Nominations for the 87th Academy Awards

Best motion picture of the year

“American Sniper” Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper and Peter Morgan, Producers
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole, Producers
“Boyhood” Richard Linklater and Cathleen Sutherland, Producers
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson, Producers
“The Imitation Game” Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman, Producers
“Selma” Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, Producers
“The Theory of Everything” Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce and Anthony McCarten, Producers
“Whiplash” Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook and David Lancaster, Producers

Achievement in directing

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu
“Boyhood” Richard Linklater
“Foxcatcher” Bennett Miller
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson
“The Imitation Game” Morten Tyldum

Performance by an actor in a leading role

Steve Carell in “Foxcatcher”
Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper”
Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game”
Michael Keaton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything”

Performance by an actor in a supporting role

Robert Duvall in “The Judge”
Ethan Hawke in “Boyhood”
Edward Norton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Mark Ruffalo in “Foxcatcher”
J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash”

Performance by an actress in a leading role

Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night”
Felicity Jones in “The Theory of Everything”
Julianne Moore in “Still Alice”
Rosamund Pike in “Gone Girl”
Reese Witherspoon in “Wild”

Performance by an actress in a supporting role

Patricia Arquette in “Boyhood”
Laura Dern in “Wild”
Keira Knightley in “The Imitation Game”
Emma Stone in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Meryl Streep in “Into the Woods”

Best animated feature film of the year

“Big Hero 6” Don Hall, Chris Williams and Roy Conli
“The Boxtrolls” Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable and Travis Knight
“How to Train Your Dragon 2” Dean DeBlois and Bonnie Arnold
“Song of the Sea” Tomm Moore and Paul Young
“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” Isao Takahata and Yoshiaki Nishimura

Achievement in cinematography

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Emmanuel Lubezki
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Robert Yeoman
“Ida” Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski
“Mr. Turner” Dick Pope
“Unbroken” Roger Deakins

Achievement in costume design

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Milena Canonero
“Inherent Vice” Mark Bridges
“Into the Woods” Colleen Atwood
“Maleficent” Anna B. Sheppard and Jane Clive
“Mr. Turner” Jacqueline Durran

Best documentary feature

“CitizenFour” Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky
“Finding Vivian Maier” John Maloof and Charlie Siskel
“Last Days in Vietnam” Rory Kennedy and Keven McAlester
“The Salt of the Earth” Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and David Rosier
“Virunga” Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara

Best documentary short subject

“Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1” Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry
“Joanna” Aneta Kopacz
“Our Curse” Tomasz Sliwinski and Maciej Slesicki
“The Reaper (La Parka)” Gabriel Serra Arguello
“White Earth” J. Christian Jensen

Achievement in film editing

“American Sniper” Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach
“Boyhood” Sandra Adair
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Barney Pilling
“The Imitation Game” William Goldenberg
“Whiplash” Tom Cross

Best foreign language film of the year

“Ida” Poland
“Leviathan” Russia
“Tangerines” Estonia
“Timbuktu” Mauritania
“Wild Tales” Argentina

Achievement in makeup and hairstyling

“Foxcatcher” Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier
“Guardians of the Galaxy” Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Alexandre Desplat
“The Imitation Game” Alexandre Desplat
“Interstellar” Hans Zimmer
“Mr. Turner” Gary Yershon
“The Theory of Everything” Jóhann Jóhannsson

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)

“Everything Is Awesome” from “The Lego Movie”
Music and Lyric by Shawn Patterson
“Glory” from “Selma”
Music and Lyric by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn
“Grateful” from “Beyond the Lights”
Music and Lyric by Diane Warren
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from “Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me”
Music and Lyric by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond
“Lost Stars” from “Begin Again”
Music and Lyric by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois

Achievement in production design

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
“The Imitation Game” Production Design: Maria Djurkovic; Set Decoration: Tatiana Macdonald
“Interstellar” Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
“Into the Woods” Production Design: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
“Mr. Turner” Production Design: Suzie Davies; Set Decoration: Charlotte Watts

Best animated short film

“The Bigger Picture” Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees
“The Dam Keeper” Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi
“Feast” Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed
“Me and My Moulton” Torill Kove
“A Single Life” Joris Oprins

Best live action short film

“Aya” Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis
“Boogaloo and Graham” Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney
“Butter Lamp (La Lampe Au Beurre De Yak)” Hu Wei and Julien Féret
“Parvaneh” Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger
“The Phone Call” Mat Kirkby and James Lucas

Achievement in sound editing

“American Sniper” Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Martín Hernández and Aaron Glascock
“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” Brent Burge and Jason Canovas
“Interstellar” Richard King
“Unbroken” Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro

Achievement in sound mixing

“American Sniper” John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and Thomas Varga
“Interstellar” Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten
“Unbroken” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and David Lee
“Whiplash” Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley

Achievement in visual effects

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist
“Guardians of the Galaxy” Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould
“Interstellar” Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher
“X-Men: Days of Future Past” Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer

Adapted screenplay

“American Sniper” Written by Jason Hall
“The Imitation Game” Written by Graham Moore
“Inherent Vice” Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Theory of Everything” Screenplay by Anthony McCarten
“Whiplash” Written by Damien Chazelle

Original screenplay

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo
“Boyhood” Written by Richard Linklater
“Foxcatcher” Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
“Nightcrawler” Written by Dan Gilroy



Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s naming
For the loser now will be later to win
For the times they are a-changing – Bob Dylan

You know you’re in trouble when the Hollywood Foreign Press threatens to upstage all of the other voting bodies with its diverse choices, when 90 outsiders have their fingers on the pulse of changing American culture better than thousands of insiders who work in the industry. Today, the DGA named their choices for five Best Directors of the year. They named Richard Linklater for Boyhood, Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel, Alejandro G. Inarritu for Birdman, Clint Eastwood for American Sniper, and Morton Tyldum for The Imitation Game. They omitted two of 2014’s most memorable films by anyone’s definition, David Fincher’s Gone Girl and Ava DuVernay’s Selma. In case you haven’t been paying attention, that’s the ONLY film in the race written by a woman, and the only film still left in the race directed by a woman. Seeing a pattern here?

The race for Best Picture is mostly settled and has been since Telluride. Nothing came along to really challenge Boyhood, a beautifully made film about the tender upbringing of a young man coming of age in a complicated country. It’s the crowning achievement of Richard Linklater who has been reinventing what can be done with cinema with each new film he’s made throughout his career. Linklater has never been in it for any reason except to make great art. That is worth all of the awards the film is about to reap.

For a while it seemed like Alejandro G. Inarritu’s Birdman, which launched in Venice, might be that actors’ movie that could overtake it in a Crash/Brokeback kind of dramatic last act. But Boyhood has proved much more resilient than anyone thought. Next up was the Weinstein Co’s Imitation Game, which did very well with the Telluride crowd, won the audience award up in Toronto, and excited the festival-going demo to no end. It has the stamp of “importance,” a persecuted gay man, without any of the messy gay sex to go along with that. That’s the way the straight world likes it — all tidied up and hidden away. I didn’t think the movie deserved the criticisms it got for that omission, nor did I think the strange story behind the real Chris Kyle was any reason to punish American Sniper. They’re movies, after all. All of that changed, however, when the DGA shut out Ava DuVernay’s Selma, a film that got so much heat in the days leading up to the Oscar ballot deadline. The controversy might effectively knock it out of the competition altogether.

The attacks against the film were so fevered and so intense they made it all the way up to the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, CNN and TIME magazine. Intelligent journalists were “bothered” by the film’s treatment of LBJ, specifically regarding J. Edgar Hoover. It felt personal, this. They were uniting in their defense of a blighted American president who they complained was not given his due in this film. There was a suggestion that the film’s depiction of LBJ was somehow sinister or mean or, dare we say it, ANGRY?

If you’re black you can never afford to be thought of as angry. You have to smile and smile some more and smile yet more times, no matter what people say to you. This is doubly so if you’re a woman. Be nice and SMILE! DuVernay comes from film marketing and knows full well how this sick little game works.

And just how does this game work? It works when Mississippi Burning gets in for Best Picture — in spite of the way it turned the facts inside out and made white men the heroes of a black struggle. It works when a community of voices came together to protest the way the slaves were being portrayed in Gone with the Wind, but instead of it getting shut out, it sweeps the Oscars. Even Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple got in for major nominations, winning the DGA, with controversy following it every step of the way. But Selma? Not so fast, little girl, that’s a US President you’re talking about.

The degree of unanimous protests against Selma were all too creepily timed to hit the airwaves just as ballots were sailing into the hands of not too savvy industry voters who are never really paying attention that closely.

They weren’t catching the wave of excitement Selma’s mere presence brought to audiences – not because history was about to be made with the first black female director in the Oscar race, but because Selma was such a very good film, such a moving film, such a sensual, breathtaking, wholly original work that no one really knew what to do with it. They were scared of it, probably.

It was very unlikely The Imitation Game was going to unseat Boyhood, and less likely that Birdman would. But Selma? That was looking too strong for comfort. Something really had to be done about Selma. Thus, the “controversy” likely gave voters a reason to stay home, and if no screeners arrived in time? So be it.

It isn’t that any of the five DGA nominees are bad. It isn’t even that their decision to honor Eastwood at his old age being able to still direct great war scenes was a bad one. Or that their adherence to the old film awards cliche with The Imitation Game, getting traction for being a film about an oppressed gay protagonist. They’re perfectly fine. It isn’t so much that they were included, it’s what got excluded that makes all the difference here.

I could go on and on about David Fincher not getting in for Gone Girl. Low-level misogyny and disinterest in anything that’s popular with women seemed to put Gone Girl in the “unimportant” pile, no matter that it’s likely one of the few films that reached the public at large, at least this year. That it isn’t an “Oscar movie” is a reminder that this whole dumb circus is a sham because Selma IS an “Oscar movie,” so what’s their excuse this time? They didn’t get screeners in time? They couldn’t get off of their lazy, entitled asses to go out and see what many are calling the most “important” film of the year? Aren’t they all about “important”? Ah but you see, they aren’t. The word “Important” has an asterisk next to it and next to the asterick is the following fine print:

*We here in the industry define important as that which matters to white men. If it doesn’t involve white men or else the white men aren’t the saviors we have little interest in it. We don’t care about anything other than that which makes us feel good about ourselves.

Gone Girl did virtually no FYC advertising. They did not play the Oscar game this year the way the other films did. It would have to succeed on merit alone. If anything can be learned about this year’s race it’s that merit alone means squat. I don’t even think Boyhood would have gotten in without a heavy awards push. Ditto Birdman, ditto Grand Budapest, both in the capable hands of Fox Searchlight.

But Selma did do the campaigning, tirelessly. DuVernay was everywhere. The film was being written about, talked about, advertised heavily everywhere. The Hard No is like an ancient, flaking wall that’s been standing tall for too long; it’s a barrier that holds back everything that’s great about our changing culture in 2015 and what might be coming next. It’s a dream extinguisher, a font of decay that represents an old world. It’s the card game in Sunset Boulevard all over again.

In a year with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, in a year that has been rife with heated debate about civil rights and voter rights, issues which are still far from settled, the DGA puts its head in the sand and forgot that the defining movies in a given year should not reflect the singular tastes of an elitist, separatist entity, but should reflect the broader cultural conversation, the movies that people are really talking about, because otherwise, why bother making movies for the public at all? Why not just make them for your own private little club, a club that has limited membership and strict rules about appropriate content.

This is an important day to remember. The industry will discover, too late probably, that the walls are closing in around them. They won’t exist for much longer because great filmmakers will stop making movies entirely and head to television. All that will be left is that one arrogant rich guy standing in the balcony clapping for the one thing he wanted to see on stage, whether it was good or bad, successful or not.

These voters have given us their choices for best of this year. Some of them deserve it, some of them don’t. The glaring omissions are the only films that were backed by women – the only one written by a woman, Gone Girl, and the only one directed by a woman that had the remotest chance, Selma. Hollywood has given us that Hard No with a fleshy white palm beaming at us from the road not taken, a disappointing roadblock, a needless obstacle.

What they’re missing, and it will ultimately be their demise, is that they are rendering themselves slowly but surely irrelevant. Voices of the many are not interested in an outmoded conversation. They will fly past the awards race stopping momentarily to gaze at the diorama of what the Hollywood industry looked like back when it refused to adapt.

Or as Dylan would say:

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fading
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changing

Thursday, the Academy will announce, at last, its nominees for the 87th Academy Awards.



Good directors are everywhere. They populate the awards race this year and every year. They dazzle with their first movie, try to live up to it in their second movie and with each hyped film try to beat back the seduction of Big Hollywood and its long inappropriate affair with superhero movies and films about branded toys. I’m lucky that 2014 turned out to be a year David Fincher released a movie. I don’t think people who cover films are sexist but they don’t have many options this year, not when great filmmakers young and old finds the stories of men so fascinating. They are fascinating. They are not the problem. The problem is the lack of an equally fascinating female characters.

Enter Amazing Amy.

Because Fincher trusted Gillian Flynn to adapt her own novel, stuck to that commitment, we get a retwisted adaptation of Flynn’s book that is a dramatic departure the book’s fans weren’t expecting. The cinematic Amy was far less likable, but far more compelling. The daring and heartstopping ending still confuses people. “It’s got a dumb ending,” at least one guy will tell me on Twitter. They didn’t believe Ben Affleck’s character would stay with Amy. But if you follow the film closely you’ll learn the reason why; you’ll dig deeper into Affleck’s character to find that reason. That’s the beauty of Fincher’s work – he lays out tiny mysteries like breadcrumbs to be uncovered and discovered on multiple viewings. There aren’t many directors like that anymore.

Yet, Fincher is, for some reason, still the “enfant terrible” where the Academy is concerned. His early films were ignored completely, as was Zodiac, a terrifying rumination on obsession. It was, by far, one of the best films of that year yet it was not acknowledged by the Academy. They liked Benjamin Button better. But they really liked The Social Network, which nearly took the Oscars by storm, famously, in 2010. In the end, the Academy and the industry would reject outright Fincher’s film, which still holds the record for most love from the critics. It was also such a final NO to film critics that it left them forever changed. Never again would they unite around a movie the way they did that film, not even this year’s Boyhood. There were two Best Pictures that year, the industry’s choice of the King’s Speech and the critics choice of the Social Network, two films that were polar opposites in every way: sympathetic royal overcomes speech impediment to help win World War II versus a self-made billionaire who changed the world forever but ends the movie unloved and mostly alone.

There is also a story to be told behind the scenes of titans and strategists and publicists and money and rumors and the British Film Council but for our purposes we’re going to ignore all of that – must never shake loose the mirage that the Oscars are a magical night of worthy winners.

To work this job you have to accept the rules of the game. Or at least know them. I know them and most of the time I choose to ignore them. I don’t think the Oscars were ever intended merely to repeat one style of film over and over again.  It isn’t that the King’s Speech did not deserve to win – it is like the King himself; it was born to win. The Social Network was kind of accidentally there. It didn’t look like an Oscar movie and nobody liked the people in it.

Gone Girl has remained the year’s biggest question mark where Best Picture is concerned. Most of the top named pundits in the race, like Dave Karger, Scott Feinberg, Kris Tapley and Pete Hammond have all said Gone Girl would not make it in. There were several reasons for this but namely there were too many other movies coming that would knock it out. And, as Kris once said, “there’s that Dragon Tattoo thing.” What is that, you might want to know? Perhaps it’s best if you look at the following chart:


Even with all of that guild support and an AFI nomination, in the end Dragon Tattoo was not deemed serious enough to be nominated. It was too much of a genre picture, too popular, too airport novel-y. Even still, no matter that the entire industry, up to the DGA, thought Dragon Tattoo good enough, the Academy said no. Tapley thinks, and I’m betting he could right, that the same thing is likely to happen to Gone Girl.

By this point, I’m fairly certain the last person who cares about this is Fincher himself. Clearly if he were gunning for Oscar he’d set his movie way in the past, with a script about a man who overcomes obstacles and makes good. The best films THIS year were not tailor-made for Oscar, like the frontrunner, Boyhood. The reason being, if you want to have impact as an artist the last place you’re likely to be recognized is in the Best Picture race. They are very much about the seriousness of good character. They want movies that reflect the goodness in people, that sweet sweet lie we tell ourselves to get through another day. Their lives aren’t miserable so why would they want to dwell in misery? Isn’t it enough, they might think, they have to stock up on antidepressants when confronting the screener pile? Is it too much to ask for a little lightness, a little brightness and a bit with a dog?

Indeed, many Oscar voters are in the twilight of their lives – they’ve seen it all, done it all. Now, they’re more about the comfort of that twilight, the embracing of each day. At that point, and really at every point, just waking up in the morning and standing on two legs is cause to celebrate. So why would they want to dwell, necessarily, in discomfort? No, David Fincher did not set out to make an Oscar movie with Gone Girl but wouldn’t you know he would accidentally make one of the best pictures of the year?

When you look at 2011, and the other years where the race expanded, you’ll see that the Academy punishes success in some ways. Bridesmaids was a silly comedy that would never have gotten nominated but it was also a resounding success that starred and was written by women. The Hangover was successful also and was shut out for the same reasons. Dragon Tattoo was successful and popular in the industry but not deemed ‘important’ or at least MORE important than its competitors, more important than War Horse or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The Oscars are probably never going to change.

2014, though, might force the Oscars to change unless they surprise everyone by picking divisive films like Interstellar and Unbroken. These are much more in keeping with Oscar’s traditional sensibilities than Gone Girl, Nightcrawler or Foxcatcher. There is likely the notion that success is its own reward, even with the drastically altered landscape of the film industry, even with the need to preserve hard R films aimed at adults. Success, Gone Girl style, could be both its own reward ($167 million) and a good example of how the Academy refuses to ever really change.

