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I feel lucky to be living in a time when David Fincher is making great films, dark, smart and now, funny. Gone Girl, Fincher’s highest grossing film to date, just sailed past the $165 million mark. If you’ve never heard Fincher speak about movies, you’re in for a treat. There are few films that have stuck with me this year as much as Gone Girl has. That isn’t a surprise, given Fincher is one of the best directors currently working — needless to say — who has not yet won an Oscar (their problem, not his).



Kathryn Bigelow has seen Selma twice and did this Q&A with the director – DuVernay just posted this on Facebook.  She called DuVernay’s film “masterful,” and indeed, it is. DuVernay’s film is, like Bigelow’s work, visually compelling throughout, telling its story not just with dialogue but with expressions. It is a thrill to see both of these directors together, defying expectations, rewriting the rules for women.



The Oscar race has never been as divisive as it is in 2014, with factions splitting from the whole to create new worlds where film represents different things for different people. The critics have risen up agains the general consensus in a pronounced way, most notably by taking much of the focus off of American studio product and putting it mostly on films from other countries that have earned their admiration. Russia’s Leviathan, Poland’s Ida, France’s Two Days, One Night – good movies that ought to be considered in what should be renamed the International Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as it was once called at its inception. Louis B. Mayer simplified it when he removed “International” from the name.

For the past four years, Best Director has gone to someone born in a country other than America – among them, only Ang Lee is a naturalized U.S. citizen. All of the others have hailed from foreign countries. It makes you wonder what the Americans are doing so wrong, why they can’t dazzle voters the way foreigners can. All that is going to change, however, as the Best Director race is already being led by several prominent Americans, like Richard Linklater, Ava DuVernay, David Fincher, Wes Anderson. They are joined by Alejandro Inarritu, the director that Anne Thompson is predicting to split with Best Picture, making the non-American winning the director category 5 years in a row.

Still, probably none of these directors have a chance of cracking either the DGA’s giant consensus vote or the smaller sampling of Academy directors who vote for the nominees in that category. The critics, though, have introduced films that might have a better chance with the Academy than with the larger guild vote.

First, a tiny factoid worth knowing if you don’t follow this website (since no other site, no other blogger that I’ve read finds this to be as important as I do). In 2012, for the first time since the DGA began handing out awards, the DGA nominees announcement came after Oscar ballots were turned in. The same thing happened last year. The same thing is going to happen again this year.

Here’s how it went down:


Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips Alexander Payne, Nebraska
David O. Russell, American Hustle David O. Russell, American Hustle
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street


Steven Spielberg, Lincoln Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Ang Lee, Life of Pi Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Ben Affleck, Argo David O. Russell, Silver Linings
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty Michael Haneke Amour
Tom Hooper, Les Miserables Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild


Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist+
Martin Scorsese, Hugo Martin Scorsese, Hugo*
Alexander Payne, The Descendants Alexander Payne, The Descendants*
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris*
David Fincher, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Terrence Malick, Tree of Life*


Tom Hooper The King’s Speech Tom Hooper the King’s Speech+
David Fincher, Social Network David Fincher, Social Network*
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan*
David O’Russell, The Fighter David O’Russell, The Fighter*
Christopher Nolan, Inception* The Coens, True Grit*


Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker Bigelow, Hurt Locker+
Lee Daniels, Precious Lee Daniels, Precious*
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air Jason Reitman, Up in the Air*
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds*
Jim Cameron, Avatar Jim Cameron, Avatar*

You can check out our DGA/Best Picture chart here to see how they lined up in previous years, but what’s most interesting to note is what happened two years ago, when the consensus picks Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck were left of the Academy’s list. It caused quite a bit of uproar and was just one of the other details about Zero Dark Thirty and Argo that tied them together. Argo was “Zero Dark Thirty lite,” or “Zero Dark Thirty if the Americans were the good guys.” The one thing everyone seemed sure of was that both of those directors would be nominated.

But in a race with more than five Best Picture contenders, you’re not necessarily looking at Best Director the same way anymore. You’re looking at splitting up the two categories, not just how the Ben Affleck year, and the following year did it, where you had a split between Picture and director, but how you think about best Picture overall.

Academy voters have five slots to put down their nominees for Best Picture of the Year. Only five. Yet the race allows for more than five. The only real way we have of knowing how popular a film is overall with the Academy is how many branches nominate that film, but I’m going to go one further and say ESPECIALLY the director category.

The reason is that Director and Picture have been tied together for almost as long as the Academy has given out awards, give or take an early decade or two, but especially once they agreed to hand out five Best Picture nominees and five Best Director nominees.

While last year’s lineup, compared to the DGA, only missed one name, 2012’s missed three of the five names. That was a crazy irregularity when you look back on DGA/Academy history.

So if you go by nominations overall and look at what films were nominated for Best Picture in 2012 and what films were nominated for Best Director you can kind of see which films had the consensus, and therefore had a better shot at the DGA, and which films didn’t.

Let’s start with who did get nominated for Best Director that year:

Ang Lee, Life of Pi (11 nominations)
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln (11 nominations)
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook (9 nominations)
Michael Haneke, Amour (5 nominations)
Benh Zietlin, Beasts (4 nominations)

And what remaining films were there?

Argo (7 nominations)
Les Miserables (8 nominations)
Zero Dark Thirty (6 nominations)
Django Unchained (5 nominations)

The DGA went for the following five:
Ang Lee
Steven Spielberg
Ben Affleck
Kathryn Bigelow
Tom Hooper

The DGA reflects the broader, more popular tastes, which explains why these films have such high nominations. The one exception is Silver Linings Playbook which did not get a DGA nod but did get an Academy nomination.

Further complicating things, and I know it’s confusing by now, but Oscar changed how they counted Best Picture. In 2009 and 2010 they had a straight ten for Best Picture, with no wiggle room. But in 2011, 2012 and 2013, they had members choose five of their favorite Best Pictures and then expanded the list depending on what kind of numbers they got. It was supposed to be anywhere from 5 to 10 but it has solidly turned up as 9. So close and yet so far. Having 10 allowed for much more diversity in the lineup.

Now let’s fold in the Critics Choice and the Golden Globes and see where we are:


Globes | Critics Choice | DGA | Oscar

Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne, Nebraska Alexander Payne, Nebraska
David O. Russell, American Hustle David O. Russell, American Hustle David O. Russell, American Hustle David O. Russell, American Hustle
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips
Spike Jonze, Her


Globes | Critics Choice | DGA | Oscar

Steven Spielberg, Lincoln Steven Spielberg, Lincoln Steven Spielberg, Lincoln Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Ang Lee, Life of Pi Ang Lee, Life of Pi Ang Lee, Life of Pi Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Ben Affleck, Argo Ben Affleck, Argo Ben Affleck, Argo
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty Michael Haneke Amour
Tom Hooper, Les Miserables Tom Hooper, Les Miserables Quentin Tarantino, Django Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
David O. Russell, Silver Linings David O. Russell, Silver Linings


Globes | Critics Choice | DGA | Oscar

Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist+ Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist+
Martin Scorsese, Hugo Martin Scorsese, Hugo Martin Scorsese, Hugo Martin Scorsese, Hugo*
Alexander Payne, The Descendants Alexander Payne, The Descendants* Alexander Payne, The Descendants Alexander Payne, The Descendants*
Steven Spielberg, War Horse Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris* Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris*
Daldry, Extremely Loud Ides of March, Clooney David Fincher, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Terrence Malick, Tree of Life*
Nicolas Refn, Drive


Globes | Critics Choice | DGA | Oscar


Tom Hooper The King’s Speech Tom Hooper the King’s Speech+ Tom Hooper The King’s Speech Tom Hooper the King’s Speech+
David Fincher, Social Network David Fincher, Social Network* David Fincher, Social Network David Fincher, Social Network*
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan* Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan*
Danny Boyle, 12 Hrs David O’Russell, The Fighter* David O’Russell, The Fighter David O’Russell, The Fighter*
Christopher Nolan, Inception* Christopher Nolan, Inception* Christopher Nolan, Inception*
Joel/Ethan Coen True Grit The Coens, True Grit*


Globes | Critics Choice | DGA | Oscar


Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker Bigelow, Hurt Locker+ Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker Bigelow, Hurt Locker+
Lee Daniels, Precious Lee Daniels, Precious Lee Daniels, Precious*
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air Jason Reitman, Up in the Air* Jason Reitman, Up in the Air Jason Reitman, Up in the Air*
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds* Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds*
Jim Cameron, Avatar Jim Cameron, Avatar* Jim Cameron, Avatar Jim Cameron, Avatar*
Clint Eastwood, Invictus Clint Eastwood, Invictus


The only time the Globes and the BFCA matched on Best Director where their chosen film did not get in for Best Picture was in 2009, for Invictus. In all other years, when the Globes and Critics Choice matched on Best Director that movie was, at the very least, chosen for Best Picture.

So how is that list looking right now?

Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ava DuVernay – Selma Ava DuVernay – Selma
David Fincher – Gone Girl David Fincher – Gone Girl
Alejandro G. Iñárritu – Birdman Alejandro G. Iñárritu – Birdman
Richard Linklater – Boyhood Richard Linklater – Boyhood
Angelina Jolie – Unbroken

This doesn’t prove how the race is going to go but it does show a rough, early consensus of how it might go. The one thing we can be mostly certain about is that the Globes won’t match Oscar 5/5 in the Best Director category, at least going by these years. There is a much higher chance for an Oscar Best Picture nomination for all of the Globe-nominated directors than an Oscar Best Director nod.

This is a strange year with Best Picture contenders floating into the race and dominating, despite their mostly no-name directors. Two of them, The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game. Neither director, so far, of either film has shown up in any major or minor awards. Of course, with the Oscar race for Best Director there are only two groups that count, the Directors Guild and the Academy. I’ll add a third, the Editors because editors work so closely with directors that you can almost always unify them.

First, why haven’t Morton Tyldum and James Marsh gained any traction? Who are they and why are they here? It’s either that no one really knows who they are or it’s that their films don’t have distinguishing characteristics about them that push these names above the other directors, the ones whose style takes prominence over the story. With the two British offerings, they are probably viewed on the same scale, or they cancel one another out, as suspected. If Tom Hooper got in, why can’t either of these two? Probably because there are two.

2014 feels all over the place to me, with the smallest possible consensus in the Best Director race emerging as:

1. Linklater
2. Inarritu
3. DuVernay
4. Fincher
5. Anderson

I’d order them that way, with the likelihood of either Anderson or Fincher to be replaced at the Oscars with someone else — but who that someone else might be is a mystery until we hear from the DGA.

