Friday, March 30, 2012

The Golden Age of the Superhero Movie

Oscar season. December 15, 1978. A labor of love hit theaters. Richard Donner was the director. But Superman was the brain child of Ilya Salkind. He spent a year trying to get the film rights from DC Comics. Went though a list of potential actors for the role of the Man of Steel, from Dustin Hoffman to Muhammed Ali. The chance to direct was offered to a slew of helmsmen. Francis Ford Coppola, Sam Peckinpah, even George Lucas, who had to turn it down to film his own passion film, Star Wars. Spielberg was on the list as well, prior to the release of Jaws. Richard Donner got the job because of his success with The Omen. That's how long Salkind was working on it.

Marlon Brando was the first actor cast. For a part as small as Jor-El, he received a shockingly high paycheck. His total salary, including his percentage of the gross was $19 million. An insane amount of money to pay an actor in the 1970s. Especially considering he only worked 12 days on the film and didn't memorize a single line of dialog. From the time he was cast, it was still another 2 years before they started shooting.

Little bit of trivia: The scene at the beginning of Superman II with Lois Lane in Paris and Superman flying the bomb into space where he accidentally destroys the Phantom Zone, releasing General Zod? That's the original ending of Superman. They decided not to end it on a cliffhanger, just in case the movie bombed.

It didn't bomb. In fact, it became the 6th highest grossing film of all-time with a whopping $134 million domestic. Needless to say, it's not still #6. Actually, it's #282. In 2012 dollars, it made the equivalent of close to $450 million. It was THAT kind of hit. Adjusted for inflation, it's the biggest superhero film of all-time not featuring Batman or Spider-Man.

Most importantly though, it launched the Golden Age of the Superhero Movie. The age where comic book characters could be used in a serious film. Granted, it didn't happen all at once. The first 2 Superman films were attempts at art. But it was surrounded by less serious films like Flash Gordon, Sheena, and Supergirl. Then came Superman 3 and 4 and it seemed to come to a halt. That is, until 2 years later, when Tim Burton's Batman was released.

An enormous box office hit, one would have thought more films in the genre would have followed. There were a few: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Rocketeer were the most notable. Less so was Darkman, which is only worth noting since it was directed by Sam Raimi, who went on to direct the Spider-Man films featuring Tobey Maguire.But the only ones making good money were the Batman films and TMNT. The latter was not at all serious and the Batman film seemed to stop trying after Burton left the franchise. Other films fell by the wayside: The Shadow, Tank Girl, Judge Dredd, Barb Wire. While box office disappointments, they did help set up what was to come. Essentially, they taught the studios two things: 1. Audiences take these characters seriously and 2. You can't do them half-assed.

Then the summer of 1998 happened. Two heroes hit the screen that summer. One, very familiar with audiences; the other, not so much. The first film was The Mask of Zorro, proof that studios had learned the above considering that the previous Zorro film was Zorro, the Gay Blade. Audiences didn't want a Gay Blade. They wanted a more serious Zorro. Also in the summer of '98 was a different kind of Blade, one that killed vampires and wasn't the least bit gay. As result of those two films, more classic characters went into production, but America would have to wait another two years.

Two more serious superhero films launched in 2000. Bryan Singer's X-Men went on to gross $157 million that summer. In the winter, M. Night Shyalaman brought us a new kind of superhero movie where we get to know the hero as much as the powers. Unbreakable did a solid $95 million.

At this point, the studios must have been convinced (finally) of the wide appeal of the superhero genre. And if they weren't by 2000, they definitely were by 2002, when Spider-Man became the first film EVER to do the previously unthinkable: The $100 million opening weekend. $114 million is 3 days, to be exact. Not bad considering the film "only" cost $139 million to make. But, with a box office take of over $400 million, the formula was cemented. Blade 2 also hit that summer, making even more than the first.

Still, we are talking about studios here. Just because you have the recipe, doesn't mean they know how to cook it. In 2003, they learned you can't rush these films, even with good directors. Mark Steven Johnson's Daredevil and Ang Lee's Hulk, while blockbusters, were creative disappointments. The upside was Bryan Singer's follow-up X2: X-Men United, a huge hit that summer.

It was in 2004 that the true onslaught began. Amazingly, it didn't even start until April with Guillermo Del Toro (who directed Blade II) and the creative Hellboy. That year also brought us The Punisher, Spider-Man 2, Catwoman, The Incredibles, and Blade: Trinity. Needless to say, not all were successful, but Spider-Man 2 and Pixar's Incredibles were enough to keep the genre riding high.