Even if David Fincher gets a DGA nomination it won’t mean the film is in for Best Picture. It still has to reach enough number one ballots to secure a spot. With our PGA ten one of them has to go – and if you make room for Selma, two have to go:

The Imitation Game
Grand Budapest Hotel
Gone Girl
American Sniper
Theory of Everything

There are only two films Gone Girl and The Theory of Everything that have possible Best Actress nominees. If you take out Gone Girl that leaves you with one film that has a lead actress Oscar contender in it. Compare that with all five of the lead actor contenders represented in Birdman, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Foxcatcher and Nightcrawler, even Ralph Fiennes could squeak in, or Bradley Cooper.

I would have fought for this film anyway – because I can’t stop watching it, because it’s the most visually, emotionally and intellectually satisfying film I’ve seen this year. That it also represents the female voice in the race, perhaps the ONLY ONE in the writing categories who will get in at all, makes me want it to succeed.

If I had to put aside my heart’s desire and be more objective I would say Gone Girl is out for Best Picture. I would say I think Scott Feinberg, Kris Tapley, David Poland and Dave Karger‘s instincts are correct. Nearly everyone else over at Gold Derby has it getting in.




Boyhood, Written by Richard Linklater; IFC Films

Foxcatcher, Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman; Sony Pictures Classics

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness; Fox Searchlight

Nightcrawler, Written by Dan Gilroy; Open Road Films

Whiplash, Written by Damien Chazelle; Sony Pictures Classics


American Sniper, Written by Jason Hall; Based on the book by Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice; Warner Bros.

Gone Girl, Screenplay by Gillian Flynn; Based on her novel; 20th Century Fox

Guardians of the Galaxy, Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman; Based on the Marvel comic by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The Imitation Game, Written by Graham Moore; Based on the book Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges; The Weinstein Company

Wild, Screenplay by Nick Hornby; Based on the book by Cheryl Strayed; Fox Searchlight


Finding Vivian Maier, Written by John Maloof & Charlie Siskel; Sundance Selects

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, Written by Brian Knappenberger; FilmBuff

Last Days in Vietnam, Written by Mark Bailey & Kevin McAlester; American Experience Films

Red Army, Written by Gabe Polsky; Sony Pictures Classics



“America is not so much a nightmare as a non-dream. The American non-dream is precisely a move to wipe the dream out of existence. The dream is a spontaneous happening and therefore dangerous to a control system set up by the non-dreamers.”
― William S. Burroughs

If we set aside the two films that involve singular British intellects confronting personal catastrophe to enrich mankind with their world-altering achievements, we might define the remainder of the year’s Best Picture race as various meditations on the shifting identity of the American male. With their traditional sense of control rapidly collapsing, American men onscreen are seen in a state of electric desperation, struggling to adjust to new definitions of masculinity and maturity, adapting to new rules made all the more confusing when a man is forced to seize the task of leading but doesn’t yet know where he’s headed.

In three of the year’s best films, the male protagonist plays dress-up in daddy’s business suits, pretending to be the patriarch that the culture has laid at his feet. The irony is that the notion of white male privilege that seems to prevent the film industry from evolving faster is the very thing these filmmakers must confront, because many of these men are not really men at all.

Nightcrawler, Foxcatcher, Gone Girl, Boyhood, Whiplash and to a certain extent American Sniper, are all about boys finding it hard to make that final leap to become men. This topic was brought up by A.O. Scott in the New York Times in his piece “The Death of Adulthood in American Culture:”

In suggesting that patriarchy is dead, I am not claiming that sexism is finished, that men are obsolete or that the triumph of feminism is at hand. I may be a middle-aged white man, but I’m not an idiot. In the world of politics, work and family, misogyny is a stubborn fact of life. But in the universe of thoughts and words, there is more conviction and intelligence in the critique of male privilege than in its defense, which tends to be panicky and halfhearted when it is not obtuse and obnoxious. The supremacy of men can no longer be taken as a reflection of natural order or settled custom.

This slow unwinding has been the work of generations. For the most part, it has been understood — rightly in my view, and this is not really an argument I want to have right now — as a narrative of progress. A society that was exclusive and repressive is now freer and more open. But there may be other less unequivocally happy consequences. It seems that, in doing away with patriarchal authority, we have also, perhaps unwittingly, killed off all the grown-ups.”

Scott draws from television, specifically Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Sopranos to make his point. This year’s race for Best Picture proves that this dire situation isn’t only limited to television — it is far more pervasive than that. Adding another layer of anxiety, perhaps it has a bit to do with how defensive some men feel in the face of so many accusations and demands coming from minorities, men of color who feel they can’t get a leg up.

What we have in this year’s films about the American male are portraits of broken, maladjusted child-men whose familiar concept of control has been removed. Flooding to fill their sense of emptiness is often a subversive urge to get it back. Most savvy filmmakers are not making heroes of these men — quite the opposite. They are showing that the notion of the white male patriarchy is, as Scott, a myth, a concept that has been erased.

In Dan Gilroy’s unforgettable Nightcrawler, we meet one such obsolete patriarch, a man society has mostly rejected despite his seeming to have played by the rules. There is no appropriate job for him. No suitable girl for him. No clear path to the fame and recognition the American dream that was promised to him since boyhood. He can’t cash the check on the white male privilege he was birthed with, that dangling carrot that promises life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So the Nightcrawler, played by Jake Gyllenhaal invents his own version, his own success story and in so doing erases the moral line of the grand media patriarchs who helped create the notion of ethical journalism. For this new version of the modern American male, all bets are off. He’ll play by his own rules, take what’s coming to him. His birthrights have been stripped so he has no choice but to exploit any gullible person he encounters who’s unlucky enough to take him at his word. “How could THAT guy be unethical?”

Nightcrawler goes beyond the expected indictment of modern media and local news – all that has been corrupted for a while now. If it bleeds it leads. If it bleeds it stays in the 24-hour news cycle day in and day out. Not only that, it shapes how the public perceives reality, how it manages its intake of stress and fear. Renee Russo discovers that a gruesome home-invasion massacre is really connected to drug dealers but she’ll shove the truth aside because she knows what will keep people watching: invent a story that they are all under siege.

Nightcrawler is also about the liberties many of us now take with sensationalized stories, they ways we pluck the fragile feathers off a bleeding bird with relish. The internet has given us an ungovernable society where we can say anything about anyone and it matters for about five seconds and then we move on to the next thing. We are all Nightcrawlers, those of us who willingly participate in a media that’s removed from the ethical lines handed down by generations.

In Gone Girl, Ben Affleck’s Nick Dunne never really grew up. He didn’t have to. He went straight from his mother to his wife and was never required to step up on his own. Among his many indulgences are his bar, his affair, his complacency with a complex wife and his cavalier indifference to the woman she really is. Each of those aimless tangents reveal a man who isn’t really a man, no matter how old he is in years. Though the main thrust of Gone Girl is Amy Dunne’s absolute refusal to play the victim, prescribed by contemporary Hollywood’s stricture that women be either victims or saints, upends the traditional notion of the perfect marriage Nick and Amy pretend to have, living out an artificial dream. Throughout the film, both Nick and Amy are manipulating their images in the press — Nick, by refusing to admit what he did and who he is and Amy, by exploiting the lies women tell themselves about the ways good husbands and good wives are supposed to behave. Amy’s desire to have Nick be the man, the patriarch, is an illusion. She made him think he was, perhaps, but her unwillingness to relinquish control over their unified image would never have allowed for a real man to enter the picture. Instead, Nick plays with things. Board games, video games, young students. It came as a big surprise to Amy that he stepped outside the rules by committing the ultimate sin for us women: an affair.

Fincher’s film does not make Nick Dunne the victim of his wife or his marriage, but rather the victim of the dead end where his white male privilege led him. He was born into it, perhaps, but his desire to be a writer has failed. Instead he became little more than the shell of the sort of man that Amy dressed him up to be. As his Missouri hometown collapses economically all around them, what they’re left with is what many of us Americans are left with: the perpetuation of an illusion of happiness.

Fincher does not let up for a second on Nick Dunne, and refuses to turn Amy into a loathsome bitch. He isn’t letting the audience off that easily. Like Nightcrawler, we’re invited inside the hall of mirrors where we dare not turn around because wherever we look we might see ourselves in ways we don’t like. That Fincher doesn’t make it easy to like Nick nor easy to hate Amy is what separates Gone Girl from Fatal Attraction in the end. That was an 1980s fantasy when our economic upturns made us all feel like the worst thing that could happen to us would be an encounter with a psycho bitch. In Gone Girl, there is more systematic decline, coming not just from the inside, but because everywhere you look there’s a camera. Every way you define yourself has a parallel avatar of who you are online.

Both Nightcrawler and Gone Girl echo the empty chambers of modern existence so vividly that they will serve as archeological evidence for anyone wanting to study what American life was really like fifteen years after the turn of the 21st century.

In Birdman, Riggan is a man without a place. He’s failed as a father, as a husband, as a superhero and now, as a stage auteur. He’s failed because he rejected the story as written and now seeks to reestablish a unique identity within that stereotype. Riggan’s unease is made manifest in magical powers, real or otherwise, that help elevate him as the superhero his fans once believed him to be. He can’t find a place in the new America, not with Twitter and viral videos and relevance. He can’t save anything or anyone, not even himself.

In American Sniper, Chris Kyle plays a soldier in a war that was never really right to be fighting in the first place. Kyle’s real world identity is rife with deception. He’s lied outright about things he’s done and people he’s killed but none of his self-delusion makes it into the movie. Instead we’re shown a man fighting a war he thinks was justified. He’s lost within it, more lost without it, increasingly lost in his marriage and ultimately lost when he returns home and tries to live a normal life.

In Foxcatcher, John DuPont is a half-formed person who never had to face any of the challenges most boys face in becoming a man. He has never had to fight or work for anything. It has all been handed to him. This gifting of the ruling class in American society has so dramatically thwarted DuPont that he is virtually incapable of functioning by the normal rules of society. Not only can’t he function, he doesn’t even think he needs to play by those rules. He is an enfant terrible. Taking whatever he wants, while everyone else is being paid to play along. Foxcatcher would not be striking a chord if there wasn’t such a enormous gap between the typical working man and the richest Americans. That helplessness in the face of economic struggle is infused in the characters of Mark Schultz and his older brother David, who is murdered by DuPont as though he didn’t matter, as though DuPont was firing a redundant servant instead of firing a pistol at another human being.

In Whiplash, Andrew is brutally confronted by his drum teacher who wants his student to attain greatness — at any cost. He wants him to be better and more than he is. Or does he only wants to humiliate him and uses the opportunity to do that under the guise of drumming? Some film critics have suggested that Whiplash is about becoming a man and if that’s so, then the definition of manhood is rebellion, refusing to accept someone’s condemnation of your character or your inability to shine. It is much more a reaction to manhood, though, than a story about a character becoming a man. In this coming of age story, or any you see made now, coming of age is less about leaving your childhood behind and more about trying to maintaining the carefree nature of youth.

Richard Linklater’s Boyhood gives us several options to let us observe which type of patriarchal role model the young Mason needs most. None of them are everything they need to be, none of them quite good enough. His own father grows older alongside him but never really grows up. The patriarchal figure in Boyhood is actually the matriarch. Patricia Arquette plays the grown-up who is tasked with raising the boy and guiding him on the right path to become a man. One of the many wondrous things that happens while watching Boyhood is the way we’re reminded of what life was like before social media and the internet. In the film, Mason talks about it in a critical way, as someone who is rejecting the notion of culture’s dominating force. Mason may or not reject the notion of manhood but he is no patriarch. He’s a good person who weathers a rough journey with his soul intact. Perhaps that counts for more than how he’s able to rise up to privilege or manhood.

This is perhaps why films about heroes from bygone eras are popular too. Stephen Hawking, Alan Turing, Martin Luther King, Jr., Louis Zamperini — they all came from a time when men were chiseled by experience, when men had to eventually grow up, because how else would they ever change the world?

It is easy to dismiss these films as being only about men. With the sole exception of Gone Girl and The Theory of Everything, they are. But they are more than that. They tell us about who we are now. They express the worry, the fear, the guilt, the lack of faith about what’s coming next. The beauty of reaching into the past is that we know how those stories turned out. The Best Picture slate, if it goes the way the PGA went, will be about rocking the foundations this nation was built upon. All the lost men and all the men we’ve lost tap into our collective consciousness. If art has the power to do anything, it’s to reveal meanings not readily visible at first glance. We look, but we don’t always see. Movies let us watch and rewatch as often as we want, until we discover the meanings we need.


The Writers Guild will announce their winners tomorrow AM. Where in previous years the WGA’s rules disqualified many of the writers who were up for Oscar nominations, this year, there doesn’t seem to be too much of a disconnect, with the exception of Selma and The Theory of Everything, neither of which are eligible for WGA nods.

The WGA can sometimes spring a wild card into the race. In that way, we kind of look for surprise but in the end, find that the consensus is kind of the consensus.

Still, since it’s such a strange year I don’t know how this thing is going to play out. But I’ll go with these as predictions:

Original Screenplay
Wes Anderson, Grand Budapest Hotel
Alejandro Inarritu et al, Birdman Not eligible
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler
E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman, Foxcatcher
Alt. JC Chandor, A Most Violent Year

Adapted Screenplay
Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
Graham Moore, The Imitation Game
Paul Thoman Anderson, Inherent Vice
Nick Hornby, Wild
Jason Hall, American Sniper
Alt. Coens et al, Unbroken

How about you Oscar watchers? What am I missing?

won WGA | won Oscar

*nominated for Best Pic
+won Best Pic

Her Her*
American Hustle American Hustle*
Blue Jasmine Blue Jasmine
Dallas Buyers Club Dallas Buyers Club*
Nebraska Nebraska*
Captain Phillips Captain Phillips*
August: Osage County 12 Years a Slave+
Before Midnight Before Midnight
Lone Survivor Philomena*
The Wolf of Wall Street The Wolf of Wall Street*
Silver Linings Playbook Silver Linings Playbook*


Original Original
Zero Dark Thirty Zero Dark Thirty*
Flight Flight
Looper Amour*
The Master Django Unchained*
Moonrise Kingdom Moonrise Kingdom
Argo Argo+
Life of Pi Life of Pi*
Lincoln Lincoln*
The Perks of being a Wallflower Beasts of the Southern Wild*
Silver Linings Playbook Silver Linings Playbook*
Win Win The Artist*
Bridesmaids Bridesmaids
50 50 Margin Call
Young Adult A Separation
Midnight in Paris Midnight in Paris*
Adapted Adapted
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo The Ides of March
Moneyball Moneyball*
The Help Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
The Descendants The Descendants*
Hugo Hugo*
2010 2010
Original WGA Oscars
Black Swan The King’s Speech+
Please Give Another Year
The Fighter The Fighter*
The Kids Are All Right The Kids Are All Right*
Inception Inception*
Adapted WGA Oscars
The Social Network The Social Network*
127 Hours 127 Hours*
True Grit True Grit*
I Love You Philip Morris Winter’s Bone*
The Town Toy Story 3*
2009 2009
Original WGA Oscars
The Hurt Locker The Hurt Locker+
A Serious Man A Serious Man*
500 Days of Summer Up*
The Hangover The Messenger
Avatar Inglourious Basterds*
Adapted WGA Oscars
Up in the Air Up in the Air*
Crazy Heart In the Loop
Star Trek District 9*
Precious Precious*
Julie & Julia An Education*
Original WGA Oscars
Milk Milk*
Burn After Reading Frozen River
The Visitor Happy-Go-Lucky
The Wrestler In Bruges
Vicky Cristina Barcelona Wall-E
Adapted WGA Oscars
Slumdog Millionaire Slumdog Millionaire+
Doubt Doubt
Frost/Nixon Frost/Nixon*
Benjamin Button Benjamin Button*
The Dark Knight The Reader*
Original WGA Oscars
Diablo Cody, Juno* Diablo Cody, Juno*
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton*
Tamara Jenkins, The Savages Tamara Jenkins, The Savages
Nancy Oliver, Lars and the Real Girl Nancy Oliver, Lars and the Real Girl
Judd Apatow, Knocked Up Brad Bird, Ratatouille
Adapted WGA Oscars
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood*
Joel, Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men Joel, Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men+
Ronald Harwood, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly Ronald Harwood, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Sean Penn, Into the Wild Sarah Polley, Away from Her
James Vanderbilt, Zodiac Christopher Hampton Atonement*
Original WGA Oscars
Babel Babel*
The Queen The Queen *
Stranger than Fiction Letters from Iwo Jima*
Little Miss Sunshine Little Miss Sunshine *
United 93 Pan’s Labyrinth
Adapted WGA Oscars
The Departed The Departed+
Thank You for Smoking Notes on a Scandal
Little Children Little Children
Borat Borat
Devil Wears Prada Children of Men
Original WGA Oscars
40 Year Old Virgin Syriana
Crash+ Crash+
Cinderella Man Match Point
Good Night, and Good Luck Good Night *
Squid and the Whale Squid and the Whale
Adapted WGA Oscars
Brokeback Mountain Brokeback Mountain*
Capote Capote*
Constant Gardener Constant Gardener
History of Violence History of Violence
Syriana Munich*
Original WGA Oscars
The Aviator The Aviator*
Eternal Sunshine Eternal Sunshine
Garden State Vera Drake
Hotel Rwanda Hotel Rwanda
Kinsey The Incredibles
Adapted WGA Oscars
Before Sunset Before Sunset
Mean Girls Finding Neverland*
Million Dollar Baby Million Dollar Baby+
Sideways Sideways*
Motorcycle Diaries Motorcycle Diaries
Original WGA Oscars
Bend it Like Beckham The Barbarian Invasions
Dirty Pretty Things Dirty Pretty Things
In America In America
Lost in Translation Lost in Translation*
The Station Agent Finding Nemo
Adapted WGA Oscars
American Splendor American Splendor
Cold Mountain City of God
Mystic River Mystic River *
Seabiscuit Seabiscuit*
Original WGA Oscars
Far From Heaven Far From Heaven
Gangs of New York Gangs of New York*
Antwone Fisher Talk to Her
My Big Fat Greek Wedding Greek Wedding
Bowling for Columbine Y Tu Mama Tambien
Chicago Chicago+
The Hours The Hours*
About Schmidt The Pianist*
Adaptation Adaptation
About a Boy About a Boy
Original WGA Oscars
Gosford Park* Gosford Park*
The Man Who Wasn’t There Amelie
Monster’s Ball Monster’s Ball
Moulin Rouge Memento
The Royal Tenenbaums The Royal Tenenbaums
Adapted WGA Oscars
A Beautiful Mind A Beautiful Mind+
Black Hawk Down Shrek
Bridget Jones’s Diary In the Bedroom*
Ghost World Ghost World
The Fellowship of the Ring Fellowship of the Ring*
Original WGA Oscars
Erin Brockovich Erin Brockovich*
Almost Famous Almost Famous
Best In Show Gladiator+
Billy Elliot Billy Elliot
You Can Count On Me You Can Count On Me
Adapted WGA Oscars
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon*
Chocolat Chocolat*
High Fidelity O Brother Where Art Thou?
Traffic Traffic*
Wonder Boys Wonder Boys
Original WGA Oscars
American Beauty American Beauty+
Being John Malkovich Being John Malkovich
Magnolia Magnolia
The Sixth Sense The Sixth Sense*
Three Kings Topsy-Turvy
Adapted WGA Oscars
The Cider House Rules The Cider House Rules*
Election Election
The Insider The Insider*
October Sky The Green Mile*
The Talented Mr. Ripley The Talented Mr. Ripley
Original WGA Oscars
Bulworth Bulworth
The Opposite of Sex Life Is Beautiful *
Shakespeare In Love* Shakespeare In Love+
Saving Private Ryan Saving Private Ryan*
The Truman Show The Truman Show
Adapted WGA Oscars
Gods and Monsters Gods and Monsters
A Civil Action The Thin Red Line*
Primary Colors Primary Colors
A Simple Plan A Simple Plan
Out Of Sight* Out Of Sight


