Thursday, June 27, 2013

Lore of the Warm Dead Man

     Today we are covering the rare modern western, a zombie rom-com (no, really) & a drama about abandoned children...who also happen to be Nazis.  I couldn't make this stuff up...

  Lore - This is the second feature film from director Cate Shortland, but she already shows signs of a being a director with a confident and insightful eye.  Little touches like the cuts between shots in the opening hop-scotch sequence make a convincing argument that we may be witnessing the rise of an important new voice in international cinema.  She also co-wrote the script with TV writer Robin Mukherjee and it is a truly novel concept: a road movie in which the "heroes" are the abandoned children of Nazi war criminals left to fend for themselves and try to stay out of prison.
     The entire production is actually handled quite well. The costumes (Stephanie Bieker), production and sound design are all excellent.  Special praise must be heaped upon editor Veronika Jenet and cinematographer Adam Arkapaw.  Without their creative expertise sequences like the aforementioned "hop-scotch" bit or the "bonfire sequence" would never have been possible.  The film is heavy on mood and atmosphere, and is very effective in that respect.
     The ensemble cast of mostly children is also phenomenal, led by Lore herself, Saskia Rodndahl.  The young lady shows a remarkable maturity as an actress, conveying volumes with a look, a gesture, or a moderate change in her posture.  Amazingly, this is the actress's debut performance, but she has four other films already finished or in the works.  She truly shines brightest playing opposite either Ursina Lardi (who plays Lore's mother) or Kai-Peter Malina (who plays the love interest, Thomas).  Her interactions with both characters are so charged with fiery passion completely held in check by complex mixed feelings.  Both of her co-stars match her smoldering calm with equal eerie intensity and the result is some really fine acting.
     Needless to say, I highly recommend this Australian Foreign Language Film submission to last year's Oscars which just released in the U.S. on DVD this month...4 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Warm Bodies - So, you know I watch a lot of very cerebral movies here at TheMovieFrog, but sometimes my brain needs a rest.  Sometimes I need something like....Zombies In Love. Honestly, this was pretty much my thought process as I selected writer/director Jonathen Lavine's horror rom-com for my 2013 viewing list.
     I can't say that the film was exactly a step in the right direction from 50/50, the young auteur's last effort.  Warm Bodies was full of cheap laughs, predictable twists, and a plot that was more loaded with holes than the lawn at a high end country club.  There also weren't any star making performances like the one from JG Levitt in Mr. Lavine's last film.
     In fact, Warm Bodies WASN'T a very good picture...but I still kind of enjoyed it...but it just wasn't very good...but I kind of liked it...but it was NOT very good...let's just call it my first truly guilty (maybe guilt RIDDEN) pleasure of the year and leave it at that...3 out of 5 stars.

  Dead Man's Burden - Fortunately (or not), I do not feel nearly so conflicted about the last film in today's post which is the writing/directing debut from producer Jared Moshe.  Many say that the Western is a dead genre.  Purists have groaned at deconstructions such as Django Unchained in recent years, and I am quite happy to inform them that Dead Man's Burden is no such film.  It is a fairly traditional tale of the Old West.  I am not so happy to have to tell them that it is not a very good one.
     The problems begin with the script.  From the first frames of the film it is easy to imagine the foreseeable symmetry that is destined to conclude it.  The rest is just filling in the blanks, which the writer does with stock characters, even stock conversations.
     Even the gun fights seem to lack tension.  This may be owing to the original score by H. Scott Salinas whose gut wrenching melodramatic movements seem more well suited to a Lifetime Original movie than a taught thriller.  Mired by such sticky sweet sentimentality, it is difficult to pull much tension out of the film aurally.
     I would like to say that the performances save the day, but they do not.  Most of the cast is purely forgettable, while Clare Bowen actually embarrasses herself somewhat in the role of Martha.  Only Barlow Jacobs (who has great, piercing eyes) is able to transcend the material somewhat in the role of Wade, but it is not nearly enough to salvage this half baked story which leaves the Western genre in the same coma that it found it in...sigh...2 out of 5 stars.

  Related articles:  Arantino Explained (The T is Invisible) (Django Unchained review)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

June Oscar Buzz and Predictions - Supporting Players

     Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress are much more difficult to call this far out than Actor and Actress because not only do you have to guess which films will bring the quality, but which performances will stand out among several star laden ensembles.  As always, the buzz leads, while my humble guesses (relatively humble, all things considered) follow thereafter...

Best Supporting Actress
  1. Amy Adams - American Hustle
  2. Cameron Diaz - The Counselor
  3. Margo Martindale - August: Osage County
  4. Cate Blanchet - The Monuments Men
  5. Ocatvia Spencer - Fruitvale Station

  6. Julia Roberts - August: Osage County
  7. Oprah Winfrey - The Butler
  8. Catherine Keener - Captain Phillips
  9. Carey Mulligan - Inside Llewyn Davis
  10. Vanessa Redgrave - Foxcatcher

     Of course, things are still wide open.  I could easily have named twice as many women who currently have buzz in this category.  Right now, I see things sorta like...

  1. Kristen Scott Thomas - Only God Forgives (0 wins out of 1 nomination)...Refn squeezed 1 nod out of Drive and it would seem that this would be the nod that the Weinstein Company acquired "Forgives" to try and secure since she reportedly steals the show.  Besides, the Academy's been waiting for an excuse to invite her back ever since The English Patient.
  2. Oprah Winfrey - The Butler (0 wins out of 1 nomination in acting categories)...Honestly I was ready to predict her for Best Actress but it now looks more likely she will campaign here.  Weinstein again.
  3. Cameron Diaz - The Counselor (never nominated)...I'm kind of betting heavily on this film for several categories and after four Globe nominations, you'd think the Academy is just waiting for the right role here.
  4. Vanessa Redgrave - Foxcatcher (1 win out of 6 nominations)...This is just something that all movie fanboys want, 1 more win for an old lady crush who hasn't gotten much love in recent years.  All great actresses that live this long hit this point.  We saw it with Dench and Mirren.  We're seeing it now with Redgrave and Maggie Smith.  If this role is worthy of her, it could definitely manifest.
  5. Margo Martindale - August: Osage County (never nominated)...She's definitely got buzz going for her, and she's a SEASONED character actress...

  6. Juliette Lewis - August: Osage County (0 wins out of 1 nomination)...but this zany gal has never really gotten her due with The Academy and this could be her big comeback after several years laying low.
  7. Cate Blanchett - Monuments Men (1 win out of 5 nominations)...She's one of the most respected actresses in the business, playing the only female role in this magnificent boys' club piece of Oscar bait.  Still, I'm betting on her for Lead Actress in Blue Jasmine this year.
  8. Octavia Spencer - Fruitvale Station (1 win out of 1 nomination)...It's been seen and her reviews are complimentary, but she's still so fresh off her first nomination and win.
  9. Amy Adams - American Hustle (0 wins out of 4 nominations)...It's getting to where everyone just predicts Amy regardless but I think the Academy might wait a minute with the constant nods until she takes the role that they can give her a WIN for.
  10. Tilda Swinton - Snowpiercer (1 win out of 1 nomination)...I know science fiction films NEVER earn acting nods but she's absolutely AMAZING in the trailer, the Academy owes her a nod after We Need To Talk About Kevin, and it's June so I can put whatever the hell I like in the number ten slot!!!

     I also considered:  Jennifer Lawrence - American Hustle (0/2), Julia Roberts (probably Lead) - August: Osage County (1/3), Sally Hawkins - Blue Jasmine (never nominated), Jane Fonda - The Butler (2/7), Catherine Keener - Captain Phillips (0/3), Penelope Cruz - The Counselor (1/3), Jennifer Garner - Dallas Buyer's Club (n/n), Scarlett Johannssen (n/n), Michelle Pfeiffer - The Family (0/3), Laura Linney - The Fifth Estate (0/3), Amy Adams - Her, Samantha Morten - Her (0/2), Carey Mulligan - Inside Llewyn Davis (0/1),
Naomi Harris - Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom (n/n), June Squib - Nebraska (n/n), Zoe Saldana - Out of the Furnace (n/n), Jessica Lange - Therese (2/6) & Lupita Nyong'o - 12 Years a Slave (n/n)

Best Supporting Actor
  1. Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher
  2. Michael Fassbender - 12 Years a Slave
  3. John Goodman - Inside Llewyn Davis
  4. Josh Brolin - Labor Day
  5. Benedict Cumberbatch - August: Osage County

  6. Jeremy Renner - American Hustle
  7. Matt Damon - The Monuments Men
  8. Matthew McConaughey - The Wolf of Wall Street
  9. Colin Farrell - Saving Mr. Banks
  10. Joaquin Phoenix - The Immigrant
     First off, let me say that there are still more possibilities left in this category than I could list without getting encyclopedic, so I have tried to be really tough in whittling it down.  There are three gents in The Butler I would like to have mentioned, another trio in The Fifth Estate.  I would like to apologize to Mr. Renner, whose talent I truly hope leads to another Oscar nod (and maybe win) someday, but I'm not currently betting strongly on Hustle.  That said, I'm thinking...

  1. John Goodman - Inside Llewyn Davis (NEVER NOMINATED!!!)...The film has premiered and Goodman is said to nearly steal the show from Oscar Isaac.  He is probably America's greatest living character actor to never be nominated.  Please, Academy, hear my plea...
  2. Bruce Dern - Nebraska (0 wins from 1 nomination)...Category confusion between here and Best Actor kept Mr. Dern off the buzz list but I'm betting this is where he lands.  With a Best Actor win from Cannes under his belt for the role, a nod here (for the first time since Coming Home in 1978) seems assured.
  3. Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher (0 wins out of 1 nomination)...Not only does Mr. Ruffalo have the most  buzz in this category, but he's in the lead by a mile.  The pundits have spoken, and unless Foxcatcher completely implodes, I think we can expect a second nomination to land in his lap easily.
  4. Ewan McGregor - August: Oslo County (never nominated)...I know that everyone is expecting Benedict Cumberbatch to get a nod from this film, but Ewan is waaaay more overdue and was snubbed last year for The Impossible.
  5. Benedict Cumberbatch - 12 Years a Slave (never nominated)...However, the pundits are pushing hard for Mr. Cumberbatch to break through, and this scenario could avoid vote splitting with Mr. McGregor.

