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Entries in Oscars (11) (328)


Oscar Predix Updates: Costumes, Make-Up, Visual F/X, Sound

Have you seen the Vanity Fair gallery of costumes from Madonna's W.E. designed by Arianne Phillips? Will she be Oscar nominated this year? Hmmmm.

James D'Arcy and Andrea Riseborough modelling the costumes

That's always a tough call given that the costume branch of the Academy sometimes goes their own way entirely, embracing films no one else cares about or have forgotten, and sometimes they just stick with general Oscar buzz or their default choices (Seriously you won't find someone who loves Sandy Powell more than me but that Tempest nomination was ri-dic-u-lous).

Here are my newly updated predictions in the visual categories.

Testify Leo!You'll notice that I've also added J. Edgar to the predicted Make Up Nominees but it wasn't because of this official still of Leonardo DiCaprio. Why then? Well, it was the accompanying text in Entertainment Weekly which read. 

The movie traces Hoover's life from his childhood in Washington, D.C., through his ascent to power in the 1920s, his 50-year reign over the FBI, and his death in 1972 — with Leonardo DiCaprio donning prosthetic makeup to portray the man well into his bulldog-like elderly years.

Prosthetic makeup. Bulldog-like. Elderly. DingDingDing. Though, really before I get to settled on this prediction I need to recall my own words on the Make-Up branch within the Academy. I just copy and paste this every year onto my charts because it never ceases to be true.

About the Make Up Category

Nearly impossible to predict... even up until the last moment. They like werewolf movies except when they don't. They love Rick Baker except when they don't. They admire old age makeup except when they don't. They eliminate films with extensive CGI work except when they don't. They never vote based on awesome period hairpieces and makeup (though that's part of the equation) except when they do. They disapprove of multiple nominations for the same series except when they don't. It's almost as if their membership is entirely dismissed and reformed from scratch each year.

 But back to J. Edgar. I must say that synopsis signals that I have official worry for the movie.  Covering fifty years in someone's life usually means the very traditional kind of biopic. The kind that is all "....and then this happened and then this happened and then this happened", the Greatest Hits Biopics. Those are always the least focused and the most boring kind of biopics. 

Visual Category Prediction Updates
Aural Category Prediction Updates
Unfortunately there's still many films that have not announced their composer so Original Score punditry is still nothingness.

You'll notice that Rise of the Planet of the Apes suddenly, well, rises in Sound categories and Visual FX. (Once films start showing themselves these things always change.) In visual effects in particular it's obviously become the instant frontrunner. You know that Andy Serkis's trailblazing motion capture acting will help the FX team win, though the FX team will not help Andy Serkis get recognition. It doesn't go both ways, though I think we can all agree that they make a beautiful team. 



Sandra Bullock on Octavia Spencer

Methinks Octavia Spencer, currently stealing The Help (reviewed) as pie-baking Minnie, already has one Oscar vote. Here's Sandra Bullock on her former co-star from A Time To Kill (1996):

Her energy and personality are so infectious that any room she walks into, everyone wants to be her friend, or just hang out with her and be in her space. Now, that doesn't always mean someone like that has a talent for the camera, but in this case it does.

When you meet her, you know she is destined to entertain. I know not all people with tremendous talent are given the opportunities that they so deserve, but in this case a lifelong friendship with Tate Taylor brought together two very talented people who deserve success and who are grateful for it. This opportunity will not go wasted or be abused by one fabulous Octavia Spencer.

That quote is from the new Backstage profile of Octavia Spencer in which Octavia's career thus far is mapped out. I didn't know this but it turns out that she was on the casting team of A Time To Kill before getting a role, her first. (I tried valiantly to find a photo of them together, but no luck). Spencer had previously intended to be a producer, not an actress. She credits Sandra Bullock for giving her the push!


Something is Golden in the State of Denmark.

Hot off an Oscar win in February for In a Better World, Denmark has announced their follow up contender ...or at least their intention to announce it. The land of my ancestors has narrowed down the past year in Dansk film to three tre: SuperClásicoMartin Zandvliet's Dirch (A Funny Man) and Pernille Fischer Christensen's En familie (A Family). 

En Familie, which my Danish informant Thomas (tak!) predicts will be the selection is a drama about a wealthy family with a dying patriarch. Jesper Christensen stars. You might recognize him from the Daniel Craig Bond films (he plays Mr White) or from the popular Swedish flick Everlasting Moments. He's also in Melancholia this year though I don't know how large his role is there.

SuperClásico is a divorce comedy which actually takes place in Buenos Aires. No word yet on whether that naked bum on the poster is Argentinian or Dane in origin ;). It's from the director of Flame & Citron, a film that got a healthy festival run a few years back. Important Note: Paprika Steen headlines and you'll recall that she was the Film Bitch Silver Medalist right here in last year's "best" celebrations. It'll be nice to see her smile this time around!

Nathaniel's Favorite Danes: Paprika Steen (SuperClásico) and Nikolaj Lie Kaas (Dirch)

The final contestant, Dirch or A Funny Man is a biopic about a famous Danish comedian. It stars Nikolaj Lie Kaas who you may have seen in Lars von Trier's The Idiots or famous Scandinavian films like Reconstruction or Brothers (he originated the role that later housed Jake Gyllenhaal). He's only recently started to branch out into English language films (something many Scandinavian giants do albeit usually in minor supporting roles) so you might have also seen him in Angels & Demons or in Whistleblower, Rachel Weisz's Oscar bid, which recently opened here in the States. You might think that Dirch would be too homegrown specific for Oscar submission but you never know. There are always a few biopics in the 60+ wide submission list of people who are infinitely more famous in their home countries than abroad.