2005 was a bit of a setback. Only one film stood out, but, boy, did it ever. Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins introduced to audiences the concept of the reboot. Most fans still remembered Tim Burton's Batman very well and didn't see right away why telling the origin story again a mere 16 years later would be necessary. One viewing and you could see why. But its success certainly made up for Elektra (the Daredevil spinoff no one asked for), Sky High (the parody no one asked for), The Legend of Zorro (the sequel people stopped asking for years ago), and The Fantastic Four, which was a decent-sized hit despite not being close to the film people wanted.

Remember Sky High? Probably not. But whenever Hollywood is successful at something, they like to both play it to death and endlessly mock it. 2006 brought another X-Men sequel. This time, without Bryan Singer, who helmed the Superman reboot, Superman Returns. It also brought two more superhero "comedies", My Super Ex-Girlfriend and Zoom.

In 2007, we saw an attempt to launch another franchise, Ghost Rider, and more disappointing sequels, Spider-Man 3 and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Much like every other trend in Hollywood, every time it seems a trend is about to see it's end, a film is made to create its comeback. 2008 was that, and then some.

It didn't start off that way. The first superhero movie that year was, appropriately enough, entitled Superhero Movie. Yet ANOTHER spoof of the genre. But then summer hit, starting off with an epic-sized bang in the form of Iron Man, launching both the Iron Man and Avengers franchises. Another addition to the Avengers franchise came a month later with the reboot of The Incredible Hulk. Wanted created its own franchise (assuming the sequel to the hit is ever made). The half-spoof/half-legit Hancock did sequel-worthy business over 4th of July, followed by Hellboy II. But despite all the buzz and talk of awards, no one could have expected the mammoth success of The Dark Knight, Nolan's follow-up to Batman Begins, which achieved two milestones no other superhero film reached: the biggest box office hit of all-time (of films not made by James Cameron) and the first to win an Oscar in a major category (for Heath Ledger as the Joker). There was one more hero film that year, but almost no one even remembers The Spirit.

Only 2 films of note came out in 2009. Zack Snyder's highly ambitious Watchmen and a reboot of sorts, X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

What 30 years of superhero films showed was the many different directions these films could go. Whether it's the epic route like Superman. The morally ambiguous (Watchmen). The good guy not always winning in the end (Dark Knight). Or just pure entertainment without dumbing it down (Spider-Man 2, X2 or Iron Man). Unlike other genres, like say romcoms, a lack of originality seems to always be punished.

Take 2010's slate: the low budget, rooted-in-reality Kick-Ass vs. the enormous budget, rushed into production Iron Man 2 or, the supervillain "comedy" Megamind. Kick-Ass wins that one.

2011 showed more of a return to form. The not-so-successful, but never boring The Green Hornet, two well-made Avengers films, Thor and Captain America, another reboot of sorts, the excellent X-Men: First Class, the Kick-Ass ripoff Super, and the "would have been better received any other year" The Green Lantern. Outside of Green Hornet and the all too realistic Super, it was a good year for the superhero genre.

2012 so far has further proven the creed that clever does well in this genre, retreads do not. We've had two films so far this year. Chronicle, which combined the superhero trend with the found footage genre, with great success, grossing almost $70 million despite a cast of unknowns and a budget more reminiscent of an indie drama ($12 million). The other was yet another sequel no one was pining for, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, which cost 5 times what Chronicle cost and has made FAR less. But there's a lot to look forward to this year. Three HUGE entries into the pantheon. First up is the long-awaited Avengers movie, which combines the characters (both main and peripheral) of the Iron Man, Thor, The Incredible Hulk and Captain America films. Followed by the reboot of the Spider-Man franchise (in 3-D, no less) and the final chapter to Nolan's Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises. Best guess, those three films alone will account for a combined billion dollars domestically.

The Amazing Spider-Man will be a curiosity, for sure. First of all, Marc Webb is directing. His ONLY other film was the creative romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer. It takes a lot of guts to hand over a billion dollar franchise, a $250 million budget, to a guy who's only movie made less than what Sam Raimi's Spider-Man made the day it opened. Secondly, the villain is obscure except to those who know the comic books well.

Next year boasts more sequels and reboots. Iron Man 3, Thor 2 and The Wolverine. The one that I'm personally looking forward to, however, is the Superman reboot, Man of Steel. Zack Snyder, who directed the visually inventive, morally-challenged Watchmen, takes over the franchise. But, unlike Watchmen, Man of Steel boasts a script by David S. Goyer, who wrote the Nolan Batman films, based on a concept conceived by Goyer and Nolan during the writing of The Dark Knight, using a concept they were going to use for Batman, then scrapped it when they realized it would make, in their words, a far better Superman film. So they took it to Warner Brothers, who agreed. The question is: what is that concept that could have so easily been transferred from one superhero to another?

Despite all the ones I mentioned, it's still amazing to think that in this Golden Age of Superhero Movies, there have been 88 of them to hit theaters (ones like Blankman and Meteor Man didn't seem worth mentioning), with 7 more due out by the end of 2013.

