Oscar History
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Thursday
Feb192015

Tim's Toons: Animated also-rans

Tim here. In his official Oscar predictions today, Nathaniel left out Best Animated Feature, but no matter. By this point, you'd have to hunt a while to find anybody predicting a winner other than How to Train Your Dragon 2, with a few Big Hero 6 holdouts just trying to pretend that things will be interesting. (Me, I'm thinking that we're about to see an unexpected explosion of write-in votes to make sure that Mr. Peabody & Sherman can finally get its due).

That level of predictability almost always ends up settling into this particular race (last year was an exception), which can make it hard, sometimes, to recall that the category has had a purpose beyond annually recognizing that yep, Pixar sure does make some pretty fine movies. So instead of prepping for Oscar weekend by celebrating winners, I want to pay tribute to some losers. The beautiful likes of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and Song of the Sea are (probably) about the join the 36 films to have so far been nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar and lost out, and that's some fine company to be in. Here are some of my personal favorites.

The Triplets of Belleville (2003; lost to Finding Nemo)
Even after 11 years, the jazzy "Bellville Rendez-vous" remains one of the most memorable original songs in 21st Century filmmaking (it also lost a competitive Oscar). It's a brilliant component of a movie that I'm generally inclined to regard with fetishistic adoration, and will start recommending to people on even the slightest pretext. Like this one, for example. It's one of the most essential animated features of the last 15 years, easily, combining warped slapstick humor with an elegiac sense of melancholy, expressed in a scratchy graphic style that turns everyone into a grotesque caricature while given all of them full, vibrant personalities. Not bad for a film with less than a dozen spoken words in its entire running time.

Persepolis (2007; lost to Ratatouille)
Marjane Satrapi's adaptation of her own graphic novel memoir is a little redundant, perhaps. But taken on its own terms, this story of life during the Iranian Revolution, told in soft lines and crisp black-and-white, is terrific animated cinema both aesthetically and politically. Overtly feminist stories and animation for an appreciative adult audience are both rare, combining them is rarer, and using it all in the service of putting a human face to life in Iran that doesn't pander or beg for special pleading makes this one as bold as any animated film I can ever name. And yet it's so sardonic and brisk that it never feels capital-I Important in a boring way. A total success that deserves infinitely more attention than it's ever received in the U.S.

Kung Fu Panda (2008; lost to WALL·E)
When the first How to Train Your Dragon came out in 2010, it was greeted with critical hosannas as the movie that finally proved that DreamWorks Animation could make a movie that as every bit as good as its best competition. But then, the studio had already proven that with this brightly-colored, poppy tribute to Asian landscape paintings and schlocky '70s kung-fu movies. It's silly as hell, and the jokes have all the smirking anachronism of DreamWorks at its worst. But it's also funny and disarmingly sweet, and the company's fixation on all-celebrity voice casting never worked out as well as it did here, with Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, and Ian McShane among the many familiar faces we don't see.

The Princess and the Frog (2009; lost to Up)
The financial success of the following year's Tangled immediately swallowed up the small splash made by Disney's first-ever animated feature centered on an African-American protagonist. And then the behemoth of 2013's Frozen left it almost totally forgotten as the first attempt in a generation to make a classic Disney Princess musical. Neither of which is at all a fair fate for an earnest attempt at correcting the company's long history of representational yuckiness with a warm suite of Randy Newman songs, top-notch voice acting, and beautifully old-school 2-D animation. It's a sop to the studio's fans, sure, but as a fan, I am greatly pleased to have it in my life even now, far more than either of its bigger successors.

What are your favorite nominees to have missed on on the Best Animated Feature Oscar?

Thursday
Feb192015

Long Day's Journey Into Link

All Oscars All The Time
Big Group they've taken that 'Oscar Dresses infographic' that was so successful a year ago and updated and expanded it with interactivity
AV Club wants the Oscars to add these 11 categories. I say Nay! to most of these. The Academy nixed two of these very recently (Best Casting and Title Design) when they were proposed again
David Poland thinks "preferential balloting" makes virtually anything possible in this tight Best Picture race and seems to expect a true spread the wealth night (as do I)
Gurus of Gold the full charts in all categories
The Atlantic Joe Reid on the lack of connection between Best Picture & Best Actress
Vox tries to explain all the confusing Oscar categories - not who will win but the category definitions themselves
THR Mo'Nique believes she was blackballed after her Oscar win for Precious for not playing the game and being "difficult". Hollywood is so frustrating. Who cares if she's difficult. That's one of the best performances of all time. Doesn't anyone wanna try bottling lightning again?
The Wrap, truly jumping the gun, proposed 20 actors of color and 5 directors for all 25 of the major Oscar nominations for next year's race from films like Creed, Silence, Nina, Lila & Eve, and Crimson Peak