+Won Best Picture

*nominated for Best Pic



2008: Slumdog Millionaire Slumdog Millionaire+
Milk Milk*
2007: No Country for Old Men No Country for Old Men+
Juno Juno*
2006: The Departed The Departed+
Little Miss Sunshine Little Miss Sunshine*
2005:Brokeback Mountain Brokeback Mountain*
Crash Crash+
2004: Eternal Sunshine Eternal Sunshine
Sideways Sideways*
2003: Lost in Translation Lost in Translation*
American Splendor Return of the King+
2002: The Hours* The Pianist*
Bowling for Columbine Talk to Her
2001: A Beautiful Mind A Beautiful Mind+
Gosford Park Gosford Park*
2000: Traffic Traffic*
You Can Count on Me Almost Famous
1999: American Beauty American Beauty+
Election The Cider House Rules*
1998:Shakespeare in Love Shakespeare in Love+
Out of Sight Gods and Monsters
1997: L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential*
As Good as it Gets Good Will Hunting*
1996: Sling Blade Sling Blade
Fargo Fargo*
1995: Braveheart The Usual Suspects
Sense and Sensibility Sense and Sensibility*
1994: Forrest Gump Forrest Gump+
Four Weddings/Funeral Pulp Fiction*
1993: Schindler’s List Schindler’s List+
The Piano The Piano*
1992: The Crying Game The Crying Game *
The Player Howards End*
1991: The Silence of the Lambs The Silence of the Lambs+
Thelma and Louise Thelma and Louise
1990: Dances with Wolves Dances with Wolves+
Avalon Ghost*
1989: Driving Miss Daisy Driving Miss Daisy+
Crimes and Misdemeanors Dead Poets Society*
1988: Dangerous Liaisons Dangerous Liaisons*
Bull Durham Rain Man+
1987: Roxanne The Last Emperor+
Moonstruck Moonstruck*
1986: A Room with a View A Room with a View*
Hannah and Her Sisters Hannah and her Sisters*
1985: Witness Witness*
Prizzi’s Honor Out of Africa+
1984: The Killing Fields Amadeus+
Broadway Danny Rose Places in the Heart*
1983: Tender Mercies Tender Mercies*
Reuben, Reuben Terms of Endearment+
1982: Missing Missing*
Tootsie Gandhi+
1981: Reds Chariots of Fire+
On Golden Pond On Golden Pond *
Rich and Famous
1980:Ordinary People Ordinary People+
Airplane, Private Benjamin
Melvin and Howard Melvin and Howard
1979: Kramer vs. Kramer Kramer Vs. Kramer+
Breaking Away Breaking Away*
The China Syndrome, Being There
1978: Midnight Express Midnight Express*
Coming Home Coming Home*
Heaven Can Wait
Movie, Movie
1977: Annie Hall Annie Hall+
Julia Julia*
The Turning Point, Oh, God
1976: All the President’s Men All The President’s Men*
Network Network*
Pink Panther Strikes Again
1975: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest+
Dog Day Afternoon Dog Day Afternoon*
The Sunshine Boys
1974: Godfather Part II Godfather Part II+
Chinatown Chinatown*
Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
Blazing Saddles
1973: A Touch of Class The Exorcist*
Save the Tiger, Paper Moon The Sting+
1972: The Godfather The Godfather+
The Candidate The Candidate
What’s Up, Doc? Cabaret
1971: The French Connection The French Connection+
The Hospital The Hospital
Kotch; Sunday, Bloody, Sunday
1970: Patton Patton+
M*A*S*H M*A*S*H*
I Never Sang for My Father, The Out-of Towners
1969: Midnight Cowboy Midnight Cowboy+
Butch Cassidy Butch Cassidy/Sundance Kid *
Goodbye, Columbus; Bob, Ted, Carol and Alice
1968:Lion in Winter The Lion in Winter*
The Producers The Producers
Funny Girl, Odd Couple
1967: The Graduate In the Heat of the Night+
Bonnie and Clyde Guess Who’s Coming… *
Thoroughly Modern Millie
1966: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe? A Man for All Seasons+
The Russians are Coming A Man and a Woman
1965: A Thousand Clowns Dr. Zhivago*
The Sound of Music, The Pawnbroker Darling*
1964: Becket Becket
Dr. Strangelove, Mary Poppins Father Goose
1963: Hud Tom Jones+
Lillies of the Field How the West Was Won
1962: The Kill a Mockingbird To Kill a Mockingbird *
That Touch of Mink, Music Man Divorce Italian Style
1961: the Hustler Judgment at Nuremberg
Breakfast at Tiffany’s, West Side Story Splendor in the Grass
1960: The Apartment The Apartment+
Elmer Gantry Elmer Gantry
The Bells are Ringing
1959: The Diary of Anne Frank Room at the Top *
Some Like it Hot, Five Pennies Pillow Talk
1958: Gigi Gigi+
The Defiant Ones The Defiant Ones
Me and the Colonel
1957: 12 Angry Men Bridge on the River Kwai+
Love in the Afternoon Designing Women
Les Girls
1956: Around world/80 Days Around world/80 Days+
The King and I The red Balloon
Friendly Persuasion
1955: Marty Marty+
Mr. Roberts Interrupted Melody
Love Me/Leave Me
1954: On the Waterfront On the Waterfront+
Sabrina, Seven Brides/Seven Bros. The Country Girl
1953: From Here to Eternity From Here to Eternity+
Lili, Roman Holiday Titanic
1952: High Noon, The Quiet Man Lavender Hill Mob
Singing in the Rain Bad and Beautiful
1951: An American in Paris An American in Paris+
A Place in the Sun A Place in the Sun*
Father’s Little Dividend
1950: All About Eve All About Eve+
Sunset Boulevard Sunset Boulevard *
Broken Arrow, Annie Get Your Gun
1949: All the King’s Men All the King’s Men+
A Letter to Three Wives, on the Town Battleground*
1958: The Snake Pit Treasure of the Sierra Madre*
Sitting Pretty, Easter Parade

Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 11.55.58 AM

This is really worth a watch for those of you who have any doubts about the dirty pool of the Oscar game. It was no coincidence that the Selma ‘controversy’ hit just before ballots sailed into mailboxes.


This year’s race for Best Picture has some wonderful films in the lineup suddenly. There doesn’t seem to be room for movies that aren’t quite as good as the ones that are making it in. But the Producers Guild’s preferential ballot gives voters ten spots. One has to think that if a movie can’t make it on a ten picture ballot, how can it make it on a five picture ballot?

Selma did not send enough screeners out in time for the PGA vote. That doesn’t mean the movie is out of the race. With only three days left to vote for the Oscars, it’s hard to know if Selma makes it in. My guess is that it does.

206 films were directed by women this year. Three that I can think of were directed by black women. Only one shimmers on Rotten Tomatoes with 100% positive reviews and that’s Ava DuVernay’s Selma, the story of the march from Selma to Montgomery and the lead up to the Voting Rights Act. Things were going pretty well for the film until today’s announcement that it did not make the cut for the Producers Guild. And, as was pointed out by Kris Tapley, it hasn’t hit any of the major guilds, from the Editors to the Art Directors. It’s becoming increasingly worrisome to me that this door might remain shut.

If the reason is because this magnificent film isn’t what the steak eaters like? So be it. But if the reason is that it supposedly “got LBJ wrong?” Shame on them.

When Argo was up for Best Picture a scandal erupted in Toronto that great liberties were taken with history, specifically who took credit for the freeing of the hostages and whose credit was quietly removed. That’s history. This year, several films take liberties with the facts for the sake of drama. It isn’t that what LBJ did for the civil rights movement isn’t important. Of course it is important to maintain his revived legacy, to allow for that legacy to nestle peacefully in time.

LBJ is not the primary subject of the film. It shows his resistance as a point of conflict. LBJ’s image was tarnished by the extreme right and has since been rehabilitated. It’s a thing to be proud of that, of all the leaders at the time, LBJ stepped up and did the right thing. And did so because he thought it was right. He was facing opposition at every turn, which the movie shows.

But … guess what? This isn’t a movie about LBJ. This isn’t a movie about his presidency. This is a story about a man who has never had a film made about him. As director Ava DuVernay talks about the film’s history:

“The original script was passed around in 2007, but no major studio was willing to fund it. Brad Pitt’s small production company Plan B Entertainment and French investors financed it in 2008 with a modest budget. For years, it struggled with financing and changes in its director. It wasn’t until Oprah Winfrey stepped in this year that the project turned into a major motion picture event. With her financial backing, Paramount jumped in to distribute the film.

“It’s been 50 years since the events that we chronicle occurred,” said “Selma” director Ava DuVernay at the recent panel discussion. “The fact that there hasn’t been any theatrical portrayal of who he was and what he did is — I think — criminal.”

The Oscars are a game of dirty pool. You have to watch your back if you’re in the race because there are so many forces gunning for your spot. You’re lucky if you are working for a company that is connected to high places, like network television or reputable newspapers. All the better to make sure the distracting message is heard. NBC News devoted significant airtime to it tonight, with Oscar ballots still outstanding. (NBC of NBC/Universal, a studio with its own dog in the hunt.)

Though I appreciate LBJ’s contribution to the civil rights movement, I didn’t walk out of Selma thinking about him. This was an opportunity to watch a richly made film about Martin Luther King, Jr. That message has now been diminished. In one month’s time, when the ballots are counted, no one is going to give a damn. They put their collective footprint down to preserve a US president’s legacy — for whom? tfor people who agree with them? Probably. Or did they think, in their own way, that they were “teaching” DuVernay a lesson?

What did I think of when I watched Selma? I thought of the once-in-a-lifetime appearance on the scene of Martin Luther King, Jr. at a time when oppressed non-voting citizens of the United States needed him most. I thought of the people who laid their lives on the line to make sure that year people in America and in our government knew what was happening in Selma and all over the South. I thought of the story of Selma, and how few stories about America’s civil rights movements have ever made it to the big screen. I thought of Fruitvale Station and The Butler and how they were similarly shut out of the awards race because they confront the ongoing racial tension that weaves through our society now, even with (especially with) a black president. I thought of Ava DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere winning Best Director at Sundance but then having nothing come of it in the awards race — except for the few of us that were paying attention.

I thought of King’s words, his famous speeches, what he changed, how he changed it, and what lingers in our culture 50 years later – and how important it is to celebrate this American hero. I thought of how carefully made Selma was and what a good filmmaker DuVernay is and how she took on the challenge of a much bigger production and combed through it painstakingly, so much so that it wasn’t even ready to produce screeners in time for voting. But I appreciate that kind of meticulousness.

I thought suddenly about Oscar history, and how it might be made this year, how those doors might be flung open for women of color to make some kind of progress. I thought about those doors that will remain shut.

But if it doesn’t, is that going to take away from the film’s impact? I don’t think so. You see, the Oscars are a mirrored reflection of their own tastes. With or without an Oscar nomination, I hope people seek out Selma for its richness of character, its persistence of vision, its unimaginable place in film history — this opportunity will not present itself quite the same way again.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. One of the primary forces for social change was killed by some loser with access to weaponry. That it happened so long ago makes it seem like it wasn’t one of the greatest tragedies we’ve ever faced as a nation. To make your topic of conversation coming out of Selma that it didn’t emphasize LBJ’s enthusiasm for civil rights is to ignore the legacy of the man who is all too often forgotten.

He is a man who left us with words that would influence generations. DuVernay’s film has the opportunity to extend that legacy, not just to young black ticket-buyers throughout the country, not just to the many living in poverty who fight, daily, for their own civil rights, but to the black artists, to the women especially, who face nothing but roadblocks, day in and day out both behind and in front of the camera.

As King himself once said in his Nobel speech:

“Doors of opportunity are gradually being opened to those at the bottom of society. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are developing a new sense of “some-bodiness” and carving a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of despair. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.”21 Here and there an individual or group dares to love, and rises to the majestic heights of moral maturity. So in a real sense this is a great time to be alive. Therefore, I am not yet discouraged about the future. Granted that the easygoing optimism of yesterday is impossible. Granted that those who pioneer in the struggle for peace and freedom will still face uncomfortable jail terms, painful threats of death; they will still be battered by the storms of persecution, leading them to the nagging feeling that they can no longer bear such a heavy burden, and the temptation of wanting to retreat to a more quiet and serene life. Granted that we face a world crisis which leaves us standing so often amid the surging murmur of life’s restless sea. But every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities. It can spell either salvation or doom. In a dark confused world the kingdom of God may yet reign in the hearts of men.

That man, that beautifully thoughtful, heroic diamond of a man, deserves to shine.

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 2.11.08 PM

One of the reasons, probably the biggest reason, Selma was shut out of the Producers Guild was as simple as — they didn’t send out screeners. Much of the problem around awards season is the time crunch. Can you get as many screeners out as possible before the voting deadline? Can voters all watch movies before the voting deadline? The press will glom onto this and make a big deal out it – but it’s probably much ado about nothing. Here is a clip from one of the year’s best films.


American Sniper (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Producers: Bradley Cooper, p.g.a., Clint Eastwood, p.g.a., Andrew Lazar, p.g.a., Robert Lorenz, p.g.a., Peter Morgan, p.g.a.

Birdman (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Producers: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher, James W. Skotchdopole

Boyhood (IFC Films)
Producers: Richard Linklater, p.g.a., Cathleen Sutherland, p.g.a.

Foxcatcher (Sony Pictures Classics)
Producers: Megan Ellison, p.g.a., Jon Kilik, p.g.a., Bennett Miller, p.g.a.

Gone Girl (20th Century Fox)
Producer: Ceán Chaffin, p.g.a.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Producers: Wes Anderson & Scott Rudin, Jeremy Dawson, Steven Rales

The Imitation Game (The Weinstein Company)
Producers: Nora Grossman, p.g.a., Ido Ostrowsky, p.g.a., Teddy Schwarzman, p.g.a.

Nightcrawler (Open Road Films)
Producers: Jennifer Fox, Tony Gilroy

The Theory of Everything (Focus Features)
Producers: Tim Bevan & Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce, Anthony McCarten

Whiplash (Sony Pictures Classics)
Producers: Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook, David Lancaster

The Award for Outstanding Producer of Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures:

Big Hero 6 (Walt Disney Animation Studios)
Producer: Roy Conli, p.g.a.

The Book of Life (20th Century Fox)
Producers: Brad Booker, p.g.a., Guillermo del Toro, p.g.a.

The Boxtrolls (Focus Features)
Producers: David Bleiman Ichioka, p.g.a., Travis Knight, p.g.a.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 (20th Century Fox)
Producer: Bonnie Arnold, p.g.a.

The LEGO Movie (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Producer: Dan Lin

The television nominees are:

The David L. Wolper Award for Outstanding Producer of Long-Form Television:
The Long-Form Television category encompasses both movies of the week and mini-series.