Some other films coming down the pipeline:
  • Ant-Man (with Edgar Wright, of Shaun of the Dead fame, rumored to direct)
  • Deadpool, another spinoff of the X-Men franchise
  • Kick-Ass 2
  • The Flash (presumably will be announced soon and is being written by the same writer as the Clash of the Titans/Wrath of the Titans films)
  • Solomon Grundy
  • Captain America 2
  • ANOTHER Batman reboot (Nolan overseeing it, but will not direct)
  • Amazing Spider-Man 2
  • A Daredevil reboot (directed by David Slade who did the unusual vampire film 30 Days of Night and the not-so-exciting vampire film The Twilight Saga: Eclipse)
  • And, of course, the forever-rumored Justice League film (which will likely never happen, but if you work at Warner Brothers, I've got an idea to make it work #shamelessplug)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Post Oscar Bliss

I must say it's a good thing I killed a half a bottle of Johnnie Walker Double Black during last night's show or else I would have felt how badly my ballot was doing. Though, in hindsight, most of the awards I missed went to films or people I wanted to win (Hugo for Effects, Cinematography, and Sound Editing; Midnight in Paris for Original Screenplay; Dragon Tattoo for Editing; Undefeated for Documentary). So, of the 9 I missed, 6 of them were choices I liked. The other three? Shameful.

(The irony should be noted that in my "Calling My Shot" post back in December, I correctly picked all THREE of these categories. And now I disagree. I'm a hypocrite. Shoot me. In my defense, however, I stated I did not care who won makeup and disagreed with Artist winning costume.)

Best Makeup Winner: The Iron Lady.

This was the Academy's chance and they blew it. Let's compare the Harry Potter franchise to how other big franchises fared at the Oscars.

Lord of the Rings 17 wins.
Star Wars 7 wins.
Terminator 4 wins.
Indiana Jones 4 wins.
Alien 3 wins.
Batman 3 wins.
Toy Story 2 wins.
Shrek 1 win.
Spider-Man 1 win.
Star Trek 1 win.
James Bond 1 win.
Pirates of the Caribbean 1 win.
The Muppets 1 win.

Harry Potter ZERO

Harry Potter was 8 solid-to-great films and earned the title of the biggest movie franchise of all time. No franchise matches it in length or consistency. Compare the WORST Harry Potter movie (Chamber of Secrets) to the worst of the others on the list. Outside of LOTR and Toy Story, it's no contest. How do you not give it SOMETHING? And certainly not to Iron Lady. Meryl Streep made up to look like Margaret Thatcher? Gee. Takes a whole lot of creativity there. I mean, it's not like there aren't decades of photos to work from. Making Ralph Fiennes look like he'spart-snake. That's a little tougher. The difference is: Ralph Fiennes looks like he's part-snake in Harry Potter. Meryl Streep still looks like Meryl Streep.

Best Costume Design Winner: The Artist

It just didn't deserve it. 

Best Actress Winner: Meryl Streep

Yes. I know this is what I predicted back in December and then changed my pick. This blew up many prognosticators' ballots. Davis gave the better performance and the Oscars got this one wrong.

Here's to hoping next year gives us a stronger slate of films to choose from, but don't hold your breath.

And now, for the most popular segment of my annual Post Oscar Bliss, your nominees for Best Picture at the 85th Annual Academy Awards.

Out of last year's 10 picks, 3 actually got nominated for Best Picture (Hugo, Tree of Life, War Horse). 3 got nominated elsewhere (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Anonymous, Harry Potter). And 4 didn't get squat (The Whistleblower, We Bought a Zoo, Larry Crowne, Water for Elephants). That's actually BETTER than I do most years. (self bro fist)

I will stick with choosing 10 since that's the maximum number still, although I suspect the Academy will change the rules once again. They shouldn't. As odd as it sounds to have 9 up for Best Picture, requiring a film to receive a certain number of votes makes sense.

For the 85th Academy Awards, in the category of Best Picture of the Year, your nominee will be.....

1. Lincoln - Spielberg directing Daniel Day Lewis as our greatest president. John Logan (nominated for Hugo) writing the script. Plus a HELL of cast: John Hawkes, Hal Holbrook, Jackie Earle Haley, Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, Joseph Gordon Levitt, James Spader, David can this miss?

2. The Life of Pi - Previous Oscar winner Ang Lee pulls a Scorsese and directs a children's movie. The major difference here is that people have heard of this book. Comes out around Christmas. Should prove to be Oscar bait.

3. Les Miserables - The mega-popular musical finally comes to the big screen with some serious pedigree behind it. Last year's Best Director winner, Tom Hooper (The King's Speech), with a cast that includes Hugh Jackman, Amanda Seyfreid, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway. If they pull it off, look out!

