Saturday, June 30, 2012

Best of 2011 - Prelude

     So, only half a year after everyone else published their lists, I am finally going to throw in my two cents.  I apologize for my tardiness, but there were things I had to see first.  These articles are actually not so much about 2011 as about the 2011-2012 awards season.  If a film was given an Oscar qualifying run in 2011 but didn't come out in theaters until 2012, it still counts.  Foreign Language Films nominated this year also fall into the Best of 2011 consideration, even though most of them didn't actually release until 2012 (in one case, several months in).  I didn't want to go on record with opinions formed largely in ignorance.  As I write this, I have just finished my 136th film in contention herein (it was the Korean film Poetry, review forthcoming).  I still have twenty-two films to watch that qualify, but it's the end of June, and NO ONE will care about last year by the time A Cat in Paris becomes available on DVD.
     Besides the aforementioned Animated Feature nominee, there are a few other films I think I should make it clear that I have not seen yet before people start howling that I left this or that out.  Foreign Language Film nominees In Darkness (been at the top of my Netflix cue for a month, nothing so far),  Footnote, and Monsieur Lazhar are movies I am woefully unprepared to consider.  The same goes for Documentary Feature nominee Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory and winner (yikes!) Undefeated.  Two non-contenders at the Kodak this year that I regret having missed out on so far just as much are Margaret and Le Havre, especially Margaret.  Most of the other films on the "still to see" list are much further under the radar.
     In an effort, however, to catch a few of my unseens before they have missed their opportunity to shine here, I am going to split this series up into four weekly posts, to be spread out throughout the month of July.  My last post of each week, be it on Friday or Saturday, I will release another part of the Best Of  2011 series.  We start with the techs, because the indie, foreign, and documentary films that dominate the population of my "Unseen 2011" list are most unlikely to factor in there.  The next week we will move on to the acting awards (sorry Anna Paquin, but Margaret doesn't come out until August).  There are a few more than just four categories here, so look for some people to slide into recognition that you might not expect.  Week Three will be the climax of the series as we cover writing, directing, and best and worst film of the year lists.  Finally, in Week Four we will do a post script covering the genres.  This MIGHT allow me to catch Footnote before the final post.
     In addition to "Best of"'s, each category will also have one film with the "Worst of" honors named.  Probably a tie or three in there, but except for Picture I tried to stick with one choice.  If it's hard to wade through all of my reviews to find my top recommendations, you can do it quickly in this little series of articles.  If you watch movies like I do, you'll hopefully be reminded of some greatness that had faded a bit with time.  If you are an opinionated spirit, please feel free to challenge me in the comments.  I would love to get some conversation and community going on this blog.

                                                                                  I know you're out there, is this thing on?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Happy Uncle Beaver

     Today's DVD reviews include a quirky family drama about mental illness with bite (so sorry, slipped out, backspace key has stopped working, must trudge onward), the first Thai film I've ever seen, and a quirky family drama about mental illness with biting sarcasm (see, the first one was completely unavoidable by the end, still, sorry).  If I seem a little darkly comic it's probably because of the influence of...

Another Happy Day - Writer/director Sam Levinson's debut feature (as director anyway) is quite impressive for a freshman outing.  It IS yet another dysfunctional family dramedy, but one that often puts the "fun" back in "dysfunctional", peppered as it is with witty one liners that are almost casually tossed away in the heat of conversation, and built as it is upon an almost absurdist view of reality.  The ridiculous cast of characters that populate this world almost seem to belong in a more broad style of comedy, except that they slip into the pathos side of the film so effortlessly, for the most part, that somehow we can still take them seriously at the appropriate moments. 
     Another Happy Day has a great ensemble cast: Ellen Barkin as Lynn, the therapy obsessed mother of very troubled kids, Ellen Burstyn as her private and reserved (or repressed) mother, George Kennedy as the ailing and dementia ridden grandfather, Thomas Haden Church as Lynn's ex-husband, Demi Moore as his rather unpleasant new wife, and Kate Bosworth as Lynn's daughter, who is a cutter.  The stand out for me, though, is Ezra Miller, as Lynn's middle son.  He is perhaps the most troubled of all her children, and just as in We Need To Talk About Kevin (review here), he is exceptional at playing young men who are more than just a little "off".
     I found the film very enjoyable over all, truly funny in a ludicrous way, and occasionally touching.  Dark and weird, but worth a look.  Available on DVD and Netflix Instant Play.  4 of 5*

The Beaver - So, this film was supposed to come out back in 2010,  but was pushed back a year after Mel Gibson's highly publicized shenanigans cast a dark shadow over anything he was connected with.  Director/co-star Jodie Foster was much pitied for having her passion project derailed, but she was a loyal friend who stood by her actor and his performance.  In the end, it really wasn't a great blow to anyone's career involved that the movie was delayed because The Beaver was just...okay.
     It wasn't a bad film, and some of Gibson's delivery as a depressed man who develops an alternate personality that he manifests through a fuzzy handpuppet with buck teeth is quite charming.  The basic concept is so gimmicky, though, and the developement of it doesn't really seem to say anything about depressed people, or people with problematic family relationships, or...anything.  Available on DVD.  2 1/2 of 5*

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives - I had really high hopes for this film.  It won the 2010 Palme d'Or at Cannes and was hailed as this fantastic, creative, abstract film.  In many ways, it was.  It started out that way, lots of images and small scenes that seemed to be building mood more than storyline.  Then there was this wonderful dinner party where ghosts and spirit creatures attended unexpectedly, but no one acted as if it were shocking or unexpected.  It was random but cohesive, almost like a Buddhist Tree of Life.
     The film just never seemed to come to any resolution, other than Uncle Boonmee's eventual death.  If the film had ended there, I would probably have been more impressed overall.  It was followed, however, by a fifteen minute resolution segment, however, that didn't seem to really add to or resolve anything from the rest of the movie.  Maybe I didn't get it; the whole thing was so indirect.  I respected many things about director Weerasethakul's film and the way he made it.  I just wish I had been able to decipher its conclusion.  Anyone seen the film who thinks that they got it?  Love to hear about it.  Available on DVD and Netflix Instant Play.  3 1/2 of 5*

Monday, June 25, 2012

We Need To Interrupt Miss Bala

     On this go around, we cover a Mexican take on their drug wars, a documentary about America's own domestic violence, and a cerebral drama about all violence:  both subtle and overt.  Let's start with...

