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The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart (and I, at least, have impeccable taste), we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

The nominees are:

  • Michael Haneke, Amour
  • Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Ang Lee, Life of Pi
  • Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
  • David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

Jared

I don’t get what people see in David O. Russell’s direction. I feel like the whole world has gone crazy. I mean, it wasn’t as bad here as in The Fighter, but that’s the lowest of bars. To his credit, he presumably had some role in coaxing great performances out of Lawrence and Cooper, and one of the first non-mailed in one from De Niro in ages. So there’s that.

There’s lots of stuff going on in Beasts of the Southern Wild. And it is technically pretty impressive. So props to Benh Zeitlin for that, but when a ninety minute movie feels like it is twice that long, I’m going to dock the director, even taking the script into consideration.

I found Amour mostly forgettable. It wasn’t quite as terrible as I was expecting, so tip of the hat to Michael Haneke for that. The film started out pretty strong. Opening up on the audience shot was fascinating. And I thought the scene with the running faucet was very well-executed.

Life of Pi has some of the smallest scenes of Oscar contenders (much of the film takes place on a lifeboat, after all) but also some of the largest (the shipwreck, that crazy island). Ang Lee superbly executes this wide range of cinematic effort. When a book that many said was unfilmable ends up looking this great, you have to applaud the work of the director.

spielbergLost in all the hubbub surrounding the omissions in this category is the fact that Steven Spielberg turns in another fantastic effort. He wrangles a massive cast of supporting characters while still always highlight the main one, creating a riveting movie out of a Congressional vote. I’m going through a number of scenes in my head at the moment, and they are all differently memorable and nearly perfectly shot.

Should have been here: I’d keep Spielberg. Ben Affleck, Argo and Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty, obviously. And then I’d throw in Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight Rises and Robert Zemeckis, Flight.

John

The more I think about Silver Linings Playbook the more I dislike it and it is Russell’s project through and through. The tone is especially off. Meanwhile, those who love Amour likely do so based heavily on Haneke’s direction. But I was underwhelmed for the same reason. For me, it’s just too sparse.

The other three movies have their directors’ fingerprints all over them. Isn’t the best adjective for Lincoln “Spielbergian?” Exquisite production elements, powerful John Williams score, and a lack of subtlety. Beasts of the Southern Wild and Life of Pi are more directors’ showcases. Zeitlin has such a neat vision for Beasts with the music, surrealism, and bayou shantytown grunge. It didn’t always work for me, but I love the vision and it probably doesn’t work at all without it. Indie film is full of gritty poverty realism and Zeitlin tries something with much more imagination.

LOP-485  Director Ang Lee on the set of Life of Pi.But Ang Lee is my winner. Life of Pi is all vision. Think of what goes into this film: spectacular visuals, spiritual and surreal elements, and long periods of time with one character alone at sea. This movie lives and dies on how it’s realized and Lee nails it.

Should have been here: Speaking of directorial showcases, how about Django Unchained? This is Tarantino through and through (and is also a better movie than all those that were nominated).

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The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart, we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

The nominees for Best Actress are:

  • Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
  • Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Naomi Watts, The Impossible

John

Whew, this is a tough category. It’s so tough that if I was a real voter I would consider not casting a ballot at all. My preferences between Riva, Chastain, and Lawrence are just that tight.

Riva plays a woman who has been partially paralyzed after a stroke. Her performance is naturally very physical and she puts that on display in a few particularly harrowing scenes, like when she’s shouting gibberish through half her mouth. Chastain is a study in resolve. She is commanding, direct, and, yes, a little cold. She’s also the one actress of these three that could be said to really dominate her movie, that her performance is a defining elements of the film.

It’s a function of the material she has to work with, but I occasionally had trouble believing the lines Lawrence was delivering. This was mostly the case when she was at either her most fierce or most vulnerable. To some extent I just don’t think the film utilizes her character well: I feel like she’s a character I want to see in a movie and I don’t know what the hell the other people are doing there. Still, it’s a good performance and except for those few quibbles she pulls the movie through some real rough spots. She’s almost a breath of fresh air when she comes on the screen, saving us from Bradley Cooper’s neurosis.

