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The State of the Race: Leaps of Faith

“All of us failed to match our dreams of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible.” — William Faulkner

We’re always in a rush to judgment about movies: hit/flop, success/failure, best picture winner/loser. Spurred on by the impulse to check insta-polls in 2012, we’ve been in such a hurry to reach snap verdicts that we often don’t bother to take the time we need to digest the films we’ve seen. We tweet our first impressions as fast as our thumbs can tap, as soon as the lights come up. Those opinions then go on record, they get spread and read across the country and around the world, helping to shape other opinions, and so and so on. Gut reaction chain reaction. Even if a film somehow manages to run the gauntlet and hit every possible check box to define its greatness, it still has to rise above dozens of catchy headlines, off-the-cuff remarks, and articles as the inevitable backlash sets in. Smart marketers keep expectations low enough so they can reach the masses every time. Dangling the low hanging fruit, as it were, is the reason McDonald’s is so successful. Don’t risk enough and the collective jury will shrug. Risk too much to please the critics? The fans? Good luck with that. Success is measured in money and praise. But to make bank and earn cred filmmakers need to please both the high-minded and the lowbrow. Problem is, those two types don’t usually hook up for date night on opening weekend. All the same, against all odds, a few bold filmmakers are still willing to try what’s never been done, to take daring leaps of faith that could make or break their careers.

The Oscars don’t necessarily reward risk because why should they? They are in the business of picking what the Academy members liked best, though they like to pretend they represent the “highest achievements in filmmaking.” Voters are no longer influenced by public reception — because decisions are mostly made in private screenings rooms, on blogs and in film reviews before many of those films even hit theaters. The one exception to that trajectory right now is Argo. It has gone the traditional route of moving through film festivals, past the critics and briskly onto the public, where word of mouth is now driving it towards $100 million. So where’s the risk in Argo, you might ask? Didn’t Ben Affleck make a great movie simply by sticking to conventional plot structure and never drawing outside the lines? To some degree, yes. But consider this. That Affleck is making major films at all is quite a reach and risk in itself. He had to overcome a lot of public ridicule after being dismissed by the industry. He ignored the naysayers who had him pegged wrong. He stepped out on a precarious ledge at a dizzying creative height to make three interesting films in a row, Argo easily besting his previous efforts.

A debate erupted on Twitter recently about the potential effect of box-office and mixed reviews for Cloud Atlas, and whether the numbers meant Hollywood would be gun-shy about making these kinds of films in the future. Movies that take bold risks are watched closely to gauge critical acclaim or box office appeal. A risky movie needs one or the other. If for some reason a film earns neither, many will consider it a failure. Groupthink often goes along too easily with that anointing, only to discover many years later that groupthink was wrong. Anne Thompson said she worried the bad reviews of Cloud Atlas could kill other studios’ desire to take on such a massive risk again. The New Yorker’s Richard Brody chimed in saying that filmmakers should take risks that don’t cost that much money — his prescription for artistic risk would require artists conduct their experiments on a shoestring budget. And indeed, several breakthrough films this year have been made on a wing and a prayer. Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, which has been winning awards right and left, was made with practically nothing, and Ava Duvernay’s Middle of Nowhere cost less than a typical studio movie’s Oscar campaign. Both have done well with critics and both got their start at Sundance this year.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master is another hit with critics that’s received similar complaints about the money — for some, it’s thought be too costly a gamble for the fickle tastes of the critics and public. Oscar, too, likes to keep budgets low. The Academy is happy when a movie like The King’s Speech costs around $15 million and generates $150 million in ticket sales. That movie took no risks, particularly, but it was well made and moving. But, really, industry people like to watch the money so for the purpose of an industry award, profitability is a big factor for most Best Picture wins.

In order to judge the success or failure of a movie, why not factor in the level of difficulty? There is no way the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer could have made Cloud Atlas on the cheap. There is simply no way they could have made a multi-century period film/sci-fi sweeping romantic epic that took you so deep into so many worlds. The money made the art possible. No studio wanted to fund it so the Wachowskis put their own houses up to help finance their dreams. They mortgage their homes, they take a leap of faith and the critics shrug. Meh, they say. How easy for them to write it off. To paraphrase Anton Ego in Ratatouille, there is no risk in watching a film and giving your opinion. A critic’s job is to objectively analyze a film and give you his best assessment. Although there were few of them who factored in the level of difficulty, very few of them really got what kind of risk these filmmakers and Hollywood were taking. But who cares, right? Just another story on twitter. Just another day in Hollywood. Just another title scratched off on busy writer’s to-do list… Just another delicate butterfly roughly thumb-tacked to the specimen board.

In the end, true movie-lovers are the ones who suffer the aftermath of this ongoing battle between the critics, box-office and that ever elusive green light that flickers in a corner office. Success is measured differently over time. You only need to read the New York Times review of Vertigo from 1958 to understand how drastically opinions can shift as time goes by. Hitchcock was a hell of a risk taker and his choices didn’t always please the critics. We know they didn’t please the Academy; Hitch was nominated for five Oscars for directing and never won. Vertigo was nominated for two, count ‘em, two Oscars – Art Direction and Sound. Who could have said in 1958 what would become of Vertigo — apparently nobody.

So here’s to the risk-takers of 2012. The balls-out, shameless, driven brave ones who nodded to convention and then blew it up.

