BEST PICTURE

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As we learned earlier this week, Emmanuelle Bercot’s Standing Tall (La Tête Haute), will open the festival at Cannes on May 13. More titles are expected to be added to the Competition roster in coming days, but here’s what we know so far:

Jury co-presidents: Joel Cohen and Ethan Coen

COMPETITION

  • Dheepan (working title), Jacques Audiard
  • A Simple Man (La Loi Du Marché), Stéphane Brizé
  • Marguerite And Julien, Valérie Donzelli
  • The Tale Of Tales (Il Racconto Dei Racconti), Matteo Garrone
  • Carol, Todd Haynes
  • The Assassin (Nie Yinniang), HOU Hsiao Hsien
  • Mountains May Depart (Shan He Gu Ren), JIA Zhang-Ke
  • Our Little Sister (Umimachi Diary), Hirokazu KORE-EDA
  • Macbeth, Justin Kurzel
  • The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos
  • Mon Roi, Maïwenn
  • Mia Madre, Nanni Moretti
  • Son Of Saul (Saul Fia), László Nemes
  • Youth, Paolo Sorrentino
  • Louder Than Bombs, Joachim Trier
  • The Sea of Trees, by Gus Van Sant
  • Sicario, Denis Villeneuve

OUT OF COMPETITION

  • Standing Tall (La Tête Haute), Emmanuelle Bercot (opening film)
  • Mad Max : Fury Road, George Miller
  • Irrational Man, Woody Allen
  • Inside Out, Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen
  • The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince), Mark Osborne

UN CERTAIN REGARD

  • Fly Away Solo (Masaan), Neeraj Ghaywan
  • Rams (Hrútar), Grímur Hákonarson
  • Journey To The Shore (Kishibe No Tabi), KUROSAWA Kiyoshi
  • I Am A Soldier (Je Suis Un Soldat), Laurent Larivière
  • The High Sun, (Zvizdan), Dalibor Matanic
  • The Other Side, Roberto Minervini
  • One Floor Below (Un Etaj Mai Jos), Radu Muntean
  • The Shameless (Mu-Roe-Han), Oh Seung-Uk
  • The Chosen Ones (Las Elegidas), David Pablos
  • Nahid, Ida Panahandeh
  • The Treasure (Comoara), Corneliu Porumboiu
  • The Fourth Direction (Chauthi Koot), Gurvinder Singh
  • Madonna, Shin Suwon
  • Maryland, Alice Winocour

MIDNIGHT SCREENINGS

  • Amy, Asif Kapadia
  • Office (O Piseu), HONG Won-Chan

SPECIAL SCREENINGS

  • Oka, Souleymane Cisse
  • Hayored Lema’ala, Elad Keidan
  • A Tale Of Love And Darkness (Sipur Al Ahava Ve Choshech), Natalie Portman
  • Amnesia, Barbet Schroeder
  • Panama, Pavle Vuckovic
  • Asphalte, Samuel Benchetrit

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It’s kind of amazing that more than ten years after directing Monster, Patty Jenkins has not directed a feature film. But they’ve given Wonder Woman to her to direct after Michelle McLaren left the project. Happy to report it did not turn into the usual man replaces woman story and it’s nice to see SOMEONE noticed Jenkins. I was reading today about Damien Chazelle making his second feature a year after Whiplash. So yeah.

I have no idea how this thing is going to turn out. I hope it’s more like Monster and less like every other superhero movie that gets released except those by Christopher Nolan.

Hollywood Reporter gets the scoop, and hat tip to Hollywood-Elsewhere

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The three films opening right now that everyone should see are It Follows, a highly buzzed horror movie with a woman at the center. The Clouds of Sils Maria, a tense and stirring drama about women and aging and celebrity. And Ex Machina, a sci-fi film depicting a female robot. Check out the reviews on MetaCritic.

Here is some of an Ex Machina review from James Rocchi:

That’s where I saw Kubrick’s Lolita in Ex Machina: Not just in an inappropriate desire, but in the comedy of two men fighting over who gets to have the (literal) object of their inappropriate affections. And for all of the preening and posturing between Nathan and Caleb, there are bigger issues in play, here, too. The sense of the apocalypse — or, more frighteningly, a sense of what could happen to humanity if Eva escaped — is also smartly underplayed, with Caleb idly playing OMD’s “Enola Gay” on the stereo and quoting A-bomb creator Robert J. Oppenheimer to Nathan. Nathan, of course, mis-quotes Oppenheimer back.It is one thing to have a clever idea and the taste to execute it cleanly, of course, and another to have the actors who can sell the tale. Garland has chosen wisely here. Isaac is terrific; Nathan is a man who has not only started reading his own press releases, he has in fact started writing his own press releases. As Caleb, Gleason is note-perfect in a less showy but similarly tough part: Naive but not stupid, intelligent but not cunning. And as Ava, Vikander is perfectly … off, smooth and sculpted and yet as cooly appealing as the aluminum planes and curves of a MacBook. You could reduce Ex Machina to an updated Freud joke — What do robot women want? — but Ava’s both immensely powerful and newly-born; perhaps the best test of her humanity comes in that she can deliberately hurt another being’s feelings, and do so with purpose.It is also necessary to note, in between the manipulations and machinations and evolutionary leaps in consciousness contained inside Ex Machina, it is also a movie that is very funny, not just smart but clever. There’s a dance sequence — and I’m not mis-typing — that’s funny and freaky, silly and scary. Isaac’s version of Nathan’s hearty self-made-jerk schtick is both true and funny, while Gleeson’s pale face is often used to deadpan effect, making him a crumpled straight man.

Amy Nicholson on Ex Machina:

In part, Ex Machina is about today’s concept of power, the kind of men even James Bond and Jason Bourne are grudgingly aware actually rule the world. Those heroes might get rid of one Nathan, but there’s a thousand more tiny titans just like him slurping oysters and plotting their next success. This Nathan’s new project is an intelligent robot named Ava (the symmetrically perfect Swedish actress Alicia Vikander), who has big boobs, a see-through stomach, and a child’s curiosity about the world beyond her locked living quarters. We’re curious, too, about that painful-looking skull-level crack in her Plexiglas, but first, Nathan wants Caleb to chat with Ava to see if she passes the Turing Test — that is, can her mind pass for a human’s? Murmurs Caleb, “If you’ve created a conscious machine, it’s not the history of man. It’s the history of gods.” Naturally, Nathan misremembers his quote as, “You’re not a man, you’re God.”

The Clouds of Sils Maria is probably the only one of the three with “Oscar potential,” and seems a slam dunk for a nod for Kristen Stewart, and hopefully Juliette Binoche.

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This looks great.

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The only upside to having five nominees for Best Picture that I can think of is that you have the chance for a potential surprise winner. A last minute surge, for instance, would be better illustrated with the plurality system of voting than the preferential. But here’s the thing. Both the DGA and the SAG use this method, as does the BAFTA. This past year with Birdman and Boyhood probably would have still resulted in Birdman winning since it won uniformly across the board.

You can usually measure a Best Picture contender by four key markers – Directing, Writing, Editing, Acting. You can get nominated without one of those but it’s rare. Thus, when you’re looking for your Best Picture contenders you’re looking for those key nods primarily but it doesn’t hurt to have a whole bunch of other ones too. And then in some instances it’s just a judgment call where it could have gone either way. The DGA is always a good primer for what would have been the Big Five, though again, not 100%.

But let’s see what the Best Picture slates would have looked like going backwards in time.

