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The ACE, CAS and Scripter…Oh, my!

February 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Seven days left, folks. It’s the deep breath before the plunge. The last of the ballots are being finalized and pundits are making their final predictions. And while most of the race seems like a done deal, sealed and locked, there’s always the chance of a few upsets around the bend.

Aside from what I already mentioned, another event occurring in this final week is the rush for precursors to get their awards out before last call of the year. This weekend is a hornets nest of accolades being dished out almost faster than I can report them. While the Writers Guild is set to announce tonight, the other major screenplay award declared its winner yesterday evening. The USC Library Scripter, awarded each year to the finest example of adapting a film from another medium, went to Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash and novelist Kaui Hart Hemmings for “The Descendants.” Not at all a surprise, given the quality of the work. Personally I was predicting “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” to take this down. Also, the Scripter has absolutely no affiliation with the Academy or any other guild, so aside from common taste, this win has no impact on the Oscar outcome.

While “The Descendants” winning the Scripter was fairly expected, what was not was it’s simultaneous win with the American Cinema Editors. Forgive me, but this has to be one of the more outrageous and, more or less, absurd victories of the year. Going up against “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “Hugo,” “War Horse” and, for god’s sake, “Moneyball,” the actual winner was the least deserving of any of the dramatic nominees. It’s the only film in which the editing really adds no level of complexity or character. I really have no idea what this group was thinking. In the musical/comedy category, “The Artist” very expectantly took home the prize. Originally, this award seemed like a tight race between said frontrunner and either “Hugo” or “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Yet, with this turn of events, it seems as though “The Artist” has a huge advantage next weekend. Add it to the pile.

The final award issued last night was the Cinema Audio Society, the guild equivalent of the Best Sound Mixing Oscar. As was largely expected, “Hugo” took this award home. This year presented a fairly odd situation, with the CAS and Oscar nominees only lining up 2/5 (only the second time in the CAS’ existence that their opinions differed so radically). However, going with statistics, NEVER since the formation of the CAS has a film won Best Sound Mixing without even being nominated by the guild. That would leave “Moneyball” and “Hugo.” With the latter winning the support from the guild, it has more than confirmed its frontrunner status. In fact a sweep of both sound categories is becoming more and more likely, but we’ll wait on the Motion Picture Sound Editors to announce, tonight.

With the WGA hours away, weighing extremely on the adapted screenplay field, I’ll make a prediction. However, my choice is definitely a lot more wishful thinking than common sense. If “Moneyball” takes this award down, it will reassert itself at the head of the pack (making me one happy pundit), although “The Descendants” is a steep wall to climb and the odds are definitely in its corner. I’ll stick with my favorite horse, though, but whatever wins here, will likely go on to Oscar gold.

Interestingly, while the adapted field will likely be decided tonight, the WGA’s Best Original Screenplay award will have little to no impact on the Oscar’s equivalent, barring any unforeseen upset. “Midnight in Paris” will likely take this award in a walk, but still move on to a dogfight next Sunday. That’s because the film’s stiffest opposition will not even be competing tonight. “The Artist,” which has basically become either the frontrunner or a threat in all of its categories, fell victim to the WGA’s strict eligibility rules. Therefore, even if Woody the Great is the winner tonight, “The Artist” just might be the odds-on favorite in seven days. It will be one of the night’s closest races for sure.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for updates from tonight’s awards, as well as the announcement of the 2nd Annual Edgy nominations. It’s about to get interesting.

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The DGA Nominations! Fincher In, Spielberg Out

January 9, 2012 Leave a comment

Well, as it turns out, I was 100% correct on David Fincher making it in, here. I pat myself on the back for that. What I was wrong about was who he would replace. It looks as though Steven Spielberg’s reign of dominance among his peers in the Directors Guild has finally come to an end. In a weird way, it’s almost like a changing of the guard, with David Fincher taking over that mantel.

As I figured, Hazanavicius, Scorsese and Payne had all secured their spots a while ago. However, I stand fully corrected in regards to my comments about Woody Allen. Looks like his comeback work on “Midnight in Paris” was enough to pull him through after all. Personally, I don’t think Allen or Spielberg deserve a mention this year, and a lot of fantastic young talent in the form of Bennett Miller, Nicholas Wending Refn and Steve McQueen got the shaft.

Well, not much else to say. I still believe that this race is securely a two-horse one between Hazanavicius and Scorsese. We’ll see what turns up.

Here are the nominees:

Woody Allen – “Midnight in Paris”
David Fincher – “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
Michael Hazanavicius – “The Artist”
Alexander Payne – “The Descendants”
Martin Scorsese – “Hugo”

DGA Predictions 2012

January 9, 2012 Leave a comment

I really didn’t even feel like doing this. In fact, I’ve always had an aversion to predicting the DGA. Trying to correctly predict these five nominees feels a bit like shooting fish in a barrel with an unloaded gun. Sure, there’s the chance that they’ll be exactly what people are expecting, but…no…they never are. there’s always that fifth slot that never does what you want it to do.

