Academy Awards 2013 – My Money’s On…

daniel_day_lewis_lincoln_still_a_l

Well, the nominees for this year’s Academy Awards have been announced. There were actually a few surprises this year. The directing category in particular is quite interesting. Both Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow were overlooked in favour of first time director Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and veteran Austrian director Michael Haneke (Amour). Affleck and Bigelow must be shocked. They were considered virtual locks in the category only a few days ago. The snubs are both good and bad in my opinion. They are good because the Academy is breaking with tradition. Instead of being all predictable mainstream veterans, the Academy went with a mixed bag. Thrown in with the typical veterans are a first time indie director and a veteran director who rarely works in the English language. This is exciting for anyone who is constantly let down by the Academy’s typical safe nominations. However, the bad thing about this is that Spielberg is pretty much a lock to win. Only Affleck or Bigelow really had a shot at beating Spielberg. Now he’s virtually unchallenged. Ang Lee has an outside shot, but it’s doubtful.

Other pleasant surprises include a writing nomination for Moonrise Kingdom (which should’ve been up for far more awards in my opinion), and an acting nomination for young Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild). She now becomes the youngest ever best acting nominee, and Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) becomes the oldest best acting nominee. Everything else is rather predictable.

Now, for your reading pleasure, I will lay out who I think will win in each of the major categories. Keep in mind that I have not seen every one of these movies, however, based on buzz, I am pretty confident in my picks.

Best Picture:

Lincoln: Lincoln looks like the film to beat this year. It’s a stuffy period piece about a famous historical figure starring one of the best actors out there and helmed by a legendary director. The Academy loves this type of movie. There’s an outside chance that they could give the award to Argo despite the lack of a directing nomination, but my money is on Lincoln.

Best Director:

Steven Spielberg: As I stated previously, this is Spielberg’s contest to lose now that Affleck and Bigelow are out of the race.

Best Actor in a Leading Role:

Daniel Day-Lewis: Again, a lock. The Academy loves performances based on real life figures, and they also love DDL. There’s a small outside chance that Joaquin Phoenix could grab the award for The Master, but it’s unlikely given the mixed reactions to the film.

Best Actress in a Leading Role:

Jennifer Lawrence: She’s been the favourite all season, and it looks like she’s still favoured to win. There’s an outside chance for Emmanuelle Riva, but it’s not likely. The Academy probably won’t give David O. Russell a directing award nor give Silver Linings Playbook the best picture award either, so expect them to reward the movie in the acting categories.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

Philip Seymour Hoffman: This is probably the toughest category as every nominee has won before. I give Hoffman the edge because The Master will probably be shut out of everything else. However, Robert DeNiro also has a shot for Silver Linings Playbook.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

Anne Hathaway: The Academy loves musicals. Despite Les Misérables mixed reviews, they will likely give Hathaway the acting award because she sings in the film and the movie is unlikely to get many other awards.

Best Original Screenplay:

Zero Dark Thirty – Mark Boal: Zero Dark Thirty will likely pick up an award here. I’d like to see Wes Anderson win for Moonrise Kingdom, and there’s a small chance he could, but it’s likely the Academy will throw Zero Dark Thirty a bone and give Mark Boal the award.

Best Screenplay based on Previous Material:

Silver Linings Playbook – David O. Russell: David O. Russell has the best shot here at winning. Silver Linings Playbook is dialogue heavy and a real actor’s movie. Therefore, the Academy will most likely reward it. There’s an outside chance for Chris Terrio (Argo) as well.

Best Animated Feature:

Frankenweenie: I’m going to go out on a limb with this one. This could be the year that Pixar (Brave) does not win. It could end up splitting votes with Wreck-It Ralph and giving the edge to Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie.

Best Foreign Film:

Amour: Odds are that Amour will win the best foreign film award given that it’s up for Best Picture as well as Best Director. However, there is the outside chance that its many nominations could hurt it in this category, but it’s doubtful.

Best Documentary:

Searching for Sugar Man: I’ll go with Searching for Sugarman here based on what I’ve heard – which is nothing but glowing praise.

Best Cinematography:

Life of Pi – Claudio Miranda: I have not seen Life of Pi, but by all accounts it’s visually spectacular and contains some of the best usage of 3D ever seen. Although, I’d love to see Roger Deakins win for Skyfall, it’s unlikely they’d give a Bond film such a prestigious award. There’s also an outside chance that the Academy will go very traditional and give the award to Janusz Kaminski for Lincoln.

