Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wednesday Oscar Retrospective: First Five Forgotten in 2011

Welcome back to a weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Wednesday Oscar Retrospective. The First Five Forgotten is the sixth in a series of projects looking back at the past eight years of the Oscars, dating back to the first ceremony I watched and closely followed, not to be confused with my first series, the Forgotten Five, which looked at the five films that came closest to getting nominated for Best Picture and ended up getting shut out entirely.

As Oscar season goes into hibernation for more than half the year, it’s a time to take a look back at past races. This time, I’ll be spotlighting the five performers that came closest to earning their first Oscar nominations and then ended up getting snubbed, in alphabetical order. If you feel I’ve left anyone off, please say so in the comments!

First Five Forgotten in 2011

Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia): Despite earning a Golden Globe nomination at the age of 12 for her performance in “Interview with the Vampire,” Dunst has never come quite this close to being taken seriously as a dramatic actress. Her hypnotic turn as a bizarre bride in Lars Von Trier’s apocalyptic melodrama earned her the Cannes Film Festival Best Actress trophy and a handful of other mentions. The film, however, was scarcely mentioned by the important precursors and nowhere to be found come Oscar time. Dunst may have better success in the future working with a more mainstream, Oscar-friendly director.

Michael Fassbender (Shame): The hard-working actor appeared in four films in 2012, only one of which managed an Oscar nomination (“Jane Eyre”), but he was a Golden Globe nominee for “Shame,” in which he played a sex addict. The role was challenging and marked his second pairing with director Steve McQueen. His frequent full-frontal nudity and the film’s heavy themes likely resulted in his omission from the nominations list. Based on his busy year, he’s sure to be nominated at some point in the future.

Armie Hammer (J. Edgar): Hammer actually broke out last year with a dual role as preppy twins suing Mark Zuckerberg for intellectual property theft in “The Social Network,” and it’s no surprise he had a big role to follow that so soon afterwards. He managed to score a SAG nomination for playing J. Edgar Hoover’s number two man Clyde Tolson, but Clint Eastwood doesn’t always impress Oscar voters, as his last two films have looked good until the nominations announcement. Hammer is sure to have great roles in the future, and I suspect he’ll be a supporting nominee before long.

Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene): This past fall, Mary-Kate and Ashley’s younger sister was a sure thing for her performance as a young woman running from her life in a cult. Perhaps the biggest reason for the buzz around Olsen is that she is actually doing something serious with her career, and she probably would have had a better chance if not for the similar “Winter’s Bone” being made last year. If she continues to turn in solid performances after the horror film “Silent House,” she’ll likely be a nominee one day.

Shailene Woodley (The Descendants): The former star of ABC Family’s “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” got serious for her role as the daughter of a Hawaiian man who finds out his comatose wife was cheating on him. Woodley’s performance believably blended maturity with childishness, and helped to anchor many of the film’s lighter moments. At only 21 years old, Woodley may still be too young for Oscar, and while her breakout turn will likely elicit movie offers in the future, I’m not sure she’ll net another role that gets as much attention.

Come back next week for, you guessed it, 2010. Leave your guesses and thoughts in the comments!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Friends with Kids

Welcome to a weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Tuesday's Top Trailer. One of my favorite parts about going to see movies is the series of trailers that airs beforehand and, more often than not, the trailer is far better than the actual film. Each week, I'll be sharing a trailer I've recently seen. Please chime in with comments on what you think of the trailer and how you think the movie is going to be.

Friends with Kids – Opening March 9, 2012

I’m excited to return to this regular feature now that awards season is done, and I’ll admit that I hadn’t seen a trailer for an upcoming film in a long time. I quickly stumbled upon this one when I saw Adam Scott’s name in the cast, and I’m quite glad I did. Scott, who plays nerd Ben on “Parks & Recreation,” has an unusual opportunity to be totally depraved and play a relatively nice sleazeball as a man who wants to have a baby with his best friend, played by Jennifer Westfeldt from “Kissing Jessica Stein,” who fires back her share of lewd and hilarious comments. The supporting cast includes Jon Hamm from “Mad Men” and not one but three “Bridesmaids” ensemble players: Kristin Wiig, Maya Rudolph, and Chris O’Dowd. I’m less impressed by Megan Fox, though it looks like she’s been given an appropriate role. The concept isn’t terribly fresh, but this comedy looks determined to be funny and maybe even a bit smart. There’s nothing wrong with a good adult comedy, and this looks to be one of the first such films of 2012.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Morning After: Oscars 2011