  6. Michael Fassbender - 12 Years a Slave (never nominated)...Of course, I'm betting on Fass for Lead Actor in The Counselor at the moment, but if that doesn't happen, I'd bet on this.
  7. Matthew McConaughey - The Wolf of Wall Street (never nominated)...Mr. McConaughey also seems primed for a first nod this year, but I am currently expecting him to get one in Lead (for Mud or Dallas Buyer's Club).
  8. Brad Pitt - The Counselor (0 wins out of 3 nominations)...Brad and Fass are appearing in two films together this year and it would be a lot of fun for them to both get nods from the same one!
  9. Dane DeHaan - Kill Your Darlings (never nominated)...You may not know who Mr. DeHaan is yet, but he's been building his reputation slowly with films like Lawless and The Place Beyond the Pines.  If he blew this away, who knows?
      I'm being a real wuss with narrowing things down this year, but for this slot I'm saying...
  10. Someone From The Monuments Men:
      Matt Damon (0 wins out of 2 nominations in acting categories)...This is, of course, the idea that everyone is jumping on.  Mr. Damon is just one of several talented actors in this ensemble, most of which are just as arguably overdue as he is...
      Bill Murray (0 wins out of 1 nomination)...Mr. Murray is without a doubt the finest actor to ever come out of Saturday Night Live.  He infuses even the most serious roles with a sense of whimsy and even the most comedic with a touch of sadness, and yet no Oscar???
      John Goodman (never nominated)...Have I made my feelings clear on this one yet?
      Daniel Craig (never nominated)...and this seems inevitable as well...
      Jean Dujardin (1 win out of 1 nomination)...definitely the least overdue, but who knows?

     ...and then there was...Ben Foster - Ain't Them Bodies Saints (nn), Bradley Cooper - American Hustle (0/1), Robert De Niro - American Hustle (2/7), Jeremy Renner - American Hustle (0/1), Benedict Cumberbatch - August: Osage County (nn), Alec Baldwin - Blue Jasmine (0/1), Javier Bardem - The Counselor (1/3), Jared Leto - Dallas Buyer's Club (nn),  Channing Tatum - Foxcatcher (nn), Tim Roth - Grace of Monaco (0/1), George Clooney - Gravity (1/4), Joaquin Phoenix - The Immigrant (0/3), Josh Brolin - Labor Day (0/1), Will Forte - Nebraska (nn), Woody Harrelson - Out of the Furnace (0/2), Colin Farrell - Saving Mr. Banks (nn), Brad Pitt - 12 Years a Slave (0/3), Jonah Hill - The Wolf of Wall Street (0/1)

     Expect a slight delay (and maybe a set of at home viewing reviews and a 2010 rewind set) before I finish these with Lead Acting and The Final Two.  I need a few days to update my buzz first.

  Related articles: What "Cannes" We Tell So Far?, June Oscar Buzz and Predictions - The Aural TechsThe Visual TechsThe Genre CategoriesThe ScreenplaysWe Need To Interrupt Miss Bala (We Need To Talk About Kevin review), "Impossible"y Well CraftedMudWater and Earth Make "Mud", Elena's Brave Law (Lawless review), A Price Beyond This Time (The Place Beyond the Pines review)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Chasing Mama's Hive

     Today's offerings include a shameless message movie...or two...and a better than average horror flick produced my the genre's modern maestro...

  In The Hive - I originally considered including this film in my 2012 viewing schedule because it was the late Malcolm Clarke Duncan's final film and kept it on the list because I absolutely love actress Loretta Devine.  She lives up to her name as usual, and Mr. Duncan does respectable work, but this is a horrible B-grade message movie that could have been a made for TV after school special apart from the acting talent involved. By message movie I mean that the plot was made to suit the moral rather than allowing the film's thematic implications to grow from (or at least compliment) the story.  Please don't allow this to make you believe that I don't care about the plight of inner city youth, I just don't enjoy it when a film maker tries to manipulate my emotions on any topic in such a shameless and clumsy manner.
     I'm not sure why writing Glitter would have influenced anyone to produce another screenplay from writer Cheryl L West, nor why someone whose finger is usually more on the pulse of entertainment as Robert L Townsend's is to choose this as a directing project.  I DO know that (unfortunately) there are not enough quality roles available for actors like Devine and Duncan for them to pass something like this up.  It's too late for anyone to give Mr. Duncan another role that allows him to shine the way that he did in The Green Mile, but please, please, PLEASE can someone give Ms. Devine a project worthy of her talents.  This sure wasn't it, although she does redeem the film SOMEWHAT...2 out of 5 stars.

  Mama - Guillermo del Toro is one of the great masters of the horror genre.  The man knows how to set a scene for suspense.  He executive produced this film, and the newest director to benefit from his mentoring (Andres Muschietti, who also co-wrote the script) seems to have something of his flair and eye.  There is a marvelous scene where you see the younger sister wrestling with someone on the other end of the blanket who you are led to believe is her older sibling...until she comes around a corner and  removes her glasses with great deliberateness before entering the bedroom with her head down.  As she shuts the door behind her, we see the younger girl fly across the ceiling dragged by the still half concealed blanket.  Magical.
     That being said, Mama is no masterpiece, although it has its moments.  It does have a fairly original concept and some genuine scares.  The girls are pretty creepy in their feral condition and things don't work out exactly as you would expect.  In fact, the film ends in a way that runs very contrary to the usual formula for scary movies that feature children prominently.
     The real problem with the film is the uneven quality of acting to be found.  One the one end, you have Jessica Chastain.  Anyone who reads TheMovieFrog with any regularity knows how I feel about the young actress already and she is as magnetic and flawless as always.  The role certainly isn't the most deeply nuanced she has ever been given by any stretch, but she elevates the material in exactly the way I have come to expect.  Meghan Charpentier (who plays the older sister, Victoria) is best known for playing younger versions of Amanda Seyfried, but I think she may have a bright career ahead of her.  There were some really nice, quiet little touches to her performance.  On the other end of the spectrum, you have Nikolaj Coster (who plays the uncle) giving line readings that were cardboard enough to qualify for immediate recycling.  The younger sister was played by Isabelle Nelisse whose performance quality varied.  She was marvelous at playing the feral young beast.  As she grew progressively civilized her line delivery began to be easy to imagine soliciting camp groans once the picture has aged enough that the FX become laughable.
     Of course, looking at the film in 2013, it is still likely to be far better than most of the horror pictures coming out this year.  The young director's attention to detail and Chastain's genre transcending acting chops create a watchable story you are unlikely to regret giving a watch...3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

  Chasing Ice - At one point environmental photographer James Balog, who stars in this documentary, says something to the effect that if he could just get the pictures of the climate change that he has witnessed watching glaciers in the last two decades to the public, they would tell the story themselves.  This is certainly true up to a point.  The photographs are devastating and Mr. Balog's work in creating them is nothing short of heroic.  I would imagine that they must elicit an emotional response and command a lot of attention from anyone who has not been conditioned to ignore anything on the topic.
     On the other hand, documentary film maker Jeff Orlowski shows a lazy directorial hand in this debut effort, doing very little in the way of story telling aside from what the pictures can handle on their own.  What could have been an intriguing story with a little bit more of a human element to it became a little sterile and a little bit of a hollow message movie, saved only by how moving the photos are.
     The Oscar nominated Original Song "Before My Time" was the reason that the film entered my radar in the first place and was my personal favorite out of last year's nominees.  As performed by Scarlet Johannssen, it is haunting and beautiful...3 1/2 of 5 stars.

June Oscar Buzz and Predictions - Screenplays

     The case with the screenplay categories is usually an embarrassment of riches on the Adapted side and a few shoo-ins among the Originals with the remaining slots left for that year's up-and-coming auteurs.  This year there are more heavy hitting arguably overdue writers working in Original, which promises to be an interesting novelty if nothing else. As always, the buzz leads each category with my thoughts and predictions following after.

Adapted Screenplay
  1. Before Midnight
  2. The Monuments Men
  3. August: Oslo County
  4. The Wolf of Wall Street
  5. The Butler

  6. Foxcatcher
  7. Labor Day
  8. 12 Years a Slave
  9. Captain Phillips
  10. The Great Gatsby

     It seems odd to me that Before Midnight lands in Adapted just because it is a sequel, but that's how the rules work at present.  I would like to post the disclaimer that I expect August: Osage County to be one of those ensembly Picture nominees with no Screenplay nod (think: The Help).  Tracy Letts showed talent with Killer Joe, but it was no masterpiece of a script.  There are relatively few Oscar veterans in serious contention in this category, but I still think experience counts...

  1. Before Midnight - Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke (0 wins out of 1 nomination)...This film has been celebrated even more exuberantly than the previous installment that earned this trio a nomination - seems like a gimme.
  2. Foxcater - E Max Frye (never nominated) & Dan Futterman (0 wins out of 1 nomination)...If this film works at all it will rely heavily on a strong screenplay.  Futterman was previously nominated for Capote.
  3. The Wolf of Wall Street - Terrence Winter (never nominated)...Mr. Winter may have never been nominated for an Oscar, but he's worked on some of the most cinematic television shows imaginable (The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire) and Scorsese would never have signed on for a screenplay that didn't have the goods.
  4. Monument's Men - George Clooney & Grant Heslov (0 wins out of 2 nominations in writing categories)  Third time COULD be the charm for this pair whose film sounds almost TOO Oscar baity.  Still....
  5. 12 Years a Slave - John Ridley (never nominated)...Yes, Mr. Ridley's most impressive previous cred by a mile is Three Kings, but that WAS a very good screenplay and I can't imagine that Steve McQueen is going to follow up Shame with (pardon the expression) some crap.

  6. Labor Day - Jason Reitman (0 wins out of 1 nomination in writing categories)...Reitman is a very talented auteur, but Young Adult proved that he can wax too dark for the Academy's tastes and this is his first effort without comedic elements.  We will have to wait and see.
  7. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom - William Nicholson (0 wins out of 2 nominations)  Arguably one of the most overdue names on this list, Mr. Nicholson was previously nominated for Gladiator and Shadowlands.  He is also backed by the Weinstein Company.
  8. The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet - Jean-Pierre Jeunt & Guillaume Laurant (0 wins out of 1 nomination)...The writing pair that brought you Amelie, working in English, backed by the Weinstein Company...nuff said.
  9. The Butler - Lee Daniels & Danny Strong (never nominated in writing categories)...The Paperboy is not exactly the most convincing former writing credit (remember Daniels only DIRECTED Precious), but Harvey Weinstein is pushing this as a Best Picture nominee.  Still, could be another victim of The Help syndrome.
  10. Snowpiercer - Joon-ho Bong & Kelly Masterson (never nominated)...Yes, it's science fiction, that's why I put it last.  Still, the writers separately penned Madeo (or Mother, which surely would have been nominated if it was in English) and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead so I have very high hopes.