Best Editing:

Zero Dark Thirty – William Goldenberg, Dylan Tichenor: Zero Dark Thirty will likely win for editing based solely on the tension filled third act. Argo has an outside shot here as well.

REVIEW – Skyfall

Skyfall is the twenty-third Bond film and marks the 50th Anniversary of the Bond franchise. To mark this milestone, the filmmakers tried to showcase a modern Bond while also weaving together classic elements from past films. To their credit, they pretty much succeed.

The story is seemingly routine, yet it adds some interesting elements into the mix. A super villian, Silva (played by a deliciously evil Javier Bardem), is targeting MI6 – hacking into their files, blowing up their building, and seeking to kill the head of the agency, M (Judi Dench). Bond resurfaces from an apparent death to save the day.

On the surface it seems like a standard Bond film, but what sets it a part is its emphasis on age and the changing of the times. Gone are the gadgets and girls with innuendo laden names. Bond seems to walk through the film a half step behind Silva. He seems almost lost, chasing someone he doesn’t quite understand. This is the first Bond film I can think of where Bond feels vulnerable. He’s out of shape, a rusty shot, and clearly suffering from a bit of mental trauma. These are elements virtually missing from any other Bond film – and they make Skyfall that more interesting.

This is, like many suggest, a post-Bourne Bond film. It’s gritty and rough around the edges. However, I would contend that Skyfall is just as much a post-Dark Knight film. There are shades of the Joker in Bardem’s Silva. Even Silva’s plans are very reminiscent of the Joker (not to spoil anything, but Silva is almost always one step ahead). Bond’s crumbling physical and mental state also echo Batman’s. This is not to say that Skyfall is a ripoff. It’s still a Bond film, filled with exotic locations and sweet cars. It’s just that Bond is far more grounded in reality.

Director Sam Mendes and screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan have created a very modern Bond film, while also perfectly setting up a new generation of Bond characters that retain the essence of the 60s films. It’s a tricky feat, and there are a few implausible moments (as with any Bond film), but it’s handled rather adeptly. The last act of the movie is particularly bold for a Bond film – but it works and it’s great. And with the addition of cinematographer extraordinaire, Roger Deakins, it’s certainly the most beautifully looking Bond film ever put to screen (a sequence in a Shanghai hotel seemingly made entirely out of glass is particularly stunning).

Is this a work of art that will sweep all the awards? No, it’s still a Bond film after all. But it’s certainly entertaining, and it’s definitely one of the better Bond films of the entire series.

GRADE: B+

RANT: Is Star Wars Over Yet? Can it Be? Please?

I’m done with Star Wars. There I said it. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of the (well deserved) vitriol aimed at George Lucas. I’m sick of the petty geek squabbles over Han shooting first or Jabba being inserted into New Hope. I’m sick of seeing Yoda, Chewbacca, et al on geek-chic t-shirts and memorabilia. I’m sick of Star Wars some how being ‘cool’. And I’m sick to death of Star Wars references – both in pop culture and out on the streets.

Full disclosure: I am a Star Wars fan (or used to be, not sure where I lie now). However, it’s so ubiquitous now that it’s getting to be pretty annoying. Am I the only one is put off by the ‘coolness’ of Star Wars? Real fans should be fuming about this. Star Wars is being co-opted by the mainstream and being repackaged as “cute” and “vintage”. Shirts and handbags have Yoda or R2D2 on them. Running shoes now come in Storm Trooper editions. Yet most of these items are being worn by people who have barely seen the films, let alone have the slightest clue what a Rancor is. Star Wars is no longer about the films. It’s a kind of pop culture shorthand for showing that you’re hip to some of the more geekier things in life. And it’s a pretty lame shorthand if you ask me. It’s poseur geek, not authentic geek.

One of the reasons, I think, that Star Wars is still so prevalent in the popular conscience is due to constant references to it from other pop culture. Mel Brooks started it all off with Space Balls. TV shows such as The Simpsons then South Park sprinkled in references here and there. Family Guy then took it to the most obnoxiously obvious conclusion with a full on Family Guy version of Star Wars. All these things helped broaden the appeal of Star Wars, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The problem now is that everyone makes Star Wars references. Instead of being a cool nod to geekier viewers, it’s now clichéd and obvious (I don’t watch it, but I bet The Big Bang Theory gets a lot of mileage out of cute Star Wars jokes). Star Wars is, for lack of a better word, lame now.

