Tag Archives: Academy Awards

It’s Not Just #OscarSoWhite. It’s Hollywood

Every few years or so, the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences like to congratulate themselves on achieving a milestone that demonstrates their tolerance, open-mindedness, and progressive thinking.

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When Halle Berry became the first African-American performer to take home the best actress prize in 2002, for instance.

Or when Kathryn Bigelow was given the best director trophy in a small but unprecedented step forward for women filmmakers.

These moments, however, tend to be few and far between, as evidenced by tomorrow’s Oscar ceremony, the second in a row to egregiously exclude black and minority nominees. Thus, the resurrection of last year’s popular Twitter hashtag, #OscarSoWhite.

The lack of diversity in the 88th Academy Awards is even more glaring when you consider the talent Academy voters overlooked this year.

A biopic of seminal rap group N.W.A., “Straight Outta Compton” was critically well received and a box office hit, yet managed to snag only one nomination — for best original screenplay — when many expected it to garner a best picture nod.

The “Rocky” spin-off “Creed” was also critically acclaimed but was shut out, save for a best supporting actor nomination for the film’s sole white star, Sylvester Stallone.

This despite the talents of director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan, who previously failed to earn much deserved nominations for their work together in the devastating “Fruitvale Station.” Jordan’s leading lady, Tessa Thompson, also turned heads with her performance.

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Michael B. Jordan in “Creed.”

Other seeming shoo-ins who were not nominated include Idris Elba,for his villainous turn in “Beasts of No Nation,” Elba’s astonishing young co-star, Abraham Attah, and Benicio Del Toro, recognized by several other groups for his supporting turn in “Sicario.”

Chagrin over the Academy’s blatant lack of inclusion has resulted in threats of boycotts — at least on the part of Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett-Smith — and the following statement of remorse issued by (black) Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs:

“I am both heartbroken and frustrated by the lack of inclusion. This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes. The Academy is taking dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership.

“… As many of you know, we have implemented changes to diversify our membership in the last four years. But the change is not coming as fast as we would like.”

Indeed, Academy demographics remain alarmingly exclusive. According to the Los Angeles Times, voters are 91% white and 76% male.

The newspaper reported that in 2012, the voting population was 94% white and 77% male, a makeup very similar to what we see today.

Though the Academy has made an effort to recruit more women and minority — not to mention younger — voters to their ranks, progress is slow in an organization in which members are appointed for life.

All things considered, it’s easy to see why a film like “Straight Outta Compton,” which was just as crowd-pleasing, stylishly directed and thrilling as best picture nominees “Brooklyn” or “The Martian,” could be passed over.

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Corey Hawkins in “Straight Outta Compton.”

An aging, white audience is probably more likely to relate to the tale of a young Irish immigrant adapting to life in 1950s (aka the good, old days) New York or a saga that glorifies NASA (although it must be said that “The Martian” cast is surprisingly diverse) than a group of rebellious hip-hop artists who regularly ran afoul of the law while rising to the status of rap legends.

Despite losing its momentum to a certain degree in its third act, it’s hard to deny that “Straight Outta Compton” is best picture material. The scene in which Ice Cube, Eazy-E and Dr. Dre defy a police order to perform their infamous anti-cop anthem in a packed Detroit concert hall is as electric a cinematic moment as ever there was.

But let’s face it, if Cube and company were to take the stage to claim Oscar’s top prize, it would be as surreal a moment as when, in 2006, Three 6 Mafia won for their ditty “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from “Hustle & Flow.”

(This remains, hands down, one of the most amazing Oscar moments of all time.)

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The members of Three 6 Mafia show off their Oscars.

The Academy claims it wants to change.

Last month, the organization resolved by 2020 to double the number of women and minorities included in its voting body and instituted new rules allowing the revoking of voting privileges from inactive members.

These measures are a show of good faith, but the fact remains that the Academy isn’t going to change its ways until Hollywood does.

According to the L.A. Times, the group’s demographics reflect the realities of an industry that weaves a cocoon of opportunity, wealth and privilege around a tight band of almost exclusively white insiders.

“The executive branch (of the Academy), which finances the movies and determines what films warrant an awards campaign, is 98% white,” the newspaper said.

“The public relations branch, which strategizes those awards campaigns, is 95% white.

“Other branches reflect the entrenched nature of certain hiring patterns in Hollywood crafts, such as visual effects, which is 98% male, and cinematography, which is 95% male.”

Meanwhile, a recent study reports that only 29% of Hollywood speaking roles are filled by women.

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It’s certain that tomorrow night’s Oscar host, Chris Rock, will have a few things to say on this subject.

The comedian recently detailed the absurdities of Hollywood’s racial bias in a blunt, funny, evenhanded essay about the city he works in.

“It’s a white industry,” Rock writes.

“Just as the NBA is a black industry. I’m not even saying it’s a bad thing. It just is.”

Rock points out that, if you happen to be in the minority, Hollywood is a tough place to break into even at the most basic, unskilled job levels.

He writes that there is no such thing as color blind casting in Hollywood (“It was never like, ‘Is it going to be Ryan Gosling or Chiwetel Ejiofor for ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.'”) and that black women may be the most neglected of all performers in the film industry (“You can go to whole movies and not see one black woman.”)