4. Brave -  Pixar. 'nuff said.

5. The Great Gatsby - I will lovingly call this the Annual So-Crazy-It-Just-Might-Work Pick. Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, Australia) directing Leo, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire (?) in eye-popping 3-D!!! This is either going to be an instant classic or a cautionary tale. I don't see a middle ground here.

6. Gravity - The premise of this movie is simple. It's Open Water in space. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are on a space walk when their shuttle gets destroyed and they're left floating in space. And if it were written and directed by ANYONE else, I'd have written it off. But this is Alfonso Cuaron's follow-up to the utterly brilliant Children of Men, which was his follow-up to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (considered by many to be the best of the franchise), which followed-up Y Tu Mama Tambien. The dude is on a roll.

7. Django Unchained - Tarantino. Revenge flick. Ex-slave kills bad white people. Weinstein Company. 'nuff said.

8. Token Weinstein Company Nomination - While Django Unchained will be around, the Weinstein Company will be hedging their bets by pushing other, more audience friendly fare on Oscar voters. After winning Best Picture two years in a row (King's Speech, The Artist) over films considered superior, you know they will want to keep the streak alive. The question is: which films on their slate will be finished by then. Not all of these, however, are expected to be released this year. So, for the sake of fairness, if more than one gets a nomination, I'll only take credit for one. You've got:
  1. The Silver Linings Playbook - director David O. Russell (The Fighter) and starring Jennifer    Lawrence and Robert De Niro.
  2. Lay the Favorite - Director Stephen Frears (The Grifters, The Queen) starring Bruce Willis and Catherine Zeta Jones.
  3. The Master - Paul Thomas Anderson's anti-Scientology movie starring Philip Seymour Hoffman.
  4. Wettest County - A period piece starring Gary Oldman, Jessica Chastain and Shia LeBouf. From the director of The Road.
  5. Cogan's Trade - Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins and Ray Liotta in a mob movie directed by Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James....)

9. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - 4th film in a franchise that has pulled Best Picture nominations (and 1 win) for the previous 3 films. I'd be a moron not to have this on the list somewhere. But my gut says it will not live up to expectations.

10. World War Z - A zombie movie? For Best Picture? That's been the talk ever since the once-thought-unfilmable book got a script. Max Brooks, the author of the book, made the prediction when he first read it. Even he didn't think a good movie could be made. Marc Forster (Monsters Ball, Finding Neverland) directing and Brad Pitt starring? This is obviously not your father's zombie movie.

Until next year....

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Final Predictions

Cinematography: Tree of Life
Art Direction: Hugo
Costume Design: W.E.
Makeup: Harry Potter
Foreign Language: A Separation
Film Editing: The Artist
Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer
Sound Editing: War Horse
Sound Mixing: Hugo
Documentary: Pina
Animated: Rango
Visual Effects: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer
Score: The Artist
Song: Man or Muppet
Adapted Screenplay: The Descendants
Original Screenplay: The Artist
Director: Michel Hazavanicius, The Artist
Actor: Jean Dujardin
Actress: Viola Davis
Picture: The Artist

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Should the Oscars Matter?

Those who follow were probably amused at today's discussion of whether or not the Oscars matter. Both sides had very valid points. But the question that should be asked is whether or not the Oscars SHOULD matter.

In a perfect world, the Oscars would be the ultimate, undisputed statement of artistic merit in film. Is it? No. Has it ever been that? No. So then, one must ask, "What ARE the Oscars?" Quite simply, it's a group that comprises a small percentage of the film community at large who vote every year to recognize a film or some aspect of a film. Are the people who vote on the Oscars the be all, end all opinion of film? No. They are people who just work in the industry who, at some point, received an invitation to have a say in the awards process. So why would THAT mean anything?

Let's use a different industry. Education. Every year, someone is named "Teacher of the Year." Is it an honor? Absolutely. Are they REALLY the best teacher in the ENTIRE country? Who knows? You don't know. I don't know. And no one who votes on the process knows either. There are probably thousands of teachers who work equally hard, produce equal or better results and never receive one bit of consideration. But to actually find out if the winner is actually the "best", it would be an unbelievably daunting task and, even then, it would come down to a person's or group of people's opinion that STILL would not likely select THE ultimate, undisputed Teacher of the Year.

So, if they aren't going to go through the trouble of getting it exactly right, why bother?

Because it's nice to recognize people who are as important to our society as teachers.

The Oscars are there to try and do the same thing with film.

The Oscars face a similar challenge. Hundreds of movies are released in the U.S. every year. Do the Academy voters see EVERY SINGLE film that's released? Hell no. Not even close. If any of them saw half, I'd die of shock. These people have jobs, after all. Not only do they have to make films, spending 15 hour days on a movie set, but then they have to go around promoting them for weeks or even months on end. Go to this or that gala charity event. Do the late night talk shows. The morning news shows.