American Horror Story: Freak Show (FX)
Producers: Brad Buecker, Dante Di Loreto, Brad Falchuk, Joseph Incaprera, Alexis Martin Woodall, Tim Minear, Ryan Murphy, Jennifer Salt, James Wong

Fargo (FX)
Producers: Adam Bernstein, John Cameron, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Michael Frislev, Noah Hawley, Warren Littlefield, Chad Oakes, Kim Todd

The Normal Heart (HBO)
Producers: Jason Blum, Dante Di Loreto, Scott Ferguson, Dede Gardner, Alexis Martin Woodall, Ryan Murphy, Brad Pitt, Mark Ruffalo

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History (PBS)
Producers: To Be Determined

Sherlock (PBS)
Producers: Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, Beryl Vertue, Sue Vertue

In late 2014, the Producers Guild of America announced the Documentary Theatrical Motion Picture, Television Series and Non-Fiction Television Nominations. The following list now includes complete producer credits.

The Award for Outstanding Producer of Documentary Theatrical Motion Pictures:

The Green Prince (Music Box Films)
Producers: John Battsek, Simon Chinn, Nadav Schirman

Life Itself (Magnolia Pictures)
Producers: Garrett Basch, Steve James, Zak Piper

Merchants of Doubt (Sony Pictures Classics)
Producers: Robert Kenner, Melissa Robledo

Particle Fever (Abramorama/BOND 360)
Producers: David E. Kaplan, Mark A. Levinson, Andrea Miller, Carla Solomon

Virunga (Netflix)
Producers: Joanna Natasegara, Orlando von Einsiedel

The Norman Felton Award for Outstanding Producer of Episodic Television, Drama:

Breaking Bad (AMC)
Producers: Melissa Bernstein, Sam Catlin, Bryan Cranston, Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, Mark Johnson, Stewart Lyons, Michelle MacLaren, George Mastras, Diane Mercer, Thomas Schnauz, Moira Walley-Beckett

Downton Abbey (PBS)
Producers: Julian Fellowes, Nigel Marchant, Gareth Neame, Liz Trubridge

Game Of Thrones (HBO)
Producers: David Benioff, Bernadette Caulfield, Frank Doelger, Chris Newman, Greg Spence, Carolyn Strauss, D.B. Weiss

House Of Cards (Netflix)
Producers: Dana Brunetti, Joshua Donen, David Fincher, David Manson, Iain Paterson, Eric Roth, Kevin Spacey, Beau Willimon

True Detective (HBO)
Producers: Richard Brown, Carol Cuddy, Steve Golin, Woody Harrelson, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Matthew McConaughey, Nic Pizzolatto, Scott Stephens

The Danny Thomas Award for Outstanding Producer of Episodic Television, Comedy:

The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
Producers: Faye Oshima Belyeu, Chuck Lorre, Steve Molaro, Bill Prady

Louie (FX)
Producers: Pamela Adlon, Dave Becky, M. Blair Breard, Louis C.K., Vernon Chatman, Adam Escott, Steven Wright

Modern Family (ABC)
Producers: Paul Corrigan, Megan Ganz, Abraham Higginbotham, Ben Karlin, Elaine Ko, Steven Levitan, Christopher Lloyd, Jeff Morton, Dan O’Shannon, Jeffrey Richman, Chris Smirnoff, Brad Walsh, Bill Wrubel, Sally Young, Danny Zuker

Orange Is The New Black (Netflix)
Producers: Mark A. Burley, Sara Hess, Jenji Kohan, Gary Lennon, Neri Tannenbaum, Michael Trim, Lisa I. Vinnecour

Veep (HBO)
Producers: Chris Addison, Simon Blackwell, Christopher Godsick, Armando Iannucci, Stephanie Laing, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Frank Rich, Tony Roche

The Award for Outstanding Producer of Non-Fiction Television:

30 For 30 (ESPN)
Producers: Andy Billman, John Dahl, Erin Leyden, Connor Schell, Bill Simmons

American Masters (PBS)
Producers: Susan Lacy, Julie Sacks, Junko Tsunashima

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (CNN)
Producers: Anthony Bourdain, Christopher Collins, Lydia Tenaglia, Sandra Zweig

COSMOS: A SpaceTime Odyssey (FOX/NatGeo)
Producers: Brannon Braga, Mitchell Cannold, Jason Clark, Ann Druyan, Livia Hanich, Steve Holtzman, Seth MacFarlane

Shark Tank (ABC)
Producers: Becky Blitz, Mark Burnett, Bill Gaudsmith, Phil Gurin, Yun Lingner, Clay Newbill, Jim Roush, Laura Roush, Max Swedlow

The Award for Outstanding Producer of Competition Television:

The Amazing Race (CBS)
Producers: Jerry Bruckheimer, Elise Doganieri, Jonathan Littman, Bertram van Munster, Mark Vertullo

Dancing With The Stars (ABC)
Producers: Ashley Edens Shaffer, Conrad Green, Joe Sungkur

Project Runway (Lifetime)
Producers: Jane Cha Cutler, Desiree Gruber, Tim Gunn, Heidi Klum, Jonathan Murray, Sara Rea, Teri Weideman

Top Chef (Bravo)
Producers: Doneen Arquines, Daniel Cutforth, Casey Kriley, Jane Lipsitz, Hillary Olsen, Erica Ross, Tara Siener, Shealan Spencer

The Voice (NBC)
Producers: Stijn Bakkers, Mark Burnett, John De Mol, Chad Hines, Lee Metzger, Audrey Morrissey, Jim Roush, Kyra Thompson, Mike Yurchuk, Amanda Zucker

The Award for Outstanding Producer of Live Entertainment & Talk Television:

The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)
Producers: Meredith Bennett, Tanya Michnevich Bracco, Stephen Colbert, Richard Dahm, Paul Dinello, Barry Julien, Matt Lappin, Emily Lazar, Tom Purcell, Jon Stewart

Jimmy Kimmel Live (ABC)
Producers: David Craig, Ken Crosby, Doug DeLuca, Gary Greenberg, Erin Irwin, Jimmy Kimmel, Jill Leiderman, Molly McNearney, Tony Romero, Jason Schrift, Jennifer Sharron, Seth Weidner, Josh Weintraub

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (HBO)
Producers: Tim Carvell, John Oliver, Liz Stanton

Real Time With Bill Maher (HBO)
Producers: Scott Carter, Sheila Griffiths, Marc Gurvitz, Dean Johnsen, Bill Maher, Billy Martin, Matt Wood

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (NBC)
Producers: Rob Crabbe, Jamie Granet Bederman, Katie Hockmeyer, Jim Juvonen, Josh Lieb, Brian McDonald, Lorne Michaels, Gavin Purcell

The following programs were previously announced in late 2014. They were not vetted for producer eligibility this year, but winners in these categories will be announced at the official ceremony on January 24th:

The Award for Outstanding Sports Program:

24/7 (HBO)

Hard Knocks: Training Camp With The Atlanta Falcons (HBO)

Hard Knocks: Training Camp With The Cincinnati Bengals (HBO)

Inside: U.S. Soccer’s March To Brazil (ESPN)

Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel (HBO)

The Award for Outstanding Children’s Program:

Dora The Explorer (Nickelodeon)

Sesame Street (PBS)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Nickelodeon)

Toy Story OF TERROR! (ABC)

Wynton Marsalis: A YoungArts Masterclass (HBO)

The Award for Outstanding Digital Series:

30 For 30 Shorts (http://espn.go.com/30for30/shorts)

Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee (http://www.crackle.com/c/comedians-in-cars-getting-coffee)

COSMOS: A National Geographic Deeper Dive (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkiFfAEB5M8)

Epic Rap Battles Of History (http://youtube.com/erb)

Video Game High School Season 3 (https://www.youtube.com/user/freddiew)



“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.” – Charles Dickens

The Oscar year started out with a handful of Oscar pundits choosing preordained “Oscar movies” to land in the Best Picture race. Though no one really reported on it in any serious way, some questioned how they could pick movies for Best Picture no one had even seen. On paper, these films all had what it takes to be an “Oscar movie,” that is, they seemed designated not just for Oscar voters but for the public.

The prominent pundits in the field faithfully put alternating titles in the number one spot based just on the concept art, the subject matter, the studios and the stars involved. To make room for these films they would mostly shut out other films that were actually doing well in the year, films that could be called best by anyone’s standards, but they were considered not Oscar-y enough and thus, out they went to make room for films people had not yet seen.

On the flipside of that, Indiewire’s Anne Thompson heroically stood, taking a stand against what Oscar pundits were doing. The notoriously ethical Thompson said she wasn’t going to predict films that hadn’t been seen and would instead work from a list of films that had been seen and were good enough to get in. In so doing, she single-handedly kept alive the season’s big surprise, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and the season’s other big surprise, Whiplash.

The pundits did not let go of their claim that these big year-end movies would make it in. In years past, their mixed to bad reviews might have kept them out of the race when they were finally seen but instead, the studios managed to hold off the critics just enough to get the movies to the public and once that happened, the money started flowing in, the films suddenly look like viable contenders after all and no one seems to notice that they were poorly reviewed. The system confirms itself. The system works.

2014 might indeed mark the moment the Oscar race once again stopped caring about the critics. When the National Society of Film Critics themselves don’t care about critics, how can anyone expect anyone else to care? The NSFC picked Goodbye to Language, which just edged out Boyhood, to win. They picked a film that has a 72% rating on Metacritic, which is on the way low end of the films they’ve chosen in years prior:

Inside Llewyn Davis–92
Amour — 94
The Social Network — 95
Hurt Locker–94
Waltz with Bachir –91
There will be Blood — 92
Pan’s Labyrinth–98
Million Dollar Baby — 86
American Splendour–90
The Pianist –85
Mulholland Drive — 81
Yi Yi — 92

That choice is so utterly balls-out off the charts of the awards race it reads, to me, like a revolutionary battle cry to never want to be in the chokehold of the yucky Oscar race ever again. It also tells me that the face of film criticism has been greatly altered in the past few years as the best film critics have been shunted aside and replaced by people who really aren’t film critics.

With the critics mostly out of the way, the Oscar brand can get back to the business of being the Oscar brand – a mirror reflection of a bygone era that exists only to reflect back at itself. The Oscar Movie is a concept the public both buys into and utterly dismisses the way they would a playlist handed to them by their grandparents of groovy tunes to play on the airplane.

What people think of when they think about the Oscar brand is a typical year like 1980, when Kramer vs. Kramer beat Apocalypse Now. There is no question which film has stood the test of time, which was the work of a visionary genius, and which one, when you look up ‘great’ in the dictionary, there’s its picture. There’s Robert Duvall crouched over a field of napalm. There’s the Dallas Cowboy cheerleader strutting onto the stage. There’s crazy General Kurtz, a transformed god. But the Oscars and the public were far more inclined towards the movie about the single dad and the feminist mother who felt suffocated in the confines of her domestic life. It was the movie for the year where the public was concerned. The Academy rewarded it for that.

Coming out of the 1970s, the era of the auteur director and truly mind-blowing cinema that bled into the Oscar race, was really the last time the Academy hummed. The feminist movement, the sexual revolution, the Manson family, Richard Nixon – it was all bleeding into what the artists were doing, the changing of the guards, as it were. But the 1980s and into the 1990s, things started to look very different. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas redefined the ways movies were made, seen, and rolled out. The blockbuster was born and it would change everything about Hollywood.

Where before, the Oscars cared much more about whether the public liked a movie, the public began flocking to movies that had numbers after their titles and were based on brands and comic books. Fan sites were born in worship of these films and slowly but surely those fan sites took over the dialogue about film and pretty soon there wasn’t a lot of difference between fandom and film criticism. The Oscars had no choice but to reject what the public was mostly buying tickets for and to grapple for anything resembling the Oscar brand. They got their wish in the form of independent cinema and foreign film directors making films Oscar voters can tolerate. The catch — movies like that really need the critics standing behind them.

Years like 2010 and 2012 are rare – when the studios are putting out movies the public and the critics and the Oscar voters like. Movies like Gravity and Zero Dark Thirty and Argo and American Hustle and Lincoln and Life of Pi. There was harmony in that and thus, awards consensus was a no-brainer. But this year, there is a dramatic splintering between what the public liked (Guardians of the Galaxy, Hunger Games) and what the critics liked (Boyhood, Grand Budapest, Goodbye to Language, The Immigrant) and the Oscar brand (Unbroken, American Sniper, Into the Woods, Interstellar). There isn’t much harmony across all of them with the possible exception of Gone Girl, not a critics darling, not quite an Oscar brand but kind of, sort of in the ballpark of hitting all three notes.

But even Gone Girl, at this rate, seems destined to be shoved aside for the Oscar brand. Those movies are making money. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be regarded as successes and they wouldn’t be worthy for Best Picture nominations. But when films that the critics don’t think are best are declared best by the public and the Oscar brand you invite criticism for a group that supposedly rewards highest achievements in cinema, not just movies the public bought tickets for.

Tomorrow the Producers Guild will announce their ten choices for Best Picture of 2014. We don’t know which Oscar tale it will tell. We don’t even know if the Oscars will follow suit. The Screen Actors Guild, Editors Society, and now the Producers Guild, are the only major guilds that will announce while Oscar ballots are still outstanding. The most important, or certainly what used to be the most important, the Directors Guild, doesn’t announce until after Oscar ballots are turned in.

What won’t have an impact on Oscar voting for nominations this year?

Here is how the films break down so far. I’ve bolded the nominees I think most likely–but honestly, any of these could get in. We just don’t know yet how it will finish.

Films that, so far, unite the public, the critics and the industry:
Gone Girl ($166 mil)
The Grand Budapest Hotel ($59 mil)
Nightcrawler ($31 mil)

Films that unite the critics and the industry but don’t seem to need the public (so far anyway) — in limited release:
Birdman ($25 mil)
Boyhood ($24 mil)
Foxcatcher ($7 mil)
Whiplash ($5 mil)
Selma ($2 mil)
Mr. Turner ($983k)
A Most Violent Year ($300k)

Films that are strong with public, maybe strong with industry, not as strong with critics – OSCAR BRAND:
Interstellar ($182 mil)
Into the Woods ($91 mil)
Unbroken ($87 mil)
The Theory of Everything ($24 mil)
Wild ($24 mil)
The Imitation Game ($7.9 mil)
American Sniper ($2 mil so far)

It should be said that some of these films have vastly different stories to tell, critics wise, depending on which site you visit. I am not quite sure where to put them. Here is how they break down:

Wild – Rotten Tomatoes = 91% Rotten Tomatoes, 72% Metacritic
The Theory of Everything = 81% Rotten Tomatoes, 72% Metaticic
The Imitation Game = 91% Rotten Tomatoes, 72% Metacritic

So you see, 2014 is a strange year. To my mind, it marks the first time I’ve seen in a long while that the preordained Oscar movies are probably going to be in the race, whether they are good enough or not. The only reason that matters from my perspective is that I can no longer make the argument that Anne Thompson was right in not predicting films she nor anyone else had yet seen. I think she is morally right. I think it’s better for film overall, better for the Oscars — but it isn’t right. The more cynical approach by the pundits that the Oscar brand will prevail no matter what. And so it goes.

But we’re still talking about only the nominees. The Best Picture winner will likely not be decided by any one thing. It will be decided by what film stands apart from the others and unites the consensus. Though Boyhood is a “small” film, it is an extraordinary film that, when people finally do see it, they will marvel at. A film like that doesn’t come around very often and won’t likely be forgotten any time soon.


Best Picture
The Imitation Game
Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel
American Sniper
The Theory of Everything
Alts — Nightcrawler , Unbroken

My thing is, I feel like American Sniper and Unbroken might get in. I just don’t know which film gets bumped. Oh, probably Gone Girl but that’s a reality I just can’t face yet. I can’t face a Best Picture lineup that is 100% about the male protagonist, as the AFI foretold. I can’t see women being obliterated from the Oscar race. I just can’t. Not yet.

Best Actor
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
David Oyelowo, Selma
Alts–Bradley Cooper, American Sniper

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

Supporting Actor
JK Simmons, Whiplash
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Alt. Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice

Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year
Emma Stone, Birdman
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Alt. Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer

Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman
Ava DuVernay, Selma
David Fincher, Gone Girl
Clint Eastwood, American Sniper
Alt. Wes Anderson, Grand Budapest Hotel, Damien Chazelle, Whiplash, Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher

Original Screenplay
Wes Anderson, Grand Budapest Hotel
Alejandro Inarritu et al, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
Paul Webb, Selma
Alt. Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (The LEGO Movie) *

Adapted Screenplay
Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
Graham Moore, The Imitation Game
Paul Thoman Anderson, Inherent Vice
Anthony McCarten, The Thoery of Everything
Nick Hornby, Wild

Gone Girl
The Imitation Game

Mr. Turner
Grand Budapest Hotel

Production Design
Grand Budapest Hotel
Mr. Turner
The Imitation Game
Into the Woods
Alt. Unbroken

Sound Mixing
Into the Woods
American Sniper
Get on Up
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy

Sound Editing
American Sniper
Big Hero Six
The Lego Movie
Guardians of the Galaxy

Costume Design
Into the Woods
Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Mr. Turner

Original Score
Gone Girl
Theory of everything
The Imitation Game
Mr. Turner


Enter our contest here

The Eddies that announced today are really your first big consensus vote. They have about 6,000 members currently and have been around for 50 years. The PGA are around 4,500 and they’ve been around for just a couple of decades. Today’s announcement was a good way to gauge how thousands might vote with a weighted ballot.