So who to choose? I’m not sure. My mind may change before the Oscar ceremony both for who

is most deserving and who I hope will win. I’ll admit I’m kind of rooting for Riva. But I will choose Jessica Chastain on merit.

Going into The Impossible knowing that Watts earned a nomination, I expected more from the role. Her struggles in the tsunami are terrifying but the final 2/3 of the movie finds her bedridden, injured and moaning. I feel like if this sort of thing appeals to you, you have Riva doing it to greater effect. And I certainly don’t begrudge Wallis’s nomination and she really carries her movie. Adages about child acting aside, I just found her the other nominees more compelling.

Jared

Quvenzhane Wallis is more anecdotal proof that child actors keep getting better and better.  I’m not sure I’d put her in my top 20, but part of that is the material and anyway I’m not going to say anything bad about someone whose age is in the single digits.

I liked The Impossible more than I was expecting, and some of that was definitely due to Naomi Watts.  Her problem here is mostly screen time.  I don’t think it would be category fraud to bump her down to supporting actress.  Because she doesn’t really have the material needed to compete here.

I suppose it is possible I’ve got a personal backlash against Amour going on, but I’m clearly missing something here.  Emmanuelle Riva was good, but if you want to give her a lifetime achievement award, fine,  then give her a lifetime achievement award.  Don’t overrate her performance.  She virtually disappears for a good chunk of the movie, leaving me wondering why Jean-Louis Trintignant wasn’t getting the awards attention.

Jessica Chastain is quickly rising up the list of actors or actresses I would cast in a movie if I had to pick a cast without knowing anything about the script.  The first third or so of the movie isn’t particularly strong, but Jessica Chastain a large part of the reason to stick through it.  The role isn’t really what jumps to mind when one thinks Oscar – there’s no big crying scene or wild emoting, which makes it all the more impressive Chastain got the nomination.

For me, though, Jennifer Lawrence is this year’s best actress.  Frankly, it is isn’t particularly close.  Saddled with a rather mediocre script, Lawrence lights up the screen, creating a vivid and interesting character.  She nearly singlehandedly turns Silver Linings Playbook into something watchable.  I firmly believe the awards love that the film and script are getting are ridiculous.  But I just as firmly believe none of that would be happening without Lawrence.  Honestly, I find it baffling that anyone could reach a different conclusion for this category.

Should have been here: My top five  goes Chastain, Lawrence, Jennifer Lawrence (again), The Hunger Games; Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea; Michelle Williams, Take This Waltz

The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart (and I, at least, have impeccable taste), we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

The nominees are:

  • Amy Adams, The Master
  • Sally Field, Lincoln
  • Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
  • Helen Hunt, The Sessions
  • Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook

Jared

I’m a big fan of Amy Adams. Watching Junebug (and her performance in it) was one of the reasons I started down this Oscar-obsessive path. She’s pretty much always fantastic, and one of the reasons I suggest people check out the underrated Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. That all said, there’s absolutely no good reason she was nominated for her role here. Sure, it was darker than she usually plays, and she was good. But it kinda seems like she got the nom for jacking off Philip Seymour Hoffman, which is maybe not the best reason ever to nominate someone.

It was surprising to me that Jacki Weaver hadn’t been receiving more Oscar buzz for her role, given she was a recent Oscar nominee and lots of people love Silver Linings Playbook. She’s actually pretty good as a character who is pretty much the complete opposite of her Oscar-nominated character in Animal Kingdom. But I don’t really get it. Especially considering Ann Dowd was in the mix this year as another middle-aged woman who struggles to keep things together while making a lot of food. Weaver and Adams’s nomination kinda make it seem like the Academy needs to get out and see more movies. Which is bad, since it is sort of their job to do that.