It's always incredible how quickly Oscar season is over when the clocks strikes 11:30 (or whatever it might strike) on Oscar night. After plenty of precursors and predictions, this is it, and the winners are the winners. I lost the Oscar pool at my party to my very impressive friend Beth - she scored 18/24, and I scored 15. That's down from 19 last year, 17 in 2009, and 16 in 2008. At least it's more than my 2007 score of 50%. I'm interested to know what your favorite moments were, so please post in the comments. In no particular order, here are some of the most memorable parts of the ceremony and my reactions:

- So "The Artist" and "Hugo" split the pot with five awards apiece. I was genuinely surprised by the win for "The Artist" in Best Costume Design since I figured it would be either "Hugo" or one of the other three one-nomination films. It's well deserved, though. "The Artist" is a great Best Picture, and certainly one to be remembered for a while.
- The biggest surprise of the night, in my mind, was Best Cinematography. Most expected it to be "The Tree of Life," and it seems this is another case, like when "Pan's Labyrinth" beat "Children of Men" in 2006, of a popular film sweeping some of the technical races on Oscar night. Not that "Hugo" is a bad choice, of course, just not the expected one.
- The second biggest surprise was "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" for Best Film Editing. The main reason it's startling is that it wasn't nominated for Best Picture, which makes it an unusual victor in that particular category. I think it's very fitting, however, especially considering it didn't win anything else.
- The "Harry Potter" series officially goes home with zero Oscars. Oh, well.
- I'm happy to have correctly predicted Meryl Streep to win her third Oscar and her first in thirty years.
- All of the acting winners' speeches were great, highlighted by Jean Dujardin saying he loves our country, Meryl Streep thanking her husband first so he didn't get played out by the band, and Christopher Plummer delivering a heartfelt and humorous acceptance.

- Bret McKenzie is now an Oscar winner!!
- I correctly predicted both the Best Animated Short and Best Live Action categories just by guessing! When it comes to those races, it turns out that not seeing the films actually helps since they're often so unpredictable.
- I'm a sucker for montages, and I enjoyed most of them, though some were a bit strange.
- I liked the presenter bits from Emma Stone, Chris Rock, and Tina Fey. The Bridesmaids were also great. I can't remember anyone else at the moment, but they were generally fun.
- Billy Crystal's opening bit was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed him as a host. He wasn't entirely hilarious, but he seemed to be having a great time, and isn't that what the show is all about?

In the aftermath of awards season, I'm going to have to figure out what features to showcase and what content will be up on the site regularly. I'm planning to cover the New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival, which takes place in a few weeks, and then hopefully the Tribeca Film Festival, so stay tuned for that!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Your Guide to the Oscars

Movies with Abe presents your guide to tonight's Oscars. Click on each category heading for detailed analysis of every nominee. Below please find my final predictions for the winners. I'm not really predicting any surprises, and it’s mainly a question of whether any film can beat “The Artist” for Best Picture, and if Viola Davis or Meryl Streep will be crowned Best Actress. Post your own predictions in the comments, and enjoy the ceremony! I'm hosting a party so I won't be live-blogging, but good luck on your own pools and enjoy the show.

The Artist

Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)

Jean Dujardin (The Artist)

Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady)

Christopher Plummer (Beginners)

Octavia Spencer (The Help)

Midnight in Paris


The Tree of Life



The Artist

The Artist

The Muppets


War Horse

Harry Potter

Harry Potter

A Separation


Paradise Lost

Incident in New Baghdad

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

The Shore

Predicted totals:
The Artist – 5
Hugo – 3
Harry Potter - 2
Everything else – 1

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

Welcome to a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I'm going to be providing a handy guide to a few choice movies currently playing in NYC as well as several films newly released on DVD. I’ll also aim to comment on those films I have not yet had the chance to see, and I invite you to add in your thoughts on any films I haven’t seen in the comments below. Understandably, some weeks will have considerably fewer releases to address than others.