The Producers Guild announces on Monday and are the only group who use the preferential ballot like the Academy does. The situation is further complicated by the Academy’s only giving voters five nomination slots as opposed to ten, which the PGA has. If you have ten choices for Best Picture of the year it’s kind of a no-brainer, right? You’ll allow for those you like without shame. You’ll allow for those you feel obligated to nominate. You’ll allow for a hierarchy of importance, pushing your most desirous choices to the top of the ballot knowing that the lesser choices ain’t gonna matter all that much. But here’s the problem with that – much of the time, where the Academy is concerned anyway, weird shit starts to happen when they only have five choices and a preferential ballot.

Some voters try to game the system, deliberately putting a movie they hate at the bottom of their ballot while pushing a movie they want to help in the race right to the top. Doesn’t mean that’s their favorite of the year – it just means they know it will have a hard time getting number one votes, particularly if it isn’t touchy feely feelgood turn on your heart-light-y. As a consequence, last year and the year prior two wonderful films that should have gotten in the race didn’t because of that pesky preferential ballot. They didn’t like Llewyn Davis because he was a big loser who put a cat in a car. So it didn’t get heart light passionate ooey gooey votes. Thus, what was by far and away one of the best films of last year WITHOUT QUESTION was left off the list. If voters could look into their crystal ball and see the future, they might have put the movie higher on their lists, or specifically at number one, knowing it wasn’t going to get in. But how were they to know that? We’re only a few years into this herding cats method of counting Best Picture – the potential disasters are as yet unseen.

If ever there was a year for disasters, it’s this one. Why, because there are a lot of films that got pretty bad reviews that are going to get the heart light vote. That’s going to rubber-band the Academy back to the good ol’ days when their choices weren’t nearly as respectable as the HFPA. This year, the HFPA did the unthinkable – it shut out the Big Oscar Movies, even opting out of inviting the industry’s biggest star to their event. No one can really call them “star fuckers” after 2014.

But the jury is still out on what the Academy will do this year (be afraid, be very afraid) but we can kind of figure out wha the PGA MIGHT do on a preferential ballot, give or take a movie here or there. First, I wanted to build an all-inclusive chart that did not operate from “confirmation bias,” something I’ve been horribly guilty of for, oh, sixteen years now. It goes like this: I want a movie desperately to get into the race (cough cough Gone Girl) that others are saying “NO WAY NO HOW IS THIS MOVIE GETTING IN.” The reasons? It’s not “serious” or “important” enough. It’s too successful. No one wants a movie that isn’t serious and made $166 million at the box office up for Best Picture – otherwise they would have nominated Bridesmaids. To make myself feel better I build charts that compare this year to every other year to see if I can make a good argument for a Gone Girl inclusion.

So I built the latest charts trying NOT to do that and I came up with something unexpected. I discovered that the key to figuring out Best Picture is to combine general critics’ top ten lists and the industry. The magic formula I found was the Critics Choice (BFCA) – a group that tries to match Oscar and thus, has a working consensus. Combined that with the top ten from criticstopten.com and added the Eddie. The reason I added the Eddie is that it’s the one essential guild. You can get in without the Eddie and you can get the Eddie and still not get in but if you combine that with the critics top ten and the Critics Choice consensus you mostly get in for Best Picture. The only two times that didn’t happen? Moonrise Kingdom and yep, Inside Llewyn Davis, going back to 2009 when Oscar expanded.

Complicating things further for Gone Girl, is the lack of the early awards, like the AFI, the SAG ensemble or the Golden Globe for Best Picture. Has any film ever not gotten any one of those and gotten in? District 9 is one that did.

What happens if you add the PGA into the mix? You still have Moonrise Kingdom as the one film that got not only my magic three (Critics Choice, Critics Top Ten and Eddie) but also the AFI and the Globe.

If you take my magic three and you then add the PGA plus either the SAG ensemble or the DGA? Well, you’re in like flynn. If Gone Girl manages a DGA nod, its chances just jumped from zero to nearly a hundred. But David Fincher has a funny effect on the industry at large. Either they don’t like him because he doesn’t kiss babies enough or else they don’t like his “hard R” sensibilities – but he’s a record breaker. He broke records with The Social Network, and with the Dragon Tattoo by being the only film since 2009 to get an Eddie, a PGA and a DGA and not get in for Best Picture.

That tell me some weird shit is coming up. You know, if it’s me I’m looking at David Fincher, who revolutionized how we roll out long form film on Netflix, who just took a studio film to critical acclaim and $166 million to become the SINGLE MOST TALKED ABOUT film of the year and I’m going to check off on my ballot, number one with a bullet. But that’s just me and everyone knows my preference for this director’s magnificent work.

Okay, so now we’re at a crossroads. We have to pick our PGA ten. Will they hew closer to the AFI where Unbroken, Interstellar and American Sniper all got in? Or will they do what the Globes did and shut out those three films? Are they going to go with the critics all the way? Are they going to follow the rough consensus? Probably a mixture of all of the above. Let’s start with those that have the magic three:

Gone Girl

Next, we have–
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
The Grand Budapest Hotel

That leaves us with one left. Since the PGA have ten and Oscar always maxes out at nine, let’s imagine what big budget movie the PGA might like, or what small-ish movie the PGA might like that no one is thinking about.

I’m wondering about whether or not Reese Witherspoon will earn double producing nods for Gone Girl and Wild and whether that will sneak in. I’m also wondering about Guardians of the Galaxy and the Lego Movie. Might either of those make their list? History tells us there’s a very good chance it will. But I’m not going to pick any of these because, for my tenth place, I’m going to pick something from the three off AFI:

American Sniper

Of these three, I feel like American Sniper is gaining in buzz. But I could see this tenth slot going to either of these three or all three of them. I’m not sure they will all be left off the list.

Some other possibilities include:
A Most Violent Year
Into the Woods

Finally, I can’t really leave off Foxcatcher since it’s Megan Ellison and she’s become a bit of a producing phenom in their orbit. So I’m thinking … maybe my top ten might look like this:

Gone Girl
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
The Grand Budapest Hotel

To put in American Sniper I have to dump one and I can’t figure out which one to dump. Gun to my head, maybe Theory of Everything gets swapped for American Sniper.

The charts:







Believe it or not, I’ve been tracking the Oscars on this website for the entire time my daughter has grown into a 16 year-old. She was just a baby when I started the website in 1999. She was born in May of 1998. I needed a reason to stay home with her, and hoped I could start some kind of online website during the wild wild west that the internet was back then. I didn’t know what it would do or the industry that would eventually rise up around it but something told me it would be interesting to people, watching the Oscar race. Back then, there were so many movies to choose from. It really was about finding the best of them. Movies were cultural events that didn’t exclude whole populations of ticket buyers. The Oscars were held long after the year concluded, to measure a film’s success not just with critics but with the public. No one even thought about the Oscars until late December, early January. Now, January starts the Oscar race for the following year and the public has very little to do with it.

So much has changed since 1999 that it’s become harder to write about the Oscar race. The community here changes every year, depending on what movies or actors are in the race, or how many people I’ve pissed off in a given year. I just wanted to thank you who’ve been coming here since I began this site and how much I value the private emails you send me (even if I never write back, I do read them) and the words of encouragement over the years. I also have to give a shout out to my pal Ryan for always having my back, even if it means swatting away puny giants on message boards and on Twitter. He manages a pretty heated comment section.

Also need to give a shout out to Craig Kennedy, who has really beefed up the TV section, with the help of several writers. Dora has helped us out with our FYC gallery once again this year and we so appreciate it. Jazz Tangcay is AwardsDaily’s newest writer and she’s been handling interviews like a pro. Rob Y, who does an enormous amount of work each year on the AwardsDaily simulated Oscar ballot, which will launch again this week. There are too many readers and commenters here who participate is such illuminating ways every day but we thank you too.

My dad is battling cancer, you might have heard about it on Twitter, and that’s made me ever conscious of time passing too quickly. I don’t know how much longer AwardsDaily will continue. I’m sure many would like it to end sooner rather than later. We hope there are many who want to see it evolve, adapt and endure. I’m proud of the site I’ve built, and namely that I’ve been able to support my daughter and hopefully help her get through college. Honestly, I had no idea this would have been my fate when I started this whole thing. But hey, life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans, as John Lennon would say.

Let’s see what 2015 brings. I hope it brings many good things.


You’re lucky if you’re a white male. You get to sit down each time in a movie theater and watch yet another man work through his problems, chase down his goal, implode, explode, seduce, say nothing, say everything, save the world, save humanity, paint his masterpiece, survive a POW camp, become an unlikely saint, drift in and out of reality and life. But if you’re a woman, or any person of color, you get to sit down and watch white men (mostly) do all of these things while applauding from the sidelines. I don’t know what that feels like for other people but for me, this year, when I sat down and there was some guy yet again, I wanted to scream. Really? This? Again? For every Gone Girl and Wild and Obvious Child, there are five times as many boys, men, birdmen and foxcatchers.

However we found ourselves here, we are here. That meant you really had to scrounge around for good films about women but films about men? They were everywhere. This year produced a multitude of memorable male performances, with the top three to win the most unforgettable so far – Michael Keaton in Birdman, Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game, and Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything. That’s just the tip of the iceberg in a year that also showcased the work of Timothy Spall as Mr. Turner, Jake Gyllenhaal as the Nightcrawler, Steve Carell as the Foxcatcher, Thomas Hardy in Locke, Ben Affleck in Gone Girl, Oscar Isaac in A Most Violent Year, Ellar Coltrane in Boyhood, Miles Teller in Whiplash, Bradley Cooper in American Sniper, David Oyelowo in Selma, Jack O’Connell in Unbroken, Bill Murray in St. Vincent, Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice, John Lithgow in Love is Strange, Mark Wahlberg in The Gambler, Brad Pitt in Fury, and Ralph Fiennes in the Grand Budapest Hotel.


1. Michael Keaton in Birdman

He doesn’t have a disability and he isn’t saving the world. He isn’t a world famous hero, nor a sociopath. He’s a last man standing, a real actor trying to squeeze out a bit of dignity in a world gone rotten. Birdman the film is a pleasure to watch, bravura directing, a well-rehearsed cast with actors hitting the exact right notes. But Birdman is mostly style – breathtaking, dazzling style but style nonetheless. What gives it its depth, its meaning beyond the dazzle is Keaton’s performance. It is so moving, so surprising in its vulnerability, one is taken aback by it.

Part of this is due to the camera coming in close and intimate with Keaton’s inner world, where it doesn’t so much with other characters who come off as cartoon-like. If Birdman himself is dwelling in a world of magical realism, where he may have super powers, and maybe can fly, he is surrounded by other action figures who represent various aspects of what might be called his life. It is only Keaton’s face where we can find any truth, any reality.

I will admit to being unprepared for Keaton’s performance. I will also admit to not thinking he had it in him. I’d seen him in every movie up to now and he’s always been Michael Keaton to me. But he’s transformed here. So much despair and desperation in a simple look, giving us so much emotion that he doesn’t share with the other characters on the screen. We’re watching him sink into failure while rising to the exact kind of success he doesn’t want: unearned celebrity via viral kitsch.

His character has more in common with Jennifer Aniston in Cake than almost any other character we saw on screen this year. He doesn’t really want to live anymore because there isn’t much to live for. He finds some kind of connection with his daughter, still trusts his ex-wife and has an active sex life with his mistress. But does he have any real love? What he seems to yearn for is what he sold out years ago: an authenticity in art. Maybe it seems like a joke, saying it out loud, but for this character it means everything.

Keaton’s stands out because he’s doing the harder job – he hasn’t an easy mask to hide behind because he’s playing someone who isn’t as clearly defined as, say, Stephen Hawking or Alan Turing. Those performances are beyond reproach but it’s Keaton’s that has stayed with me all of these months later.

At the same time, the real life Keaton is far too humble to really do much of the dog and pony show although he’s showing up here and there. He doesn’t have youth on his side anymore, and it’s been a long time since he was the headliner. Oh, but the beauty in his command of his face. The beauty is how he disperses emotion. His fearlessness in showing fear. It doesn’t get better than that. Birdman succeeds, ultimately, because of Keaton’s central performance.


2. David Oyelowo, Selma – Oyelowo’s screen presence was obvious from his early work, especially his small part in Lincoln, but also with director Ava DuVernay in Middle of Nowhere. He’s been working for decades in Hollywood, a cop here, a guard there. His slow trajectory to greatness is earned. As Martin Luther King, Jr., Oyelowo commands the screen with a palpable charisma, without ever letting the role devolve into a one dimensional portrait of a hero. His is the next generation of Daniel Day-Lewis’ Lincoln, and indeed, the two films could be watched back to back. He lends so much humanity to the icon you can’t take your eyes off him.



3. Eddie Redmayne in Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game – it’s nearly impossible to choose between the two of them. That is, perhaps, one of the reasons Keaton stands out so much this year. Redmayne embodies Hawking so that you forget you’re watching an actor at some point. He conveys emotion and wit without moving a muscle. By the end of the film, you’ve fallen in love. Cumberbatch is also great, managing to balance his obsession and prickly personality a passion to invent, to solve puzzles, to progress within a culture that opposes progress. We don’t see him wrestle with his sexuality because that isn’t part of the film, but does it have to be?


5. Steve Carell, Foxcatcher – Carrel disappears into John DuPont, though weirdly enough, he’s not that far off the character he plays in The Office, except not funny. He’s the guy who never makes the best joke. He’s the guy people feel sorry for and dread his presence. He’s the loser who doesn’t fit in. It’s a breathtaking work and an unlikable character.

2014, MR. TURNER

6. Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner – Spall inhabits and embodies the artist. Perhaps he’s Turner-like but that’s really less important than what he’s trying o convey which is, the art does not necessarily make the artist and a commitment to art often comes at the expense of everything else. The beautiful paintings he makes sharply contrast the slug of a human he was. The sense of nature, light and God contradict his pragmatic approach to life – no connections, moving through women. Only Mike Leigh can get these kinds of performances out of his actors.


7. Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler – in the tradition of other charismatic psychopaths, Louis Bloom is less like Travis Bickle and more like Rupert Pupkin as he seems to accidentally find himself talking his way into people’s lives which eventually turns into threatening behavior all hidden behind a goofy veneer. So many of this generation are not familiar with De Niro’s incarnation of Pupkin but truly, Nightcrawler should be watched alongside it. Both films are more about an average Joe breaking the rules to achieve something people take lifetimes to accomplish. Why shouldn’t they have it too? They enter a world of crime and dwell in their own world of fantasy.


8. Bill Murray, St. Vincent. I know that the movie isn’t in with the cool crowd – probably because it has some strong female characters or because it’s schmaltzy but whatever the reason, Murray quietly delivered the performance of his career. Were it not for Cumberbatch, Weinstein Co. could easily push Murray into the race. St. Vincent got to me. Sure, it’s old school but I loved all of the characters. For the first time, Murray really digs into character acting in a way he hasn’t quite before. His is one of the most underrated performances this year.

Inherent Vice 1

9. Joaquin Phoenix, Inherent Vice – the director/actor relationship between Paul Thomas Anderson and Phoenix is fascinating to watch, especially if you put The Master and Inherent Vice side by side. Phoenix is probably most like Anderson of all of the actors who have played the leads in his films. Here, Phoenix is silly where in the Master he was morose. In both films he’s haunted by love.

gone girl 2

10. Ben Affleck, Gone Girl – while Affleck is more concerned with directing these days, his performance is deceptively simple in Gone Girl. He’s playing a guy whose mask is being a nice guy. He is able to fool people, women especially, with his charm. In the hands of a lesser actor the satire might have been lost – play it too seriously and the whole thing collapses. Play it too comedically and the creepiness is lost. He hits just the right note, while allowing Rosamund Pike to steal the movie.


This year’s Best Picture race is wide open except for the film right at the top of the list and that continues to be Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. How the Best Picture race is shaped is going to depend on which Oscar race they want to embrace. Is it the one where they pick daring, exciting films that push the envelope, like Birdman, Foxcatcher, Gone Girl, Nightcrawler? Or are they going heroic straight down the line, with Selma, Imitation Game, Theory of Everything or Unbroken? Will it be a little bit of both? We don’t now the answer to that yet – not even close.

The Oscar race is like politics in nearly every way you can think of, from kissing babies, to acting grateful, to having your picture on every cover of every magazine – if you show up and look the part, you too can be an Oscar contender. With good will towards Angelina Jolie and a desire to encourage her newfound artistic endeavor, voters may be inclined to overlook the poor reviews for Unbroken and give it a slot in the end of the year’s selection of the year’s best. It will be a prime example of how the Oscar race works like a political election; the same way George W. Bush’s charisma overrode every other negative thing about him. Conversely, David Fincher’s team is doing the opposite – not kissing babies, not doing meet and greets, not doing lots of publicity or advertising. Guess which way the pundits are predicting this thing will go?

Before the major guilds confirm or deny the consensus so far, we still have this nervous-making next few weeks, before Oscar ballots are turned in, before the consensus forms. How many nominations a film receives is indicative of how much the entire branch overall loved the film. How much they love the film is often dependent upon image. Has any film ever started at such a high peak in the race and then taken such a hard fall as Zero Dark Thirty in 2012? A bigger question, does anyone give a single shit about that now?

And so it came to pass that 2012 came whirring painfully back, like a gust of Doritos breath and beer at a holiday party. Remember that whole Zero Dark Thirty non-story? Remember how such a well-regarded film took such a dramatic fall? Remember Glenn Greenwald flipping out about how the film supposedly condoned torture? Remember Andrew Sullivan condemning the film before even seeing it then, upon seeing it, retracted his objections? Remember Martin Sheen and others demanding a boycott of the film? Remember how a few months later no one gave a damn? The reason no one gave a damn is because the film’s Oscar prospects and much of its political power deflated once the nominations were announced and Bigelow was shut out.