You know, I don’t quite get the love this year for Sally Field. As I mentioned earlier, I thought Kushner’s script had a little difficulty fitting the Lincoln family into the cast of thousands. Her scene with Tommy Lee Jones in the receiving line was fun, sure. And she does some good work in a bedroom scene. But in my mind there’s just not enough there to merit a nomination.

John and I both had Helen Hunt as the runner-up in our Spirit Awards picks, and we talk about her performance a little bit there. I’m not really a fan of the use of “brave” to describe acting, and the fact that Hunt got naked doesn’t really affect my opinion here. But how well she used her nakedness while portraying a sex therapist does. Nudity in movies often serves as a distraction (good or bad), and while it serviced the plot here, the impressive part was Hunt jumping into the character, almost teaching the audience to be comfortable with skin as she taught Hawkes the same. She also gets credit for the emotional scenes at home and in the car, even if I’m not sure they really added to the film.

hathaway1

But, yeah, obviously it is Anne Hathaway in her Sinead O’Connor homage. I don’t really have anything new to the conversation here, so I’ll just say that I watched the pilot episode of Get Real, which starred Hathaway and Jesse Eisenberg, among others. It was actually pretty decent. And kind of a fascinating link from the television of the late 90s/early 2000s and the often hyper self-aware television of today.

Should have been here: Man, this is a really tough category. If you asked me right this second, I have Hunt and Hathaway in my top five, along with Samantha Barks, Les Miserables; Rosemarie DeWitt, Your Sister’s Sister; and Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. But a few seconds later I’d figure out a way to get Ann Dowd, Compliance; Emma Stone, The Amazing Spider-Man and/or Rebel Wilson, Pitch Perfect in there. And I’m leaving out a handful more performances I really want to mention. It was a great year for supporting actresses, if you are willing to think outside the box a little bit.

John

She really cleans up after she dies

She really cleans up after she dies

I’m a lemming and going with Anne Hathaway. She doesn’t have much screen time but she sure is memorable. She gets a little bit of derision since for “winning for one song,” but she does do at least a little more there. Not that it matters. Her “I Dreamed a Dream” is very powerful and instantly iconic.

Hunt is my second choice. The Sessions walks a fine line. It needs to be sympathetic to its subjects – it finds humor in the situation without ever mocking – but doesn’t want to stray into maudlin territory. The performance are a big reason why it succeeds.

Twice now in the short history of this site I’ve discussed that I like Amy Adams but that she was swept to an undeserved nomination as part of an acting showcase. Jared makes the same argument above because here she is again for a film that also landed nominations for two other actors. This time, though, I’m totally fine with it. Its hard to not be dominated by the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix in a film, but she manages to be memorable in her own right.

Finally, not to disparage their work, but Field and Weaver made very little impact on me.

Who should have been here? You have to think that Ann Dowd finished 6th or 7th in the voting for Compliance and she would have been a favorite for me in the category. Compliance is a film that requires all its characters to continually do stupid things at the behest of a prankster. Through Dowd’s character we can at least understand how a well-meaning person could be duped so much. At least she got our Independent Spirit vote. Jared says it was a good year for this category but I disagree. Even his outside of the box suggestions do very little for me.

The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart (and I, at least, have impeccable taste), we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

Best Actor in a Leading Role

The nominees are:

  • Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
  • Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
  • Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
  • Denzel WashingtonFlight

John

ddl2Yes, of course I’m going with Daniel Day-Lewis in this category. It’s one of those instantly classic performances that will be remembered for a long time.

But it’s still not an instant choice because there are two other really good nominees in this category. Phoenix is intense as hell, squirmy and angry. Washington turns in what I’d call a classic leading man performance. There’s not much in the way of showy acting in Flight but Washington totally carries the film with charisma to spare. He really nails his character’s charming yet dickish personality.

