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 Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. Also loves cats. All material herein is written and copyrighted by him, unless otherwise noted. twitter | facebook | pinterest | tumblr | letterboxd

 

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Entries in Zero Dark Thirty (23)

Sunday
Jan272013

Three Reasons Why "Argo" Became the One To Beat

You can't always know how the future will treat each year's awards recipients. Will their strengths will come into sharper focus as time erodes the particulars of the movie culture and conversation they arrived into or will that erosion grind a movie or performers appeal down with it? What will we make in five year's time of this moment when Hollywood threw awards at Argo instead of, say, Lincoln? That's what happened again last night at the Producers Guild Awards when Ben Affleck's 1970s CIA rescue tale took the top prize.

We don't have to wait for hindsight clarity when it comes to Argo's sudden rise in the previous deadheat Oscar race.  I'd say that three things are responsible, two of which no one could have predicted.

1. I'd been saying from the very start that Argo's narrative subtext, embedded into its truish story of a fake movie being used to rescue Americans from a hostile regime, that 'Movies Save the World!' feel would be irressistible to the back-patting awards season mentality in much the same way it was for the documentary The Cove some years ago.

The other two factors were not things anyone could have predicted though....

2.  Zero Dark Thirty emerged to somewhat reductive "so much better than Argo!" laudatory soundbytes (they both involve CIA meddling in the Middle East so they must be compared incessantly!) and for about a week it looked like The Real Oscar Deal but what happened next with it was very kind to Argo. Zero became the media's most slobbered on and teared at rag doll with everyone tsk-tsking and fuming and eventually subtly equating the making of it with condoning torture. By extension voting for it felt unpleasant to some, too. Suddenly the "better than Argo" conversation died and was replaced with just "...Argo", a rebooting if you will of where the Oscar conversation had previously been. Sometimes opening early helps and it's more than helped Argo.

3. The last, and most shocking turn of events was Ben Affleck's omission from the Best Director lineup. I'd long been predicting him to win that statue even though I hadn't viewed Argo necessarily as the future Best Picture champ, suspecting that we were in for a split year. The best thing that ever happened to Argo in terms of its Best Picture prospects was Affleck's "snub". And conversely, that's the worse thing that happened to Lincoln. Whatever one makes of the quality of the Best Picture nominees (have you voted for your favorite here?), Lincoln previously had the strongest narrative arriving as it did in this historic year of President Obama's reelection and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Affleck's over-mourned "snub" (people keep conveniently forgetting how strong the Best Director lineup is without him!) handed Argo an underdog narrative in a season where the narratives -- those tricky hooks that make a person or movie so irresistible in the Story of the Year's Entertainments -- weren't all that strong even if the movies were.

Reason no. 3 is in some ways the most understandable now that it's happened and the most baffling. If you really step back for some perspective Ben Affleck is an enormous waste of a Sympathy Vote. He's already an Oscar winner. He's an Oscar nominee even when he's snubbed (he'll win the Oscar if Argo wins Best Picture since he produced) - fancy that. He has a happy Hollywood marriage. He rose to fame with his best friend who is still a huge power player in Hollywood, too. He's risen from the ashes of a weirdly shaky leading man career to become a respected director and a... uh... leading man again. He's super handsome and aging well. He's made only three films all of which received Oscar attention, the latter two of which were big big hits. If anything he's a true golden boy of showbiz with a hugely enviable career and awards run and yet, you'd think he were dying! To this Awards Season he's suddenly treated like the Fantine figure in Les Miz on her death bed; the one to cry over "if only life weren't so cruel!", the one to promise everything to in order to make amends.

And all because he missed out on an expected Best Director nomination?

Mrs. Affleck at the PGAs. Oh, you know she makes this pose at home while mock scolding BenTHE WINNERS

Outstanding Producer, Film: Ben Affleck, Grant Henslov, George Clooney for Argo
Outstanding Producer, Documentary: Malik Bendjelloul, Simon Chinn for Searching for Sugar Man
Outstanding Producer, Animated: Clark Spencer for Wreck-it Ralph
Outstanding Producer, Longform TV: Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks, Jay Roach, Amy Sayres, Steven Shareshian, Danny Strong for "Game Change"
Outstanding Producer, Episodic TV (Drama): Henry Bromell, Alexander Cary, Michael Cuesta, Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon, Chip Johannessen, Michael Klick, Meredith Stiehm for "Homeland"
Outstanding Producer, Episodic TV (Comedy): Cindy Chupack, Paul Corrigan, Abraham Higginbotham, Ben Karlin, Steven Levitan, Christopher Lloyd, Jeff Morton, Dan O’Shannon, Jeffrey Richman, Chris Smirnoff, Brad Walsh, Bill Wrubel, Danny Zuker for "Modern Family" 
Outstanding Producer, NonFiction TV: Prudence Glass, Susan Lacy,Julie Sacks for "American Masters" PBS 
Outstanding Producer, Live TV: Meredith Bennett, Stephen Colbert, Richard Dahm, Paul Dinello, Barry Julien, Matt Lappin, Emily Lazar, Tanya Michnevich Bracco, Tom Purcell,Jon Stewart for "The Colbert Report" 
Outsanding Producer, Competition TV:  Jerry Bruckheimer, Elise Doganieri, Jonathan Littman, Bertram van Munster, Mark Vertullo for "The Amazing Race"