The one nice thing about the DGA is that it makes things infinitely clearer in the actual Oscar race. I can recall only twice in the last ten years that the DGA hasn’t lined up with the Academy’s five Best Director nods with at least 4 out of 5 slots, and twice in those ten years, it’s been a perfect match. Ever since the Academy altered the number of Best Picture nominees, using the DGA as a predictive tool has changed a bit, as well. Instead of using it as a guide for the five nominees, the lucky directors now point to which films are absolute locks. Ironically, during the age of five nominees, the DGA was actually a better predictor for Best Picture then for its own category.

All right, well, here’s how I see the cookie crumbling. I would say that the two locks are Michael Hazavanicius and Martin Scorsese. Of the major contenders, they’ve divvied up nearly all of the critics awards and just seem to have the most clout, right now. Next on that list would be Alexander Payne. While his direction isn’t the strong point of the movie, the film is just too strong of a contender, thus far, for him to simply be left out.

The last two spots get kind of tricky. Despite the difficult time “War Horse” is having with the guilds, Spielberg shouldn’t have much trouble making his way in here. The same was happening with “Munich” in ’05 (a much superior film to “War Horse,” I might add) and he still handled the DGA. This seemed to single-handedly resurrect it back into the Oscar race. To be honest, the DGA has always drooled over Spielberg. Ten career nominations, three wins and a lifetime achievement award. When he has a film in contention, it’s simply more likely to see him nominated than not.

So for the final spot, I am going to make my “out on a limb” choice by saying that Woody Allen will miss. This will be the decision that I’ll likely be kicking myself for tomorrow, but as you are about to read, I have my reasons. At this point in Allen’s career, even if this is somewhat of a comeback film, I feel that the industry will be satisfied with just recognizing his writing. As it has been since the early nineties, nominating the film’s screenplay should suffice, making his directorial efforts easy to overlook.

As for who’s taking his spot, there’s plenty of choices. It’s quite possible Terrence Malick’s clout might carry over into the guild of his peers, yet I get the feeling that “The Tree of Life”‘s support will likely remain among the critics. Until this past week, near-rookie Tate Taylor seemed like a long shot, but the overwhelming love for “The Help” in the guilds has made said nomination more and more of a possibility. If wishing made it so, I would enjoy seeing Bennett Miller show up here in recognition for his steady and assured crafting of “Moneyball.” After all, not many saw his previous nomination coming for “Capote.” Yet, the young artist’s failure to bring in even a single nomination this season has left that option unlikely. One choice that would certainly throw a wrench in the mix would be the stellar Nicholas Wending Refn, who’s work on “Drive” earned him this award at Cannes. But, lack of a PGA mention for the film makes his chances less promising.

That leaves me with the one and only David Fincher. While his re-adaptation of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” isn’t turning quite as many heads as the studio had hoped, the film’s director has something going for him which puts him a step ahead of his competition. That factor is the enormous amount of residual respect leftover from last year’s awards season. After both the DGA and the Oscars incomprehensibly snubbed the master of his much-deserved awards for “The Social Network,” I imagined that there had to be a fair amount of guilt churning around the industry. And while “TGWTDT” isn’t quite as extraordinary as the former, it’s certainly good enough for his peers to throw him an apologetic bone. I’ve had this aching feeling all year long, and with the film nabbing unexpected nominations from the PGA, ADG and WGA, said scenario seems now more likely than ever before.

My Predix:
1. Martin Scorsese – “Hugo”
2. Michael Hazavanicius – “The Artist”
3. Alexander Payne – “The Descendants”
4. Steven Spielberg – “War Horse”
5. David Fincher – “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

Alts:
6. Woody Allen – “Midnight in Paris”
7. Tate Taylor – “The Help”
8. Bennett Miller – “Moneyball”
9. Terrence Malick – “The Tree of Life”
10. Nicholas Wending Refn – “Drive”

Well, there you have it. Check back tomorrow afternoon to see which choice (or choices) I’ll be crying over.

Is AFI Missing Their Opportunities?

As everyone knows, each year for nearly four decades, the American Film Institute has awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award to a single individual. The honor is meant to reflect that person’s “lifetime contribution to enriching American culture through motion pictures and television.” When looking at the list of recipients over the years, it’s enough to fill the Kodak Theater several times over. Some of my personal favorites include Orson Welles in ’75, William Wyler in ’76, James Stewart in ’80, Steven Spielberg in ’95 and Al Pacino in ’07.

This year, the Institute has chosen to honor Morgan Freeman for his body of work as an actor. For sure, not an unusual choice for such an award. He received his first Oscar nomination in 1988 for “Street Smart” and has been captivating audiences, multiple times a year, ever since. For me, performances simply don’t get much better than his work in “The Shawshank Redemption.” The speech in his final parole hearing is the stuff that legends are made out of.

