Oscar Watch

By Ryan Fogarty

Much like his cousin Randy before him, Thomas Newman has amounted 11 Oscar nominations without a win (to be clear, Randy earned 15 Oscar nominations before winning Best Song for Monsters, Inc. in 2002.) Newman is my personal Susan Lucci. I was first introduced to his music when I saw Little Women in theatres in 1994, I would later learn by that point he had scored a slew of films including The Shawshank Redemption (nom), Fried Green Tomatoes, The Player, Scent of a Woman, and many others before that.

I didn’t join an Oscar pool this year, but rest assured I would have put my film-score hopes and dreams on Newman again. I thought my favorite bridesmaid was finally in dress good enough to upstage the bride—the bride being Michael Danna—who would win for the ethnically charged score to Life of Pi (I’m taken back to when Eliot Goldenthal won for Frida as opposed to the haunting The Hours score by Philip Glass).

I rationalize my bet on Newman by bringing to mind the so-called “Bond Tribute” included in this year’s Oscars show. A compilation of video clips—all the handsome Bonds and Bond women—and the DA DA DA-AAAA TA-DA DA of it all. Shirley Bassey would be there and with Adele being one of the nights sure bets why not Newman? The man interweaved the brass, the suspense, the sex, his own bravado and the kind of music we love from old Bond to create a new Bond, which is exactly what Sam Mendes’ film was trying to do.

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Over the past couple of days, the cast roster for Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s comedy Birdman has been quickly inked in. Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts and Zach Galifianakis are all set to appear in a film that sounds almost as if it might have been written by Charlie Kaufman. Another important role has filled today.

(via CinemaBlend) Edward Norton is the latest actor to join the cast of Birdman. Written by Innaritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo, the story follows a has-been actor (Keaton) who was once famous for playing an iconic superhero. Finding himself broke, he decides that the best way to see his name in lights again is to put on a Broadway play based on a story by Raymond Carver. Unfortunately, according to Deadline, his plans get derailed by an “egotistical lead stage actor,” the character set to be played by Norton.

Watts will play Norton’s female co-star in the play-within-a-movie, Stone will be playing Keaton’s daughter/assistant, and Galifianakis will be the show’s slimy producer. The film will actually be shot in a Broadway theater in New York and production is currently scheduled to begin in the middle of next month.

The female lead role has yet to be cast. Watch this space for updates as this project continues to look more and more amazing.

(thanks, han!)


wolf of wall st 250912

We’ll begin with 120 titles. I hope and expect to be told I’ve forgotten some that need to be added. To make this survey more manageable, I’ve tried to divide the list roughly in half. Part One holds most of the high-profile films. Call them what you want — Awards Hopefuls, Top Tier, Oscar Fodder. I’m not labeling them. Part One lists just the 65 films that we’re most familiar with. Part Two is another 75 that are lesser known — Indies, International, Animated, Genre films.

Sasha and I have talked about trying to giving more coverage this year to movies that might fall off the fast-track the Oscars but still represent fine filmmaking. Most Anticipated of 2013, Part Two shows we mean it. Some of the titles on Part Two I’m just now becoming aware of. If they’re unknown to you — because nobody is talking about them, because they’ve been dismissed as not “awards worthy” — then we’ll be trying to rectify that sorry situation.

Let me know what I left out. You can choose 12 titles from each list, after the cut.

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The year starts slow, builds to a climax, then the inevitable disappointing conclusion.  But now’s the time when hope springs eternal and we might as well start the year with two auteurs.

Fruitvale launches the career of writer/director Ryan Coogler, whose Fruitvale won big at Sundance already, the audience award and the Grand Jury prize.  The plot, as written by HR’s Todd McCarthy:

The sort of material that you might more readily expect to be covered in a documentary — the true story of a senseless police shooting that takes the life of yet another young urban black man — instead has been made into a powerful dramatic feature film in Fruitvale. First-time writer-directorRyan Coogler, who, at 26, is the same age his subject would have been today, puts the life of Oscar Grant onscreen with conviction that makes it clear why Grant’s killing became a cause celebre and the springboard for massive protests against police brutality in Oakland. The project’s topicality, qualities and the presence of such connected Hollywood figures as producers Forest Whitaker and Octavia Spencer, the latter of whom plays Grant’s mother, ensure that attention will be paid, and, though commercial prospects are limited, the film certainly will serve as an effective springboard for Coogler, lead actor Michael B. Jordan and others involved.

Fruitvale has a ways to go but a word up by McCarthy is surely a very good start.

Meanwhile, another young filmmaker, Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell is set to make impact — it’s a tricky

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Count on a few important acquisitions later in the year, as yet unknown.