2009
The Hurt Locker (directing+screenplay+editing+acting)
Avatar (directing+editing)
Up in the Air (directing+screenplay+editing+acting)
Precious (directing+screenplay+editing+acting)
Inglorious Basterds (directing+screenplay+editing+acting)
Not nominated would have been:
District 9 (screenplay+editing)
An Education (directing+screenplay+acting)
Up (screenplay)
The Blind Side (acting)
A Serious Man (screenplay)

That matches the directing category, though, so it’s possible you might have seen some kind of shocker there but I feel strongly that those were the five.

2010
The King’s Speech (directing+screenplay+editing+acting)
The Fighter (directing+screenplay+editing+acting)
The Social Network (directing+screenplay+editing+acting)
Black Swan (directing+screenplay+editing+acting)
Inception (screenplay) or True Grit (directing+screenplay+acting)

I’ll bet that True Grit was left off of Best Picture even though the Coens were nominated for director. Not making it in for Best Picture would have been:
True Grit or Inception
The Kids are All Right* (Screenplay+acting)
Toy Story 3 (screenplay)
Winter’s Bone* (screenplay+acting)
127 Hours (screenplay+editing+acting)

2011
The Artist (directing+screenplay+editing+acting)
The Descendants (directing+screenplay+editing+acting)
Hugo (directing+screenplay+editing+acting)
Midnight in Paris (directing+screenplay+acting)
Moneyball (screenplay+editing+acting)

Not getting in, I would guess, would be:
The Help (acting)
War Horse
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (acting)
The Tree of Life

2012
Argo (screenplay+editing+acting)
Lincoln (directing+screenplay+editing+acting)
Silver Linings Playbook (directing+screenplay+editing+acting)
Life of Pi (directing+screenplay+editing)
Beasts of the Southern Wild (directing+screenplay+acting) or Zero Dark Thirty (screenplay+editing+acting)

Not getting in, I would bet:
Les Miserables (acting)
Django Unchained (screenplay+acting)
Zero Dark Thirty (screenplay+editing+acting) or Beasts
Amour (screenplay+acting)

2013
12 Years a Slave (directing+screenplay+editing+acting)
Gravity (directing+screenplay+editing+acting)
American Hustle (directing+screenplay+editing+acting)
Captain Phillips (screenplay+editing+acting)
The Wolf of Wall Street (directing+screenplay+acting) or Nebraska (directing+screenplay+acting)

Not making it, I would bet, though it’s really hard to tell:
Nebraska (directing+screenplay+acting) or Wolf of Wall Street (directing+screenplay+acting)
Dallas Buyers Club (screenplay+editing+acting)
Philomena (screenplay+acting)
Her (screenplay)

2014
Birdman (directing+screenplay+acting)
Boyhood (directing+screenplay+editing+acting)
The Imitation Game (directing+screenplay+editing+acting)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (directing+screenplay+editing)
American Sniper (screenplay+editing+acting) or Whiplash (screenplay+editing+acting)

Not making it in:
Selma
The Theory of Everything (screenplay+acting)
Whiplash (screenplay+editing+acting) or Sniper

That is basically how I see it. As far as winners go, I do not know but in conversations with people over the years, like Kris Tapley and David Poland they seem to think that Avatar would have won with a majority vote ballot rather than a preferential. You might even say, then, that Gravity would have also. But I’m not so sure in these cases. I can only go by what I see happening now which is uniformity, for the most part, across the PGA and DGA wins since 2009 with scant exceptions here or there, like 2013’s PGA tie.

Clearly women would get the shaft with 5 – it is a miracle that they had ten in 2009 and 2010 because it was their best two years for women on record. No animated film would have gotten in and certainly no District 9. So how about you? Do you agree with the choices I have for five?

Anne Hathaway, Tom Sherak

The Academy will likely soon announce that they’ve decided to go back to five nominees. According to Hollywood-Elsewhere, the Board of Governors is meeting tonight to discuss their future plans.  My bet is that they will do what they’ve wanted to do all along: move back to five nominees.  There are plenty of people who think this is a good idea but we here at Awards Daily stand with those who don’t.

So, herewith, the top the reasons the Academy should have ten nomination slots and ten Best Picture contenders.

1. They should follow the Producers Guild model. The Producers Guild has decided the Best Picture winner for the past eight years, since 2007. The PGA picks ten nomination slots and ten Best Picture contenders – their system is far better than the Academy’s current system — anywhere from 5 to 10, which was supposed to include films that got close to being nominated but didn’t. But that proved a failure this past year because all it really does is expand “The Oscar movie” without really expanding the kinds of films that get picked.

2. Academy needs to diversify their choices and break free from “The Oscar Movie.” How do you define that in 2015? Good men doing good white things and the women helping them. They keep it a (mostly white) boys club by preferring films with characters they most identify with. The culture and the industry is growing like healthy weeds around them.   In 2009 and 2010 that was not the case because they had ten nomination slots and could broaden their peculiarities.

In the two years the Academy had ten slots for nominating Best Picture their most diverse selections were on display – films directed by women, films about women, films about people of color (a few), animated films, genre films. With ten, they aren’t forced to only go with their hearts but with other organs as well. Maybe they don’t care – their attitude is (going by the few I’ve been in contact with) WE know what defines a great picture and no one else does. Well, that would be fine if they moved with and were connected to the times. But they don’t, not really, except when forced. Look at 2010’s offerings with Black Swan, Inception and The Social Network for starters. Then compare the films that got shut out this year – Nightcrawler, Foxcatcher and Gone Girl – easily the three best films of the year. Why did they get nocked off? Because they didn’t appeal to the hearts of Academy members. Is that how we’re defining best? Because if so, why not just call them something appropriate like the “Good Will Among All Men” awards. Sure, Wolf of Wall Street and Django Unchained both got in under the current system but those are very rare.

3. The business is only moving in one direction. While the independent film scene still makes films Oscar voters like, for the most part, the big business of Hollywood is moving in a different direction. Is Best Picture supposed to only honor films that appeal to a shrinking demographic? In other words, 5 to 9 doesn’t solve the Dark Knight problem but a solid 10 does.

4. Ten nominees makes for great box office.

As you can see from the following graphs, things were doing okay when the Oscars were held later and the public was more involved in the kinds of films they chose. That was then. Once they pushed their date back and the choices became more insulated from the general public, and largely decided by “the people in this room” before the films hit theaters. Most of the time, most Americans watch the Oscars without having seen any of the movies. This year’s exception was American Sniper. As you can plainly see, 2009 and 2010 represented a much more profitable Oscars overall and more engaged film community, money-wise.

Yes, ten films means more dollar amounts overall but think about – you could have movies like Up, Avatar and District 9 nominated alongside A Serious Man and The Hurt Locker.

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5. Like it or not, the awards race is bigger than the Oscars now. They are the final word on the season. On the one hand, they will blame the drop in ratings or lack of interest in the Oscars on awards season fatigue – it is exactly the opposite of that. The public is watching the Academy and waiting for a dramatic finish. Perhaps that is wrong, morally, ethically and in every other way imaginable. It isn’t a reality show, after all. But to deny what the culture has become is yet another way the Academy dominates both its presence and its prestige. Ten nominees opens up more options for the Academy, which means many different pockets of interest helps keep the film industry thriving.