Miss Bala - This film tells the story of a young girl who sets out to compete in her local beauty pageant and ends up caught between rival drug war factions.  It is something of a thriller, complete with gunfights, car chases, and oodles of action.  It would have a hard time being taken seriously as an American action film, though, because it also has a smart, original character driven script, creative direction and cinematography, fantastic acting, and something to say about the world.
     If you haven't caught on, I really like Miss Bala, Mexico's snubbed submission to last year's Academy Awards.  It is the first film I have seen by Mexican director Gerardo Naranjo, but I'm certainly interested in seeing more.  I would review more American action flicks, if they were more like this.  Lead actress Stephanie Sigman is very good, but the real stand out for me is Noe Hernandez, who plays her benefactor (?).  The little bits of humanity that he let leak out of the character were the scariest part about him, as they should be.  If you like action flicks and have the attention span to handle subtitles, I highly urge you to give this film a try.  It belongs in its genre's pantheon with Die Hard and The Professional.  Available on DVD.  4 1/2 of 5*

We Need To Talk About Kevin - When I begin my Best of the 2011-2012 Awards Season series of articles on July 1rst, it will already be shamefully far into the next year's races.  There were a few films, though, that I had to await the DVD release of to feel that I was giving a truly educated opinion.  This film has been near the top of that list for some time.  It may be pathetic to release lists like this in July, but I'm so glad I waited for Kevin.  It would have been completely unfair to writer/director Lynne Ramsey, cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, co-writer Rory Kinnear, Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, or the production or picture as a whole.  Get the picture?
     We Need to Talk About Kevin tells the story of the mother of a teen-age sniper living in the aftermath of his actions.  It also tells the story of the place that violence holds in the universe.  The violence in a baby's endless cries and the violence in the disdain it creates in the mother.  The film shows where it hides in the tiny barbs and jabs between a difficult child and the parent who tries so hard to love them.  It shows us violence in the stares and pranks and attacks of those looking in from the outside and judging, and taking their own frustrations out on the only person that they can reach with a tangible connection to the source of their anger.  And of course, there is the violence of the event itself.
     The film unravels in a non-linear manner, jumping backwards and forwards in time.  Coupled with the inspired Cinematography and Art Direction (red, red, red, red, everywhere you look, often innocuous, but always red, red, red) this creates a very surreal atmosphere.  The script and direction are smart enough to leave the viewer with enough markers to not get confused about where they are in time.  Watching the film is much like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, where quadrants of the story fill in at different rates at different times but you don't see it all clearly until those last few pieces fall into place.  Relative newcomer Ezra Miller and unerringly impressive Tilda Swinton are just flawless.  She is tragic and conflicted and he is tragic and scary.  It is a disturbing film but one that is worth being disturbed by: one of my favorite films of the year.  Available on DVD.  5 of 5*

The Interrupters - I almost decided to skip reviewing this film because I'm afraid I was too tired when I watched it to have given it a fair chance.  My only exposure to the work of director Steve James prior to this film was Hoop Dreams, which I LOVED, so my hopes were quite high going into this.  Somehow, though, it just never quite grabbed me.  Maybe my experience was stunted by the weight of my own expectations.
     It tells the story of three members of an organization of "Violence Interrupters" who work to keep some degree of peace on the streets of Chicago through personal intervention.  They all have backgrounds that give them some degree of street cred in the neighborhoods they seek to protect.  The most moving by far was the story of Ameena Matthews and her attempts to not only protect the general populace of her home town but also to rehabilitate her daughter.  Most of the emotional impact of the film, for me, was in the vignettes focused upon her.
     I felt more emotional disconnect to this movie than I expected.  I feel like it is one of those documentaries that told such an important, tragic, and hopeful story that it got a reputation for being a slightly better movie than it actually was.  I feel wrong for saying that because the work that these individuals do is so important and courageous, and I don't mean to belittle it in any way.  However, I watch a lot of documentaries and long sleepy dramas, and The Interrupters, while a reasonably good film all in all, often failed to hold my full attention.  Available on DVD.  3 1/2 of 5*

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Into Crazy Corialanus

  In the first installment of DVD reviews in a couple of weeks, we cover a Shakespeare adaptation, a long distance romantic comedy, and a documentary about capital punishment.  Time to play catch up:

Into the Abyss - This is the second Werner Herzog directed documentary I've seen this year, and while it was a perfectly respectable effort, it did not quite live up to his work in Cave of Forgotten Dreams.  It's not that this exploration into the death penalty was a documentary of poor quality, but it was a little more standard fare.  It is organized pretty much entirely into interviews with death row inmate Michael Perry and the people involved with his case and his life, a tried and true, if a slightly uninspired format.  Herzog himself conducts the interviews from off camera, and this became problematic for me as a viewer.  His perfect English spoken with educated German accent was so at odds with's be tactful and say...rural American accents and syntax employed by most of his interviewees.  The effect was a bit like an alien had landed in Hazard County or James Lipton had ended up on the set of Hee-Haw.  It was difficult not to feel as if the subjects were being condescended to, no matter how much the director was obviously trying not to.
     Herzog lets us know early on that his stance is against the death penalty, and it sets you up to expect an activist sort of documentary, but it doesn't turn out that way.  He actually ensures that no accusations of partisan reporting can be lobbed at him by choosing a thoroughly reprehensible convict as the center of his investigation.  Looking into the terrifyingly sociopathic gaze of Michael Perry's eyes, I found myself questioning my own convictions that capital punishment is barbaric.  Maybe that is the best thing about Into the Abyss:  whichever side of the debate you would normally be on, you leave the film having taken a long hard look at your own opinions.  3 1/2 of 5*

Coriolanus - Choosing to take any Shakespearean work on as a film adaptation is a courageous choice.  Taking on one of his lesser known works that doesn't have the same fan base built into it that, say, MacBeth or Romeo and Juliet does is even bolder.  Working from an adaptation that sets the play in a more modern setting, but utilizing the original language is braver still.  Then casting yourself in the lead?  Fearless.  Doing it all on your first directorial effort?  Insanely ballsy.  Ralph Fiennes did it all last year with class, style, and great success.
     While I cannot say enough good things about Fiennes direction, I am left with mixed feelings about the screenplay by John Logan.  While I applaud some of his choices enthusiastically (having newscasters handle most of the boring but vital bits of exposition on background televisions while the main actors react in the foreground was inspired), I am left feeling as if only the two main characters really got any chance to shine in this adaptation.  In his defense, it is impossible to fit any work of The Bard into a two hour film without some major editing of the text.  I also must admit to being less than perfectly familiar with the original play.  Maybe there was not a lot of meat in there for the supporting cast.  Still, nonexistent character arcs left me feeling that some of the talented actors involved (Jessica Chastain in particular) were underutilized.
     Ralph Fiennes (as Corialanus) and Vanessa Redgrave (as his mother) were outstanding in the leading roles.  They didn't overplay it, but also didn't underplay it, creating moments that were very dramatically Shakespearean in tone but still believable in the modern setting.  All in all, I thought this was an excellent attempt to produce a highly challenging project that mostly worked well.  4 of 5*

Like Crazy - I have not seen any of the previous work of director Drake Doremus so I approached Like Crazy without any previous conceptions beyond the fact that it had played well at Sundance last year.  I found it to be charming and highly watchable, but unlikely to inspire multiple viewings.  In this film, the writer/director tells the story of two lovers who meet while one is in America (from England) on a student visa and the difficult long distance relationship they try to maintain once she has to go back home.
     The two lead actors (Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones) do excellent work here.  They have great chemistry when they should that is also appropriately muted when the characters feel disconnected.  I think that the only reason I failed to connect more fully to them and their story was the time jumps that the script utilized to move the story along.  I am all for playing with chronology for dramatic effect, but context clues are needed in this sort of format to help the careful viewer keep up.  There were times in Like Crazy that I felt as if I spent too much time trying to figure out how far I had jumped in time to really key in to the emotional energy of the scene I was watching.  Mostly though, it was a good effort by a young, developing film maker.  3 1/2 of 5*

Friday, June 22, 2012

Merchandisers Assemble!

