Friday, February 28, 2014

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Director

The competition: David O. Russell (American Hustle), Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity), Alexander Payne (Nebraska), Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)

Previous winners: Ang Lee (Life of Pi), Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men)
My winner: Paul Greengrass
The facts: The only newbies in this race are the frontrunners, Cuaron and McQueen. Scorsese won in 2006 for “The Departed,” and was previously nominated five times before that. He was also nominated in 2011 for “Hugo.” Russell was a nominee last year for “Silver Linings Playbook” and in 2010 for “The Fighter.” Payne was nominated in 2004 for “Sideways” and 2007 in “The Descendants.” Four times in the last five years, a first-time nominee has managed to win. For those keeping track of statistics, “Gravity” is the only film not nominated for its screenplay, and “Nebraska” is not recognized for its film editing.

Who should win: Cuaron or McQueen
Who will win: The way things have been going, Cuaron will take this and “12 Years a Slave” will win Best Picture. The years in which the two races have been split like this don’t usually have such a pattern of the same split for each guild or group. The closest case is 2004, where “The Aviator” won Best Motion Picture – Drama and the PGA Award, while Clint Eastwood won Best Director at the Golden Globes and DGA Awards. Come Oscar time, “Million Dollar Baby” prevailed in both categories. I think that McQueen is likelier to win here than “Gravity” is to win Best Picture, despite the PGA tie this year. I’ll still go with Cuaron, who I think has this pretty locked up.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Animated Short

The nominees:
Feral (B)
This tale of a boy transplanted from his native wild habitat into a more urban and unfamiliar setting is most stirring because of its imagery and the subtext of the story it tells, but it’s not all that enthralling.
Get a Horse! (B+)
This is a perfectly standard and very familiar Mickey Mouse cartoon, one that conceives of a clever premise which finds Mickey trying to escape a movie screen and jump into the audience. It’s a fun ride, and certainly the one most Oscar watchers have seen since it played before “Frozen.”
Mr. Hublot (B-)
There is something appealing about this story of a lonely man and his robot dog, but it doesn’t manage to draw the audience in enough to truly care about its story. Its visuals are very technical and composed, but it doesn’t offer too much.
Possessions (C-)
This very colorful and stylized short did not win me over at all, though some reviews I’ve read have stated that it’s the best of the bunch. Its premise of inanimate objects coming alive and one man being befuddled by it may amuse some, but I found nothing enticing about it.
Room on the Broom (B+)
This narrated children’s story about a witch who keeps welcoming various animals onto her broomstick when they retrieve items important to her features a bunch of fun voices, including Gillian Anderson, Timothy Spall, Sally Hawkins, and Simon Pegg. It’s easily the most likeable and whimsical of the pack.

Previous winners: Paperman, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, The Lost Thing, Logorama, Le Maison en Petits Cubes, Peter and the Wolf
Who should win: I’m not all that impressed with this slate this year. I enjoyed and appreciated “Room on the Broom” best, but I won’t argue with “Get a Horse” being a delight as well.
Who will win: “Get a Horse” is the obvious choice, but I think Room on the Broom will be the winner.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Live Action Short

The nominees:
Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? (B)
This six-minute short is inarguably the most light-hearted of the bunch, from Finland, follows a family frantically getting ready for a big event thanks to the efforts of the formidable mother. Its surprise ending is amusing, and this short proves relatively enjoyable if not all that memorable.
Helium (B+)
One of the requirements of this category seems to be to have a film about terminal illness, and that’s fulfilled by this charming Danish story of a boy in a hospital who learns about the Helium Express, which will take him to a wonderful alternative to heaven, from a kindhearted janitor.
Just Before Losing Everything (B+)
This half-hour French entry is an intense, fully gripping look at a woman and her children trying desperately to escape an abusive home, told in a straightforward but extremely compelling. It’s an unsettling and engaging drama that proves very effective.
That Wasn’t Me (C-)
Another requirement of this category is that there be a film about a third-world country and its horrific effects on its youth. That’s this miserable and pointless film from Spain, which finds social workers cornered by child soldiers in a disturbing and unnecessarily brutal effort.
The Voorman Problem (B)
This odd and entertaining short from England stars Martin Freeman and Tom Hollander as a psychiatrist and a prisoner who thinks he’s God. The premise is clever and there is an entertaining plot involving Belgium, but there could have been more to it.