Saturday morning at the Hypermarket: Semi-final of the Miss Lovely Legs

Saturday morning at the Hypermarket: Semi-final of the Miss Lovely Legs
After the brutal let down of this year’s Oscar race, which mostly amounted to yet another year of dashed hopes and diminished expectations, it’s time to remember Rule #1 of How to Win Best Picture: never let your film become the frontrunner until after the Golden Globes. It’s a harsh and painful rule. Publicists measure their success by whether or not the films they’re handling are on the list. They want to be on the list and some will badger bloggers to make sure their films are on the list. Bloggers in turn put films on the list because they are being pushed by certain publicists and they know those publicists will push those films hard until the bitter end.

Sometimes it’s unavoidable. This past year’s Boyhood was the perfect example of why you don’t want to become the frontrunner, but you could pick almost any film any year with the exception of a few titles. There are some films that get put there and stay there. I would argue that those films are under-regarded even during Telluride because people think, they’re good and all but something better will come along. The Artist was one of the lucky ones in that regard: it started strong at Cannes and nothing more Academy-friendly ever came along to knock it off its perch. It started as the frontrunner and it ended as the frontrunner. Ditto Slumdog Millionaire. Too many of us (unfortunately) miscalculated Boyhood as a film like The Artist rather than a film like The Social Network. Even those who were skeptical were not putting their sites on the divisive Birdman but rather on The Imitation Game. But the Imitation Game was handicapped by looking too much like The King’s Speech, thus perception was nowhere near sexy enough for voters.

What all of us forgot — almost everyone I know from the people who really try to be as objective as possible without getting their hearts involved — is that the industry prefers movies about themselves almost more than World War II/Nazi movies. We forgot what the race is really about. That was unfortunate because had many of us put Birdman in the frontrunner’s spot out of Telluride, Boyhood would have looked like the underdog and might have taken the race. That would depend on whether or not the whole “films about Hollywood gazing at its own self” narrative caught hold. If so, voters might not want to be that predictable. As it was, Birdman offered the perfect solution to people who didn’t want to watch Boyhood let alone vote for the film that was “winning everything.”

You could apply this comparison to most Oscar years. The bottom line is that, most of the time, you do not want to be the frontrunner. It’s a punishing place to be. The second you land there the hate begins, not with people who cover awards, not just with people who vote for the awards, but to people almost everywhere. It is the nature of humans to root for the underdog. Alas, the real underdog WAS Boyhood. It just got put in the top spot by people like me — and I regret my part in that.

What’s so bad about Birdman winning, you might ask? Nothing. Not a damned thing. It’s a perfectly fine choice. I was asked to speak at a film class at Woodbury University to young college students. They were asking me about Best Picture and generally the conversation always goes the same way. No one can figure out why certain movies win when everyone else thought another movie was going to win. The first time I had this conversation was when Fellowship of the Ring took on A Beautiful Mind. Surely, the epic saga blockbuster would win. No, it was going to be the year Ron Howard made good on his promise as a child star and Russell Crowe became a legend. I remember the conversation again when it was Avatar and The Hurt Locker (a choice I agreed with). And a month ago I had it about Birdman and Boyhood. This class thought Boyhood was the far superior film, though they didn’t mind Birdman winning. They liked it — it just wasn’t better than Boyhood in their minds. And unfortunately for Birdman, and for films like it that win in a year like this one, you win the battle but you don’t win the war. The second the lil’ movie that could becomes the winner, suddenly people begin to think REALLY? That? It’s hard to explain the Oscar race to people.

That’s the nature of the race. That is why it is competitive and why so much money is spent. If it were a done deal it would be so boring no one would bother. But it is a real race because it is not based on best — it’s based on perception.

Usually whenever a publicist wants their film in the number one spot during the early phase it’s in the hopes that it will generate enough buzz to make more money at the box office, to help drive some awareness, especially when they know they have a potential dog on their hands. Take Unbroken from last year and how well the publicity team played that. They kept the movie not only from being seen but from being reviewed once people saw it, because they knew it would get killed by critics — and for the most part, it did, except for a few who gave it a break. That didn’t stop many a pundit from putting that movie, which looked so good on paper, in their number one spot early on TO WIN the whole game. Many even had it in the number one spot until it was actually seen by them. Out of the gate, as far back as its rousing Sochi Olympics promo, it was on everyone’s list, even for Best Director.

There is a big difference between wanting to be right and wanting the race to be right. Oscar bloggers, some critics and fans of the race fall into those two camps. If you are someone who wants to predict exactly what “they” will do, and not seek out the best of the best, you play the game one way. If you want the best films and filmmakers to get recognized because that means the film industry is really thriving, that art wins, then you will be the very definition of insanity: trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I myself am in that category. Dumbing things down to predict what “they” will do would be akin to watching Dancing with the Stars to me. Or The Bachelor. Instead, I choose insanity.

If you push a movie or a contender that you hope will either get nominated or win then you are helping a publicist make money. Sometimes the disappointment comes when you push and push and push and then they lose — not only are the films and filmmakers let down, but the publicists are let down. It seems crazy to see the race that way but those are the people who really do measure their careers on nominations and wins. I honestly don’t think some of the contenders themselves even care that much anymore. I care because I want the best art and artists to win — even if it is just a matter of opinion. I don’t get a pay boost for wins the way publicists do. My career isn’t measured on how many wins or nominations I get from the people I push.

And remember, pushing hard for someone talented who is ignored by the industry is never a waste of time. Any amount of publicity for anyone anywhere is a good thing for that person and a good thing for art. Measuring their success by what a bunch of entitled rich pampered white dudes who are shut off from normal is where the mistake lies. Though clearly the Oscar race needs both those who pretend to be objective (and are wrong anyway but can be right) and those who make no pretense at objectivity (and are sometimes right but mostly wrong).

Now that the new year is beginning, we are just a couple of months away from films starting to get talked about. They will fall into two camps. The should bes and the wills. The should bes out of Cannes last year were, for me, The Homesman and Maps to the Stars. The only one that made it out of Cannes this year to head into the Oscar race was Foxcatcher. As an Oscar blogger you can either take the should bes and write about them anyway or dismiss them out of hand because you know “they” will never go for it. That is how you define the two camps of Oscar watching on a “professional” level.

I would argue, though, that nothing is ever that purely divided. For instance, those who pretend objectivity often get caught up in advocacy if they love a movie enough. They might put a documentary contender in the Best Picture slot, knowing it has less of a chance of getting nominated than a pig sprouting wings and flying out of the barnyard. You might call a performance the best performance of a certain actor’s career. You can pretend to be objective all you want but at the end of the day advocacy often bleeds through the lining.

Here we are at the beginning. We’re about to watch as an elegant, elaborate ship of opportunity and variety is shoved into a tiny hole and stuffed into a bottle. As Richard Rushfield tweeted at the close of this year’s Oscars, “that was fun. Can’t wait to do it again.”

Thus, herewith, the Oscarwatching rules for 2016

1. Thou shalt not forget that there is no such thing as the Academy anymore. The guilds decide Best Picture, but specifically the Producers Guild. The time frame is too short for any sort of change-up in the race, thus when you talk about “they” you must say “the industry voters,” not “the Academy voters.”

2. Voters care less about women than they ever have. Not only was Ava DuVernay shut out this past year but Kathryn Bigelow the year before. The worse offense was snubbing Gillian Flynn for adapted screenplay while nominating that terrible terrible screenplay for American Sniper. That’s no reason not to advocate for them. The movie has to be about a male protagonist. The last time a film won Best Picture that wasn’t about a man? I don’t really remember Crash that well but I’m pretty sure it was an ensemble piece. The last time a film won Best Picture that centered around a female character? Would you count Million Dollar Baby? Or would you count Chicago? Either way, it’s been at least a decade.