All in all, though, aside from a few great decisions, the AFI award seems kind of tainted and lazy, as of late. The whole picture seemed to change around the time that Tom Hanks won what many called his “mid-life” achievement award ten years ago. It seems that the award is being given more on account of how popular the recipient has been in recent years instead of, say thirty years ago. There are many, MANY performers, directors and producers who are much more deserving of the award than recent fare.

I’d much rather have seen men the likes of Gene Hackman, Robert Duvall, David Lynch, Francis Ford Coppola or, for crying out loud, Woody Allen receive distinction above the likes of George Lucas, Harrison Ford, Michael Douglas, Sean Connery or Morgan Freeman. The talent ratio is nearly incomparable. I mean, in terms of weight in Academy Award recognition is 49 nominations to 13 (Douglas, Ford and Connery only sharing 4 nominations between them).

What’s even more disturbing is the complete disregard to female contributions to cinema. In the last two decades, three women have received this award. Meryl Streep is completely understandable. Elizabeth Taylor cannot be argued with. Barbara Streisand…really? Meanwhile, the following women are still living and more than deserving of this award: Faye Dunaway, Vanessa Redgrave, Maggie Smith, Julie Christie, Sissy Spacek, Diane Keaton, Glenn Close, and Jessica Lange. Perhaps the most ridiculously passed over women are Ellen Burstyn and Jane Fonda who have delivered some of the most phenomenal performances Hollywood has ever seen and have been doing so for upwards of forty years.

The greats are passing away left and right. Paul Newman, Robert Altman, Marlon Brando and, of course, Sidney Lumet are the most recent to leave this world without receiving this prestigious honor. AFI needs to keep its eyes on the prize and award some of these more-deserving folk before it’s too late.

“You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” Review

October 10, 2010 Leave a comment

There’s no denying that Woody Allen is perhaps one of the most innovative and influential American filmmakers in the last quarter century, maybe of all time. Some of his films have changed the face of the way we view sex, love and the different sides of people, among other topics. However, I think it’s safe to say that this master is starting to lose his touch.

Shortly before seeing the film, someone asked me what it was about. I responded that I didn’t really know, but it’s Woody Allen so it’s probably about relationships. If the shoe fits, apparently. The film is, in fact, about a married couple, played by Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin, and Watts’ newly divorced parents, Anthony Hopkins and Gemma Jones. Both couples attempt to explore their lives inside and outside of their marital vows. Watts is tempted into a not-so professional relationship with her employer (Antonio Banderas), while her husband draws inspiration from the gorgeous muse who lives across the street (“Slumdog Millionaire”‘s Frieda Pinto). Seeking a fresh new start, Hopkins remarries a sultry ex-prostitute and his former spouse attempts to acquire romantic insights from a fraud of a fortuneteller.

Obviously, this is not one of Allen’s finest features. However, even the worst films of this man can stand as an achievement over the much cinematic work being done, these days. The story is a solid one, blending the pros and cons of each relationship, never passing over certain fantastic details which bring life to the characters. In many ways, the story is about the hypocrisies of marriage and the absurd ironies that the characters hold for their significant others. Allen still has a way of letting his stories unfold in an eloquent and timely manner.

The performances are good ones. Naomi Watts definitely shines, as she always does, and Brolin holds his own with his character’s matching frustrations. The standout, perhaps, is Gemma Jones, who’s absent-minded search for romance and redirection is always a joy to watch. Anthony Hopkins, however, really seems to have lost touch with his own greatness. For the last decade, he has, for the most part, floated through his films (“Beowulf,” “All the King’s Men,” “Fracture”). He’s simply there, no more, no less.

One thing that really stands out in the film is it’s fine use of contemporary costume design. The characters are, more or less, color-coated. And not only the harsh reds that always surround Frieda Pinto’s burning essence of sexual passion. Naomi Watts is always cloaked in somber tones of white, black or gray. Jones wears faded colors, such as a pastel blue or beige. And in nearly every scene, Brolin is almost entirely encased in brown or tan. In one shot, we even notice that the inner padding of his muddy-colored jacket is bright red flannel, and it disappears when he zips it up, when Pinto’s erotic overtones disappear from his life.

In spite of the fair amount of praise that I seem to bestowing on this feature, the truth is that it is not that great of film, quite simply because it is not an original work. It seems nowadays that if Woody Allen does not try something outlandishly different from his normal techniques (“Match Point,” “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”), he ends up just combining the plots of his former films into a sloppy concoction of recycled genius. The synopsis should be listed like more of a recipe:

“For tonight’s screening, we will be serving up a mixture of ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’ and ‘Husbands and Wives,’ with a dash of ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’ for a garnish.”

In sifting through the remnants, the overall film loses not only its originality, but its significance and appeal, as well. The story becomes flat and the characters less interesting. By the end of the film, the conclusions may not seem predictable, but after the fact, they’re less impacting for you’ve seen them before. By no means should Woody Allen give up and stop making films (and even if he should, who’s gonna tell him?). However, he needs to keep thinking outside of the box or he’ll be the one needing a fortune teller to figure out what happened to his career.

GRADES:            B-             * * * / * * * * *             6.4 / 10.0