Rock ends his essay on a hopeful note, saying that “change just takes time.”

Let’s hope it doesn’t take 20 more years of #OscarSoWhite for one of America’s greatest industries to correct a wrong it can no longer pass off as just one group’s problem.

Photos: http://www.bet.com, http://www.youtube.com, oscars.go.com.

 

 

 

 

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Leo Out-Survives Matt: A Look at Oscar’s Best Picture Nominees (Part 2)

The Oscars may be so white — as the hashtag declares — but that doesn’t mean the Academy isn’t capable of change.

Hollywood’s most beloved awards institution may have a long way to go where race is concerned, but judging by this year’s best picture nominees, they’re taking some strides, or at least baby steps, whether in embracing a groundbreaking action flick with a bold feminist perspective or hinting they may finally be ready to give Leo that damn Oscar he’s been waiting for since 1994.

All joking aside — I plan to discuss the controversy over race in a separate post this week — the 88th Academy Awards promise to be unpredictable, if not exactly radical or revolutionary. (The ceremony and its accompanying coverage are set to begin at 4 p.m. Sunday on ABC.)

Below, I discuss the remaining four nominees for the best picture Oscar. May the best flick win.

For a look at the other four nominees, check out my previous post

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The Martian

If the Oscars were voted by the people, there’s no doubt sci-fi dramedy “The Martian” would capture the best picture prize.

As crowd-pleasers go, the film is a doozy, grossing nearly $620 million worldwide after multiple No. 1 stints at the box office. Everybody wanted to see it. Everybody was talking about it.

At the Golden Globes, “The Martian” landed trophies for best pic in the comedy or musical category — in a bit of clever but odd positioning — and best actor for Matt Damon, also in the comedy category.

Those achievements aside, the movie seems destined to lose on Oscar night to a flick with more gravitas, say “The Revenant,” which is a little ironic for a film about the triumph of the human spirit against the most impossible odds.

Perhaps “The Martian” is easy to dismiss because of its lightness of tone, the way snubbed director Ridley Scott deftly blends humor, intensity and intelligence to portray the ordeal of an astronaut stranded millions of miles from Earth.

Not only does “The Martian” boast impressive visual effects — it’s nominated in that category as well as six others — it makes science look sexy in a way that few movies do. NASA and JPL have never appeared more hip or more glamorous, especially when staffed by the likes of Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Best actor nominee Matt Damon does nerds everywhere a valuable service by making botanist and all-around genius Mark Watney the most hilarious and lovable brainiac we’ve met, effortlessly tossing off witty quips to the camera.

If we’re being honest, “Ex Machina” was the more original, stylish and haunting science-fiction offering of 2015. That said, while several of this year’s best picture nominees work hard to subject their audiences to vicarious tribulation, “The Martian” strives to do nothing more than uplift and entertain.

In a world where cynicism often reigns, that’s no small accomplishment.

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The Revenant

Here is why “The Revenant” is almost certainly going to beat “The Martian” and every other film competing for best picture in this year’s Oscar race.

As the only man on Mars, Matt Damon’s stranded astronaut subsists on nothing but potatoes grown from his own manure and figures out some complicated math equations with nothing but terrible disco music and a video log to entertain him.

Tough? Yes.

But compare his hardships to the travails of Leonardo DiCaprio’s strapping fur trapper, Hugh Glass.

In “The Revenant,” Hugh is attacked by vengeful Native Americans, mauled by a raging mama bear, left for dead by his own men, buried alive, forced to cauterize his own wound with gun powder, swims through freezing rapids wearing a massive fur coat, jumps over a cliff on horseback, and then crawls into the animal’s oozing carcass for warmth. (And because said horse carcass was filmed by director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and master cinematographer Emmanual Lubezki, this scene looks like a painting you’d find hanging on the wall of a national gallery.)

On top of all this, Inarritu and his crew endured their own severe trials while filming “The Revenant,” shooting in freezing temperatures with natural light in the wilds of Canada. People almost died! The Academy can’t resist a story like that.

So that is why “The Revenant” is nominated for 12 Oscars, including best director, cinematography, editing, costume design and visual effects, not to mention best actor for DiCaprio and best supporting actor for Tom Hardy, who co-stars as Glass’ scalped and scheming nemesis.

And that is why “The Revenant” won best picture in the drama category at the Golden Globes while Inarritu picked up a trophy for best director. (The film also seized the top prize in other major contests, including the Directors Guild Awards and the BAFTAs.)

That is also why it will finally be Leo’s year after four slights by the Academy in the past. It’s fitting because DiCaprio’s performance in “The Revenant” is like nothing he’s done before, largely silent, deeply physical, with a great, grizzly beard to cover up all that boyish charm.

Yep, it’s the beard that finally did it.

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Spotlight

As a journalist, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming affection for “Spotlight.”

The movie is a slow-burning but suspenseful look at how the Boston Globe’s special investigative team uncovered the scope of the Catholic church’s sexual abuse scandal in the early 2000s, eventually winning a Pulitzer Prize for their reporting.

