Advance Oscar Predictions 2014: Best Actor

It's been a couple days since this past Sunday's Oscar ceremony (Congratulations Cate, Matthew, Lupita, and Jared! I would congratulate myself for predicting your wins, but literally everyone else was also predicting them) and with all the talk of Ellen's twitter-breaking selfie, the emergence of the wickedly talented new star Adele Dazeem, and Kim Novak's face, it seems that everyone was forgetting one very important thing:  who would be next year's acting nominees! But, Leto still hasn't loosened his hold on his statue since Sunday, I can hear you say. It's still warm in his hand! Do try to keep up–Oscar predictions wait for no one! All this week I'll be posting my annual Year in Advance predictions for this year's upcoming acting nominations. So, let's take a look at the fellas that will be vying to take home Best Actor a year from now!

Best Actor
Chadwick Boseman Get On Up
Steve Carrell Foxcatcher
Benedict Cumberbatch The Imitation Game
Jack O'Connell Unbroken
Joaquin Phoenix Inherent Vice

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Chadwick Boseman Get On Up

The Role: After taking on the legendary Jackie Robinson in last year's 42, Boseman tackles another icon, The Godfather of Soul, James Brown. The film is the first follow-up, after the Oscar-winning The Help, for director Tate Taylor, who has been quoted as saying that he keeps forgetting to yell cut on set because Boseman is so mesmerizing in the role. 
Why He'll Be Nominated: Oscar often rewards actors for mimicking other famous personalities (it worked for Jamie Foxx in Ray and Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line) and James Brown is certainly a larger than life personality. Boseman, who has no experience signing and dancing previously, provides his own singing in the film and worked hard to learn Brown's fancy footwork (just as long as he got the cape exit down), which is sure to gain him points for difficulty. After the relative success of 42 (might it have had more Oscar buzz if it hadn't been released in April?) and a place upon the cover of this year's Vanity Fair Hollywood Issue alongside such Hollywood heavyweights as Julia Roberts and George Clooney (okay, so he was on the 3rd panel of the cover, but still very impressive), it seems that Boseman is becoming an actor to watch. A role as flashy as James Brown will be hard to ignore, especially if the film hits big.

Steve Carrell Foxcatcher

The Role: Carrell is a long way from Michael Scott in The Office as he plays the real-life John du Pont, a wealthy sports enthusiast that set up a wrestling training facility on his Philadelphia estate named Foxcatcher Farms. du Pont was found guilty of murder when he shot and killed one of the wrestlers that trained at his home (played by Mark Ruffalo). 
Why He'll Be Nominated: If you feel like you're experiencing dèjá vu, it's because I already predicted Carrell would be nominated for this film...last year...in Supporting. After a debut at the AFI Festival back in November that never happened, the film's release was pushed back to this year. Normally that would be a sign that all is not right with the film (ahem, Monuments Men anyone), but my confidence in it has not diminished. Mainly because the track record of director Bennett Miller in regards to Oscar has already been proven with his two previous reality-based films, Capote and Moneyball. After seeing the trailer (which they quickly pulled down), there's no question that Carrell is definitely the lead of the film and that he looks to be doing some pretty intense, dramatic work that could pay off with his first nomination. Oscar loves to honor actors that succeed in challenging themselves (see this year's win for McConaughey) and Carrell, who made a name for himself in comedy, could be looking at a career-changing performance.

Benedict Cumberbatch The Imitation Game

The Role: Cumberbatch stars as the famed British mathematician, cryptographer, and computer scientist Alan Turing. He was influential in England's cracking of the Enigma codes that the Nazis used to send information during WWII. But the man that was once a hero was soon condemned by his own country when he was prosecuted for homosexuality in 1952. He dead 2 years later, days before he was to turn 42, from cyanide poisoning. 
Why He'll Be Nominated: So, last year's Oscar plans with The Fifth Estate didn't work out quite as planned, did they? But Cumberbitches, rejoice! Everyone's favorite otter-resembling, tongue-twistingly named thespian (someone please have Travolta introduce him) may be headed for his first nomination. For real, this time. The film already has the hefty support of Oscar-hungry mogul Harvey Weinstein who paid a record-breaking $7 Million for the US distribution of the film, sight unseen. If Harvey thinks it has awards potential just from looking at a promo reel, the actual film must be pretty damn good. The script was already awarded the top spot on the annual Black List back in 2010 (although that blessing certainly didn't help the Oscar outcome of this past year's Black List approved Saving Mr. Banks), so the pedigree and prestige are certainly already there. Cumberbatch, already beloved on the internet and capable of great work, seems like a perfect fit to bring Turing's complex and tragic story to the screen.