Cooper didn’t make much of an impression on me and I think Les Miserables actively sputters when Jackman is on screen. I know it’s a stylistic choice to give the singing a ragged quality, but Jackman’s gasping and over-emoting didn’t work for me and paled in comparison to his costars that took a more conventional approach to their singing. “Maybe the director should have worked harder to make sure his cast members took similar approaches to singing,” you might say. Yes. Yes he should have.

I would have dropped Cooper and Jackman for John Hawkes’s marvelous performance in The Sessions. I suspect the real Mark O’Brien would have felt very well-represented by the portrayal. Logan Lerman in The Perks of Being a Wallflower never really got the acclaim he deserved. Forget Cooper; Logan gives the mentally ill performance of the year! Finally, he may win in Supporting Actor, but Tommy Lee Jones really knocked my socks off in Hope Springs, pairing his trademark gruffness with a lot of vulnerability.

Jared

When I have Hugh Jackman in the cellar, you know it is a strong year for this category. I’ll probably never have a bad thing to say about Jackman (and I’m always reminded of SNL’s Best of Both Worlds sketch), I think he was a little bit let down by his director and the material here. The sing-talking was mostly distracting and a lot of the time he just didn’t seem to be in the same movie as everyone else. I think there’s a potential Les Miserables that would see me have Jackman as my favorite, but this wasn’t it.

phoenix poseIt is admittedly a little difficult to get past the sheer boredom induced by The Master. But I think Joaquin Phoenix helped create a very distinct character. I don’t know if this is going to sound insane or not, but I was most taken by a particular pose Phoenix struck throughout the movie. Hands on his waist, elbows out, almost chicken-like. It felt vaguely unnatural, but maybe since nothing else was going on in the movie, I noticed it over and over, and was impressed with how well Phoenix stuck with it (and other mannerisms) throughout the movie.

I say this as a very big fan of the guy, but doesn’t it seem like Bradley Cooper’s star power is outpacing the movies he’s starred in by a significant margin? He’s got The Hangover and its sequel, this one, and…what else? Limitless? You have to start counting He’s Just Not That Into You and Valentine’s Day, or, like The A-Team. Now, that’s not any sort of knock on his acting, a rewatch of Wet Hot American Summer and, say, The Midnight Meat Train will reveal a perhaps surprisingly impressive range. Anyway, to be more relevant here, this nomination is absolutely deserved. Cooper overcomes a subpar script and direction to deliver a refreshingly nuanced take on mental illness.

Flight is an underrated movie, and I think maybe as a result (along with the fact that there’s a clear front-runner in this category), Denzel Washington is getting lost in the shuffle a little bit. Which is ridiculous, because he’s Denzel. Like most actors, he’s more fun to watch when he’s playing someone who isn’t the ultimate do-gooder, and his character here is just fascinating. There’s a wide spectrum of ways of playing drunk, none of them necessarily wrong, but it is a lot more difficult to play a character going through an entire movie in an alcohol and narcotic infused haze of dependency. And Washington nails it.

ddl1I always love the stories of Daniel Day-Lewis so fully immersing himself into a character – texting like Lincoln, staying in character for the entire production and dearly hope the more ridiculous they are, the more true they are. To me, he’s a testament to what we can accomplish if we want something badly enough, including putting in the work. And for me, there’s not necessarily a value judgement there. His Lincoln is pitch perfect, of course. But when you think about what he sacrificed to prepare and stay in the character’s mindset, it is hard to say if it is was “worth” it.

At any rate, I think the world has pretty much acknowledged this race is and should be set, and everyone’s OK with that.

Should have been here: Along with Day-Lewis and Washignton, I have John Hawkes, The Sessions; Matthew McConaughey, Killer Joe, and Logan Lerman, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. With Cooper; Channing Tatum, Magic Mike; and Liam Neeson, The Grey on the outside.