Previous winners: Cufrew, The Shore, God of Love, The New Tenants, Toyland, The Mozart of Pickpockets, West Bank Story, Six Shooter
Who should win: As long as it’s not “That Wasn’t Me,” I’m happy. I think I’d be pleased with either “Just Before Losing Everything” or “Helium,” both of which managed to engaged me for the entire time that I was watching them. “The Voorman Problem” would be fine too.
Who will win: It’s a toss-up between the emotional Helium and “The Voorman Problem.” While the victory of “The New Tenants” a few years ago suggests the latter, I’ll opt for the former.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Documentary Short

The nominees:
CaveDigger (B)
This hands-on portrait of a man who, you guessed it, digs caves, is intriguing but lacks a certain dramatic potency. Its central character is a lively figure, one who is immensely watchable and whose life’s work is hardly conventional.
Facing Fear (B)
This jarring look at how one a former neo-Nazi who nearly beat a gay man to death now shares the stage with him at the Museum of Tolerance to educate others on harmony and forgiveness is involving but somewhat fleeting.
Karama Has No Walls (B+)
This harrowing look at violent conflict that emerged from a peaceful protest in Yemen is a visceral, haunting showcase of modern-day journalism at work in the field, a fitting companion piece to feature Best Documentary nominee “The Square” this year.
The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life (B+)
It’s hard not to find this film about a 109-year-old Holocaust survivor (who sadly passed away earlier this week) who looks and acts at two decades younger and plays the piano every day charming. It manages to find great light and positivity where many might see only darkness.
Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall (B)
The subject of prison hospice and elderly convicts set to be incarcerated until their deaths is a potent and oft-ignored one, and this documentary dives deep into the life of one such man. It’s a brutal but eye-opening film that charts a brave course.

Previous winners: Inocente, Saving Face, Strangers No More, Music by Prudence, Smile Pinki, Freeheld, The Blood of Yingzhou District
Who should win: I would definitely choose “The Lady in Number 6.”
Who will win: Sometimes, the darkest film in this category wins, while other times it’s the one that’s actually happy. My bet is that the latter wins out this year, and that The Lady in Number 6 can eclipse “Karama Has No Walls.”

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Documentary Feature

The competition: The Act of Killing, Cutie and the Boxer, Dirty Wars, The Square, Twenty Feet from Stardom

Previous winners: Searching for Sugar Man, Undefeated, Inside Job, The Cove, Man on Wire, Taxi to the Dark Side
My winner: Blackfish
The facts: There isn’t all that much consistency to this category, which usually rewards nonfiction films about highly relevant, hard-hitting topics of the day. This year, we have films about Indonesian gangsters, an endearing old artist couple, war practices, Egypt, and backup singers.

Who should win: None of these make my list, and I haven’t actually had the opportunity to write up three of the contenders, which I had the chance to watch over the past few weeks. “Twenty Feet from Stardom” has an interesting premise but doesn’t quite deliver, and “Dirty Wars” suffers from an excessively arrogant protagonist. “The Square” is a great piece of history but not as solid a documentary film, and “The Act of Killing” has a fascinating subject but not the most involving format. My choice would actually be “Cutie and the Boxer,” which didn’t grab me in its first few minutes but then reached a wonderful point of creativity, telling an endearing story about two very compelling people.
Who will win: It’s a competitive category where anything could feasibly win, but I think that The Act of Killing is ahead of the pack.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Foreign Film

The competition: The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium), The Missing Picture (Cambodia), The Great Beauty (Italy), The Hunt (Denmark), Omar (Palestine)

Previous winners: Amour (Austria), A Separation (Iran), In a Better World (Denmark), The Secret in their Eyes (Argentina), Departures (Japan), The Counterfeiters (Austria)
My winner: Blue is the Warmest Color
The facts: Italy holds the record for most wins in this category, with 13 trophies out of 28 nominations. Denmark has won three times out of nine tries. Belgium is 0 for 6, and this is the first nomination for Cambodia. This is technically the first nomination for Palestine, though the Palestinian Territories were credited with director Hany Abu-Assad’s first film, “Paradise Now,” a nominee in 2005. The other four directors are all first-time nominees.

Who should win: I’m still waiting to see “The Missing Picture,” which comes out in a few weeks. I wasn’t a fan of “Omar,” which I felt took a far too political standpoint that negated its dramatic effectiveness. Golden Globe winner “The Great Beauty” certainly has a particular cosmetic and visual allure, and I wouldn’t be too broken up if it won. “The Broken Circle Breakdown” is certainly the most individualistic and compelling. I think the best of the bunch is “The Hunt,” a solid and haunting drama with a strong plot and lead performance from Mads Mikkelsen.
Who will win: The frontrunner is The Great Beauty, thanks in part to its Golden Globe win, and I don’t see any of these films have enough clout to overtake it.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Animated Feature

The competition: The Croods, Despicable Me 2, Ernest and Celestine, Frozen, The Wind Rises

Previous winners: Brave, Rango, 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: Frozen
The facts: This category has existed since 2001. Pixar isn’t nominated this year, so forget all the statistics about them. Since the first year of this category, there has been a bona fide frontrunner, and the only time it didn’t win was in 2006, when “Cars” haters chose “Happy Feet” instead. Hayao Miyazaki, director of “The Wind Rises,” won in 2002 for “Spirited Away” and was nominated again in 2005 for “Howl’s Moving Castle.”