     Also in the mix:  August: Osage County (Tracy Letts, never nominated), Captain Phillips (Billy Ray, nn), The Fifth Estate (Josh Singer, nn), A Most Wanted Man (Andrew Bovell, nn), Much Ado About Nothing (Joss Whedon, 0/1), Oldboy (Mark Protosevich, nn), Philomena (Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope, nn) & The Spectacular Now (Scott Neustadter & Michael H Webber, nn)

Original Screenplay
  1. The Counselor
  2. Inside Llewyn Davis
  3. Fruitvale Station
  4. Gravity
  5. Nebraska

  6. American Hustle
  7. The Past
  8. Captain Phillips
  9. Blue Jasmine
  10. The Immigrant

     This category is PACKED this year, with some very celebrated screen writers in contention.  I wouldn't count out ANY of the buzzed about films listed above, but I DO have a few films I feel strongly about that didn't make it.  MY list looks more like this...

  1. Inside Llewyn Davis - The Coen Brothers (2 wins out of 5 nominations in writing categories)...I'm not saying they'll win (previous wins for No Country and Fargo sort of make the notion of being overdue silly), but with raves out of Cannes, a nomination seems all but assured.  There are three names that should never be underestimated in the Oscar world.  Pixar, Weinstein...and Coen.
  2. Fruitvale Station - Ryan Coogler (never nominated)...It may seem odd to place a rookie at number two with so many experienced sharks in the water, but the film has been seen, was well received, and has Weinstein pushing it hard.
  3. Blue Jasmine - Woody Allen (3 wins out of 15 nominations in writing categories)...I would add Allen to the list of names to never bet against except that in a career as prolific as his you have to have a lot of misses to only score (ONLY?) fifteen nominations in over forty years of film making.  Early buzz indicates this is not one of them.  I wouldn't vote against it.
  4. The Counselor - Cormac McCarthy (never nominated)...It may be Mr. McCarthy's first script, but he IS one of the most celebrated novelists of the twenty first century, whose work has often adapted beautifully to screen.
  5.  All Is Lost - JC Chandor (0 wins out of 1 nomination)...I had a really difficult time picking between number five and number six here, but this film has already been seen to strong reviews and Chandor is one for one ( with Margin Call) with the Academy.  Robert Redford's performance ensures that even the most curmudgeonly Academy members will watch their screeners and have the movie in mind.

  6. American Hustle - David O Russell (0 wins out of 1 nomination) & Eric Singer (never nominated)...That being said, its hard to bet against Mr. Russell.  However, he has gained above the line notice on his last two films (Silver Linings Playbook was JUST last year and incorporated most of the same primary actors) and unless this film is REALLY something special, AMPAS might decide that it is someone else's "turn" as it were.
  7. Gravity - Alfonso Cuaron (0 wins out of 2 nominations in writing categories) & Jonas Cuaron (never nominated)...This film and Elysium are in kind of the same boat.  In both cases, I have great confidence in the previously nominated writer's abilities, but in both cases the films are science fiction (or at least employ certain sci-fi sensibilities) and that does not always bode well with the writer's branch. For now, I'll give Cuaron the edge due to the fact that he has already proven not to be a one trick pony (with nods for both Y Tu Mama Tambien and Children of Men).
  8. Elysium - Neil Blomkampf (0 wins out of 1 nomination)...See what I said for Gravity.  Blomkampf's one trick was the brilliant debut effort District 9.
  9. The Past - Asghar Farhadi (0 wins out 1 nomination)...If The Past were not in French, I would probably place Farhadi MUCH higher on this list.  Still, he got here in Arabic with A Separation, so a nod is certainly possible.
     I never do this, but...
  10. Her - Spike Jonze (never nominated in writing categories)...I find it difficult to believe that the writer's branch has never honored him before, but it's true...
     (tied with)
        The Zero Theorem - Pat Rushin (never nominated)...I find it difficult to believe that the Academy has never embraced the film's of director Terry Gillam more than they have.  Maybe this is the year they FINALLY correct this.

     Plus...Ain't Them Bodies Saints (David Lowery, nn), The Dallas Buyer's Club (Craig Borten & Melissa Wallack, nn), Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach 0/1 & Greta Gerwig, nn), The Immigrant (James Gray & Rick Menello, nn), Mud (Jeff Nichols, nn), Nebraska (Bob Nelson, nn), Out of the Furnace (Brad Inglesby & Scott Cooper, nn), Rush (Peter Morgan 0/2), Saving Mr. Banks (Kelly Marcel, nn) & Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley, 0/1),
  Related articles: What "Cannes" We Tell So Far?, June Oscar Buzz and Predictions - The Aural TechsThe Visual TechsThe Genre CategoriesThe Help ReviewThe Perfect Para-Killer (Killer Joe review), Another Young Project (Young Adult review),  The Great Zac Efron Film Festival of 2012 (The Paperboy review), Dark Clouds Beautify "Silver Linings"Water and Earth Make "Mud"

Monday, June 24, 2013

Barney's Lebanese Invention

     The third set of 2010 Rewind Series reviews presents us with a mystery/drama in which everyone's favorite lovable schlub gets a little less lovable, a drama about the struggles of immigrants with adorable kids & the best movie ever set almost entirely in the interior of a tank.  That said...

  Lebanon - When I first heard about this film I had my reservations despite the near universal critical acclaim that it was receiving.  I just didn't see how one could place an entire movie in such a limited setting and not end up stifling the storytelling process.  Boy, was I wrong!  I never imagined so much drama and character development could occur in such a confined space.  Many critics have likened the film to the classic German movie Das Boot (The Boat) but to my shame I have not seen it.  It reminded me a bit of The Hurt Locker, only with claustrophobia.
     Israel has really been establishing itself as an important new voice on the international cinematic scene in the last decade. Among other accolades, the nation has earned Oscar nods for Best Foreign Language film four out of the last six years. The introduction of writer/director Samuel Maoz is certainly another notch in their belt.  Lebanon is the film maker's first narrative feature, having previously made the 2000 documentary Total Eclipse.  You would never know it, as his sense of pacing is impeccable and his ability to overcome the limitations of the situation seems evident of a much more experienced hand.
     The picture also boasts a very strong ensemble cast of mostly untried young actors.  The sound work is fantastic.  Credit for the overall quality of production must also be given to cinematographer Giora Bejach, who used both lensing and composition to impressive and creative effect.  Easily the sweetest fruit that the Rewind Series has yielded thus far...5 out of 5 stars.

  Children of Invention - This little indie drama about the challenges that face Asian-American immigrants won a slew of accolades at small film festivals for its director Tze Chun.  It has three competent lead performances.  It sheds light on issues that are important to many people who often lack a voice in the popular media.  It is a well constructed story filled with believably motivated characters.  It features antics from some REALLY cute and talented child actors.  Despite all these facts, it just fell a little flat for me.
     There are a few main factors that resulted in my feeling this way.  First, the supporting cast is a little weak, particularly the cops, who need mustachios to twirl in the interrogation scenes.  Second, actress Cindy Cheung does a great job in the lead role of Elaine, but the character is almost too much of an innocent yet capable super mom to be credible.  Third (and this is really the big one) the film just never took off tonally. Small family dramas of this nature need a slow but deliberate build to a palpable emotional climax that this movie never achieved.  Still, entertaining enough...3 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Barney's Version - This Oscar nominee for Best Make-Up was not the first film from director Richard J. Lewis, although he is certainly better known for his extensive work in the television medium.  The film did not QUITE work, but I would not lay the blame on Mr. Lewis.  He actually appears to be quite talented as an actor's director pulling some great turns out of his cast, notably Minnie Driver, Dustin Hoffman, Rachelle Lefevre, Scott Speedman & Saul Rubinek.  The criminally under-appreciated, but immensely talented young actress Rosamund Pike threatens to steal the film from its formidable star. If her character were not just a tad too unbelievably perfect she might have.  Of course, maybe the point is that she was perfect for Barney, and this story IS Barney's version.
     Many, I fear, will fail to connect with this film in much the same way that many failed to connect with Jason Reitman's 2011 film Young Adult.  Like Charlize Theron's character in that film, Barney is not terribly likable.  I would imagine that many would find this especially disconcerting when such a role is filled by an actor who is normally cast in lovable Everyman parts like Paul Giamatti.  This wasn't my problem with the film, however, the Everyman should not be perfect.  Good people have irritating quirks and aspects to them, and the most charismatic of figures can be rotten at the core.  I personally found Giamatti's work in this film to be marvelously layered and Barney to be a refreshingly believable movie character in many ways.
     Where the film failed for me was in basic plot and narrative structure. Michael Koyves script functions very well as a dramedy, and seems to be one throughout most of the film.  However, he fails to ever really give resolution to this narrative arc, instead letting it trail off into nothingness ten minutes before the picture ends.  Instead, Barney's Version resolves as if it had been a mystery all along.  Thinking back, the first five minutes set it up that way, but the body of the film had an entirely different tone.  As such, the mystery aspect never really built up enough suspense to make that narrative climax satisfying or exciting.  I REALLY wanted to like this film more, but it REALLY ended weakly...3 1/2 of 5 stars.
  Related articles: Another Young Project (Young Adult review)

June Oscar Buzz and Predictions - The Genre Categories

     The Genre Categories (as we like to call them here at TheMovieFrog, are different from categories that celebrate a certain aspect of film making (say, directing or editing) in that they are each like their own little Best Picture category for a certain type of film.  Other than Animated Feature, they are also the most baffling categories to predict, with the most convoluted rules about eligibility, and the most complicated nomination processes.  They also (aside from Animated Feature) are sure to contain the most OBSCURE collections of titles to be found among the twenty-four categories that the Academy deems fit to celebrate.  All that being said (and grains of salt hopefully at the ready), this is what the buzz (and in some cases I) have to say on these six.  As always, the buzz appears first, while my thoughts (where applicable) follow thereafter...

Short Subject (Live-Action)
     In all honesty, it's really difficult to say a lot about ANY of the shorts this far out, but for the sake of completion, I will try.  Two films of this variety have caught my attention: Come and Play and Needle.  Both have had some early film festival buzz and could easily be contenders this year IF they qualify to compete.  In June, that's a big if.