Directed by writer and character actor Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight” is a disciplined, elegant, old fashioned morality tale in the vein of the iconic “All the President’s Men.” It’s a film that inspires outrage, sorrow, and ultimately hope, but it also happens to perfectly capture a fleeting, not-so-distant era in print journalism.

The events of “Spotlight” begin in 2001, only a few years after I began my career at a local newspaper. The movie sent me flashing back to those glory days of print, shortly before the entire industry imploded. From the demeanor of the reporters, to the clothes they wear, to the look of the newsroom, this film is just like being there.

Those days may be long gone, but I love how “Spotlight” champions thorough, thoughtful, brave reporting, the kind of careful, indispensable journalism that has mostly vanished since the rise of the speedy, sensational, soundbite-ready era of social media. At the same time, the movie is honest enough to acknowledge the limitations of the press.

“Spotlight” features a remarkable ensemble of actors working as a team, just as their characters do in the film, to reveal and clarify a scandal so shocking, sprawling and shrouded in secrecy it was almost impossible to fully grasp at the time of its unfolding.

Liev Schreiber as the new editor — not to mention a Jewish one in a predominantly Catholic town — who pushes his staff to pursue truth at all costs. Michael Keaton as the tenacious but cautious leader of the Spotlight team. Any one of the actors in “Spotlight” could have easily scored nominations.

Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo are the ones the Academy chose to vie for Oscar votes in the best supporting actress and actor categories. Their performances are remarkable, at the very least because they reminded me of some of the fine, dedicated newspaper reporters I used to work with.

“Spotlight” isn’t just a showcase for some truly commendable acting. It’s also a sober recognition of the victims who came forward to expose the church’s abuse, an absorbing procedural detailing the ins and outs of the investigative process, and a gripping reminder of the limitless potential for corruption when power goes unchecked.

Mad Max: Fury Road

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is everything an action buff could ever want in an action movie. But it is also much more than that.

This sequel/reboot/whatever-the-heck-it-is to 1979 post-apocalyptic classic “Mad Max” is groundbreaking in every way, from its technical innovations, to its surreal but immersive fantasy world, to its unprecedented feminist point of view.

No other movie in 2015 thrilled me, captured my imagination and stayed with me like “Fury Road” did. It was hands-down my favorite cinematic experience of the year.

Here’s what I said about it when I included it in my Top 5 list:

“At 70 years old, director George Miller thoroughly overhauled the action movie with this insanely inventive follow-up to his original “Mad Max” trilogy.

“Part environmental fable, part feminist fever dream and 150% high-octane action extravaganza, this irresistible rush of a flick pairs Tom Hardy’s taciturn Max with one of the most bad-ass heroines of all time — Furiosa, a bald, one-armed truck driver played by Charlize Theron in a blend of toughness and true emotion.

“With its tribal-punk-rock-scrapyard-demolition-derby aesthetic, ‘Fury Road’ is a movie of primitive, streamlined power. It’s ferociously bleak and violent but also — dare I say it? — quite lovely.”

The fact that “Fury Road” was nominated for best picture, not to mention nine other trophies, is groundbreaking in itself and virtually unprecedented. For whatever reason, the Academy has been quick to snub action films, especially those with fantasy or science-fiction elements.

We fans of the genre know better though, that action movies can be just as thought-provoking, artful and compelling as weighty dramas, lavish period pieces or nimble comedies.

Because of Oscar’s long-held bias, “Fury Road” isn’t likely to claim the night’s top prize, but its very presence in the ceremony could herald a welcome, overdue shift in the Academy’s thinking.

Photos: http://www.foxmovies.com, http://www.youtube.com. 

Travolta’s Face Grab, A ‘Glory’-ious Speech and Other Oscar Highs and Lows

In many ways, Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony was so forgettable, it hardly feels worth rehashing Hollywood’s big night.

It’s not exactly a shock that ratings for the 87th installment of the show dropped to a six-year low. Can you blame viewers for changing the channel during what was often a dull and disappointing evening?

Despite a surprisingly lackluster performance by host extraordinaire Neil Patrick Harris, an abundance of awkward puns and some creepy presenter shenanigans, there were a few moments of genuine delight, including heartfelt speeches and a refreshingly wacky rendition of the song from “The Lego Movie.”

Below, a recap of the low points and highlights of this year’s Oscars.

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The Low Points

The Host: I’m as big a fan of the ubiquitous Neil Patrick Harris as the next person. The classy, hilarious, self-deprecating former child actor is always a welcome sight, whether in “How I Met Your Mother,” the “Harold and Kumar” movies, “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” a Broadway musical or one of his countless stints as awards show emcee.

So Harris’ almost total failure in his first — and probably last — stint as Oscar host came as a crushing disappointment.

It wasn’t really his fault, though. The show was disjointed, badly written, poorly paced and woefully out of touch.

For whatever reason, the ceremony’s writers declined to capitalize on Harris’ strengths, resorting to a series of leaden puns and occasionally insensitive ad-libbed banter. Making fun of a winner’s dress after she just mentioned her son’s suicide probably isn’t the best choice, for instance.