Who should win: “The Croods” and “Despicable Me 2” just shouldn’t be here. Both “Ernest and Celestine” and “The Wind Rises” are wonderful foreign-language stories that are equally compelling for kids and adults. Ultimately, “Frozen” is the best achievement as an overall film.
Who will win: This really needs to go to Frozen. A win for “Ernest and Celestine” or “The Wind Rises” is feasible if voters are tired of hearing too many different versions of its nominated song, but I think that the fact that they’re listening so often means that they really do love it. Also, neither of those two films is strong enough to overtake the other, and Miyazaki has already been rewarded.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Visual Effects

The competition: Gravity (Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk and Neil Corbould), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and R. Christopher White), Iron Man 3 (Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash and Dan Sudick), The Lone Ranger (Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams and John Frazier), Star Trek Into Darkness (Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann and Burt Dalton)

Previous winners: Life of Pi, Hugo, Inception, Avatar, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Golden Compass
My winner: Gravity
The facts: This award went to all three “Lord of the Rings” films but didn’t go to the first “Hobbit” last year. The first installments of “Iron Man” and “Star Trek” also didn’t win the gold. When there has been a frontrunner in multiple technical categories, that film usually wins this award.

Who should win: “Gravity”
Who will win: It’s insanity to predict anything other than Gravity.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Makeup and Hairstyling

The competition: Dallas Buyers Club (Adruitha Lee and Robin Matthews), Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (Stephen Prouty), The Lone Ranger (Joel Harlow and Gloria Pasqua-Casny)

Previous winners: Les Miserables, The Iron Lady, The Wolfman, Star Trek, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, La Vie en Rose
My winner: The Great Gatsby
The facts: Harlow is the only past nominee, and he won on his first try in 2009 for “Star Trek.” Though this category has had nominees like “Norbit” and “Click” in the past, those films haven’t won, which puts the odds in favor of the only film nominated for any other award, “Dallas Buyers Club,” which also happens to be a Best Picture nominee.

Who should win: I’ve actually seen just one nominee in this race, and that’s because I’m sure the makeup and hairstyling are terrific in “Bad Grandpa” and “The Lone Ranger,” but I have absolutely no interest in seeing those films.
Who will win: I have to go with Dallas Buyers Club, but who the hell knows?

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Sound Editing

The competition: All is Lost (Steve Boeddeker and Richard Hymns), Captain Phillips (Oliver Tarney), Gravity (Glenn Freemantle), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Brent Burge and Chris Ward), Lone Survivor (Wylie Stateman)

Previous winners: Skyfall/Zero Dark Thirty, Hugo, Inception, The Hurt Locker, The Dark Knight, The Bourne Ultimatum
My winner: Fast and Furious 6
The facts: This category has alternately been a consolation prize for not winning any other category or part of a larger sweep in the technical categories. Last year produced a tie. This is the sixth nomination for Stateman, and Hymns is on his ninth nomination. He has won three times. All the other nominees are here for the first time.

Who should win: “Gravity” or “All is Lost”
Who will win: Giving to it to “All is Lost” would be a great tribute to an otherwise ignored film, but why wouldn’t this go to Gravity?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Sound

The competition: Captain Phillips (Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith and Chris Munro), Gravity (Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead and Chris Munro), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick and Tony Johnson), Inside Llewyn Davis (Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland), Lone Survivor (Andy Koyama, Beau Borders and David Brownlow)

Previous winners: Les Miserables, Hugo, Inception, The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire, The Bourne Ultimatum
My winner: Gravity
The facts: A handful of these nominees are regular repeat offenders in this race, and two of them – Chris Munro and Skip Lievsay – are even nominated for two different films this year. This award has gone to musicals and action films in the past, which bodes well for some of the nominees this year. The first “Hobbit” film wasn’t nominated last year, but Peter Jackson’s team did win in the past for “The Return of the King” and “King Kong.”

Who should win: “Gravity” or “Captain Phillips”
Who will win: I don’t see how anything beats Gravity, unless voters feel bad they didn’t bestow more love on “Inside Llewyn Davis.”

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Original Song

The competition: “Happy” (Despicable Me 2), “Let It Go” (Frozen), “The Moon Song” (Her), “Ordinary Love” (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom)

Previous winners: Skyfall (Skyfall), Man or Muppet (The Muppets), 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)
My winner: Let It Go
The facts: This category only has four nominees because the fifth, “Alone Yet Not Alone,” was disqualified because its composer was deemed to have use his status with the Academy to inappropriately promote the song. The U2 members credited for “Ordinary Love” were nominated back in 2002 for “The Hands That Built America” from “Gangs of New York,” which lost to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” from “8 Mile.” Their song won the Golden Globe that year, as it did this year. That statistic bodes well for “Let It Go,” which comes from two first-time nominees in this category. “Her” is a Best Picture nominee, and both “Despicable Me 2” and “Frozen” are nominated for Best Animated Feature.