Now Playing in NYC

I’ve been too busy and focused on the Oscars to see anything new in theatres from this weekend. Anyone see anything good?

New to DVD

For a list of Oscar films on DVD, take a look at last week’s post.

J. Edgar
(recommended): This J. Edgar Hoover biopic comes from director Clint Eastwood, featuring a Globe- and SAG-nominated but Oscar-ignored lead performance from Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s an intriguing, worthwhile film that never quite reaches the heights that the talent involved suggests it could.

London Boulevard
(recommended): This gangster drama marks the directorial debut of “The Departed” scribe William Monahan and features a superb cast working with an entertaining script full of humor.

Martha Marcy May Marlene
(mixed bag): This dark drama features a strong performance from Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister of the Olsen twins, as a woman escaping from a disturbing cult. The film is unsettling but also disjointed and generally unsatisfying.

The Way (mixed bag): This walking road movie starring Martin Sheen and written and directed by his son Emilio Estevez is decently entertaining but otherwise relatively aimless and in no hurry to get anywhere.

Oscar Best Animated Feature nominee Puss in Boots is now available on DVD as well. I haven’t yet seen it.

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

Nothing new to report this week!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Picture

The competition: The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse

Previous winners: The King’s Speech, The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire, No Country for Old Men, The Departed, Crash
My winner: In a Better World
Who should win: The Artist
Who will win: With more than five nominees, the possibility for an upset in the Best Picture race is increased considerably, but that hasn’t changed things over the past two years, when there were ten nominees. Having nine doesn’t affect things much, and I’d imagine that the frontrunner should have an easy time winning. First, to dissect the candidates: “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” while a fantastic inclusion, doesn’t have enough support, and “The Tree of Life” was too divisive. It’s hard for people to take “War Horse” seriously, and “Midnight in Paris” is fun but doesn’t have the appropriate oomph needed to win the top award. “Moneyball” has been nominated for a lot but hasn’t won nearly as much, so I wouldn’t count on it, and though they were out in front at various points during awards season, both “The Help” and “The Descendants” aren’t likely to win. That leaves it between “Hugo” and “The Artist,” and while the magic of cinema might catapult the former to a win, I think the latter is just too irresistibly charming. “The Artist” for the win!

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Director

The competition: Michael Hazanavicius (The Artist), Alexander Payne (The Descendants), Martin Scorsese (Hugo), Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life)

Previous winners: Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men), Martin Scorsese (The Departed), Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain)
My winner: Susanne Bier (In a Better World)
Who should win: Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
Who will win: Two men in this category have won once before – Woody Allen back in 1977 on his first try for “Annie Hall,” and Martin Scorsese for his most recent film prior to this one, “The Departed.” This is the seventh nomination for both, and the second for Payne and Malick. Four times in the past fifteen years, a director has won for a film that ultimately lost Best Picture. Scorsese won the Golden Globe, but over the past few years, despite a bigger name director being in the mix and seemingly ahead, the victor has been in line with the Best Picture winner. I think the same will happen this year, leading first-time nominee Michel Hazanavicius to his first Oscar.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Animated Feature

The competition: A Cat in Paris, Chico & Rita, Kung Fu Panda 2, Puss in Poots, Rango

Previous winners: Toy Story 3, Up, Wall-E, Ratatouille, Happy Feet, Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Spirited Away, Shrek
My winner: The Adventures of Tintin
Who will win: I’ve only seen two of these nominees, and I much prefer “Chico & Rita” to “Rango.” The first “Shrek” film won the first year this category, so “Puss in Boots” could be popular enough to win. The first “Kung Fu Panda” lost to “Wall-E,” and I don’t see the second one triumphing. With “The Adventures of Tintin” inexplicably and inexcusably not in the race, “Rango” is the likely winner, but the unpredictability that netted nominations for “A Cat in Paris” and “Chico & Rita” could mean that one of them takes this. I’ll play it safe and go with “Rango.”