The night’s longest running gag involved a dramatic magic trick that should have been right up Harris’ alley. But enlisting previous Oscar winner Octavia Harris to keep an eye on a locked box all night verged on insulting and, after a whole lot of build-up, the illusion’s finale was a huge letdown, merely a recap of the evening’s hashtag-worthy events.

Yes, there were occasionally funny bits. I liked the part where Harris walked through the audience in nothing but tighty whities, a la Michael Keaton’s “Birdman” character, encountering a drumming Miles Teller along the way, but I’m guessing a large portion of viewers didn’t get the joke since they hadn’t seen the films.

Overall, the evening felt strained and “uptight,” as several guests at an Oscar party I attended remarked. The Academy still has a long way to go to make Hollywood’s most celebrated awards show more relevant and entertaining to its biggest audience — everyone who doesn’t happen to be an industry insider.

As J.K. Simmons’ terrifying music instructor likes to shout in best picture nominee “Whiplash”: “NOT MY TEMPO!”

John Travolta and Other Awkward/Insensitive Moments: I already mentioned Harris’ callous mockery of the dress worn by a producer of a documentary about crisis hotlines, who also happened to be a bereaved mother.

Sadly, Sunday’s Oscars were full of other painfully awkward and insensitive gaffs.

There was Sean Penn’s joke about green cards before presenting one of the night’s biggest awards to “Birdman” director Gabriel Gonzalez Inarritu. There was Terrence Howard’s strange and overly emotional introduction of “The Imitation Game.” There was Harris’ mispronunciation of “12 Years a Slave” star Chiwetel Ejiofor’s name.

However, the most jaw-dropping embarrassment occurred in the ill-advised union of “Frozen” star Idina Menzel and John Travolta, who shared the stage to present the award for best original song. As you may recall, Travolta became a Twitter legend after bungling Menzel’s name at last year’s Oscar ceremony, spawning legions of “Adele Dazeem” jokes.

The show’s producers no doubt thought it would be touching, or perhaps funny, to give Travolta the opportunity to extend an olive branch to Menzel, but their meeting quickly devolved into ickiness as Travolta grabbed his co-presenter’s chin in his hand while she vainly struggled to be free of his grasp.

That’s the stuff of ratings and social media fame, but it also left a yucky taste in our mouths.

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The Highlights

The Music: The ceremony opened with a lively, old-fashioned, Sondheim-esque musical number by seasoned showman Harris, the talented Anna Kendrick — dressed as Cinderella, a la “Into the Woods,” and an impish Jack Black.

Penned by “Frozen” songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristin Anderson-Lopez, the piece celebrated the magic of “moving pictures,” poking fun at the Academy Awards and paying homage to classic and popular films.

The lyrics were playful and clever — “I love happy endings. Except for in ‘Gone Girl’ when that lady slit your throat,” Kendrick crooned to Harris — and even got a little edgy when Black crashed the party with a roll call of the industry’s flaws and a jab at modern moviegoers’ obsession with “screens in our jeans.” It was a nice twist on the traditional song-and-dance prologue we’ve come to expect from the show.

Building on that momentum, Tegan and Sara and comedy trio The Lonely Island hit the stage to perform best song nominee “Everything is Awesome” in a performance so surreal and fun, it immediately provided the event a much needed jolt of energy.

“The Lego Movie” may have been snubbed in the best animated feature film category, but it stole the night with a Lego choir, Lego Oscar statuettes, an assortment of costumed dancers, a cape-wearing Andy Samberg, Will Arnett as Batman and cameos by Questlove and Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh.

Unfortunately, the moment didn’t last. The rest of the night’s musical performances were a snooze with the exception of John Legend and Common’s rousing rendition of “Glory,” from the movie “Selma.” The winning song brought the Dolby Theatre to its feet and tears to the eyes of many, including Chris Pine, whose effusive reaction became Twitter fodder.

As for Lady Gaga’s impressive but random tribute to “The Sound of Music,” it was just another head-scratching moment in a ceremony that too often felt confused and cobbled together. Better to have used the time to give host Harris a chance to show his stuff.

The Speeches: In a telecast that lacked humor and energy, with predictable results in all but the minor categories, the winners’ speeches provided brief glimmers of passion, inspiration and controversy.

Accepting the best supporting actor award for “Whiplash,” J.K. Simmons sweetly commanded the viewing audience to call their parents. Best actress and actor winners Julianne Moore and Eddie Redmayne dedicated their statuettes to sufferers of Alzheimer’s and ALS, respectively.

Best director winner Inarritu petitioned for “dignity” and “respect” for immigrants. The adorably enthusiastic Graham Norton, who nabbed a trophy for his screenplay for “The Imitation Game,” recalled a youthful suicide attempt and admonished misfit kids to “stay weird.”

Best song winners Common and John Legend showed us how acceptance speeches should be done with a pair of graceful statements about civil rights.

“The spirit of this bridge transcends race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and social status,” Common said, referring to Alabama’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, immortalized by Martin Luther King Jr.

“The spirit of this bridge connects the kid from the south side of Chicago, dreaming of a better life, to those in France standing up for their freedom of expression to the people in Hong Kong protesting for democracy.”