Who should win: “Let It Go,” no contest
Who will win: I’m honestly worried about U2 taking this, but I think that it has to be Let It Go, if only because of how many versions of it keep popping up on YouTube every day.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Original Score

The competition: The Book Thief (John Williams), Gravity (Steven Price), Her (William Butler and Owen Pallett), Philomena (Alexandre Desplat), Saving Mr. Banks (Thomas Newman)

Previous winners: Life of Pi, The Artist, The Social Network, Up, Slumdog Millionaire, Atonement
My winner: Rush
The facts: Williams holds the record for the most nominations, with a staggering 44 as of this year, with five wins, most recently twenty years ago, for “Schindler’s List.” Newman is the most nominated living composer never to have won, with eleven career nominations. Desplat has amassed his six nominations over the past eight years and has yet to win. Price and the duo of Butler and Pallett are new to this category. In past years, first-time nominees have managed to win for standout scores.

Who should win: “Gravity”
Who will win: It could be “Philomena” or “Saving Mr. Banks,” but I think first-timer Price takes it for Gravity.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Film Editing

The competition: American Hustle (Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy, and Crispin Struthers), Captain Phillips (Christopher Rouse), Dallas Buyers Club (John Mac McMurphy and Martin Pensa), Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron and Mark Sanger), 12 Years a Slave (Joe Walker)

Previous winners: Argo, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Social Network, The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire, The Bourne Ultimatum
My winner: Captain Phillips
The facts: Cassidy and Struthers were nominated last year for “Silver Linings Playbook,” and Cassidy was also a nominee in 2007 for “Into the Wild.” Rouse was nominated in 2006 for “United 93” and won the following year for “The Bourne Ultimatum.” Cuaron, also a nominee for Best Director, was a contender in this race for his previous film, “Children of Men.” This is considered a vital category for the Best Picture Oscar. Four times in the last fifteen years this award has gone to a film nominated for Best Picture other than the winner. All of these films are nominated for Best Picture, but “Captain Phillips” and “Dallas Buyers Club” are not nominated for Best Director.

Who should win: “Captain Phillips”
Who will win: The juggernaut choice is “Gravity,” but I think that the ACE Eddie winner, Captain Phillips, can prevail (though I wouldn’t be displeased with either).

Monday, February 24, 2014

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Costume Design

The competition: American Hustle (Michael Wilkinson), The Grandmaster (William Chang Suk Ping), The Great Gatsby (Catherine Martin), The Invisible Woman (Michael O’Connor), 12 Years a Slave (Patricia Norris)

Previous winners: Anna Karenina, The Artist, Alice in Wonderland, The Young Victoria, The Duchess, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
My winner: The Great Gatsby
The facts: Martin won for “Moulin Rouge” and was nominated for “Australia,” and returns for a third Baz Luhrmann collaboration. O’Connor won in 2008 for “The Duchess” and was nominated again in 2011 for “Jane Eyre.” Norris has five previous nominations, but this is her first mention since 1988. This category does tend to reward regal spectacles, though that’s not always the case.

Who should win: “The Great Gatsby”
Who will win: I think The Great Gatsby is ahead here as well.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Art Direction

The competition: American Hustle (Judy Becker and Heather Loeffler), Gravity (Rosie Goodwin, Andy Nicholson, and Joanne Woollard), The Great Gatsby (Beverley Dunn and Catherine Martin), Her (K.K. Barrett and Gene Serdena), 12 Years a Slave (Alice Baker and Adam Stockhausen)

Previous winners: Lincoln, Hugo, Alice in Wonderland, Avatar, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Sweeney Todd
My winner: The Great Gatsby
The facts: Only two of these people have been nominated before – Woollard in 1987 for “Hope and Glory,” and Martin for two previous collaborations with Baz Luhrmann, “Romeo + Juliet” and “Moulin Rouge,” the latter of which she won. All but “The Great Gatsby” are nominated for Best Picture, though that doesn’t matter all that much in this race.

Who should win: “The Great Gatsby”
Who will win: I think that The Great Gatsby is the frontrunner, though feasibly any of the other nominees except for “Her” could also prevail.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Cinematography

The competition: The Grandmaster (Philippe Le Sourd), Gravity (Emmanuel Lubezki), Inside Llewyn Devis (Bruno Delbonnel), Nebraska (Phedon Papamichael), Prisoners (Roger Deakins)

Previous winners: Life of Pi, Hugo, Inception, Avatar, Slumdog Millionaire, There Will Be Blood
My winner: Rush
The facts: Le Sourd and Papamichael are new to this race. Deakins has ten previous nominations, Lubezki has five, and Delbonnel has three. None of them has ever won.