More Movies
Keith Gow reviews The Last Five Years and he's much more satisfied with it than I am. One of my friends who is much more critical of modern movie musicals than I also loved it. I am definitely ready for a second look.
GMA Jeremy Jordan and Jason Robert Brown perform a Last Five Years number on morning TV
Empire 8 secrets from the set of Nightcrawler
Dissolve on Neil Blomkamp's plans to direct another Aliens sequel. Sigourney Weaver is planning to return as Ripley. So exciting if we really do get a sixtysomething action heroine but I'm not holding my breath since Ridley Scott is working on a Prometheus sequel, too
Interview amazing new photoshoot of Kristen Stewart who really turned it out as an actress this past year. More please
First Showing yes it's true Pirates of the Caribbean 5 has started production (Noooooooo) with Javier Bardem wasting more of his time and YA stars Kaya Scoledario and Brenton Thwaites joining the cast
The Film Stage Xavier Dolan in the new trailer for Elephant Song - he's just acting this time
Details Calum Marsh looks at The Breakfast Club 30 years on 
In Contention looks at some of the tougher to call races
THR Brutally Honest Ballot of an Oscar voter from the PR branch - these things are always a mix of cringeworthy and/or interesting revealing quotes
THR Brutally Honest Ballot #2 - this one loves Theory of Everything and admires Boyhood 

New Mad Men Trailer! "The Final Episodes"

Because of this people are speculating that the final episodes take place in 1976. People are silly. It's not like that show to jump 7 years. And Matthew Weiner said he always wanted to make a show about the decade of the 1960s and he's always been willing to be anachronistic about music. The movies on the other hand, they're usually right on schedule so I wish I knew what year the final episodes took place in so as to study that year's movies. I want to see Don Draper in a movie theater one last time. Pretty please! 

Monty waiting for more cakeOff Cinema
Wisdom Nation screw motivation, seek discipline
Billboard Madonna speaks, makes journo drink shots
BuzzFeed Trans model recreates Adam Levine's famous never-nude shot 
Towleroad Lady Gaga is engaged to her actor boyfriend Taylor Kinney (The Other Women / Chicago Fire) 
Playbill the great Victoria Clark (The Light in the Piazza)  is doing a diary of her out of town tryouts of Gigi, a reworking of the Oscar winning musical
AutoStraddle "50 Shades of Grey Cats". Monty made me include that one. He's breathing very loudly right behind my chair as I type this, surely plotting my murder for the recent vet visit. FTR he is also upset that Jennifer Aniston didn't get nominated for Cake because he was hoping for more edible swag.

Thursday
Feb192015

Awards Season Dichotomy: Easy Calls & Tough Choices

With time rapidly running out until we get to Oscar - we're just 3 days away - I'm afraid there's no time left for obsessive predictive postings and chart updates. So as a final predictive wrap up, we illustrate one of the conundrums of awards season via Oscar Predictions and our own Film Bitch Awards. With Oscar it seems categories often become either truly easy calls or are just impossible to figure. For the conscientous voter, personal ballots are never easy calls. They're another matter entirely.

To quote the witch Ursula who is not good and not nice but just right:

Life's full of tough choices, in'n't it?

Speaking of personal choices, if you haven't yet voted on the polls on each chart page, go and do that. I'll announce the Reader's Choice this Saturday before the Oscars.

OSCAR PREDICTIONS

Isn't it weird how things just line up for Oscar's  "duh" calls for predictions each year-- even if there's no appreciable difference in quality or the quality actually goes another way? So as recap. Here are the final predictions. Later today I'm doing a piece for Towleroad where you can read further thoughts on all of this if you haven't got enough of it right here. I also urge you to check out the Gurus of Gold chart at Movie City News to see what the general consensus is versus where I and maybe you if you predict at home, fall.

THE EASIEST CALLS
Actress  Julianne Moore, Still Alice (just discussed)
Supporting Actor J.K. Simmons, Whiplash (a press favorite all year)
Supporting Actress Patricia Arquette, Boyhood 
Production Design / Costume Design -Stockhausen & Canonero for Grand Budapest Hotel 
Cinematography Emmanuel Lubeski - Birdman 

SEEMINGLY EASY CALLS BUT THESE CATEGORIES ARE KNOWN FOR UPSETS
Foreign Film -Ida
Documentary  - Citizen Four
Makeup - Grand Budapest Hotel 

SLIGHTLY MORE COMPLICATED CALLS
Actor - Eddie Redmayne, Theory of Everything I understand some are arguing for a Cooper stealth win or a Keaton triumph with Birdman surging but I'm sticking by my original prediction. Oscar has always been deeply fascinated by mimicry and by men playing characters with physical challenges.