The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart, we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

The nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay are:

  • Chris Terrio, Argo
  • Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • David Magee, Life of Pi
  • Tony Kushner, Lincoln
  • David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

Jared

I’ll almost never begrudge anyone their enjoyment of a film, and I really do respect the heck out of the little indie that could for all it has accomplished and what it stands for.  But personally, I think the screenplay for Beasts of the Southern Wild is atrocious.  It is nonsensical, meaningless, and it commits the worst movie sin of all: it is boring.  The dialogue is rough and largely unmemorable, the story just kinda meanders along, and I thought the magic realism was jarringly not integrated into the film.

We are at two in a row now where I think people are crazy for showering love onto David O. Russell.  All my problems with Silver Linings Playbook that don’t stem from the direction lie with the script.  I can still remember literally cringing in my seat at West End at the “That’s emotion” line.  Virtually all the supporting characters had major flaws ranging from being pointless (Chris Tucker) to having bizarre and unexplained motivations (the shrink, the random guy who was always around betting with Robert De Niro) to just plain underwritten (the parents).  I did like the main characters, though I wonder just how much of that is attributable to the actors.

Life of Pi’s script certainly beat my expectations.  Maybe unsurprisingly, I found Magee most effective in the earlier, more conventional part of the story (yes, even the start of that framing device most people can’t stand).  Honestly, I wonder if I would have preferred a movie about growing up, young love, and a zoo.  Obviously the section of the story with Richard Parker is the more important bit and way more challenging to script.  Magee held his own, but I think the direction and visuals are more carrying the day.

Tony Kushner’s Lincoln isn’t the Team of Rivals adaptation I would have written, but that’s why he’s one of the best screenwriters on the planet.  He did a masterful job turning a Congressional vote into something riveting to watch.  And somehow managed to service tons and tons of supporting characters while still focusing on the President.  My only real gripe, I guess, is with those supporting characters and how some of them (e.g. all the members of the Lincoln family) seemed to get a little bit lost.  I’ll also count my vote among those who didn’t really think Lincoln’s death was well-incorporated into the film.

Argo gimme the Oscar!

It is interesting that some of the year’s funniest cinematic moments (“Argo f*ck yourself”, the escape plan involving bicycles) occur in perhaps the year’s most taut thriller.  I don’t think it is a coincidence and I do think much of the credit goes to Chris Terrio.  A criticism I’ve heard (or maybe just made up – it has been a long, crazy Oscar season) is that none of the characters are particularly developed.  I can’t really refute that, but to me the film is about people doing their jobs and, in a way related, doing things for other people.  The point isn’t that we are supposed to feel close to the hostages.  The complete opposite, in a way.  The wheels of bureaucracy are turning and crazy escape plans being hatched, all for, let’s face it, a completely anonymous group of people who happen to be U.S. citizens.  The script is gripping and tense and my clear favorite in this batch of nominees.

Should have been nominated: I’m always a bit fuzzy on adapted vs. original, but along with Kushner and Terrio, I would have had Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Michael Bacall, 21 Jump Street, and Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight Rises.  (And Kay Cannon, Pitch Perfect just on the outside.  Which may or may not be the alcohol talking.)

John

I didn’t care for Silver Linings Playbook and a lot of that is due to the script. All I could think when watching that film is, “This is going to end poorly.” Happy ending aside, that relationship is headed towards trainwreck. And that’s not necessarily wrong for a film, but the movie presents this sort of affirmative message about overcoming mental illness via harebrained schemes that left me feeling completely icky.

Silver Linings aside, it’s a lineup of fine films, but several strike me as succeeding on the back of their visual styles more than their script. I won’t deny the immense creative vision needed to make Life of Pi a success but most of that comes its visual style. Commentators seem to frequently mention how the book was regarded as unfilmable. While I appreciate the skill needed to adapt the story to the silver screen, I don’t plan on grading on a curve here. Meanwhile, Beasts of the Southern Wild also relies on non-story elements to really propel it to success: a precocious lead, rousing music, and an interesting visual style. Still, some of its dialogue, particularly some of Hushpuppy’s soliloquies, are really touching and its confused narrative structure informed by its little girl point of view keeps it interesting. I’m not very sympathetic to the argument that it’s too confusing. From Hushpuppy’s point of view, of course it’s confusing! I could have used a bit more to keep the story moving forward, however.