“Selma is now because the struggle for justice is right now,” Legend added.

One of the night’s most talked-about speeches came courtesy of best supporting actress Patricia Arquette, who honored her “Boyhood” character, a struggling single mom, with a demand for equal pay for women. Her statement was met with both enthusiasm — Meryl Streep leaped to her feet to show her approval — and outrage.

Whether you agreed with Streep or not, you had to admit it was one of the night’s most memorable occasions.

 Photos: news.com.au, article.wn.com, robot6.comicbookresources.com.

 

 

Best Pic Nominees Are So Fabulous, Choosing a Winner Hurts a Little

The task of sitting through each of the movies nominated for the best picture Oscar can sometimes feel like just that — a task, a chore, a tedious homework assignment.

That wasn’t the way I felt this year. For once, I enjoyed and admired all eight selections vying for Oscar’s top prize. They truly are the best Hollywood had to offer in 2014.

(If I have one complaint, it’s that the Academy failed to use one of its extra best picture slots to nominate the year’s most entertaining movie, “Guardians of the Galaxy.” I know, it’s a — gasp! — comic book movie, but it’s every bit as deserving as the more “serious” films on the list.)

Of course, the universal excellence of this year’s best picture bunch makes deciding which film deserves the coveted gold statuette all the more difficult. It’s made the race more unpredictable as well.

Despite the added challenge, I’m willing to take a stab at which picture will emerge victorious on Sunday night (the Academy Awards air at 5:30 p.m. on ABC). And while we’re at it, let’s discuss the best director race.

For predictions in the acting categories, click here.

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Best Picture

There isn’t a weak or overrated film among the nine nominees for best picture, but if I had to pick my least favorite, it would be “The Imitation Game.”

The story of British mathematician Alan Turing’s heroic code-breaking exploits during World War II, and subsequent persecution for his sexuality, showcases a powerful performance by Benedict Cumberbatch. However, some aspects of the drama feel sensationalized, more so when you realize how many elements of this biopic are actually fictional.

When it comes to dramas about eccentric British geniuses, “The Theory of Everything” tells the life story of physicist Stephen Hawking in a way that rings truer — it plays out, unexpectedly, as a messy love quadrangle — and with far more style. The fact that “Theory” is not a by-the-numbers romance, told from the point of view of Hawking’s long-suffering first wife, is its biggest strength. It also contains a couple of powerhouse performances by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, whose chemistry evolves from tender to heartbreaking.

“Selma,” another biopic vying for best picture, has been roundly snubbed this awards season. The Academy failed to nominate director Ava DuVernay — she would have been the first African-American woman to receive the honor — and lead actor David Oyelowo, who is a marvel as Martin Luther King Jr., radiating the civil rights legend’s charisma and expertly mimicking his rousing oratory style. It’s a shame because “Selma” is a compelling and necessary reminder of the power of protest in a divisive and confusing year for American race relations. I love the way DuVernay juxtaposes seemingly mediocre moments with great ones to elegantly humanize King.

The young upstart in the best picture category is “Whiplash,” debut director Damien Chazelle’s electrifying cat-and-mouse game between a sadistic music instructor (a terrifying J.K. Simmons) and the ambitious drummer (Miles Teller) he pushes to the edge. The audience is pushed to the edge, too, with an intensity few films achieve. There’s a precision, an originality and a dark side to this movie that is a whole lot of twisted fun. Like Teller’s drummer, however, Chazelle’s gotta pay his dues before he can win Oscar fame.

The most widely seen of the nominees is “American Sniper,” director Clint Eastwood’s account of the life of sharp-shooting Navy Seal Chris Kyle. Despite its popularity, “Sniper” is far too controversial to win the Oscar. Conservatives embrace Kyle as a hero. Liberals denounce the film for failing to condemn America’s messy Middle Eastern wars. This disparity is evidence that both groups have oversimplified what is actually a work of surprising complexity, a film that confronts the domestic consequences of war, something we tend to ignore.

As much as I admire the aforementioned films, there were three movies in 2014 that captured my heart and took my breath away with their technical innovation and artistry.

Director Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is undoubtedly his masterpiece. The filmmaker has reached the pinnacle of his talent for delightfully rococo pop-up book production design. The movie’s pulse is found in a hilarious, oddly touching performance by Ray Fiennes as a poetic, scheming gentleman concierge, presiding over a faded hotel in a fictional, war-ravaged Eastern European country. With all the visual flair of “The Royal Tenenbaums” and the bittersweetness of “A Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou,” the movie is a genuine charmer.

Sadly, “Grand Budapest” doesn’t have much of a shot against the two front-runners in the best picture race, even after winning the Golden Globe for comedy.

Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” took the Golden Globe for drama, as well as the top prize from the British Academy of Film and Television and dozens of critics’ groups. The film is neck-and-neck with “Birdman,” which captured the best picture prize from the producers and screen actors guilds. I find myself torn between these two remarkable films and I think Academy voters will be too.

Both films are exceptionally innovative. Director Gabriel Gonzalez Inarritu created the illusion that “Birdman” was shot in one single, exhilarating take, inspiring raw and captivating performances from a stellar ensemble cast. Michael Keaton’s turn as an insecure, aging actor trying desperately to build a last-minute legacy for himself is astoundingly funny and full of ugly, bleeding emotion.