The DGA is probably more inclined to pick Fincher because they picked him for the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which tells me they admire his work overall. But the Academy didn’t. I’m not getting my hopes up for a directing nomination at the Oscars but Best Picture is looking much more likely. Gone Girl is, to me, up there with Selma and Boyhood as the film of the year so it’s a no-brainer to me to imagine a directing five but I’m going to bet that the Academy is going to be more inclined to pick someone in the realm of:

Mike Leigh, Mr. Turner
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Morton Tyldum, Imitation Game
James Marsh, Theory of Everything
Angelina Jolie, Unbroken

Honestly, beyond Linklater, Inarritu and DuVernay I have no idea what direction Best Director is headed. Then again, I remember saying in 2012 that the only sure bets were Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck. Ava DuVernay is likely to make Academy history this year so even without Gone Girl in the running it will be a fantastic year for AwardsDaily.

January 8 The Academy’s ballots are turned in
January 12 The DGA’s final ballots are turned in
January 13 DGA’s nominee announcement
January 15 The Academy’s nominee announcement

We are dwelling in a new kind of Oscar race where we’re looking at more than five for Best Picture but still five for Best Director and it doesn’t necessarily follow anymore than the director winner is going to match with Best Picture. That must be why Anne Thompson is predicting a split year between Birdman and Boyhood. I’m not feeling a split year, though. I think it’s Linklater and Boyhood all the way.

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Also titled, a room full of men stare adoringly at Angelina Jolie. Just kidding. Pretty great discussion overall. Worth a listen and a watch.

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Rather than leave her absence to what would be, no doubt, wild speculation, Angelina Jolie has decided to release a video which clearly shows the chicken pox on her chest and neck. She will be missing the premiere but can’t really be out and about to infect others. Here’s the video.


The Golden Satellites usually look like fantasy football to me. But their Best Picture nominations in the last few years have 6 or 7 that match Oscar. Make of that what you will. Here they are. Last year, 12 Years a Slave, Gravity and American Hustle led the nominations. The year before it was Les Miserables, Lincoln, Life of Pi and Argo.

Looks like it breaks down this way:

Birdman – 10
Imitation Game – 8
Boyhood – 7
Gone Girl – 7
Whiplash – 5
Selma – 4
Budapest Hotel – 3
Interstellar – 3
Foxcatcher – 2

Actor in a Motion Picture
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game, The Weinstein Co.
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything, Focus Features
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler, Open Road
Michael Keaton, Birdman, Fox Searchlight
Miles Teller, Whiplash, Sony Pictures Classics
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher, Sony Pictures Classics
David Oyelowo, Selma, Paramount

Actor in a Supporting Role
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash, Sony Pictures Classics
Edward Norton, Birdman, Fox Searchlight
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood, IFC Films
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher, Sony Pictures Classics
Robert Duvall, The Judge, Warner Bros.
Andy Serkis, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Fox

Actress in a Motion Picture
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl, Fox
Anne Dorval, Mommy, Roadside Attractions
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything, Focus Features
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Belle, Fox Searchlight
Julianne Moore, Still Alice, Sony Pictures Classics
Reese Witherspoon, Wild, Fox Searchlight
Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night, IFC Films

Actress in a Supporting Role
Emma Stone, Birdman, Fox Searchlight
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game, The Weinstein Co.
Laura Dern, Wild, Fox Searchlight
Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer, The Weinstein Co.
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood, IFC Films
Katherine Waterston, Inherent Vice, Warner Bros.

Art Direction & Production Design
George DeTitta Jr., Kevin Thompson, Stephen H. Carter, Birdman, Fox Searchlight
Andrew Menzies, Peter Russell, Fury, Sony
Debra Schutt, Mark Friedberg, Noah, Paramount
Dylan Cole, Frank Walsh, Gary Freeman, Maleficent, Disney
Adam Stockhausen, Anna Pinnock, Stephan Gessler, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Fox Searchlight
Maria Djurkovic, Nick Dent, The Imitation Game, The Weinstein Co.
Best Ensemble
Into the Woods, Disney

Hoyte Van Hoytema, F.S.F., N.S.C., Interstellar, Paramount
Dick Pope, BSC, Mr. Turner, Sony Pictures Classics
Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, AMC, Birdman, Fox Searchlight
Robert Elswit, Inherent Vice, Warner Bros.
Benoît Delhomme, The Theory of Everything, Focus Features
Jeff Cronenweth, ASC, Gone Girl, Fox

Costume Design
Anushia Nieradzik, Belle, Fox Searchlight
Milena Canonero, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Fox Searchlight
Colleen Atwood, Into the Woods, Disney
Anna B. Sheppard, Maleficent, Disney
Michael Wilkinson, Noah, Paramount
Anais Romand, Saint Laurent, Sony Pictures Classics

Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman, Fox Searchlight
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash, Sony Pictures Classics
Richard Linklater, Boyhood, IFC Films
David Fincher, Gone Girl, Fox
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game, The Weinstein Co.
Ava DuVernay, Selma, Paramount

Film Editing
Sandra Adair, Boyhood, IFC Films
Gary Roach, Joel Cox, American Sniper, Warner Bros.
Douglas Crise, Stephen Mirrione, ACE, Birdman, Fox Searchlight
William Goldenberg, A.C.E., The Imitation Game, The Weinstein Co.
Dody Dorn, ACE, Jay Cassidy, ACE, Fury, Sony
Stan Salfas, ACE, William Hoy, ACE, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Fox

Motion Picture
Whiplash, Sony Pictures Classics
The Imitation Game, The Weinstein Co.
The Theory of Everything, Focus Features
Mr. Turner, Sony Pictures Classics
Selma, Paramount
Gone Girl, Fox
Birdman, Fox Searchlight
Love is Strange, Sony Pictures Classics
Boyhood, IFC Films
The Grand Budapest Hotel, Fox Searchlight

Motion Picture, Animated or Mixed Media
Big Hero 6, Disney
Song of the Sea, GKIDS
The Boxtrolls, Focus Features
The Lego Movie, Warner Bros.
Wrinkles, GKIDS
The Book of Life, Fox
How to Train Your Dragon 2, Fox

Motion Picture, Documentary
Red Army, Sony Pictures Classics
Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq, Koch Lorber Films
Art and Craft, Oscilloscope Pictures
Citizenfour, Radius-TWC
Finding Vivian Maier, IFC Films
Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, Area23a
Jodorowsky’s Dune, Sony Pictures Classics
Keep On Keepin’ On, Radius-TWC
Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles, Cohen Media Group
Virunga, Netflix

Motion Picture, International Film
Greece, Little England,
Israel, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem,
Poland, Ida,
Sweden, Force Majeure,
Russia, Leviathan,
Canada, Mommy,
Estonia, Tangerine,
Mauritania, Timbuktu,
Argentina, Wild Tales,
Belgium, Two Days, One Night, IFC Films

Original Score
Antonio Sanchez, Birdman, Fox Searchlight
Alexandre Desplat, The Imitation Game, The Weinstein Co.
Thomas Newman, The Judge, Warner Bros.
Steven Price, Fury, Sony
Hans Zimmer, Interstellar, Paramount
Atticus Ross, Trent Reznor, Gone Girl, Fox

Original Song
“Everything is Awesome”, The Lego Movie, Warner Bros.
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You”, Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, Area23a
“Split the Difference”, Boyhood, IFC Films
“We Will Not Go”, Virunga, Netflix
“I’ll Get What You Want”, Muppets Most Wanted, Disney
“What Is Love”, 127 Hours, Rio 2, Fox

Screenplay, Adapted
Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice, Warner Bros.
Graham Moore, The Imitation Game, The Weinstein Co.
Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl, Fox
Anthony McCarten, The Theory of Everything, Focus Features
Jason Hall, American Sniper, Warner Bros.
Cheryl Strayed, Nick Hornby, Wild, Fox Searchlight

Screenplay, Original
Paul Webb, Selma, Paramount
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo, Nicolas Giabone, Birdman, Fox Searchlight
Richard Linklater, Boyhood, IFC Films
Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias, Love is Strange, Sony Pictures Classics
Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler, Open Road
Christopher Miller, Phil Lord, The Lego Movie, Warner Bros.

Sound (Editing and Mixing)
Craig Henighan, Ken Ishii, C.A.S., Skip Lievsay, Noah, Paramount
Erik Aadahl, Ethan Van Der Ryn, Peter J. Devlin, C.A.S., Transformers: Age of Extinction, Paramount
Anna Behlmer, Mark Holding, Taeyoung Choi, Terry Porter, Snowpiercer, The Weinstein Co.
Ben Wilkins, Craig Mann, Thomas Curley, Whiplash, Sony Pictures Classics
Blake Leyh, John Casali, Michael Keller, Michael Prestwoood Smith, Renee Tondelli, Into the Woods, Disney
Ren Klyce, Steve Cantamessa, Gone Girl, Fox

Visual Effects
Eric Durst, Snowpiercer, The Weinstein Co.
Stephane Ceretti, Guardians of the Galaxy, Disney
Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter, Paul Franklin, Scott Fisher, Interstellar, Paramount
Ben Snow, Burt Dalton, Dan Schrecker, Marc Chu, Noah, Paramount
John Frazier, Patrick Tubach, Scott Benza, Scott Farrar, A.S.C., Transformers: Age of Extinction, Paramount
Dan Lemmon, Joe Letteri, Matt Kutcher, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


Nothing has won anything major yet. The Imitation Game won the top People’s Choice award in Toronto, which is a good thing. Way too many people were predicting Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken to win Best Picture, which will likely go down in awards history as one of those years where expectations were so impossibly high the film couldn’t possibly live up to them. But no pundit will take the blame for this, nor will they change their practices next year when a Big Oscar Movie on paper lands in their number one spot. I think it’s easy to predict a nominee that way, just not a winner. Never a winner. A winner happens organically. It is seen, then it wins. There are very few ideas so big they can trump a movie being seen.

There are so many of us clucking about, pretending to be experts, giving advice, predictions — making broad statements, dismissing films we shouldn’t. It seems like the number of people covering this race, which doesn’t have much of a story to it this year, has tripled since last year. It is an industry onto itself and half of the time I’ve forgotten what any of it means.