Short Subject (Documentary)
     Completion be damned, I got nothin...

Animated Short
     I feel a little more confident in this category, due to the industry influence of Pixar and its parent company Disney.  Both have strong contenders this year, and I think it's a pretty good bet to call them front runners at this point in the game.
     THE lead horse right now has to be Pixar's The Blue Umbrella. It is currently playing in theaters as the lead in to Monsters University and getting as many raves as the feature (if not more).  Playing in conjunction with a major blockbuster will give the film massive exposure and awareness (for a short) and the strategy certainly worked for last year's Animated Short winner Paperman, which played ahead of Wreck-It Ralph in theaters.
     BUT DON'T COUNT OUT...Disney's Get A Horse, which I believe is going to be released with their upcoming feature Frozen.  The short uses archive voice over work from Walt Disney himself using (very) old style animation and Mickey Mouse character design.  It's still being kept somewhat under wraps but is being quietly publicized in much the same way as Paperman was last year.

Foreign Language Film
     Usually, I would have my own list for this category by June, because there would be a couple of star international directors that I would be willing to go out on a limb for.  Unfortunately, most of the usual suspects for such treatment that have films coming out in 2013 are making them in ENGLISH.  I'm talking to YOU Susanne Bier (Serena), Joon-ho Bong (Snowpiercer) & Jean-Pierre Jeunet (The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet).  Pedro Almodovar coming out with a piece of fluff camp comic relief (I'm So Excited) doesn't help matters either.  I think I'll just offer short commentary on the picks that the buzz has come up with instead.
  1. Blue is the Warmest Color - France...Director Abdellatif Kechiche would appear to be as new of a voice for the Academy as for me, but the film won the Palme D'or at Cannes and that is always a good start.
  2. The Past - Iran...The last film that writer/director Asghar Farhadi gave us was the Oscar winning A Separation, and this picture (which also did very well at Cannes) would be a shoo-in for front runner status if only I felt a little more confident that it will even be submitted. Farhadi's home nation (Iran) boycotted the Oscars last year, and there is no telling if that choice will be repeated.  The film is in French and was produced by that nation, but for France to submit The Past, they would have to pass up Blue Is the Warmest Color, so who knows...?
  3. Child's Pose - Romania...This would be Calin Peter Netzer's first notice from the AMPAS but the film won both the Golden Bear and the Fipresi Prize in Berlin so it would seem to have an excellent shot.
  4. Salvo - Italy...This production from Academy rookie directors Fabio Grassadonia & Antonio Piazza didn't get QUITE the attention of "Blue" or "Past" at Cannes, but it did win the Critics Week Grand Prize and the France 4 Visionary Award.
  5. Lunchbox - India...Another Cannes Critics Week hit, this film is by director Ritesh Batra who was shortlisted for a Short nomination for his film Cafe Regular Cairo.  Having international star Irrfan Khan cast in the lead should help to build notoriety.

  6. Me, Myself & Mum - France...This is the freshman feature from director Guillaume Gallienne, and it got good notices at Cannes, but it is difficult to imagine France picking it over its more esteemed competitors.
  7. The Missing Picture - Cambodia...I don't know that there has ever been a film that became a nominee in all three feature length genre categories, but this animated documentary from Cambodian film maker Rithy Panh could possibly do it.  The film won the Un Certain Regard category at Cannes and was VERY well reviewed. Considering the director already has more of an international pedigree than most of the names on this list, and things start to seem even more probable.
  8. Gloria - Chile...Director Sebastian Lelio won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury for this film at Berlin and star Paulina Garcia won the Silver Bear for Best Actress.  Can Chile get a second nod in a row?
  9. Like Father Like Son - Japan...This film won the Jury Prize at Cannes and despite international acclaim director Hirokazu Koreeda has yet to have a film nominated at the Oscars.  Might this be his year?
  10. Heli - Mexico...The same overdue factor could help director Amat Escalante secure his first nomination especially considering that he already won Best Director at Cannes.

     But don't count out...Mood Indigo (Belgium), The Hunt (Denmark), Omar (France), Closed Curtain (Germany), & Le Grande Bellazza (Italy)

Best Documentary Feature
     Actually, I think I'm gonna do exactly the same thing with this category.  I feel too ignorant of the width and breadth of the field to do much more...
  1. The Act of Killing...It's hard to argue with the buzz that Joshua Oppenheimer's film currently holds front runner status in this race.  First, it has the sort of unique premise for a documentary that the AMPAS seems to have taken to in recent years (Exit Through the Gift Shop is a good example).  Second, it currently holds a 92 Meta Score.  Third, it won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at Berlin.
  2. Stories We Tell...Director Sarah Polley usually makes narrative films and, as you can imagine, this is another highly unusual concept for a documentary that came about almost like a happy accident.  The film currently holds a 93 at Meta Critic and has already won great acclaim NORTH of the border from the Genie Awards, The Toronto Film Critics, The Vancouver Film Critics...
  3. We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks....Never count out director Alex Gibney, especially when he's delving into such timely material.  It's only sporting a 75 Meta Score at the moment, but who knows...?
  4. Blood Brother...Steve Hoover's tale of AIDS in India won both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, so it must be considered a serious contender as well.
  5. The Missing Picture...and if you read my analysis of Foreign Language Film you know the triple threat hopes that I'm pinning on this one.

  6. Salinger...Oscar often fails to notice biographical documentaries about artists like this one from documentarian Shane Salerno, but with the Weinstein Company backing it, anything is possible.
  7. Room 237...I would love to think that the Documentary branch could make room for Rodney Ascher's in-depth study of the hidden meanings in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, but it doesn't seem like their sort of thing even with good to great reviews (80 on Meta Critic).
  8. 20 Feet From Stardom...Morgan Nelville's doc on the lives of back up singers did well at Sundance and currently holds an 82 on Meta Critic.
  9. Herblock: The Black and the White...I haven't really heard a LOT about this film that screened at Tribeca but it has garnered a bit of buzz.
  10. Running From Crazy...Documentaries on figures in entertainment don't usually fare well with Oscar, which doesn't bode all that well for this biographical film about Mariel Hemingway from Barbara Kopple.  However, last year's for Searching For Sugar Man win proved that exceptions can be made.

Animated Feature
  1. Frozen
  2. Monsters University
  3. Turbo
  4. Ernest and Celestine
  5. Epic

  6. Despicable Me 2
  7. Planes
  8. The Missing Picture
  9. Free Birds
  10. The Croods

     After having a couple of great years with the Academy, independent distributor G-Kids got shut out at the Oscars last year facing an unusually strong field of mainstream competitors.  I'm thinking that they make a comeback this year considering the strength of the field of possible acquisitions that lays before them in 2013.  My list may be some wishful thinking (nothing wrong with that in June) but I think that (likely G-Kids competitor Ernest and Celestine aside) the buzz is going WAY too conventional in a year that offers an unusually varied assortment of candidates...

  1. Monsters University...I doubt that this wins.  That being said, the franchise is well respected and it's Pixar.  Oh wait, maybe it could win...
  2. Frozen...Disney is really trying to rebrand itself.  If this year's effort comes anywhere near the quality that they achieved last year then a nomination seems more than likely.
  3. The Missing Picture...If G-Kids is smart they will snatch this Cannes award winner up and go for the big time!!!
  4. Ernest and Celestine...For a Foreign Language 'toon to have this much buzz early on, that's got to mean something.
  5. The Trick or Treaters...Although the Weinstein company has had difficulty trying to "Bully" their way into some genre categories of late, I think you underestimate this possibility at your peril.

  6. The Congress...If I knew this trippy adult tale from director Ari Folman would qualify, it would knock something out of the top five.
  7. Hell and Back...If I knew this would get released in time, this re-imagining of the Orpheus myth from the creators of Robot Chicken featuring Susan Sarandan would knock something out of the top five.
  8. The Wind Rises...Miyazaki makes this film a contender, the subject matter's connection to the Axis powers make it a tough sell.
  9. Turbo...Nobody knows anything yet.
  10. Free Birds...Ditto

     And of course...Despicable Me 2, Dorothy of Oz, Epic & Planes

     Next time out we go above the line and cover the Adapted and Original screenplay categories...


  Related articles:  What "Cannes" We Tell So Far?, June Oscar Buzz and Predictions - The Aural TechsThe Visual TechsIf It Ain't Wrecked (Wreck-It Ralph review), Side Smashed by Bully (Bully review)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Struck by the Rabbi's Color

     Yeah, I know, this is the part where I usually give you cute little teasers about the three films I'm going to be reviewing.  Today's post, however, is special because it is our first At Home Viewing article that includes 2013 releases, specifically Upstream Color and Struck By Lightning.  We are not, however, quite done with the 2012 films as I have about twenty left to do. Today they are represented by the animated feature The Rabbi's Cat.  Might as well get under way...

  Upstream Color - This is the second feature from writer/director/star Shane Carruth.  I have not seen his first film, Primer, but after checking out this movie, I'm more than a little interested.  Upstream Color is, quite simply, the most creative and original science fiction movie that I have seen in a long time (at least since Inception).  I don't ever say this lightly but I was quite literally blown away.  I went into the film with very few expectations one way or another (the picture is still quite obscure, flying under most movie goer's radars).  This is probably to the film's advantage because it is said air of mystery and uncertainty that is the film's greatest strength.  To that end, I am not going to give away any more of the plot than is absolutely needed.
     Upstream Color is not for the impatient or easily frustrated.  The plot is quite literally baffling in the film's first half.  It is the sort of film that you need to just let wash over you for a time until the pieces finally begin to come together.  Even when you have seen the whole film once, chances are that it will not all make sense.  I admit to re-watching it a couple of times myself almost immediately.  Of course, this means that I can say without reservation that this is definitely a feature that highly rewards multiple viewings.
     Besides its ambiguity, the only other real complaint that I've read about the film is the acting performance of director Shane Carruth.  I, however, found both he and Amy Seimetz's lead performances to be fantastic. They both come across as listless and emotionally disconnected, but there is a very good reason for this.  Just trust me.  I actually found that both of them gave multi-layered performances, letting you see glimpses of their more humanizing emotions seeping out through the cracks of their general disorientation.  Andrew Sensenig is also delightfully creepy in a supporting role and Thiago Martins absolutely terrified me in the first half hour.
     I guess at this point I don't really have to say that I HIGHLY recommend this picture.  Besides surely being one of the best written films of a year that is just getting started, and being very well acted, the cinematography is absolutely gorgeous.  You can once again thank the multi-talented (and multi-hat-wearing) Mr. Carruth, who also composed the original music and had a hand in the editing.  He instantly goes to the front of the class of exciting new auteurs with Brit Marling and Benh Zeitlen.  I cannot think of a more perfect low budget science fiction flick...5 of 5 stars.