Outstanding Sports Program: "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel"
Outstanding Children's Program:  "Sesame Street"
Outstanding Digital Series: "30 Rock: The Webisodes" 

 

 

Tuesday
Jan222013

Amir's Best of 2012

Amir here. Nathaniel has invited TFE contributors to share their top ten lists along with his own. Drawing up this list is a real dilemma every year. Not that I’m under the illusion that a list like this bears any significance on my personal affection for the films I leave out, but I still want it to be representative of the whole picture. This year was particularly tough. It’s been a terrific year for cinema, possibly my favorite since 2007. Even with five honorable mentions I still couldn’t find room for Moonrise Kingdom, Queen of Versailles, Silver Linings Playbook, The Grey, Damsels in Distress, Anna Karenina and so many others that I thoroughly enjoyed. But these lists are never definitive. Ask me on a different day and I might give you a whole different set. At this moment, this is where I stand.

Honorable Mentions
We don’t get to see films as unique and original as Beasts of the Southern Wild very often so it pains me to leave it off. It moved me to tears and its images are etched in my memory all these months later. Magic Mike was a real highlight, a fully realized screenplay that dug beneath the flesh of its stars to explore universal themes and it had a few career-best performances to boot. As a big documentary buff and in such a banner year for the form, I find myself surprised that no doc made it to the top ten but three of my favorites were left just off: Sarah Polley’s brave and engrossing Stories We Tell in which the young Canadian filmmaker had the audacity to reveal the deepest secrets of her family through her poetic vision; Searching For Sugar Man, where the incredible story of a gifted, but largely unknown artist takes a twist that is as heartbreaking as it is heartwarming; and The Gatekeepers, an unprecedented exposé of the politics of the Israel-Palestine conflict and undoubtedly the most important film of the year. 

top ten after the jump

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Jan202013

Box Office Playbook: Jessica vs. Jennifer

As if doing battle like Best Actress Gladiators both Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence are all over the nation's theaters. They'll be horns locked for the next 5 weeks in the media, I'll bet. JLaw was joking about beating JChas to the Oscar on SNL -- too gently? -- but it was Jessica who won the box office. And twice over. The last time I remember that happening was Leonardo DiCaprio at Christmas 2002 I think (Gangs of New York and Catch Me If You Can?)  [UPDATE: Sharp-eyed TFE Reader Brian Z actually reminds us that it happened in 2011 too... also with Jessica Chastain for The Help and The Debt]

On a related side note: I just know I'm going to start calling them Jessica Lawrence and Jennifer Chastain before long; name slippage is coming!

Box Office Top Ten
01 MAMA $28.1 *NEW* Jose likes the wig
02 ZERO DARK THIRTY  $17.6 (cum. $55.9) Top Ten List  
03 SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK  $11.3 (cum. $55.3)  Beau's Review
04 GANGSTER SQUAD  $9.1 (cum $32.2) 
05 BROKEN CITY $9 *NEW* 
06 A HAUNTED HOUSE  $8.3  (cum. $29.9)
07 DJANGO UNCHAINED $8.2 (cum. $138.3) More on Django
08 LES MISERABLES $7.8 (cum $130.3) Top Ten List
09 THE HOBBIT $6.4  (cum $287.3)
10 THE LAST STAND $6.3 *NEW* 

In other movie/money news: Skyfall became only the 10th movie to break the $300 million barrier in the US box office this decade (Alice in Wonderland and The Hunger Games are the only non-sequels in that list... though both are franchisey in that remake or kick-off kind of way); Two very expensive movie gambles Life of Pi and Rise of the Guardians will inch over the $100 million mark in the next few days which must be a relief even if it doesn't quite spell "big profit!"; Chasing Ice, a nominee for Best Original Song, crossed the $1 million mark which is a big deal for documentaries; Sony Pictures Classics are still being really conservative with Amour -- it's only in 36 theaters despite 5 Oscar nominations last week though they grossed nearly ½ a million this weekend; And despite nobody caring about it or talking about it whatsoever Tom Cruise's latest actioner Jack Reacher crossed the $75 million mark this weekend... Oscar season always makes it easy to forget that a huge portion of the moviegoing public never even thinks about "Oscar Season".