I imagine awards season must get especially tiring. The People's Choice Awards, the Critics' Choice Awards, the SAG Awards, the Golden Globes, the Independent Spirit Awards, and, finally, the Oscars. And those are just the ones they show on TV in America!!! Don't forget. Many countries also have their own version of the Oscars. They go to those too. Now throw in all the film festivals all over the world, guild awards, critics banquets, etc. It's insane.

But it does lead me to my next point. The Oscars are just ONE of many different awards for film. From an artistic perspective only, does an Oscar for Best Picture mean anything different than any other award? And I mean leaving out the obvious bump in box office or DVD sales and that winning an Oscar gets you on Yahoo's front page? Strictly from an artistic standpoint. No, it doesn't. The Oscars are just the best known version of the same thing as all of the other groups that make some sort of recognition of merit. When it comes right down to it, the Oscars aren't any more or less an indication of what is good art than a Battle of the Bands at a local bar.

So SHOULD the Oscars mean something? Yes. To a select group of people. The nominees, the winners, anyone else who benefits from a nomination or a win. And to the people who LIKE the films the Academy selects. To the rest of us? Not really.

What it boils down to is that the Oscars are like anyone else who makes judgments on films. For example, I find that my taste in films is a mix of Roger Ebert and Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly. If they both like a film, the overwhelming odds are that I will like it too. Conversely, if Rene Rodriguez of the Miami Herald hates a film, I'll be first in line to see it. If the Oscars aren't recognizing the movies you think should be recognized, then pay closer attention to the group that does. If you thought The Descendants was the best film of the year and the Academy is stupid for (likely) picking The Artist? Guess what? The Dallas-Ft. Worth Film Critics Association, Florida Film Critics Circle Awards, the Hawaii International Film Festival, the Kansas City Film Critics, the L.A. Film Critics, the Satellite Awards, and the Southeastern Film Critics ALL agree with you. Next year, maybe pay closer attention to those groups because they seem to like the films you do. And cheer when the movie you loved wins. Then tell all of your friends, "See? The movie I loved was loved by these people too! Go see this movie I loved! Ignore the Academy. They're stupid."

On a side note: There are things I think the Academy can do to make the whole thing feel more legit. They just won't do it. The first step would be to be first. Make it so that the Oscar voters aren't influenced by who's winning in the other groups. Granted, after the Oscars, people tend to stop caring who wins what, but it could produce a more "legit" winner. A film like The Artist probably wouldn't have gotten noticed if FIFTEEN different critics groups, film festivals and guild awards hadn't made a point of saying it's the best. Second, get rid of the nominations. Imagine watching on Oscar night and know that Best Picture could be any one of dozens of films. Or to make it REALLY exciting. Announce the nominations ON Oscar night and give all of the voters in the audience an iPad to cast their vote right then and there. Granted, turning the Academy Awards into a reality show doesn't sound like a more legit option, but the current process is about as exciting as a presidential election. The way it is now, you HOPE it might be an exciting finish (a la The Social Network over The King's Speech), but deep down, you know it won't.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Reloading the Pistol.... (With Results 1/24/12)

I've been chatting with many of the Oscar following friends this season and there's one thing everyone seems to agree on: This year is just plain NUTS! Barely a month ago, I posted my annual "Calling My Shot" entry and I can't think of another year where some categories seemed like mortal locks and in such a short period of time, the pendulum snapped, rolled down a hill and crushed a Kardashian. (Okay, that last part is wishful thinking).

In the last week, I sat and watched the Critics' Choice Awards and the Golden Globes and got category after category wrong. Films like Tree of Life have fallen so far off the radar that it will take the Hubble Telescope to see where it went. Who the nominees will be has been a LOT easier to predict than who will finally win. But picking winners? It's been a nightmare this year. How often do you look at the Golden Globe winner for Best Drama and think "Not a chance!"? Almost never.

But, I will give it my best shot. Here are your nominees:

BEST PICTURE: (8/9 Correct)
The Artist
The Descendants
The Help
Midnight in Paris (if there's 6)
Bridesmaids (if there's 7) Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
War Horse (if there's 8)
Tree of Life (if there's 9)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (if there's 10)

Prediction: The Artist. Of the Big 8 categories, this one has turned into the easiest. If you remember when I "called my shot", I went with The Help, because nothing else seemed to jump out at me at the time. Sure, The Artist had won a pre-award or two, but I really didn't think the momentum would continue the way it has. Leave it to the Weinsteins to keep it up.