TRULY DIFFICULT CALLS
Picture/Director I'm going with a Boyhood/Birdman split though any combo or double from either makes sense. It's all terribly mystifying (Discussed on the podcast)
Visual Effects Interstellar (though I'm not confident)
Editing Whiplash (though Boyhood seems just as likely)
Original Screenplay Grand Budapest (or will it be Birdman?)
Adapted Screenplay Imitation Game (with an outside shot for Whiplash)
Doc Short Glenn thinks Crisis Hotline. I'm going with Joanna
Live Action Short The Phone Call
Animation Short Tim thinks Feast or The Dam Keeper. I'm going with The Bigger Picture
Score Theory of Everything
Sound Mixing Whiplash
Sound Editing American Sniper

And that's it for predictions. I look forward to being completely wrong this year. I love the volatile years most. Punditry is no fun when it's too easy.

FILM BITCH AWARDS

As for my own annual prizes with their own rich history... those are still in progress and much fussed over though the Oscar Correlative categories are all fully complete.

4 nominations for NIGHTCRAWLERNATHANIEL'S BALLOT - ALWAYS TOUGH CHOICES
PAGE 1 - Picture, Director, Screenplay, Animated (complete)
PAGE 2 - Acting (newly completed!)
PAGE 3 - Visuals (newly completed!)
PAGE 4 - Aurals and Oscar-Parallel Tally (newly completed with love for The Homesman, Gone Girl, Begin Again and more...) 

...and the extra "fun" categories are still in progress though there's a little something on each page now to whet your appetite.

PAGE 5 - Extras (new kudos for Pride, Love is Strange & Selma)
PAGE 6 - Character Prizes 
PAGE 7 - Scene Work 

Thursday
Feb192015

Have You Seen "The Fall"?

A wee break from Oscar talk since a few of you will surely need it.

I bingewatched The Fall this weekend a serial killer drama from Northern Ireland and tweeted this... 

 I thought it was *so* good (despite a molasses slow first episode) with intoxicatingly subtle handling of its relatively blunt ideas and horrific storyline. I particularly loved its very confrontational finger to the audience in a videotaped sequence from the serial killer (that'd be Jamie Dornan as the Belfast Strangler though that's not a spoiler since we know who the killer immediately) and Anderson's completely self-possessed intimidating performance... there's not a single moment where she's asking for audience favor and her Detective Super Intendent is ice cold.

Because I don't follow TV closely I ask those of you who do: was this not eligible for Emmys? I'm noticing it had no Emmy or even BTCA attention, not even for Jamie Dornan (who received some overseas nominations) or the superb Gillian Anderson (who, like Marisa Tomei, just keeps getting better looking with age). Is this just not well loved or widely seen? I understand there's no official word on a Season 3 yet. That's the danger of bingewatching I suppose unless a show is already off the end and you know when the end is coming.

Thursday
Feb192015

Women's Pictures - Ava DuVernay's Selma

Nothing about Ava DuVernay’s career up to 2014 suggested the epic sweep of Selma. I Will Follow and Middle of Nowhere are both quiet dramas, focusing on one central character and a handful of supporting players as they navigate a major, life-altering event. Race is the background against which these stories are set - coloring a heated music discussion, or shading the convict’s biased parole hearing - but racism isn’t explicitly addressed. This changes dramatically with Selma. In a year that has seen protests in Ferguson and serious discussions about diversity in the Academy, Selma has been called everything from controversial to current to incorrect. For its director, it’s proof that 6 years and 3 movies can rapidly mature a talent.

When telling the story of Martin Luther King’s 1965 protest march in Alabama, DuVernay focuses not on a man, but on a movement. She studies the Civil Rights movement as if it were a character, following not only Dr. King’s glossy speeches, but also the many behind-the-scenes maneuvering. King’s arguments with President Johnson, Johnson’s arguments with Governor Wallace, the student organizers’ arguments with King’s men, even quieter discussions between Coretta Scott King and Malcolm X expose the precarious balance between ideology and strategy that's needed to succeed. DuVernay manages to write her characters with humanity as well, populating the film with people, not symbols. Early on, Dr. King (dignified David Oyelowo) comments lightly that the reason he's in Selma is because he needs a bully to catch national sympathy, and the racist sheriff is that man. As men start dying, those words hang over King's head like a cross.