Joe Wright ought to be applauded for having cut open a vein to make his odd Anna Karenina. He put Keira Knightley in another romantic period film and then completely upended expectations. Theatrical, detached, frozen and yet, the last direction you’d expect him to take as a director. So maybe we shouldn’t have to suffer so that he can evolve as an artist. On the other hand, maybe the extreme folly of his unconventional take on Anna Karenina is part of the point. Maybe younger audiences can watch it and get a little education in classic literature. The film didn’t quite work for me but the first thing I would say about it is, hats off to Wright for taking that kind of risk.

Ava DuVernay for creating a protagonist rarely seen on American screens — a young black female trying figure out where her life is going and somehow finding peace in not quite knowing. DuVernay discarded the formula Hollywood has prescribed for a tried and true hit with the black community. If she had taken a more familiar path, the movie would be selling more tickets. As it is she wanted to do something different so she emptied her own bank account and maybe nudged an immovable object on the fringes of US cinema ever so slightly closer to the front row.

Paul Thomas Anderson for making an expensive film that doesn’t bow to formula. Many people angrily walked out because they couldn’t see how it made any sense. Its an artful mirror but one that perhaps reflects back to us too much truth. Do we really want to know just how precariously we dangle from the edge of our primitive instincts? Do we really want to own the meaningless absurdity of human existence? Never going for the easy out, Anderson remained true to his own vision. Turns out, this one mostly lit the critics on fire, which may preserve his reputation if Hollywood wants to start talking money. A few Oscar nominations will surely help to solidify that investment.

Wes Anderson mounted a whole world cut from felt to bring Moonrise Kingdom to the big screen. He cast the supporting roles with stars but for the leads her found two unknowns. An odd brightly colored microcosm of the limitless horizons of the young, untarnished brain. Maybe they have nowhere to go, really, maybe their growing up is as inevitable as their minds ever so slowly cranking shut. But to make that world, to invite us into it? Wow.

Benh Zeitlin decided to do what no one ever before thought possible to do — make a film about a black girl who thinks in poetic verse. Shamelessly sentimental, not politically correct, hard on liberals who find themselves conflicted about the film’s ideas, an easy target for some critics who derided it as “poverty porn,” mistaking the vibrant imaginings of a very talented artist for a literal take on life in bayou. Poetry is alive in film once again — dirty, violent, forbidding and altogether dazzling is Beasts of the Southern Wild. I bow down to Zeitlin just as the beasts bow down to Hushpuppy, with praise, admiration and awe.

Ang Lee‘s Life of Pi is a 3-D epic depicting the inner world of a religious young man who elects to open his mind to boundless possibilities. No known stars, unconventional structure, and the absurd notion of a whole film about a boy and a tiger stuck in a boat. But oh, the revelation at the end. It is worth every minute to get there. And yet, this film does not follow any formula for success. It isn’t a remake or a sequel. It doesn’t have a mass-marketing hook or a catch phrase. Nothing blows up. There are no heroes, particularly. This is a 3-D special effects movie about spirituality. Imagine that. What a gift for bored audiences. And yet, the film already has its detractors who were apparently looking for more conventional structure. The problem with many of those who have the privilege of seeing movies before anyone else does is that we are relying on their taste. And their taste is informed by who they are. Everyone seeing a film brings to it their own baggage. We have to know that baggage to know that opinion. We rely on the critics to be seers but all too often their take on a movie is far more disappointing than the movie could ever be.

Robert Zemeckis’ Flight could have easily been a formula film. It could have been cast with all-white actors because those actors are major box office draws. He could have just cast it with Denzel Washington, who is a proven box office draw. But Zemeckis casts it with what will turn out to be the most diverse cast of the year besides Cloud Atlas. I was taken aback by that. Torn completely away from what I was expecting, I sat there stunned. Moreover, the plane crash happens at the beginning of the film, rather than at the film’s climax. This is a movie about a man’s internal life, with Washington’s exceptional performance leading the way. It’s risky because audiences are far more used to Washington playing the hero, the guy who gets everyone else out of the mess. But this time, he’s the mess.

Steven Spielberg – Lincoln might be one of the biggest risks taken this year. Instead of making a splashy Civil War epic, Spielberg, and writer Tony Kushner made it a political procedural, a movie about ideas and discussions rather than battle scenes and plantation raids. This is a movie about people talking through their differences to make history. There is nothing easy about this movie and there is no telling how the public will respond to something where they really have to sit and pay attention. Daniel Day-Lewis decided to give Lincoln a slightly high-pitched voice, another huge risk that caused the chattering collective to briefly lose their minds. Maybe his voice always will be a “thing” but Day-Lewis uses voice as his key to authenticity and Speilberg gave him free rein. If there is any movie right now that challenges Argo it’s Lincoln, and that is because Spielberg took such a big risk — and so far, it has paid off.

Nick Jarecki whose Arbitrage is about a pretty bad guy. Making a whole film about an anti-hero is never easy. We want our bad guys to pay and we want our good guys to prevail. But what if the bad guys never do pay? What if the bad guys prevail? Such is the world we’re living in in 2012, especially as our country’s future is under threat of being taken over by the 1% who already all but control our government. Richard Gere has played both good and bad characters but here he is so slippery, so charming, so clever you forget what he is in the end, and that is the point.

Tom Hooper and Les Miserables — of course no one has really seen the movie but how else but daring can we describe a movie made with actors singing live? Talk about a huge gamble that may or may not pay off. Without having yet seen the film we bow down to the very notion of not playing it safe and are eager to see the results.