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Documentary

The competition: Hell and Back Again, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, Pina, Undefeated

Previous winners: Inside Job, The Cove, Man on Wire, Taxi to the Dark Side, An Inconvenient Truth, March of the Penguins
My winner: Love Etc.
Who should win: If a Tree Falls
Who will win: I’ve seen only two of these films, and therefore I don’t feel terribly qualified to comment on this category. There’s been a surefire frontrunner for the past three years, and this year I’m not so sure. “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” has a timely relevance, whereas “Pina” has the art factor that hasn’t quite won this category in a while. A war-related film has only won in this category once in the past few years. I think I’ll go with “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Foreign Film

The competition: Bullhead (Belgium), Footnote (Israel), In Darkness (Poland), Monsieur Lazhar (Canada), A Separation (Iran)

Previous winners: In a Better World (Denmark), The Secret in their Eyes (Argentina), Departures (Japan), The Counterfeiters (Austria), The Lives of Others (Germany), Tsotsi (South Africa)
My winner: Turn Me On, Goddamit
Who should win: A Separation
Who will win: Canada is the only country on this list that has won before. This is the tenth nomination for Israel, the ninth for Poland, and the seventh for Belgium, all of which have never won. I don’t think any of those statistics matter, however, because one film is firmly out ahead. “Footnote” is great, and “In Darkness” is good too, but neither are likely to win. With two previous nominations, Iran should be able to take the award home for A Separation, which has the added bonus of being nominated for Best Original Screenplay.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Visual Effects

The competition: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, Hugo, Real Steel, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Transformers: The Dark of the Moon

Previous winners: Inception, Avatar, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Golden Compass, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, King Kong
My winner: Super 8
Who should win: Hugo
Who will win: This category has had relatively obvious winners for the past few years, with the exception of the surprise victory for “The Golden Compass” over the first “Transformers” film in 2007. That cancels out the chances for “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” and I don’t see “Real Steel” winning either. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was a popular movie, but I see this going to either “Harry Potter” or “Hugo.” One is a consolation prize for an eight-film franchise, and the other is the year’s nomination leader. I’d hedge my money on sentiment for a film that won’t win a bunch of other technical awards, “Harry Potter.”

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Makeup

The competition: Albert Nobbs, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, The Iron Lady

Previous winners: The Wolfman, Star Trek, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, La Vie en Rose, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Chronicles of Narnia
My winner: Super 8
Who should win: The Iron Lady
Who will win: In the past ten years, only twice have memorable women trumped mass sci-fi fantasy appeal, “Frida” in 2002 and “La Vie en Rose” in 2007. This year, two such films are in the running against the last installment of a franchise that has yet to win a single Oscar. I think that the two female-led movies split the vote, paving the way for the first Oscar win for “Harry Potter”.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Sound Editing

The competition: Drive, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, War Horse

Previous winners: Inception, The Hurt Locker, The Dark Knight, The Bourne Ultimatum, Letters from Iwo Jima, King Kong
My winner: Fast Five
Who should win: Drive
Who will win: This category sometimes matches up with the Best Sound winner, and it often serves as a consolation prize for a Best Picture nominee or other film that doesn’t win elsewhere. It’s the only nomination for “Drive,” and I’d love for that to take the prize. I wouldn’t bet on “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” here, but the other three are all likely. “Hugo” is the likely choice, but I think this could be where “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” or “War Horse” wins. My money is on “War Horse.”

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Sound

The competition: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, Moneyball, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, War Horse

Previous winners: Inception, The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire, The Bourne Ultimatum, Dreamgirls, King Kong
My winner: Fast Five
Who should win: Hugo
Who will win: This category tends to split evenly between a Best Picture frontrunner and an obvious audio achievement. I don’t think there’s much of a chance that “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” takes this, but beyond that, it’s a draw. “Moneyball” has a real shot here, and so do “War Horse” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” In one of just a precious few categories where it’s not competing with “The Artist,” I think this is a good chance for “Hugo” to win.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Original Song