Jack O'Connell Unbroken

The Role: Unbroken is the true story of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini (O'Connell). He survived a plane crash in the Pacific, spent 47 days stranded at sea, and endured 2 and half years in a Japanese POW camp during WWII. Cue the inspirational music.
Why He'll Be Nominated: The film has some pretty impressive credentials: directed by Oscar winner Angelina Jolie, the screenplay is written by the Coen Brothers and based on the novel by Laura Hillenbrand, whose novel about Seabiscuit went on to inspire the Oscar-nominated film. With a Christmas release date and advertising for the film already starting 10 months early in a prime spot during the Winter Olympics (which thrives on inspiring human-interest stories), it seems that it's already being groomed for the next Oscar ceremony. Young British actor Jack O'Connell may not exactly be a household name (he starred as James Cook in a couple season's of the UK Skins), but he's poised to potentially hit big with his lead role in the film. Oscar tends to reward its actors when they're a little older and more seasoned, but I'm guessing that the film, and O'Connell's work in it, won't be overlooked by the Academy. 

Joaquin Phoenix Inherent Vice

The Role: Re-teaming with his director from The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson, Phoenix takes on the role of Larry "Doc" Sportello, a pot-smoking private investigator in 1969 LA that investigates the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend.
Why He'll Be Nominated: Phoenix garnered his third Oscar nomination the last time the two worked together. After this past year's strong work in the Oscar-winning Her, it seems he's really taking his place as one of our most exciting and talented actors working today. His work in those two films alone shows the versatility and range that he's capable of. This film is based on the novel of the same name by celebrated novelist Thomas Pynchon (who has never had any film adaptations of his work until now), with Anderson himself adapting the screenplay as well. Even if the film seems to be a little more light-hearted than most of Anderson's previous work (anyone else think that Phoenix is going to kill as a pothead? He already did all the research he needed with I'm Still Here), it seems safe to say that the director and his star's collaboration should be sure to grab some attention from Oscar. 

Other Possibilities: Christian Bale Exodus, Ralph Fiennes The Grand Budapest Hotel, Gael García Bernal Rosewater, Michael Keaton Birdman, Brad Pitt Fury, Timothy Spall Mr. Turner

Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Guide to Best Actress 2013

Tomorrow is the big night and I've saved the best for last...Best Documentary Short Subject! No, wait. That's not right...

In a year filled with great performances by younger actresses (Brie Larson Short Term 12, Greta Gerwig Frances Ha, and Adèle Exarchopoulos Blue Is the Warmest Color) the Academy decided to go older than they usually do. (Funny, they usually love a hot new thing.) And this year's Best Actress category is the oldest lineup ever. If shoulda-been-nominated Emma Thompson had found her place here for Saving Mr. Banks over Amy Adams, it would have been even older and made up entirely of previous winners! As it stands, for the first time since 1994's lineup, the category now consists of all previous nominees. And despite a late surge in support for the only actress yet to win, Amy Adams, the category has been locked up since the summer. Blanchett for the win! Oh, I'm supposed to wait until the end for that...

* * *

Amy Adams American Hustle

Age: 39
Previous Oscar Nominations: This is Adams' first nomination in the leading category. She's been nominated four times previously in the Best Supporting Actress category: Junebug (2005), Doubt (2008), The Fighter (2010), and The Master (2012). She's the only one of the actresses in this category not to have previously won.
The Role: Con Artist Sydney Prosser. Or is it wealthy English aristocrat Lady Edith Greensley? Either way she has an intense disdain for bras or tops that button up. Really just trying to get over on all of these guys.
Why She's Here: I love that David O. Russell is able to tap into different aspects of Amy Adams that haven't been utilized on screen before. The first time they worked together in The Fighter may actually be my favorite of her nominated performances (she should've won over Melissa Leo's showboating). Who would have thought the actress that gained famed for playing a Disney princess brought to life (Man, she was good in Enchanted. The Academy really dropped the ball not nominating her for that...) and corned the market on naive, idealist roles could be so believably jaded and tough? With her role in this film, she's never been sexier, using her femininity to its full effect and using it to seduce the characters on screen as well as the audience. I know people have said that her English accent isn't very convincing, but isn't that exactly the point? Sydney is putting on the accent like she does so many of her plunging-necklined gowns–as a tool in her arsenal of distraction. She is playing a part and making it up as she goes along. Which is essentially what the film is all about. Of the 4 nominated performances from American Hustle, this is the one that has grown in my esteem since first seeing it in December.

Cate Blanchett Blue Jasmine

Age: 44
Previous Oscar Nominations: Blanchett won previously for Best Supporting Actress for playing Oscar's most honored actress Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator (2004). She first hit Oscar's attention with a Best Actress nomination for Elizabeth (1998) and gained another nomination for the sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007). That same year she was a double nominee with a supporting nom for I'm Not There. And received another supporting nomination for Notes on a Scandal (2006).
The Role: Jasmine French (she changed it from Jeanette, which just didn't have enough panache), a wealthy New York socialite that ends up penniless when her Wall Street husband (Alec Baldwin) is arrested. She moves in with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco as her life and mental stability begin to unwind. Really just wondering who she has to sleep with around here to get a Stoli martini with a twist of lemon...If only her Xanax would kick in.
Why She's Here: With her role in Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett may have given the best performance of her career (and she's already an actress with some pretty great performances to her credit). As Jasmine, Blanchett is acting dynamite–risky, exciting, and you're never exactly sure of when she's gonna blow up entirely. Delusional and self-centered, Jasmine is a challenge to like, but her unraveling is endlessly fascinating to watch. It seems that Blanchett hasn't been on screen nearly enough these past years, due to her work as the artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company. It was time well spent as she puts her theatrical experience and technical skills to full effect in this role, calling to mind her work as Blanche in Streetcar (the best star performance I've seen on stage). In the past months, some have questioned whether the film should be honored due to the resurfacing of scandals in Woody Allen's private life. But to not honor this performance with the Best Actress Oscar would be a travesty against Blanchett's impeccable work.