Kathryn Bigelow‘s Zero Dark Thirty — Imagine, a female director making a movie about catching one of the most hated enemies in American history who was venerated by a culture that mostly treats women as second class citizens or worse. It is, to me, the ultimate payback. But Bigelow’s biggest career risk (because no one will ever agree that her making this movie is an artistic risk since they all seem to think it’s going to be just like The Hurt Locker) is that she is getting blowback from the wall of noise on the Right. They keep flinging shit at her and she just keeps on making her movie. Hopefully the film itself will finally make them shut their collective pie-holes.

Christopher Nolan and The Dark Knight Rises. I have to wonder if one big, crazy risk doesn’t beget another. Did the Wachowskis’ earlier work with The Matrix open up previously closed doors to allow Christopher Nolan to step through them with the likes of Memento and Inception? Working within the strict confines of the comic book genre, the sequel AND the remake, Nolan reached for new heights nonetheless. Though he’ll probably never get enough Academy respect for his exceptional work with this trilogy, there is no denying what kind of impact it has had on Hollywood, on fan’s expectations and on cinema. How easy it would have been to make The Dark Knight Rises as a formula movie that pays off as expected. Sure, Batman still saves the day but the reality of his triumph isn’t that he puts on a bat suit and kills a bunch of bad guys; it’s that as Bruce Wayne he loses everything but gains a bigger understanding of what the world needs. That subtle transformation, in our world, means everything. Though it was a risk to end it that way, to take it where he took it, it worth it.

And finally, my unbridled admiration to Lana and Andy Wachowski and to Tom Tykwer for mortgaging their own homes to finance Cloud Atlas — a film that I’ve already seen three times and plan to see many times over the years. The film that might end up being my favorite of 2012.  It feels as though I’ve bought a ticket to an alternate universe, watching that movie. Every dollar spent is on the screen. At almost three hours you get far more than you pay for. Despite some hokey stuff set in a post-apocalyptic future in another part of the solar system, the film is a lot more elegantly put together than the critics apparently give it credit for. Once you’ve seen it twice and then go back for a third viewing everything makes so much more sense and you find yourself going even deeper into this story, which has been so carefully, meticulously laid out. But it isn’t an easy sell. It either sweeps you away or it doesn’t. During my third viewing, right at the end, the most beautiful moment in the whole film, three audience members in front of us burst out laughing. Sure, that’s the easier way to take Cloud Atlas in. Laugh at anything you’re unaccustomed to taking seriously. But if you do that you have opened only one door. And that, my friends, won’t do. The brazen spectacular daring of Cloud Atlas is worthy of our praise.

Risk-taking is usually left up to filmmakers in other countries where the dollar is not the bottom line. How surprising, then, to see so much of here in the US this year. Hopefully the audiences and the critics can keep up.

Current Predictions

Best Picture
Argo
Lincoln
Les Miserables
Silver Linings Playbook
Life of Pi
Zero Dark Thirty
Flight
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Moonrise Kingdom
Django Unchained

Long shots/For Your Consideration:
The Master
Hitchcock
Anna Karenina
Cloud Atlas
Middle of Nowhere

Best Director
Ben Affleck, Argo
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Tom Hooper, Les Miz
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Dark horses: Ang Lee, Life of Pi, Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained, , Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master, Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom

Long shots/FYC
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Ava DuVernay, Middle of Nowhere

Best Actor
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Dark Horses: Anthony Hopkins, Hitchcock, Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook, Tom Holland, The Impossible

Best Actress
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Marion Cotillard, Rust & Bone
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Helen Mirren, Hitchcock
Dark Horses: Anne Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises, Judi Dench, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Meryl Streep, Hope Springs Emanuelle Riva, Amour, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Middle of Nowhere, Naomi Watts, The Impossible

Supporting Actor
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Robert DeNiro, Silver Linings Playbook
Alan Arin, Argo
Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Don Cheadle or John Goodman, Flight
Dark Horse – Bill Nighy, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, someone from Les Miserables

For your consideration: Jim Broadbent, Cloud Atlas

Supporting Actress
Sally Field, Lincoln
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Amy Adams, The Master
Maggie Smith, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Dark Horse:  Ann Dowd, Compliance, someone from Hitchcock
For your consideration: Doona Bae, Cloud Atlas, Lorraine Toussaint, Middle of Nowhere

Original Screenplay
The Master
Moonrise Kingdom
Amour
Arbitrage
Middle of Nowhere
Dark Horse: Looper

Adapted
Lincoln
Argo
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
Beasts of the Southern Wild

Picture of the Day

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50 Comments

  1. Tony
    October 30, 2012

    Taking a risk is admirable, but it’s the outcome that counts. I would love to see a skater try a 4A, but if it results in a fall, no medal.

  2. lane
    October 30, 2012

    yes, yes, YES Sasha. i’ve been thinking about this issue A LOT since I saw Cloud Atlas. Can’t wait to see it again in theaters. I was on the fence about whether to catch Middle of Nowhere tonight before it leaves theaters, and because of this article I’m definitely going. and yet, with how important this is, all we can do is speak up and share our opinions. If I ever run into Lana, Andy, or Tom, I will convulse with admiration.

  3. Rg
    October 30, 2012

    Doona Bae for Supporting Actress and Jim Broadbent for Best supporting actor. Cloud Atlas is one of the must see movies of the year, decade, and year. Cloud Atlas is a staggering masterpiece, a positively inspired piece of filmmaking that blows the lid off cinematic convention and uses unparalleled artistry to tell a story that encompasses the whole of human experience. It is not just the most ambitious and revolutionary film of 2012, but one of the most unique and powerful cinematic milestones of the modern era. People need to see this movie. Sigh

  4. Mel
    October 30, 2012

    Beautiful, Sasha. You are the best. Truly.

    http://youtu.be/iBktYJsJq-E

  5. Matt
    October 30, 2012

    No Phillip Seymour Hoffman?