The competition: Man or Muppet, Real in Rio

Previous winners: We Belong Together (Toy Story 3), The Weary Kind (Crazy Heart), Jai Ho (Slumdog Millionaire), Falling Slowly (Once), I Need To Wake Up (An Inconvenient Truth), It’s Hard Out There For A Pimp (Hustle & Flow)
My winner: Masterpiece (W.E.)
Who should win: Man or Muppet
Who will win: This category is extremely difficult to predict since, for some inexplicable reason, there are only two nominees this year. The only nominee that has been here before is Siedah Garrett, one of the three-person team nominated for “Rio.” Oscar voters to tend like animated anthems, but I’m not sure that “Real in Rio” counts. It seems so unlikely that “The Muppets” won’t win, and I’d be absolutely thrilled to see Bret McKenzie of the Flight of the Conchords win an Oscar.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Original Score

The competition: The Adventures of Tintin, The Artist, Hugo, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, War Horse

Previous winners: The Social Network, Up, Slumdog Millionaire, Atonement, Babel, Brokeback Mountain
My winner: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Who should win: The Artist
Who will win: John Williams has over forty nominations in this category as of this year, and though he’s only won five times, he’s quite a threat, probably more so for “War Horse” than “The Adventures of Tintin.” Three-time winner Howard Shore’s whimsical melody for “Hugo” could be a winner, and I wouldn’t count on Alberto Iglesias’ moody score for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” winning. Instead, I’d bet on a first-time Oscar nominee, Ludovic Bource, whose soundtrack for “The Artist” is simply irresistible.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Costume Design

The competition: Anonymous, The Artist, Hugo, Jane Eyre, W.E.

Previous winners: Alice in Wonderland, The Young Victoria, The Duchess, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Marie Antoinette, Memoirs of a Geisha
Who should win: Hugo
Who will win: I would say that there isn’t much suspense related to who’s going to win in this category, but, out of all the races, this tends to be the most detached, often favoring films that aren’t nominated elsewhere. That bodes well for “W.E.,” whose costume designer Arianne Phillips was nominated previously for “Walk the Line.” I’ve actually seen only two of the nominated films in this category, and they’re the ones that are going to be winning all the other awards. It doesn’t seem smart to bet against Sandy Powell, nominated for “Hugo,” who has been in the race nine times before and won three times. It could easily be any of these nominees, but that’s my guess.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Art Direction

The competition: The Artist, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, War Horse

Previous winners: Alice in Wonderland, Avatar, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Sweeney Todd, Pan’s Labyrinth, Memoirs of a Geisha
My winner: In a Better World
Who should win: Hugo
Who will win: This category tends to favor colorful, lavish productions. While three Harry Potter movies, and its nominated art directors, have been recognized here before, none of them has ever won. This could be the first time, but I suspect that, like in other categories, this will be down to “Hugo,” whose art directors have won before for “Sweeney Todd” and “The Aviator,” and “The Artist,” whose art directors are new to the Oscar race. “War Horse” could also potentially surprise since its technical elements are inarguably stronger than its story. I think there’s not much beating the eye-popping excitement of “Hugo.”

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Oscar Movie with Abe: If a Tree Falls

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Directed by Marshall Curry & Sam Cullman
Released September 23, 2011

This Oscar nominee for Best Documentary, now available on DVD, spotlights members of the Earth Liberation Front, an ecological action group that has been branded as a domestic terrorist group. It presents an intriguing ethical date about the implications of arsons that create immense property damage but take no human lives, regardless leading its instigators to be aggressively charged and subject to life sentences. Its interviews are perhaps its strongest asset, allowing each of the members to give their side of the story and stand true to their beliefs, as much as they still might after being caught and forced to face up to the consequences of their acts. It’s an unconventional subject that deserves to be spotlighted, particularly because it showcases complicated and uncertain issues.


Oscar Movie with Abe: Hell and Back Again

Hell and Back Again
Directed by Danfung Dennis
Released October 5, 2011

This Oscar nominee for Best Documentary, now available on DVD, is a harrowing, depressing exploration of one man’s life following his injured return from service in Afghanistan. This is one case where the camera seems omnipresent abroad as the soldiers talk to the local people, tell them not to worry and apologize to them for the security procedures they are enforcing. It’s one of a number of films, along with last year’s Oscar-nominated short doc “Poster Girl” and last week’s new narrative feature “Return,” that makes the case for this recent war being a transformative, traumatizing experience. The film has an important point, but by letting its subjects speak so freely for themselves, it doesn’t offer as much of a perspective as could have been helpful and interesting.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

Welcome to a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I'm going to be providing a handy guide to a few choice movies currently playing in NYC as well as several films newly released on DVD. I’ll also aim to comment on those films I have not yet had the chance to see, and I invite you to add in your thoughts on any films I haven’t seen in the comments below. Understandably, some weeks will have considerably fewer releases to address than others.