The simple of fact of it is, nobody knows squat, my friends. We think we know but we don’t. One movie could win a major award and the whole thing could be turned around. One movie could seem like it has everything it needs to get in — like Inside Llewyn Davis — and not get in. American Hustle can seem like a big sloppy mess of a movie and it can top the critics awards on the march to Oscar. In truth, the Oscar race starts tomorrow. Before that, dear friends, it’s just a lot of hot air in a dry desert.

Finally, Unbroken screened for audiences. It is by no means a bad film. Jolie shows promise as a director — she’s getting there. She’s not quite great yet, nor should she be expected to be. She seems drawn towards stories of suffering and Unbroken is no exception. Where other actors turned directors usually deal with feel-good material or else very solid stories, Jolie is dealing with telling the true life story of someone she came to love and admire. Her respect, admiration, and yes, love for Louis Zamperini shines through the film. It is a heartfelt dedication to a truly exceptional man. Does that make it a good movie? It has its moments. It is tough to sit through, meaning, it doesn’t let up. It’s one awful scene after another because it’s depicting Zamperini’s life, which was a whole lot of faith-testing suffering. To that end, it is not unlike Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. There are God references throughout Unbroken, which makes me think it is going to play well with the faithful.

In terms of Oscar – well, who knows. Look, Munich got in for Picture and Director and it had about as much hype as Unbroken had. Its momentum kept it in the race. Can Unbroken make the top five ballots of enough Academy members to get in? Right now, that isn’t a question that can be answered. There are too many variables. We don’t yet know where any of these films are going to land. We have our guesses. Most people think I’m nuts to see Gone Girl as a solid entry but how could anyone not see it that way with the kinds of films that have been opening? Gone Girl is one of the few entertaining movies in the whole lineup, one that isn’t depressing or hard to sit through. It’s creepy fun. But I could turn out to be wrong and you can all throw pies in my face and tell me how much you told me so. Another year, another dumb Oscar game.

I see it placed this way in the Best Picture race:

Imitation Game
Gone Girl
Theory of Everything
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Next tier:
The Grand Budapest Hotel
A Most Violent Year
The Homesman

So I see it with potential but it’s not a slam dunk. If the critics praise it to high heavens that changes the perception. If it wins a major critics award, that changes perception. The Oscar race is fluid, not static. It is not determined by we who write about it. It is determined by industry voters, a giant consensus that picks and chooses.

Best Director has to be carefully considered this year because I think, with such a wide open year, you could be looking at two vastly different director lineups from the DGA to the Academy.

DGA might go:
Tyldum or Marsh

Academy might go:

You just never know. Good thing we have a whole bunch of awards coming up that will help guide us into the right hole. Right now, we’re just stabbing at things that look like holes. That’s too big to be a space station!

If Unbroken has one problem it’s the score. It just kept telling us what we were supposed to feel. I think it would have been better served with less of an obvious/sentimental score. But that’s just me. Let’s wait to hear what the critics say.

Last thing, it would be nice if this moment was the moment Oscar bloggers stopped putting movies at the top of their list based on what they look like on paper. But you know that ain’t happening any time soon.


The Imitation Game had a huge opening with $482K in just four theaters, making it the year’s second best debut. This isn’t that surprising considering the very motivated fanbase for Benedict Cumberbatch, especially since he’s got such strong buzz in the Best Actor race. But it’s worth noting that the reviews did not prevent anyone from seeing the film.

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What a run for Gone Girl, though I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who seems to be noticing this or caring about it in the world of Oscar punditry. I guess because I’ve been here long enough to see how Hollywood has changed. For a rated R movie that isn’t a remake or a sequel to finish a 9 week run at $160 domestic is rare indeed.  It has zoomed past all of the past Best Picture winners of the last ten years, second only to Return of the King. It is extremely rare for a rated R film to make that kind of coin here in uptight, child-oriented America.   Gone Girl done proved you don’t have to be 22 Jump Street to make lots of money. You can stir debate, challenge audiences, deliver uncomfortable endings and still make lots of money.  Huh. This is also what happens when you put women in movies and give them something to do other than smile and talk pretty. Bridesmaids earned $169 million in its release but was too much of a genre comedy to get a Best Pic nod, despite the noble efforts of the studio.  Gone Girl, which wasn’t too much for American audiences, could prove too much for the Academy.


There is much ado these days about how the Spirit Awards aren’t honoring independence anymore but are really another step in the Oscar race. I don’t know if that’s true or if the Oscar race is slowly becoming more independent, valuing and honoring films that don’t cost much money.

Maybe now they need an actual independent spirit awards that is even more independent than these to honor truly groundbreaking indie film. Beasts of the Southern Wild which was made with crowdfunding not beating Silver Linings Playbook was an example of just how dramatically the awards have changed, hewing closer to the general consensus and farther away from the fringe.

Getting the biggest boost today has to be Ava DuVernay’s Selma, which just got its first jolt with Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress and Cinematography. None of the Feature nominees got a corresponding Screenplay nod, which is interesting, but four out of five of the Best Directing nominees have corresponding Best Picture nods – that makes this an extremely tight race.

We used to call the Spirit Awards the kiss of death for Oscar because usually a film would win there and then another, bigger movie would win the Oscar. But The Artist won in 2011 and 12 Years a Slave won in 2013 so perhaps it must no longer be referred to that way.

While Ava DuVernay does not quite make history as the first African American female to earn a Best Director nomination, she does make history with a Best Picture and Best Director nomination there, which is significant, I think, because it shows how popular Selma is right now. With three strong contenders for the win the Spirit Awards will be a nail-biter. I’m going to bet Best Picture goes to Boyhood, but that Ava DuVernay wins Best Director, which Inarritu and Linklater split that vote there. I could be wrong and we have a long way to go before then.

The predictions for the Best Picture race look eerily like the best five films the Spirit Awards just nominated for Best Picture, with one exception:

Love is Strange

How wonderful for Ira Sachs to receive this honor in a season that has paid little attention to Love is Strange. It is sandwiched between what are considered to be among the most competitive films in the Oscar race so far, minus the Imitation Game, which did not make the list, nor did Wild, which was also eligible.

Compare this list with last year’s:
12 Years a Slave
All is Lost
Frances Ha
Inside Llewyn Davis

At the time, we thought four of those were sure bets for Oscar’s Best Picture but in the end, only two received crossover nominations.

The same thing happened the previous year:
Silver Linings Playbook
Beasts of the Southern Wild

Keep the Lights On
Moonrise Kingdom

We thought three would make it but in the end, only two did.

And the year before:
The Artist
The Descendants
Take Shelter

Two also got in.

But when we get to 2010, when there a solid 10 slots for nominations, it broadens somewhat:
Black Swan
127 Hours

The Kids Are All Right
Winter’s Bone

And finally, 2009:
500 Days of Summer
The Last Station
Sin Nombre

The question is, will this be a year where more than two get in? Where four get in? We have no way of knowing except that to say that in the years that matched this one – five Spirit Award nods to the Academy’s five slots for nominations (plus spillover films with enough votes) only two have gotten in.

It’s hard to imagine the Oscar race without:

But in a year like this one, anything could happen.

The Best Actress lineup is also kind of strange, especially since Reese Witherspoon did not get a nomination for Wild. Julianne Moore will win there, quite easily:

Marion Cotillard
The Immigrant

Rinko Kikuchi
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

Julianne Moore
Still Alice

Jenny Slate
Obvious Child

Tilda Swinton
Only Lovers Left Alive

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One of the early announcements, along with the Los Angeles, New York Film Critics and National Board of Review, will be the AFI top ten films of 2014. Through December, critics will be ringing in with their top ten films of the year, and eventually, a consensus will be born. How does the AFI stack up against the aggregate top ten? Movie City News compiled the Top Tens every year. I have compared the big top tens against it, with AFI and Producers Guild, along with Oscar’s Best Picture.





These top ten lists were compiled in January before the Oscars. Predicting the Oscar nominations off of these lists are not the easiest thing in the world to do for the simple reason that none of these groups tally their votes the same. With Movie City News, the AFI and the Producers Guild members who vote get ten slots. The Academy, since 2011, only has five nominee slots. As you can see, 2009 and 2010 were a lot easier to predict than Best Picture was, say, last year.

Even among these groups, though, there is a mix of what films they think are best. The Academy hovers somewhere between the producers and the critics, I’d say. While the AFI picks a small committee of judges to carefully select their nominees, the Producers Guild has a giant membership closer to the Academy’s, with 5000 members or thereabouts. Movie City News critics round out to roughly 200. The Producers Guild, like the Academy, uses a preferential ballot. They are the only voting body that does. But they get 10 nomination slots and not five, as I keep repeating because it doesn’t seem to sink in. Think five, not ten.

In Contention’s Kris Tapley does not participate with either Gurus of Gold or Gold Derby, thus we must click over to In Contention to find his predictions. His latest update is from the 17th — and he’s going with 8, not 9, assuming that this year there won’t be enough favorites to name the usual maximum of 9. Somewhere in the math universe that perhaps Christopher Nolan or Stephen Hawking can explain are how the new voting system arrives at 10. So far, they have never gotten there since reducing the nomination slots from 10 back to 5. It’s been only 9 for three years in a row. But, so the theory goes, this is a “Weak” year and thus, Tapley is betting one less than 9.

Here are Kris Tapley’s top 8 (not 9) for Best Picture:
“The Imitation Game”
“Mr. Turner”
“The Theory of Everything”

I know our jobs as pundits is to anticipate what five films the Academy voters will choose but I look at Kris’ list and I think, what a bunch of wimpy picks. These are all good movies but the sum total of them, looking at them as a group? That’s a whole lot of soft sauce.  And it isn’t the kind of lineup anyone producing that telecast is going to jump for joy over.  Not a single hit in the lineup? Mmmm. It won’t do.

Right now, closing in on the end of November and heading into the critics awards (which could change everything), the Gurus of Gold’s latest looks like this:

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And Gold Derby looks like this:


There are still so many questions unanswered so far in this year’s race that it’s tough to figure out how it might go.  If you track back to last year at this time we were convinced of All is Lost and Inside Llewyn Davis getting in. Neither did. Dallas Buyers Club and Philomena, tracking kind of low and outside on the pundits’ charts, did get in. That is a really good example of the “think five” rule can push films that have deeper emotional impact over ones that don’t.

