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My Reaction: The Good, the Meh and the Ugly, Part 1

January 24, 2012 Leave a comment

All right. Here we go. I’ve been awake for the last six hours, and as if that didn’t put me in a cranky enough mood, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences always manages to take care of that for me. There were some good things. I won’t lie. The voters always find a way of sneaking in a few items that even I can respect and say thank you for. However, if you look at this reaction on the whole, “Thank you” is not going to be the word you’d use to sum it up.

Note, I’m not going to go through and talk about every one of the 104 nominations. I’m sorry, but that would be madness. Instead I will simply focus on the true standouts of the morning, mostly the surprises and the hard-fought battles. If you’re curious about a nomination that I don’t mention, ask me, or simply wait for the 2nd Annual Edgy Awards. The nominations should be ready within the next two weeks.

Let’s do this in chapters, shall we? Starting with the facets I enjoyed:

THE GOOD

 

The ultimate highlight of the morning, and the thing that will probably be most remembered from this year’s Oscars as a whole, is Gary Oldman’s nomination for Best Actor. I think you would be hard-pressed to find an actor who has taken his licks, paid his dues, delivered some absolutely fantastic and groundbreaking work, and gone so long without being being honored with so much as a single Oscar nomination. Maybe Donald Sutherland, but I would easily say that Oldman’s talent surpasses his in so many ways. For all of its faults, this morning was made great because of this irrefutable fact: we now live in a world where Gary Oldman is an Oscar nominee. The world just got a whole lot better.

While this year’s Best Picture lineup may set a record for lowest coinciding with my own choices (I think only 3 films will end up overlapping), there is one movie that I am infinitely proud of the Academy’s rally of support around it. Earning a total of six nominations, tied for third highest amount, that film is Bennett Miller’s sophomore effort and absolute stunner of a film, “Moneyball.” When it came to searching for a film that raised my heart rate and got my blood flowing as much as last year’s masterpiece, “The Social Network,” this was the only film that came close (ironically co-penned by the Shakespeare of our time, Aaron Sorkin). Not only is it arguably the greatest sports movie ever made (barring “Raging Bull,” if you consider that a movie about sports), it is a touching character study of what we’re worth as human beings and what we come to expect of ourselves. This movie will forever hold a place of high honor in my mind and heart and I could not be happier that the Academy agrees with me.

As far as the female categories are concerned, there’s two nominations that really made me smile. The first is Melissa McCarthy’s well-deserved mention for “Bridesmaids.” The film, itself, was funny and decent enough, but without McCarthy’s absolutely hilarious and fearless performance, it would have been a fraction of what it turned out to be. This woman is fantastic and I am so happy for her and the year she’s having. Secondly, I am not only shocked, but overjoyed at the Best Actress nomination for Rooney Mara. This is a talented young actress who came out of nowhere, took on a highly anticipated role that has already been portrayed by another actress not less than three years ago, and against all expectations from many skeptics, knocked it completely out of the park. Her embodiment of Lisbeth Salander will forever live in infamy and now she has an Oscar nomination to show for it. Congrats.

There’s a few other nominations that tickled my fancy, here and there. An outstanding surprise in the writing categories was J.C. Chandor’s Best Original Screenplay nomination for his debut film, “Margin Call.” And I could kick myself square in the face for not predicting it. This film was a current of pure energy and intelligence that is more relevant than perhaps any of the nominated films. I cannot wait to see what this gentleman does in the future. Speaking of relevance, I also had a brief moment of joy over the nominated documentary “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front.” It has flown largely under the radar throughout the year, but is a valuable lesson on the damage we’ve done to our world, as well as how far we are willing to go to reverse that. Finally, even though it might be to many others’ chagrin, I’m pleased to see Janusz Kaminski score his fifth nomination for Best Cinematography through “War Horse.” It may not be his best work, but there are some shots in that film that are indisputably among the best of the year. Bravo my favorite working DP.

Well, that about wraps it up for my moments of elation, obviously few and far between. Perhaps after a while, I might be able to look back on this day and acknowledge a little more as being positive. For now, I brood.

I’ll be back later today with parts two and three, so stay tuned to The Edge of the Frame.

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How I Did: My Prediction Tally

January 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Before I start my endless rant about how much these Oscar nominations have ruined my day, any potentially my life (it’s still too soon), I’ll just give a brief rundown of how I did. Sort of good in some places, really bad in others. I’ll try to put a cap on my emotions, as well, and save that for my reactions so we can move this along.

Yet, I cannot stop myself from asking if we could just bring on next year, please? NOW…

BEST PICTURE: 7/9 + 1st alternate (not bad)
Had I only bumped “The Tree of Life” up above “Bridesmaids” in my rankings, I’d have one more, but I won’t cheat and say that I saw it coming. And really, at this point in the game, who really saw “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”? I feel like the Academy had their own private, sick, inside joke going on with that one.

