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.