Now Playing in NYC

I’m too busy catching up on spillover from last year, and I’m not going to have the chance to see the newly released Bullhead, Belgium’s nominee for Best Foreign Film, or Best Documentary nominee Undefeated, before the Oscars.

New to DVD

Take Shelter (highly recommended): This dramatic thriller – my #7 film of 2011 – and my features a spectacular lead performance from Michael Shannon as a man warring with his own sanity as he hallucinates visions of terrible storms. Both the script and the visual representations of his imagination are equally strong, and the film is unsettling, highly stressful, and extremely effective.

Catching up for the Oscars next week? See these Oscar nominees available on DVD:
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
Hell and Back Again
The Help
The Ides of March
If a Tree Falls
Jane Eyre
Kung Fu Panda 2
Midnight in Paris
Real Steel
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
The Tree of Life

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

The Bang Bang Club
(mixed bag): This Tribeca 2011 entry isn’t as strong as last year’s “5 Days of War,” but it does present a thought-provoking examination of the responsibilities and ethics of war photography.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Oscar Movie with Abe: Footnote

Directed by Joseph Cedar
To Be Released March 9, 2012

This year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee from Israel is a whimsical exploration of the complicated relationship between a father and a son, both professors up for the same research prize. A buoyant score by Anit Poznansky and superb script from director Joseph Cedar help to create a highly energetic and involving film. What’s most impressive is that it’s both an excellent comedy and an excellent drama, transitioning subtly and smoothly from one genre to the other. Lior Ashkenazi is unrecognizable under a gray beard and glasses, and he and Shlomo Bar-Aba make for fantastic family members. Its storytelling is exceptionally clever, as is the cinematography, editing, ensemble performance, and general mood of this fun, memorable film.


Oscar Movie with Abe: Chico & Rita

Chico & Rita
Directed by Tono Errando, Javier Mariscal & Fernando Trueba
Released February 10, 2012

One of this year’s surprise contenders for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature is the Spanish film “Chico & Rita,” which chronicles the romance between a Cuban singer and a Cuban pianist in the 1940s and 1950s. It smartly and beautifully combines traditional animation with jazz music, weaving a narrative surrounding these two musicians and their love for Cuban arts. Its story stretches considerably to include the separate move of each character to New York City to pursue their dreams, and the continued improbability of their ending up together. Its 96-minute runtime feels much longer, elevated by musical performances but often dragged down by minute plot points. When it showcases the emotion and love its protagonists feel for each other, it’s absolutely fascinating, and certainly a worthy animated achievement to honor as one of the year’s best.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Film Editing

The competition: The Artist, The Descendants, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, Moneyball

Previous winners: The Social Network, The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire, The Bourne Ultimatum, The Departed, Crash
My winner: “Fast Five”
Who should win: “The Artist”
Who will win: In the past forty years, this award has only gone to a film not nominated for Best Picture four times. It doesn’t always go to the winner, however, and so that leaves the field pretty open. I wouldn’t count on either “The Descendants” or “Moneyball” triumphing here since they’re hardly as technically competent or dramatic as the other three. Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter won last year for “The Social Network” and could repeat for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” though Scorsese regular – and three-time winner – Thelma Schoonmaker is a real threat for “Hugo.” It’s hard to stop the sweep sometimes, though, and therefore I think it could well be about the new guys, Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius for “The Artist”. It’s hardly set in stone, but I think they’re looking good.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Cinematography

The competition: The Artist, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, The Tree of Life, War Horse

Previous winners: Inception, Avatar, Slumdog Millionaire, There Will Be Blood, Pan’s Labyrinth, Memoirs of a Geisha
My winner: “In a Better World”
Who should win: “The Artist”
Who will win: All the cinematographers in this category are loyal to their directors, with “The Artist” lenser Guillaume Schiffman the only newbie in the mix. Both Jeff Richardson and Janusz Kaminski have both won before for Scorsese and Spielberg productions, respectively, and it’s possible that they could repeat. The dark, moody photography of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” could triumph, but I think that the American Society of Cinematographers winner Emmanuel Lubezki will finally win on his fifth nomination, for The Tree of Life. The film’s Best Picture bid is a sign that it has its fans, and it’s hard to argue that the cinematography isn’t incredible.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Adapted Screenplay