I never quite understood why Ben Affleck kept asking if I liked apples.

I enjoyed Lincoln and its ability to be both entertaining and meaningful. I really wish it had dialed down the schmaltz, however. Argo is my winner, though it does sort of feel like by default here. Rather than schmaltz, its final act is somewhat undermined by an air of unbelievability. Still, the plot is tight, the story is compelling and clever, and it dials up an incredible amount of mostly earned tension: its characters are fleshed out enough that their conflicts feel realistic instead of manufactured plot points.

Should have been here: How about some love for Bernie? Fascinating characters, totally compelling story, and an inventive narrative device to boot!

The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart, we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

Best Cinematography

The nominees are:

  • Anna Karenina, Seamus McGarvey
  • Django Unchained, Robert Richardson
  • Life of Pi, Claudio Miranda
  • Lincoln, Janusz Kaminski
  • Skyfall, Roger Deakins

John

This is a good crop of nominees though maybe not very flashy. A number of them do interesting things with lighting and color. Django Unchained features a number of interesting shots – think of blood splatter against white cotton bolls – and Lincoln is an achievement of atmospheric lighting, usually framing its noble protagonist. Skyfall‘s probably here for two big scenes: the Shanghai office building where neon lights reflect through rows of glass walls and the shoot-out in the foggy Scottish highlands at the end. Both are pretty fantastic, though there isn’t as much that’s memorable through the bulk of the film.

karenina

Life of Pi will probably win. I feel like the film is more an achievement in directorial vision and visual effects, but good cinematography partially through digital manipulation is still good cinematography. It just isn’t as showy as it was in Avatar. While I think any of the nominees would make fine winners, I’ll toss my vote to Anna Karenina. The first half of the movie wows with its stylistic visuals, the camera swirling through hundreds of extras in intricately-choreographed scene changes. The second half of the film didn’t keep up the visual flourishes, but I think the material provides less opportunity.

Jared

This category has a stellar group of nominees. That said, I’m not a terribly visual person to begin with, so I’m won’t bother stepping through each one and talking about how pretty the pictures were. I’ll just say that I have the order (from last to my pick) as: Robert Richardson, Django Unchained; Seamus McGarvey, Anna Karenina; Claudio Miranda, Life of Pi; Roger Deakins, Skyfall; Janusz Kaminski, Lincoln. (With apologies to Deakins, who has been the bridesmaid far too many times without ever being the bride.)

lincoln_cin

Do I look good in this light?

But I was continually struck by a very specific aspect of Kaminski’s work in Lincoln. Virtually every shot of Day-Lewis seemed iconic. And where a somewhat similar approach may have felt unearned or over the top in, say, War Horse, it was pitch perfect here. Lincoln wasn’t exactly a hagiography, but it only added to the (mostly true) legend of the man. And virtually every scene saw the character framed and lit so memorably, as if every moment of his life was potentially the one that would make the cover of his biography. This approach may have been a bit much in a movie dominated entirely by the character, but with such a sprawling cast, the decision to constantly glorify Lincoln this way worked magnificently, heightening the dramatic effect and seamlessly enhancing the script.

Best Film Editing

The nominees are:

  • Argo
  • Life of Pi
  • Lincoln
  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • Zero Dark Thirty

John

argo_edit

Cut to: dramatic close-up

I’m not very versed in the art of film editing, but I lean towards Argo for its great pacing and skillful use of suspense even though we’re pretty sure we already know what happens. By the same standards Zero Dark Thirty is close, though I didn’t find the bulk of the film’s pace as effective. I think that may have been more in the screenplay, however.

Silver Linings Playbook is getting some notice in this category with its backers citing its comedic timing. It’s a good argument with one major flaw: it’s not funny.