BEST DIRECTOR: (4/5 Correct)

Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
David Fincher, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Terrence Malick, Tree of Life
Michel Hanazavicius, The Artist
Alexander Payne,The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, Hugo

Prediction: Martin Scorsese, Hugo. I may be a little prejudiced as this is my favorite film of 2011 so far, but I think there's reason to think this will happen. Scorsese doesn't have too many movies still left in him and you just can't let one of his LEAST memorable films, The Departed, be his only win. The only likely spoiler would be Hanazavicius.

BEST ACTOR: (3/5 Correct)

George Clooney, The Descendants
Leonardo DiCaprio, J Edgar Demian Bichir, A Better Life
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Ryan Gosling, Drive Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Prediction: Brad Pitt, Moneyball. But I'm REALLY not sold on this right now. Just a few months ago, I was positive this was Gosling's category to lose and now, he may not even get nominated. Clooney and Dujardin won at the Golden Globes, but my gut tells me that Pitt might still prevail, despite having the less showy part, for two reasons: 1. He's never won despite after nearly 2 decades in the limelight. 2. He may hold true to his promise that he's retiring very soon and this might be the Academy's only shot at giving one of its more diverse actors an award. If not here, their last chance looks like World War Z next year.

BEST ACTRESS: (5/5 Correct)

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep,The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn   

Prediction: Viola Davis, The Help. I was SURE this was Streep's year to return to the winner's circle. Despite the GG win, I just don't see it and that's fine. Davis knocked it out of the park in The Help. It's just funny that Streep will now have lost as many times as any other actor has even been nominated. This may also be the category with the most shocking spoiler: Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs, just because she has never won either and she's been at it a lot longer than Pitt. Although, there may already be too many sentimental choices this year for it to happen.


Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn
Albert Brooks, Drive Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Prediction: Christopher Plummer, Beginners. THIS is what I'm talking about. Brooks seemed like the winner just a few weeks ago. Then, I guess, people started catching Beginners on screeners. It's a good performance by Plummer. It's a good film as a whole. I just remember watching it and thinking, "It's just not feeling Oscar-worthy" to me. I guess we've been spoiled the past couple years by some truly amazing supporting performances, Christian Bale in The Fighter, Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds, Heath Ledger in Dark Knight, Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men. Those were just lights-out, great performances. Plummer's isn't.


Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Octavia Spencer, The Help
Shaileen Woodley, The Descendants Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs

Prediction: Octavia Spencer, The Help. Again, this is what I was talking about before. Chastain in, count 'em, FIVE solid-to-great performances this year seemed like such a shoo-in. And in The Help, she was such a BITCH! But I think the Academy will go with the less showy, but more solid performance of Octavia Spencer.


50/50 Margin Call
The Artist
Midnight in Paris
A Separation

Prediction: Midnight in Paris. My #3 movie of 2011. If this one had come out in November instead of spring, I think this one would have been more of a contender for Best Picture. This will be its only win. The only possibility for an upset would be Bridesmaids, but I just don't see it.


The Descendants
The Help Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Ides of March

Prediction: Moneyball. Please? I'm telling you right now, this is going to be one of my worst years for picking the winners. The Ides of March (STILL hate that name. What was wrong with Farragut North? Doesn't hurt the box office in the playhouses that show it) or whatever gets that slot is about the only nominee I can rule out. Right now, The Descendants is picking up steam and could wind up taking this.

BEST FILM EDITING: (3/5 Correct)

The Artist
Drive The Descendants
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
War Horse Moneyball

Prediction: Hugo. One of the MANY well done aspects of this movie. Dragon Tattoo should contend. Everything else is just there to fill slots. As a reminder, this is the category to watch to eliminate Best Picture contenders. No nom here, no trophy there. 


The Artist
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Tree of Life
War Horse

Prediction: Tree of Life. This is one of those film/category matches that you see every few years. Like Terminator 2 and Visual Effects or Raiders of the Lost Ark and Editing. Just an aspect of the film that is so overwhelmingly well done that to NOT award it would show how Joe Average Academy voter doesn't know squat outside of their own job in film.

BEST ART DIRECTION: (5/5 correct)

The Artist
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Midnight in Paris
War Horse

Prediction: Hugo. It damn well better. That's all I'm saying.

BEST SOUND MIXING: (2/5 Correct)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Rise of the Planet of the Apes Moneyball
Super 8 Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

Prediction: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. Come on! They have to give SOMETHING to this series. Here's their chance.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 Drive
Super 8 Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

Prediction: War Horse. Never, EVER, bet against the movie that has the sound of horse hooves. Although movies with trains do tend to win as well and three of these have them, it doesn't trump the sound of horses, which easily impresses voters.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN: (2/5 correct)

Albert Nobbs Anonymous
The Artist
The Help Jane Eyre
J. Edgar W.E.