  6. Josh
    October 30, 2012

    I’m curious why no Philip Seymour Hoffman, no DiCaprio, no Django for screenplay but you have that up for Best Pic possibility?

  7. October 30, 2012

    I have to wonder if one big, crazy risk doesn’t beget another.

    And it all started with Quentin Tarantino who ain’t on this list somehow. He’s the one who let everyone jump through time and riff on movies of the past waving their freak flags while doing it.

    I’m gonna give my shout-outs for the movies I’ve seen that are also missing here. I couldn’t give a flying F if they make it in or not but these films and performances shouldn’t be forgotten.

    Movies:

    Looper
    Savages
    Lawless
    The Grey
    The Woman in Black
    Get the Gringo
    (is it even eligible? probably not)

    Actors:

    Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving for Cloud Atlas
    Joseph Gordon-Levitt for Looper
    Benicio Del Toro and John Travolta for Savages
    Guy Pearce and Dane DeHaan for Lawless
    Roberto Begnini for To Rome With Love
    Matthew McConaughey for Magic Mike

    The Actresses:

    Halle Berry for Cloud Atlas
    Salma Hayek for Savages
    Jessica Chastain for Lawless
    Penelope Cruz for To Rome With Love
    Charlize Theron for Snow White and the Huntsman

    I think that’s it.

  8. Antoinette
    October 30, 2012

    I must not have seen QT the first time I read it. My bad.

  9. steve50
    October 30, 2012

    Replace Mirren with Riva and I’m with you on your guesses for BP, BD, and the leads.

    It’s easy to laugh at the risk-takers because the people who do are only comfortable with what they already know, a situation that leads to not knowing very much. Doesn’t matter in the long run because Hollywood has never been known for being groundbreaking.

    Lack of immediate return on some brilliant efforts means we’re probably in for some pretty standard stuff for another decade or so – from Hollywood, anyway. In 20 years we’ll look back and realize this was another of those golden years. That’s fine because auteurs and big corporate money don’t mix well, or for long, and that’s better for all concerned.

    Looking forward to seeing Cloud Atlas tomorrow. The closest theatre to me where it is playing is an IMAX (groans) and I’ll have to break my standing rule of not seeing first run features in that format, at least for the first time. Be gentle, Wachowski’s and Tykwer!

  10. Winston
    October 30, 2012

    Ummm.. Helen Hunt?

  11. Mark
    October 30, 2012

    Favorite movies I have seen so far…(random order)

    Beasts of the Southern Wild
    Holy Motors
    Cloud Atlas
    The Loneliest Planet
    Silver Linings Playbook
    Rust and Bone
    Lincoln
    The Master
    Looper
    The Perks of Being a Wallflower

    I don’t like Argo that much and I don’t know why. I have to say sorry because a lot of people like it. It still have a lot of films to face coming to the awards season this year.

  12. unlikely hood
    October 30, 2012

    Love the Faulkner epigraph. Set up your great article well.

    Kinda surprised not to see Helen Hunt nor The Sessions mentioned as even dark horse possibilities. And I guess The Sessions wasn’t made by a “balls-out, shameless, driven brave” artist? Well if that’s true…that almost makes me think it has a *better* chance of factoring into the BP race. They can’t fill up their menu with all exotic dishes, can they?

    I agree with Steve50 almost…he’s right about replacing Mirren with Riva in Actress and I agree with you about Actor (as I’ve been saying here forever) and Director also looks cautiously good – maybe a fight between Bigelow and Ang Lee for spot #5. But I’m less into those last few BP choices. Your Top 6, yes. Consensus is hardening there. After that…if I had to bet now it would be just Beasts and Sessions for a total of 8 nominees.

    Ok, ok, ok, FINE, I’m gonna see Cloud Atlas in theatres…

  13. David
    October 30, 2012

    [another lame comment deleted]

  14. Robert A.
    October 30, 2012

    Here’s something that’s been bothering me about the Best Actress projections. So many people seem to be predicting Cotillard, Riva, and Wallis will all make the Top Five. Why does this feel wrong to me? They’re all extremely worthy performances, but this is AMPAS we’re dealing with. Nominating even one foreign language performance in a category is somewhat rare, but this year we’re predicting two foreign language performances AND a very young child’s performance will all make the cut? Somehow, a Best Actress slate with all three of these on the Top Five feels just too…outre? for the largely mainstream Academy. One of the three getting nominated is almost for certain, and two of the three getting nominated seems plausible. But all three making the cut just feels kind of unlikely. Just too, too non-Hollywood.

    On the other hand, the Best Actress slate this year does seem lacking in more of the traditional choices, so maybe we’re in for a really weird year in this category? I don’t know. I’ll believe it when I see it. (Maybe Marion Cotillard has enough star power these days to be considered sort of Hollywood-y?)

  15. arjecc
    October 30, 2012

    Sasha,

    I hear everyone raving about Bardem’s scene-stealing villain role in “Skyfall” and critics seem to love the Bond film. Also, Bardem surprised everyone with his nomination for “Biutiful”, a few years ago; do you think he’s at least a contender for supporting actor this year?