The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart, we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

The nominees for Best Supporting Actor are:

  • Alan Arkin, Argo
  • Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
  • Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
  • Chritoph Waltz, Django Unchained

Jared

Look, I think it is great that Robert De Niro wasn’t a parody of himself for the second time in two decades (I’m a strong believer in his performance in Stardust). I hope this is a sign he’s getting his groove back. But do we need to give the guy a nomination and maybe even an award for it? He’s got plenty. I understand mental illness is catnip for Oscar, but come on. He’s out-acted by every one of his co-stars in every scene he is in. De Niro’s nomination is one of those things that makes you wonder if the Academy really is qualified to be doing this.

I think it is great that the Academy sometimes finds space for the small roles in this category, and Alan Arkin turns in a fine performance. I personally don’t get the nomination, though, and read it more as a combination of the need to nominate someone from the cast and the irresistible temptation of the Hollywood producer character. Arkin approaches the character with zeal and zest, but I think the role is just too limited.

Tommy Lee Jones pretty much makes everything better. If I had to nitpick here, maybe I’d come up with something about how the character may be too broad, but really the only complaint I could have is that the character occasionally gets lost in the sea of characters the script needs to service. He’s on the bubble for my personal list.

The Master is a horrendous movie, so maybe I’m overcompensating here. But it is kind of astounding how smoothly Philip Seymour Hoffman slips into this mesmerizing persona. The role isn’t always showy, but instead provides a stark spotlight to highlight everything else in the film. I don’t think Amy Adams gets a nomination here without being able to play off of Hoffman. The thing is, while I don’t think the argument is as clear cut as the next guy, because I had to spend some time thinking about it, but I have Hoffman as a lead actor in this role. I’m willing to entertain discussion otherwise, but compare his role to that of Alan Arkin or Tommy Lee Jones.

Your choice pleases me. You will not be killed.

Your choice pleases me. You will not be killed.

My toughest decision in this group was whether to put Christoph Waltz first or last. He wouldn’t have been on my Supporting Actor ballot. Because he’s not a supporting actor. He’s quite clearly a lead actor, and I’d probably argue the main character of this film. And I can’t stand category fraud. But Harvey Weinstein is a genius and made it happen, so if I had a ballot I guess I’d have to go with Waltz. Honestly, I’d probably be transfixed by him reading a set of Ikea instructions. He’s just a perfect match for Tarantino’s dialogue, making every bit of the script count.

Should have been here: I would have gone with a completely different five, I think. Javier Bardem, Skyfall; Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained, Samuel L. Jackson, Django Unchained; Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike; Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

John

Emma Stone and Seth MacFarlane noted while announcing the nominees in this category that all five men had won it once before. To them it was a joke, but I wonder how many rode their previous successes to a nomination this year.

I left the theater with little impression of Jones, De Niro, or Arkin. All are famous actors and all play characters with memorable lines or story arcs, but never once did I give their performances any special consideration. Arkin, in particular, seems to be taking advantage of his character’s funny quips. And while I agree it’s nice to see De Niro not phoning in a performance, the screaming-OCD-guy act wasn’t wowing me. Then there’s Jones. If he’s not playing a character with such sympathetic morals, does he get so much awards attention?

Another one under my spell

Another one under my spell

I am quite happy with the Waltz and Hoffman nominations, however. I love how Waltz can be so subtly creepy even while turning on the charm. My vote goes to Philip Seymour Hoffman. While I didn’t particularly care for The Master, his intensity is really something to behold. He’s a little crazy but I can see why his followers would feel attracted to him.

Geez, has it really been two months since this blog saw a post?  In our defense, three of us are doing grad school in addition to the full time jobs we all hold down (I guess Adam is just lazy).  But no need to worry, now that Oscar season is heating up, we’ve been seeing movies.  And hopefully will get some thoughts up here.

