DJANGO UNCHAINED



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I’m not sure I know what to make of writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s new spaghetti western/slavery pastiche, Django (as in jango with a hard “j”—the “D” is most pronouncedly silent) Unchained.  However, I strongly suspect it may be genius.
Django… is in many ways a mirror image of Tarantino’s last film Inglourious Basterds, which was a giallo take on World War II films (there were times when I jokingly wondered whether Tarantino should consider suing himself for plagiarism).  Neither is about what they are about.  I mean, really, …Basterds is no more about Nazism and the Holocaust than Django… is about slavery.  What they are both about is movies, and how many movies can Tarantino quote and pay homage to, and how brilliant a director Tarantino is, and how he can out post-modern any post-modern filmmaker. 
At the same time, as in …Basterds, Tarantino takes his subject matter with a deathly seriousness.  He doesn’t turn a blind, aesthetic eye to either Nazism or slavery.  In fact, he, in many ways, proves the truth of that phrase, “more Catholic than the Catholics”.  His view of slavery is probably the most gruesome, revolting and honest in any movie I may have seen.  Though I do think his comments on the landmark TV miniseries Roots a bit too cavalier, in one way he has a point: his view of that institution is far more devastating and much harder to watch. 
And I think it’s this approach that may be causing some people discomfort.  In one way he trivializes his subject matter by making it subservient to his aesthetic approach: this is a post-modern spaghetti western before it is anything else.  At the same time, he treats his subject matter with much more seriousness than people who treat it seriously.  And it’s this aesthetic conflict that gives his movies their power: he makes highly entertaining movies about subjects that should not be entertaining.  And what is worse, from his distracters’ viewpoints, he gets away with it.  He not only gets away with it, he’s managed to make himself perhaps the most important and influential American director of his generation.  It’s one thing to do something your rivals dislike; it’s another thing to do it better than your rivals.  Failure is forgivable, success is not.
There are only two other filmmakers who I can think of who can also get away with what Tarantino does.  The first are the Cohen Brothers who have also embraced the post modern approach creating movies which are often more a comment on the genre they are seriously parodying (in the true sense of the word) rather than using a purely straight approach in making their films.  The second is Roberto Begnini who, I think I can safely say, is not post modern in any shape, form or matter.  But he takes subject matter like organized crime, serial killers, the Holocaust and the American invasion of Iraq and sets them against the backdrop of a romance, usually a rom com.
So first and foremost Django… is a spaghetti western.   It may be set against the U.S. south whereas a large number of the Italian ones are set against the Mexican revolution (with an anti-capitalist, pro-communist bent to them), but if it looks like a spaghetti western, sounds like a spaghetti western, and if it was in smellovision, would probably have the odor of a spaghetti western—well, draw your own conclusions.  The sets and costumes are not what one would find in the fake West of a John Ford/Howard Hawks, but the fake West of a Sergio Leone/Sergio Corbucci.  The music is often overloud and thunderous with a slight tinny sound to it here and there.  The opening titles are tackily period.  The cinematography betrays a certain cheap look to it at times (tres 1970’s).  The only thing missing is the very bad dubbing no Italian film would be complete without.
Django… stars Christoph Waltz as a dentist/bounty hunter; Leonardo Di Caprio as a slow on the uptake slave owner; and Jamie Foxx in the title role, a freed slave who can understandably see the pleasure in killing white people and getting paid for it.  Here again we sort of have …Basterds redux with Waltz playing the Brad Pitt role; Di Caprio playing the Waltz role; and Jamie Fox playing the Melanie Laurent role.  The cast is filled out with what my friend called “the usual suspects” and I described as Tarantino phoning his casting director and telling him to call up every 1960’s and ‘70’s icon from small and large screen who no longer have a career to speak of and hire them (Don Johnson, Tom Wopat, Russ Tamblyn, Dennis  Christopher, Don Stroud, Michael Parks-not quite the approach Spielberg used for Lincoln).  There are also some nice turns by Samuel L. Jackson, James Remar, Jonah Hill and Walton, he with the Cheshire Cat smile, Goggins.   In addition, keep a look out for the in-joke Franco Nero appearance.
Waltz and Di Caprio give turns that are often called bravura.  Waltz savors every moment he has.  It’s as if he told Tarantino, I don’t care how many pretentious lines and words you give me to say, I’m going to say each one of them as if I was eating an oyster.  Di Caprio relishes his villain role as if to the plantation born.  And Foxx does well in a role that is far less showy.  The structure is a bit of catch as catch can.  There’s an improv feel to it and Tarantino certainly doesn’t push the events as if a meteor was plummeting to earth.  This is especially noticeable in an ending that has two climaxes a bit too close together.  This same ending also suffers a bit because certain characters are conspicuously missing.  But, as in …Basterds, it revels in an ahistoric revisionist revenge fantasy that is dynamite (pun intended).   And more important, it’s never boring.
When the movie is over, one wonders what film genre, style, or aesthetic is left for Tarantino to appropriate for his own purposes.  Where does he go from here?  I believe even he wonders what is left for him and whether he has finally reached the end of his aesthetic sensibility.  Personally, I’d love to see what he could do with a Bollywood musical.   But only time will tell if post modernism is, in the end, a matter of diminishing returns for him.