WEIRD, RIGHT? 

Speaking of the public -- though the specific and not the general --  what did you see this weekend?

the three most popular movie musicals since Cabaret. Les Misérables is nearing their lofty box office heights

P.S. Les Misérables only needs a few more weeks of heat -- which Oscar season will surely provide -- to pass Mamma Mia! and become the third most popular movie musical of the modern era stateside (after Grease & Chicago). Of course the atrocious Mamma Mia! has the absurd distinction of being so popular around the globe (over ½ a billion) that it's actually the most successful modern musical if you include the entire world in your overview. Usually we prefer to be international but Mamma Mia!? Blargh!

 

Friday
Jan182013

Best of the Year: Nathaniel's Top Ten

Previously: The Honorable Mentions

Often during the calendar-straddling list-making frenzy of "top ten season" a scene or a line of dialogue or even a whole film will refuse to dislodge itself from any internal conversation you may have with oneself about the year. That moment for me this year was Kylie Minogue's cameo late in Holy Motors when she arrives in a trenchcoat, like some lost Casablanca love, to sing:

Who were we. When we were. Who we were back then?

It'd be ineloquent bathos, too crudely and redundantly stated, if it weren't sung. But this heightened musical longing for a lost identity, lifts and soars with pathos instead. The year's best films kept reinforcing this most interior of questions as they wrestled with their past selves towards an uncertain future.

Nathaniel's Top Ten of 2012
From all movies screened that received US theatrical releases...

ZERO DARK THIRTY (Kathryn Bigelow)
Sony/Columbia. December 21st 

[SPOILERS FOLLOW] My favorite exchange in Mark Boal's dense script occurs between a government official and a CIA operative. "What the fuck does that mean?" "It's a tautology". I laughed at the wordplay in the film but wasn't expecting the widespread tautological eruptions that followed the film's premiere as everyone bent themselves into self-affirming pretzels to debate its portrayal of torture in the film's opening scenes as if there were only one way to look at the damn movie... as if torture were the only thing worth discussing about the film! To Zero Dark Thirty's credit, though I too was discomfited by its suggestion that torture yielded useful intel, there's nary a comfortable or pandering moment in the film. Like The Hurt Locker before it, ZDT attempts something like an apolitical stance though how successful that is (or ever can be) will be left to each viewer to decide. In my mind, Bigelow doesn't suggest that you're meant to enjoy torture or even embrace the mission's success, exactly...

more on Zero Dark and 9 more triumphs after the jump...

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Jan132013

Multiple Zeroes. Dark Thirty

With a post Oscar nominations wide expansion into movie theaters Zero Dark Thirty won a strong $24 million opening weekend. $24 million is chump change for superheroes and cartoons but it's a big deal for contemporary dramas without bankable stars. Put it another way: that's well over what The Hurt Locker earned in its entire theatrical run here in the States. The torture controversy may have soiled ZDT's Oscar winning prospects somewhat (including that surprise snub for Bigelow) but it hasn't hurt it at the box office.

The Top Five This Weekend

Chart repurposed / visually adjusted from Box Office Mojo

Gangster Squad grossed less than the cheapo laughs of A Haunted House once again confirming that the earth is doomed and also that filling your movie with stars doesn't necessarily help (which also means the earth is doomed... at least for those of us who like our movies with movie stars in them.) That said it took Brad Pitt a long time to be considered "bankable" and Ryan Gosling is inching ever upwards. This is his second best opening (after Crazy Stupid Love, which was also jam-packed with fellow stars) though he has yet to star in a $100 + million hit.

Meanwhile Django and Les Miz continue to prove that their hit status is bonafide. With only three weeks in theaters both are well over $100 million and are on their way to very healthy profits, with or without Oscar statuettes.

Fantine may be impoverished and unemployable but Anne Hathaway now has her SEVENTH $100+ million hit.

I've noticed that that really tired annual meme that Oscar hates blockbusters and that general audiences don't like "Oscar-Bait" movies has died this year thank God! That death rattle lasted forever. Your Best Picture lineup this year is more proof that that's only ever been partially true at best and is often misleading. The average gross from this year's crop is $76 million and it's going up every week. Among the nine only (arguably) Silver Linings Playbook has underperformed given it's box office friendly stars / genre but that's only because they opted to pretend it was a tough arthouse sit with that crawling release pattern. Even after the Oscar nominations its still in less than 900 theaters. 

Do you support Oscars economy each year by seeing the nominees in the theaters?