  16. Branko Burcksen
    October 30, 2012

    “Cloud Atlas” is truly the most remarkable film I’ve seen all year, and I have not hesitated to recommend it to anyone when the chance arose. I’m excited to see every movie you mentioned that I have not already seen. This really does feel like a good year for movies. I also really wish that more risks like “Cloud Atlas” were taken.

    However, the movie with the greatest impact and the highest risk I’ve seen all year just passed through Los Angeles last week. Imagine this: a superhero story where the main characters are teenage girls. Already, who in their right mind would make a movie with that set up? Well, I’ll do you one better. The emotional trauma and the depths of misery and darkness they endure would drive Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker to suicide. In fact, the life crushing revelations in this story could only be endured and expressed by young female characters since they’re much less likely to hold in their feelings, but just burst when everything becomes too much. Still with me?

    Now picture the stakes rise from simply courting death while fighting nefarious foes to where they are punished for doing the RIGHT thing. No matter what you do, protecting the ones you love only leads to despair and death. Hello? I hope you’re still alive.

    To top it all off, everything binds together in a cosmic scenario where the past, present and future intertwine. It pulls off two near impossible feats: 1) the arguments and values of the story develop from beginning to end through the characters and their actions rather than through creative dialogue, and 2) even when the story reaches pinnacles of universe altering proportions that drove movies like “The Tree of Life” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” into abstract expressions of the cosmos, the movie retains focus on its core themes without resorting to severe advent’garde cinema because it centers these events around the friendship between two girls. Again, very hard to see male leads pulling this off.

    So how much did this little heard of movie cost? Well, I don’t have exact numbers, but it cannot be more than $5 million, which brings me to the movies final incredible risk: it’s an adult animated film that tells a blockbuster action/adventure, fantasy/sci-fi story.

    The title is “Madoka Magica.” Last week it played at the Downtown Independent in Los Angeles. It was a double feature (over four hours) that functioned as a compilation of the twelve episode series of the same name. None of the substance of the story was lost in the transition, and the theatrical release only heightened the content’s cinematic fervor.

    Much like the risk taking movies you mention, it is slighted, though still given a largely positive capsule review by the LA Times, that fails to hit at the substance of the movie. Robert Abele describes the story as “…thematically intriguing about the rules behind this all-girl parallel world of freedom and risk.” By comparison, Zac Berstschy, from Anime News Network who has reviewed anime for over a decade and knows the industry inside and out, got to the heart of it with: “If Madoka Magica is saying anything, it’s saying that life will absolutely crush you and entropy is inevitable, but there’s reason to hope. That wishing for your loved ones to be safe and fighting for the things you believe in is the most important thing a human being can hope to do, even in the face of all that. If that isn’t a happy ending, then I don’t know what is.”

    It is hard for me to think of anything else that reaches for so much and attains so much more. Though deceptively upbeat and cute at the beginning, “Madoka Magica” goes down to dark places few movies dare.

    This video hits the real tone of the story: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJ8JRfsurt4

    Thankfully, the short, twelve episode series is widely available (subtitled) on…

    Hulu: http://www.hulu.com/madoka-magica

    Crackle: http://www.crackle.com/c/Madoka_Magica

    Crunchyroll: http://www.crunchyroll.com/puella-magi-madoka-magica

  17. Tero Heikkinen
    October 31, 2012

    Bardem will not be a contender. His villain is not the dominating force, and that is something that this category wants to see. Judi Dench (for Best Actress) has a better chance, but no, Skyfall will only see some technical noms.

  18. Tero Heikkinen
    October 31, 2012

    Robert A has a case. With Cotillard, Riva and Wallis, the little girl gets the short stick. The French are doing just fine.

    Replace Riva with Wallis and that could be it.

  19. October 31, 2012

    Cloud Atlas reminds me of …And Justice For All, in that it stuffed itself with a hell of a lot and generally kept things rocking with great entertainment mixed with powerful emotional expositions explored by talented casts. The big subjects of justice and interconnectedness deserved the ambition both films attempted and succeeded in fulfilling.*

    On the sci-fi front, I thought Looper was a little better because its concept felt more fully realized, but the streamlined nature of its presentation didn’t match Cloud Atlas’ occasional moments of immense emotional heft. I haven’t yet seen an all-out masterpiece in 2012 (fingers crossed for upcoming heavyweights) but so far it’s been a phenomenal year for VERY GOOD movies covering a multitude of genres.

    *Plus, both flicks featured plates crashing into the ground.

  20. Mattoc
    October 31, 2012

    There have two outright Masterpieces so far this year, Amour and Holy Motors. I could also add Beasts of the Southern Wild, just because I don’t think he will better himself. The other two have a body of work which I reluctantly add may have reached their peek.

    Of the films unseen, I feel fairly confident Les Mis will be Hooper’s masterpiece. Django looks great but Pulp Fiction will probably go down as his masterpiece (unless he makes an outright ‘thriller’ sometime in the future) Zero Dark Thirty, will be great, can feel it, but Near Dark is her masterpiece.

    I haven’t seen Lincoln, but I feel it’s safe to say he hasn’t made his masterpiece yet. Argo is a GOOD movie, but it’s overrated and he will make better films in years to come.

    The predictions above seem wrong in my mind. We’re all just pissing in the wind until critics and industry groups stop predicting and start putting pen to paper of their best films and performances of the year are.

  21. Sark09
    October 31, 2012

    I loved CLOUD ATLAS, in particular Ben Whishaw’s segment, and Tom Hanks’s post-apocalyptic segment, although the absurdist comedy of Broadbent’s segment gets funnier and funnier the more I think about it. In fact, ALL of the segments were outstanding!