     I know I'm a little behind things reviewing The Avengers so long after it opened and way after most of you planning on seeing it in the theatre have already been, but this is when I got around to seeing it.  What can I say?  Joss Whedon is definitely having a good summer between this film and The Cabin in the Woods.  For those of you expecting an enjoyable and action packed thrill ride with great FX and maybe a touch of humor along the way, congratulations, this is the film for you.  So many people have enjoyed it on that level that it is now the third highest grossing film of all time.  If you were hoping for something a little deeper and thoughtful that redefined the super hero movie genre the way that Iron Man and The Dark Knight did, well...let's think happy, hopeful thoughts for The Dark Knight Rises next month.
     Which is not to say that I did not find this to be very high quality popcorn fare.  It was well directed, with a decent storyline, a script peppered with Whedon's trademark wit, and a great ensemble cast that actually made these classic characters seem like real people. 
     Let's talk about the cast.  Robert Downey, Jr., of course, gets best in show.  His take on Iron Man may be the most character enhancing interpretation of a super hero ever.  Whedon's brand of snark plays well to Downey's comedic sensibilities.  In his capable hands Stark becomes a man so gifted, flawed, fearless, and determined that you feel like you know him, like a friend that you are always lovingly disapproving of.
     Rumours abound that the box office success and mostly positive critical reception of this film have prompted Marvel Studios to consider a THIRD attempt to create a successful Hulk franchise starring Mark Ruffalo.  I am all for it.  There was a certain weariness that served Bill Bixby's portrayal of David Banner on the TV show back in the day that successive takes on the character have lacked.  Ruffalo has it in spades, plus a sense of intellectual authority and a darker edge all his own.  It is the most interesting portrayal of the Hulk that I have ever seen and I think he could do a lot more in his own film.
     Chris Evans is also a bit of a standout.  He pulls all the "man from a simpler time" humour out of his interactions with his team mates without ever coming off as a clown or a joke.  My one real disappointment as far as the cast goes is that Jeremy Renner (just as talented as any of them) was given so little real chance to shine.  Hawkeye IS a boring character, that's why you cast someone with Renner's potential and give them enough material to make him interesting.
     There has been a lot of idle chatter about the possibility of The Avengers breaking into this year's Best Picture race.  Not only do I have my doubts, I am actually hoping it doesn't happen.  This film, though of high quality for a summer blockbuster, is not the stuff that Best Picture rosters and top ten lists are made of.  It doesn't transcend being an FX driven action extravaganza.  It also doesn't need to.  However, for above the line awards consideration, this film would have to at least be more than the sum of its parts and it is not. 
Both Iron Man and Captain America were actually better (if less emphatically showy) films with more developed story lines and character arcs.  Neither of them came anywhere close to the top eight Oscar awards.  Still, that is not meant to decrease the enjoyability of Whedon's latest effort for what it is.  3 1/2 of 5*.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

June Oscar Buzz and Predictions - The Big Two

     I really wanted to save Best Picture for last, but it's hard to talk about why I put people where I did in Best Director without giving away their Best Picture rankings, so...

Best Picture:
     Buzzing in your ears...
  1. Lincoln
  2. The Master
  3. Les Miserables
  4. Django Unchained
  5. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  6. The Dark Knight Rises
  7. Zero Dark Thirty
  8. The Great Gatsby
  9. The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey
  10. Anna Karenina

  11. Hyde Park On Hudson
  12. Argo
  13. Life of Pi
  14. The Sessions (formerly Six Session, formerly The Surrogate, sheesh)
  15. Brave
  16. Lawless
  17. Killing Them Softly
  18. To The Wonder
  19. Moonrise Kingdom
  20. The Silver Linings Playbook
Also:  Inside Llewyn Davis, On The Road, Prometheus, Trouble With The Curve
     I'm sure I'll eat many of my words later, but here's my best guesses:
  1. The Master...The Weinstein company is obviously pushing this film hard, it is directed by one of the most consistently strong film maker's working, and has a trio of highly talented stars, great trailers, and strong buzz.  I honestly see it as the most likely to get nominated this year.
  2. Beasts of the Southern Wild...It won Sundance, was lavished with praise and out of competition awards at Cannes, has been universally lauded in early screenings, and I have the same itchy feeling about this film that I had about The Artist this time last year.  I'm not saying it'll WIN, but a nod seems highly likely and definite in a field of ten.
  3. Les Miserables...An Oscar winning director takes on one of the greatest musicals of all time.  It looks lavishly impoverished and Anne Hathaway sings like an angel in the trailer.  None of Nine's early clips were this affecting.  Nor any of the more acclaimed movie musicals of recent years. 
  4. The Dark Knight Rises...It might not stand a chance of winning, but I have faith that the final installment of Nolan's Batman trilogy will have what it takes to be the first super-hero based Best Picture nominee.  The AMPAS could make a fool of me on this one, but Nolan's track record, especially in recent years, has demonstrated exceptionally high quality and he would never have made a part three if he didn't think it possible to build on what he did in part two.
  5. Zero Dark Thirty...Bigelow and Boal and the Middle East.  It does have The Hurt Locker to live up to, but my hopes are currently high, especially considering the potential in the cast.
  6. Inside Llewyn Davis...I'm sure that the buzz is only laying low because of this film's early February 2013 release date, but the Coens wouldn't be launching in the middle of the previous year's Oscar frenzy unless they were planning on giving the film a qualifying run in late 2012.  And they wouldn't be muddying the award waters unless they were coming to play.  They like this game;  they're good at it.
  7. Anna Karenina...I don't know why, but I just feel like this film is going to go over big.  Director Joe Wright's work has been exemplary in recent years (Hanna included), and he and Knightley have been magic together before.  Plus, we know that the basic storyline is strong.  The only challenge is going to be standing out from all the previous versions.
  8. Life of Pi...People said that this novel could not be made into a movie, but reviews from early screenings indicate that Ang Lee has done just that, and quite effectively.  With the potential for strong below the line support from everyone from the cinematographers to the visual effects branch, I think this is a strong contender for a slot in a field of ten.
  9. Django Unchained...I'm sure this will be more than my own personal ninth favorite film of the year, or it will be a very unusually weak effort from Tarantino.  However, the film sounds like it may push more envelopes than the post office, and could be too controversial for many of the more aged Academy members to embrace.  Or's still in my top ten.
  10. The Great Gatsby...I'm very iffy on this movie.  It sounds great in many ways, has a great cast, and you know its going to be an all in, highly creative, aim for the fence effort by director Baz Luhrman.  Epic for sure, success or failure to be determined.  Either way, I admire Luhrman's courage and conviction, and hope he keeps swinging for the fence.  When he gets there, it's fantastic.