That is perhaps why Dave Karger, Scott Feinberg, Thelma Adams and Kris Tapley are all predicting Gone Girl will be shut out of the Best Picture race, never mind that it’s the highest grossing film of twice-nominated David Fincher’s career, and never mind that it will finish the year as the top earning adult drama, barreling towards $160 million, they are shaking their heads no because they don’t think “they” will go for it. Me, I’m looking at films like The Fighter and Black Swan and I’m thinking, there are going to be men with low hanging heavy balls who are going to want a film like Gone Girl in the race, despite it having the “chick flick” label.


So I disagree with my pundit pals, even Anne Thompson who has pushed Gone Girl way down to number 10, which would mean it would not get in.  Here’s the scary part – they could turn out to be right.  That would mean they really are going to spit in the face of the hordes of ticket buyers who came out to see one of the year’s most provocative and talked about films.  A film so successful it seeing repeat viewings, driven by strong word of mouth. They’re going to say, nah, doesn’t matter because that isn’t the kind of movie we want representing us globally.

They said movies had to have pat endings to make money.They were wrong. They said a movie had to be touchy feely feel goody to make money. They were wrong. They said it’s better to have an established (code word for male) screenwriter adapt Flynn’s work and nope, they were wrong. It’s just been one long list of wrongs as far as estimating Gone Girl’s success.

One screening didn’t go well at the Academy on the film’s path to making, potentially, $180 million and that sinks its chances because the Academy members are resemble that small sampling of voters on that one day. That isn’t the industry I know and it isn’t the Academy I know.   This isn’t the Spirit Awards and it isn’t the Gothams. It isn’t even the BAFTAS (yet). It’s the mother fucking Oscars, my friend. They know what a muscular hits means to their bread and butter.

But let’s look at how this thing could shape up from here, with no critics’ top tens to go off of yet, and with no one having seen Unbroken. Into the Woods was seen but it doesn’t look as though it has impacted any of the charts thus far, with the sole exception of Scott Feinberg, who has added it to his top Best Picture contenders.

I’m going to start with what I know about the AFI, even though their juries change. I don’t think anyone in their right mind working in Hollywood today, with the entire enterprise being turned over to tent poles and international super hero movies are going to look at Gone Girl’s success – a hard R movie made by a major studio that is that big of a success – and turn their nose up at it. They are just not that stupid. Best Picture of the Year means those films that achieved something exceptional and for Gone Girl, its box office is exceptional. The AFI named The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I suspect they will add Gone Girl to that list.

Wes Anderson has made the list a few times, including Moonrise Kingdom and The Fantastic Mr. Fox. I’m going to bet The Grand Budapest Hotel gets in.

I suspect they might go:

Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel

I feel most confident about these for AFI. Then, if you add in the two Brit films, which are US productions so they could qualify you would have:

Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Imitation Game
Theory of Everything

And that leaves one. That last one could be and might be either Unbroken or Interstellar.

That is how things might go for AFI. I have no idea what is in store for Unbroken and I refuse to speculate until I see it. If it is good and worthwhile it will be chosen by the AFI no doubt, which will put two films by women on their list like there were in 2010, when Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right and Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone made the list.

Moving on to the Producers Guild, Gone Girl is assured a slot there, especially, as with AFI, with ten slots.  So I’m still seeing the same list for PGA, with the same two stragglers, Interstellar and Unbroken fighting it out for the last slot.  I think it’s possible the PGA goes:

Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Imitation Game
Theory of Everything

That’s just a guess, of course.  But looking over the list of films and the pundits’ predictions I can’t help but zero in on these movies. We’ll see where Gone Girl, Selma, Grand Budapest, Interstellar and Unbroken land once the lists start coming in. This lineup could easily change.


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Thanks to Ryan at Indiewire for the link.

“What happens when a man stands up and says enough is enough?” All things happen at once: the good, the bad and the ugly.

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Here is one of the first looks at Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, the film about WWII survivor Louie Zamperini who could not be broken.

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In addition to Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, which is being screened and will be reviewed soon, many women already have taken center stage in the Oscar race. Instead of unveiling just a thirty-minute showreel of Selma at the AFI Fest, director Ava DuVernay decided to go for broke, acknowledging that moments like these don’t come around very often. Go big, or go home was the idea. It paid off big time as it seemed that everyone involved in the film, including DuVernay, either didn’t know what a great movie they had on their hands or they were just so used to the door closing on women each and every time they’ve come up to bat.

Either way, Selma turned out to be not only magnificent, receiving not one but two standing ovations so far, but also that rare creature in the Oscar race that has the ability to take the Best Picture race as a late entry. Selma is now considered a major frontrunner to win that prize, as Mike Hogan, Katey Rich and Richard Lawson over at have written. But hey, no pressure. It’s only a black woman who made a career change over the age of 40, started her own releasing company to bring more black ticket-buyers to the arthouse, whose indie career has been ticking along steadily, who won Best Director at Sundance in 2012 but was overlooked in the original screenplay category. This auteur steps into the Oscar race and the film industry as an original – there has never been anyone like Ava DuVernay. That makes it quite possible she has the ability to change the Oscar race as we’ve known it for a while.

As things stand right now, Selma is (to my mind) in the number 2 spot right behind Boyhood. I still think Boyhood could catch the consensus as it plays right into the Academy’s wheelhouse. But Selma could start winning stuff and not stop. It could Slumdog Millionaire or Million Dollar Baby its way right through this race. What helped it? Lowered expectations. Any film benefits from lowered expectations. The higher those expectations go the harder it is for any film to meet them – that is why it is important to get your movie out as early as possible, have it seen and then talked about. That is also why building momentum for late entries is so hard. Zero Dark Thirty and American Hustle are two that caught the wave of last minute momentum but both were derailed for various reasons.

Even the notion of Angelina Jolie stepping into the race as a high profile director along the lines of Kathryn Bigelow, David O. Russell or Clint Eastwood is exciting and adds mystery to this race while also helping to erase the line between powerful and not powerful women. The more powerful Jolie is as a director, the better for all women in film. Even if the movie is a nominee and not a winner (we have no way of knowing and I’ll never be that person who predicts a film to win no one has seen) that is still a major win for women in film, that a woman could be powerful enough to shake up the race without her film even being seen. In another post I chalked that up to her celebrity – but even still, she’s using her celebrity to change the power dynamics in Hollywood and that is nothing less than admirable.

DuVernay has a distinctive signature as a director and is far more of a visual storyteller than are many of her female contemporaries. Not many women come at directing from a visual standpoint. Most tend more toward the Richard Linklater vein of depth of story and character. DuVernay’s Selma is a mood piece on the one hand, about the impact of Martin Luther King, Jr., and all of the players that worked with and against him leading up to the enactment of the Voting Rights Act.

Though it depicts a pivotal moment in American history, and is about an American civil rights icon, it always feels like a personal story from the ground up rather than a stodgy history lesson. It is alive and vibrant filmmaking by a powerful new voice in American film.

Do we even need to ask the question of how many black women have been nominated for Best Director? How about how many black women have even gotten close to being nominated for Best Director? Ava DuVernay’s nomination, should it come to pass, would make history in so many different ways — but Selma is a good enough film that making history is really the least of it, though the excitement of that possibility is going to be hard to resist.


Gillian Flynn makes history in the adapted screenplay race as she stands to become the first female nominee to ever adapt her own novel. Plenty of men have done it. Only 2 women in all of Oscar history adapted their own material but they were plays already. Not only did David Fincher insist upon Flynn as the adapted screenplay writer (the studio wanted to go with a more well-known male writer) but his good instincts and Flynn’s talent as a writer have taken Gone Girl to #13 among the highest grossing films of 2014 — and still climbing. That level of success is extraordinarily rare and significant for any movie that isn’t a sequel or a family film. This hard R film is drawing both male a female audiences. Indisputable proof that women will show up if you give them something worth their time. Gone Girl not only gets credit for bringing women to theater, but it also dispels the tired notion, lazily floated by a defensive male demographic, that tries to dismiss the novel as “airport reading,” and claim that anything that appeals to women must be “chick lit” or “chick flicks.” That David Fincher is the director prevents them from totally disregarding Gone Girl, and its massive box-office haul makes further attempts to dismiss it sound flaccid.

Gone Girl comes wholly from Flynn’s imagination. Like DuVernay, she also made a mid-career change and at the age of 43 has achieved the kind of success most writers of any gender would kill for. Flynn bravely dives into the darker side of the female psyche. Amy Dunne in the book creates a necessary personal relationship with the reader. Women especially (although certainly not exclusively) recognize the various female tropes Dunne sends up in Gone Girl, the least of which is to harpoon at last the false notion that “cool girls” exist. This manifestation of every intelligent man’s dreams is a concoction by television and film to create a perfect woman – from the “manic pixie dream girl” to the hot chick who likes football and wears a size 2. Those women exist somewhere but they are usually a lot more flawed than they appear to be, as we all are. Flynn’s adaption of her own work is a collaboration with David Fincher, a director who always operates from his own vision, while allowing the writer their own “voice” within that collaboration. Compare The Social Network to Gone Girl to Zodiac. There are three various writer voices in three very different films. What unites them is what Fincher brings to cinema: a visual translation of the story on the page.

The same way that Stephen King’s The Shining is a wholly different experience from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, you don’t hire a director like David Fincher and expect the Gone Girl on film is going to be the Gone Girl on the page. Like Kubrick, and Paul Thomas Anderson this year as well, a cinematic interpretation becomes an artist’s rendering of a familiar story. The Amy Dunne as filtered through Fincher is far more monstrous than the Amy Dunne in the book, who, though clearly sociopathic seems like the girl next door. She’s plucky and containable. The Amy onscreen, Rosamund Pike’s Amy, is a cinematic blonde that plays into the female tropes in the language of film. Pike’s portrayal doesn’t necessarily reflect girl culture or literature. It’s cinematic instead — specifically, film noir, Hitchcockian. Fincher goes right there and together with Flynn’s funny dialogue creates an interesting concoction that gnaws at you throughout.

With Jolie’s film still hanging in the balance, Selma and Gone Girl are two strong contenders heading into the race which put women filmmakers front and center.

The other area where female directors are flourishing to an unbelievable degree is in the documentary film race. Right now, there are three strong contenders for Doc Feature that were directed by women. First, what I consider to be the best one I’ve seen so far, Rory Kennedy’s The Last Days of Vietnam about the mess we left behind when our country decided to cut and run and leave South Vietnam to be overtaken by North Vietnam. That war of ideology did not pay off in the slightest. The film is a powerful lesson about our empire, where we choose to exercise our power and why. Mostly it’s about the unsung heroes who helped the refugees flee Vietnam in the last days, risking life and limb to do so. It’s an incredibly powerful, suspenseful documentary.