Linklater filmed “Boyhood” a little at a time, over a period of 12 years, which lends the story of a boy’s ordinary but amazing childhood a rare and lovely verisimilitude. Armed with naturalistic acting by young star Ellar Coltrane — who becomes a young man before the audience’s very eyes — and a fine ensemble cast, subtle but transporting pop culture references and a killer soundtrack, the movie inspires intensely personal reflections on memory, wonder, mortality, family and the passing of time.

It’s a tough call, but I’m betting Academy voters will be seduced by the hopeful optimism and sweetness of “Boyhood.”

Don’t rule Inarritu out, though. (See my best director prediction, below.)

What Will Win: “Boyhood.”

What Should Win: “Boyhood.”

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Best Director

“Who is Morten Tyldum?” you might ask.

He’s the Norwegian director of “Foxcatcher,” whose thriller “Headhunters” was previously nominated by the Academy for best foreign language film. And he’s got a snowball’s chance in hell of winning this year’s best director Oscar.

Bennett Miller is a more established Hollywood presence, earning a director nod for “Capote” in 2006. Sadly for him, the race comes down to three veteran filmmakers finally getting their due from the Academy: Anderson, Linklater and Inarritu.

Inarritu recently took home the Directors Guild Award, a big predictor of who will win on Oscar night, while Linklater scooped up the Golden Globe and the BAFTA.

The contest is so close between these two, I’m betting the Academy will make the rare but not unprecedented decision to split the best picture and director prizes. Inarritu will win the gold for the edgy and awe-inspiring technical achievements showcased in “Birdman,” while Linklater’s “Boyhood” takes the best picture trophy.

I’m usually not a fan of such splits — logically, the year’s best director is the director who made the best picture — but I’m so torn between “Birdman” and “Boyhood,” I’d be happy to see them both triumph.

Who Will Win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Who Should Win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Photos: ca.complex.com, http://www.selmamovie.com.

 

 

Is Oscar On Tempo With Acting Nominations? Who Will Win. Who Should Win.

Eccentric geniuses, men of violence and artist/performers with raging egos.

Mothers who love fiercely and women who struggle to tame or embrace their wild sides.

The 2015 Oscar nominations for acting highlight roles rooted firmly in the head and the heart.

With the 87th Academy Awards just a little less than a week away (the ceremony airs Sunday on ABC), here are some educated guesses as to who will take home the gold. More importantly, who really deserves to?

Look for another post about this year’s amazing crop of best picture nominees this week.

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Best Actress

There’s no suspense this year when it comes to the best actress category.

Julianne Moore is the surest of sure things for her turn as a linguistics professor suffering the slow mental decline of early-onset Alzheimer’s in “Still Alice.”

Moore has already taken home the Golden Globe for drama and the Screen Actors Guild and British Academy of Film and Television awards, along with a slew of honors from critic’s groups. This also happens to be her fifth nomination, so the Academy owes her a win.

That leaves two previous winners in the dust, even such formidable competition as Marion Cotillard, nominated for French drama “Two Days, One Night,” and Reese Witherspoon, recognized for memoir adaptation “Wild.”

(In the interest of full disclosure, as of this post, I haven’t seen “Still Alice” or “Two Days, One Night.” Neither film has been readily available for viewing in my area.)

Witherspoon is clearly gunning for a statuette to keep her first Oscar company. Her de-glammed portrait of soul-searching Pacific Crest Trail hiker Cheryl Strayed is raw with rage and despair.

First-time nominees Felicity Jones, who plays the long-suffering spouse of physicist Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything,” and Rosamund Pike, as a deceptively perfect wife in “Gone Girl,” will just have to wait another day for a chance at winning the little gold guy.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Pike, but she surprised me with her weird, darkly hilarious transformation from prim, privileged housewife to off-her-rocker revenge seeker.

My vote, however, goes to Jones, who shares such lovely and painful moments of chemistry with co-star Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything.” Redmayne has been enjoying the lion’s share of the limelight, but his performance wouldn’t exist without Jones’ heartbreaking blend of strength and tenderness.

Who Will Win: Julianne Moore

Who Should Win: Felicity Jones

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Best Actor

Fortunately, the work of the five men nominated for the best actor Oscar is in no way diminished by the fact that Academy voters snubbed three of the most electrifying performances of 2015.

That would be Ralph Fiennes as debonair concierge Gustave H. in “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Jake Gyllenhaal as a hypnotically creepy news stringer in “Nightcrawler” and David Oyelowo, capturing Martin Luther King Jr.’s greatness in “Selma.”

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, on to the actors who were actually nominated.

The Academy has long favored roles that take a physical as well as emotional toll, which is why Eddie Redmayne is likely to emerge victorious in the best actor race.

To play Hawking in “The Theory of Everything,” Redmayne re-creates the celebrated physicist’s torturous decline, contorting his body and changing his speech patterns, all while capturing the wheel chair-bound scientist’s charm and sense of humor. For this remarkable feat, the actor has already captured the Golden Globe for drama and the SAG and BAFTA awards.