  11. The Silver Linings Playbook...I so want this film to be great.  Cooper gets a chance to do something a little more serious.  Russell directs from his own script again.  Robert DeNiro and Jackie Weaver play the aging parents.  If Weinstein didn't already have two horses in the Best Picture race (both with slightly higher pedigrees) it would've made the top ten.
  12. To The Wonder...Yeah, Malick just got in last year, but this intimate romantic drama (as it's being billed) sounds so different from Tree of Life (or anything else he's directed) that maybe he gets in again this year.  It's sure to be a unique experience, but will enough Oscar voters "get it"?
  13. The Sessions...This film has already received mostly favorable reviews out of Sundance and boasts top contenders in both of the lead acting races.  It does concern sex though, and Oscar seems to be afraid of talking about that lately.  Shame couldn't even break into the acting races last year, to the Academy's shame.
  14. Moonrise Kingdom...Well reviewed and currently doing very respectable limited release box office, this could be the film that breaks Wes Anderson into the top races.  Strong ensemble cast, clever script, and meticulously wrapped and decorated.  If some of the unreleased films fall below expectations, this is a strong contender to take one of their places.
  15. Argo...It's not that I don't have high expectations for Argo.  It would be closer to the ten if it were not for the OTHER Middle Eastern espionage thriller from a highly respected director.  I'm not sure there will be room in this category for the both of them and for now I'm on Team Zero.
  16. Amour...Yeah, it's been a little while since the last time that a foreign language film broke into the Best Picture race but it DOES happen from time to time.  Michael Haneke's latest picture seems like the most likely of candidates:  won the top prize at Cannes, nearly unanimous praise, and a director who already has some degree of a following in the U.S.
  17. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel...Yeah, the reviews have been less than amazing, but the box office has been unbelievable for a film of this type.  It HAS gotten better reviews than The Blind Side did.  Plus the age demographic of the film's cast is the closest to the Academy's own of any film on this list.
  18. Brave...Early reviews indicate that this film is far better than Cars 2, but not nearly the equal of Pixar at their greatest.  Still a leading contender for Animated Feature, but Best Picture prospects are dimming quickly.
  19. The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey...I expect great things from this film, but I expect the Academy to dole out more above the line love for Middle Earth one more time...when Part 2 is released.  Still, I could be wrong, so it's ON the list.
  20. Lincoln...You knew I wasn't going to leave it off entirely, it's Spielberg.  However, this great director hasn't really shown us anything new for years, and there is nothing all that revolutionary about a biopic based on the life of a great American president.  If there is some brilliant angle to this film that no one sees coming, or some very clever way of using Lincoln's story to comment on the state of the nation today, I will immediately throw in behind this film.  As it stands now, I'm rooting for Sally Field.

Best Director:
     Da buzz...
  1. Steven Spielberg - Lincoln
  2. Paul Thomas Anderson - The Master
  3. Quentin Tarantino - Django Unchained
  4. Tom Hooper - Les Miserables
  5. Christopher Nolan - The Dark Knight Rises

  6. Katherine Bigelow - Zero Dark Thirty
  7. Baz Luhrman - The Great Gatsby
  8. Joe Wright - Anna Karenina
  9. Ang Lee - Life of Pi
  10. Roger Michel - Hyde Park On Hudson
Also:  Peter Jackson - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Terence Malick - To The Wonder
     But I'm feeling more...
  1. Paul Thomas Anderson - The Master...Anderson always delivers and came soooo close for There Will Be Blood.  Plus everything I said before about the film's Best Picture chances.
  2. Tom Hooper - Les Miserables...I strongly suspect that this will be one of the serious contenders for Best Picture this year and that requires a nod in this category as well.  If Hooper pulls this task off, he'll deserve it.
  3. Katherine Bigelow - Zero Dark Thirty...She will have to show us something new in a film that has several things in common with her last one.  If she can do that, I think she's back in.  Even a nomination would solidify that the Academy did not view her win as a "token" victory.
  4. Joe Wright - Anna Karenina...It just seems like this could be his year to break in.  He's been doing excellent work in a variety of different kinds of films and here he is right back in the Academy's literary wheelhouse.
  5. Behn Zeitlan - Beasts of the Southern Wild...I would honestly rank him even higher if there were any significant buzz to support me, but there is not yet.  Regardless, I think that this is a strong possibility when it's all said and done.

  6. Christopher Nolan - The Dark Knight Rises...Okay, so I have this fantasy where the only reason Nolan got snubbed for Inception in this category was so they could give him his first nod when he was back in Gotham one last time.  Don't let them really delight in teasing him (and his fans) the way they seem to...
  7. The Coen Brothers - Inside Llewyn Davis...I would have ranked Joel and Ethan higher if they hadn't already had two nominations in the last five years in this category.  Still, they can never be counted out, and it would be fun to see this category's winners from two, three,and four years ago all going head to head in a single year.  Not to mention the Coen/Anderson rematch and its inherent marketing possibilities.
  8. Quentin Tarantino - Django Unchained...The AMPAS loves Tartantino, except for when he's too...Tarantino.  This could go either way, regardless of the film's actual quality.
  9. Ang Lee - Life of Pi...Lee is a masterful director and this film seems headed for screenplay and possibly picture nods, but the film's chances in this category seem less certain at present.
  10. Terence Malick - To The Wonder...No, this film didn't crack my Best Picture top ten, but if it does get into the Best Picture race, Malick will certainly make the cut from the directors branch of the Academy.  He might get a nomination even if the movie fails to.

     And so concludes The Movie Frog's June Oscar Preview.  If you think I've overestimated or underestimated certain films (or left something important out entirely), please start a conversation in the comments below. If you are checking into this series late, you can see my Best Actor and Best Actress predictions here.  My predictions in the Best Supporting races here. Coverage of the Screenplays is here.
The Genre categories (Animated Feature, Documentary Feature, Foreign Language Film, and the Shorts) can be found here.  Finally, my coverage of the Technical categories (everything else, from Cinematography to Make-Up) can be found here.  Look for the next series of awards season previews at the end of summer, right before the heart of Fall Festival season is upon us.  If you want to get an early jump on your Oscar watching, I would suggest catching Beasts of the Southern Wild on June 27th, and The Dark Knight Rises next month.  I could easily see these two films racking up 15 or 16 nominations between them.
                                                                      Listening (hungrily) for buzzing,

Monday, June 18, 2012

June Oscar Predictions and Buzz - Leading Contenders

     I'm playing catch up a little here, so let's hop to it...