    *SPOILER*
    Sasha, it isn’t clear from your post, so I’m not sure if you read it that way, but the Hanks section doesn’t take place in another solar system. It is only the bookend of the film, where Hanks appears as an old man, that is in another solar system. The post-apocalyptic section is set in Hawaii, in the far distant future. Halle Berry’s character was using the communicator at the top of the mountain to contact any off-world colonies that may be listening. As Earth was dying, they needed to break free of it, and the bookend of the movie shows they were able to do so.

  22. mecid
    October 31, 2012

    @Mattoc – I haven’t seen Lincoln, but I feel it’s safe to say he hasn’t made his masterpiece yet.

    *****

    Spielberg? You wanted to say another one?

  23. Luke
    October 31, 2012

    I’m curious at the lack of buzz for Ben Wishaw in Could Atlas. While Jim Broadbent showed his versatility, Ben Wishaw was wonderfully romantic and tragic (plus those eyes!).

  24. John
    October 31, 2012

    Best Actress is feels more up in the air (for noms) this year than in recent years. I feel like we’re not going to know anything until some sort of consensus forms throughout the critics awards in Dec/Jan. I mean, you got:

    Jennifer Lawrence – who seems like a surefire nom.

    Jessica Chastain – who looks good in the trailer and who is going Lead and who is apparently stellar. That’s all we got on her.

    Emmanuelle Riva – who people say should WIN, but is she is foreign and may be too old to campaign properly? I know that sounds awful. And NO disrespect to her, I’m only thinking in terms of noms/wins with AMPAS.

    Marion Cotillard – her name is everywhere. She’s a recent winner. She’s apparently great in the film. BUT, it’s not an AMPAS movie. The reviews are mixed. She hasn’t struck with AMPAS since ’08. She’s foreign, as well. And Schoenaerts is even getting even better word than her in reviews (not in AMPAS world).

    Quvenzhane Wallis – seems like a surefire nom. But she’s awfully young, her buzz has died (for now), and the lack of SAG won’t help her, either – at least, I don’t think so.

    Helen Mirren – AMPAS loves her. She looks goodish in the trailer. But that’s all we know for now.

    Keira Knightley – I just don’t know. Some people say she’s fantastic. Some people say it’s more of the same and not her best performance. I get the feeling that some voters in the industry are ‘cool’ on her, in general. The movie may come & go as a craft movie. But she is the centerpiece of a big book/movie from the past. It’s a role/movie that voters simply may not forget and want to reward. Who knows?

    Naomi Watts – the movie is already making impact overseas. It opens late here which could either really hurt or really help her chances. She’s overdue for another nom. Early reviews for the film and her performance are very good. But I just feel like she’ll miss. That said, if the film goes over big with critics and audiences, she could be nommed and even win while riding the wave of support (no pun intended).

    Meryl Streep – AMPAS loves her. She got great reviews. And she’s been nommed for worse performances and in lesser movies before. But she just won. And buzz is minor for now.

    And then there’s other contenders that I haven’t even mentioned, but could shuffle right in if several above fall out. It will be a very interesting race to see who is eventually nommed.

  25. John
    October 31, 2012

    Sorry for my rant above (as it’s mostly off-topic).

    On topic, I didn’t LOVE Cloud Atlas. I liked it a lot, and found it flawed. But I commend it’s ambition and I agree with the thread, in general.

    I love risk-taking when it comes to movies; whether it’s a 3 million budget or 100 million. I just wish that critics/audiences would support the risk-taking films more than they do. :(

  26. Mohammed
    October 31, 2012

    As I look back on the movies that’s made the best impact on me in the cinema or in the comfort of my home, there are very few who dazzled me with their vizual sparks. Most of the films I love, I love because of the screenplays. If it isn’t good, no vizual artwork can hide it or overcome it in my opinion. I don’t consider Scorsese or Spielberg cinematic magicians because of style. They had GREAT screenplays and they run with them. I’m adressing this because it seems as though making a film with a three act-structure is now viewed as something to be embarrased about. It shouldn’t.

    Another thing: Profound truths can be told in a simple way, even without the use of too much dialogue. A great example is the South Korean film ” Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring. That’s what I call daring.

  27. Bruce
    October 31, 2012

    I don’t get it. I thought you didn’t predict movies you hadn’t seen.

  28. Ra
    October 31, 2012

    http://www.facebook.com/geeksfilm?ref=hl in case you guys wanna join our page and talk about movies ^_^

  29. Sasha Stone
    October 31, 2012

    I don’t get it. I thought you didn’t predict movies you hadn’t seen.

    I don’t predict them to win, or try not to, but since I have to put lists on Gurus of Gold and Gold Derby sometimes I just make them as part of a column. But the Contender Tracker only has movies that have been seen or that I’ve seen.

  30. October 31, 2012

    Great article!

    I tweeted about this already but I’m in the blown away camp for Cloud Atlas. It’s extremely daring and majestic in its execution, to find out that the directors put up their houses to finance the film (this news slid by me until now) makes my respect for them skyrocket. Kudos to them, seriously.

    steve, I wouldn’t put IMAX down so much. It’s a beautiful format and Cloud Atlas is all the more resplendent because of it.

    I’d put Haneke in the risk takers column, making a whole film set in an apartment with two elderly people as the central figures is something you rarely see on screen these days. It was a bold move, a delicate subject that only a master can tackle with such care and it paid off tenfold. I’m really hoping the Academy notices it and recognizes its power with some awards.