On the off chance Redmayne doesn’t triumph, the gold will go to “Birdman” star Michael Keaton, awarded the Golden Globe for comedy in January and enjoying the sort of Hollywood career comeback Oscar voters can’t resist.

In the most revealing and risky role he’s ever played, Keaton bares body and soul — not to mention a balding skull and wrinkled mug — as an aging, insecure actor searching for redemption in a doomed Broadway play.

Rounding out the competition are Benedict Cumberbatch, who somehow manages to make socially awkward genius attractive in “The Imitation Game,” and Steve Carell, sporting a fake nose in “Foxcatcher” to rival the faux schnozz that won Nicole Kidman an Oscar for “The Hours.”

Ironically, it’s the most talked about performance in the category that may have the least chance of victory. Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of Navy Seal Chris Kyle in “American Sniper” is so mired in controversy, it would be a shock if the Academy deigned to touch it with a 10 foot pole.

That’s a shame. Though I was wowed by Redmayne’s bold physicality, Keaton’s lack of vanity and Cumberbatch’s smarts (I have yet to see Carell in “Foxcatcher), I was most impressed by the maturity of Cooper’s work in “American Sniper.”

The actor has been on an upward trajectory since 2012’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” which landed him a first Oscar nomination, followed by another for “American Hustle.” In “Sniper,” he takes a man whose image has been appropriated by a dizzying array of political persuasions and makes him, simply, human. In his hands, Kyle is admirable and tragic, a man of conviction whose beliefs don’t spare him from paying the devastating price of war.

Who Will Win: Eddie Redmayne

Who Should Win: Bradley Cooper

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Best Supporting Actress

The supporting categories only further reinforce the fact that there just isn’t a lot of mystery when it comes to the acting nominees this year.

The predetermined winner in the supporting actress race is Patricia Arquette for her emotional, endearingly naturalistic turn as a flawed but loving single mom in the drama “Boyhood.”

Arquette waltzed away with the Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA awards and just about every other critic’s honor, which virtually guarantees she’ll go home with the gold on Sunday.

Two-time nominee Laura Dern played a similar role in “Wild” — a free-spirited single mother who receives a crushing diagnosis just as she’s beginning to discover herself. I love her graceful portrayal — glimpsed in brief snippets in flashback — of a vivacious, nurturing woman who bravely confronts whatever life throws at her.

I also love Emma Stone in the part of Michael Keaton’s defensive recovering addict daughter in “Birdman.” Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu shoots her as if she is the most wide-eyed of damaged dolls, capturing her searing performance in extreme close-up.

Also wonderful is previous nominee Keira Knightley’s prim, quintessentially British, heartfelt turn as a crackerjack code breaker and close confidante to mathematician Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game.”

In a year without “Boyhood,” the most towering presence in this category could have been Meryl Streep, racking up her 19th Oscar nomination as the witch in “Into the Woods.” But even her haunting rendition of the song “Stay With Me” — Is there anything Meryl can’t do? — won’t secure her a fourth win.

There’s something so powerful about the way Arquette allows herself to age on camera in “Boyhood” over a period of 12 years and how unaffected she is as Ellar Coltrane’s no-nonsense, painfully honest mama. The performance is a brave accomplishment for an actress in a Hollywood that mercilessly judges its female stars.

Who Will Win: Patricia Arquette

Who Should Win: Patricia Arquette

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Best Supporting Actor

Another category, another case in which there’s no contest.

Seasoned character actor J.K. Simmons, known for his jollier appearances in the “Spider-Man” films and “Thank You for Smoking,” took a startling trip to the dark side in “Whiplash” as a sadistic music instructor who drives aspiring drummer Miles Teller to the brink of a psychological meltdown.

Simmons has always been an excellent, woefully underrated artist, but it’s impossible to ignore the electrifying mind games he plays with his co-star and the movie’s audience, which is why he earlier took home the Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA awards.

I have to agree with the voting members of these organizations. Watching “Whiplash,” I was terrified, I was mesmerized, I was totally stressed out by Simmons’ off-tempo tyrannical tantrums. And did I mention this is also a surprisingly funny performance? Nobody deserves the gold more.

That leaves little by way of consolation to Simmons’ competitors, including two actors whose performances I didn’t catch. They are Robert Duvall, earning a seventh nomination with his turn as a stubborn, old coot forced to rely on his estranged son’s help in “The Judge,” and two-time nominee Mark Ruffalo as an Olympic wrestler in “Foxcatcher.”

Simmons has some stiff competition — if you’ve seen “Birdman,” you’ll get the pun — in the form of Edward Norton, who is volatile, amusing and infuriating as a method actor who inflicts his pretentious philosophies on his theater colleagues. After years of phoning it in, Norton seems to have somehow time-traveled back to the dynamic, unpredictable young thing he was in such films as “American History X” and “Fight Club.”

If anyone else could wrest the trophy from Simmons, it’s Ethan Hawke, who has earned more writing nominations than acting nods when it comes to Oscar. After settling into less-than-challenging roles as a horror movie star, Hawke shakes things up with a beautiful, easygoing, poignant turn as a flawed father determined to redeem himself in “Boyhood.” Like Norton, the actor seems to have rediscovered himself.