The one that is getting more publicity is Laura Poitras’ CitizenFour about the moment Edward Snowden contacted Glenn Greenwald to release the information he had on our government’s NSA surveillance of its citizens and other countries. Many see this film as an important message for Americans, and see Snowden as a patriot whose goal was to get the truth across no matter what harm he did to himself and his privacy. Poitras was also contacted by Snowden at the time and was able to capture the drama behind the scenes as it unfolded.

There is also Fed Up, currently showing on VOD, directed by Stephanie Soechtig. Fed Up is one of the most eye-opening documentaries I’ve seen this year. It is about the dominance of the special interest food corporations making Americans fat and unhealthy then exporting that deadly diet to other countries. Why is there soda in schools? Why is there only junk food by well-known fast food empires? That is really what America has become: a fast food empire (or nation, if you will). Interviews with Bill Clinton, Mark Bittman and others, Fed Up is a film they should show in schools to help kids realize the harm our government is inflicting upon its citizens by its unwillingness to face down powerful lobbies. What a shame.

CitizenKoch (to which I am a Kickstarter donor!) bravely exposes the all-powerful Koch brothers for making ordinary Republicans in the red states bow to their every whim all in the name of Capitalism. Elena is a brooding, beautiful look at depression and suicide.

Indiewire puts the number of docs directed by women at 37% – which is astonishing. Other than those named above, here’s the list of women-directed documentaries up for consideration:

“Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq” – Nancy Buirski
“American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs” – Grace Lee
“Anita” – Frieda Mock
“Art and Craft”- Co-directed by Jennifer Grausman
“Awake: The Life of Yogananda” -Paola di Florio and Lisa Leeman
“Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity” – Catherine Gund
“Cesar’s Last Fast” – Co-directed by Lorena Parlee
“Citizen Koch”- Co-directed by Tia Lessin
“Cyber-Seniors” – Saffron Cassaday
“Dancing in Jaffa”- Hilla Medilla
“The Decent One” – Vanessa Lapa
“The Dog”- Co-Directed by Allison Berg
“E-Team” – Co-directed by Katy Chevigny
“Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” – Chemi Karasawa
“Elena”- Petra Costa
“The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden” – Co-directed by Dayna Goldfine
“Getting to the Nutcracker” – Serene Meshel-Dillman
“The Great Invisible” – Margaret Brown
“The Hacker Wars” – Vivien Weisman
“I Am Ali” – Clare Lewins
“Journey of a Female Comic” – Co-directed by Kiki Melendez
“Last Hijack” – Co-directed by Femke Wolting
“Little White Lie” – Lacey Schwartz
“Llyn Foulkes One Man Band” – Co-directed by Tamar Halpern
“Manakamana” – Co-directed by Stephanie Spray
“Monk with a Camera” – Co-directed by Tina Mascara
“The Only Real Game” – Mirra Bank
“Pelican Dreams” – Judy Irving
“Plot for Peace” – Co-directed by Mandy Jacobson
“Private Violence” – Cynthia Hill
“Pump” – Co-directed by Rebecca Harrell Tickell
“Remote Area Medical” – Co-directed by Farihah Zaman
“Rich Hill” – Co-directed by Tracy Droz Trago
“The Rule” – Marylou Tibaldo-Bongiorno
“Shadows from My Past” – Co-directed by Gita Kaufman
“She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” – Mary Dore
“A Small Section of the World” – Lesley Chilcott
“The Supreme Price” – Joanna Lipper
“Tanzania: A Journey Within” – Sylvia Caminer
“Thomas Keating: A Rising Tide of Silence” – Co-directed by Elena Mannes
“20,000 Days on Earth” – Co-directed by Jane Pollard
“Under the Electric Sky” – Co-directed by Jane Lipsitz
“Underwater Dreams” – Mary Mazzio
“Waiting for August” – Teodora Milhai
“Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago” – Lydia Smith
“Watchers of the Sky” – Edet Wurmfeld
“Watermark” – Co-directed by Jennifer Baichwal

Here’s the bad news. Oscar will only accept five of these wonderful documentaries — which is an embarrassing low number that does not, in any way, reflect this flourishing branch of the industry.

The other bad news? There is only one writer in the entire Oscar race thus far who is a woman: Gillian Flynn. Every other writing contender is male.

Finally, most of the stories heading into the Oscar race are still about men. It is as though women do not matter anymore and that their stories have become so marginalized, so worthless, the film community has just decided they are expendable.

I am heartened by these women in the Best Director race, because I know that their universal stories about American heroes will resonate across the board. I also know that the majority of voters in the film critic community and the industry are male. They seem to be unwilling to respond to stories about women unless they have more options on a ten nominee ballot. With only five, their preferences will continue to lean toward male-driven stories.

But hey, you have to start somewhere.
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86th Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals

A funny thing is happening in the Oscar race. A film that most people haven’t seen, that hasn’t been reviewed by critics – major or otherwise – is being touted as this year’s Best Picture winner. At first it seemed business as usual. Then the film premiered in Australia with a strict embargo of December 1. The film is currently being screened with that embargo in place. I Many of us will see on November 30.  But the weird thing is, everyone is acting like it’s a go, like it doesn’t really even matter if the film is seen or not. She’s really that big of a star, that beloved by fans and the industry that it will get into the Best Director and Best Picture race anyway.

If Universal pulls this off it will be unlike anything I’ve ever seen in 16 years. We’ve had actors in the director race many times – big ones, like George Clooney and Ben Affleck. But their movies were seen first and the accepted or rejected by the awards voters. In fact, Clooney’s Ides of March seemed like it was going to get very close to the Best Picture race but did not. Ditto for Affleck’s The Town.   I’ve never seen a movie star lead the hype as the film’s director. They always do it when actors are involved.  This film is being rolled out as though Angelina Jolie were the star. And maybe, in the end, that will prove true.

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The surprising thing about movie stars and Best Director is that they really can be like a supernova descending. Ben Affleck’s star power during Argo was a major force for the film’s success.  If you’ve ever stood in a room with an actor-turned-director you can feel their charisma from all the way across the room and it’s nearly impossible to resist it. Affleck’s charm offensive was notorious. No one was safe from it. Everyone fell immediately in love with him upon sight – men, women, forget it. But Affleck had a movie a lot of people thought was really good. They saw the movie and then they celebrated him. With this, they’re celebrating Angelina long before they even see the movie – and I’m wondering if anyone cares.

Jolie is as big a star as Affleck and already has one major blockbuster behind her this year with Maleficent, to name just a tip of the Jolie iceberg. She was also given an Oscar last year for her humanitarian efforts.  She even flew off to make another movie with husband Brad Pitt while Unbroken was still in post – all the while raising six kids.

You have to wonder if, indeed, it doesn’t matter if Unbroken is good or not. The story is already so big perhaps it will devour the need for the film to be good. After all, they vote for whom they like anyway, right? This past week I’ve been told by Oscar pundits from experts to amateurs that Unbroken will win, including Entertainment Weekly and Oscar blogging veteran, Dave Karger.


I find myself conflicted over this. On the one hand, I’ve long championed women filmmakers and if Jolie and Ava DuVernay (whose film has been seen and highly praised already, which put her in the race – no star power needed) manage to get in the same year that would be a record breaking year for women and something to celebrate. Worse case scenario the movie is bad and she gets in on her star power. That’s still a woman in the race and lord knows they’ve nominated enough men who didn’t deserve to get included either.

On the other hand, if she does get in and she doesn’t deserve it that could be more devastating for women in the long run because people will say all you have to do is be pretty and popular and you can get nominated for Best Director with a sub par film. We already have one woman in the race whose movie is being praised with standing ovations at press screenings, which hardly ever happens. And yet, all I hear from my Oscar pundit pals is all about Angelina Jolie. I’m perplexed, Oscar watchers.

Then again, maybe the movie really is that good and her star power and popularity only enhances her position in the race, one she would get anyway even if she weren’t Angelina Jolie. Maybe it’s really that good – as good as Selma, as good as Gone Girl and Boyhood and Birdman. That would be the most awesome thing to happen to the Oscars since Halle Berry and Denzel Washington won on the same night.

Though stars can’t lose if they have a reasonably good movie, they are often looked upon negatively in the years to come, especially if they beat a much better film.  Robert Redford beating Martin Scorsese, Kevin Costner beating Martin Scorsese. Clint Eastwood beating Martin Scorsese.

What I sense with Unbroken and Angelina Jolie is a tsunami of good cheer and encouragement towards her.  I do not know if those accolades are well deserved or not. Yet. I will find out on November 30.  Either way, I’m fascinated by the way Universal is controlling the conversation with that embargo, while also taking full advantage of who Angelina Jolie is in American culture. That’s some really hot shit publicity at work, folks.

May the best woman win!



Unbroken will be seen in various places before getting to critics and bloggers over here, mainly due to scheduling around the film’s director, Angelina Jolie, who will be doing appearances and Q&As to give the film the best possible landing. This is how films usually roll out at festivals, with directors there (at the very least) to give q&as after the screening. This does two things. The first, if “talent” is in the room the crowd is usually much more responsive. You can imagine how responsive they would be with Angelina Jolie in the room. But also it ensures people will at least SHOW UP to the screening, which ensures the film will be seen. In a competitive season, that becomes the most important thing.

Variety reported on the first screening, which said “largely well received” with “warm applause” and several gasps at the violence. I guess the best they could have hoped for was a standing ovation but from where I sit, that it was warmly received is good enough. The film is a victim of Oscar season hype already, being touted as the winner long before anyone has seen it. We put it on our list because it MIGHT be that movie. If it isn’t that movie we blame the movie, not ourselves. We see a movie in our heads and thus, if the movie falls short of that it suffers during this madness. This movie is being hyped as Jolie + Coens + Deakins + WWII + American hero – how can it go wrong? And the thing is, it might not go wrong, number 1. Number 2, unfortunately its goal now is to fill our cup not live out its own intended trajectory. Such is the insanity of Oscar season.

I don’t know what the film’s fate will be but being unable to talk about it right after it screened is causing a bit of an Oscar season flatline. There are too many people like me trying to come up with anything semi-exciting that isn’t just random publicity (interviews, profiles, pictures). Now, we’re just chewing off our own limbs and pretending it’s dinner.