LES MISERABLES



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There has been a lot of controversy over movies that have opened in the last few months (or as they are known in Hollywood, the ones more likely to have a chance at being nominated for an Oscar).  For Zero Dark Thirty, it’s the use of torture (oh, sorry, I mean, enhanced interrogation techniques; but you say potayto and I say, etc.); for Argo and Lincoln, it’s historical accuracy; for Django Unchained, it’s the use of the n-word and Tarantino’s take on slavery.  But none of them have shown the vitriol and ferocious debate that one major motion picture has created in the hearts of true movie goers: Les Miserables and its non-use of lip synching.   While all the objections of other films could be summed up by someone putting words in other people’s mouths, it’s only Les Miserables that hasn’t done it—literally.   And still has gotten in trouble for it.
Les Miserables, the movie version of the long running Broadway musical, is probably an experience you either go with or you don’t.  For the record, I did.  As with others in the audience I saw it with, I was often on the verge of tears at this large, sweeping story that takes place in France during the revolution (no, not the French revolution of 1789, dude, but the June Rebellion of 1832—if you didn’t know that, you are so obviously not a Les Miz fan).  It’s a story that has all the virtues of 19thcentury literature: a huge, all-encompassing, complicated story; tons of coincidence; young people falling in life or death love with a look across a crowded room (or alleyway here).  It also has all the defects of 19th century literature: a huge, all-encompassing, complicated story; tons of coincidence; young people falling in life or death love with a look across a crowded room (or alleyway here).  Again, you either go with it or you don’t.
I don’t know how William Nicholson (who adapted the play to film) and director Tom Hooper did it.  There’s no reason for this movie to work.  It probably should have resulted in an over the top, campy musical adaptation filled with picturesque poor people dancing in the streets.  But that’s not what happened.  Instead we have a deeply moving and often overpowering story of man’s inhumanity to man and the power of spiritual redemption. 
Of course, much of this has to do with the original source material, a French musical by Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, if for no other reason in that it’s not exactly a musical.  Though there are a few lines spoken here and there, Les Miserables is more an opera.  So instead of a story in which the authors had to create clunky transitions to songs sung by the various characters (which can result in a certain disconnect and call attention to the artificiality of what is going on), we instead have a story whose dialog and emotion is only heightened by music, a stirring score that just sweeps you along whether you want it to or not.   One can make the argument, I suppose, that the original story by Victor Hugo has been shrunk by the usual necessity of telling a big story in a smaller venue; but one can just as easily make the argument that the story has also been enlarged and deepened by the expressive and impassioned music.
But much of the success has to be laid at the feet of Nicholson and Hooper who had the dubious honor or taking a stylized staged production and setting it against the hyper realistic background that is almost inherent in film; an almost impossible task, but one the two have more than succeeded in as far as I’m concerned.  And they do it by throwing out all that stagy stylization (except the music, which, of course, can’t be gotten rid of) and adapting it and filming it all with a deathly seriousness.  There’s barely a trace of musical comedy or Broadway tinsel here.  They don’t even use the cute Dickensian approach that was so successful in Carol Reed’s film version of Oliver.    It’s a straightforward look at poverty and injustice filled with people who are desperately poor, starving, having no hope.  And the way Nicholson and Hooper film it, it’s often devastating in its realism, a realism that, in fact, may make it more difficult to return to the original.  Once one has seen Hooper’s staging of the fight at the barricade, the chase through the sewers, the stunning visuals of 19th Century Paris, can the stage ever again satisfy (sort of “how you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, once they’ve seen gay Paree” type thing)?
One can almost tell how much Nicholson and Hooper have succeeded by pointing out the one major failure, the “Master of the House” number, a comic look at the innkeepers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter) who have so badly abused the young Cosette.  On stage, this number is a real show stopper.  In film, it’s a real show stopper too, but in a totally different way.  This is the one number that is all musical comedy and writer and director just couldn’t seem to find a way to fit its style into the rest of the movie and so it falls ponderously flat.  A close second is the song Suddenly, the only one written expressly for the movie (seemingly in an effort to get an Oscar nomination), a number that feels stylistically inconsistent and doesn’t really add anything to the film as a whole.
And there are some structural issues that can be traced to both source materials, the original musical and the book by Hugo.  From the stage, we get a story that jumps from scene to scene leaving out transitional details that result in a story that is at times told in a somewhat clunky manner (as in the scene at the court where a false Valjean is on trial).  From the book, we have a plot that has two stories—one, the conflict between Valjean and Jabert, and the other the love story of Cosette and Marius.  The two overlap in the middle, but just as one winds down (Valjean/Jabert), the other is still going strong and it takes awhile to wrap things up. 
But the rest of the movie is ravishing and ravishingly filmed, the camera often soaring above the actors to show a world that is being watched by God (astounding cinematography by Danny Cohen).  The CGI that enables the filmmakers to show a 19th Century Paris often takes one’s breath away.  The design aspects (costumes, sets, production design) are stunning.
And then there is the acting.  It’s a superlative cast, with nary a false note (pun intended) to be had.  They succeed for the same reason as Nicholson and Hopper: they all play their roles with a devastatingly seriousness.  It’s probably Hugh Jackman’s (Jean Valjean) best performance.  There’s no point in talking about Anne Hathaway as Fantine; I couldn’t improve on anything that hasn’t already been said.  The young lovers (Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried) make us believe in not just love, but overpowering passion, at first sight.  The one major issue, as has been pointed out by better men than I is Russell Crowe as Javert.  His singing is a bit lacking (to put it diplomatically).  But I don’t think he’s quite the weak link everyone maintains, mainly because his acting is so sure and strong and he is often filmed against overpowering backdrops that help bring an intensity to what he is saying that his singing cannot.  At the same time, all I could think is how more interesting it would have been if Sacha Baron Cohen and Crowe had switched roles.
As for the non lip synching?  Sorry, guys, but I thought it was a brilliant decision.  It brought a dramatic intensity to the acting that I haven’t seen that often in musicals.  But like the movie, it’s probably something you go with or you don’t, and for the record, I did.