  Struck By Lightning - This marks Emmy winning actor Chris Colfer's (best known for playing Kurt on the television show Glee) debut writing credit on a feature film. I have really enjoyed Mr. Colfer's work on Glee, especially the way in which his character has helped to change public perceptions of young gay men.  As such, I was very hopeful that this film would be just as much of a delight, whether it addressed similar themes or not.  Unfortunately, I cannot say that it was.  It was actually a rather flawed effort which failed to really go anywhere or say very much of anything.
     It tells the story of an ambitious young high school student who is trying desperately to effect his escape from the small town he feels is hampering his growth.  Or was that Ferris Bueller's Day Off? Rushmore? No, no...Election. Get it? Subplots include his relationships with his estranged parents.  His mother is a pill popping head case who acts as if she couldn't care less about him while his father is absent and plays no part in his life whatsoever.  Both of these relationships provide rich potential for development, but were never given enough time or focus to evolve into anything that would provide growth or insight to either the characters or the viewer.  Carson (Colfer) starts a literary magazine to try and improve his college chances and blackmails other prominent members of the student body into participating.  We never really see his plan's success or see him face consequences for his unscrupulous methods.  Some effort is made to insinuate that the students involved might have learned something about themselves through the process of writing, but this thematic thread doesn't go far enough, and sort of trail off into nothingness.
     Mr. Colfer also stars in the film, and I think that he may have been thinking more as an actor than as a writer during the process of conceptualizing his script.  Carson (his character), besides being bitter and witty, is left as sort of an everyman, the straight man (or voice of reason if you want to get really technical in a literary way) in a field of extreme personalities.  I can only assume that this was done to demonstrate that the actor possesses range well the flamboyant exuberance central to his characterization of Kurt on the show that made him famous.  This does not serve the plot as well as it could have, but it REALLY does a disservice to the young artist as an actor.  Mr. Colfer has tremendous talent, but it is as a CHARACTER actor.  This is not to say that he must always be relegated to supporting status, but standard everyman type leading characters are a waste of his rare gift for quirkiness and going over the top.
     The best things about this film are the performances of SOME members of the supporting cast.  Allison Janney is captivating as always even when delivering slightly stilted dialogue as Carson's mother.  Polly Bergan is likewise delightful as his dementia ridden grandmother, although we have certainly seen her play somewhat similar roles in the past.  Sarah Hyland (best known as the youngest daughter on Modern Family) does a respectable job although she, too, is cast to rather familiar type.  Allie Grant (who played young lesbian plus size model Isabelle Hodes on the first several seasons of Weeds) probably stretches herself the most as the uptight yearbook editor.
      Late in the film, Mr. Colfer tries to tie in some sort of metaphoric subtext about bitterness and "personal rain clouds".  Like most of the other threads of the script, this one comes off as frayed.  I do hope that Mr. Colfer gets another shot with another screenplay (or at least another leading film role) because I feel that he has a lot more to offer than just one great role on one good TV show.  Next time, however, I hope he gives himself a more interesting character that stretches his bag of tricks in some way besides being less obviously homosexual. I also hope that he takes a little more time with his other characters and situations so as to avoid quick and easy stereotypes.  Maybe even a story outside of the overly dramatized and over played struggles of American high school students...3 of 5 stars.

  The Rabbi's Cat - Typically, European animated films are quite different from their American counterparts in several key ways.  They tend to be aimed more at the entertainment of both adults and children (you know, like Pixar in the old days only more so).  They rely a lot less on musical interludes delivered in the style of a Broadway play (if at all).  The cast of characters in no way seem to have been designed with an action figure line already planned out.  They involve a little more thought (and wit) than cuteness (and fart jokes).  The biggest difference, however, is that Foreign 'toons seem to be written in a far more literary style, at least attempting to develop something a little more thematically complex than a one sentence moral presented in a far more clumsy and obvious way than Aesop ever did.  The higher meanings behind last year's Animated nominees, for example, could be summed up like this:
                                1. Don't be ruled by fate, but don't forget who you are.
                                2. Sometimes weird is good and even necessary.
                                3. If you set out to do the impossible you may succeed, but it will be an empty victory if your motivations are not rooted in love. (Which ain't half bad and is why Frankenweenie should have won)
                                4. Don't be ruled by fate, but don't forget who you are. (This would have been good advice to both the parent studio and its subsidiary.  Maybe if they'd paid attention to their own platitudes they wouldn't have both made the same cartoon last year.)
                                5. It's funny when stupid clumsy pirates get hurt. (Sorry Aardman, but this was such a make-up nod for nominating three films that were nowhere near as good Arthur Christmas for the 84th Oscars.)
     Which brings us, at long last, to The Rabbi's Cat.  It is not an "adults only" type of animated story.  It doesn't indulge in the sort of lusty sensuality (not to mention excessive overindulgence in alcohol) of Chico and Rita.  It IS, however, the most thematically ambitious piece of 100% animated film making that I have ever seen.  Race relations, the quality of truth, religious tolerance, the nature of faith, love (in a world beyond fairy tales) and tradition versus innovation are all topics that have been skillfully woven into the tapestry of this tale.  I cannot stress enough how refreshing it is that these serious subjects of thought emerged  organically from the interaction of the characters and events.  The Rabbi's Cat is no message movie, nor does it attempt to give pat or easy answers to the questions it raises.
     The picture is based upon the graphic novel of the same name by French actor/writer/director Joann Sfar.
Of course, he had help on the directing side of things from Antoine Delesvaux, and on the writing side from Sandrina Jardel.  I incorrectly assumed that having created the original story was Mr.Sfar's only qualification for these positions, but he actually had previous directing experience on Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life (which I have never seen).  The translation from printed medium to dramatic representation was accomplished with sensibilities that show deft awareness pertaining to the requirements of the medium.
     I do have a couple of reservations about the film, however.  While I usually abhor dubbed translations on Foreign Language Films, I actually prefer them to subtitles (which this film implemented) when the film in question is animated.  In live action movies, the dubbing of (usually inferior) English interpretations of the lines detracts far too much from the power of the actors' performances.  In a cartoon, where every element besides the voice is supplied artificially, it is difficult to pull much depth of feeling from the words if you do not understand them. It is something of a lesson about how essential facial expressions and body language are to our perceptions of not only the craft of acting, but all observations of human expression.  At any rate, The Rabbi's Cat went with subtitles which is far too distracting from the animation itself, as it requires that you look at it to appreciate it.
     The only other complaint that I can muster is that the film ended a little too abruptly for my tastes.  While I understand that the thematic questions raised in this picture are far too expansive and elusive to enable neat and easy solutions over the course of one feature length cartoon.  Trying to wrap them up in the finale would have been disastrous.  The problem lies in the fact that even the plot lines seemed to just sort of rush through a denouma and end, without resolving any of the characters' plots.  Still, you have to give Mr. Sfar points for courage and chutzpah...4 of 5 stars.

Friday, June 14, 2013

June Oscar Buzz and Predictions - The Visual Techs

     I'm not going to spend a lot of time leading into this one because I have six categories to try and zip through here.  Again, I'm only going to offer alternate prediction lists where I seriously differ with the buzz.  As always, current buzz rankings appear first and my commentary (where applicable) comes afterwards. Let's hop on in...

  Make-Up and Hairstyling
1. The Butler
2. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
3. Star Trek: Into Darkness

4. Grace of Monaco
5. Oz, the Great and Powerful
6. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
     The buzz seems to me to be on the right track as far as our limited knowledge allows us to guess.  The Butler in particular seems like a no-brainer with all of those famous faces to make into Presidential (or First Ladial) doubles.
     I would also consider:  Diana, Horns, Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, Only God Forgives and Snowpiercer (Have you seen Tilda in the previews?  Come on...)

  Costume Design
1. The Great Gatsby
2. Grace of Monaco
3. The Butler
4. The Monuments Men
5. Diana

6. The Immigrant
7. Oz, the Great and Powerful
8. The Wolf of Wall Street
9. Inside Llewyn Davis
10. Saving Mr. Banks

     Like Score, this is one of those categories where certain artisans have actually created some semblance of celebrity (at least among those in the know in the industry).  As such, there are some overdue factors that I think deserve a LITTLE more consideration than the buzz currently affords them.  My list would look more like this...

1. The Great Gatsby - Catherine Martin (1 win out of 2 nominations)...Baz Luhrman's films may be EXTREMELY hit or miss with the Academy but his wife's Costume and Production Design can earn recognition even on a stinker of a film like Australia.  I see no reason to think that a divisive critical reception to Gatsby overall should be any deterrent to a well deserved nod for the film here.
2. The Butler - Ruth Carter (0 out of 2 wins)...Previously nominated with no wins plus period piece often equals nomination.  Multiple periods should only increase those odds.
3. The Wolf of Wall Street - Sandy Powell (3 wins out of 10 nominations)...Do I even need to justify predicting a nomination for the Meryl Streep of the craft categories?
4. Grace of Monaco - GiGi LePage (never nominated)...There's almost always one rookie nominee in the bunch.  Royalty and a period setting are two good reasons to pick this one.
5. Inside Llewyn Davis - Mary Zophres (0 wins out of 1 nomination)  This promises to be a multi-nod film anyway, and Ms. Zophres is still waiting for a win.

