One thing that is always funny to me is how people parse the award groups. This one “counts,” this one doesn’t. There are some that really do have an impact on the race and some that don’t but it has nothing to do with what defines the members of any group. For instance, the National Board of Review remains influential, partly because they’ve been around so long, but also because their name alone has cache. They also announce first and lend credibility to contenders even if there wasn’t any before. You see, one of the mistakes the pundits (like I) make is that we think we’re leading the race. Sure, we have a hand in weeding out and penning in the selections so that voting members of the various groups kind of, sort of have an idea of which direction to head in. By the time the big industry voters get their hands on their ballots they already know what films have been leading via the pundits and the early award groups. But the truth of it is, announcements and award nominations really lead the race. So if a contender appears on the National Board of Review of the New York Film Critics, or the SAG or the Golden Globes the pundits will swiftly shift their predictions, making a judgment call as to whether this will matter or not.
Ben Auk puts such care into these video montages he makes and I have to admit they always catch in my throat at one point. He always makes the year in film somehow better than it seemed. Enjoy.
Finding the single best moment in Bill Pohlad’s Love & Mercy is impossible as you have two actors playing the same person. Then there’s Elizabeth Banks. Add Paul Giamatti and you have one of the best ensemble performances of the year. Banks glides confidently through the film in a way we’ve never seen before. This is a woman who began her career in sports until an injury shifted her focus from sports to acting, eventually, and later, directing. What power she contains emanates from her throughout Love & Mercy because her Melinda is the anchor and touchstone that ultimately saves Brian Wilson (John Cusack) from horrific circumstances. Her finest moment is a tossup between the scene where we first meet her — shiny nails, a clipboard and tight skirt, she puts Wilson immediately at ease and changes his life. Probably the scene that seals the deal is when she’s being confronted by Paul Giamatti on the other side of a door. As he’s threatening and insulting her she whips the door open and stares him down. Banks strength is balanced by the portrayals of Brian Wilson’s vulnerability and crippling mental illness, embodied by two brilliant performances – Cusack’s struggle to come up and out from behind the oppressive drugs and controlling forces, along with Paul Dano’s bright young genius on the rise. In Dano’s performance, we see the Brian Wilson who was consumed by musical gifts that lured him in different directions, some of them good, some of them not so good. Both actors capture that sweetness in Wilson, and, underneath it all, a man worth saving. All three actors give best-of-the year performances in Love & Mercy.
Creed is that one movie that can sometimes come along and land in the Oscar race with absolutely no warning. It comes with an interesting Oscar story, one not unlike its subject, and its subject’s first film. Rocky is a story of an underdog and Creed has to be seen as one of this year’s underdogs, without a doubt. It wasn’t ushered in as an “Oscar movie,” and doesn’t seem to have much in the way of Oscar ads or fancy q&as, not yet anyway. It was a film that could have gone either way – but it landed like a champ. An A Cinemascore, maybe looking at a 35 – 40 million opening weekend, and hitting the sweet spot at Rotten Tomatoes with 93% puts Creed very much “in the conversation.” And if it isn’t then there is something very very wrong with Oscar season.
Creed is what my dearly departed friend David Carr would call a “movie movie” and is another example of how this year might really might be — or certainly could be — dominated by big studio movies for the first time in years. It’s too soon to know, of course, how the whole thing will settle. We won’t really know for a few more weeks at least. Joy and The Hateful Eight are still to be seen.
In looking over last year’s predictions around this time we were still caught up in movies that hadn’t yet played and/or been rejected, so Unbroken was still riding high, as was Interstellar, even though it had been seen. See, we don’t really “know” anything. We’re just guessing. And last year, even the best of them weren’t on target. Anne Thompson, Thelma Adams and Tim Grey were the only ones who had 7 out of 8 right. The rest of us had 6 out 8 right, which still isn’t that bad. Overall, the Gurus had 6 out 8 right on Thanksgiving weekend, as did Gold Derby.
Like last year, we were messed up because of the late breaking films that embargo reviews until after voting for so many of the critics awards, like the New York Film Critics or National Board of Review. Such is the case once again with The Revenant and Joy at least. Therefore, even if we think they might not be/or might be Oscar nominees, we can’t get that confirmed until the movies get reviewed, seen, talked about. Thus, we’re in a bit of a vacuum even now.
Given that Hayou Miyazaki sent a shockwave through American animation and the way Pixar and Disney have been influenced by him, it’s a little silly to think there could be any more movement in the animation genre here. But over the years, there has been. Some of it has been noticed, but some hasn’t. How many people even saw The Congress where Ari Folman blended animation with live action for a crazy kind of abstract vision of the future. The Congress went mostly ignored by ticket-buyers but what it was aiming for was interesting.
Inside Out is that rare film that hits both the snooty critics and mainstream audiences. It has earned $356 million. As a Pixar movie. With a female protag. All of that talk about how animated films with female characters could not connect. (Doubts already dispelled by last Frozen two years ago). The thing about gender, though, is that our ideas about it are shifting ever so slightly. Most of us adults aren’t really paying attention to how fluid the notion of gender is becoming to younger generations, so that you can’t really be certain about those “rules” that say there has to be a male lead. More than that, by making Riley female, it adds a kind of complexity you could only have if your male character could be a little more flexible with gender. For instance, Riley plays hockey. She isn’t a typical “girly girl” although that’s very much a part of her inner world too – sparkly ponies, hot teen idols, rainbows and imaginary friends all occupy various parts of her inner world. The creators of Inside Out also gave her traces of “anger” usually reserved for boys, and didn’t just populate her inner emotions with female personas. Sure, her Joy and her Sadness are notably different kinds of females but there is so much else going on inside that young girl’s head clearly the writers were freer with how they set about defining that inside.