AMOUR



Amour, the movie from Austrian filmmaker Michael Hanake who also gave us Funny Games and Cache, has more tension in a short scene of an elderly couple having dinner than Zero Dark Thirty has in the vast majority of its playing time.  That might be because the central characters in Amour are facing death every moment of their existence while the central character in ZDT is only facing the annoying reaction of her superiors who just won’t recognize her innate genius.  And Amour climaxes with two scenes of violence that are more emotionally gut wrenching than any of the torture scenes in Boal and Bigelow’s film.
George and Anne, husband and wife, are in their eighties.   They are introduced first in the audience of a piano recital as just another set of spectators.  In fact, if you didn’t know who they were from the posters and previews, you might not even realize the movie is about them.  You don’t hear anything they say, yet you can tell from their faces, the way they act toward each other, the way they say something to the other and occasionally smile, that they still have great affection for one another.  They are still in love and with little of the bitterness that a long life together can result in.  And then it happens.  Anne has a stroke and slowly but surely finds she can do less and less for herself. 
Amour is a beautiful and powerful story, but it is also a devastating one.  It is not easy to sit through or experience.  It is not a nice movie.    Haneke, as writer and director, gives neither George nor Anne much dignity as he details the mounting, daily degradations that Anne must suffer on her not so gentle going into that good night.
But that’s not exactly right, because in a way Hanake gives the both of them a great deal of dignity.  He does it by not lying about what the situation is, by not pretending that something is happening that isn’t.  Death is a fact.  It’s not always pleasant. It’s sometimes scary and horrifying and in the end, it happens to us all and there is little you can do about it.  It has no inherent meaning.  It just is.  And by refusing to lie about that, but to give the audience the reality of Georges and Anne’s life, Hanake honors them both and perhaps in a way, honors us all.
Georges and Anne are played by legends of the French film industry.  Georges is played by Jean-Louis Trintignant who has been making movies since 1955, including Z, Three Colors: Red, …And God Created Woman, The Conformist, My Night at Maud’s.  Anne is played by Emmanuelle Riva who began in 1957 and has been in Leon Morin, Priest, Three Colors: Blue, Therese.   But perhaps most appropriately given the title of this film, both starred in two of the most important love stories in French film history; Trintignant in A Man and a Woman (cue that Michelle Legrand score) and Riva in Hiroshima, Mon Amour.  And now, in this drama that is essentially a love story no matter the subject matter, both give emotionally rich performances that will not easily be forgotten. 
Isabelle Huppert, a constant participant in Hanake’s films when she wasn’t busy doing films by Claude Chabrol (The Piano Teacher to name one), plays the couple’s daughter, Eva.  This leads to one of the more powerful scenes when, as an emotional wreck, she confronts her father about his not talking to her about what is going on, refusing to return her calls and basically ignoring her.  His response: I don’t have time to take care of both my wife and your emotional needs.  It’s heartbreaking.  You feel for Eva, but you know he’s right. 
The film ends on what many might consider a slight note of sentimentality.  But it is an act that demonstrates just how much these two people loved each other.  And when the movie ends, all we are left with is that death has come and now it has gone and life goes on.