6. The Monuments Men - Louise Frogley (never nominated)...If there is room for two first time nominees, this seems like a likely second choice.  Plus, I love her name...
7. The Immigrant - IMDb doesn't even list the costume designer for this film at present but the reviews out of Cannes were HIGHLY complimentary of all the period detail on display, so...
8. Diana - Julian Day (never nominated)...I'm sure that Ms. Watts will sport some fabulous outfits in this and it does have the backing of the Weinstein Company, but the time period might be a tad too close to contemporary for the rarefied tastes of the Costume Branch.
9. Elysium - April Ferry (0 wins out of 1 nomination)...Occasionally science fiction movies get honored here and Ms. Ferry doesn't have a win yet.  Considering how high the production values were on director Blomkampf''s District 9 when he had no budget to speak of, I'm expecting a strong showing from the follow up picture.
10. Captain Phillips - Mark Bridges (1 win out of 1 nomination)...Mr. Bridges is certainly central on the Academy's radar after his recent win for The Artist.  IF the costumers were to give the atypical nod to something more contemporary, this could be it.
     I am also keeping tabs on: The Counselor (Janty Yates), Labor Day (Danny Glicker), Oldboy (Ruth E Carter), Oz the Great and Powerful (Gary Jones), Philomena (Consolata Boyle), Saving Mr. Banks (Daniel Orlandi) & Serena (unannounced)

  Production Design
1. The Great Gatsby
2. The Monuments Men
3. The Butler
4. Twelve Years a Slave
5. The Immigrant

6. The Wolf of Wall Street
7. Inside Llewyn Davis
8. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
9. Grace of Monaco
10. Oz, the Great and Powerful
     This looks like a pretty strong group of guesses, although I would say that slots 4-7 are fairly interchangeable.  Also on my radar:  Elysium, Kill Your Darlings, Saving Mr. Banks, Serena, Snowpiercer, World War Z, The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet, The Zero Theorem

1. Gravity
2. The Great Gatsby
3. Inside Llewyn Davis
4. The Monuments men
5. Captain Phillips

6. The Immigrant
7. Prisoners
8. The Wolf of Wall Street
9. The Counselor
10. Nebraska

     Just like with the Costume Branch, certain Cinematographers have a certain prestige attached to their name, which can influence how the Oscar race will go.  I think I'll predict...

1. Gravity - Emmanuelle Lubezki (0 wins out of 5 nominations)...If the camera work in the rest of the film comes close to maintaining the quality on display in the trailer, this overdue celebrity lenser should have no problem managing a sixth nod, if not the win.
2. Inside Llewyn Davis - Bruno Delbonnel (0 wins out of 3 nominations)...This is Mr. Delbonnel's first collaboration with the Coens and he is said to create a very unique look for the movie.  Multiple nominations with no wins are always a mark in your favor.
3. The Monuments Men - Phedon Papamichael (never nominated)...Again, there is almost always at least one rookie and between this film and Nebraska, Mr. Papamichael seems poised to take that slot.  For now, I'm going to say he gets in for this one.
4. The Wolf of Wall Street - Rodrigo Prieto (0 wins out of 1 nomination)...Mr. Prieto may only have one nod to his credit, but he;s working with Scorsese and until proven otherwise, I'm expecting this to be one of the big players.
5. Twelve Years a Slave - Sean Bobbit (never nominated)...I KNOW, I'm predicting another rookie, but this is the man responsible for the camera work on Shame and The Place Beyond the Pines. If "Twelve" catches the Academy's eye as I'm expecting it to, and this man lives up to anything like his potential, expect him to pick up his first nomination.

6. Captain Phillips - Barry Ackroyd (0 wins out of 1 nomination)...If this film transcends mere Action Flick the way that everyone is expecting the cinematography will have to play a big role, so...
7. Oldboy - Sean Bobbit (never nominated)...Ditto to everything I just said about "Twelve", only with Spike Lee instead of Marty.
8. Prisoners - Roger Deakins (0 wins out of 10 nominations)...I'm not letting my expectations for Prisoners get too high to enjoy it if it turns out to be a perfectly good thriller and nothing more.  Still, if ANYONE is overdue for a win in this category, it's Roger Deakins.
9. The Immigrant - Darius Khondji (0 wins out of 1 nomination)...Mr. Khondji may be far from the most recognizable name on this list, but his work on this film has already been seen and the consensus in tres' positive.
10. Pacific Rim - Guillermo Navarro (1 win out of 1 nomination)...If anyone can pull a cinematography nod out of giant fighting robots, it would be the man who won an Oscar lensing Pan's Labyrinth.
     But don't count out: The Butler (Andrew Dunn), The Counselor (Darius Wolski), Elysium (Trent Opaloch), The Great Gatsby (Simon Duggan), Nebraska (Phedon Papamichael), Rush (Anthony Dod Mantle), Saving Mr. Banks (John Schwartman) & To The Wonder (Emmanuelle Lubezki)

1. Gravity
2. The Monuments Men
3. Captain Phillips
4. The Wolf of Wall Street
5. Inside Llewyn Davis

6. The Counselor
7. Twelve Years a Slave
8. Elysium
9. American Hustle
10. August: Osage County

     This category is usually tied so closely to Best Picture that the best thing to do this early in the game is throw together ten films that MIGHT be fighting it out for the top prize giving a little bit of an edge to movies with an action element.  That's pretty much what the buzz has done.
     I would also consider: The Butler, Foxcatcher, Labor Day, The Man of Steel, Nebraska, Oldboy, Pacific Rim, Prisoners, Rush, Snowpiercer, World War Z & The Young and Prodigious Spivet

  Visual Effects
1. Gravity
2. Man of Steel
3. Elysium
4. Pacific Rim
5. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

6. Star Trek: Into Darkness
7. The Great Gatsby
8. Oblivion
9. Iron Man 3
10.Oz, the Great and Powerful
     I won't say a whole lot here, I'll just give you my list.

1. Gravity
2. Man of Steel...Hard to argue with these two at this juncture.
3. Elysium...I REFUSE to argue with this one.
4. Snowpiercer...Am I the ONLY person Tilda is already giving shivers to?
5. Pacific Rim

6. World War Z...the promos are pretty amazing, am I right?
7. Star Trek: Into Darkness
8. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug...both of these franchises must be taken seriously here.
9. Europa Report...seems more likely than Gatsby, that's for damn sure.
10. Oz, the Great and Powerful

     And...whew...that's the Techs, post-Cannes edition.  Predictions will resume shortly with the six Genre categories. Just don't expect any profound wisdom about the shorts. If you have some, please share...

  Related articles: What "Cannes" We Tell So Far?, June Oscar Buzz and Predictions - The Aural Techs

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Daddy's Evil Plan

     And the second installment of the 2010 rewind series finds me covering an Italian true crime thriller, a romantic dramedy of errors, and a tribute to the best worst Dad ever.  Today's selection is really about some LITTLE films that most of you were probably completely unaware of.  I hear echoes of a time JUST before TheMovieFrog was set loose...

  Angel of Evil - The Salamander actually caught this on Netflix Instant Play and insisted that I make it a part of the rewind series so I decided to check it out.  It is the first film that I have seen from Italian director Michele Placido but it reminds me very much of the French crime thrillers I have seen in recent years such as Headhunters and particularly the Mesrine films.  Highly stylized violence with a charming but reprehensible leading man that still packs more surprises than your average American action flick.
     I am likewise unfamiliar with the career of leading man Kim Rossi Stuart, who plays the infamous outlaw Renato Vallanzasca with cockiness and vulnerability.  The actor has the charisma to pull off that most precious of characters: the one you love to hate.  He refers to himself in the third person and you loathe him for it, but then he almost gets killed and you ache at the thought of no longer getting pleasure from detesting him.  It is a fine performance, which only suffers by inevitable comparisons to both Vincent Cassell as Mesrine and Edgar Ramirez as Carlos the Jackal, both in movies released around the same time.
     Which is really my one complaint with the film overall.  It's just not QUITE as good as those other flicks.  I enjoyed it but it felt a little like watching an American remake of a great European picture often does, something in the formula seemed a little hinky.  Maybe the problem is that Italian acting and film making styles are rather demonstrative and in a film where the lead character has such a naturally bombastic personality a guiding hand that takes a little more time with the subtleties is more in order...3 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Plan B - The debut feature from out German writer/director Marco Berger has disproved my previous impression that Wolfe releasing dealt strictly in lesbian themed films.  Apparently they distribute films about gay men as well.  In this picture, one man (Bruno) decides to try and get his ex-girlfriend back by seducing her new lover Pablo, who is rumored to be bisexual.  Of course, over the course of the story the men fall in love with each other for real, etc., etc.
     As I'm sure you can guess from just that briefest of synopsis, the film has three primary weaknesses.  The first is that the plot is such a hackneyed, contrived thing.  Obviously.  The second is that the film is totally predictable, and unspools exactly as anyone who has watched very many "gay" movies will expect it to.  The third is that the primary character's motivations are so petty, and his methods so deplorable, that it is difficult to garner much sympathy for him or his rather unbelievably discovered emotions.
     Fortunately, most of the little details are a bit more acceptable.  The script takes this improbable situation and injects it with so many vivid, valid details that you almost begin to believe it.  Bruno and Pablo's overall journey is ludicrous, but the little steps that they take along the way are nicely handled.
     The film's other saving grace is that the primary actors Manuel Vignau (Bruno) and Lucas Ferraro (Pablo) both do decent jobs with their roles and there is a LITTLE sizzle to their onscreen chemistry.  They are both best when they play towards awkwardness, maybe because the premise itself is so clumsy.  I wasn't angry about the time I lost watching Plan B, but I'm not coming back if they make a Plan C...3 of 5 stars.

  Daddy Longlegs (aka Go Get Some Rosemary) - This largely autobiographical film from the Safdie brothers tore up the independent film circuit in 2010 although the chances are probably quite good that you've never heard of it before.  Star Ronald Bromstein won the Breakthrough Award at the Gothams.  The film itself was given the Cassavetes Award at the Independent Spirits.  All of this despite the fact that it looks not so much like a low-budget film, but a no-budget film.  In fact, the whole thing might have been shot on a Super 8 camera the brothers found in their parents attic (just a wild guess).  So why did people like it so much?
     Well, two reasons.  First, the script tells a small scale story very, very well. It is basically a character study, one that delves into a very extreme character.  Rather than try to neatly sum up a personality with so many disparate sides, it gives you episodes in the course of a life.  Many of these seem so contradictory that it is hard to believe that they are all about the same person.  Slowly, laboriously, you begin to understand the man as a whole.
     Of course, this sort of tale would never work without a strong central performance, and Ronald Bromstein gives just that.  He never seems to judge or condone Lenny, he just is Lenny.  We may be shocked at Lenny, even appalled by Lenny, but we can never bring ourselves to hate Lenny.  Both lovable and infuriating, Mr. Bromstein's performance allows you to put yourself emotionally into the shoes of Lenny's children with regards to how you perceive him.  Which is, of course, seems to be the Safdie's intention in this backhanded tribute to their father...4 of 5 stars.