One thing Unbroken has going for it over all of the other films in the race is the simple fact of Ms. Jolie herself. If you notice the different ways Unbroken is being rolled out compared to other films, or even Selma which is also directed by a woman, is that Jolie’s star power is so gigantic her face is almost all that is required to sell the thing. Those set pictures from Unbroken were like an Annie Leibowitz photo spread. She is so pretty that her face on the cover of Vanity Fair sells her movie. There is no other director in the race that famous or that famous for her looks. Ava DuVernay is also beautiful and thus, that will also help her in the race, being that women are always going to be judged on looks first. Always. Sadly.

Of course, Jolie is famous for many other things, too – her unsurpassed humanitarian efforts with refugees, her marriage to Brad Pitt, raising six children but at the end of the day human beings respond to beauty. They (we) like pretty people and for Jolie, considered one of the most beautiful people in the world, that is starting to look like her biggest and most powerful weapon in this regard. Many will come to screenings of the film just to have a look at her.

That isn’t to say she won’t be judged on her work but it’s interesting to watch how the publicity for her film is so tied up in ongoing obsession on her image. Then again, since the movie hasn’t been seen there isn’t much to go on. Oscar season hype has put it in the conversation but the conversation only has one place to go.

Since the film isn’t seen, there isn’t much to discuss except for my own private wish that her film wasn’t being predicted to win. When you start the race at the top like that you have nowhere to go but down. It isn’t her fault, of course. If anything, it’s the fault of Oscar season. We never seem to learn this one crucial lesson about sight unseen frontrunners.






The Hollywood Film Awards launched the awards race for the muggles – that is, it seems like it might be the beginning of awards season. But really, it was the last gasp of festival season.  Award season starts officially in roughly two weeks. It is impossible to really know where the films are lining up. As Mark Harris reminds us, what is mostly going on right now is a conversation between a bunch of people who don’t vote on awards trying to predict how people who do vote on awards will vote.  Or, as Kris Tapley said more succinctly, it’s like farting in a room and then talking about what it smells like.  That’s the thing – we all have our rankings and our own narratives of how the race might go but in truth, nothing really happens until the major awards begin to announce.

The first out of the gate is the New York Film Critics Circle Awards (December 1), made recently famous by their decision to push their awards to be earlier than the National Board of Review, the group that traditionally announced first. Since the NYFCC did that, they’ve picked winners that hadn’t been widely seen yet, even though they were being predicted by pundits based on the usual things: pedigree, subject matter, etc. Zero Dark Thirty in 2012 and American Hustle last year were their two big late entry surprise picks. The only film left to be seen right now are Unbroken and Into the Woods. The NYFCC hat trick would then have to be one of those films and if either one wins it will be huge.

A day later, the National Board of Review announces (December 2). They list a Best Picture and then a top ten, plus acting categories. Both the National Board of Review and the NYFCC have a great track record for launching a film into the Best Picture race. It lends prestige to have that little award on your movie ad. No one really knows the difference, nor cares, whether the critics who vote are “legit” or not. The NBR has been picking respectable titles for years alongside the NYFCC.

The National Board of Review started, believe it or not, in 1927, presumably to help influence the newly formed Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences awards. But it wasn’t until 1932 that they started giving out a winner.

A quick chart:

But did anything change after the AFI Fest? And is the consensus starting to take shape anyway, without any awards having been announced? There is a rough draft of the consensus but the shape won’t take place until we start seeing how people plan to vote on Best Picture of the Year.

There are a few things we do know, however.

1) We have our Best Actress frontrunner in Julianne Moore. She was already way, way overdue – is well liked and proved with her appearance at the Hollywood Film Awards that she plans to show up. She has, at this time, no major competition. Rosamund Pike and Reese Witherspoon could be the only competitors but Moore needed the chance to allow voters to award her and this is it. Kudos to Greg Ellwood at Hitfix for calling it first.

2) Ava DuVernay’s Selma is the only major game-changer out of the AFI fest. There are films that will have some impact, like A Most Violent Year, The Gambler and American Sniper but the one everyone was talking about as the only film that can give heat to the frontrunners to win is Selma. It is the only film so far of the late entries that has the stuff to win.  If it catches fire with any early awards it will all be over but the shouting. The NBR has a soft spot for Eastwood and indeed a win for American Sniper there would catapult it into the race.

3) Patricia Arquette is the strongest supporting actress contender so far. The reason? She plays basically a leading role and gives one of the few fully realized performances in that category. It’s unfortunate that the majority of male filmmakers who get a shot at the big time continually feel compelled to write such thin female supporting characters. It hurts the film overall and simply can’t withstand the test of time as the best films have the best characters — period. Once again, a good supporting female character is not one who exists merely to excite, prop up or inspire the male protagonist. They have their own character arc. But linklater is way too evolved to fall into those traps and has repeatedly delivered brilliant female characters. Also, Arquette would never have played any part that thin. She isn’t that desperate. Hollywood still doesn’t know what to do with her but so far she’s chosen interesting roles even when case in supporting parts. Ditto David Fincher who is way too smart to deliver pointless empty female leads or supporting. Gone Girl is full of great female characters with their own arcs. Leads made supporting tend to win because there is so much more information there. Those are the hardest to compete against, like Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained. The only possible competition she has is Jessica Chastain for A Most Violent Year, which would be both for the performance and for her stellar career. Arquette, though, has the advantage of being in what is considered right now the Best Picture frontrunner. Chastain is having another one of those years where she delivers one great performance after another, which makes it harder for a consensus to build around any one performance. She will once again compete against herself with A Most Violent Year and Interstellar.

4) Best Actor is still wide open. Before AFI it was two actor race between Michael Keaton and Benedict Cumberbatch being threatened by the charming and heartbreaking Eddie Redmayne. Then along comes David Oyelowo at Martin Luther King, Jr. and THAT performance could be the surprise winner in the category. Gun to my head right now I’d say Keaton gets it for two reasons. 1) he’s such a beloved vet, and 2) Birdman will win the actors and they are the biggest voting branch in the Academy. Before I saw Selma I thought Eddie Redmayne had it in the bag. Then I thought Oyelowo had it. But now I have no idea. I suspect the wins could be all over the place.

5) JK Simmons appears to have Supporting Actor lined up as he brings both a great performance and major veteran status to the game. Edward Norton is probably his biggest challenger in Birdman.  Josh Brolin steals the show in Inherent Vice – one of the best performances of the year but it’s hard to know if anyone is paying any attention to that film.

6) Boyhood doesn’t have many serious challengers yet for Best Picture. Birdman and The Imitation Game continue to present themselves as potential winners. Selma has emerged, at this time, as a formidable contender. But if the major critics do not support the film it will not be. Ava DuVernay’s inclusion makes history — the first black woman to be nominated for Best Director and that is significant. But it has passion and gravitas and historical importance, not to mention a history making black woman at the helm.  Finally, Gone Girl’s box office makes it harder and harder to ignore. Then again, Fincher notoriously does not “kiss babies,” which contradicts the silly notion that he “wants and Oscar.” He isn’t going to suck up for one and that could mean the difference. The win for Gone Girl is the money and Gillian Flynn’s history making adaptation.  That would likely be your five if there were five. But since there are more than five, you can extend the strongest contenders to include The Theory of Everything and Whiplash.  That’s seven. Interstellar makes it eight and if you don’t count Unbroken or Into the Woods that leaves you with one slot open.  There are plenty of contenders that might take it, from Mr. Turner to American Sniper to A Most Violent Year…

7) There are only two films left to be seen and one is already cursed with too high expectations.  Unbroken and Into the Woods will be seen in the next two weeks. But many pundits have proclaimed Unbroken the winner without a full screening and that, my friends, is always a huge mistake. I’ve never seen it pan out. In 16 years.  But the game must be played and so it marches on. They could both turn out to be great but they’re coming in under the wire. Good thing they are backed by hardcore star power. Angelina Jolie for Unbroken and Meryl Streep for Into the Woods ensures people will turn out for screenings for a glimpse of them and perhaps watch their movies.

8) If nothing else, Interstellar wins Visual Effects walking in the door.

9) If Alejandro G. Inarritu wins this year, that will make it the fifth consecutive year that a non-American has won Best Director for the first time in Oscar history (Ang Lee is a naturalized American citizen, though he considers himself Taiwanese, and was born there):

Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity

Though Americans dominate the list of contenders, the winning film and director right now include one American*, Richard Linklater.

Richard Linklater, Boyhood*
Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman
Morton Tyldum, The Imitation Game
James Marsh, The Theory of Everything

David Fincher, Gone Girl*
Ava DuVernay, Selma*
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash*
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher*

And the dark horse contenders:
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel*
Clint Eastwood, American Sniper*
JC Chandor, A Most Violent Year*
Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman*

And soon to come:
Angelina Jolie, Unbroken*
Rob Marshall, Into the Woods*
Mike Leigh, Mr. Turner
Jean-Marc Vallee, Wild

Americans, it seems, are showing up with great films but they haven’t been in the winner’s circle since 2009. Make of that what you will.

10) Nobody knows anything. Sure, we think we know. But we don’t. We can look back on this time and laugh about how wrong we got it but we don’t learn our lessons. Films are still shelved and excluded from the conversation as we continue to second what “they” will do. The pile gets smaller and all the while we’ve kind of lost sight of the one thing that has always been true about films: they’re made for audiences.

We can only take our best guess, which is slightly more educated from experience alone than yours. It should all be taken with a huge grain of salt and more people should think outside the tiny little box we’ve created. We call it a weak year for film? I’d say it’s a weak year for the kinds of films that people like me focus on.