Race for the Oscars 2012: Reevaluation of My Screenplay Nominations



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For my final reevaluation of my Oscar noms (until my next set of reevaluations), I will end with Best Screenplay, Original and Adapted
I will begin with the Best Original Screenplay category.  My original choices were:  
Mark Boal for Zero Dark Thirty to win
Michael  Hanake for Amour
Romain Coppola and Wes Anderson for Moonrise Kingdom
Quintin Tarantino for Django Unchained
Martin McDonagh for Seven Psychopaths
Other possiblities:  Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master; Woody Allen for To Rome With Love;  John Gatins for Flight; Rian Johnson for Looper;  Jacques Audiar, Thomas Bidegain and Craig Davidson for Rust and Bone
No pundit seems to be thinking that Seven Psychopaths will make it, which is a shame.  But I will be removing it for now.  I’m also not sure about The Master (I can’t get a real read on how the various voters are feeling toward it) or Moonrise Kingdom, which many voters may just have forgotten. 
Of course, To Rome with Love is out, as is Flight and Rust and Bone.  Looper is the big fly in the ointment.  It’s getting quite a lot of attention.  So I am going to predict:
Mark Boal for Zero Dark Thirty to win
Michael  Hanake for Amour
Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master
Quintin Tarantino for Django Unchained
Rian Johnson for Looper
Adapted screenplay:
David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook to win
Tony Kushner for Lincoln
Chris Terrio for Argo
Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar for Beasts of the Southern Wild
William Nicholson for Les Miserables
Other possibilities:  Stephen Chobosky for The Perks of Being a Wallflower; David Magee for Life of Pi; Ben Lewin for The Sessions; Tim Burton and Leonard Ripps for Frankenweenie; John J. McLaughlin for Hitchcock
I think that the only one right now that could be pushed out is Les Miserables.  But I’m going to stick with my choices here and not change anything.
That is that until I reevaluate it again.