Who should win: “Gravity”
Who will win: Unless this is a way to honor “Inside Llewyn Davis” or “Prisoners,” I think Gravity takes it.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Adapted Screenplay

The competition: Before Midnight (Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, and Richard Linklater), Captain Phillips (Billy Ray), Philomena (Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope), 12 Years a Slave (John Ridley), The Wolf of Wall Street (Terence Winter)

Previous winners: Argo, The Descendants, The Social Network, Precious, Slumdog Millionaire, No Country for Old Men
My winner: Warm Bodies
The facts: The team behind “Before Midnight” was here nine years ago for the previous film in the series, and they’re the only returning faces. All but “Before Midnight” are nominated for Best Picture.

Who should win: “12 Years a Slave” or “Captain Phillips”
Who will win: The prevailing opinion is 12 Years a Slave, and I don’t think that “The Wolf of Wall Street,” its top competition, will be able to unseat it.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Original Screenplay

The competition: American Hustle (David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer), Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen), Dallas Buyers Club (Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack), Her (Spike Jonze) and Nebraska (Bob Nelson).

Previous winners: Django Unchained, Midnight in Paris, The King’s Speech, The Hurt Locker, Milk, Juno
My winner: Her
The facts: This is Allen’s sixteenth writing nomination, and he has won three times, most recently in 2011 for “Midnight in Paris.” Directors Russell and Jonze have previous nominations in other races, and Russell was nominated before for the adapted screenplay of “Silver Linings Playbook.” Russell is up for Best Director this year, and Jonze is up for Best Original Song. The others are all new to the race. All but “Blue Jasmine” are nominated for Best Picture.

Who should win: Definitely “Her”
Who will win: “American Hustle” is a possibility, as is “Blue Jasmine.” The recent controversy regarding Allen may reduce his chances. I think, therefore, the field is open for Her to send Jonze home with a very deserved trophy.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Actress in a Supporting Role

The competition: Sally Hawkins’ chatty sister (Blue Jasmine), Jennifer Lawrence’s diva wife (American Hustle), Lupita Nyongo’s abused slave (12 Years a Slave), Julia Roberts’ anger-prone daughter (August: Osage County), and June Squibb’s sarcastic wife (Nebraska).

Previous winners: Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Melissa Leo, Mo’Nique, Penelope Cruz, Tilda Swinton
My winner: Léa Seydoux
The facts: Roberts won in 2000 and was nominated twice before that. Lawrence won last year and was nominated in 2010 as well. Both have only won lead trophies. The other three are all first-time nominees. Lawrence, Nyongo, and Squibb have their films nominated for Best Picture.

Who should win: Lawrence or Squibb
Who will win: It’s a dead heat between two of these actresses, but let’s start by discounting the other three. Hawkins plays second fiddle to Cate Blanchett and won’t win for this role, and Roberts is just one piece of a large ensemble with plenty of colorful players. Squibb would be a fun choice, but I doubt she’d be able to muster enough support for a win (though she’d be quite a great spoiler). Lawrence won the Golden Globe and the BAFTA, while Nyongo won the SAG. I’d be tempted to say that Lawrence could represent her cast, but I think that Nyongo will be a ringing endorsement for a true breakout and for a film that I still think is very likely to win Best Picture.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Actor in a Supporting Role

The competition: Barkhad Abdi’s determined pirate (Captain Phillips), Bradley Cooper’s eccentric FBI agent (American Hustle), Michael Fassbender’s Bible-thumping slave owner (12 Years a Slave), Jonah Hill’s drug-popping moneyman (The Wolf of Wall Street), and Jared Leto’s kindhearted transvestite (Dallas Buyers Club).

Previous winners: Christoph Waltz, Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale, Christoph Waltz, Heath Ledger, Javier Bardem
My winner: Benedict Cumberbatch
The facts: This is an easy one to analyze. Cooper was nominated for the first time last year, and Hill the year before that. The other three are freshman Oscar nominees. All of their films are nominated for Best Picture.

Who should win: Fassbender, though Abdi or Leto are great too
Who will win: There’s a clear frontrunner here, and there’s nothing to suggest Leto won’t take it home. It’s mostly about the role, and he’s been winning so much on his path here that it would be crazy for him not to take home this prize. He wasn’t nominated at the BAFTAs (presumably because of eligibility), where Abdi prevailed. Though it would be awesome to see the young Somalian actor win, it’s unlikely. Hill wouldn’t be able to manage a win, and Cooper is least likely of his cast to be rewarded. Fassbender will definitely be an Oscar nominee again, and he’ll win for a performance more central to his film and not as overshadowed by his costars. This is Leto’s to lose.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Actress in a Leading Role

The competition: Amy Adams’ 70s con woman (American Hustle), Cate Blanchett’s disturbed socialite (Blue Jasmine), Sandra Bullock’s panicked astronaut (Gravity), Judi Dench’s kindhearted mother (Philomena), and Meryl Streep’s pill-popping matriarch (August: Osage County).