BEST DIRECTOR – 4/5 + 1st alternate (I’ll take it, but damn it!)
Lying in bed last night, all I could think of was how I knew I was wrong not to predict Malick. You can ask my girlfriend, because I was pretty sure I was thinking aloud and she kept telling me to shut up.

BEST ACTOR – 4/5 (I’ll take it)
Demien Bechir’s surprise nomination is less of a sting since I am very proud of myself for staying out on a limb with that Gary Oldman prediction. Kudos to myself and everyone else who did the same.

BEST ACTRESS – 4/5 + 1st alternate (I guess I’ll take it)
The other thing that I was fumbling with in my mind, last night, was Rooney Mara. She was just too exciting of a performance for the Academy to pass up. Certainly didn’t expect her to oust Swinton, though. Brutal.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – 4/5 (I’ll take it, but wow)
Once again, I don’t think anybody saw Max von Sydow coming, at least not at this point in the game. Very proud to have stuck with Jonah Hill. I always had an inkling suspicion that the lack of a SAG nomination for Albert Brooks was going to kill him, but never really believed that the Academy would go that far.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – 4/5 + 2nd alternate (I’ll take it)
I knew that Shailene Woodley would fall off, but didn’t figure on the Academy giving the full cold shoulder to “Shame.” No accounting for taste, I guess. McTeer takes the spot.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – 4/5 (I’ll take it…grrr)
The roughest category to predict, this year, so I think I came out all right. I could really kick myself in the ear for not predicting one of my favorite scripts from 2011, “Margin Call.”

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – 3/5 + 1st alternate (could have done better)
I wrestled a lot with “Tinker, Tailor” taking out “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” but didn’t quite make it there. Certainly thought that “Hugo”‘s screenplay would drop before “The Help.”

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE – 2/5 (ashamed of myself)
All right. This category is a holy mess. I think I have to give props to Kris Tapley and Guy Lodge at In Contention for sticking to their guns on “Adventures of Tintin” not being considered animated due to its motion capture status. The rest of this…what a pile of unpredictability.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM – 5/5 (take a bow)
Ha. Who knew that the branch I’d nail would be one of the Academy’s most unpredictable. Pat on the back for me.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE – 2/5 + 1st alternate (could have done better)
You know, while I’m not a fan of my overall performance in this category, I really have to give myself props for being one of the only prognosticators around predicting “If a Tree Falls.” A true dark horse that I nailed. And let’s be real, the absence of “Project Nim” is the most surprising snub of the morning.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – 5/5 (take a bow)
All right, I once again have to give it up for me. Not as difficult of a category, but I knew that the AMPAS wouldn’t give Janusz the cold shoulder like the ASC did.

BEST EDITING – 4/5 + 1st alternate (I’ll take it)
Agh! So close. It looks like “The Descendants” campaign to not get hit by the editing jinx paid off. At least this proves that “War Horse” will not win Best Picture.

BEST ART DIRECTION – 3/5 (could have done better)
Some surprises here. It seems the snub of “War Horse” from the ADG didn’t mean anything, after all. The one and only below-the-line nom for “Midnight in Paris.”

BEST COSTUME DESIGN – 3/5 + 1st and 2nd alternates (could have done better)
Wow, my alternates reigned supreme in this category. Quite shocked about “The Help” missing, here. The most colorful of the bunch. They really seem to have gone for drab, this year.

BEST SOUND MIXING – 3/5 + 1st alternate (could have done better)
After all the sound guilds crowning “Super 8” their king, it runs up completely empty. Ain’t that a bitch?

BEST SOUND EDITING – 3/5 + 2nd alternate (could have done better)
A lot of diversity from the above column on display. Sure is a good thing they upped their nomination count…so they can look exactly like their older brother.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS – 4/5 (I’ll take it)
“Captain America”…(sigh)…I don’t want to talk about it. Damn you, David Cohen of Variety. At least “The Tree of Life” didn’t make it and making me look like the biggest fool for not predicting it. For that, I’m happy with how I did, here.

BEST MAKEUP – 2/3 + 2nd alternate (I will take it)
Knew those first two would make it in, but very surprised that “The Artist” juggernaut missed here, and that the monster that is “Hugo” didn’t take its place.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – 3/5 + 1st and 2nd alternates (could have done better)
Wow. Had I just stuck with my gut and switched around my alternates, I’d be a happy man in this category. Too bad. Looks like John Williams is going to cancel himself out again. Guess he can blame Steven Spielberg and his multi-movie years.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG – 0/2
You know what, we’re not even going to do this. Go jump off of a bridge, AMPAS Song Branch. You’re a disgrace to movies and life, itself.

And I was going to try and keep emotion out of it.

Well, my total tally of just predictions alone turned out to be: 73/104, which puts me at about 70%.

If you count my 1st alternates as a 1/2 correct choice and 2nd alternates as 1/4, my total is: 78.75, making my average 76%.