The Sapphires….. 3/22/13
Kon-Tiki………. 4/19/13
Unfinished Song… 6/21/13
Populaire……… 7/19/13
Haute Cuisine….. 8/16/13
Satanic……….. 8/30/13
Fruitvale……… 10/18/13
August: Osage County 11/8/13
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom 11/29/13
Grace of Monaco… 12/27/13

(thanks rufussondheim)

Leonardo DiCaprio on location for the 'Wolf of Wall St.' in NYC


It’s not as difficult these days as it once was to early-predict Best Picture. The thing about the awards race that we can pretty much count on: the fix is in. There was a time when Big Oscar Movies could be very disappointing out of the gate. Not anymore. Somehow movies go all the way even when they aren’t very good.  This is a matter of timing, of less “real” critics on the beat (bloggers are less critical, more easily swayed), and great publicity teams. After all, there wasn’t a single win on Oscar’s stage in the major categories that didn’t have an unbeatable publicist behind it.

Sometimes movies can indeed break out in unexpected ways, and thus, they have their “Oscar story.” You really don’t need me to teach you about the importance of an “Oscar story” because we just lived through one. The comeback of Ben Affleck, his perceived snub, proved as unstoppable as Slumdog Millionaire’s “It was going to go straight to video” meme.  I always figured no one could beat Lincoln’s “Oscar story,” which was actually real but no one cared. One perfectly spun Deadline story after the Golden Globes regarding Bill Clinton was all that was needed to derail that.

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This year, Best Director seems to be pairing up in interesting ways.

Tarantino has launched into the race in a spectacular 11th hour surge. Whether this means he will, in fact, steal the last director’s slot from Tom Hooper or David O. Russell is still not known. But what is known is that Django Unchained and Lincoln are two views of the same moment in our history.  Both are satisfying smackdowns of the worst among us, the racist beginnings of our country, which could not have profited nor succeeded without slavery.  Even Thomas Jefferson praised the value of having free labor, among other things.  Lincoln, though, tells the story closer to the truth, farther from the bloody speculative spectacle than Tarantino has delivered. As real as Lincoln is, Django Unchained is unreal.Sequestered in clean orderly chambers where slavery was at last undone, Lincoln presides above the pain of slaves from a luminous distance. Django brings that bloody pain up close, thrusting the messy, brutal torment in our faces. Both of these American storytellers have gone out of their way throughout their careers to expand the American experience to include the African-American experience. It isn’t a surprise that they would each come at slavery, this year, from such wildly different perspectives.  The story of 2012 in film can’t be told without either of them, as they have each made two of the best films of the year.

Spielberg’s tightly reigned direction, following the dense, profound script by Tony Kushner with the career-best work from Day-Lewis has made, to my mind, 2012’s best film.  Tarantino’s lead actor, Jamie Foxx, gives one of the best unsung performances of the year. Tarantino’s script fully explores the director’s vision, even if it is disjointed and sloppy in places, the polar opposite of the Kushner’s precision. Still, these two films somehow convey equally vital messages about this American life in 2012.

Likewise, Kathryn Bigelow’s astonishing, unforgettable Zero Dark Thirty goes hand in hand with Argo in many ways. One is deadly serious, the other is fiendishly funny.  But both deal with treacherous episodes of our ongoing conflict in the middle east.  Zero Dark Thirty takes us right up to today, as we grapple with our own definition of what torture means, whether we are prepared to accept that we employed torture as tactic when “questioning” Al Qaeda suspects.  The film is about that — how could it not be — but it is also about the larger notion of revenge and its hollow compensations. Did we kill Bin Laden to avenge those who died in the attacks on 9/11? Or did we kill him in an effort to stop future terrorist attacks? It’s not a question the filmmakers try to answer. They want to ask it.  The best reviewed film of the year, Bigelow’s has become a lightning rod for controversy, some earned, some undeserved.

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When I think of the male performances of the year I think there is Leonardo DiCaprio and everyone else. Setting aside Michael Fassbender, for the moment, Michael Shannon, Gary Oldman and Woody Harrelson – those actors who transformed themselves into wholly other people, I am still left with what Leo did with J. Edgar Hoover. I know that it isn’t the popular choice right now for one of the best performances of 2011, but I do know it’s one I can’t forget.

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“I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured, if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason.” — Hugo

This year saw films by arguably the greatest directors America has ever produced — Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Spielberg. Those guys are the reasons many people have become filmmakers at all. Whole schools of filmmakers, generations flooding film schools everywhere, cut their teeth on their films. And they happen to be my own personal favorites. You might say my whole life has been shaped and decided by what I saw in films by these men over the past three decades. It is a strange turn of events that they will be in the race the same year. Though all three of their films are so good — even with their weaknesses they are still better than almost everything else we’ve seen this year. But of the three, only one has directed a masterpiece. And this because he’s telling the story from his heart, telling the story for his daughter, and at the same time, delving into the evolving technology of 3-D. In other words, Martin Scorsese is still growing, not resting on his laurels.