    Also, the close Impossible comes to theaters the more vocal I’m going to be about Ewan McGregor. I saw The Impossible at TIFF and if he doesn’t get a Supporting Actor nod, he will be grievously robbed. There’s been a lot of emotional films this year, and plenty more to come that I haven’t seen yet but I doubt anything I see will move me as much as the key McGregor scene in Impossible.

    Predicts so far,

    BEST PIC

    Argo
    Lincoln
    Silver Linings Playbook
    Life of Pi
    Les Miserables
    Beasts of the Southern Wild
    Flight
    Zero Dark Thirty
    Amour
    Moonrise Kingdom

    BEST ACTOR
    DDL – Lincoln
    Phoenix – The Master
    Hawkes – The Sessions
    Gere – Arbitrage
    Hopkins – Hitchcock

    BEST ACTRESS
    Wallis – Beasts
    Cottilard – Rust and Bone
    Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook
    Mirren – Hitchcock
    Hunt – The Sessions (alt. Watts – The Impossible)

    BEST DIRECTOR
    Hooper – Les Miz
    Spielberg – Lincoln
    O’Russel – Silver Linings
    Anderson – The Master (alt. Bigelow – ZD30)
    Affleck – Argo

    …that’s far enough for now..

  31. murtaza
    October 31, 2012

    i think Peter Jackson should also be credited for starting another journey with exact spirit and determination and in many ways with better and improved technology. Hobbit in ways is a larger production than Lord of the Rings and one needs courage to go over all that frustrating phase of film making of such caliber.
    He also took a risk challenging his own masterpiece which was a revolutionizing epic to be remembered for eternity.

  32. October 31, 2012

    Long live Cloud Atlas, bitches!

  33. dave
    October 31, 2012

    Sasha,

    What happened to Knightley for Anna??

  34. david
    October 31, 2012

    SASHA ddL chose to give Abe a high pitched voice becaseu Abe did have a high pitched voice….

  35. William Best
    October 31, 2012

    Javier Bardem for best supporting actor for Skyfall!!! He is just as good as Heath Ledeger was in The Dark Knight

    Other nominations I would give Skyfall are:
    Best Original Song
    Best Editing
    Best Sound Editing
    Best Sound Mixing
    Best Cinematograhpy
    Best Visual Effects

  36. Jeremy
    October 31, 2012

    I really don’t see what the “these guys mortgaged their house for their dreams!” thing has to do with how good or bad the movie was, and the critical perception of it. That’s nice and all, but that doesn’t make your movie any better. Points for ambition, but I can’t confuse aim with accuracy. Cloud Atlas is a half-a-dozen half-developed mini-dramas edited together in a quasi-compelling but redundant way. It’s never particularly profound, and sometimes not even all that interesting. The make-up can be distracting, and the clunky self-aware dialog after the Fall is horrendous, not to mention the fortune-cookie philosophizing that sunk the Matrix sequels.

    It’s a love-or-hate it kind of film, but nobody can deny it’s more ambitious than any other Hollywood production this year. If the Oscars had a “Biggest Risk-Taker” award, Cloud Atlas would be a shoo-in. They can even mention how they mortgaged their homes in the acceptance speech.

  37. K. Bowen
    November 1, 2012

    Is it wrong of me to think Skyfall is maybe the best film I’ve seen this year?

  38. Jonathan
    November 1, 2012

    Have you been sued yet for the Faulkner quote? Or maybe you’re just taunting the estate?
    But back to topic. I saw “Cloud Atlas” at its first showing last Friday in Tuscaloosa. Not a large crowd, but certainly a few more than I am used to seeing at 1 p.m. showings. No walkouts. No boos. The audience seemed to be held by the film. Me? I think it is one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen in some time. Most of the reviews have not stressed that aspect of it. I also think it may well be one of the more interesting films I have seen in some time. I loved how it started in what seemed to be muddle and gradually achieved greater and greater coherence. Have I sorted out my critical opinion of it yet? No. If I had done so, it would mean the film is less than I think it is. Some other works that it took me a while to sort out in my own mind: Moby Dick. King Lear. Then take something like “The King’s Speech.” Perfectly enjoyable film. Pleasant enough to see a second time, but you get nothing new from it. But when you attempt a third viewing, you realize that it is a fairly mid-range Masterpiece Classic presentation. You cut it off with a shudder. I confess that I did go to “Cloud Atlas” on its first day because I suspected that it might well tank (and I hope word of mouth will prevent that, but I’m not betting on it). I can’t wait for the Blu-ray!
    You know, both the Wachowskis and Tykwer get no respect generally. The Brothers W. tended to get a bit more that the Sibling W.’s do. Now I have to admit that I liked the last two Matrix movies more than most (and the first one perhaps a bit less than most, although I think it excellent). Tykwer, I have liked every one of his films enormously, although – Get ready! – “Run Lola Run” the least of the batch. I have over the years come to suspect that there is something about Tykwer’s nature (and artistic approach) that is complex, not easily comprehended or summed up, something that confuses the critics and commentators. One thought that crossed my mind leaving the theater last Friday: if you are going to have a movie co-directed by the Siblings and Tykwer, “Cloud Atlas” is exactly what you might, if not expect, at least hope for.

  39. Danny
    November 1, 2012

    SPOILER about the “Cloud Atlas” bookends.

    I feel pretty certain that they are on Mars. To see Earth in the night sky at that size one would have to be on Venus or Mars, not too much further. Also there are two moons visible in the horizon in the final shot (Mars has two moons), one of which, like Mars’ smallest Moon, looks oddly shaped.