Remember the silly congressman who challenged Spielberg’s Lincoln because it got a fact wrong about how Connecticut voted? It was used a character smear against Spielberg himself, just as the torture debate was used as a smear against Bigelow. Human beings are so susceptible to that – it’s how elections are run and how the Oscar race is run. It’s the horrifying reality of a low stakes game where the only thing on the line, really, once you sweep away egos, is money. We’re right up against it now and just look at how the media is latching on to that swollen tit.

We don’t even realize we’re sinking into it. Tensions run high on Twitter. There’s a sentence you never really want to write, much less read. Op-ed articles draw clicks and RTs and linkage and furious comment debates — suddenly you’re relevant. You’re relevant because people are reading you. They’re reading YOU and nobody else. It reaches a fever pitch that doesn’t die down until ballots are counted and another controversy floats by.

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You have entertainment reporters acting like Woodward and Bernstein, digging up the truth. The Selma controversy (translation: a couple of people get offended) somehow morphs into a credibility problem and before you know it that’s all anyone hears about a movie.

Somehow my pals in the race don’t seem to get that this is business as usual with modern press, social networks and people with agendas to play out. Even with Google a few clicks away, even with the world’s most informative resource right at their fingertips. To puff up in anger about the scene where LBJ asks for J. Edgar Hoover and the very next scene is the FBI taping of King’s sexual exploits.

Hollywood-Elsewhere’s Jeff Wells has been trying his best to stay quiet about Selma. It has to bother him that people have been writing about it as a real threat for Best Picture. None of Selma’s upswing made it onto Hollywood-Elsewhere but once the LBJ so-called controversy hit, he was all over it like white on rice. But a quick Google search brings up this story as reported in Mother Jones in 2013 by David Corn:

Hoover did not let up. A little more than a year after the march, after King had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Hoover told a group of reporters that King was “the most notorious liar in the country.” But the FBI’s war on King was uglier than name-calling. Weiner writes:

[William Sullivan] had a package of the King sex tapes prepared by the FBI’s lab technicians, wrote an accompanying poison-pen letter, and sent both to King’s home. His wife opened the package.

“King, look into your heart,” the letter read. The American people soon would “know you for what you are—an evil, abnormal beast…There is only one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”

The president [Lyndon Johnson] knew Hoover had taped King’s sexual assignations. Hoover was using the information in an attempt to disgrace King at the White House, in Congress, and in his own home.

Worse, it seems the FBI was trying to encourage King to kill himself.

Hoover kept feeding Johnson (who’d become president after JFK’s 1963 assassination) intelligence suggesting King was a commie stooge. In 1967, when the FBI mounted an operation to disrupt, discredit, and neutralize so-called “black hate” groups, it focused on King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as Hoover publicly blamed King for inciting African Americans to riot. The following year, King was assassinated by James Earl Ray, who subsequently evaded an FBI manhunt, to be captured two months later by Scotland Yard in England.

As the March on Washington is remembered five decades later, it should be noted that King’s successes occurred in the face of direct and underhanded opposition from forces within the US government, most of all Hoover, who did not hesitate to abuse his power and use sleazy and legally questionable means to mount his vendetta against King.

But despite tgat backstory, the only message that reads loud and clear this week is that the image of LBJ matters more than any other minute of film in Selma. Forget about the moment when the first black woman directed such a high profile film to such rousing acclaim. Forget about a country ripped apart by racially fueled actions by police and even self-appointed neighborhood watch patrols. Forget about the country’s first black President in his second term obstructed more than any sitting president in US history.

What I learned about LBJ growing up was that he liked to take a crap with the door open and that he was a good ol’ boy from the South until he had a major turnaround. This debate is ongoing, as is the debate about JFK’s own position on civil rights. The debate about President Lincoln, whether he was really sympathetic to black rights or whether he, too, was a closet racist.

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Let’s talk about what’s really at stake here – who gets to take credit for being a civil rights leader back then – LBJ or Martin Luther King. I’m going to tip the credit in King’s favor because without his pressure and leadership there would have been no change. None.

The problem with the Oscar race now is that there are too many people writing about it and not enough stuff to write about. The feeding frenzy that’s about to take hold on Selma is straight out of the Fox News playbook. Clearly we haven’t learned our lesson from 2012.

The buzz around Selma on the eve of its opening was deafening. To date, it’s second only to Boyhood as one of the best reviewed films of the year. It is moving, entertaining, inspiring – and it gives voice to the many who remain silent because their stories aren’t regularly covered in the press, nor represented in the Oscar race.

In the end, it is just the voter and the screener. The publicity fills in the rest. If it becomes about image, as a few movies are trying to do this year, quality goes straight out the window. Now that we’ve arrived at the sticky business of image making in the Oscar race, you’re about to watch a brief but powerful character assassination of DuVernay take place, just like you watched, with horror, the same thing happen to Bigelow back in 2012.

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What is tragic about it, and what people should be paying attention to instead, is how the mirror always gets turned back in the same direction, doesn’t it? The only thing that matters is how we are portrayed – humanity in the best possible light.

The haughty protests coming from the op-ed pieces on Selma aren’t that much different from the same shrill protests that came out against Gone Girl. It’s as though those writers have forsaken their ability to actually think for themselves and are somehow confusing films for pulpits, classrooms and churches. They’re films, they’re art, they are interpretations of ideas, celebrations of human character – but they are never meant to replace real life, or real history.

We give over our living history to people who don’t deserve to shape it, not in the moment anyway. Someone, someday is going to write a wonderful book about how the Obama presidency impacted black American filmmakers. At the top of that list will be DuVernay’s marvelous, exceptional film about the march on Selma. It is a film that speaks to the minority, not the majority.

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

American Sniper


This year was a wakeup call, or should have been, for anyone paying attention to the Oscar race. On the one hand, you had a good many films about men where the women were fashioned as shoehorns, helping to guide the foot into its rightful place. These rendered some of the best supporting performances of the year. There were also way too many women who did nothing more than stare at their men and wait for them to do something, to say something – as though nothing in their own heads mattered. Nothing in their own lives mattered. They didn’t matter except as a soft place to put it.

But from out of the fire, more than a few phoenixes emerged. They exist despite the many arms of the industry that wish they didn’t. They exist partly because women themselves produced the films that women starred in. They dipped a toe in the indie world because the mainstream studio system has forsaken them. Too much money on the line. Too many jittery executives.


1. The Performance of the Year


Rosamund Pike’s Amy Dunne is a golem from the dark underside of the female psyche, one that most cinematic heroines can’t get anywhere near in 2014, but the one Hollywood deserves. She is the revenge for this year’s slate of embarrassingly thin female characters shamefully put on screen in 2014, as though women really weren’t people but just parsley put on the plate to look pretty and help the meat go down more smoothly.  With Amy Dunne, delivered ferociously by Rosamund Pike, we have something touching the R. Crumb world of unearthing the true vulgarity beneath the facade.  And oh, how sweet it is.

Many men were frustrated by Gone Girl because they thought it depicted male stereotyping and that no man would allow himself to be tricked by a woman that way. A WOMAN after all.  Many women were angry at the film for a character daring to use rape or sexual assault as a manipulation tactic, an accusation lobbed at women constantly, and one they have to beat back in real discussions about rape. Women thought it misogynist (some did) because the villain – this monster, this golem, was meant as a stand-in for all women.  Then there’s this tricky little thing called the truth – it exists whether we want it to or not. Idealized versions of men and women have their place, but so do the versions of people that fill out the rest of the human experience.


In Gone Girl, Amy wasn’t punished, not the way Glenn Close was — also eroticized, famously, in an elevator, in a sink. Close got “properly” punished for wrecking the stability of marital bliss but boy wasn’t it hot to watch her fuck Michael Douglas for the first hour? We can’t have monsters roaming the quiet countryside so the audience testing determined that Close had to be shot dead by Anne Archer.  Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct found her empowerment by uncrossing her legs to reveal blonde pussy hairs. That Stone played an unrealistic serial killer came second to what Basic Instinct was really about: watching her fuck Michael Douglas for the first hour.  She isn’t punished and that was meant to be progress but when a woman’s only source of power is her sexuality you are still very much inside the box.

The biggest difference between what Pike does with Amy, and what Fincher does with Pike, is that he never eroticizes her. Pike’s nakedness, her sexuality, is locked up tightly to be used only when necessary – that is your first clue that she’s not your ordinary movie female. Had Fincher reduced her to an erotic plaything — like Kathleen Turner in Body Heat who ultimately uses that eroticism to her benefit, probably men wouldn’t complain about the film as much as they do. They get what they came for.  That Amy never gives that over confirms Gone Girl’s primary POV.  Fincher only briefly indulges the male desire with Andie’s nakedness, something that continues to haunt Amy throughout the film.  That body. That girl. How easy it is to lure men.

In one of the film’s best moments, Amy recounts seeing Nick kiss Andie for the first time. The sequence is tied together through mouths. Nick reaches in to touch her lip, we cut back to smoke coming out of the mouth of her “new friend,” then back to Nick kissing Andie, then back to Amy – seamlessly, as though the director’s lens was biologically connected to Amy’s thought processes.


Amy’s only mistake throughout the film is trusting the “new friend” — underestimating her. Usually, women in film are betrayed not by other women but by men.  Gone Girl is full of women betraying other women in dramatic ways (a suffocating mother who needs the perfect daughter) and in typical ways (a young woman fucking another woman’s husband). This is our world, we women know it well. Sooner or later our world is bound to unearth a psychopath.

The Amy Dunne we see in the first half of Gone Girl is filtered through an unreliable narrator. We are not seeing Nick Dunne. We’re seeing the story told to us through Amy’s slanted and deliberately misleading POV. We see Amy as Amy sees Amy — and as she wants to be seen by others. The film and the performance comes alive at about the hour mark when the real Amy is finally unleashed.

This comes together most thrillingly at the one hour mark. The tempo of the music by Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross’ flips itself over with a track called “Technically Missing”. Amy’s voice-over sneaks in just as Nick is finding the shed of  purchases and the detective is finding the diary. Game, set, match.


“I am so much happier now that I’m dead. Technically missing. Soon to be presumed dead. Gone. And my lazy, lying, cheating, oblivious husband will go to prison for my murder. Nick Dunne took my pride and my dignity and my hope and my money. He took and took from me until I no longer existed.”

The real Amy Dunne emerges. Fincher could have chosen to continue the myth of the eroticized female blonde but instead he allows her to unpeel from the perfect Amy to the real Amy. What’s the first thing she does? She eats. A lot. Burgers, fries, cupcakes, chips, Kit Kat bars – all the things we women must deny ourselves on a daily basis to stay thin and pretty for the male gaze. Fincher allows her the freedom and honesty to collapse into the imperfect state where most of us women actually do dwell. Why do we relate to the cool girl monologue so well? Because we all know what it takes – we know the false persona of what women should be because it’s broadcast on nearly every TV show, every rock song and in every movie. We can’t be that. Not really.


The very next shot sequence is the best in the film. It leads into the Cool Girl monologue. The music, the camera, Amy’s face a release. Pike holds back a mischievous smile behind her thick sunglasses as we hear the famous “cool girl” monologue.

“And after all of the outrage and when I’m ready I will go out on the water with a handful of pills and a pocketful of stones and when they find my body they’ll know: Nick Dunne dumped his beloved like a piece of garbage.  And she floated down past all the other abused unwanted inconvenient women. Then Nick will die too.  Nick and Amy will be gone but they never really existed. Nick loved the girl I was pretending to be. Cool girl.

Men always use that, don’t they, as their defining compliment. She’s a cool girl. Cool girl is hot. Cool girl is game. Cool girl is fun. Cool girl never gets angry at her man. She just smiles in a chagrined, loving manner and presents her mouth for fucking. She likes what he likes. So evidently, he’s a vinyl hipster who likes fetish manga. If he likes Girls Gone Wild she’s a mall babe, who loves football and buffalo wings at Hooters.  When I met Nick Dunne I knew he wanted cool girl.  And for him, I’ll admit, I was willing to try.  I wax stripped my pussy raw. I drank canned beer while watching Adam Sandler movies. I ate cold pizza and remained a size 2. I blew him, semi-regularly. I lived in the moment. I was fucking game.

I cannot say I didn’t enjoy some of it. Nick teased out in me things I didn’t know existed.  A lightness. A humor. An ease.  But I made him sharper, stronger. I inspired him to rise to my level. I forged the man of the my dreams.  We were happy pretending to be other people. We were the happiest couple we knew.  And what’s the point of being together if you’re not the happiest? But Nick got lazy.  He became someone I did not agree to marry.  He actually expected me to love him unconditionally. Then he dragged me, penniless, to the naval of his country and found himself a newer, younger, bouncier cool girl.  You think I’d let him destroy me and end up happier than ever? No fucking way.  He doesn’t get to win. My cute, charming, salt of the earth Missouri guy. He needed to learn. Grownups work for things. Grownups pay. Grownups suffer consequences.”

Is this how all women are? Of course not. Do all women secretly pretend to be perfect for their men? No. But Amazing Amy, reared to be PERFECT had to. She had no other choice but to live up to the standards imposed upon her by her parents (and society). To satisfy those requirements, she had to shapeshift. Fincher illustrates this beautifully by allowing Pike to be what she never is in movies: anything but the fuckstick.

Pike relishes it. She dives right into this version of Amy, her performance in a glance across the room, a swish of her perfect hair, the way she toys with Nick after they get back together by patting the bed beside her, and of course, the coup de grâce, “I’m the cunt you married. The only time you liked yourself was when you were trying to be someone this cunt might like.”


It’s a bravura performance of the kind we just don’t get the pleasure of seeing anymore. Brilliant, funny, terrifying — a fully realized monster infiltrating the town of Stepford.  Pike’s is the performance of the year because she redefined her own capabilities. Her Amy did not come from the collective imaginations of millions of readers of the book – but from a place hidden away inside herself that doesn’t dare show itself unless summoned. She leaves us feeling unresolved about our comfortable definitions of what women are supposed to be on screen. Most were waiting for Nick’s redemptive moment and Amy’s punishment.  There is no there female character on screen this year that can touch Pike if we’re just talking about pure performance, which we never are when it comes to the Oscar race.

2. Julianne Moore, Maps to the Stars and Still Alice

Moore’s dual performances this year will give her what she needs to finally win the overdue Oscar she’s deserved for years now. In Maps, she plays a desperate, aging actress who is given the chance (by the great David Cronenberg) to unpeel her own kind of monster. In Still Alice, she is afflicted with Alzheimer’s – it is heartbreaking and one of the best performances of her career.

3. Hilary Swank, The Homesman

The Oscar race may not have room for Swank this year it seems, or the Homesman at all, which is a shame for a film that really did shape itself around its female themes and characters. That it ended with a man is what seemed to bother people. But Swank’s performance has stayed with me all of these months after Cannes. While she might not be on the top of everyone’s list, if we’re really talking about best, hers demands consideration.

4. Reese Witherspoon, Wild, Inherent Vice

Witherspoon is reinventing or at least fortifying how actresses can find their place in Hollywood by producing two films and challenging herself — in Wild she plays a hiker grieving for her mother, the love of her life.  She also produced Gone Girl and Wild, while starring in The Good Lie and Inherent Vice.

5. Jessica Chastain, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

Chastain will be nominated in supporting for A Most Violent Year, though she never was able to find her place in this year’s lead actress race.  Is it that she has too many options to choose from that voters can’t really align behind any one performance? Maybe. But once again, if we’re talking about best, Chastain is right up there with this grieving mother and estranged wife trying to find her own identity.

6. Jennifer Aniston, Cake

Aniston blows it out in Cake, so much so that, for the first time, I really saw her as a real actress. Moreover, she reveals the kind of versatility that will be well utilized in character turns later in her career. As yet another grieving mother, Aniston’s Claire has decided life is no longer worth living. The character arc takes her from that place to a place of wanting to live. Subtle, moving – easily one of the year’s best.

7. Marion Cotillard, 2 Days, 1 Night

Cotillard has become the critics’ darling this year, verging on martyrdom, which I find strange since it came out of nowhere. Where was this unanimous support with Rust and Bone? Nonetheless, she’s great in the Dardennes film where she must convince her co-workers not to take a bonus so she can keep her job. Only the French […and perhaps the Belgians] would make a film about this and cast a woman in the lead.

8. Anne Dorval, Mommy

Another vibrant, comical, perverse depiction of a broken mother who tries to do her best, under the circumstances. Dolan’s characters push towards extremes, and never play it safe. Watching Mommy is such a thrilling experience because you have no idea where it’s going to take you. There is an element of danger and sadness in each frame of the film.  That it wasn’t good enough for the stuffed shirts in the Academy is their loss.

9. Gugu Mbatha-Raw Beyond the Lights and Belle

If 2014 has done one thing it’s deliver Mbatha-Raw as a promising newcomer. Her remarkable versatility in two high profile films. She clearly has a bright future ahead of her as long as filmmakers give her those chances as these two directors have done this year.

10. Amy Adams, Big Eyes

The understated performance of Amy Adams in Big Eyes is better than the critics would have you believe. Thought the film itself loses its way towards the end, Adams’ work is solid and interesting throughout. Her performance and the film might have been better served if they hadn’t played it so straight, but allowed for more humor to crinkle at the edges.  Still, she’s one of the greats.

11. Essie Davis, The Babadook – Davis gave arguably the best performance of the year, or damn near close. She’s not up for the Oscar, unfortunately, but that doesn’t take away from what a fully realized breath of fresh this character in this film is.