Best Actress:
     The buzz favors...
  1. Keira Knightley - Anna Karenina
  2. Helen Hunt - Six Sessions
  3. Laura Linney - Hyde Park On Hudson
  4. Viola Davis - Won't Back Down
  5. Marion Cotillard - Rust and Bone

  6. Carey Mulligan - The Great Gatsby
  7. Quvenzhane Wallis - Beasts of the Southern Wild
  8. Meryl Streep - Hope Springs
  9. Mia Wasichowska - Stoker
  10. Emmanuelle Riva - Amour
Also:  Rachel McAdams - To The Wonder, Amy Adams - Trouble With the Curve
     I'm thinking more...
  1. Quvenzhane Wallis - Beasts of the Southern Wild...The film was almost universally beloved at both Sundance AND Cannes already and she IS the film.  The fact that she would be the youngest artist ever nominated in this category also makes for a great awards season narrative.
  2. Keira Knightley - Anna Karenina...She and director Joe Wright have already proven that they can bring out the best in each other and she certainly commits to each role she plays.  If this film even meets expectations, she's got an excellent shot.
  3. Helen Hunt - Six Sessions...She's been pretty under the radar for a while now and the AMPAS loves a comeback.  Reviews for the film were very positive at Sundance and almost all of them praised her (and co-star John Hawkes's) performance. 
  4. Marion Cotillard - Rust and Bone...The film was divisive at Cannes but her performance got great reviews and buzz.  She's another one that people predict every year, but it's really hard not to because she's always exceptional, breathtaking,  and impossible to look away from on screen.  Half a decade has come and gone since her win.  She's in the highest profile movie she's done in her own language since then.  Sounds like another great Oscar narrative.
  5. Carey Mulligan - The Great Gatsby...She is so young and new on the scene to get another nomination so soon, except she's always on point.  Her range is phenominal (Drive, An Education, Shame, even Wall Street 2), and her American accent is pretty flawless.  She can even sing.  This is a tremendously difficult role she's taking on.  If she stays true to her short track record, it may be impossible NOT to nominate her.

  6.Viola Davis - Won't Back Down...I almost put her in the top five because the Academy will likely be looking for an excuse to give her an Oscar after she came so close to winning for The Help this year.  The film just looks so saccharine.  Still, she is often much better than the material that she appears in, so I'm keeping her in the alternate slot for now.
  7. Emmanuelle Riva - Amour...Although Ms. Cotillard is more familiar to American audiences, but Riva's film and performance were the most universally praised things about Cannes this year, and Marion already has an Oscar.  If there IS a slot for an actress in a foreign language film, Ms. Riva could easily take it instead.
  8. Laura Linney - Hyde Park On Hudson...IF this film makes a splash in the awards season (that extends beyond co-star Bill Murray), this very talented actress COULD reap the benefits with her third nomination in this category.
  9. Julianne Moore - What Maisie Knew...Mostly just because she almost never disappoints regardless of how the film she is in plays overall, and she's never won, and she's overdue.  I wouldn't count her out.
  10. Judy Dench - The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel...Someone had to go there.  A film about two women over retirement age starring two of the greatest veteran actresses out there grosses over 100 million at the American box office (oh yes, BRITISH women) and you think there isn't SOME portion of the actor's branch who've mentally filled out the ballot already?  And co-star Maggie Smith could be a part of this race as well.
     No, I did not mention Meryl Streep's performance in Hope Springs but this is because she finally won again last year.  I'm not saying that's it for her and Oscar's love affair, I'm just saying that they have nothing left to prove to each other.  She'll be nominated again, but it will be when she shows us something that we've never seen her do before (or when there is a very weak field).  Until then, I'm sure she'll be great in everything, but Meryl would be the first to say that there are many great actresses who've NEVER been nominated that deserve five available slots to exist in more than concept.

Best Actor:
     The buzz would have it...
  1. Daniel Day-Lewis - Lincoln
  2. Bill Murray - Hyde Park On Hudson
  3. John Hawkes - Six Sessions
  4. Philip Seymour Hoffman - The Master
  5. Hugh Jackman - Les Miserables

  6. Jamie Foxx - Django Unchained
  7. Clint Eastwood - Trouble With the Curve
  8. Brad Pitt - Killing Them Softly
  9. Ryan Gosling - The Place Beyond the Pines
  10. Bradley Cooper - The Silver Linings Playbook
Also: Terrence Stamp - Song For Marion, Ben Affleck - Argo
     Word on the lilly pad is:
  1. Philip Seymour Hoffman - The Master...As I've said before, this seems to be the Weinstein company's biggest push this year and the Academy certainly loves Hoffman (Capote, anyone).  Hoffman playing a cult leader also sounds like spot on casting and when does he not deliver as an actor?
  2. John Hawkes - Six Sessions...Hawkes has the advantage here because his performance has already been previewed, reviewed and praised with an impressive amount of unanimity.  Hawkes already has one nomination in Supporting Actor under his belt and his body of recent work grows ever more impressive. 
  3. Bill Murray - Hyde Park On Hudson...Murray has throngs of fans who have been crying out for him to win an Oscar ever since he Lost In Translation (I know, I'm sorry, I can't help myself).  Playing F.D.R. in a historical drama is an incredibly un-Bill-like role that completely defies our (and the Academy's) expectations, which is the thing that second nominations (and potential wins) are made of.
  4. Jamie Foxx - Django Unchained...Yeah, he's already got one Oscar and he's still relatively young, but this is so different from anything we've seen him do as a mature actor and Oscar loves it when you play against type.  Tarantino is also the sort of director who often brings something totally new out of actors the first time he works with them.  Oh, and Harvey Weinstein is the sort of producer who will call LOTS of attention to it.
  5. Daniel Day Lewis - Lincoln...While to an extent I will believe in Lincoln: The Awards Juggernaut when I see it, you are a fool to discount the force of nature that is Daniel Day Lewis.  There is no reason at this point to conclude that 9 was anything more than the exception that proved the rule.  Forty percent of the performances he's given in the last 22 years have resulted in nominations, and that's with him NOT being nominated for Age of Innocence.

  6. Hugh Jackman - Les Miserables...Jackman has never been nominated and this material probably gives him the best chance of his career so far.  He's already hosted the Oscars so we know they like him, but they like Billy Crystal too, and he's never gotten a nod. 
  7. Oscar Isaac - Inside Llewyn Davis...It is almost certain that one of the top five actors listed here will fall off because they are all previous nominees and the Academy likes to put at least one newbie in this category.  If that slot does not go to Jackman, this talented star of the new Coen Brothers effort sounds like a likely bet.
  8. Ryan Gosling - The Gangster Squad...Gosling seems like the perpetual bridesmaid of the Oscars lately, but he gets so much work that he's always splitting his own votes.  I'm going to just spit in the wind and predict his more mainstream effort rather than Place Beyond the Pines. 
  9. Terrence Stamp - Song For Marion...Amazing as it is to believe, the man who played the Limey in the 90's and General Zod in the 80's has only been nominated for an Academy Award once, fifty years ago.  This film, the story of a grumpy old man who joins a local London choir when his wife grows ill, sounds potentially a little hokey, but also like a great actor's showcase for Stamp.
  10. Brad Pitt - Killing Them Softly...He just got a nod last year for Moneyball, and his early reviews for Killing, while positive, are not as glowing as they were for the previous film.  Still, he's Brad Pitt, so if the field comes up a little weak, there is always a chance.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

June Oscar Buzz and Predictions - Supporting Contenders

   Supporting Actor and Actress are notoriously more difficult to predict early in the game than their Lead counterparts.  This is mostly because the fields are so wide.  One film equals one or two candidates for Best Actor or Best Actress.  The same film can produce any number of possible nominees in the supporting categories.  There were no less than eight women receiving Supporting Actress buzz for the Help alone at one point last year.  As the films open, the one or two real standouts among the various ensembles will become clearer.  For now, you, me, even the buzz, it's all just a shot in the dark.  Ready, aim,...