3. Never underestimate the power of a film about people who make films but specifically if a film represents those artists in suffering or martyr mode who are then recognized. Do many industry voters feel like losers who are preyed upon by critics and superhero movies? Yup. That isn’t a lot different from a silent film star in a world of talkies or producer who has been shunted aside but then helps frees hostages from Iran.

4. If you are the frontrunner out of Telluride you are probably not going to win Best Picture. Whatever movie that played at Telluride that people liked but would never think of as the winner? That’s your real frontrunner.

5. You have to be seen by at least the conclusion of Toronto.

2014-Birdman (Venice/Telluride)
2013-12 Years a Slave (Telluride)
2012-Argo (Telluride)
2011-The Artist (Cannes/Telluride/everywhere)
2010-The King’s Speech (Telluride)
2009-The Hurt Locker (Toronto the year before)
2008-Slumdog Millionaire (Telluride)
2007-No Country for Old Men (Cannes)
2006-The Departed (opened in October)

This is due to the Academy rolling back the date for Oscar Night by one month. In so doing, they have removed the public entirely from he equation. The race is decided now by “the people in this room” without the public even seeing the films much of the time. Before they changed the date, movies had more time to open and be seen and generate buzz before heading into the race and winning. American Sniper might have actually been your winner for this past year if the date change had never been put in place. Good, bad, you decide.

6. Forget it, Jake. There is not much of a difference between the Spirit Awards and the Oscars anymore. This is because the Oscar race is dominated by the creative juice of indies. The big studios put out movies this year that were earmarked for the Oscar race but they didn’t fit the model of what voters are seeking. Some of them bombed outright and some were “too whatever” to get chosen. So essentially you’re looking at one big rolling industry of the same people voting for the same awards.

7. The critics are still viewed as knowing less about what defines a great film than the industry, or so the industry thinks. This is confirmed in years like this past one where the industry rejected the critics’ choice outright. Sometimes there is unification but not often and not lately. Think of it is as the industry’s way of fighting back. How Michael Keaton dresses down that theater critic in Birdman? That reflects reality. Birdman reflected the reality of what many people in Hollywood must be feeling: futile, just wanting to do good work but having no one to appreciate it, a changing world of viral videos, a no man’s land of superhero dreck.

8. The Oscar race is about much more than who wins the trophies. Whole careers can be made just by getting awards buzz. In fact, without awards buzz now it’s harder to get the right people even to watch your movie. This is especially true with documentaries which are almost always the best films offered up in any given year, ditto foreign language films.

9. Nobody knows anything. Not me, not your most trusted “objective” bloggers, not the studios, not the publicists… knowing which way the wind is blowing is easier than knowing which way it WILL blow.

10. The trick is not minding. The best thing to do is shrug it off. Or, as my friends the Mormons would say, “Turn it off. Like a light switch.” At the end of the day this is a Maltese Falcon. It doesn’t mean much of anything unless it means something and it rarely does.

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David Fincher’s Gone Girl gave Jacop T. Swinney the idea of comparing the first and final frames of films. Of course Gone Girl would but you would have to know the film well to get the impact of what Fincher (and Rosamund Pike did there). It is the rare director who contemplates such things and Fincher is one of those. Other notable standouts for me – Fight Club, There Will Be Blood, Shame, Godfather II, The Searchers, Raging Bull, 2001, Gravity. Some are meaningful, some are meaningless. This is really a great bunch of clips.

His intro via his Facebook page as follows:

What can we learn by examining only the first and final shot of a film? This video plays the opening and closing shots of 55 films side-by-side. Some of the opening shots are strikingly similar to the final shots, while others are vastly different–both serving a purpose in communicating various themes. Some show progress, some show decline, and some are simply impactful images used to begin and end a film.

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Any horror movie fan you talk to will tell you that the last few years have been weak for horror movies. What’s the deal? Well firstly, everything that’s coming out seems to be a rehash, reboot, or sequel to an older, higher quality film. Clichés abound, the genre is in dire need of new blood, and we may have found it with two bright new talented directors coming to the forefront of the genre. These new original voices know the secret formula that many great horror movies have used in the past: cast a female in the lead. In horror movies, the female lead doesn’t need to be weak; in fact, she can be strong. Very strong. Usually the last “man” standing. I remember writing a term paper in film school years ago about how women in horror advanced the cause of feminism in our society. Who can forget Ripley in “Alien” saying, “This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off”, or in the movie’s sequel seven years later uttering the kickass line, “Get away from her, you bitch”. If one looks back at film history they will notice a rich history of women in the lead role: “Rosemary’s Baby”, “The Shining”, “The Exorcist”, “The Ring”, “Halloween”, “Psycho”, “Suspira”, “Alien”, and “The Birds”, just to name a few.

The genre was rejuvenated earlier this year with “The Babadook” – a smart, snappy, and darkly twisted tale that dealt with death, mourning and the matriarchal role. The main character was of course female (Essie Davis), but here’s the kicker: so was the filmmaker, the promising Jennifer Kent. It was an original, refreshing change of pace to a genre that was, for the last decade or so, more interested in the same old boring ideas about the male psyche. Kent reinvigorated the game and “The Babadook” was a major success – one that will likely spark a new wave of horror filmmakers to one up it.

The same can be said of David Robert Mitchell’s “It Follows”, which refuses to follow the conventions of 21st century horror cinema. Its DNA is ingrained in and inspired by the classics. Just when you thought there wasn’t really much more room to manoeuvre creatively within the genre, Mitchell delivers this stunning movie. Having opened just last week, the film is already a hit with critics. After it’s sly, subtle bows at the most prestigious of film fests last year (Cannes, TIFF, Sundance) and the most glowing of reviews (check out that 96% RT score), audiences will likely soon discover what most festival goers already knew: this movie is the real deal. A blend of the surreal with the very real. A taste of the next generation of horror movies to come.

Much like “The Babadook”, the story’s main character is female and the implications are more psychological than gore-tastic – a relief if you ask me. Dealing with 19 year-old Maika Monroe who loses her virginity and is later told by the same guy that he has passed on a curse to her that will follow and haunt her everywhere she goes, the film is imprinted with ridiculously clever undertones. The only way for our main protagonist to get rid of this “disease” she has inherited is to sleep with someone else and pass it on to them. Oh boy. Here comes a slew of film school term papers for the next decade about the film’s allegorical connection to STDs. Those sly open-minded students wouldn’t be far off in their theories, but there’s much more to “It Follows” than just its fascinating dissection of STDs and teenage sexuality.

Every scene in Mitchell’s film is filled with unbearable dread, bringing to mind early John Carpenter just by its synth-driven musical score, courtesy of the brilliant Disasterpiece. The jump scares are also frighteningly timed, all thanks to Julio C Perez IV’s editing and the dreamy atmosphere Mitchell creates on-screen. Scene after scene, the viewer is engulfed in an inescapable sexual nightmare, and just when you think the film will unfold in a conventional way, Mitchell pulls the rug under you and slaps your face sideways. Just like the classic movies it has been inspired by, “It Follows” is inescapably eerie. It’s also the first great American movie of 2015.

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Rope of Silicon’s Brad Brevet has waded the territory of early Oscar predictions. He’s humble enough to admit nobody knows anything and that only three from his list last year ended up making it to the final race. Things are going to change significantly if the Academy decides to go back to five, or god willing, to an even ten. Right now we have to think about Oscar predictions in terms of “heart light” movies about good people that make voters feel good about themselves.