If I have one complaint with Selma, it’s that the violence is too beautiful. DuVernay deftly stages the action of hundreds of protestors for the camera, and re-teams with cinematographer Bradford Young. The result is similar to Raging Bull: every protest is shot differently, so that each violent outbreak feels fresh. If the night march feels familiar to 2014 audiences, if the first march feels claustrophobic, if the violence on the Edmund Pettus Bridge looks like a hallucinatory war film, that’s not unintentional. In Selma, Ava DuVernay has matched epic sweep with humanity and brutal vision. It’s a hell of an achievement for a third film.

This close to the Oscars ceremony, reviving the question of whether Selma was snubbed is pointless. But regardless of Sunday’s outcome, Ava DuVernay has joined a different illustrious company: unnominated female directors whose films were nominated for Best Picture. In an attempt to divine DuVernay’s future, I did some research, and discovered a pattern: Of these nine female directors, seven are still directing. Of those seven directors, four (including DuVernay) are now working in TV.

As anyone with a remote or a streaming subscription knows, we are currently in a second Golden Age of television. This is due in no small part to the diversity of creative talent. Every year, more shows are created by, directed by, and starring women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community. In this increasingly colorful TV landscape, Ava DuVernay will be a welcome addition when she launches her show on OWN. But at what cost to film?

2014 has been widely criticized as the whitest, most male-dominated year of the Oscars in a long time. As much as I would like to blame our old scapegoat, the White Male Voter, this is also because of the homogeny of the films being offered to the Academy. When we can count the number of Oscar nominated female directors on one hand--likewise for directors of color--we should be shouting for more of these voices in film, instead of celebrating when the ones who’ve already proven themselves move to television (where they can get snubbed by the Emmys instead). I love Ava DuVernay’s work. I can’t wait to see what she creates with Oprah’s blessing. But surely I’m not alone when I say: Ava DuVernay, please come back to film soon.

 

Thus concludes our first month of Women's Pictures. Next week will be a vote to choose our next female filmmakers. Who do you want us to cover? If you have suggestions for future Women’s Pictures directors, post them in the comments or find Anne Marie on Twitter!

 

Wednesday
Feb182015

Podcast Pt 2: Oscar Predix Finale

In case you missed part one of this finale, that's here. Let's wrap up our final pre-Oscar prediction discussions: Joe pretends he's not an Inherent Vice fan, Nick sadistically hopes Imitation Game "gets Up in the Aired", and Nathaniel goes full blurb whore on Mr Turner

Oscar Prediction Finale Pt 2
41 Minutes

00:01 -Production Design & Costume Design. Into the Woods spurs dark memories and self parody. But can Grand Budapest actually win both and will Wes Anderson career tribute be the cause?
08:40 -Cinematography. Beautiful across the board
13:12 -Screenplays. Are these the two most difficult categories to predict? Consolation prizes, career tributes, or Best Picture heat?
21:45 -Acting Races. Whose running second behind Julianne Moore?
27:32 -Best Director & Best Picture. Who would we vote for and what about the Academy: will it be Richard Linklater and Boyhood or Alejandro G Inarritu and Birdman or some combo thereof. Either way long-standing theories of everything get disproven and the Academy gets dinged.
36:10 -Exit Game: Who would last year's winners vote for? We read the minds of Blanchett, McConaughey, Leto, and Nyong'o.
40:00 -Boyman Goodbye!

Supplemental Material for this Podcast:
Prediction Finale Part 1
Nick's Top Ten List (in progress)
Joe Reid ranks all 60 Oscar nominated films

Please to enjoy and continue the golden conversation in the comments. You can listen at the bottom of the post or download from iTunes.  

Oscar Prediction Finale Pt 2

Wednesday
Feb182015

Black History Month: Endless Love (1981)

I know what you're thinking. You're working out some variation of "how perverse to feature a lily white teenage romance for a Black History Month feature!"... and I get it. But let's travel back to 1981 together anyway and I'll explain.

The Italian auteur Franco Zeffirelli had found great success in America directing Romeo and Juliet (1968) which became both a populist hit and an Oscar magnet finishing in the year's top five at the box office and in the Best Picture shortlist. A dozen or so years later Zeffirelli took another stab (pun intended) at the zeitgeist with a similar if much cruder tale of an ill advised tempestuous and horny teenage affair. Endless Love was critically panned (multiple Razzie nominations) though it managed to be a hit if not quite a blockbuster. Its eponymous Best Original Song nominee "Endless Love" by Lionel Richie on the other hand was a monster...

Click to read more ...