Prediction: The Artist. This IS one of those categories that the voters don't come close to grasping. Here, they typically vote for most costumes, not best. Honestly, you know what movie had great costumes that spoke VOLUMES about the characters? Bridesmaids. Won't even get considered. They fail this category year after year.


The Adventures of Tintin
The Artist
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
War Horse

Prediction: The Artist. It's hard to argue against a movie that is ALL score. The score for Dragon Tattoo though is pretty intense. If they hadn't just won last year, this might be a closer race. I don't know if Hanna is in the running, but the Chemical Brothers work on that movie was pretty awesome as well.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Tree of Life Real Steel

Prediction: Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The major difference between this film and most every other film this year was that the visual effects were also a performance and not just window dressing or explosions.

BEST MAKEUP: (3/3 Correct, but when you pick too many to begin with....)

Albert Nobbs
The Artist
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
The Iron Lady

Prediction: The Iron Lady. This category always throws me. For one, Whether there's 3 or 5 nominees seems to happen randomly. And second, unless some film is pulling a Titanic/Return of the King type sweep, I never guess this one correctly. Until last year, I suppose. And so, I will follow last year's method of picking and choose the one I didn't seriously think would win.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: (2/5 Correct, thought I'd read there were only 3 nominees)

The Adventures of Tintin Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss in Boots
A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita

Prediction: Rango. This category was decided nearly a year ago. With the lack of a Pixar film this year (Cars 2 did not happen in my world), the race was presumably wide open. But the Happy Feet and Kung Fu Panda sequels left something to be desired, although I would argue that the originals of both were highly overrated. But Rango set the bar very high, very early on in 2011 and no other entry came even close.

I'm leaving out, as usual, other categories like the short subjects, documentary, foreign film, and song, simply because, in the case of the first three, I don't see enough of them, and with song, I quite simply don't care since the songs most often get judged on their own merits and not how they affect the film itself.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Calling My Shot

I had been hearing gripes this year about how tough predicting the Oscars has been because there's nothing even resembling a clear frontrunner. I just chalked it up to the usual griping from people who don't happen to like the frontrunner and are simply in denial.

Then I started planning this column in my head. 

They're right. 

I am speaking honestly when I say that a few paragraphs below this sentence is my prediction for what will win Best Picture and as I am typing this sentence, I have no idea what that movie is going to be. In fact, there's very few categories at all that have a clear cut favorite. The Golden Globe nominations come out this week, but in wide open years like this one, they tend not to indicate where the Academy will go. In fact, I would wager that the Academy voters aren't totally sure yet who they'll vote for. 

And now, I'm just droning on because I'm hoping I'll come across some movie I've forgotten that will make me say, "Oh yeah! That's the one that will win." It's not happening. So here it goes. I got 10 right last year. I doubt I'll do that well this year.

Best Picture: 
Ummm...let me get back to this one. 

Director: Terrence Malick, Tree of Life
I have a feeling this will be one of several instances of people being awarded for their careers over the job they did on the movie. This will be Malick's third nomination over a career that's spanned four decades and yet, has only seen 5 movies. Still, Tree of Life is a "director's movie" if there ever was one. It doesn't deserve Best Picture, but this is an award it does.

Actor: Brad Pitt, Moneyball
I think this category will be a 3-way street fight among Pitt, Michael Fassbender (Shame) and Ryan Gosling (Drive). Gosling would have been a shoo-in had The Ides of March been better received. But he was good in 3 movies this year. Fassbender has been getting rave reviews for Shame, but it's perhaps TOO daring. Similar to Gosling, Fassbender would have been a strong favorite had A Dangerous Method gotten better notices. So, that leaves us with Brad Pitt, who I'm sure many feel is overdue for an Oscar anyway and was nomination-worthy in two films this year. George Clooney will also be nominated for The Descendants, but he's won recently and given Pitt's rumored, impending retirement, I think they'll want to award him now rather than risk missing the chance later.

Actress: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Meryl Streep has LOST more times than any person, except Katherine Hepburn, has been nominated. If she loses here, than she will have lost more times than anyone has been nominated. Period. That's a ridiculous statistic. And it's been almost 20 years since she last won. Come on. Let's throw the woman a bone to give her a reason to keep showing up year after year. 

Supporting Actor: Albert Brooks, Drive
Among the 8 major categories, the supporting acting categories are the closest to being a lock. Brooks is well-liked in this industry for decades. He's playing against type. He's been nominated in this category before. There's a lot of things going for him. He didn't get a nomination for SAG awards, but I think it will still happen.

Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain, Tree of Life
She is simply having one of the single greatest years of any actor in movie history. In any year, she could win for "Tree of Life". The funny thing is that she might get nominated for another movie. She may also win for "The Help". The only thing that might stop her is marrying a George Clooney or Ryan Gosling between now and then.