IN DARKNESS, Poland's Holocaust Themed Oscar EntryMore Best Foreign Film News
GREECE, which up until last year's Dogtooth, hadn't been nominated since 1977 (and has never won), will submit Attenberg, which you'll recall won the Best Actress prize at the Venice Film Festival last fall. 

POLAND, 8 nominations / zero wins, will submit Agnieska Holland's In Darkness which In Contention made the following funny about. 

Poland... appears to have intensively focus-grouped the Academy’s foreign-language branch and subsequently created their Oscar entry in a purpose-built lab: a true-life Holocaust drama about a Leopold Socha, a reformed petty criminal who heroically helped numerous Jewish refugees hide in the sewers of Nazi-occupied Lvov.


Holland was previously nominated for best screenplay for her arthouse hit Europa Europa in the early nineties, also a Holocaust drama.

What does all this mean? That I've got to start building the Oscar Foreign pages again. (My work is never done!) In case you missed it... here's the discussion about what Norway might submit.


Review: "The Help"

The first storyteller is Aibilene (Viola Davis), a black maid raising her 17th white baby in the Jim Crow south. She can't answer the question of what it feels like to raise another woman's baby when you've left yours behind at home. It's an overwhelming opening inquiry to be sure. Though it's immediately clear Aibilene is being interviewed, we don't know why and for what purpose as The Help begins. This type of prologue is common in movies as you get a peek at what's to come before stepping back to the beginning, but the introduction is important: Abilene is the first person we meet and the narrative voice of the movie. 

Viola Davis even listens with dramatic depth!

Though mainstream Hollywood has proven time and again that they're constitutionally incapable of telling black stories without a white frame --  in this case Emma Stone's frizzy haired provocateur "Skeeter" who is secretly writing a book about the experience of maids in Jackson, Mississippi -- The Help, however subtlely (and perhaps accidentally), suggests with its Davis-centric opening and closing passages that Abilene is capable of creating frames of her own, thank you very much. In fact, she'd rather write her own story than tell it to another writer.

So she does.

Mm-hmm. It's Octavia Spencer as Minny, a surefire Oscar nominee.If Tate Taylor's adaptation or Kathryn Stockett's bestseller were confident enough in Aibilene's voice to downplay Skeeter's this would be a much more revelatory movie, and surely a more painful one, but we're dealing with the movie we've got which is essentially both of theirs.

The story, or, more accurately, stories of The Help are passed like batons throughout the movie. Deep breath now: Skeeter who wants to be writer has a starter job as a cleaning advice columnist which leads her to conversations with (baton pass); Aibilene who is dealing with personal grief and a weak-willed bad-mommy employer; Elizabeth (Ahna O'Reilly) who is continually pushed towards racist actions by local queen bee; Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) who loves lording her power over her mother, local girls, maids and the town outcast; Celia (Jessica Chastain) who is loud and 'trashy' but really loves her maid; Minny (Octavia Spencer), the best cook in town and Aibilene's BFF, who has a sharp tongue and is at war with Hilly.

Though it's easy to take potshots at The Help  -- we might discuss those soon -- it's also somewhat ungenerous since The Help is well meaning and entertaining and best of all affords us the rare opportunity of seeing several watchable actresses chewing on a meaty multi-course feast together. Sometimes they mistake the scenery for another course (Bryce Dallas Howard and Jessica Chastain may both provoke heated arguments about the line betweena "type" and a caricature) but this was bound to happen. Chief among the delights in the acting arena is watching the dependable Viola Davis (Doubt, Far From Heaven) take the reins of a movie for once instead of stealing the whole thing in one scene or two.

The interplay between the characters makes up the bulk of the entertainment value, since with its sometimes candy color glossiness and very brief detached asides to actual history (usually on television sets), it's obviously not going for a deep historical rendering of the violent racist south. The movie would have done well to jettison much of Skeeter's story, both for pacing (it's far too long) and thematic strength, but Stone is such an engaging actress that it feels strange to object to having more of her around. Her storyline does eventually return, movingly, to the subject at the heart of The Help.

In the end where The Help wins over its audience, provided that they're okay with a surface take on a deep troubling subject, is with its trio of central performances. The intertwining still relevant topics of civil rights struggles, labor and racism are so large and overwhelming that it can be hard to breathe in their vicinity. What potency The Help does achieve it gets from its entertaining actresses sharing the thick pressure cooker air: Davis inhales, Stone fumes, Spencer erupts.

One final exasperated exhale from Aibilene is just the right cathartic move to end with. The audience breathes with her. And isn't this her story after all?

Oscar Discussion With Katey 
Review Index 


Will Oscar Hire "The Help"?

Here's a quickie conversation with Katey Rich and I about Tate Taylor's The Help and its Oscarable cast. We accidentally ran into each other outside the theater (hitting different screenings on the same day) so we decided we should have a brief chat.

How might the ladies campaign? Who really owns the film? Is this an Oscar vehicle for Viola and Emma or something more like momentum for a future Oscar?

Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are the title characters but we also discuss the work of Emma Stone, Sissy Spacek, Bryce Dallas Howard, and an unrecognizable Jessica Chastain if The Tree of Life is all you have to go on. And that was all I had to go on going in.

The movie opens tomorrow in theaters. Have a listen.

Katey and Nathaniel on "The Help"