Women directors have much to live down before they can be taken seriously. Most of the heads of the five families in the film industry do not trust women to direct, partly because of the money thing. And partly because, deep down, they don’t think women can bring it. Angelina Jolie just proved that she can take a movie with very bad reviews and still open big at the box office. She might even prove a woman can take said film into the Best Picture race just like the men can (Daldry’s The Reader and Daldry’s Extremely Loud both squeezed in with equally bad, or worse, reviews). Not many are heading into the territory of “Unbroken doesn’t tell the whole story about Louis Zamperini,” which included alcoholism and verbal abuse of his wife before the war, then his Christian reform to become a better man through Billy Graham after the war. She can be, and will be, forgiven because she was paying tribute to him, not trying to tear him down.

But the real threat this year is from another film directed by a woman that’s better, and therefore more of a threat. It’s so good, in fact, that it is one of two other films that threaten the current Best Picture frontrunner. It’s so good that it’s being taken seriously enough by the guardians of the status quo, the powers that be, who are trying to shift the conversation from Martin Luther King, Jr. and voting rights to Lyndon B. Johnson. Preserve the white man’s reputation at all costs, is the message here. “Shame on Ava DuVernay for not making LBJ the hero of SELMA.”

The LBJ library director was angry because the portrait of LBJ wasn’t sympathetic enough, “When racial tension is so high, it does no good to suggest that the president of the U.S. himself stood in the way of progress a half-century ago. It flies in the face of history,” he told the AP. The LBJ library is to Lyndon B. Johnson as Unbroken is to Louis Zamperini – it exists mainly to pay tribute. The headlines were misleading in this regard – what they should be saying is that this person, the director of the LBJ library, has a problem with how LBJ is portrayed.

Though Johnson is credited with being the first US president to push for groundbreaking civil rights legislation, his legacy is not without its blemishes. Here’s Barack Obama speaking on LBJ at that very library:

“During his first 20 years in Congress he opposed every civil rights bill that came up for a vote, once calling the push for federal legislation a farce and a shame.”

That was picked apart by the right (of course) but then
rated as “true” by Politifact, based on these snippets in Caro’s book:

–In 1947, after President Harry S Truman sent Congress proposals against lynching and segregation in interstate transportation, Johnson called the proposed civil rights program a “farce and a sham–an effort to set up a police state in the guise of liberty.”

–In his 1948 speech in Austin kicking off his Senate campaign, Johnson declared he was against Truman’s attempt to end the poll tax because, Johnson said, “it is the province of the state to run its own elections.” Johnson also was against proposals against lynching “because the federal government,” Johnson said, “has no more business enacting a law against one form of murder than against another.”

Next, we asked an expert in the offices of the U.S. Senate to check on Johnson’s votes on civil rights measures as a lawmaker. By email, Betty Koed, an associate historian for the Senate, said that according to information compiled by the Senate Library, in “the rare cases when” such “bills came to a roll call vote, it appears that” Johnson “consistently voted against” them or voted to stop consideration.

LBJ biographer Robert Caro wrote about LBJ:

“For no less than 20 years in Congress, from 1937 to 1957, Johnson’s record was on the side of the South. He not only voted with the South on civil rights, but he was a southern strategist, but in 1957, he changes and pushes through the first civil rights bill since Reconstruction. He always had this true, deep compassion to help poor people and particularly poor people of color, but even stronger than the compassion was his ambition. But when the two aligned, when compassion and ambition finally are pointing in the same direction, then Lyndon Johnson becomes a force for racial justice, unequalled certainly since Lincoln.”

In other words, Johnson had a major turnaround. One of the best things about Selma was, to me, how it humanized Johnson and beautifully illustrated that turnaround. That voting rights came to pass so late in American history, in my own childhood, is a mark against our collective character that no president, however passionately he changed his mind, can erase. That little girls had to be accompanied by law enforcement on their way to church and school in the 1960s, for godsakes, can’t be erased. That southern African American citizens were prevented from registering to vote, that the panicked white authorities still removed drinking fountains in the 1960s because a black person used one – that isn’t going to be erased so easily.

The point here is what AD reader Bob Burns said, “if the discussion becomes about LBJ and not voting rights, the bigots win.”

The moment those headlines started to appear my first thought was, “uh-oh, someone is really worried about Selma’s Oscar potential.” The same thing happened with Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty in 2012. It almost happened with 12 Years a Slave last year but that script did not deviate significantly from Solomon Northup’s account.

Believe me, if Unbroken had actually been good enough to win Best Picture, if its reviews were off the charts great, if Angelina Jolie had lived up to the kind of hype they’re selling for this film? You can bet it would be taken apart for fact-checking the way Selma is. Jolie isn’t getting smacked down because she is confirming what most people secretly think about women directors: they can’t direct. But Selma shows that Ava DuVernay, this unlikely contender who turned her life around in her 40s — who is also an activist for civil rights and an advocate for black filmmakers — DID make a great film. Not just a film that people like, but a film with reviews so good it has become one of Boyhood’s challengers. That is why people are getting nervous. She’s rocking the boat, my friends. She’s definitely rocking the boat.

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 8.37.42 AM

Here a few basic facts to consider.

1) Selma is not a documentary. As a fictionalized, impressionist take on Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement, it is not meant to be. Selma is a beautifully rendered battle cry for a movement that still needs mobilization in 2014.

2) The portrait of LBJ is sympathetic. There was resistance to King. History tells us so. But LBJ is not painted as a menace to change, just part of a cog in a giant machine. If someone wants to make a movie about LBJ they can go ahead and do that. That is not THIS movie.

3) The bigger picture here is that with Selma, DuVernay is doubly threatening. She’s a threat because she’s female and black, and Selma is a threat because it’s actually good. This is no condescending pat on the back with a “good job.” This is a potential game-changer.

Note: Why do I compare Selma and Unbroken? They are both films about American heroes that were given to women to direct. They both opened on Christmas Day. One has a giant studio and a superstar behind it and one has a wing and a prayer. One opened big in 3100 theaters nationwide with terrible reviews, one opened quietly in 19 showcase theaters with rave reviews. It isn’t about pitting them against one another – it’s about noticing how differently they are being treated by the public, the press and the fans.


When Naomi Watts was nominated by the Screen Actors Guild the pundits kind of giggled and twittered about it being a major coup by the Weinstein Co. to bring an out of nowhere performance onto the Oscar stage. But really, that was just an example of dropping the ball, of being too locked into the consensus to consider other options. Watts steals the show in St. Vincent, which is one of the most entertaining films I saw this year. I know it isn’t going to light the critics on fire but it’s making money at the box office and who knows, maybe it might turn up here or there despite it being dismissed in the “conversation.”

Watts is joined by co-star Melissa McCarthy, whose tender and vulnerable turn is a sharp contrast to the slapstick comedy she did in Tammy, one of the biggest hits for women of the year.


Watts is also a standout in Birdman, along with co-star Andrea Riseborough. Emma Stone is getting all of the attention, of course, because she’s the younger, hotter of the bunch. She’s great, no doubt, and has the bigger part. But the other two women are fantastic, especially Watts.


Another unsung contender (though I’ve heard In Contention’s Kris Tapley writing about her) is Renee Russo in Nightcrawler. She takes what could have been a standard cliche, borrowed straight out of Faye Dunaway’s Network and turns it into something more human. She isn’t a success crazed automaton but is a woman being driven out by a business that needs a continual stream of fresh blood. Though I don’t think Nightcrawler is a metaphor for our news media so much (no metaphor needed – it’s straight up how our news media is) but the way we all devour and deliver news online now, how the beast is endlessly hungry, all ethics secondary, is what Nightcrawler is about to me.

Two actresses have knocked it out of the park in a variety of ways, though because they have so many performances that are hard to categorize it’s not easy squeezing them into the Oscar race. Also, judging by the work of Tilda Swinton and Jessica Chastain it’s more clear than ever how much these nominations are tied to Best Picture contenders. But for the odd standout here or there, the supporting actress not only must back up the male protagonist now and for all time, they also must appear in a film deemed worthy by the critics and the industry. Not an easy cup to fill.


Tilda Swinton once again delivers a delicious array of diverse work with Only Lovers Left Alive, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Snowpiercer. She is brilliant in all three though how to categorize her? She’s like Scarlett Johansson, breaking the mold as she goes but there is no place in the Oscar race where she can fit. Swinton is the best thing about Snowpiercer but she must pay the price for the film not being “Academy friendly.”


Ditto Jessica Chastain in Interstellar, and in lead for the Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, lead in Miss Julie and Supporting again for A Most Violent Year. The JC Chandor Lumet-inspired drama features Chastain as a firecracker of a wife, with the nails and the cleavage. The categorization of her and her work this year feels too small to me and yet we all know that is exactly how it’s all going to turn out.

I’m not saying the five in line for the nomination right now don’t deserve it. They absolutely do. The industry is bursting with supporting work for women – men do the hard jobs but they need women to help them figure it all out.


Laura Dern is not getting any love, it doesn’t look like, for Wild. That film was not one of my favorites because I am uncomfortable with movies about women where empowerment is all there is to it. If seeking out personal happiness and empowerment isn’t good enough for a male lead, it shouldn’t be good enough for a woman. But looking at Wild a different way and a better movie emerges for me and that’s the one where Reese Witherspoon must recover from the agony of losing her beloved mother, embodied so beautifully by the unsung Dern.

Meryl Streep is always great no matter what she’s in but to me the real standout in Into the Woods is Anna Kendrick as Cinderella. What’s a sister gotta do to get recognition? I love Ms. Streep and I’m all for her nomination this time around but I feel like Kendrick’s work is going unrecognized.


Kristen Stewart’s work has been singled out for the chances she took this year with three films, only two that came out. But her best work that I saw was as the daughter in Still Alice. Stewart brings so much honesty to the part, as she tries to deal more directly with her mother getting Alzheimer’s than her two other siblings. She might have had a better shot with the Clouds of Sils Maria, where she was getting the most heat. But that’s been pushed to next year.


Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King in Selma is another unsung performance, though admittedly that isn’t the kind of showy role that often gets recognition. But it’s worth noting, Keira Knightley’s in Imitation Game is one the same level yet for some reason she’s an instant contender where Ejogo isn’t – that’s probably to do with star power. Selma will end the year the more popular film, I think, yet Ejogo probably won’t crack the top five.


Finally, it’s been an inexplicable fact of Oscar season that somehow Gone Girl’s Carrie Coon hasn’t flipped he switch on anyone’s radar. Coon has all of the great lines in Gone Girl and delivers them like she’s shooting an automatic rifle. She is the antithesis of Amy, who glides smoothly through the film like a sharp knife cutting through frosting. Coon is the opposite – sloppy, honest, raw and trapped. Great performance, the year’s most underrated.

We all know that the Oscar race is about buzz. We know it has little to do with really finding the best. Sometimes they manage to flail around and reward the best. Time confirms it. But most of the time, the popularity contest is just about the right now, not necessarily the right.



The Oscar race for Best Picture looks a little like the shelves at Kmart after a Black Monday sale. The reason for that is because so many of the year-end hopefuls did not turn out to be the Big Oscar Movies everyone had come to expect after years like 2012 and 2013. This one looks a little more like 2011, where there was only one movie that could win – it had no challengers.

This year, it doesn’t feel like anything can touch Richard Linklater’s consummate coming of age film, Boyhood.

The only film I think that has the stuff to potentially beat Boyhood in an 11th hour shocker would be Ava DuVernay’s Selma. That movie is on fire right now — where it will end remains a mystery. But it’s the only film I’ve seen that gives Boyhood some serious heat.

Pundits dutifully jotted down those they thought once upon a time COULD beat Boyhood, like Interstellar, like Unbroken, like Birdman. Those films have proven to be more divisive than anyone ever imagined, and there is no way you can win a consensus with a divisive film.

The Hurt Locker ( negative on RT=6/224)

The King’s Speech (negative on RT=14/240)

The Artist (negative on RT=4/229)

Argo (negative on RT=11/266)

12 Years a Slave (negative on RT=9/265)

Of the movies that can win this year:
Boyhood (negative on RT=3/215)
Selma (negative on RT so far=0/37)
Birdman (negative on RT=12/173)
Imitation Game (negative on RT=17/153)
Gone Girl (negative on RT=30/249)
Theory of Everything (negative on RT=30/154)

Best picture when you’re dealing 9 or 10 nominees means it’s the film you can’t hate, and the film that has built up a slow and steady consensus by year’s end, starting either back in the first part of the year (The Artist in Cannes) or hitting the race some time in August or September. This consensus is the Mary Bailey of the contenders – the reliable, trustworthy, lovable girl next door who’s been there the whole time. Violet Bick is usually the movie that comes along all flashy and exciting for a bit but sooner or later you realize she isn’t the girl for you.

There is safety in what you know and what you know is usually that one movie has withstood the long and heated months of Oscar punditry, critical consensus, costly publicity. This is why it’s always hard to get your foot in the door as a late breaking movie. There isn’t time to build consensus because no one really knows what it is yet. No one knows if they like the movie or not. Remember Life of Pi and the Academy’s supposed reaction to it, according to Scott Feinberg. We all discounted it. I remember writing think pieces about how the Academy would never go for it. But time happened to it. Time and money. The movie started picking up word of mouth once the initial negative buzz wore off. People started talking about the movie as the movie and not as an Oscar contender. Ultimately the movie would take home a boatload of Oscars, including Best Director. It needed time to settle in the consensus to become the sure bet that it ended up being.

Because our Oscar race isn’t yet written, we still can’t really define our consensus beyond what we think we know about how “they” will vote. What will determine it better will be the upcoming guild votes, the Producers Guild, which is currently the only voting body that mirrors the Academy’s preferential system. But unlike the Academy, they have ten slots for nominations, and not five. Still, they are pretty close. The Directors Guild almost always gets a movie in for Best Picture. Almost always. The only time they haven’t since the Best Picture count expanded was once, in 2011, with David Fincher and the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. That decision is the primary reason pundits like Kris Tapley, Scott Feinberg and Dave Karger have omitted Fincher and Gone Girl this year. They are assuming that it’s another popular movie that the Academy will reject. I would not be that surprised either, truth be told. I still believe Dragon Tattoo was easily one of the best films of 2011 — here is how it went down guild/Academy-wise:

SAG PGA DGA Eddie Oscar
The Artist The Artist The Artist The Artist The Artist
The Descendants The Descendants The Descendants The Descendants The Descendants
Midnight in Paris Midnight in Paris Midnight in Paris Midnight in Paris Midnight in Paris
  Hugo Hugo Hugo Hugo
  Dragon Tattoo Dragon Tattoo Dragon Tattoo Tree of Life
Bridesmaids Bridesmaids   Bridesmaids Extremely Loud
The Help The Help     The Help
  Moneyball   Moneyball Moneyball
  War Horse   War Horse War Horse
      My Week with Marilyn  
      Young Adult  
  The Ides of March      

So why did Bridesmaids and Dragon Tattoo get supplanted at the Academy with Tree of Life and Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close? I can tell you that with the latter the largest branch of the Academy otherwise known as the actors jammed it through. You can always tell when the actors have their say because the film will have a Best Picture nomination and only one acting nomination. The same thing happened with The Blind Side the previous year.

Either Bridesmaids or Dragon Tattoo should have, by rights, taken Extremely Loud’s spot. I would also argue that War Horse was not up to the standards of either Spielberg’s body of work or the Academy’s choices. This year, these two slots could be taken up by Unbroken and American Sniper because inside the insular world of Academy voters, with only five slots for nominating, and not the freedom of ten, they tend to “vote with their heart.” Remember the King’s Speech’s brilliant campaign strategy, “Some movies make you feel”?

Neither War Horse nor Extremely Loud earned anywhere near as much as Bridesmaids did, which is currently one of the highest grossing R-rated films ever made. I don’t know if I can argue for an Academy that would have picked Bridesmaids, but I can say that their ultimate choices illustrates just how insular and out of touch with the American public they are. They are managed and handled by publicists so carefully that it’s as though they have no idea what’s really going on anymore. Oscar Island is shrinking by the year.

It really comes down to this in the 11th hour:

And this image, circulated recently by the Academy:

Now, let’s look at the following year to see if our ‘Heart Light’ metaphor holds true:

SAG PGA DGA Eddie Oscar
Argo Argo Ben Affleck Argo Argo
Lincoln Lincoln Steven Spielberg Lincoln Lincoln
Les Miserables Les Miserables Tom Hooper Les Miserables Les Miserables
  Zero Dark Kathryn Bigelow Zero Dark Zero Dark
  Life of Pi Ang Lee Life of Pi Life of Pi
Silver Linings Silver Linings   Silver Linings Silver Linings
  Beast of the Southern Wild     Beast of the Southern Wild
  Django Unchained   Django Unchained Django Unchained
  Moonrise Kingdom   Moonrise Kingdom  
  Skyfall   Skyfall  
Best Exotic Marigold Hotel     Ted  

Amour was the exception, and it definitely leans towards “heart light” vote, as opposed to analytic, meaning its position as a number one film outweighed its popularity with the consensus overall. Moonrise Kingdom and Skyfall, one popular with audiences and one not, were zotzed. It’s hard to imagine your average Academy member walking around saying Moonrise Kingdom was his favorite film of the year – sure, there would be some, but not enough apparently. Now that the buzz has mostly died down from 2012, it’s hard to imagine Moonrise not taking Amour’s spot. Love Amour though I do, it seems like an odd choice for such a large consensus.

We’re still looking at Dragon Tattoo being the one exception that got a PGA, DGA and an Eddie nod but did not get a Best Picture nod.