If we just discount the bullshit Original Song category, all together, which we should: 73/102, and that’s 72%.

Granted, I’m not really allowed to do those last two options, but damn it, I should. Last year, I ended up with just over 75%, so this year is definitely a bit of a dip in my professional status. Oh well. Shake it off. Next time you hear from me, I will likely be venting my head off. If you’re just waking up, go back to sleep. It’s not worth it.

15 Documentaries Make Oscar’s Short List

November 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Sorry that I’m a bit late on this, but I’ve been a little preoccupied over the last week with my sister’s wedding. The Academy has released its next round of finalists in a branch that I’ve grown to love and hate equally. They always seem to make a few poor selection decisions and omissions and this year is really no different.

The short list is as follows:

“Battle for Brooklyn” (RUMER Inc.)
“Bill Cunningham New York” (First Thought Films)
“Buck” (Cedar Creek Productions)
“Hell and Back Again” (Roast Beef Productions Limited)
“If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front” (Marshall Curry Productions, LLC)
“Jane’s Journey” (NEOS Film GmbH & Co. KG)
“The Loving Story” (Augusta Films)
“Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” (@radical.media)
“Pina” (Neue Road Movies GmbH)
“Project Nim” (Red Box Films)
“Semper Fi: Always Faithful” (Tied to the Tracks Films, Inc.)
“Sing Your Song” (S2BN Belafonte Productions, LLC)
“Undefeated” (Spitfire Pictures)
“Under Fire: Journalists in Combat” (JUF Pictures, Inc.)
“We Were Here” (Weissman Projects, LLC)

Let’s start with a few things that I am quite happy with. It is nice to see the Academy considering “We Were Here” a little-known documentary about the emergence of the AIDS crisis and the banding together of the gay community that followed. Also, I’m very happy to see “If a Tree Falls” hanging onto contention. In a time of such social unrest and protest, the film is a strong examination of human futility, police brutality and the concept of justifiable crime. It truly brings into light the concept of one man’s terrorist being another man’s freedom fighter and illustrates how that man could very well be your neighbor.

Now, we’ll take a moment to note what was expected. “Project Nim,” the chimpanzee-education film by the makers of “Man on Wire” was bound to find a slot in here. The film does look exceptional, but it wouldn’t really matter considering the list of accolades that the helmers’ last effort brought in. Two other films that are also unsurprisingly here are “Buck,” the true-life horse whisperer that the Robert Redford film was based on, and “Hell and Back Again,” the personal journey of a soldier reflected both in and coming home from Afghanistan. While I’m kind of annoyed that some truly original work has been snubbed by yet ANOTHER war documentary, I still can’t believe the brilliant cinematography on display in the film. Remarkable.

There were some truly shocking omissions in this category, as usual. The most prominent is the absence of “Senna,” the story of Formula 1 racer Aryton Senna who won three championships and was later killed in a fiery crash. I don’t think there was a single pundit who wasn’t considering this a major contender, while the majority already had it pegged to win. Also snubbed were two documentaries about journalism, itself. “Page One: Inside the New York Times,” a story detailing the fight between old school reporting and social media, and “Tabloid,” the latest film by the man who changed the way documentaries were made, Errol Morris. “Tabloid,” however, is in the midst of a lawsuit with its subject, Joyce McKinney, which might account for its absence.

Finally, there’s the category of straight-up disappointments. The first, though not wholly unexpected, was the snub of Werner Herzog’s powerful new discussion of the death penalty, “Into the Abyss.” The film is extraordinary and one would think that the Academy might try to lift the shame it brought on itself after penalizing and snubbing perhaps one of the greatest documentaries ever made, “Grizzly Man.” But, alas, it appears they still have it out for Herzog and his quest for cinematic truth.

Yet, without a doubt, the most painful snub of the list was of Steve James’ unrelentingly emotional film “The Interrupters.” James made a huge splash in the documentary world with his epic story of a high school basketball team, “Hoop Dreams” (which Roger Ebert still calls one of the 100 greatest films of all time). Here, he examines a group of unlikely heroes: a crime prevention group in Chicago that pulls out all the stops in their attempt to end gang violence. The group goes door to door and sometimes throws itself into the fray for the sole purpose of saving lives. In a time that is overrun with films about big issues such as the economy and the war, it was refreshing to see a film about an problem just as dire, that exists in our own backyard and is completely solvable when some would choose to simply turn their backs on it. Shame on the Academy for overlooking such a powerful and cathartic film that really inspires people to make a difference.

The way things stand now, I would put the documentary category looking something like this:

1. “Project Nim”
2. “Hell and Back Again”
3. “We Were Here”
4. “Pina”
5. “Buck”

Alt 1: “If a Tree Falls: The Story of the Earth Liberation Front”
Alt 2: “Bill Cunningham: New York”

We shall see. Stay tuned to The Edge of the Frame when I add this to my next list of updated predictions, hopefully some time in the next week.