Pundits will reject films with darker themes because of this, no matter how good they are. Inside Llewyn Davis one of the best films of the year? Forget it, he is not a likable character. Foxcatcher, Gone Girl and Nightcrawler define the year’s best films? Forget it, ew scary people. Ew, not likable. At least they saved face by nominating Selma because if they hadn’t and this month rolled around with the President of the United States in Selma, Alabama the Academy could not look more out of touch.

But let’s look at Brad’s list and see what kind of films might be offered next year. Are we looking at another “Dick in a Box” year or will the dudes who run the Academy broaden their way of thinking even a tiny bit to remember the other 50% of the human population?

I don’t know, let’s have a look shall we?

How do you find Best Picture? You can usually follow the distributor. Fox Searchlight has won Best Picture two years in a row now. Warner Bros. took it in 2012 and then it was The Weinstein Co. for two years. Summit took it in 2009. Fox Searchlight again in 2008. Miramax had it for No Country for Old Men in 2007. Warner Bros. again for The Departed in 2006. Lionsgate had it for Crash in 2005. Warner Bros. for Million Dollar Baby in 2004. And on it goes.

The way you read the race, though, isn’t so much by distributor, although that certainly helps. You also have to look at Oscar strategists and/or publicists. The ones who get paid per nomination and then paid again per win are going to push a lot harder than those who simply work for the studios in their publicity department. For hire strategists are usually attached to these winners. Their names are only really known by those of us in the business. They stand behind much bigger names like Harvey Weinstein, for instance, who used to work with Lisa Taback, or Scott Rudin who often works with Cynthia Swartz. Generally speaking if you have any of the big names attached to a movie you now it’s going to get very close to Best Picture. They are good at their jobs and they leave no stone unturned. For better or worse.

The organic part of the race comes when the movies are screened at festivals and SEEN by those distributors. They pick a winner and they run with it (unless they already know they have one in-house, as with Argo in 2012).

At any rate, predicting Best Picture isn’t rocket science because of that. We can play this game of looking at the filmmakers and the plots and the studios but in the end on paper (Unbroken, Into the Woods, etc) is no match for a film that has the right ingredients to go the distance and the right publicity team behind it.

As we look forward to another year of the Oscar race I already feel tired from the fights that haven’t even happened yet trying to defend this story starring women, this film directed by a woman, this film (will there be any) about a woman that has nothing to do with a man.

The last thing I care about is catering to the needs of Oscar voters by dumbing down the choices to what “they” will like. That is a waste of my time and yours. I try to push movies that are good enough, movies that break new ground, and movies that are either about or made by minority filmmakers. I try as hard as I can to push against the consensus not because I don’t know exactly how it will play out (after 16 years of this, my friends, I KNOW) but because there is nothing about the Oscar race that matters otherwise. Those voters all have mirrors they can look into to see a reflection of themselves. I do not wish to be one of those.

About Men
Midnight Special, directed by Jeff Nichols (Father/son)
Black Mass, directed by Scott Cooper, Whitey Bulger movie, Johnny Depp
The Walk, starring Ben Kingsley, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, directed by Robert Zemeckis
Icon, directed by Stephen Frears, (Lance Armstrong) Ben Foster
Bridge of Spies, directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Hanks
Snowden, directed by Oliver Stone, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
The Sea of Trees, directed by Gus Van Sant
Steve Jobs, directed by Danny Boyle, Michael Fassbender
The Revenant, directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy
Truth, directed by James Vanderbilt (Robert Redford, Cate Blanchett supporting)
Concussion, directed by Peter Landesman (Will Smith)
Trumbo, directed by Jay Roach (Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane supporting)
Triple Nine, directed by John Hillcoat (Aaron Paul)
**Money Monster, directed by Jodie Foster (George Clooney/Jack O’Connell, Julia Roberts supporting)
Genius, directed by Michael Grandage (Colin Firth)

About Women and Men
A Bigger Splash, directed by Luca Guadagnino (couples drama) Matthias Schoenaerts, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson
Demolition, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, About a man rescued by a woman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts
Me & Earl & the Dying Girl – Fox Searchlight, directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
The Danish Girl, directed by Tom Hooper, starring Eddie Redmayne
The Hateful Eight, directed by Quentin Tarantino
An Irrational Man, directed by Woody Allen, Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone

About Women
Far from the Madding Crowd, directed by Thomas Vinterberg (Carey Mulligan) (May 1)
Carol, directed by Todd Haynes, (Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara)
Brooklyn – Fox Searchlight, directed by John Crowley, young girl’s coming of age (Saoirse Ronan)
Joy, directed by David O. Russell,(Jennifer Lawrence)
Ricky and the Flash, directed by Jonathan Demme (Meryl Streep)
Our Brand is Crisis, directed by David Gordon Green (Sandra Bullock)

Of all of these, only one is directed by a woman and it is starring men, about men. In most of these titles, with the exceptions of the few here at the bottom wherein your likely Best Actress contenders lie, you are mostly dealing with stories about men where women are supporting players or couples dramas. Women as stand-alone subject matter look to be mostly scarce in the Best Picture race.

Note how many films about women, and by women, are released into the dumping ground of March and April.

Eva, directed by Kike Maillo
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, directed by David Zellner
Effie Gray, written by Emma Thompson, directed by Richard Laxton.
Woman in Gold, starring Helen Mirren, directed by Simon Curtis
Clouds of Sils Maria, directed by Olivier Assayes, starring Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart
The Riot Club, directed by Lone Scherfig

Yes, finding films about women are few and far between. Finding films directed by women are practically non-existant. Finding films by women and about women? Almost impossible.

Next, we head over to Hollywood-Elsewhere‘s Cannes projections to see if there are any gets there, for Oscar, with women or not.

Spotlight, directed by Thomas McCarthy about sexual molestations in the Catholic church.
By the Sea, directed by Angelina Jolie with Brad and Angie co-starring.
The Last Face, directed by Sean Penn and starring Penn and Charlize Theron
High Rise, directed by Ben Wheatley, starring Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons

That leads us over to Todd McCarthy’s Cannes predictions page, which brings us, potentially:

The Lobster, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, Lea Seydoux, Rachel Weisz, Colin Farrell, Ben Wishaw
Regression, directed by Alejandro Amenabar, with Emma Watson and Ethan Hawke

And some random titles:

Welcome to Me, directed by Shira Piven, starring Kristen Wiig (May 1)
Mad Max: Fury Road, directed by George Miller starring Charlize Theron
Crimson Peak, directed by Guillermo Del Toro, starring Mia Wasikowska. (October 16)
The Lady in the Van, directed by Nicholas Hytner, starring Maggie Smith
Sisters, Jason Moore, starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler
A Little Chaos, directed by Alan Rickman, starring Kate Winslet
Jane Got a Gun, directed by Gavin O’Connor, starring Natalie Portman
Lila and Eve, directed by Charles Stone, starring Viola Davis and Jennifer Lopez
Live by Night, directed by Ben Affleck, starring Ben Affleck and Sienna Miller

Once again, we are going to be flooded with bravura acting performances by men. And once again, we’re going to be flooded with supporting parts by women. And once again, we are going to see virtually no interest in stories about women. Hardly any.  It’s just all so desperately sad.

Here’s the upside – this list doesn’t really show the films that might pop up on the festival circuit, which begins in May – Cannes, Venice, Telluride, Toronto. Perhaps somewhere in there something good might happen or women. I’m not holding my breath.