Previous winners: Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman, Sandra Bullock, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard
My winner: Adèle Exarchupoulos
The facts: All but Adams are previous winners. Streep is the most-nominated actor of all time, and has won three times, most recently in 2011 in this category. Bullock won on her only nomination in 2009 for “The Blind Side.” Blanchett won in 2004 for “The Aviator,” and Dench won in 1998 for “Shakespeare in Love.” Though she has never won, Adams is on her fifth nomination in less than ten years. Adrien Brody managed to overcome a field made up entirely of previous winners in 2002 on his first nomination, so Adams does have a statistical shot. Adams, Bullock, and Dench all have their films nominated for Best Picture.

Who should win: The only one of these women who remotely makes my radar is Dench, though I’d be fine with Bullock too.
Who will win: Last year, Lawrence was the frontrunner with Chastain nipping at her heels and Riva up for an upset. This year, Blanchett is in the undisputed lead position, but it’s possible that some of this recent Woody Allen controversy might decrease her chances somewhat. Roman Polanski won in 2002, but his actions were ancient history by that point, while allegations against Allen are news now. Streep has no shot, Bullock doesn’t have the buzz for her performance or film as a whole that she would need, and Dench just doesn’t have the momentum. That does leave Adams, who was up against Blanchett only at the BAFTAs. Her winning would be a surprise, but her film won’t necessarily be rewarded elsewhere, especially if Blanchett’s takes the Best Original Screenplay trophy. Though this is hardly the Adams performance I’d want her to win for, I think there’s a good shot of her upsetting in this race, and that’s my current prediction.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Actor in a Leading Role

The competition: Christian Bale’s 70s con man (American Hustle), Bruce Dern’s confused patriarch (Nebraska), Leonardo DiCaprio’s cutthroat stockbroker (The Wolf of Wall Street), Chiwetel Ejiofor’s enslaved free man (12 Years a Slave), and Matthew McConaughey’s AIDS-stricken drug dealer (Dallas Buyers Club).

Previous winners: Daniel Day-Lewis, Jean Dujardin, Colin Firth, Jeff Bridges, Sean Penn, Daniel Day-Lewis
My winner: Michael B. Jordan
The facts: The only nominee who has won before is Bale, and it was on his first nomination, for his previous collaboration with director David O. Russell, “The Fighter,” in the supporting race. Despite being a ten-time Golden Globe nominee, this is only DiCaprio’s fourth Oscar nomination, and his second for a Martin Scorsese collaboration. Dern was nominated once before, in 1978 in the supporting category. All five of these films are nominated for Best Picture.

Who should win: None of these men make my list, but Ejiofor and Dern come closest.
Who will win: The frontrunner seems to be McConaughey for a number of reasons. He won both the Globe and the SAG, and he’s had a great year with roles on HBO’s “True Detective” and in “Mud” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and he shares a very memorable scene with his closest competition. DiCaprio has never won, and his film isn’t likely to be recognized elsewhere, so he could be it. He did lose the BAFTA, where McConaughey wasn’t nominated, to Ejiofor, who would win only if his film truly swept, and Steve McQueen’s frequent losses for Best Director indicate that it’s not likely to happen. Dern is highly improbable though it would be hard to argue with him as the selection if he was chosen, while Bale is the unlikeliest, and a win for him would signal eternal enthusiasm from Oscar voters for his film.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Movie with Abe: Omar

Directed by Hany Abu-Assad
Released February 21, 2014

The Oscar category for Best Foreign Language Film often includes interesting, hot-button cinema. The film designated as each country’s choice for their best in film all year long gets a second chance to be received in a whole new way in the United States when it is exposed to Oscar voters and the moviegoing public. “Omar” is significant because it is only the second Palestinian film to receive that honor, and comes from the director of the first, “Paradise Now,” Hany Abu-Assad. Resistance against Israel is still a main plot point, but this film feels markedly different, in a less productive way.

“Paradise Now” was a stark tale of two Palestinian suicide bombers preparing for an attack on Israel. That film produced plenty of controversy, yet was ultimately seen by many as a contemplative and thought-provoking look at a deeply moral issue. Abu-Assad returns now with another story about Palestinians itching to revolt against Israel, yet from a more humanly connected perspective. Omar (Adam Bakri) climbs over the wall separating his life on a regular basis, meeting with his friends Tarek and Amjad and courting Tarek’s sister Nadia. With his friends, Omar scouts out an Israeli base, where Amjad shoots and kills an unsuspecting soldier. Pursued by police, Omar finds himself apprehended and forced to consider the unthinkable: cooperating with Israel to ensure that he does not spend his entire life in prison.

It’s interesting to look at “Omar” alongside “The Green Prince,” a documentary screened at the Sundance Film Festival that tells the true story of the son of a Hamas leader who became an informant for Israel. Neither film achieves a real sense of clarity or the intentionality behind either side’s actions, yet there is a crucial disconnect between the two. “Omar” deals extensively with the aftermath of incarceration and the tension that builds from others believing that a recently released arrestee might be a traitor. Mosab Hassan Yousef, the subject of “The Green Prince,” describes the way in which imprisoned criminals tortured and killed suspected collaborators as a key factor in why he chose to switch sides, since, to him, it was just as abhorrent as the perceived imperialist actions of the Israeli government and police.