The competition: The Descendants, Hugo, The Ides of March, Moneyball, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Previous winners: The Social Network, Precious, Slumdog Millionaire, No Country for Old Men, The Departed, Brokeback Mountain
My winner: “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”
Who should win: “Moneyball”
Who will win: “Sling Blade” and “Gods and Monsters” won this award in 1996 and 1998, respectively, but you have to go back to 1952 to find another example of a film not nominated for Best Picture winning this award. That doesn’t bode well for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” or “The Ides of March,” though I couldn’t imagine the latter winning anyway. “Hugo” is the nominations leader, but its script is hardly its strongest element. That boils it down to “The Descendants” and “Moneyball.” Alexander Payne won in 2004 for “Sideways,” but I’d hedge my bet on Moneyball, which brings together last year’s winner Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian, who won for adapting “Schindler’s List.” Neither film is likely to win any other trophies, so they’re duking it out for the consolation prize.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Original Screenplay

The competition: The Artist, Bridesmaids, Margin Call, Midnight in Paris, A Separation

Previous winners: The King’s Speech, The Hurt Locker, Milk, Juno, Little Miss Sunshine, Crash
My winner: “Beginners”
Who should win: “The Artist” or “A Separation”
Who will win: In the past twenty years, this award has gone to a Best Picture nominee all but four times. The past two years, the Best Picture frontrunner has eclipsed another film that initially appeared to be the leader to sweep the award. This category is friendly to comedies, rewarding “Juno,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” and others in the past decade. “Margin Call” is a smart selection, but its nomination is its prize. “A Separation” is going to win the Best Foreign Film award, so I doubt it’ll triumph here. “Talk To Her” did win in 2002, so this category doesn’t hate international cinema. That leaves three comedies vying for the win. “Bridesmaids” would be a fun, memorable choice, but I don’t see it going the distance. “The Artist” could sweep this, and though its screenplay isn’t its most notable (or audible) element, it’s definitely brilliant. That leaves Woody Allen, who has been nominated fourteen times before in this category, and won twice, in 1977 and 1986. I think he’ll earn his third win in what’s pretty much guaranteed to be the only Oscar “Midnight in Paris” is going to win.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Actress in a Supporting Role

The competition: Berenice Bejo’s bubbly actress (The Artist), Jessica Chastain’s loony housewife (The Help), Melissa McCarthy’s energetic bridesmaid (Bridesmaids), Janet McTeer’s closeted painter (Albert Nobbs), and Octavia Spencer’s sarcastic maid (The Help).

Previous winners: Melissa Leo, Mo’Nique, Penelope Cruz, Tilda Swinton, Jennifer Hudson, Rachel Weisz
My winner: Mélanie Laurent (Beginners)
Who should win: Bejo or Chastain
Who will win: In the 18-year history of the SAG Awards, the Best Supporting Actress trophy from the Golden Globes, SAG, and the Oscars has been rewarded to the same actress nine times. Only once did an actress – Lauren Bacall in 1996 – win both the Globe and the SAG and then go on to lose the Oscar. This category tends to be locked up pretty well, and I don’t see anyone taking down Spencer. Even if voters didn’t love the movie, it’s hard to deny the hilarity and bravura of her performance. Chastain is the year’s breakout star, and she’ll certainly be back in the future at least a few times, especially if she spreads her movies out into separate eligibility years. McTeer, the only returning nominee, definitely won’t win, though her performance was strong (DB). Bejo could theoretically win if voters went nuts for her movie, but she hasn’t received acclaim anywhere near the level of her costar Dujardin. The real threat to Spencer is McCarthy, whose comic performance was immensely popular. I’m not sure she’s serious enough to actually win an Oscar, but she did take home an Emmy for “Mike & Molly” due to her newfound success. This category’s just too sewn up, however, for Spencer.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Actor in a Supporting Role

The competition: Kenneth Branagh’s Laurence Olivier (My Week with Marilyn), Jonah Hill’s numbers geek (Moneyball), Nick Nolte’s alcoholic father (Warrior), Christopher Plummer’s newly out senior citizen (Beginners), and Max Von Sydow’s mute renter (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close).