Sandra Bullock Gravity

Age: 49
Previous Oscar Nominations: Sandy won Best Actress for 2009's The Blind Side
The Role: Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, an astronaut that finds herself adrift in space after a meteorite shower hits. She is the lone surviver (RIP Clooney) and must find her way back to earth.
Why She's Here: America loves Sandy a lot more than I do. Her win for The Blind Side may be may least favorite in recent years (It's kinda fitting that she won the Razzie the same year). But, she's so likable and charming that the public, and now the Academy, seem to equate likability with dramatic talent. She has a natural effortless in her comedic roles, like this past year's The Heat, which definitely helped in securing her a nomination this year. It also helps that Gravity was also a huge hit from a respected director. The film is an astonishing technical achievement with not much in the way of plot or complex characters. I actually don't mind that the film is simple, it gives us more time to focus on the wonder. But, her character is a stand-in for the audience, giving a human face to all the surrounding spectacle. Even the backstory of having a daughter that has died seems more of a necessary add-on as opposed to an essential part of the storytelling. But Sandy does everything asked of her with full commitment, ultimately making us care about the fate of Ryan Stone.

Judi Dench Philomena

Age: 79
Previous Oscar Nominations: This is Dench's 7th nomination. She won for Best Supporting Actress in Shakespeare in Love (1998) and was previously nominated for Best Actress for Mrs. Brown (1997), Iris (2001), Mrs. Henderson Presents (2005), and Notes on a Scandal (2006) and Best Supporting Actress in Chocolat (2000)
The Role: The real-life story of Philomena Lee, an Irish woman in search of the fate of the son that was taken from her and given up for adoption while she lived within a nunnery. She loves a breakfast buffet, but worries about the size of American portions. Her favorite film is Big Momma's House.
Why She's Here: I might be in the minority of actually liking this film and Judi Dench in it. While nothing groundbreaking or edgy, it's a sweet story told with simplicity, heart, and humor. It's the kind of film that you can see with your Grandma. Dench is typically good, which is pretty much the norm. The one distraction being her Irish accent which seems to come and go throughout the film. (Unlike Amy Adams, this character requires an actual accent that is supposed to be believable.) She sells the comedic bits with ease, doing her best to make the simple character not as dumb as she seems. And just looking at Dench's face is enough to see the decades of hurt and longing that she's held on to. It's a solid performance from a great actress. It may also be the one performance from these nominees that will be hard to recall in a year.

Meryl Streep August: Osage County

Age: 64
Previous Oscar Nominations: This is the first nominations for the newcomer...just kidding. This is Meryl's record-breaking 18th nomination. But she's been breaking the record since nomination number 13. She has won three times before: Best Supporting Actress Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) and Best Actress for Sophie's Choice (1982) and The Iron Lady (2011). And here's the rest. Yep, I'm gonna list them all. Best Supporting Actress: The Deer Hunter (1978) and Adaptation (2002) Best Actress: The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), Silkwood (1983), Out of Africa (1985), Ironweed (1987), A Cry in the Dark (1988), Postcards From the Edge (1990), The Bridges of Madison County (1995), One True Thing (1998), Music of the Heart (1999), The Devil Wears Prada (2006), Doubt (2008), Julie and Julia (2009)
The Role: Violet, The pill-popping matriarch of the Weston family. Dying of cancer, she isn't afraid to say what's exactly on her mind. It's just truth tellin'...
Why She's Here: Because she's Meryl Streep and get's default nominations for just being in a film. Look, Meryl is always going to be considered the greatest actress of our time. She loves acting. She loves creating characters that are each different from the other, whether with a different accent or a change in the register of her voice. She loves to change her physicality, literally transforming into different people. She makes big choices with how she portrays characters, which is why the reward is so great–she goes full-throttal, not afraid to fail. It's just that she always seems to be better than the actual movies that she's in. With August, many have complained that she's too over the top, but that's what is asked of the character. I do feel that on stage, the role was played more biting, with a brittleness that cut like glass (which would have been great to see from Jane Fonda or Sigourney Weaver in the role). Meryl just never comes across as caustic enough. She has a natural warmth that shows that she cares even when she's saying horrible things. It definitely brings a humanity to the part, but just never feels right for the character.

Will Win: Cate Blanchett, the part is too great not to win
Should Win: Blanchett, Blanchett, Blanchett. Sure to rank as one of the best wins of all-time...