Thus, if I had to do Predictions in the top categories right now, based JUST on what I see here on these lists, I’d go with:

Best Picture (let’s pick 9 using the preferential ballot currently in place, voters get just five slots to pick their best)

Far From the Madding Crowd
The Walk
Icon
Steve Jobs
Trumbo
Bridge of Spies
The Danish Girl
Joy
Carol (I think the Academy is finally ready for Todd Haynes)

Possible 
Money Monsters
Hateful Eight
A Bigger Splash
Demolition

Best Director
Spielberg, Bridge of Spies
Hooper, Danish Girl
David O. Russell, Joy
Todd Haynes, Carol
Possible:
Robert Zemeckis, The Walk
Danny Boyle, Steve Jobs
Jay Roach, Trumbo

Best Actor:
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Jake Gyllenhaal, Demolition
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
Tom Hanks, Bridge of Spies

Also possible:
Ben Foster, Icon

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Maggie Smith, the Lady in the Van
Carey Mulligan, Far From the Madding Crowd
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

There are so many more names that will be coming up but these are the ones that strike me off the bat.

My own personal most anticipated include:

Carol – OMFG
Joy (I think it will be funny)
Mad Max: Fury Road
Crimson Peak
Spotlight
A Bigger Splash
Money Monster
Trumbo
Midnight Special
Clouds of Sils Maria

But hopefully we’ll have many more titles to add. Being a fanatical Todd Haynes fan I’m mostly looking forward to his SECOND collaboration with Cate Blanchett, his first being his masterpiece, I’m Not There.  So that is probably the one film I’m looking forward to more than any other this year.

Duvernay

Lawrence O’Donnell takes time off hounding Hilary about her emails to do what he does best: pay serious respect to serious issues, talking to Ava DuVernay about Selma the movie and Selma the movement. What other Best Picture nominees are still making news?

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Remember when Ian McKellen didn’t win for the most excellent Gods and Monsters? Yeah, remember who did win? Oh, Oscar. How you love your epic fails. Either way, McKellen is back with Mr. Holmes, the story of the great detective in retirement, also directed by Bill Condon. Here’s a look at the teaser. Also reuniting with Condon, Laura Linney.

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The first major Oscar contender to emerge this year is probably Brooklyn, at least so far. Well, it will certainly put the Oscar voters to the test as this one is actually about — brace yourselves — a woman. Yes, a whole woman, not a woman as she relates to the primary character. This past season Fox Searchlight emerged as the Oscar champ with Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel. They will be a force to be reckoned with with Brooklyn, heading to theaters November 5, 2015.

Directed by: John Crowley

Screenplay by: Nick Hornby
Based on the novel by: Colm Tóibín
Produced by: Finola Dwyer, Amanda Posey
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, with Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters

BROOKLYN tells the profoundly moving story of Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), a young Irish immigrant navigating her way through 1950s Brooklyn. Lured by the promise of America, Eilis departs Ireland and the comfort of her mother’s home for the shores of New York City. The initial shackles of homesickness quickly diminish as a fresh romance sweeps Eilis into the intoxicating charm of love. But soon, her new vivacity is disrupted by her past, and Eilis must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within.

BROOKLYN opens in select theaters on FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2015

 

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Deadline reports exclusively that Warner Bros and Steven Spielberg have won a heated bidding war to bring Lynsey Addario’s It’s What I do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War to the big screen.  Lawrence will star, beating out other potential bidders like Reese Witherspoon, Darren Aronofsky and Natalie Portman, George Clooney and Grant Heslov.

Lawrence is at the top of the list so it’s not surprising she would get first dibs. She guarantees box office and is talented enough to pull it off.

Per Deadline’s description:  “She is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists who went to Afghanistan during the post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan and carved out a niche giving an identity to the victims of conflict. That includes how Afghans suffered during the Taliban regime, the Iraqi War, victims of genocide in Darfur, the rape of women in the Congo. Her work in dangerous  locales included her being kidnapped by pro-Quaddafi forces in the Libyan civil war.”

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There are some Oscar Best Picture winners that are beyond question. Their win is expected, noted and ultimately accepted because no other film can beat them in the season. Somehow, though, just by being a frontrunner a film is often the object of scorn from those who follow and write about the race. The rest of the population don’t really care. There is something in human nature, however, that just stops believing in something once it wins — the Presidency, Best Picture, or the Pulitzer. Very rarely will people bow their heads and say yes, that was the right choice.  More often than not, the response is always “it’s good but it not THAT good.”

This is why even films that withstand the “frontrunner’s dilemma” will often be thought poorly of as we look back on them from present day.

Just think of how nicely Birdman might have sat in our collective consciousness had it not won. It would not have the stink of the consensus on it. It would not have beaten Boyhood, the deserving winner to many.  It would be the quirky underdog as originally intended and not the bloated frontrunner that suddenly was co-opted by “the man.”  Boyhood, instead, gets that honor. It gets to sit with the best films that never won, many of which do not have anything to live down, no win to defend.

By now it seems that no one really wants to criticize John Ford’s How Green was My Valley but it took a while for that stigma to die out. Citizen Kane has now become a tad resented by the critics for usurping the “Greatest Film Ever Made” title every ten years by Sight & Sound, a position that was recently claimed by Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

Going by their ten year check-in, here is how the Sight & Sound film critics see things:

  1. Vertigo (dir. Alfred Hitchcock) – nominated for just two Oscars, Sound and Art Direction
  2. Citizen Kane (dir. Orson Welles) – won Screenplay, nominated for 9 Oscars including Pic and Director.
  3. Tokyo Story (dir. Yasujiro Ozu)  – Zero Oscar noms. 
  4. La Regle du jeu (dir. Jean Renoir) – Zero Oscar noms. 
  5. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (dir. FW Murnau) – won “Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production” and Actress and Cinematography
  6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (dir. Stanley Kubrick) – won Visual Effects, plus nomination for Directing, Writing and Art Direction.
  7. The Searchers (dir. John Ford) – Zero Oscar noms. 
  8. Man with a Movie Camera (dir. Dziga Vertov) – Zero Oscar noms. 
  9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (dir. Carl Dreyer) – Zero Oscar noms. 
  10. 8 1/2 (dir. Federico Fellini) – won Foreign Film, Costumes, nominated for Directing, Writing, Art Direction.And the rest:
  11. Battleship Potemkin (dir. Sergei Eisenstein)
  12. L’Atalante (dir. Jean Vigo)
  13. Breathless (dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
  14. Apocalypse Now (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
  15. Late Spring (dir. Ozu Yasujiro)
  16. Au hasard Balthazar (dir. Robert Bresson)
  17. Seven Samurai (dir. Akira Kurosawa)
  18. Persona (dir. Ingmar Bergman)
  19. Mirror (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky)
  20. Singin’ in the Rain (dir. Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly)
  21. L’avventura (dir. Michelangelo Antonioni)
  22. Le Mepris (dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
  23. The Godfather (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
  24. Ordet (dir. Carl Dreyer)
  25. In the Mood for Love (dir. Wong Kar-Wai)
  26. Rashomon (dir. Akira Kurosawa)
  27. Andrei Rublev (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky)
  28. Mulholland Dr. (dir. David Lynch)
  29. Stalker (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky)
  30. Shoah (dir. Claude Lanzmann)
  31. The Godfather Part II (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
  32. Taxi Driver (dir. Martin Scorsese)
  33. Bicycle Thieves (dir. Vittoria De Sica)
  34. The General (dir. Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman)
  35. Metropolis (dir. Fritz Lang)
  36. Psycho (dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
  37. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles (dir. Chantal Akerman)
  38. Satantango (dir. Bela Tarr)
  39. The 400 Blows (dir. Francois Truffaut)
  40. La dolce vita (dir. Federico Fellini)
  41. Journey to Italy (dir. Roberto Rossellini)
  42. Pather Panchali (dir. Satyajit Ray)
  43. Some Like It Hot (dir. Billy Wilder)
  44. Gertrud (dir. Carl Dreyer)
  45. Pierrot le fou (dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
  46. Play Time (dir. Jacques Tati)
  47. Close-Up (dir. Abbas Kiarostami)
  48. The Battle of Algiers (dir. Gillo Pontecorvo)
  49. Histoire(s) du cinema (dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
  50. City Lights (dir. Charlie Chaplin)
  51. Ugetsu monogatari (dir. Mizoguchi Kenji)
  52. La Jetee (dir. Chris Marker)

I stopped tracking their Oscar nominations after ten but as you can see, only two films that have ever won Best Picture are on their top 50, both Godfather films. Only one film (unless you count Sunrise’s unique Best Picture award) was even nominated for Best Picture and that was Citizen Kane.