Best Supporting Actress - 
     The buzz says:
  1. Amy Adams - The Master
  2. Anne Hathaway - Les Miserables
  3. Sally Field - Lincoln
  4. Olivia Williams - Hyde Park On Hudson
  5. Samantha Barks - Les Miserables

  6. Jessica Chastain - Zero Dark Thirty
  7. Vanessa Redgrave - Song For Marion
  8. Kerry Washington - Django Unchained
  9. Helena Bonham Carter - Les Miserables
  10. Jessica Chastain - Lawless
Also:  Olivia Colman - Hyde Park On Hudson, Jennifer Lawrence - The Silver Linings Playbook
     The Frog says:
  1. Anne Hathaway - Les Miserables:  Have you seen the trailer?  Have you heard her sing in it?
  2. Amy Adams - The Master:  I like Ms. Adams better with a dark side anyway, and I'm feeling a lot of confidence in this film.
  3. Jessica Chastain - Zero Dark Thirty:  The trifecta of prestige roles approach worked for her last year and earned her lots of fans.  She could also be nominated for Lawless or To The Wonder, but Lawless doesn't seem like what Mr. Weinstein is pushing hardest thus far and Wonder is directed by Malick, who has never directed a single actor to a nomination.  If Zero is a critical hit, this could be an easy way for the actor's branch to recognize it.  Oh, and Jess is just always amazing anyway.
  4. Samantha Barks - Les Miserables:  Okay, so Oscar loves Anne and she's amazing in the trailer.  Oscar also loves pretty young previously unknown actresses.  As Eponine, Ms. Barks has the most dynamic character arc of any female in the story, and the showstopper "On My Own".
  5. Sally Field - Lincoln:  I may not be as enthusiastically on "The Lincoln Train" as most movie bloggers, but I do think that if Ms. Fields is given anything decent to chew on in this film, she could easily garner a nomination (regardless of how the film plays as a whole).  It's been a minute since the Academy gave her any love.

  6. Helena Bonham Carter - Great Expectations:  I think Ms. Carter will be amazing as Madame Thernardier in Les Miserables, and she could get a nod there.  However, if this film finds U.S. distribution in time, I think it will be her better shot.  Miss Havisham might be THE role Helena was born to play.  Either way, it would be great to see her get recognized for some of her amazing over the top character work, even if her saner roles do seem like the ones in which she is doing more acting.
  7. Jackie Weaver - Silver Linings Playbook:  She is the reason I am most excited to see this movie.  She was amazing in Animal Kingdom, and Oscar (and this little Movie Frog) took notice.  If she can pull off comedy with equal brilliance...?
  8. Vanessa Redgrave - Song For Marion:  She's been churning out fearless work in recent years, and she's no spring chicken.  Perceived snubs abound, and it does seem like she deserves one more major round of red carpet interviews, right?
  9. Jennifer Lawrence - Silver Linings Playbook:  No, she probably won't be seeing a nomination for Hunger Games, but if she knocks one out of the park for the second time in a year in a more art house oriented film, Oscar could award her with her second nomination.
  10.  Kerry Washington - Django Unchained:  She has certainly proven herself to be a capable actress and this is closer to the Academy's wheelhouse than she usually goes, but it is unclear how significant her role is, at present, or how much screen time she gets.
     You know, I tried really hard to ignore the buzz lists when I was writing my own and I'm a little distressed that I left out both of the Olivia's from Hyde Park On Hudson.  I adore them both, but trying to figure out who to remove to fit them in is giving me a headache, so we're gonna move on to...

Best Supporting Actor:
     Buzz points to...
  1. Leonardo DiCaprio - Django Unchained
  2. Russell Crowe - Les Miserables
  3. Joaquin Phoenix - The Master
  4. Tobey Maguire - The Great Gatsby
  5. William H Macy - Six Sessions

  6. Bryan Cranston - Argo
  7. Robert DeNiro - The Silver Linings Playbook
  8. David Strathairn - Lincoln
  9. Sean Penn - The Gangster Squad
  10. Joseph Gordon-Levitt - Lincoln
Also:  Jude Law - Anna Karenina, John Goodman - Argo, Paul Giamatti - Cosmopolis, Tom Hardy - The  
  Dark Knight Rises, Joel Edgerton - The Great Gatsby, Guy Pearce - Lawless, Tommy Lee Jones -
     Froggy went a guessin...
  1.  Leonardo DiCaprio - Django Unchained:  I don't know why I feel compelled to defend my opinion more when I DO agree with the buzz, but in this case I do.  DiCaprio is one of the most talented actors (if not THE most talented) of his generation and is rapidly burning through his thirties with not an Oscar to his name, Everyone predicts him every year and this year is no exception.  HOWEVER, Leo could have a leg up with this role.  He has never really played a villain, much less a slightly campy, archetypal period villain.  Even if this is not his greatest role ever, it will exemplify what is great about him as an actor:  his range, his bold choices, and his willingness (and ability) to try new things.  He is overdue, and he deserves it.  It is time for the Academy to forgive the boy for the temper tantrum he threw when he didn't get nominated for Titanic and give the man an Oscar.  Oh, and it's Weinstein backed.
  2. Joaquin Phoenix - The Master:  The trailer indicates that this movie will be far from just about Phillip Seymour Hoffman's character.  Director Paul Thomas Anderson often brings out some of the very best that his actors have to offer and producer Harvey Weinstein tends to bring the best publicity to them.  If the entirety of his performance lives up to the brief glimpses that we've seen, he could be a strong contender for the win.  Everybody loves a career resurrection, even one as orchestrated as Phoenix's.
  3. Woody Harrelson - Seven Psychopaths: This one could just be wishful thinking on my part, but many think he was snubbed last year for his performance in Rampart.  Seven Psychopaths has received mostly favorable press in early screenings.  He's an overdue vet with multiple nominations but no win who has been delivering consistently high quality work for a long time and grown far beyond the expectations most people had for him in the early days of his career.
  4. Robert DeNiro - The Silver Linings Playbook:  If there is an actor in Hollywood who has been cast in an array of roles seemingly designed to stunt his capabilities for years now it is Bobby DeNiro.  This could be the film that changes that.  The Academy loves a comeback, especially a late in life return to form of one of their favorite sons.  Playing opposite Jackie Weaver can't hurt.
  5. John Goodman - Argo:  I know that everyone is predicting Bryan Cranston for this film (and he's one of my alternates), but Goodman made the transition from highly acclaimed television actor to movie star a long time ago and the Academy has never come a calling.  He has been turning in some impressive work lately in both mediums (Red State, The Artist, Treme, Damages, etc.).   Appearances in Inside Llewelyn Davis, Flight, Trouble with the Curve, and voice over work in Paranorman could split votes, or could seriously bolster his 2012 profile.