Who Will Win: J.K. Simmons

Who Should Win: J.K. Simmons

Photos: http://www.sbs.com.au, moviepilot.com, entertainment.ie, http://www.hollywood.com, bestsundancefilms.com

Stop Grousing and Go See ‘Gravity’

This year’s Academy Awards race is one of the closest in recent memory with three of the nine films nominated for best picture in a tight heat. Oscar analysts agree that at the conclusion of Sunday’s ceremony, Hollywood’s most coveted prize will be presented to the producers of either “Gravity,” “12 Years a Slave” or “American Hustle.”

Entertainment Weekly, in its Oscar predictions issue, forecasts that 19% of the Academy vote will go to “Gravity,” with 18% for “12 Years a Slave” and “American Hustle” with 16% of the ballots. Last month, in a rare occurrence, “Gravity” and “12 Years” tied for the top prize at the Producers Guild Awards. The ceremony is usually a good predictor of Oscar outcomes.

For months, the three front-runners have generated considerable buzz. “Gravity” racked up an impressive $700 million at the global box office. “American Hustle” crossed the $200 million mark and even the harrowing “12 Years” drummed up $100 million in ticket sales. The fact remains, however, that many people have not bothered to head to the theater to see what all the fuss is about.

Of course, this isn’t unusual when it comes to the Oscars, a ceremony that is treated with reverence in Tinseltown but tends to elicit yawns from an indifferent general public. Unless it’s one of the few years in which a major blockbuster is nominated — “Avatar,” for instance, viewed by practically everyone on the planet — it’s common for best picture candidates to languish unseen.

But this time around, the front-runners are worthy of your time and attention. In a year of exceptional films, they are the best Hollywood had to offer — a visually innovative cosmic thriller; a brutally honest historical drama; and a shamelessly entertaining glitter-pile of 1970s glam.

Oddly enough, it is “Gravity” that seems to have encountered the most resistance from a certain segment of filmgoers. I’ve talked to a number of people who stubbornly turn up their noses at Alfonso Cuaron’s space odyssey. Perhaps their reticence stems from the film’s minimalist but epic premise. At first I couldn’t imagine what could possibly be so compelling about watching Sandra Bullock and George Clooney float around in outer space.

Still, the skepticism is baffling, considering what a taut nail-biter of a thriller the film is, not to mention its stunning visual achievements and emotional heft. If you’re lucky enough to find a place where you can still catch an IMAX screening of the movie, it will be one of the most suspenseful, immersive, uplifting and intense cinematic experiences of your life. The film was released Tuesday on Blu-ray, so you can watch it from the comfort of your couch, but you’ll be missing out. If ever a film demanded to be seen on the biggest screen possible — preferably in 3-D with a kick-ass sound system — this is it.

The story of a medical engineer adrift after her space shuttle is torn to shreds, “Gravity” features one of Bullock’s most fragile and moving performances. The film ingeniously registers on two levels – it’s one heck of a popcorn movie ride but it’s also packed with existential symbolism and musings on hope, rebirth and the significance of humanity in a terrifyingly infinite universe. It’s as deep or as shallow as you want it to be.

“American Hustle” is an easier sell. Directed by “Silver Linings Playbook” helmer David O. Russell and reuniting several members of that crowd-pleasing comedy-drama’s cast, “Hustle” is a trashy, over-the-top romp through 1970s sleaze and the most fun many of us had at the movies in 2013.

Nothing about the film is hard to love, from the gloriously kitschy period costumes and art direction, to the go-for-broke acting, to the twisty plot about a pair of con artists embroiled in a government sting operation. Bradley Cooper’s perm and Christian Bale’s comb-over may appear to steal the show, but it is the film’s leading ladies – both nominated for Oscars – who are the real stars. Amy Adams, as a chameleonic temptress looking for love, and Jennifer Lawrence, as an unstable, accident-prone housewife, deliver the most mesmerizing performances of their already accomplished careers.

“12 Years a Slave” is difficult to love, despite the fact that it is quite possibly the most authentic movie of its kind. While other films about America’s dirty, devastating past soft-pedal the indignities of slavery, director Steve McQueen lays them bare in merciless fashion, making for a film that is necessary, yet excruciating. After seeing it, my husband and I were silent the whole way home. There was literally nothing to say in the aftermath of so much shame and sadness.

McQueen specializes in depicting human depravity and desperation — he made a movie titled “Shame,” after all — and “12 Years” is his masterwork. It is brilliantly acted with performances so naked, it’s hard to look them in the eye — Chiwetel Ejiofor as the kidnapped Solomon Northup, Michael Fassbender as a lascivious slave owner and, most searing of all, Lupita Nyong’o as the tormented target of that slave owner’s twisted obsession.

Yes, “12 Years” is painful to watch, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it, even if you only watch it once. The film has profound and indispensable things to say about the insidious nature of racism.

There are great treasures to mine, great revelations to discover in Oscar’s favorite trio and time and opportunity to rectify what you’ve missed, long after the Oscars are over.

Why deprive yourself of greatness?