Previous winners: Christian Bale, Christoph Waltz, Heath Ledger, Javier Bardem, Alan Arkin, George Clooney
Who should win: Plummer
Who will win: On one occasion only in the 18-year history of the SAG Awards has the winner of both the SAG and the Golden Globe in this category gone on to lose the Oscar, and that was Eddie Murphy for “Dreamgirls.” Plummer, who is currently 82 and got his first nomination two years ago, isn’t in danger of pissing off the wrong people. Von Sydow, also 82, does hold that same status, to a degree, earning his sole previous nod in 1988. The latter’s film scored a surprise Best Picture bid, while the fantastic “Beginners” was shut out elsewhere. The only Best Picture boy in the category is young Hill, who couldn’t possibly win, and I doubt if he’ll find a role that anyone will take seriously enough again (DB). Nolte hasn’t won, and neither has Branagh, but something tells me they’re on their own, and they’re not going to have a shot. Most importantly, however, Plummer is so far ahead of this thing that I don’t think anyone can take him down.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Actress in a Leading Role

The competition: Glenn Close’s closeted waiter (Albert Nobbs), Viola Davis’ trailblazing maid (The Help), Rooney Mara’s hacker (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Meryl Streep’s Margaret Thatcher (The Iron Lady), and Michelle Williams’ Marilyn Monroe (My Week with Marilyn).

Previous winners: Natalie Portman, Sandra Bullock, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Helen Mirren, Reese Witherspoon
Who should win: Streep
Who will win: This category is tricky since Viola Davis managed to win the SAG Award after Streep won the Golden Globe. In the 18-year history of the SAG Awards, only once has the eventual Best Actress winner won only the SAG and not the Golden Globe (Halle Berry in 2001). Conversely, there have been several false positives – Jodie Foster for “Nell,” Annette Bening for “American Beauty,” and Meryl Streep for “Doubt” – that still lost to the Globe winner after a SAG win. The important thing to remember is that none of these films has much support elsewhere this year. Mara’s movie missed out in several key categories but still managed a few technical bids, “The Help” scored a Best Picture mention and a few acting nods, and the other films placed only for acting and makeup. Close’s performance didn’t garner enough buzz, so I think she’s out for sure (please note, DB). That leaves it to the other four. I think Streep, who hasn’t won since 1982, is out in front, but Davis is definitely nipping at her heels. Williams could charm voters with her impression, and Mara could sway them for different reasons. This is the acting category that is least secure.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Actor in a Leading Role

The competition: Demian Bichir’s hard-working dad (A Better Life), George Clooney’s Hawaiian businessman (The Descendants), Jean Dujardin’s silent film actor (The Artist), Gary Oldman’s subtle spy, and Brad Pitt’s baseball manager (Moneyball).

Previous winners: Colin Firth, Jeff Bridges, Sean Penn, Daniel Day-Lewis, Forest Whitaker, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Who should win: Dujardin
Who will win: This category is not entirely consistent – sometimes it’s about the performance of a lifetime, and other times, it’s about rewarding a strong actor with a reliable and proven track record. The former sometimes loses, like when Mickey Rourke lost to Sean Penn for “Milk” in 2008. Penn did win the SAG, however, so Jean Dujardin has a leg up on George Clooney in that sense. Clooney won several years ago, so he’s no longer overdue, and Pitt’s performance, however great, isn’t quite as serious, which doesn’t make the case as strongly for him to win. Oldman is definitely overdue, and it’s crazy to think that this is his first nomination. If Dujardin can’t muster up enough support, I doubt it’s Clooney that takes it; instead, it’ll like go to an Adrien Brody, which would probably be Oldman rather than Pitt. There’s no way that Bichir wins this since his film has absolutely no support (please note, DB) elsewhere. I still think that Dujardin is far enough ahead that he’ll be fine, and he sure deserves it, doesn’t he?