Tag Archives: JK Simmons

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.

 

 

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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