These three directors, though, have led three different schools of thought where filmmaking and storytelling are concerned. They all three started in the 1970s — was there ever a better decade for filmmaking? The 1970s was a time for open minds, when Fellini and Bergman were the flavors that changed how people thought about movies. The 1960s loosened the knot but the future of American film had its biggest quake in the ’70s because it signaled the beginning of Allen, Scorsese and Spielberg.

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If there were any doubts before, there are no doubts now.  The black and white silent French film, The Artist, has taken the lead in this year’s Best Picture race, according to we Gurus of Gold and of course, over at Gold Derby.  There is always that point in the year when you just know.  And there is no stopping this movie. If there had been any stopping it it would have happened months ago.  But the hype is not destroying it.  If anything, it’s helping it.  It reminds me of the Slumdog Millionaire year, where there was just this one movie that took everything in front of it.  If we go by Anne Thompson’s branch-by-branch theory, The Artist has it all: actors, check. Director, check. Writers, check. Art directors, check. Cinematography, check. Costume, check. Score, check. Editing, check.  Sound, mais bien sur! Well, let’s say imaginative sound mixers would nominate the Artist for its clever and specific use of sound.  What it’s missing: gravitas.  That old song Oscar requires so that something feels bigger and more “important.” Of course, Chicago didn’t have it and that movie had what the Artist had (yes, Weinsteins pushing it but also) it was just a good time to be had by all.  The universal appeal of The Artist is what has it winning critics, industry and audiences alike.

Universal appeal is what gets the big house votes, the 9,000, the 6,000, the 100,000 guild voting blocks – ain’t no way they’re going to grow a pair and pick something outside that realm of “you can sit anyone down in front of it and they will get it if not love it.” What can override that, of course, is love for the filmmakers (Coens, Scorsese), or the desire to push forth real change (Bigelow).  But mostly, yeah, you get the idea.  What pleases, massages, comforts the most people wins.  It’s as simple as that. As far as those kinds of movies go, if the Artist wins it will be one of their better choices.

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We’re counting down the best performances of the year here at Awards Daily (we’ll also do that with Picture and Director, hopefully). We’re starting with number 5 of our top five and it has to go to Andy Serkis for his mo-cap, or performance-capture ape Caeser in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  Sure, it defies all definitions of what acting is supposed to be but somehow, by god, it works.  It has to be the best performance Serkis has ever given in a  performance capture environment, which is saying a lot, considering all that we’ve seen Serkis do. And in truth, much of the credit goes to the dazzling, incomparable special effects that accompany Serkis.  But there is no denying that what we see on screen is the work of an actor, not a computer.  And therein, I think, lies the difference.  After all, how far is it a leap to go from what Nicole Kidman did in The Hours, or what other actors who wear so much makeup on do?  It is makeup but it’s digital makeup.  It achieves the same result, in the end.  The actor still must do most of the work.

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If you came of age in the 1980s, you lived through a time when American actresses did not depend on conventional, youthful good looks, or hotness, to get on the A list.  The good parts went to those who took the craft seriously.  A lot has changed since then.  If you look at the Best Actress race of the 1970s, 1980s and even into the 1990s, the Best Actress race was dominated by strong roles, with established, respected actresses, many of them homegrown here in America, with well-earned clout in Hollywood — clout that was built on their talent, not just how much money they brought in.  Their Oscar nominations bolstered their dominance.  But something shifted.    Was it the moment the young, fresh, charismatic but untrained Julia Roberts became a box office sensation, thus rendering actresses who couldn’t “open” movies obsolete?   Was it the general globalization of the film industry overall? Was it the rise of the target demographic aimed at young boys?

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Since there aren’t five Best Picture nominees to be had this year, although the rapid about-face the Academy did from last year to this leads me to believe that they will go back to five in the near future, we have a very strange way of going about finding the Best Picture nominees.  We are looking mostly at number 1 choices.  A movie can’t be nominated for Best Picture unless it has 300 number 1s.   It’s generally accepted that the Best Picture slate will wind up being between 6 and 9.

What I’m wondering is, will this help or hurt the genre movies?   By genre movies, we have to look at those popular entertainment pics that made bank.  Of the films that have a chance for Oscar crossover, there are a few that could be seen as genre movies.  With a solid ten nominees, we could figure in the “genre movie slot.”  But with it being only number 1s that get in, we have to rethink how we imagine the possibilities.  You’d be better off still trying to think of five rather than ten.