“Omar” does not search for morality or evenhandedness, and instead constructs itself as a romantic story of love and devotion. Omar is equally committed to the idyllic life he plans to lead with Nadia, should Tarek accept his forever delayed request for her hand in marriage, and to the cause of resisting Israel. When undercover cops bursts onto the scene, Omar excitedly runs away, seemingly bringing the hope and spirit of his struggle with him every time he manages to cleverly evade the hapless Israeli police. As the film progresses and the situation turns much more dire, its events become even more unpleasant, yet its attitude towards the conflict is still disappointingly one-dimensional and negative. Its newcomer lead performer is excitable and involved enough, but this story is bogged down by an obsession with cyclical misery and violence that leads nowhere positive.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Movie with Abe: The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie
Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Released February 7, 2014

It was only a matter of time before a brand as big as LEGO got its own movie. The question wasn’t whether it would happen but when, and how it would be adapted as a feature film. Fortunately, there’s a whole back story to go with this one that doesn’t just involve LEGO jokes and references to the different things that can be built. Instead, it’s an enormously entertaining action-adventure about a nice, ordinary guy striving to be extraordinary and break free from his ingrained programming to always follow the instructions.

Chris Pratt, best known as the endearing, idiotic Andy Dwyer on NBC's "Parks and Recreation," voices Emmet, an everyday guy who wakes up each morning and gleefully picks up his instruction manual, ready to be reminded of how he should proceed in order to have the best day possible. The energy and positivity he exudes is overwhelming, and as a result, others he interacts with find him relatively free of personality or individuality. When he meets Wyldstyle (voiced by Elizabeth Banks), a free spirit searching for the famed Piece of Resistance that can stop the evil President Business from ending the world, all that changes, and he starts to think that maybe he might be special after all.

What ensues is a wild ride, in which Emmet and Wyldstyle travel from Emmet's familiar world to an altogether different realm with many unexpected interactions and developments along the way. They encounter plenty of intriguing characters, including Wyldstyle’s boyfriend Batman (voiced by Will Arnett), Green Lantern (voiced by Jonah Hill), and Abraham Lincoln (voiced by Will Forte). The presence of so many LEGO versions of familiar popular culture figures ensures that this film will prove just as enjoyable for moviegoing adults and parents as it will for their children.

There may be a handful of extra jokes designed especially for LEGO enthusiasts embedded inside, but this film ultimately packs enough humor to subsist all on its own. Its story is heavily dramatic and full of twists and turns, some more legitimate and logical than others. The voice cast is terrific, led by the fantastic Pratt, whose good-natured generosity of spirit makes him a superb protagonist. This may not quite be an animated classic, but it’s certainly an engaging and thrilling ride, as well as a clever utilization of animation and a very popular toy.


Movie with Abe: The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men
Directed by George Clooney
Released February 7, 2014

George Clooney is a talented actor who, later in his career, has shifted over from acting to working behind the camera. Like many other directors, he does cast himself in relatively prominent roles, sometimes the lead part. Acting in his own films makes him seem like a part of the club, and as if he’s having a good time working with the rest of the cast. Having a good time definitely isn’t a problem with his fifth shot behind the camera, but this World War II-set caper could have benefited from a more serious, worldly perspective.

Playing the lead doesn’t necessarily mean he’s putting in much effort, and Clooney certainly doesn’t focus on his acting in this film. As Frank Stokes, the leader of a ragtag band of art historians, architects, and other culture aficionados who head into France and Germany to preserve precious works of art, Clooney is bland and unexciting, leaving the eccentricity to his supporting costars. Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett have more one-note, serious roles, but the rest of the ensemble – Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, John Goodman, and Jean Dujardin – are ideal in many ways for comic relief. Therein lies the film’s main problem.

“The Monuments Men” is supposed to take place during a war. A group of out-of-shape older men far from accustomed to battle head into a war zone to identify and save art. The fact that they are not real soldiers is inconsequential since all of their interactions with enemy forces are hopelessly sterile. There are no stakes, and even when death and irreversible consequences do threaten to find them, it still doesn’t feel genuine. It’s as if these guys are traipsing around in a comedy that just happens to be taking place during a war. That aspect makes it more of a children’s movie, and the few sincere moments seem excessively dark and out of place as a result.

Aside from how tame the film feels, it’s also disconcerting to think about this frivolous team goofing around in the midst of the Holocaust, pursuing Nazis for their theft of art rather than any more horrific crimes. Forgetting that fact, this is a relatively entertaining if ultimately unfulfilling adventure. Excusing its absence of context, this is a fun film. Murray and Balaban are particularly funny in their parts as an odd couple partnered up to work together, and Dujardin and Bonneville make the most of their scenes as well. This is hardly essential viewing, but it’s harmless enough if its setting doesn’t prove too bothersome.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Monday, February 17, 2014

Best Films of 2013: #25-21

#25: Enough Said

#24: Don Jon

#23: The Past

#22: What’s in a Name?