  6. Tom Hardy - The Dark Knight Rises:  I must be feeling hopeful today.  Oh well, I don't care.  Hardy is hot right now (yes...and just hot) and Bane could be a very showy role in a way that would stand apart from Ledger's legacy.  Hardy will be competing with his own performances in Killing Them Softly and Lawless, but this is the film most likely to break both the Best Picture list and the bank.
  7. Bryan Cranston - Argo:  One certainly cannot discount Oscar's propensity for giving TV stars delivering a brilliant performance in a rare film role a nod (Felicity Huffman) or even an award (Helen Hunt) and Cranston is a truly talented performer.
  8. Tobey Maguire - The Great Gatsby:  Toby's a lot more than just Spider-Man and this could be the first chance he's had to REALLY show us that since his Pre-Parker era.  I hope so.  It would be fun to see he and BFF DiCaprio go head to head ala Clooney and Pitt last year.
  9. Jude Law - Anna Karenina:  We know he'll get another nomination someday for something, and this sounds potentially wonderful, so why not?  At least we know his character has potential to shine.
  10. Joseph Gordon Levitt - Lincoln:  Of course it's possible that this film is going to be the biggest thing of the year and get a bazillion nods.  If that happens, the momentum of buzz from Inception and 50/50 could carry him through to his first nomination.  It's hard to imagine him being lost in the ensemble.  Even Hardy couldn't eclipse him in Inception, not at all.
     Comparing my predictions to the buzz, I am probably underestimating AMPAS adored Russell Crowe's chances for Les Miserables.  Javert is a great role, with plenty of awards potential.  So, for that matter, is Monsieur Thernardier.  If you are unfamiliar with the stage play, let me assure you that the casting of Sacha Baron Cohen in this role is an inspired, if daring, choice.

     Next time around, we'll be covering Best Actor and Best Actress. More on that soon...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

June Oscar Buzz and Predictions - Screenplays

     No need to really preface this.  The word of the Oscar buzz comes first.  My two cents to follow.  The buzz for the 2013 Oscars says...

Adapted Screenplay:
  1. Lincoln
  2. Les Miserables
  3. Argo
  4. Anna Karenina
  5. The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey

  6. Life of Pi
  7. The Silver Linings Playbook
  8. On the Road
  9. The Great Gatsby
  10. Gangster Squad
Also:  The Dark Knight Rises, Gambit, Hyde Park On Hudson, Killing Them Softly, Lawless
     I'm gonna go with:
  1. Les Miserables - Maybe the best source material for a movie musical since Fosse made Cabaret.  I may fall on my face, but I'm all in.
  2. Life of Pi - This film has a huge leg up on most of the other major contenders because it has already been previewed and well received AND it came from source material many called impossible to adapt for the screen.
  3. Anna Karenina - Academy Award winning writer Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love, Brazil) comes off a decade long hiatus to adapt an immortal classic.  Not a BAD bet.
  4. The Great Gatsby - Auteur Baz Luhrman is somewhat hit or miss but damn it, I WANT it to be good.  And again, great source material.
  5. Argo - Even if Argo fails to garner a best picture nomination, I could see Affleck getting a consolation nod here because we know that even in a field of ten, there could easily be a snub in screenplay to...

  6. The Dark Knight Rises - The Academy likes to tease Christopher Nolan for some reason, and superhero comics as source material seems so... common (yawn).  Still, it may be too good to pass up.
  7. The Silver Linings Playbook - O'Russell is a very talented writer, and could find love from this branch even if the film fails to catch on in other categories.
  8. The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey - I think this series' second installment will garner more above the line attention than this first film, but it cannot be discounted.
  9. Killing Them Softly - Andrew Dominick's new movie premiered at Cannes to reviews that were not universally glowing, but neither were Midnight In Paris's last year.
  10. Lincoln - I should have more confidence in John Logan after Hugo, Corialanus, and Rango last year but my faith in the project overall is a little shakier than most people's.

Original Screenplay:
  1. Django Unchained
  2. The Master
  3. Zero Dark Thirty
  4. Six Sessions
  5. Beasts of the Southern Wild

  6. Moonrise Kingdom
  7. Brave
  8. To Rome With Love
  9. Inside Llewyn Davis
  10. Seven Psychopaths
Also:  All In, Amour, He Loves Me, Place Beyond the Pines, Safety First, To The Wonder
     As for my feelings:
  1. Beasts of the Southern Wild - From Sundance, to Cannes, it seems to have momentum on its side.  It's the top stealth contender of the season so far.
  2. The Master - It appears to be producer (and Oscar miracle worker) Harvey Weinstein's main horse in the race this year.  That's enough.
  3. Zero Dark Thirty - Last time out Mark Boal won this category and he's paired with the same director.
  4. Amour - This film was so universally loved at Cannes that it is hard to believe it won't break out of the Foreign Film category somewhere.  Screenplay is often where that happens.
  5. Inside Llewyn Davis - It is unwise to EVER bet against the Coen brothers, especially in screenplay.  The only fly in the ointment is that their script for Gambit (which they did not direct) may split the votes from their supporters.

  6. Django Unchained - I always want Tarantino to succeed, but I'm afraid that the subject matter and action-ish nature of the film may hurt its chances.  Here's to hoping I am wrong.
  7. Moonrise Kingdom - Wes Anderson's newest was received well at Cannes, but he has been ignored before.
  8. Six Sessions - I keep feeling like I should have this film higher on the list, but I feel that the Cannes boost received by Beasts has sort of left this other Sundance darling in the dust for now.  Word is, the script is excellent.
  9. To the Wonder - Any movie from Terrence Malick (Tree of Life, Thin Red Line) is bound to be a unique cinematic experience but will his directorial flourishes overpower the script?
  10. Seven Psychopaths - Again, a film that has previewed favorably from a respected young auteur (Martin McDonagh of In Bruges), that would be higher on this list if the field was not so seemingly wide and deep.

     Next up:  2013 Supporting Acting Academy Awards

Monday, June 11, 2012

June Oscar Buzz and Predictions - The Genres

     Time for part two of our June Oscar preview, and those of you who only really care about the top eight categories are in for a time.  First we have to cover what I think of as the genre categories because they are each sort of their own Best Picture award, but for a very specific type of film.  To me the most prestigious of these is the Foreign Language Film category because there are almost always three or more really great films nominated that would otherwise get little exposure here in the States.  I wish Americans weren't so afraid of subtitles, because the majority of us miss some of the very best films each year.  The general public probably has more interest in the Animated Feature category, so if you have one of those reading while watching allergies, there's SOMETHING here for you.  My interest in Documentary feature waxes and wanes. There's always something worth seeing.  Last year's nominee Pina was amazing.  And then there's....

Animated Short:
Documentary Short:
Live-Action Short:
     What can I say?  The Short categories are the great equalizer of Oscar predictions.  Practically no one gets the shorts right with any sort of regularity.  I certainly don't.  Buzz is practically non-existent and completely useless where it does exist.  Early Live Action Shorts with festival acclaim include Asad, Cafe Regular Cairo, The Debutante Hunters, and Silent.  Short Documentaries Baseball in the Time of Cholera and Paraiso have earned similar praise.  This means next to nothing, however, because who even knows which, if any of these films will even meet all the qualifications for nomination?  If you must have Short predictions in June, take the titles I have given you, write them on flashcards, and throw a dart.  Animated?  I know even less. Sorry, I'm just one little Movie Frog.