  Related articles:  Monsieur Cat-Hunter (Headhunters review)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

June Oscar Buzz & Predictions - The Aural Techs

     Trying to predict the technical categories this early out is really a crap shoot.  For starters, the awards are more about the actual work in the actual film than who or what star is (or is perceived as being) overdue at the moment.  Of course, these days there are celebrity cinematographers, composers, even costumers, so sometimes you DO see "career achievement" nominations and wins.  In many of these categories, I'm just going to let the (minimal) buzz speak for itself, and in some I'll offer my alternate predictions.  By the time I update these in...August, maybe...I'll probably be ready to offer my alternate predictions in all categories, but I'm still getting a feel for an awards season that is just getting underway.  As always, buzz rankings will come first, followed where applicable by my thoughts.  For now, these are your four aural craft categories...

  Sound Editing
1. Gravity
2. Elysium
3. Man of Steel
4. The Monuments Men
5. Captain Phillips

6. Star Trek: Into Darkness
7. Pacific Rim
8. Iron Man 3
9. American Hustle
10. All is Lost
     This is a pretty good list for guesswork.  Iron Man 3 seems like something of an enormous long shot, but otherwise pretty good possibilities.  Sound Editing is about the creation of sound effects, primarily.  Science fiction and animation fare a little more strongly here than in Sound Mixing (and I'm a little shocked that no animated film is in the top ten buzz-wise), but generally both Sound Categories are populated with a total mish mash of prestige and blockbuster fare, and the top five are a pretty good mix.
     I would also strongly consider: The Counselor, Frozen, Inside Llewyn Davis, Monsters University, Only God Forgives, Prisoners, Snowpiercer, Twelve Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street & World War Z.

  Sound Mixing
1. Gravity
2. Inside Llewyn Davis
3. The Monuments Men
4. Elysium
5. Man of Steel

6. Captain Phillips
7. Star Trek: Into Darkness
8. Iron Man 3
9. World War Z
10. Black Nativity
     Another smart list (although again Iron Man 3 and even the Star Trek sequel seem unlikely).  Musicals and musically themed movies have a bit of leg up here by comparison to Sound Editing.  That's why Inside Llewyn Davis is so high on this list and absent on the other.  Again, a good of blend of arthouse, popcorn and hybrid is achieved.
     I would not ignore the possibilities of:  All Is Lost, the Counselor, Frozen, Monsters University, Only God Forgives, Pacific Rim, Rush, Snowpiercer, Twelve Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street

  Original Song
1. Out of the Furnace
2. Frozen
3. Inside Llewyn Davis
4. The Sapphires
5. The Great Gatsby
     Or at least, that's what the uninformed, infinitesimal buzz says.  If predicting most of the crafts is hopeless this time of year, that goes double for Original Song.  For the most part, we have no idea what films feature Original Songs, what they will sound like, or who will be writing and/or performing them.  I don't even know if all of the films above have songs that will qualify, although there is some pretty cool stuff on the Gatsby soundtrack.
     I would also keep an eye on:  August: Osage County, Black Nativity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Monsters University, Oz the Great and Powerful, Planes

  Original Score
1. The Monuments Men
2. Gravity
3. The Counselor
4. The Wolf of Wall Street
5. Oldboy

6. Frozen
7. The Butler
8. Man of Steel
9. Saving Mr. Banks
10. World War Z
     Score is another sticky wicket for early prognosticators because the Music branch is VERY finicky when it comes to their rules about what qualifies as an original score and what doesn't.  However, the notoriety of certain composers (and the AMPAS's tendency to nominate many of the same artists again and again) DO make this one of the few tech categories that I feel like tossing out some ideas about this early in the game:

1. The Monuments Men - Alexander Desplat (0 wins out of 5 nominations)...It's hard to argue that one of the most popular working film composers scoring one of the most obvious "Oscar movies" in years seems like a slam dunk for a nomination, if not a win.
2. Man of Steel - Hans Zimmer (1 win out of 9 nominations)...It also seems impossible that after being nominated this many times, the Academy doesn't plan on giving at least one more statuette to Mr. Zimmer.  This seems like a perfect vehicle for something memorable.
3. Snowpiercer - Marco Beltrani (0 wins out of 2 nominations)...Call it a hunch.  The man seems due his third nod, but he could also get one for World War Z.  I just have this feeling that Snowpiercer is going to be something special all the way around.
4. Gravity - Steven Price (never nominated)...Everyone seems to expect that Mr. Price (who has only scored Attack the Block previously) is going to be THAT break out nominee this year.  It feels like they know something I don't.  I WILL say, however, that a film that is largely about a woman stuck in space walk by herself would provide plenty of opportunity to highlight a strong score to fill, I had to...of empty moments.
5. The Wolf of Wall Street - Howard Shore (2 wins out of 3 nominations in this category)...This is likely to be one of the big awards players this year and Mr. Shore certainly has the Academy's attention, but its not like he's overdue...

6. Twelve Years a Slave - Hans Zimmer...Of course, Man of Steel is not the only perfectly good opportunity that Mr. Zimmer has to wow the Academy this year.
7. Monsters University - Randy Newman (0 wins out of 8 nominations)...Yes, you read that correctly.  Although Mr. Newman has two Oscars for Original Song, he has never won for Score.  His win to nomination ratio in this category makes him arguably the most overdue for a win of any of these composers.
8. Oz, the Great and Powerful - Danny Elfman (0 wins out of 4 nominations)...Talk about iconic multi-nominated composers with no wins...but will this tepidly received picture do it for him?
9. Saving Mr. Banks - Thomas Newman (0 wins out of 4 nominations)...This movie is already making my teeth hurt but I could certainly see this as a possible area of recognition and wins yet.
10. World War Z - Marco Beltrani...Most pundits, I'm sure, would expect Mr. Beltrani to have a better shot with this film than Snowpiercer, but if I can't indulge in a little wishful thinking in June, why bother?
     Don't count out: All Is Lost - Alex Ebert, The Counselor - Daniel Pemberton, Frozen - Christophe Beck, Oldboy - Bruce Hornsby, Rush - Hans Zimmer

     And that's it for today.  I'll be back soon with the six Visual Techs...Froggy

  Related Articles: What "Cannes" We Tell So Far?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Wuthering Tom Barrymore

     There was just no really clever way to combine those names...sigh.  In today's at home viewing selections we feature:  a cinematic presentation of a stage play recreation of a backer's audition man show, a somewhat re-imagined adaptation of an English literary classic and a story of a youth between worlds.  Let's dive in...

  Tomboy - After skewering their picture A Perfect Ending as recruitment propaganda in The Great Gay Film Festival of 2010, I am happy to be able to shine a more favorable light upon one of  Wolfe's films in such short order.  Tomboy, by contrast, is a story of self-discovery, one that young writer/director Celine Sciamma unravels one naturally occurring layer at a time.
     At the center of the film is young star Zoe Heran who plays a young, somewhat androgynous girl named Laure who takes on the identity of Mickael in the new neighborhood her family moves to.  Laure is too young to really grasp the issues of sexual orientation or gender identity in any adult sort of way.  She only knows how she feels, and she knows she likes a young girl in her building who has a crush on her as Mickael.  We watch her work at becoming more and more convincing as a boy, gaining our sympathies and understanding all the way.  It is truly a wonderful child performance, one that would have factored into my Best of 2011 series had I seen it before I published the Best Juvenile Performance list.
      Two other young members of this film's cast might also have been contenders.  Malonn Levana plays Laure's younger sister Jeanne, and she is an absolute delight as a very young girl possessing intelligence, courage and humor.  She alone really sees and accepts Laure/Mikael for who he/she is, the total package.  Jeanne Disson plays Mikael's love interest Lisa who is drawn to Mikael as a boy and must wrestle with some very adult emotions when she learns the truth.
     I really enjoyed and respected this film.  It was one of the most believable and organically told gay coming of age movies I've ever had the pleasure of watching.  Highly worth checking out...4 of 5 stars.

    Barrymore - This is the film adaptation of the one (well, two) man stage play in which Christopher Plummer plays an aging Lionel Barrymore at a backers' audition for a revival of Richard III.  I can only assume that the film was planned as an Oscar play for Plummer when he had not yet won one.  When he won for Beginners, the work of making this film had probably gone too far to bother turning back.  I say this because writer/director Erik Canuel has made a film that looks very much like a taped version of a stage play. Worse than that, it is edited together like a stage comedy show turned into a special on Comedy Central.
     I sincerely wish that the production values HAD been a little higher because it spoils what is otherwise a powerhouse performance by Plummer who only seems to grow in energy and determination as the years roll by.  There are also many elements in the script that explore themes related to aging in a subtle yet penetrating manner that would have been great fodder for one of my upcoming Running Themes articles if the movie had deserved a four star rating or more. As good as Plummer is, the picture overall only rates...3 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Wuthering Heights - I waited a long time to see writer/director Andrea Arnold's latest retelling of this Emily Bronte romance.  After premiering in Venice in 2011, the film received a VERY limited release in 2012, and finally came out on DVD a few weeks ago.  Arnold makes several interesting choices.  First, she casts the film almost entirely with unknown actors.  In fact, James Howson, who plays Heathcliffe, has only appeared in this one film.  It is easy to see why Arnold chose the young man, as he radiates a screen presence that somehow conveys the improbable smoldering nature of this almost sexless love story.  His portrayal is easy and unforced and seems too lacking in self consciousness to have come from such an inexperienced source.
     Her OTHER really interesting choice was casting Heathcliffe as a black man, which I thought worked out splendidly.  A more modern audience has a harder time relating to the strictures of the English class system in Victorian England.  Making Heathcliffe black not only heightens the exotic allure that he holds but also makes it easier to understand what sort of impediments existed to deter his marrying into his foster family.
     The film also makes a first rate showing on the craft side of things.  Production and costume design are impressive without being ostentatious.   The Editing and camera work are creative and effective.  The film's only flaw is that it never quite breaks free of the morass of bleakness it conveys in moments of true passion.  The tone may smolder throughout, but I kept waiting for a spark to ignite, if only for a moment.  Still, a good watch...4 of 5 stars.

  Related Articles: The Great Gay Film Festival of 2012The Best of 2011: The Performances (Part One)

What "Cannes" We Tell So Far?

     So where are we in terms of the new Oscar Season?  Well...summer tent pole season is well under way with Iron Man and Star Trek sequels already tearing up the vacation box office.  Release dates have been announced for MOST of the big Awards players so we have a pretty good idea which films are on the long list of competitors for 2013, although it is still a mystery as to which ones will deliver.  Sundance and Cannes film festivals have come and gone, some early contenders have opened, and we now have SOME idea how a FEW of this year's big films will be received:

  42 - With a metacritic score of only 62 this film seems unlikely to break in to the Awards Season. I had at one point thought that it might garner Acting buzz for Chadwick Boseman in Lead and un-Oscared vet Harrison Ford in supporting, but neither seems like a possibility now.