I don’t really agree with this list, just as I don’t agree with the last 87 years of Best Picture winners but what is important to note is how very few Oscar winners stand the test of time with critics.

As far as film fans go, many more stand the test of time because many of the Oscar winners for Best Picture — up to about the time the Oscars changed their date back, 2003 or so — were also the people’s choice to win. Thus, those films will continue to resonate with audiences, movies like Braveheart, Forrest Gump and Gladiator.  Back then, the Best Picture winner was not what the critics thought most of the time but the reward for studios making movies that ticket buyers LOVED.

Now we are in a strange sort of in-between where the Best Picture winners tend to reflect a very insular bubble. That bubble rarely has much to do with “the people” anymore and can kind of be more in line with critics since the definition of “critic” has changed so dramatically in the past ten years.

The public kind of shrugs when films win. Some of them break through, like The King’s Speech kind of did. Birdman is trying to break through with an appearance on Saturday Night Live. But really, it’s nothing like what movies used to be. It’s nothing like, say, Gladiator’s win where everyone knew about the movie and everyone felt they had a stake in its winning.

That is why, I think, winners have such a hard time now. They are almost devalued the second they win. It is as though the drama of their being in the race at all is what matters. The “story” of how they got there. After they win they mostly disappear. It isn’t that the films are bad. It’s just that they were part of an “award season narrative” that is now over. This film won and the story ends there.

The films that have lost seem to have their stories continue because they never won. While I personally feel as though The Hurt Locker and Shakespeare in Love were the right winners, there is no question that Avatar and Saving Private Ryan are the films that have endured much longer in the film discussion outside the awards race.  Films that win and win and win and never stop winning, like Slumdog Millionaire or The Artist also kind of evaporate. Both The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Hugo have more or less seeped into the public consciousness more.

Evaporating is one thing, but being instantly devalued is another. Ask yourself if you hated Argo more once it started winning. That is an easy one for me to answer because you readers are always calling me out for having called it a perfect movie in Telluride. I thought it was when I first saw it but there is simply no comparing that movie to its competitors that came along later – Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln and Life of Pi. It’s an absurd thing to even say out loud. Argo was entertaining but come on. That it won the Scripter and the WGA over Lincoln is equally absurd and unacceptable. So how then does one continue to love a movie that doesn’t deserve those accolades?

Why doesn’t it deserve those accolades if so many people liked it?  Because, I think, it has to be based on something bigger than that. It can’t just be that people liked it. It has to “deserve” its win whether people liked it or not. That’s sort of my own twisted thinking on the matter.  Simply liking something means it’s far too ephemeral and subject to not being liked sometime down the road. A great film, though, that made shitloads of money and received wildly great reviews (like Lincoln) that doesn’t win? That’s never pretty to watch go down.

I’ve been reading many articles and comments about Birdman’s fate now that the Oscars are over, whether it will be considered a deserving winner or not. I personally feel that, as much as I enjoyed it, it is far too Hollywood-specific to have staying power. But I could be wrong. It could end up being like All About Eve, a delicious cultural marker that will age well.  I felt that the word “extraordinary” applied to a few of the Best Picture nominees and that their win would have felt justified to me. Boyhood and Selma are two of those.  While I get why Birdman was to the people voting the most exciting film to vote for, I also understand why the British Film Industry only gave Birdman Cinematography.  They also did not respond to The Departed in 2006, which was my favorite film that year. Martin Scorsese was so overdue that no one would begrudge his win, even if all of these years later people trash The Departed as not being his best film. Well, he should have more than one Oscar by now so awarding him for The Departed was beyond the right thing to do.

Something’s gotta give, however, if the Oscars are going to survive. There needs to be more of a communal experience between Big Hollywood, the ticket buyers and the Academy. Hollywood keeps moving in one direction and the Oscars in another. It was never really meant to be that way. One or the other has to yield.

Either way, it’s difficult to see beyond the Oscar race as a game with winners and losers. And curious how winners can ultimately be losers and losers can be winners. Time sorts it all out. All we have to do is wait and see.

 

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Made by Women and Hollywood.

The best advocate for women and women of color in the Oscar race is Women and Hollywood’s Melissa Silverstein. It isn’t easy standing up for women because trust me, the dirty little secret out there is that the vast majority of men don’t like women who stand up for women because they think it means blaming them. It’s the same problem with standing up against racism or any kind of oppression. Those in the ruling class feel victimized by the protests. They are in charge. They hold up a stop sign. We have to stop. Sometimes.

I’ve been called many names – but none more hatefully than when I am “accused” of being a feminist. A word that has been completely and unforgivably distorted into meaning ball-busting, man-hating, rights-removing, ugly, unfuckable, worthless female. So many poor young women have fallen into this trap because they don’t want to be labeled that way. They don’t want to be thought of militant — as though anyone who stands up for women is a militant. That’s really how oppression works. For minorities they label you “angry.” The “angry black man” or “angry black woman.” For women, it’s feminazi. How sad it has all become. “And it’s all your fault,” those hissing, anonymous hordes who hide in the comment sections of blogs will chant year after year, hour after hour. “You want to take away what we have coming to us.”

I like to joke that at the crux of some of it, at least, is the fear of a life without dick. That fear of being called a feminist is really fear of losing access to the dick. But I know that’s not polite conversation for respectable people. Women, though, have to get smart about how they themselves talk about other women. The tabloids? That’s on women, mostly. You can probably add gay men to that mix without it being too stereotypical. A lot of gossip is driven by (some) gay men and (some) women who work to tear women down on a continual basis – look at how one photo of Iggy Azalea’s gorgeous backside caused so much trouble for her that she’s now quit Twitter. Girlfriends, that shit’s on you. Asking women about their fashion and their relationships on the red carpet? Girlfriends, that shit’s on you. When women stop defining other women by those kinds of measurements we will be able to better unite to take control of the world as we’re meant to do. It’s fun to say stuff like that out loud. It’s the internet, after all.

I have a 16-year-old who attends a magnet in a school in an era that is probably 80% Hispanic. The magnet that she attends there is much diversity across all ethnic and cultural lines. The women are so smart and so outspoken and so ambitious. Just try to stop them when they come of age. They’re ready for the fight and they represent, I hope, a whole new way of looking at things. I see the change already at the box office, in book publishing, in animation, in documentaries and in foreign films. The ruling class still dominates the Oscars by design. The Oscars represent the power base in Hollywood – what is popular to them, not necessarily what’s popular anywhere else. The critics, the public, the independent film communities all have a much more fluid vision for the present and the future. It is really only the industry’s core where change must happen. It will happen but not for a while, probably not while I’m still blogging. I hope one day my daughter will come to me with some stories about things have changed, the way I wanted to tell my now deceased grandmother that we had our first black president. She would never have believed it if she hadn’t seen it with her own eyes.