Some of the blame for this can be leveled at George Lucas. It’s been seven years since Episode III, but Lucas keeps dragging the franchise back into the spotlight (probably because he has no other ideas) – from the long rumoured live-action TV show to the continuing Clone Wars cartoon series, and all the merchandise that goes along with it. However, a good amount of the blame lies at the feet of the fans. No matter how much fans bitch and moan about Lucas ruining Star Wars, they are the first ones in line to see anything Star Wars related. They then take to their blogs and immediately complain about Lucas being “all about the money” (when wasn’t Star Wars all about the money?) and sullying the good name of the Star Wars franchise. If you don’t like it, then don’t go see it! If Lucas stops making obscene amounts of cash from milking the franchise, maybe he’ll move on. The fans are enablers, and Lucas and them are engaged in a vicious cycle. Don’t you think it’s time to end it?

Modern Auteurs: The Wonderful World of Wes Anderson

This is the first in a series of articles about modern filmmakers (started in the ’80s or later) who could be considered auteurs.

Auteur: noun. A filmmaker, usually a director, who exercises creative control over his or her works and has a strong personal style.

The reigning king of hipster films. Wesley Wales Anderson, a Houston native, coolly sauntered into the film world (in slow motion, of course) with 1996’s Bottle Rocket. Since then, he has been making films that are both beloved and derided. To some, his films are brilliant, dryly comedic, and poignant. To others, they’re merely ironic, hipster quirk-fests, with little to offer beyond surface appeal. Whichever side of the fence you fall on, however, you can’t deny that the man has style. Anyone familiar with Wes Anderson can pick out one of his films within about 5 seconds. This makes him the very definition of an auteur.

Anderson is very, very detail oriented. Meticulous doesn’t begin to describe his visual style. Everything from his stage play-like camera framing down to the colour, font, and card stock of a notepad, are painstakingly fussed over by Anderson. The sheer amount of control he wields over his mise-en-scène is incredible, and it makes for a truly unique viewing experience. His very symmetrical shots are carefully blocked out and utilize deep focus. He contrasts these wide shots with personal, straight-on, closeups of characters faces. Thrown into the mix are zooms (rare these days) and the obligatory ramping shot (quick change from regular speed to slow-mo) of characters walking towards the camera. His colours are often primary or warmly autumn. And accompanying all these lovely visuals is usually a soundtrack heavy on ’60s music.

Most people can get on board with Anderson’s visuals, but when it comes to his stories, and the acting style he promotes, audiences become a bit more divided. His screenplays often involve dysfunctional, upper-class families – and there is almost always father figure issues. These stories always weave together a mixture of dry humour and understated drama, and are acted out in a muted style usually by a stable of actors that Anderson uses regularly. It’s this muted acting style and dry humour that can be off-putting to some, and, if you don’t get into it, you will be at a loss for as to why so many people love his films. I do love his films, and find them to be quite hilarious, but I can see why people don’t jive to his style.

If you haven’t seen a Wes Anderson film, there’s only one way to find out whether or not you’ll like them.

Where to Start:

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) – Starring Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Luke and Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bill Murray, Danny Glover, and narrated by Alec Baldwin. Probably the best place to start for someone to looking to get into Wes Anderson. This could be considered his most mature film. The screenplay, by Anderson and Owen Wilson, was nominated for an Oscar.

Rushmore (1998) – Starring Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, and Olivia Williams. Anderson’s sophomore effort about a rivalry between a precocious teenager and a middle aged businessman over a school teacher. One of the more purely comedic films by Anderson. Bill Murray’s deadpan performance is absolutely hilarious.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) – Starring the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, and Bill Murray. Anderson’s first, and only (so far), foray into “family films”. The quotations are there, because I’m not quite sure how kids will really take to this movie. However, it’s a pure gem for anyone interested in seeing a finely crafted, and amusing, film. The stop motion work alone is worth the watch.

Where Not to Start:

The Darjeeling Limited (2007) – Starring Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman as brothers on a spiritual quest across India in the wake of their father’s death. Maybe Anderson’s weakest effort, but still not without merit. Just don’t start here.

Deep Cut:

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) – Starring Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, and Willem Dafoe. A fan favourite, but not for anyone. Bill Murray’s aging oceanographer is absolutely hilarious, as is the rest of the cast. A personal favourite of mine.

An Interview with Werner

Here’s an interesting interview Werner Herzog did last year for his film Into the Abyss. I could listen to Werner describe paint drying and it would be riveting, but here he has some pretty interesting things to say about film making and his philosophy.