  The Act of Killing - After winning two prizes in Berlin, this documentary (currently holding a 92 on Meta Critic) holds an excellent chance at being in the running, but the Documentary category is famously unpredictable.

  Ain't Them Bodies Saints - This film did really well at Sundance and Palm Springs but is the sort of little drama that is often forgotten by year's end. However, with the Weinstein Company behind it, expect it to be a contender at the least in Actress, Screenplay and maybe Cinematography or Supporting Actor.  Picture seems a little beyond its reach at the moment, but stranger things have happened.

  All Is Lost - This film played so well at Cannes that many wondered why writer/director J.C. Chandor's sophomore effort (following debut Margin Call) didn't play in competition.  A Best Picture nod seems within the realm of possibility (maybe even Director), but screenplay seems more likely and Best Actor for vet Robert Redford (who turns in a nearly wordless one man show and hasn't been nominated in about four decades) seems highly probable.

  Before Midnight - The conclusion to one of the most critically acclaimed trilogies of all time, it is also the first of the series to be released in a year with more than five possible Best Picture slots.  It is also shaping up to be the best received among director Richard Linklater's extended masterpiece, currently holding a 97(!!!!) Meta-score.  Nods for Screenplay and Actress (Julie Delpy) seem likely.  Could also compete in Actor (Ethan Hawke)...Director...?

  The Bling Ring - Sofia Coppola's follow-up to Somewhere was well received at Cannes, but probably a no-show for the Oscars.

  Blood Brother - Another doc that knocked it out of the park at Sundance this year, this could also easily find a nomination.

   Blue Is the Warmest Color - I seriously doubt that this year's Palme D'or winner from Cannes can break out of the Foreign Language ghetto the way that Amour did last year, but if selected for submission it could be a force in that category.

  The Congress - Probably a little weird for consideration unless they manage to qualify it for Animated Feature in which case it could make a mark in a year where Pixar seems vulnerable.

  The East - With a mere 70 Metascore, it appears unlikely that this picture can garner even the Best Screenplay nod I had hoped might lie in store for Ms. Marling.

  Epic - This could easily compete in Animated.

  Fruitvale Station - This picture has been only slightly less revered at Sundance at Cannes this year than Best Picture nominee Beasts of the Southern Wild was in 2012.  Beasts didn't have Harvey Weinstein pushing it.  I think Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor (Jordan) and Supporting Actress (Spencer) are all real possibilities.

  Great Gatsby - Probably a no-go for above the line nominations, although Leo's good press could help with a "Wolf" bid down the line.  Still a strong possibility for Costume Design and/or Production Design with an outside shot at Cinematography.  Original Song also seems like a good possibility.

  The Hunt - If it is submitted for Foreign Language Film, I wouldn't bet against a Vinterburg directed Mads Mickelson vehicle with great reviews.

  The Immigrant - James Gray's meticulous period piece may be too divisive to break into the Picture race, but actress Marion Cotillard should at least stay in the discussion for a while.  Craft recognition is also a possibility.

  Inside Llewyn Davis - Supposedly another little masterpiece from the Coen camp, this film probably has the strongest bid at Picture and Director (much less Original Screenplay) of anything to have premiered thus far.  Oscar Isaac & John Goodman are also receiving generous buzz (along with a bit for Mulligan).  The period setting and musical theme invite a host of below the line considerations.  This could be one of the year's big ones. It's current Meta score is 100.

  Iron Man 3 - This one might get a tech nod or two, it just depends.

  Midnight's Children - Not in the running.

  The Missing Picture - Foreign Language? Documentary? Animated?  A triple genre category threat?

  Mud - Talented young auteur Jeff Nichols' third film has been a break out box office success story.  A 76 on meta critic may not be enough to put it in the Picture race but McConaughey will be in the Best Actor conversation unless he blows this career best performance out of the water in Dallas Buyer's Club.

  Nebraska - Alexander Payne is always a threat but reception to the film seems lukewarm in some circles.  Bruce Dern seems bound for some recognition at any rate, and there has been some talk of Cinematography recognition.  We'll have to see how it is received by the public and critical community at large.  It currently holds a 79 on Metacritic.

  Only God Forgives - We'll be kind and call the critical reception divisive, but Kristen Scott Thomas still has a shot at Supporting Actress and the film could factor into the techs somewhere.

  Oz the Great and Powerful - Lackluster reviews could mean nothing as far as craft considerations go for a production as over the top as this.

  The Past - Asghar Farhadi's follow up to A Separation would be a slam dunk for Foreign Language Film IF Iran participates and/or France chooses to submit it, but that is a lot of if.  Berenice Bejo could break into the Actress race regardless and screenplay is definitely a possibility.  The film stands an outside shot at Picture and/or Director consideration, but Farhadi's popularity is not quite on a Haneke scale...yet.

  A Place Beyond the Pines - Mixed critical reception will probably keep this one out of contention.

  Room 237 - This Kubrick analysis doesn't seem like the Documentary branch's cup of tea, but you never know with reviews that give it an 80 on Meta critic.

  Salinger - Another Documentary contender, this one is backed by the Weinsteins.

  The Sapphires - At one point it looked like the Weinsteins had big plans for this flick, and it was fairly well received, but it doesn't look like it is destined to be an awards player after all.

  Star Trek: Into Darkness - This picture could easily factor into the sound categories, visual effects or make-up. It just depends on the rest of the fields.

  Stories We Tell - Currently holding a 93 metascore, I think it's safe to say that Sarah Polley's latest film is currently the most acclaimed documentary of the year.  It also contains a unique enough premise that it has begun to foster the sort of Best Picture crossover talk that teased us when Exit to the Gift Shop first came around.

  To The Wonder - You should never rule out a Cinematography nod, but I think this is one Malick film that's going to slip slowly under the radar and stay there.

  Trance - Ditto to this largely ignored Danny Boyle creation.

  We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks - This film may only have a 76 Meta score so far, but director Alex Gibney is well respected by the Academy's documentary branch.

  While it may seem from this exhaustive list like the Awards Season is already taking shape, there are even MORE films with strong pedigrees that no one has seen just yet, including:

  American Hustle: David O Russell with Lawrence, Bale, Cooper, Adams & Renner
  August: Osage County: with Streep, Roberts, McGregor, Cumberbatch, Shepard, Lewis & Martindale
  Blue Jasmine: Woody Allen with Blanchett, Baldwin, Sarsgaard, Stuhlbarg, Hawkins & Louis C.K.
  The Butler: Lee Daniels with Whittaker, Winfrey, Cusack, Fonda, Williams, Oyelowo, Redgrave, ETC.
  Captain Phillips: Paul Greengrass with Hanks and Keener.
  The Counselor: Ridley Scott directs a script from Cormac McCarthey with Fassbender & Pitt.
  Dallas Buyer's Club: Jean-Marc Vallee with McConaughey, Garner, Leto & Zahn.
  Diana: seems tailor made for a Watts Best Actress campaign.
  Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Hers: Never count out Jessica Chastain.
  Elysium: Neil Blomkampf's District 9 follow up features Damon, Foster & "District" star Copley.
  The Family: Luc Besson with De Niro, Pfeiffer & Jones.
  Foxcatcher: Bennett Miller with Carrell, Ruffalo, Tatum, Hall, Miller & Redgrave.
  Frozen:  It's Disney.  Do the math.
  Grace of Monaco: Kidman in title role & backed by the Weinsteins
  Gravity: Alphonso Cuaron with Bullock and Clooney in 3-D.
  Her: written/directed by Spike Jonze with Phoenix, Adams, Johannsen, Mara, Wilde & Morten.
  Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Jackson in Middle Earth means at least a tech contender.
  Kill Your Darlings: John Krokidas with Radcliffe, Cross, Olsen, Hall, DeHaan, Leigh, Foster & Sedgewick
  Labor Day: Jason Reitman with Winslet, Brolin & Maguire.
  Man of Steel: Will be one of the tech kings.  Michael Shannon in Supporting?  He is Zod!
  Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom:  Weinstein pushes Elba for Best Actor.
  Monsters University:  It's Pixar.  Do the math.
  Monuments Men:  written/directed/produced by Clooney with Damon, Goodman, Blanchett, Murray...
  Mood Indigo: Gondry could be a threat in Foreign Film if submitted.
  A Most Wanted Man: Anton Corbjin with Hoffman, Wright, McAdams, Dafoe & Bruhl.
  Nymphomaniac: Lars von Trier will make a lot of top 10 lists, but probably bomb with Oscar.
  Oldboy:  Spike Lee's remake will probably be too pulpy but with Jackson, Brolin, Olsen & Copley.
  Out of the Furnace: Scott Cooper with Bale, Saldana, Harrison, Defoe, Affleck, Whitaker & Shepard.
  Pacific Rim:  Guillermo del Toro and a budget this big could make for a tech powerhouse.
  Philomena:  Harvey Weinstein has picked up this Frears directed Dench vehicle for distribution, so...?
  Planes: It's Pixar...again...
  The Rover: David Michod with Edgerton, Pearce, McNairy & Pattinson.
  Rush: Ron Howard with Hemsworth, Bruhl, Dormer & Wilde.
  Saving Mr. Banks: John Lee Hancock with Thompson, Hanks, Farrell, Giamatti & Schwartzman.
  Serena:  Susanne Bier with Lawrence, Cooper, Ifans & Jones.
  Snowpiercer: Joon-ho Bong with Evans, Swinton, Hurt, Belle & Harris.
  Twelve Years a Slave - Steve McQueen with Ejiofor, Fassbender, Pitt, Cumberbatch, Giamatti...
  Wolf of Wall Street - Martin Scorsese with DiCaprio, Hill, McConaughey, Favreau, Reiner, Chandler...
  World War Z - Marc Forster's Brad Pitt blockbuster's promos look good enough for crafts...
  Young and Prodigious Spivet - Backed by Weinstein from Jean-Pierre Jeunet in English!!!
  The Zero Theorem - Terry Gillem with Damon, Waltz, Whishaw, Swinton, Thewliss & Thierry.

     I have read some pundits putting forth the idea that this year's Best Picture pool is already looking thin, but I think that things are still wide open.  Watch in the next couple of weeks for my first round of  buzz reports and predictions, starting with a brief touch on each of the ten Technical categories.


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