SAG PGA DGA Eddie Oscar
12 Years a Slave 12 Years a Slave 12 Years a Slave 12 Years a Slave 12 Years a Slave
American Hustle American Hustle American Hustle American Hustle American Hustle
  Gravity Gravity Gravity Gravity
  Captain Phillips Captain Phillips Captain Phillips Captain Phillips
  Wolf of Wall Street Wolf of Wall Street Wolf of Wall Street Wolf of Wall Street
  Nebraska   Nebraska Nebraska
  Her   Her Her
Dallas Buyers Club Dallas Buyers Club     Dallas Buyers Club
August Osage County     August Osage County  
  Saving Mr. Banks   Saving Mr. Banks  
  Blue Jasmine      
      Inside Llewyn Davis  
The Butler        

The two that were eliminated this time around were Saving Mr. Banks (hurt by a scandal involving the lead character), and August: Osage County which the actors failed to jam through. Philomena was the “Amour” pick, the one that came from out of nowhere and landed in the Best Picture race, though pundits kept saying “watch out for…”

So that brings us to this year. It’s still too early to start stacking up the guilds but in a few weeks we will do just that. The reason that I started with 2011 was because that’s when the Academy instituted the “anywhere from 5 to 9” rule, but gave voters just five slots for nominations. With ten slots, predicting them would be far easier and I suspect, in such an instance, Bridesmaids, Dragon Tattoo and Skyfall would have made the list, thus satisfying the desire by the Academy to widen their scope from their insular little world of emoticon travel to acknowledge what was happening “out there” in the world, too. But alas, the new system merely echoes their narrow choices without expanding them in any significant way.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find the Amour/Tree of Life/Philomena in the crowd. The only thing I could find that unites these three films in that they tend towards emotion. Only one had a Golden Globe nomination, only one made AFI’s list, and one won the Foreign Language Globe. Beyond that, though, there is not any kind of precursor support that would lend itself to consensus building.

The only thing I can come up with is the screener pile. Once home for the holidays, families of Academy members gather round the hearth fire. They begin to contemplate the big things. Each of these three films is about growing old in some fashion and looking at one’s past. Two of them confront mortality. Sitting around with your family there or not there, alone or with loved ones, Christmas and Hannukah does kind of ping the bigger issues, perhaps.

Academy members are a lot older, by and large, than people think. Attend an Academy screening some time and you’ll see what I mean. That generation, the elders, really made the difference with the surprise picks going back to 2011.

So what movie is going to turn on the heart light of the senior set, infuse their holiday experience with profound thoughts of mortality, love, a journey into the past but is also a film that will likely be overlooked by the major guilds, and one that hasn’t yet found its consensus.

For the most part, there are one or two on the Gurus of Gold charts that were keyed into these potential surprises. Amour was chosen by many leading up to Christmas. Philomena
was predicted by many. It wasn’t a complete shock but more of a shock were the ones left off, like Inside Llewyn Davis last year, Best Exotic Marigold the year before.

The guild consensus does not necessarily indicate how the insular Academy, an older, more sentimental voting body will go 100% of the time. We can gauge maybe the top six of seven, but it’s hard to predict all of them under the new system.

In the years I’ve been watching the Oscar race I have never seen such a stark disconnect between Academy voters and the rest of the ticket buying public out there. I’m not really sure what they’re supposed to represent anymore since it seems to reflect such a specific taste of a certain type of person. I don’t think we can say with confidence that they reflect the industry’s taste overall, and I don’t think they, in any way, reflect the taste of audiences. They merely play the Oscar game.

My current predictions:

Best Picture
1. Boyhood
2. Birdman
3. The Theory of Everything
4. The Imitation Game
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel
6. Selma
7. Gone Girl

Heart light movies:
Love is Strange

Clint Eastwood wild card:
American Sniper

Movies that could struggle under the current system:
Into the Woods
A Most Violent Year
Mr. Turner
The Homesman

The reason that I have Gone Girl chosen, even making a pretty good case that they have to have something against David Fincher to have not voted in Dragon Tattoo, is that I don’t think Gone Girl IS like Dragon Tattoo. Sure, it’s in the range of movies the Academy punishes for being too commercial, too successful and above all: ABOUT WOMEN (note how under the new system, films about women are more rare than ever) but I have to think they will pick the film because it is going to be one of the more entertaining films in the screener pile, given that it’s lasted this long. But don’t you be like me. Follow the safe pundits like Tapley, Feinberg and Karger on this one.



1. Gone Girl, Selma, Boyhood

Three films stand out as the year’s best to me for different reasons. If our taste in movies is a reflection of who we are, I am splintered three ways with three different expressions of the human experience. I don’t love or watch movies that only depict the good in humanity. Like darkness needs light, the shared existence of human beings is spattered with complexity. The best films offer up varied commentary.

No character except Kim Dickens except Kim Dickens, as the female character with the purest goals, escapes the absurdist’s brush in Gone Girl, which makes fun of itself, its genre, and the way women fetishize the notion of the perfect fairy tale life. In Gone Girl, each character is working out their own fantasy – a glossy illusion that inevitably blows up in their faces. Detective Boney is being strung along by Amy’s narrative, Nick’s sister Go still believes she can count on her honest brother, Nick plays his part while getting a little something for himself on the side – the pretentious writer/teacher who has almost started to believe the puffed-up illusion of himself Amy created. The women who huddle to shame Nick, the news reporters who think they have the story, even the lawyer who thinks he’s dealing with one thing until that other thing presents itself.

Gone Girl dwells so much in the absurd, in fact, that some don’t quite know what to make of it, especially since it’s become a box office phenomenon, earning $165 million here and another $200 overseas. From the quick cut montage at the beginning, through the methodical drum beat of the plot led around by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score, all the way to the film’s black heart, Amy herself. She is the anti-heroine our repulsive consumer culture deserves – able to manage all requirements with ease: blonde, thin, pretty, married. But the real Amy is hunched somewhere under a bridge, always watching.

Fincher fans almost always prefer the male driven stories, like Fight Club, like Seven, like Zodiac, like The Social Network. But whenever Fincher has flipped the narrative, which he’s done an equal amount of times, not only does he not get any credit for that by female critics who continually lob accusations of misogyny at him, but the critics down vote these films: Alien 3, Panic Room, Benjamin Button (about both, really), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and now, Gone Girl. In case you’re wondering what my fascination with David Fincher springs from it’s partly this: no other director in mainstream Hollywood, not this year or any year recently, unzips the female archetype like Fincher does. Or even cares to try anymore.

Thus, the complaint came that Gone Girl wasn’t “Fincheresque” enough, it wasn’t as serious as his other works, it’s popcorn, airport novel trash. Ah, and you see how easy it is to dismiss stories about women that way? Dismissed by women because it depicts Amy Dunne in a negative light, erasing the plucky Amy from the novel that they kind of even liked and replacing her with a sociopath, covered with a layer of frosting to look like the perfect doll. You don’t go see Gone Girl looking for the definitive “you go, girl” narrative. But if the notion of “you go, girl” narratives makes you so suffocated you want to break plates? Gone Girl’s your movie.

The accusations of misogyny are more misogynists than the movie could ever be; after all, who said women don’t have the capacity to be dangerous sociopaths? The need to portray them in a good light not only limits the opportunities women have overall in film but it is insulting and oppressive. No thanks.

Gone Girl tells us that Amy has power and when that power is unleashed it’s virtually invincible. Like Hannibal is freed at the end of the Silence of the Lambs, Amy is still out now, on the loose. She doesn’t represent all women, nor should she have to. But when you start to think about what women should represent be careful, be very careful where you step. Fincher has such command of his canvas within seconds you know exactly who directed the movie you’re watching. But you must sink into the rhythm and abandon expectations of what you wanted the film to be (like the book), or what you thought it might be (Fatal Attraction) and instead watch it for what it is – a sick and twisted black comedy that takes place in a world where illusion is no more real than the golden threads the sun makes as it splinters through the afternoon rain – it’s so pretty you think you can reach out and touch it when it was never there at all.


The best films can make us catch our breath with surprising ease. Even if these moments aren’t planned in advance, though they usually are. The best moment of this year’s Oscar race was when Ava DuVernay decided to show Selma in its entirety at the AFI Film Fest. So many much-anticipated films had played to disappointing results, had failed to deliver. For whatever reason studio seemed nervous about Selma. They were going to show just 30 minutes, which usually means something really wrong, or raises the specter of questions not yet solved. They would do the embargo dance, keeping the Twittersphere quiet until the votes were counted. But DuVernay just let go, took the moment and ran with it.

As her film played, one moody scene after another, tightly edited, deeply moving, it felt like seeing a high-wire feat, watching with trepidation for that fatal misstep. But DuVernay never faltered. From start to finish Selma is a truly great film in a year with not many of them. Circling around the oppression of the continuing segregation in the South that prevented American citizens from voting, here comes Martin Luther, King, Jr., an imperfect savior at a time when America needed him. DuVernay’s Selma takes us deeply and intimately into King’s life, in his quieter moments. A war was being waged on the streets between white cops and state legislature and the black majority citizenry. They needed King to lead the movement, and that movement was the March on Selma, uniting black and white citizens in protest – they were protesting the brutality of the police (still witnessed today), the oppression of the majority black citizenry under the arm of the minority government (still plaguing us today), and the right of every American to register to vote and exercise that right anywhere.

Selma brings back the importance of the right to vote with urgency, through King’s voice, directed at an apathetic, distracted, blitzed out, drugged up populace that have bought the line that it doesn’t matter whether they vote or not – they have no power. King brought power to the people through his magnificent speeches, many not widely seen nor sufficiently celebrated until DuVernay revived them. Selma is one of the finest films of the year because it isn’t a history lesson, it isn’t a lecture, and it isn’t even a pleading rallying cry. It is a great story well told by a careful and precise filmmaker who painstakingly went over every cut, every minute detail, holding onto her film until the last possible second. That is how great directors are born.

DuVernay previous two features told stories of women making choices about their own identity growing up in our culture. Her last film, Middle of Nowhere, which won Best Director at Sundance, does not bog down in a happily ever after. It is a coming of age story about a woman who isn’t yet sure who she wants to be, whether she wants to hitch her wagon to a man at all. She took a big gamble with Selma, a film on a much larger scale about a pivotal moment in American history — and she nailed it.

Soaked in rich hues of deep browns and blacks, meaningful colors with this narrative, DuVernay chose cinematographer Bradford Young who, she said, “loves black skin” and it shows, particularly in how DuVernay showed King at the podium, or from, simply, the back of his head. Those familiar with her work know that DuVernay brings much sensuality to her work, which explains why King does not come off as a symbol or a statue but very much as a man.

Selma is one of the few genuinely feelgood films that springs not from one white protagonist overcoming obstacles and achieving – but from hope itself, the thing with feathers that perches on the soul. This is ultimately what DuVernay herself brings as a new voice in black and white cinema, always bridging the gap where conflict opposes it. That hope carries on the tradition of King’s own dream, one that was not ready to give in to the continuing forces that divide and oppress American citizens. Thus, Selma ends with a celebration of our collective voices united. It’s a thrilling moment that maybe we can only feel when we fully consider what is really at stake.


The third number one film of the year doesn’t really need me writing about it. It’s already winning every award and will win the Oscar for Best Picture, as well it should. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is the sum total of a twelve-year leap of faith. These actors, the director and the crew agreed to come together when any unplanned life event could have taken any of them out. But like the film itself, the beauty of Boyhood isn’t in the extraordinary, but in the very ordinary. It’s a coming of age story that follows a young man as he goes from innocent, sweet misfit growing up in Texas where they eat guns for breakfast, to an awkward young man and finally to a thinking, interesting formidable young adult.

I’ll never forget the feeling the first time I saw Boyhood watching Ellar Coltrane graduate. Just standing there, with his cap and gown, his proud friends and parents — what a trip. For a film to make you feel as though you were there the whole time, almost a part of the family is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a movie.

Boyhood is inexplicably, almost accidentally magnificent. It is not improvised but is well thought through. Each character has a whole year to sit with what’s going to happen next, where they might be, where they should be. The twists and turns in a young boy’s life mean so much yet we see them pass in the blink of an eye. And so does life. Memories will flood your imagination when you’re older. They will flicker, sometimes brightly, sometimes beautifully, sometimes horribly. They flicker and they’re gone. Your life’s path happens whether you’re paying attention to it or, trying to control it or not. Though we’d all like to think we can make the moments count – the truth is, they come anyway and they turn into the sum total of one’s life.

Linklater’s gift is in the grand tradition of Southern storytelling. If you’ve ever listened to him talk he can roll on like the best of them. To talk and to listen is at the heart of Linklater’s work. To think about and absorb something so small — something so large – as what people say is a marvel. Boyhood is unlike any other film this year because it is unique. Somehow its story becomes universal because if there’s one thing each one of us does in this is life is get born into it and die out of it. We age. Time flies. And it only moves in one direction.

Boyhood does not promise a good life. It does not tell the story of a personal triumph. No other film hold up such a naturalist’s mirror to what it’s like to both grow up and to watch others grow up. It took twelve years of dedication for all involved. It isn’t just that about it, though you can’t help but get caught up in the breathless speed of time passing measured through lengthening limbs and widening jaws and breasts swelling and wrinkles forming. Boyhood above all is a thank you to the teachers. We find them in good and bad ways. We always learn from them. It isn’t often one is reminded that life is a gift. Every morning we wake up alive is another gold ticket to ride in this beautiful/horrible world. No film has ever made me think about that more than Boyhood.

And the rest:

4. Inherent Vice – how easy to dismiss this movie as a critics’ darling where the Emperor is wearing no clothes. If you stuff it into the Oscar mold that will be true. It certainly does anything but tell a linear story. But in each of its pores and threads is a memory of love. It’s a sense memory exercise that takes us back to California at a time when the silent majority was doing battle with a cultural revolution. It is an absurdist’s dream, one that has abandoned the need for making sense.

5. Maps to the Stars – Maybe movies, and especially the Oscar race, aren’t open to dark and dirty films like this one anymore. PG-13 has come on like a virus, sanitizing movies for adults while the Oscar race continues to coddle Oscar voters. Cronenberg can always be counted upon to walk that creepy line. Here, the monsters live in the nice houses, incestuous, corrupt, greedy. It is a sad kind of love story on top of that with a magnificent script by Bruce Wagner.

6. Mommy – It isn’t always easy getting a filmmaker acknowledgment from the critics or the Academy. It’s dangerous to assume that’s the only attention that matters. It was a long shot, thinking the Academy voters would go for Mommy, being that they are mostly white straight men in their 60s, but it was worth a shot. Xavier Dolan is a powerfully inventive new voice in film. He wanted to follow Jane Campion’s lead by making a film with juicy roles for women. Like Gone Girl and Maps to the Stars, Mommy is packed with two powerhouse performances of women who defy expectation and definition. Would that every young filmmaker found women as interesting.

7. Under the Skin – for most of this film I thought I would end up hating it. Lucy was more my speed because at least Scarlett Johansson got to do something other than walk around with a calm yoga face as she devours men. But by the end of the film it suddenly became brilliant. By the end I’d realized I’d just seen one of the best films of the year. I was moved by the character Johansson plays, which is funnily enough not all that off from whom she becomes in Lucy. You could watch them on a double bill and feel like you’ve just entered a dimension of the future that forgot men rule the world.

8. Foxcatcher – Bennett Miller’s slow burn is really about the growing disparity between rich and poor in this country. There doesn’t seem to be any way out of this mess we’re in. Miller delivers it without commentary, and in so doing he illustrates with beautiful metaphor how the rich exploit and ruin the poor, while simultaneously envying them all of the good that comes with having to work at something to achieve success. Top to bottom, Foxcatcher is a beauty of a film, with some of the year’s best acting in the top three performances.

9. Mr. Turner – If ever there was a film that captured the artist, this is it. In typical Leigh fashion, he does not try to dumb down the story for easier digestion or entertainment. This is a meditation on a man who chased the light and in so doing found something like God. Turner’s paintings were evidence of that search. Restless, repulsive, all he seemed able or willing to do was fuck women and make beautiful paintings. This is Leigh’s masterpiece, subtle though it is. One of the standouts of this year.

10. Birdman – Alejandro Inarritu’s razzle-dazzle of a movie follows the rhythm of jazz in its delivery. It centers around a former super hero who now must navigate the modern world of viral videos, YouTube generations and a life that no longer holds any real meaning. It’s hard not to feel that way when looking at what has become of studio films. In attempting to adapt a Raymond Carver short story he inadvertently stumbles into the theme of that story — missing out on love, the one thing he tried hardest not to do. In the end, Birdman has nowhere to go because where is there to go? The magical realism elements confound watchers who need sense to be made of the ending. But movies are movies for a reason. They allow us to stretch out of the confines of reality.

11. The Babadook – Far and away one of the most frightening films I’ve ever seen, though upon second viewing nowhere near as scary. The brilliance shines through on multiple viewings once you know where writer/director Jennifer Kent is headed. What a thrill to watch such an astonishing debut.

Honorable mentions for a variety of reasons: St. Vincent, Ida, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Rosewater, The Homesman, Lucy, Obvious Child, Into the Woods, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash, Snowpiercer, Wild, The Grand Budapest Hotel, A Most Violent Year, Leviathan, Elena

The best Documentary I saw this Year:
Last Days in Vietnam

And others I liked: The Overnighters, Fed-up, CitizenFour, Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart, There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane

Films I still need to see (and readjust this list in the coming days):
Beyond the Lights
Only Lovers Left Alive

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