Documentary Feature:
  1. Bully
  2. The House I Live In
  3. The Invisible War
  4. The World Before Her
  5. Searching For Sugarman

  6. The Island President
  7. Detropia
  8. This Is Not a Film
  9. The Law In These Parts
  10. West of Memphis
Also:  Caesar Must Die, Chasing Ice, The Flat, Love Free Or Die, Queen of Versailles, Revisionaries,
     I actually follow the buzz really closely in this category each year and still can't ever seem to predict more than three or so out of five.  The buzz doesn't mean a lot here, just ask the folks involved with Project Nim last year.  I will go out on a limb, though (and I'm not a tree frog), and say that I think there is an excellent chance that Bully will go the distance to at least a nomination.  Public awareness that it exists is unusually high for a doc, it is well received, and backed by Harvey Weinstein.  I'm thinking that's a pretty strong trifecta.

Foreign Language Film:
  1. Amour - Austria
  2. Rust and Bone - France
  3. No - Chile
  4. The Hunt - Denmark
  5. Beyond the Hills - Romania

  6. Reality - Italy
  7. Valley of Saints - India
  8. Hold Back - France
  9. In the Fog - Russia
  10. Holy Motors - France
Also:  Young and Wild - Chile, Teddy Bear - Denmark, After Lucia - Mexico, Post Tenebras Lux -
  Mexico, Aqui y Alla - Spain, Can - Turkey
     Unlike the previous four categories, we DO begin to get an idea of who SOME of the major players are in this category fairly early in the year.  The vetting process will then eliminate half of the early front runners at least twice along the way and we'll wind up with most of the top remaining contenders.  Unless Austria is foolish enough not to submit it, Amour WILL probably make it to at least a nomination.  Rust and Bone and Holy Motors would also stand excellent chances IF France chose one of them to submit.  This category is anyone's to take until the official submissions start to be announced several months down the road.

Animated Feature:
  1. Brave
  2. Paranorman
  3. Rise of the Guardians
  4. Frankenweenie
  5. The Lorax

  6. Wreck it Ralph
  7. The Rabbi's Cat
  8. Hotel Transylvania
  9. From Up On Poppy Hill
  10. Pirates! Band of Misfits
Also:  A Letter To Momo, La Tableau, Zarafa
     The Secret World of Arriety is ineligible, I have recently learned, or else it would have been on this list for sure.  If I had to spitfire my own thoughts, I'd say:
  1. Brave
  2. The Rabbi's Cat
  3. Frankenweenie
  4. Paranorman
  5. Wreck It Ralph
Alternates:  From Up On Poppy Hill, Lorax, Rise of the Guardians

      And now we are ready to go above the line in my next installment as we take a look at the screenplay categories.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

June Oscar Buzz and Predictions - The Techs

     Most people who write about awards season like to start with Best Picture and work their way down.  I prefer to save the best for last myself, so we will be starting with the techs.  Trying to predict the technical awards this early in the game is really a shot in the dark, even more so than in the major categories.  For the most part I am just going to be revealing where the (limited) buzz lies for these categories at present, without a whole lot of commentary or predictions on my part.  When I feel that I have something significant to add, I will. Most of the technical nominations (say three or four out of five in most categories) will also be Best Picture nominees, but almost any movie could show up to fill in those one or two other slots.  Overall bad reviews do not mean that a film is automatically eliminated, especially if the costumer, sound designer, make-up artist, etc. is highly regarded by their peers.  Might as well get started with the biggest wild card at this point, which is...

Original Song:
     Outside of the shorts, this is probably the hardest category to predict this early in the year because not only have we not heard most of the songs, we don't even know what they are, who wrote and/or performed them, or what films may or may not feature them.  The only thing we can do is spitball which films seem likely to contain original songs and guess from there.  Buzz is so close to non-existent for this category that I'm just going to briefly list a few films that seem like decent bets.
  1. Les Miserables - It has been leaked that the film adaptation of Les Mis WILL contain one original song.  Sound unheard, this has to be considered the front runner.
  2. Sapphires - This original Australian musical got great press from Cannes and could easily be the fly in Les Miserables' ointment if it gets a qualifying U.S. release date.
  3. Brave - There is almost always a theme song connected to a Pixar release.  Other animated films such as the Lorax are also strong possibilities.
  4. Sparkle - Think Burlesque.
  5.  Won't Back Down - This sort of inspirational family fare usually has an inspirational song attached
  6.  Skyfall - Bond films are often the source of original song nominees.

Original Score:
  1. Brave
  2. Lincoln
  3. The Dark Knight Rises
  4. Anna Karenina
  5. The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey

  6. Moonrise Kingdom
  7. Life of Pi
  8. Argo
  9. The Master
  10. Killing Them Softly
     This category is a nightmare to try and predict before the fickle fingers of the Academy disqualify half of the favored films come winter.

The rest of the craft categories (even the ones people kind of care about like Visual Effects and Cinematography, after the jump:

Thursday, June 7, 2012

At The Changing of the Season

     The Awards (okay, Oscars) race is divided up into four seasons like the year, but runs for fourteen months, rather than twelve.  Adjacent years overlap in January and February.
     We have just completed the first season, the Early Festivals and Junk season, during which there are few bright spots at the box office (at least in English), but Sundance and Cannes whet our appetite for what is to come.  Although it really feels like we haven't learned much this year.  
     Beasts of the Southern Wild seems like the breakout star of the early festivals, but it still might be too small to last the year, especially releasing as early as June.  Of course, this is the same thing that people said about The Hurt Locker a few years back, so we'll see.  Six Sessions (formerly The Surrogate) also met with enthusiastic praise, although at this point it seems a stronger contender in the lead acting races than in Best Picture.  Michael Haneke's film Amour seems universally loved enough that it could easily break out of the Foreign Film race in some way, where it must currently be considered the front runner.  There also seems to be a lot of love floating around for Marion Cotillard and her performance in Rust and Bone.  Then there are several films with enough critical praise to MAYBE be contenders:  Moonrise Kingdom, Lawless, Killing Them Softly, and Mud.  Most of this year's best bets by the numbers are still total unknowns.
     The new season we are entering is the summer tent pole season, filled with blockbusters galore.  At the least, we should be seeing several films that will be major contenders in some of the craft categories.  If summer is a bit more fruitful, we'll see something like Inception. Prometheus could fit the bill (although the earliest reviews are a little damning with faint praise).  So could The Dark Knight Rises.  We'll just have to wait and see.  Tent pole season runs into late summer.
     It is followed, and overlapped a little, by the Fall Film Festival season.  MANY more serious contenders will be previewed by critics and industry professionals at festivals like Toronto, Venice, and Telluride.  Early hopeful contenders will also start to appear at the box office, much like Moneyball and Ides of March did last year.  
     The final phase, which start around Thanksgiving and runs to Oscar night, is Awards Season.  The heavy hitters will hit theaters in full force and we'll finally know what exceeds expectations, and what falls flat.  By December, awards groups and critics circles will begin spewing out nominations and winners with gale force.  Then the Guilds.  Then the Oscars.
     At the turning of the season, it is time for me to review and analyze the current buzz, and, yes, make some predictions.  Look for that to start tomorrow with a simple list of the current buzz, My analysis and hops of faith will follow.  Here we go...