    I believe the humans who had left Earth and later rescued the Prescients and Tom Hanks have been terra-forming Mars. According to an exhibit I saw at the Museum of Natural History, that process could take a full 1000 years. It looks like in the movie we see a stage of terra-forming where breathable air and large seas (if not yet oceans) have been introduced.

    By the way, saw the movie twice. Can’t wait to see it again. Would have if not for Sandy shutting down the city.

  40. steve50
    November 1, 2012

    “Would have if not for Sandy shutting down the city.”

    My trip to see it got postponed due to Sandy, as well, and I’m on the west coast. I had last minute guests from NYC check-in (their house is gone). Awful.

    Hopefully I’ll get to see it tomorrow afternoon.

  41. matt
    November 1, 2012

    first twitter reactions after SAG screening of The Impossible:

    Carolina Caro ‏@CoachingwthCaro
    Not a dry eye at the SAG screening of “The Impossible”. An amazing, oscar worthy film by director Juan Antonio Bayona

    gregoryellwood ‏@HitFixGregory
    Just moderated a SAG Q&A for The Impossible. Complete standing ovation for director and Tom Holland.

    Christine Bollow ‏@christinebollow
    Amazing work in #TheImpossible @TomHolland1996 Loved the screening & Q&A! An incredibly powerful film that will stay w/ me.

    JA Bayona ‏@FilmBayona
    Gran Q&A para el gremio de actores hoy en L.A. La sala nos ha recibido aplaudiendo en pie .El moderador nunca había visto algo así. Thnx!

  42. Alex
    November 1, 2012

    I am in love with Cloud Atlas. It’s a remarkable film. I wrote a pretty long review that turned into a rave, and will defend and fight for it.

    Here’s my brief thoughts in terms of awards. Could it get in for picture or maybe even director? Hear me out, the film has some very, very passionate supporters. Ideal for the 5% rule. It has an academy and Hollywood favorite praising it, and giving his best performance in years in Tom Hanks.
    Also, I think the DGA and PGA will support it. The DGA nominated Christopher Nolan for Memento after all. They like people who blend blockbuster and art. Cloud Atlas does just that.
    PGA may love that it was fought tooth and nail to get made. And like you said, every cent is on screen. They may really admire that they felt passionate about it, and got it made. It’s truly ambitious and like nothing that has been tried before. It would be the chance to nominate something big, but artistic.
    SAG may support it as well. After all, it is an actor’s dream, and they admire their peers for doing what they did.

    I still think it will have a chance at a decent box office run. I feel it may stay at a good number and slowly make a somewhat solid amount. And it’s certainly getting people to talk about a lot of thing’s. Love it or hate it, it’s hard to forget.

  43. Danny
    November 1, 2012

    Alex, from your mouth to Somni’s ear! It may be but a flee’s hope, but awful hard to get rid of!

    :-)

  44. James
    November 1, 2012

    Sorry but I can never consider Ben Affleck making mainstream films as a “risk!”

  45. Scottish Jellyfish
    November 1, 2012

    I am very much looking forward to Skyfall. I guess I will remain the lone cub for Killing Them Softly. Here is a film from a foreigner that feels like a swift kick to the groin to the current state of the US. I can’t wait to see how many people this film pisses off. The trailer entirely misrepresents the final product, and it doesn’t have many nice things to say about past or presents leaders of this country. It more than likely stands no chance during a season where a film like Lincoln is released (no offense to Spielberg and Co.).

  46. James
    November 2, 2012

    Sasha, you just made your readers realize there aren’t any real risks involved in Argo, it’s well-made but too safe. That may bode well for it’s Oscars chances, after all, the Academy likes safe. But epics tend to trump the quieter films. This year there are 2 major epics, Lincoln and Les Miserables.

  47. rufussondheim
    November 5, 2012

    I know this thread is dead as are all of the Cloud Atlas threads, but after a week of hurricane-related upheaval, I can finally get on the internet and express my thoughts on it.

    I loved the book. Loved the concluding pages that were only briefly touched upon in the film. The filmmakers chose to emphasize different themes (which I think are more audience friendly) than the more challenging ones Mitchell included. So I didn’t love the film as much as I wanted. But I imagine if I’d not read the book I’d be gaga over the movie. I urge those who love the movie to read the book, there are plenty of differences that I suspect you will be filled with surprise as you read the book.

    The one small change that I really disapproved of was by changing the author of The First Luisa Rey Mystery from some unrelated female to the young boy depicted in the film. In the book, this acts as a pretty major mindfuck in that all of the other five stories are “actual” while this section is completely fictional within the universe of the story. And this, of course means that the Frobisher and the Adam Ewing sections must therefore also be completely fictional in the book’s setting, but since they are told in the form of a diary and of letters, they certainly don’t read that way. I just thought this was a marvelous way to think about how we view fictional and non-fictional storytelling and how the lines are essentially blurred from the viewpoint of the reader. It’s a small change that really doesn’t effect the quality of the film, but it does affect my appreciation of the film.

  48. brian
    November 5, 2012

    Just realized that Life of Pi has a real chance of winning Best Picture. How do I know this? Because it’s the Best PIcture contender that I’m least looking forward to seeing. Whatever movie I despise the most is always the most likely to win! hah

    Pictures I’m looking forward to seeing the most?
    In order:

    1) Silver Linings Playbook
    2) Lincoln
    3) Les Miserables
    4) Zero Dark Thirty
    5) The Hobbit
    6-99) Anything other than Life of Pi

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