My current predictions before the race gets real, for what they’re worth:


Best Picture
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Gone Girl
Mr. Turner

Also in the running:
American Sniper
A Most Violent Year
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Homesman

Still to come:
Into the Woods

Best Actor
Michael Keaton, Birdman
David Oyelowo, Selma
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Miles Teller, Whiplash
Alt. Steve Carell, Foxcatcher

Also in the running:
Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Mark Wahlberg, The Gambler
Oscar Isaac, A Most Violent Year
Ben Affleck, Gone Girl
Bill Murray St. Vincent
Matthew McConaughey, Interstellar
Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel s
Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood

Still to come:
Jack O’Connell, Unbroken

Best Actress
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Hilary Swank, The Homesman
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

Also in the running:
Anne Dorval, Mommy
Shailene Woodley, The Fault in our Stars
Jessica Chastain, Eleanor Rigby
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Belle
Julianne Moore, Maps to the Stars
Juliet Binoche, Clouds of Sils Maria

Still to come:
Amy Adams, Big Eyes
Emily Blunt, Into the Woods

Supporting Actor
JK Simmons, Whiplash
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood

Also in the running:
Tyler Perry, Gone Girl
Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman
Evan Bird, Maps to the Stars
John Cusack, Maps to the Stars

Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Laura Dern Wild

Also in the running:
Jessica Lange, The Gambler
Jessica Chastain, Interstellar
Carrie Coon, Gone Girl
Kristen Stewart, Still Alice
Suzanne Clément, Mommy
Viola Davis, Eleanor Rigby
Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria
Naomi Watts, St. Vincent
Melissa McCarthy, St. Vincent

Still to come:
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Anna Kendrick, Into the Woods

Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman
David Fincher, Gone Girl
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game
Ava DuVernay, Selma
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash

Also in the running:
Christopher Nolan, Interstellar
Clint Eastwood, American Sniper
JC Chandor, A Most Violent Year
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Mike Leigh, Mr. Turner
Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman
Jean-Marc Vallee, Wild

Still to come:
Angelina Jolie, Unbroken
Rob Marshall, Into the Woods

Original Screenplay
Alejandro Inarritu et al, Birdman
Paul Webb, Selma
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
JC Chandor, A Most Violent Year

Also in the running:
E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman, Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson, Grand Budapest Hotel
Mike Leigh, Mr. Turner
Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, Interstellar
Clouds of Sils Maria, Olivier Assayas

Adapted Screenplay
Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
Anthony McCarten, The Thoery of Everything
Graham Moore, The Imitation Game
Tommy Lee Jones, Kieran Fitzgerald, The Homesman
Nick Hornby, Wild

Also in the running:
Jon Stewart, Rosewater
RIchard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland, Still Alice

Still to come:
Coens et al., Unbroken

Gone Girl
The Imitation Game

Also in the running:
A Most Violent Year

Mr. Turner
Gone Girl
Grand Budapest Hotel

Also in the Running:

A Most Violent Year
The Theory of Everything
The Imitation Game

Still to come:
Into the Woods

Production Design

Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Mr. Turner

In the running:
The Theory of Everything

Still to come:
Into the Woods

Sound Mixing

Get on Up
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
American Sniper

In the running:
Guardians of the Galaxy
Transformers 4
Edge of Tomorrow

Still to come:
Into the Woods

Sound Editing

Get on Up
Big Hero Six

In the running:
The Lego Movie
Transformers 4
Guardians of the Galaxy
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Edge of Tomorrow

Still to come:
Into the Woods

Costume Design

Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Mr. Turner

In the running:
A Most Violent Year
Get on Up
Guardians of the Galaxy

Still to come:
Into the Woods

Original Score

Gone Girl
A Most Violent Year

In the running:
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The Imitation Game
Mr. Turner
Grand Budapest Hotel

Still to come:

Foreign Language Feature

Mommy (Canada)
Ida (Poland)
Leviathan (Russia)
Winter Sleep (Turkey)
Wild Tales (Argentina)

Documentary Feature
Life Itself
Last Days of Vietnam
Merchants of Doubt
Look of Silence

Also in the running:
The Overnighters
Red Army
Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart
The Salt of the Earth
Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles
Keep on Keepin’ On

Animated Feature
Princess Kaguya
The Lego Movie
Big Hero 6
The Book of Life
How to Train Your Dragon 2

Visual Effects
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
Transformers 4

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
Mr. Turner

Still to come:
Into the Woods

Mercy is (Noah)
Lost Stars (Begin Again)
Glory (Selma)
Everything Is Awesome (The Lego Movie)
Miracles (Unbroken)
Split the Difference (Boyhood)


I feel like I’m probably trying to make fetch happen with Gone Girl and Best Picture. It should come as no surprise to you readers that I loved the movie. It’s my favorite film of the year, followed very closely by Selma, Boyhood and Inherent Vice. So many of the movies this year are themes about men and though it’s fun to cheer them on from the sidelines and enjoy these wonderful films about them, Gone Girl, Selma, Inherent Vice and Boyhood are really the films that offered me personally a deeper, richer experience.  I understand that the Oscar race is about predicting what they’ll do – and they are not single mothers like me, mostly, but rather men. Still, this feels like one of the most wide open and confusing Oscar races in memory. Whether Gone Girl gets in or not seems to be the only suspense it has to offer at this point in time.

Why is that, well, most of the Oscar movies according to pundits happened already, way way back in September at Telluride. Not a lot has changed since then except Gone Girl and Selma.  While everyone waits for the two unseen films, Unbroken and Into the Woods, Best Picture seems to once again swirl around a few titles, if the pundits are to be believed.

Gone Girl might not have hit the target with critics but it certainly hit with Maureen Down at the New York Times and Linda Holmes at NPR, not to mention the New Yorker’s Richard Brody. But it’s a tough sell, if you ask any of the pundits or critics for two reasons. The first, it has an ambiguous ending that leaves you feeling uncomfortable. The second, it’s accused of being “airport novel” material and not high fallootin’ enough. And then there is the occasional asshole who chimes in with silly comments like “It isn’t an Oscar movie” or some such – an Oscar movie only means it’s one of the best films of the year and Gone Girl most certainly is that.

Either way, I would like to just point out the disconnect between the Oscar world and the regular world where Gone Girl, and the other films, are concerned. It feels like something is really off if a film is beloved on the one hand and disregarded on the other.  We’ll be checking back with this as the year progresses. For one thing, The Imitation Game, Theory of Everything, Foxcatcher have not yet opened, nor earned enough ratings at any websites to be included in the chart.  But if you count the public at all, this is how it’s shaping up so far.

First, the Gurus of Gold at Movie City News queried before Selma and American Sniper and after. Here is how they look side by side:

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 12.22.36 PM

Now let’s look at the stats.

Usually Best Picture can be mostly determined by how the major guilds vote. To figure out a Best Picture contender I usually look at the the likelihood of the guilds to nominate the movie. For Gone Girl I feel like Producers Guild and Directors Guild are probably safe bets. For Screen Actors Guild an ensemble nod would not be out of the question, as the film has one of the best ensembles of the year.

The DGA is really a pretty good determiner for Best Picture, even though they will announce after Oscar ballots have been turned in.

Right now, I feel like the DGA five are:
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Alejandro Inarritu, Birdman
David Fincher, Gone Girl
Christopher Nolan, Interstellar or Morton Tyldum, Imitation Game
Ava DuVernay, Selma

In the end, I am not sure what to think of this year. It feels very weird and kind of thin, like many of the films that were supposed to be stronger bets aren’t quite there.

Where Christopher Nolan and David Fincher might make the DGA’s list, the Academy might not pick them and might instead go for Damien Chazelle for Whiplash, and Mike Leigh for Mr. Turner.

In 2012, the DGA went for Ben Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow and Tom Hooper but the Academy went with Michael Haneke, David O. Russell and Benh Zeitlin.

Angelina Jolie and Rob Marshall’s fate are as yet unknown but a couple of dark horse contenders should shake up the race a bit and those include:
Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel
James Marsh for The Theory of Everything
JC Chandor for A Most Violent Year
Clint Eastwood for American Sniper

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 1.45.50 PM

Scott Feinberg hosted a roundtable with actors and filmmakers for Oscars 2014 – but honestly? Tilda Swinton’s hair for the win.

Each of the eight panelists were associated with top-notch 2014 indies: writer-director J.C. Chandor (AFI Fest opener A Most Violent Year); writer-director Damien Chazelle (Sundance grand jury and audience award winner Whiplash); Oscar-winning actress Marion Cotillard (Belgian Oscar submission Two Days, One Night, as well as 2013 Cannes selection The Immigrant); Oscar-nominated actor Jake Gyllenhaal (Toronto selections Nightcrawler and, from 2013, Enemy); actor Bill Hader (a best actor Gotham Award nominee for Sundance selection The Skeleton Twins); actress Michelle Monaghan (Fort Bliss); actress Kristen Stewart (Toronto selection Still Alice, as well as Sundance selection Camp X-Ray and Cannes selection The Clouds of Sils Maria); and Oscar-winning actress Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer, as well as 2013 Cannes selection Only Lovers Left Alive and Berlin selection The Grand Budapest Hotel).

Read the full piece at Hollywood Reporter.


Clint Eastwood’s best war film is Letters from Iwo Jima. Its partner film, Flags of our Fathers is also very good though more sentimental, less precise, and less revered. American Sniper is far more like the latter, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have brilliance to it. It just means that it’s not the sweeping statement of war, or even the Iraq war, that people might be thinking it is. In fact, like Flags of our Fathers, American Sniper is a tribute to a fallen war vet, a sincere memorial to a brave soldier’s legacy.

The movie I had in my head, which doesn’t count for a hill of beans, was a statement against the war after this sniper killed a record number of men, women and yes, children in Iraq so that when he came home he was a hollow man. That Chris Kyle was then famously “accidentally shot” at a shooting range is a big part of his story, a profound irony for the military’s greatest sniper, yet for this film it is merely a footnote.

Eastwood was not interested in making Kyle’s death the biggest part of his story and was clearly devoted to the notion that the vet ought to be remembered for his heroic and traumatic service at war time. The story about the gun, the subsequent shootout with cops as they pursued Kyle’s killer opens a debate about gun violence in the US, a futile, pointless death juxtaposed against the 160 Iraqis Kyle killed. That’s an interesting dynamic but it is not part of American Sniper.

Instead, this film is about the difficulties fighting that endless, horrific war (which continues to rage on) and Kyle’s refusal to accept that he was afflicted with PTSD, struggling with survivor guilt seemed to torment him more.

All the same, it’s difficult to know what to feel watching the film, though I suspect if you believe we fought the good fight in Iraq or that our thousands of soldiers killed over there was worth it you will find this story resonates more than if you are someone who opposes the war and believes that we had no business going in.

The film draws a parallel between 9/11 and Iraq that, from Kyle’s point of view, he was amped and ready to go when the towers were hit, never mind that they were hit by Al Qaida – his country called him to fight and he believed that’s what he was fighting for.

Thoughout the film, Kyle rages against the enemy and that rage is never undone, as it is in Kathryn Bigelow’s anti-war film, The Hurt Locker. Eastwood clearly feels that this man fought for his country and paid a high price as he tried to fit in to the life he was supposed to have back home, a happy love nest with his wife (Sienna Miller) and their two kids.