Change will come and is coming. You can roll with it or get left behind.

Directors
Barbra Streisand twice nominated by the Golden Globes, once by the DGA, Oscar nominations for directing? Zero.
Randa Haines was not nominated for directing Children of a Lesser God which received a Best Picture nomination.
Penny Marshall was not nominated for directing Awakenings which received a Best Picture nomination.
Jane Campion nominated once for The Piano, never again.
Sofia Coppola nominated once for Lost in Translation, never again.
Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman in 87 years of of Oscar history to win Best Director for The Hurt Locker. She then directed the best reviewed film of 2012, Zero Dark Thirty, which made $80 million at the box office, shut out the Best Directing category.
Ava DuVernay directed one of the best reviewed film of 2014, Selma, which is about to make $50 million at the box office, shut out of Best Directing category.

Writing
Carrie Fisher adapted Postcards from the edge from her own novel, shut out of the screenplay category
Tina Fey adapted Queen Bees and Wanna Bes into Mean Girls, one of the most quoted films in the modern era and a beloved classic, shut out of the screenplay category.
Elaine May – two nominations for writing, zero wins.
Nora Ephron adapted Heartburn from her own roman à clef novel, inexplicably did not even get nominated. Also not nominated for the staggeringly brilliant Julie & Julia. Zero wins. ZERO.
Jane Campion wrote Bright Star (adapted) and Holy Smoke (original), Sweetie — nominated once and won once for The Piano.
Sofia Coppola wrote The Bling Ring, Somewhere, Marie Antoinette, and The Virgin Suicides. Nominated only once and won only once.
Gillian Flynn adapts own novel and turns it into a $168 million hit, one of the biggest for a rated R film, makes history as the first adapted screenplay by a man or a woman to earn a Globe, a WGA, a Critics Choice, a Scripter and a BAFTA nomination and be shut out of the Oscar race.

Those are but a scratching at the surface at the many ways women have been locked out of the opportunities given to men, as you see again this year with all ten writing categories and all five directing categories given over to men. They let women peek through the door, maybe they gift them with a single statue, then they slap them on the ass as they’re shoving them out the door.

That Elaine May and Nora Ephron never won Oscars, were never given more opportunities to soar, is a shame the Academy should never be able to live down.

Women must now flock to television where they can do more than just work. They can thrive, as directors and writers – in every capacity, of every color. Why? Because the same barriers don’t apply. They don’t have to dress up in the sexy maid’s outfit to get into the room in the first place. It is their work and their audience. Full stop.

I don’t know what people in Hollywood are so afraid of. I don’t know when investing in women became such a huge risk. I come from a long line of strong women, single mothers who made their way in the world. My grandmother was a Russian immigrant, the oldest of 11 children who kicked the dust off the sleepy town of Yonkers, New York and went to the big city to eventually become a high power player in the AFL-CIO. My mother was a high school drop-out who educated herself and eventually became a wildly successful realtor and oil tycoon. And I am a graduate film school drop out who makes a living from a business I built myself. We might not play by society’s rules, but by God we’re made of strong stuff. Invest in women and earn a ticket to the future. It’s only going to move in one direction.

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One thing I do love about this film is its focus on the female character, Jane Hawking. While it would have been great if Jane Hawking had chosen a female to adapt the work, this was clearly a passion project for the writer – and that counts for a lot. Just watching these clips you can see why Eddie Redmayne is the frontrunner for Best Actor. I don’t know if he will win or not but it seems most likely at this point.

evolution

evolution

Gold Derby is paying out a cool $1,000 for the winner of this year’s Oscar prediction contest. Head on over to play.

Tom O’Neil who runs Gold Derby asked me why, if I keep saying Birdman is going to win Best Picture, I keep predicting Boyhood. Here is my answer:

1) I have predicted no other film to win Best Picture this year. Every single time anyone has asked me to predict I put Boyhood on the top, and Birdman usually second. I do not think I would be a useful predictor if I scrambled around now at the last minute and shifted Birdman to the top spot. Why would that be meaningful in any way? Even someone like Scott Feinberg, who prides himself on being a good predictor had every other movie imaginable on top, from Interstellar to Boyhood at one point but no Birdman. If he now shifts his prediction to Birdman, as he has done, that doesn’t tell you anything much either. That’s sort of like seeing that it’s raining outside and declaring, it’s raining. So I don’t want to change my prediction now, that’s one reason.

2) There is the chance that Boyhood and Birdman might split. Even though the most likely scenario at this point is Birdman for Picture and Inarritu for director, it is not a guarantee. The BAFTA and the Globes not choosing Birdman breaks with history in a significant way, as does Birdman’s not having an editing nomination. I don’t know for a certainty that Birdman will take both top categories. What if Boyhood takes director and Birdman picture? What if Boyhood takes Picture and Birdman director? If I predict both Boyhood and Linklater I stand a better chance at getting one or the other right in a split. Of course I could just predict Birdman and Inarritu and be twice as likely to be right but honestly I’m not that invested in being “right,” especially this year when no one has been. The closest thing you get to right this year are the people who thought Boyhood was “soft” – like Tapley and Hammond and those guys.

3) Boyhood is the better film and I’m hanging on to that tiny reed of hope that the Academy realizes what the rest of the industry could not. It’s a slim chance and a long shot bet but there are enough people predicting Birdman, and I would never advise anyone playing in a contest or in an office pool to hang their hopes on such a slim possibility but hey, after 16 years of this nonsense I have to get my kicks somehow.

4) Yes, the actors rule. They topple every other branch by almost double. But why oh why didn’t they award Michael Keaton for Best Actor if they loved Birdman THAT much? That has confounded me from the beginning. Still, PGA+DGA+SAG is an unbeatable combo. Follow the math. My head says Birdman, my heart says Boyhood and I can’t reconcile the two.

5) As David Carr left in his email signature file, “Call on God but row away from the rocks.” Dwell in reality when predicting the Oscar race.

Here is the latest Gurus of Gold:

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And here is the first – so you could say Glenn Whipp was the first person to call Birdman for the win:

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He changed it the following week and was back to Boyhood. No one had Birdman to win. Just before Selma and American Sniper were seen, The Film Experience’s Nat Rogers had Birdman at number one. Nathaniel stuck to Birdman the next week. The following week, around Thanksgiving, no one had Birdman. Finally, by the time final ballots were sent out (last Friday) two people has put Birdman to win, Thelma Adams and Steve Pond. And by their last accounting, Timothy Grey and David Poland had added their names to the list.

The story at Gold Derby is essentially the same. Jeff Wells has been removed from the list probably because he didn’t update his predictions but if he did he would be the one and the only one predicting Birdman, his be all, end all this year from the beginning. He has claimed those bragging rights and should get credit for being the Birdman guy. I’m happy to hand credit his way for that. Or as Sheryl Crow would say, if it makes you happy it can’t be that bad.

I’ll stick with Boyhood to the bitter end, thank you very much. But if I were betting cold hard cash? I’d probably go with Birdman and Inarritu, especially after hearing those tiresome Academy members lament Boyhood’s success. So fuck ’em. Richard Linklater will live out his days as the guy who should have won and believe me, that’s far better.

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