#21: Fast and Furious 6

AFT Awards: Top 15 Scenes of the Year

This is a special category of the 7th Annual AFT Film Awards, my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. These are my fifteen favorite scenes of the year, listed in alphabetical order by film title. Click here to see previous years of this category. Beware spoilers for these films.

Other moments earned more attention, but there’s nothing more devastating and inescapable than when Adèle arrives home from an evening out and Emma accuses her of cheating. In a moment, the entire relationship is over, and, despite as Adèle is not to let it go, there’s nothing she can do to temper Emma’s fury and win her back.

It’s a toss-up between the first “Look at me; I am the Captain now” scene and the final climactic encounter at sea. The latter brings everything to its breaking point, finally allowing the calm and collected Captain Phillips to lose it and to panic in the face of an unknown reality around him, a breathless takedown that doesn’t seem like it could possibly end positively.

This thriller is never more effective than when it shows the intimate meetings of its ecoterrorists. Watching Brit Marling’s Sarah interact with them for the first time and understand just what they are all about is fascinating, and it makes the morals this film all the more confusing and alluring.

To top every awesome moment from the fifth installment, this action blockbuster positions one of its characters hanging from a tank, and assumes that Vin Diesel’s Dom’s first instinct would be to leap into midair to save Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty by catching her and smashing her into a windshield. It’s a gravity-defying stunt that rightfully garnered gasps and applause for its sheer incredible ridiculousness when I saw it in theatres.

It features the best song of the year – “Let It Go” – and it’s the moment in which we really get to see Elsa unleash her inhibitions and present herself as a character. Idina Menzel crooning a great number with all the passion she’s got doesn’t hurt either, but this is a fantastic scene that really launches the film into whole new territory.

After a cell phone video presents an unclear overview of the events to come, this film reaches its inevitable conclusion as a chance encounter on the BART leads to Oscar and his friends sitting on the platform while things escalate uncontrollably. It’s a tense, harrowing, and ultimately tragic experience.

While the entire film could almost be described as one extended scene, there’s none more crucial than the one that starts it all. The initial whiplash that jerks Sandra Bullock’s Ryan away from the station is a jarring, out-of-control moment reined in magnificently by Alfonso Cuaron and his camera. George Clooney’s Matt being cool as ice and keeping things calm with his voice adds remarkably.

All of the scenes in which Theodore and Samantha interact are mesmerizing, particularly the one in which they discover that they can have sex, but it’s their first meeting that’s most potent. The curiosity with which both address the other as they get to know each other for the first time is palpable, and it’s that’s shared striving for every new connection that makes their relationship so fascinating.

Watching Daniel Radcliffe’s Allen Ginsberg experience glee as he races through the halls of Columbia discovering just what there is to love about life is great, and a big part of that comes from Dane DeHaan’s Lucien Carr. While some may perceive it as creepy, Lucien’s presence in the shadows while Allen has some fun with a girl is enormously telling and effective.

In a movie filled with excess, the most powerful moment – and there are plenty more entertaining and colorful scenes that could also be addressed – is when Steve Coogan’s Paul Raymond stares up at the skylight in his ceiling, showing off the ultimate representative sign of emptiness to those who supposedly make him less lonely.

A series of foreboding moments in this film pale in comparison to the scene in which Mud springs into action, grabbing his shirt and putting it on in a way that underlines its magical capacity. It makes Mud a true hero of sorts for the kids who idealize him, and leads into the violent and gripping finale that sends this film home.

Gael Garcia Bernal’s René expresses a generally detached attitude for the majority of this film, and his interest in the “No” campaign is merely financial. But when his ad finally airs, that’s when the tone of the film changes. Watching how the “No” campaign expresses its ideas through film and song is incredible, and it’s truly transformative.

Every time these two get in their cars and rev their engines, this film soars towards glory. Niki’s horrifying accident is certainly well-filmed, but the most powerful and lasting scene comes during the final race in which he has a flash of feeling and pulls over, deeming the track conditions too dangerous and stopping short of his big dream because he realizes there is something else more important than winning.

This movie is full of funny moments, but its best one is actually serious. All hope seems lost when the Boneys are preying on the humans, but when Rob Corddry’s M and the other less-devolved zombies start attacking the Boneys and fighting on the good side, everything changes. It’s an awesome and completely unexpected development.

Every scene in which Sam Rockwell’s Owen speaks is terrific, but his most triumphant moment is actually his final appearance, which serves as a tremendous goodbye to the summer for Liam James’ Duncan. His slide run manages not just to be effective but also to be legendary, and it’s a fitting sendoff for the kid who was more than a “3.”