Naturally, the war scenes are the most vivid thing about the film. They are terrifying. Eastwood does not sugar coat what Kyle had to do, which included shooting children, though that was clearly the thing that troubled him most. He had to shoot any kid who aimed weapons with the intent to kill Marines. In once bravura sequence, the soldiers are caught up in a dust storm – and only then do we see any sort of commentary on this ongoing war.

Miller does her best with what she has to work with but indeed, those scenes have less impact than the war scenes because she doesn’t have much to do – Eastwood is great with women on film, always has been, and despite the clunky dialogue he gives her some nice moments.

The real standout and the reason to see this movie, however, is Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle. Cooper disappears into the role, illustrating remarkable versatility. He packed on the pounds and nailed Kyle’s accent. In a competitive year of great male performances, Cooper’s is a standout.

But American Sniper suffers, like all films around this time of year, from inflated expectations of Oscar bloggers who called it as a strong Best Picture contender early on. That is how we end up with the movies in our heads and why sometimes that can be a detriment to the film ultimately.

It also followed Ava DuVernay’s Selma on the night it premiered at the AFI Fest, a cinematic experience that was the best anyone could hope for. American Sniper will make lots of money, particularly outside the big blue cities and deep in the red states.

We must never dismiss nor take for granted what our soldiers have done in service of our country. We train them to take the mission whether they agree with it or not. What a shame that their fates are in the hands of people who make such bad decisions with their precious lives.


“If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was brought to vibrant life at the AFI Film Fest in Ava DuVernay’s extraordinary new film, Selma, about the civil rights protest that ultimately led to the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Too many black men killed today; too many black men killed in 1965. Spike Lee wrestled with the opposing movements of the 1960s with “militant” Malcolm X and pacifist Martin Luther King, Jr. That conflict is also present in Selma, as it would have to be in an era that almost demanded violence be answered with more violence. But King had a dream. His dream was bigger than the small minds that bound it. His dream is alive today, a wavering flame always threatened by hot air from stupid people who have way too much airtime in 2014.

That dream was a dream for equality — that all men (and women) are created equal, with the same rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness regardless of the color of their skin. Many Americans probably don’t even know about the march on Selma. Indeed, when it was announced that DuVernay was making this film few even knew why it would be called Selma and what that represented in King’s legacy. The film dramatizes those very dramatic events as they unfolded. Like now, after Hurricane Katrina and Ferguson it took live TV cameras to show Americans what the racist authorities were doing to black citizens who were engaged in peaceful protests.

The irony of watching Selma last night was that it was featured preceding Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper the same evening. (more on that in a separate piece). In Eastwood’s film, insurgents were brutally murdering Iraqis who so much as spoke with Americans. In Selma, white protestors were beaten and murdered for standing alongside black citizens during the civil rights protests of the 1960s. The militant racist whites were as much terrorists as the insurgents and yet our government, our presidents, continued to look the other way until TV cameras brought it to America’s doorsteps.

In David Oyelowo, DuVernay has found the embodiment of her inspiration. His portrayal of King is not only one of the best performances of the year, but certainly the definitive portrait of the charismatic civil rights leader. Oyelowo said in the Q&A afterwards that he knew if he was going to play King he would have to “bang out a great speech,” and indeed, he delivers them ferociously. You can’t underplay what happened when King hit the mic — he isn’t considered one of the greatest orators in history for nothing. DuVernay and Oyelowo capture the man — the husband and father who found himself struggling with internal conflict of Christian pacifism and the growing fury at the obvious injustices unfolding daily in the South.

DuVernay, working from Paul Webb’s screenplay, gives us enough information about what was going on then, what was most important — the right to register to vote, which means the right to sit on juries, which means the rights to help legislate laws to help their own communities. Attempts to preventing the black vote was a huge problem in the 1960s, and led to many protests, beatings, murders — countless deaths and ongoing intimidation. Incredibly, shamefully, it is still a problem 50 years later.

Selma is an important film but more than that, it is a great film. DuVernay directs with confidence, not trying to emulate anyone but trusting her own instincts as a visual director who really invests in character and story. She takes her time and never gives any character the short shrift.

If you’ve seen Middle of Nowhere you are already familiar with how DuVernay directs — she captures electrifying expressions on faces, puts the camera in places you don’t expect. When King speaks her camera is not aimed downward from up on high the way Orson Welles filmed Charles Foster Kane – rather, King is shot eye level as a way of demystifying the historic icon to bring him down to earth. DuVernay’s sensuality is evident in the ways she films men, but also in how her characters are not robbed of their sexuality, the way so many are in today’s films. This is not a sanitized look at King’s life – DuVernay was after authenticity and she surely gets it.

Indeed, the house was alive with good cheer when DuVernay’s film screened. A standing ovation, prolonged applause and even fan cheers for DuVernay afterwards was a good sign that this was no ordinary director screening any ordinary film. This was an historic moment and everyone knew it, particularly since all we’ve been seeing an Oscar season brimming over with stories about white men doing important or unimportant things. Not only is Selma full of women but here is a woman who has made a film that does not shy away from the feminine in her directing and surprise, surprise, it never lapses into fantasy or imaginary fairy dust. It is a great story brilliantly told by a director who is just starting to hit her stride.

If you look at who King was, how he was brought up and who he became, and contrast that with the piece of shit who took his life you will see the irony of how Americans viewed black men back then and how they viewed white men. One was clearly a “wrong one” and a right one who couldn’t have been more white is the kind of story that haunts our American history again and again. King’s bravery in the face of death threats are addressed in Selma, as is his infidelity and internal conflicts with other civil rights leaders at the time. DuVernay was not interested in whitewashing his story or making him better than he was. His life needs no embellishment.

The right to vote, the right to be viewed as equal in cities where black citizens held the majority, was what Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for before his life was taken at the age of 39. We are woefully now without our Martin Luther Kings as the age of apathy has drowned us in our own excess. But Selma shows us a different time, when there was still hope for change, a belief that black children could grow up in a country that judged them “on their content of character and not the color of their skin.” That was King’s dream.

The right-wing propaganda machine that is Fox News, and even some of my liberal brethren are engaged in a long, slow high-tech lynching of our first black president, who has been obstructed, intimidated and treated with unforgivable disrespect, it is clear that King’s dream still requires a long hard fight, even if intolerant white supremacists in the deep south are a dying breed.

King in Selma is a player who leads the nation to a much bigger victory – voters rights. America has much to atone for, even today, with voter turnout a pathetic 36% in mid-term elections, the lowest since we were at war in WWII. Watching Selma might start to knock some cold hard sense into Americans that our democracy requires that we vote. Insidious powerful forces conspire to prevent us from doing just that – from apathy (“who cares, it doesn’t matter”) to illegal suppression, oppression and subversion.

The battle to uphold the Voting Rights Act continues to play out today. John Roberts’ Supreme Court recently undermined key provisions to immediate and devastating effect. Voter suppression continues unabated. Black citizens continue to be robbed of the right to have any power even when they are the majority of citizenry, as we’ve just seen play out in Ferguson, Missouri.

As a director, DuVernay has worked more intimately in the independent world. Middle of Nowhere won the Best Director prize at Sundance yet no amount of advocacy could earn DuVernay a screenplay nomination. But the publicity around Middle of Nowhere was enough to boost DuVernay’s profile — she’s now an Academy member. That was one of the reasons she was approached by Plan B to make Selma, a film on a much bigger scale than she had been accustomed or allowed.

Early word about test screenings on the internet was mixed. Someone on Facebook incorrectly told me the following, “Selma is not good in any way.” He later wrote: “Note, though, that the film has been re-edited, re-scored, color corrected, and had additional sound work since the version I saw.” After the first trailer appeared a week ago, the prevailing winds online shifted dramatically.

With a film like Selma, perspective is everything. That’s okay – whatever brings us to the trough is worthy grounds for debate. Still, trying to sell some viewers on a film like Selma is futile. It’s not wrong to say that some people have the disadvantage of being born into privilege. The film industry often revolves around and caters to their tastes. Perhaps they never felt the strong arm of oppression. They’ve never had a woman clutch her purse when they enter an elevator at the same time. They’ve never had to live down a legacy of being bought and sold like property. And they’ve never been unilaterally prevented from voting or registering to vote. They just choose not to. So forgive me if I mostly disregard the opinions of people like that.

The Oscar race is a silly game that purportedly honors the ‘highest achievements in film” but when critics and bloggers watch a film for consideration these days they are watching it with a quibbling eye, looking for any “flaws,” looking to be wowed out of their cynicism. That kind of criticism forgets that movies are made for audiences. Not critics. Not Oscar voters. That dismissive midset has led to bland Oscar watching that says no more than it says yes. Vanilla product inevitably emerges in the wake of it.

DuVernay is smart enough to know that she is coming up against the sort of groupthink that prefers, quite frankly, the white male narrative. As a one-woman film movement, DuVernay has started her own production company that promotes black filmmakers but she is also committed to bringing black audiences to the art house. DDuring the AFI Fest — and, frankly, every festival or screening I’ve been to in the Oscar race so far — white-centric viewership has been unified and dismally dominant. How refreshing to sit in the Egyptian amid so many black audience members. At the end, it was no surprise that the poker-faced mostly white media sat there while the rest leaped to their feet to cheer the film they had just seen.

I know what’s coming next. I hope I’m wrong. It’s a dirty game. The stakes are too low for anyone to care much but there’s a reason our political leaders today are so bland. When you become too critical of the little things you lose sight of the big things. Selma is a big thing for film in 2014. Maybe the biggest, or close to it. It is now up to film critics to establish its rightful place in the Oscar race. And if critics won’t, I bet Oscar voters will.

Every so often I’m so deeply moved by the courage some people have to tell stories when all odds are against them. You see, women do matter. We matter in life, in art, in film. When doors are opened to us, we walk through those doors with style, strength and grace. That DuVernay’s film was such a success at last night’s premiere turned me into a soggy mess and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I am woman therefore I cry. I am so proud to be alive to witness this moment of hers, alive to see a black woman auteur succeed — and I know I’m not the only one.

I have three favorite films this year. I’ve written plenty about my admiration for Boyhood and Gone Girl. Selma now joins them, one of the best films I’ve ever seen period, and one of the best film about civil rights ever made. You can’t watch Selma and not think about 2014. The drumbeat of change could once again be upon us. We have the tools because we have the vote. What we need are more leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. to help light the way. We lost Dr. King far too soon but his spirit is with us forever, as long as we have filmmakers like Ava DuVernay to bring him back to eternal, shimmering, unwavering life.

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