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 = $375,934,867
2. Captain America = $172,509,991
3. Bridesmaids = $168,565,795
4. Rise of the Planet of the Apes = $163,570,682
5. Super 8 = $126,569,715

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While Academy members are receiving and filling out their ballots, around the same time, beginning December 30, SAG voters will decide on their final winners. Many of the acting races feel wide open. We assume Best Actor will be Colin Firth, at last, winning for not just his entire career but for his extraordinary work in the very popular film, The King’s Speech. But Jesse Eisenberg could upset in what is the most talked about, or second most, performance of the year. He’s likable in the same way Hannibal Lecter was likable: we admire those who can slice and dice with mere words. It is a deceptively complex performance, one that must be viewed several times to fully appreciate. But Firth has it in so many ways, the least of which his body of work, general good nature, and extremely likable character.

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October takes me by surprise every year. I think that things are cruising along at a manageable level and then, wham! October brings Oscar season proper and with it, the good, the bad and the ugly. It didn’t take long for word from last night’s Academy screening of The Social Network to hit the web. The reports varied slightly but somehow the same cast of characters showed up – the odd person who was enthusiastic about it, the odd person who said it lacked emotional something or other, and the odd person who mentioned The King’s Speech as the frontrunner. Pete Hammond at Deadline and The Hollywood Reporter gave slightly upbeat reports, that the Academy members were as entertained by the film as audiences have been.

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The Huffington Post has a piece by Scott Mendelson wondering about Tyler Perry’s upcoming For Colored Girls and its Oscar potential. The film is based on the 1975 play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. Anyone who ever went to acting school is quite familiar with this play as it’s a popular choice for monologues.

“Oscar potential” refers only to the possibility that the AMPAS will like it enough to nominate it, being that it’s a “Tyler Perry movie” and all. The movie just needs the perception of greatness to make it to the Big Show. It can get that by popping up in one or two of the early critics’ awards, specifically the National Board of Review or the New York Film Critics. It could still make it all the way up to Oscar nomination time, sweep the Golden Globes and not get nominated. But with ten slots, not only is anything possible, but we might be looking at a situation where the Blind Side slot could be filled by another fairly emotional money making powerhouse.

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By the time 2010 comes to an ambling close, Michelle Williams will have two very good performances under her belt. Blue Valentine, and Meek’s Cutoff.

Obsessed with Film, underwhelmed by the film but impressed by Williams writes:

Michelle Williams, who is working with the director for a second time, is absolutely, show-stealingly brilliant in her role as one of the travelers. Her face able to register a look of resentment and contempt the likes of which I have never seen. It also features Paul Dano, Shirley Henderson, who is brilliant as the uber-religious one and responsible for the films few comic moments, and Zoe Kazan, whose constant fearful bleating recalls a hyper-ventilating Shelly Duvall in The Shining. All these actors perform well on limited material. Only the titular Meek is played over the top, with Bruce Greenwood sometimes straying into the voice of an old prospector from a bad western. Everybody else downplays it and it works great.

Variety’s Justin Chang:

Williams, so heartbreaking in “Wendy and Lucy,” anchors the ensemble with a performance of fierce grit and unflinching moral strength, staring down Meek and firing a rifle with the same bone-deep conviction. Greenwood’s face is almost entirely hidden by a dark beard, but his gravelly voice is instantly recognizable, lending the cocksure Meek an undertow of menace. Fellow travelers Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan and Shirley Henderson have a more difficult time blending in with the milieu initially, while Rondeaux renders the Cayuse captive compellingly unreadable.

Such filmmaking’s near-spiritual devotion to landscape can occasionally swallow human players, but while big names (for this director, at least) like Paul Dano and Shirley Henderson feel a tad lost in the mix, Reichardt once more brings out the very best in Williams. As the story’s principal conduit of reason and morality, Emily could be a dour presence, but the actress is instead softly watchful and drily, unexpectedly, funny: “I want him to owe me something,” she crisply explains when granting the Cayuse intruder an unsolicited favor.

In Williams, Reichardt has found an actor capable of matching her contained integrity and opening it out to a broader audience; long may this partnership continue. Long, too, may Reichardt continue to inquiringly scope out the backyard of American indie film, applying her immaculate technical precision and near-accidentally feminist gaze to more distant milieux. Adventurous, ambiguous and truthful, “Meek’s Cutoff” may be a marvel in itself, but it only sets up greater expectations for the future.

Magnolia Films will release All Good Things some time this December, putting it right in the thick of things for Oscar season. ¬†The film is directed by Andrew Jarecki (Capturing the Friedmans) and also stars Kirsten Dunst. ¬†It’s quite fun going down this particular rabbit hole, due to the mysterious nature of Robert Durst (Gosling, presumably). ¬†While he was never convicted of any murder, he certainly seems to have committed more than the one to which he confessed.

There hasn’t been much buzz on All Good Things, but if it is the right kind of part and the right kind of film, we could be looking at a Gosling vs. Gosling year.

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