Spurred on by two separate email conversations, I thought I’d check in on the Intrade market for Best Picture.  As a refresher, an Intrade share has a set expiration date, at which time it will pay out either $10 or $0.  In the market for Best Picture, each share represents a movie, so whichever movie wins Best Picture will pay out $10 and all other movies will pay out $0.  But you can buy and sell shares of movies at any point prior to the Oscars, so, in effect, the current share price represents the market’s prediction of the likelihood that film will win Best Picture.

According to Intrade, we are currently looking at a three-horse race.

FRONTRUNNERS

Les Miserables ($2.90) – So these discussions started last week when Ian declared Les Miserables the winner, leading me to check prices on Intrade.  At which point the film was trading around $1.50 – $1.70.  I have documented, time-stamped proof that Brian, John, and I all declared the film a strong buy at that price.  The film was actually trading around $1.60 yesterday.  So what changed?  Yesterday saw the first screenings of the film and though there’s still an embargo on full reviews, initial reports are that the film went over very well and is likely going to be a surefire contender for Best Picture.  Nice to see the market react so quickly.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see the price dip a bit with the inevitable backlash and posts about how these were pro-musical audiences.  But a classic musical is the kind of thing that can start steamrolling through awards seasons.

Argo ($2.85) – Argo is a near-lock for a nomination.  I personally think it has a better than 29% chance to win it all, with the reviews, the box office, the massive cast of known actors (and actors make up a big chunk of the voting membership), it being a patriotic film where Hollywood is the hero, and the story of Ben Affleck’s redemption.  That said, it is hard to recommend a buy, because I’m not even sure a nomination alone will bump up the price, it would need to start winning some precursors.

Lincoln ($2.64) – Another near-lock for a nomination.  I saw this film yesterday, so I’m still sorting through my thoughts.  It has a lot going for it, obviously it is  Spielberg movie, has a huge cast, and the story of abolishing slavery is one that is going to resonate with the Academy.  The movie does have some flaws, though, and it isn’t nearly as broad in scope as a Spielberg Lincoln movie might be expected to be.  Probably best not to touch this one before precursors

OTHER STRONG CONTENDERS

Silver Linings Playbook ($0.52) – Nothing about a Bradley Cooper-led romantic comedy screams Oscar bait, I know.  But the film is directed by David O. Russell (and remember, The Fighter pulled two Oscar wins and an additional five nominations) and co-star Jennifer Lawrence may well be the front-runner for Best Actress.  The Gurus o’ Gold all believe the film will be nominated and Dave Karger (whose predictions have been spot on in years past) still believes the film will win the top spot.  It is looking like the film might not do as well as hoped at the box office this weekend, but given the apparent widespread love for the film, it might be smart to pick up this film right before the awards circuit heats up and sell it off after it climbs.

Zero Dark Thirty ($0.45) – John and I both pegged this as a strong buy.  (Though as I’m writing this, I got an e-mail from Xiaoyu about how he’s already lost money on it.)  The film is still largely a mystery, but it is now it is the one unseen film that still has a shot at the top prize.  Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), early word is that the film is top-notch, but maybe doesn’t adhere to many of the traditional Hollywood narrative structures.  We should get an idea as to this film’s future pretty quickly after some more screenings, but I’m betting (other people’s money) that we’ll see a spike.  And I know John is on board with me here.

OTHER FILMS OF NOTE

Life of Pi/The Master ($0.30/$0.20) – I don’t think either of these films have much of a shot at winning.  But they currently seem to be in position to get nominations, so if you believe that will bump their prices, they could provide some value.

Beasts of the Southern Wild ($0.08) – On the next tier of likelihood for a nomination, but it should do well with the Independent Spirit nominations this week, which might lead to a bump in price.

Amour/Flight/The Impossible/Moonrise Kingdom/The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ($0.03/$0.02/$0.02/$0.04/$0.02) – Maybe one or two of these get a nomination, and they may be seeing nominations in other categories, so if you feel like gambling with the penny stocks, these may be the way to go.

Django Unchained ($0.10) – Your guess is as good as mine.

 

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