Original Screenplay: Midnight in Paris
Unless there's a sweep by the "The Artist", I don't see Woody losing here. This was a prediction I made when the movie came out and I'm sticking to it.

Adapted Screenplay: Moneyball
This category could go a lot of ways. If the writers' branch embraces films like "War Horse", "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close", or "Hugo". Based on how things look this second, I'm sticking with Sorkin.

Editing: War Horse
Just as a general rule, the Academy should really give Michael Kahn an Oscar at least once a decade. He's a three-time winner, all for Spielberg movies involving people fighting against Germans. How can he lose?

Cinematography: Tree of Life
"Tree of Life" is more of a painting than a film. This will be a deserving win.

Art Direction: Hugo
I think there's a strong possibility that "Hugo" can be the winner in a lot of the categories above. Momentum changes a lot during the Oscar race. But where things stand now, I think this is the biggest award it will take. When the stories come out about the kind of financial disaster this film is (including marketing costs, it will lose close to $250 million), a lot of people will shy away from this one.

Costume Design: The Artist
Sure looks like there's a lot of costumes in this movie. And the Academy tends to vote volume over substance. More thought about costumes goes into a movie like The Descendants than films like The Artist, J. Edgar, or A Dangerous Method (all likely nominees). But they'll pick one of the latter because, well, look! There's so many costumes!

Sound Mixing: Hugo 
Just taking a stab in the dark here.

Sound Editing: War Horse
Same here.

Visual Effects: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
I can't imagine any film this year more deserving. And the Academy loves giving it to CGI monkeys. 

Makeup: The Iron Lady
I'd rather see a stunts category than the almost annually flip of the coin this category is.

Song: The Muppets, "Man or Muppet"
When in doubt, go with the song people probably heard latest in the year.

Score:  The Artist
Since no silent film has won in over 80 years, it's hard to say there's a standard to award a movie that's ALL score. I just think it's a safe bet.

Animated Feature: Rango
It's been a while since there's been such a disappointing year for animated films. Particularly after a year that saw "Toy Story 3", "How to Train Your Dragon", "Despicable Me", "The Illusionist", etc. This year was so weak, I think "Winnie the Pooh" will contend. Even mediocre films like "Rio" and "Arthur Christmas" has a shot at nominations. Thankfully, even in a strong year, the brilliant "Rango" would probably win.

Documentary Feature: Cave of Forgotten Dreams
It's the only one I've seen this year. So let's go with that.

The Golden Globe nominations come out tomorrow, so I'm sure several of these choices will be proven destined to be wrong within 24 hours, but that's the fun, isn't it?

Oh yeah. I still need to pick Best Picture, don't I?

Best Picture: The Help

How's THAT for guts?

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Oscar Race: Lap 2

The National Board of Review:

Yes. The critics group to which no actual critics belong. Who are these people? Why do the Oscar-obsessed care? Because they are as accurate an indicator of what the Oscars will look like as the Golden Globes. Since 2000, every single one of the Best Pictures has at least gone on to be nominated at the Oscars. Lately, they've tended to not choose the same Best Picture as the Academy, but they at least got a nominee correct.

Here are their choices:

Best Film: Hugo

The rest of their Top 10:
The Artist
The Descendants
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
The Ides of March
J. Edgar
The Tree of Life
War Horse

Director: Martin Scorsese, Hugo
Actor: George Clooney, The Descendants
Actress: Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk about Kevin
Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Supporting Actress: Shailene Woodley, The Descendants 
Original Screenplay: 50/50
Adapted Screenplay: The Descendants
Foreign Film: A Separation

So, a VERY different group of picks than we saw with the New York Film Critics. In fact, the only category that matched is Foreign Film. I wasn't familiar with A Separation, but now I'm intrigued. Not just because of the picks, but what I've been reading about it. Many people calling it the best film they've ever seen! I always find that to be a stretch, but it's more rare than you'd think to hear people say that. 

Beyond that, it was a very strong showing for Hugo, obviously. It really needs it too. Hugo is on its way to becoming a box office disaster of epic proportions. If it ONLY loses $100 million, the studio will be lucky. Winning these pre-awards should help in its advertising.

Also a strong showing for The Descendants, which many had expected to do much better with the NYFCC, but didn't win a single prize. There are some notable films missing from that Top 10 list. The Help was expected to be there. Moneyball is missing as well. Also, Midnight in Paris, which was not only considered a shoo-in for these kind of awards, but is being looked at as a serious contender for Best Picture.

A small break in the awards for the next week or so. Nothing until December 11, when the Boston and Los Angeles Film Critics announce their awards. Boston, in particular, is a good Oscar predictor, having voted for the same Best Picture as the Academy 4 of the last 5 years. The lone exception was that last year they chose The Social Network. The Los Angeles Critics usually choose an eventual nominee, but their choice rarely wins Best Picture.