ZERO DARK THIRTY



There are some movies, we all have been there/done that, that are praised to high heaven by the critics and rapturously spoken about by fellow movie goers, but somehow leave you cold.  I’m afraid to say that this is how I felt about Zero Dark Thirty, writer Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow’s new film about the search for Osama Ben Laden.  I really don’t get it.  I really don’t understand why everyone likes this movie as much as they do.
The movie centers around the character of Maya, a government operative who is obsessive in her hunt for the man responsible for 9/11.  And this is probably where the movie either works for you or doesn’t.  But for me, Maya is one of the least interesting characters I have come across in a major movie in some time.  She has no personality that I could tell, unless you consider bland and boring to be a personality; well, I guess it is, but I don’t think it’s a particularly dramatic one that can carry a movie.  And Jessica Chastain, who is one of the flavors of the month (ten points for anyone who can remember when that phrase was the phrase de jeur—or flavor of the month), doesn’t seem to have that necessary quality, that imperceptible something, to give the character what the writer didn’t in the way that actors like Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis and even Joan Crawford could.
Maya is part cliché, part superhero, part saint.  She’s that character you’ve seen in dozens of films, the only one with the truth, the voice crying in the wilderness, who has to fight tooth and nail against the non-believers in order to make everyone else see the light.   She has some of the most ludicrous exchanges with her higher ups, especially one where she blackmails her boss, Joseph Bradley (Kyle Chandler repeating his bureaucrat Babbit role from Argo—at least he has an excuse for having no personality, it’s in his job description), into giving her support to follow one of her hunches (she does this by telling him that if he doesn’t, she’ll tell the government how he stopped her from going after Ben Laden—how I wanted him to tell her to go ahead, that if it didn’t hurt Bush’s chances for reelection, there’s no way it will cause him any problems).  The only scene that was even more uncomfortable to watch is the dressing down Mark Strong, as May’s boss in D.C., gives his minions—when he slapped his hand on the table, I had a very difficult time not giggling.  Perhaps the oddest moments here are when a character describes Maya and Chastain’s performance is totally at odds with the description (at one point she’s called at killer—yeah, right; and at other times, she’s described as worn and needing time off—all I could think is that I wish I looked so good for being so worn.)
Her character arc is structured like a Spiderman/Superman/Batman movie.  The first third is the origin story in which Maya gets bitten by a radioactive spider (here the Ben Laden bug) and vows revenge against the bad guys when her Uncle is killed by the bad guys in which she feels some sort of guilt (here, it’s the death of her co-worker).  The next section is the various evil deeds the super villain commits that no one can seem to stop.  And the final section is the super hero taking out the super villain.  Of course, this also shows part of the problem with the film.  First, there is no proof that the super villain is responsible for any of the evil done in the central section (people try to tell her that Ben Laden is no longer in charge of Al Qaeda, but she won’t listen).  And in the final section, she can’t actually participate in the final climactic fight.  So, in retrospect, I’m not convinced that this was the best structure to go for.
But finally Maya is also portrayed as Joan of Arc.  She is on a mission from God (at one point, she says she believes she was spared dying in a terrorist attack to bring Ben Laden to justice); she is the only one God is talking to; she has to convince the Dauphin (played here by James Gandolfini) to let her head the troops into battle; and when she does, the troops (led by Joel Edgerton’s Patrick) only have faith in the mission because she has faith in the mission.  All that’s missing is a burning stake at the end. 
However, in its favor, the movie does surround Maya with a strong supporting cast that does bring that something more to their roles.  The best performance is probably given by Jason Clarke as Dan, the torturer who is starting to realize he may be going down a dark hole he may not be able to find his way back from (he also gave the best performance in the moonshine drama Lawless).   Other actors also make their mark in even smaller roles:  Safe House’s Fares Fares; Edgar Ramirez (who played Carlos in the amazing Olivier Assayas series); mumblecore’s Mark Duplass; and Contagion’s Jennifer Ehle (she of the impossible high check bones)…in fact, almost anybody other than Chastain.
The most impressive moments in the script are not the interactions between the characters (which always feel a bit flat), but the moments that Bigelow excels in, scenes of high tension that often result in devastating violence (and even though you know that the scene is going to end in an explosion, that only makes the scene more nerve wracking).  And, of course, there’s the final tour de force of the assault on Ben Laden’s compound.  It’s in these scenes that one can see what the movie could have been.  But when there’s a vacuum at the core of the movie, as if feels like there is here with the role of Maya, it’s a little hard to make the movie work as a whole.
I can’t conclude a review of this movie without talking about the most controversial aspect of the film and that is the use of torture.  From my perspective, this is how torture is portrayed by Boal and Bigelow.  The first third of the movie is a series of scenes in which people are tortured or people are shown who have been tortured.  The torture is not posited here as something that had to happen, but as something that did happen.  In fact, at the end of this section, everyone realizes that all this torture has done nothing to stop Al Qaeda because the explosions and attacks just keep on coming.  The only thing the operatives get from the torture is a name that eventually leads them to Ben Laden’s compound.  But by that time, Ben Laden is a paper tiger, someone who needs desperately to be killed for symbolic reasons, but not for practical ones.  So, the movie basically says (though I’m not sure it realizes fully that this is its message), that all this money, time and effort spent on dehumanizing not just their fellow man, but the torturers themselves, did nothing to stop Al Qaeda, but did help the U.S. stop someone before he…well, did nothing, because Ben Laden was no longer doing anything.  And the question one has to ask oneself is whether all that torture was worth it if that was its only result.  I’ll leave that to you.
 

Race for the Oscars 2012: Reevaluation of the Acting Races



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I’ve reevaluated my earlier picks for Best Picture and Director Oscars.  Now I’ll reevaluate my picks for Best Actor and Actress, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress:
My original predictions for Actor were:
Daniel Day Lewis for Lincoln to win
Joaquin Phoenix for The Master
John Hawkes for The Sessions
Richard Gere for Arbitrage
Denzel Washinghton for Flight
My other possibilities were: Jean Louis Trintignant for Amour;  Hugh Jackman for Les Miserables; Bradley Cooper for The Silver Linings Playbook; Anthony Hopkins for Hitchcock; Bill Murray for Hyde Park on the Hudson.
Well, my first revision is obvious.  Gere is out (sorry, you’ll have to get your career nomination another year).  The others I’m keeping.  The only one I think who may have any danger is Joaquin Phoenix (who was at one time Lewis’s only rival for the win) because the reception of the film by voters hasn’t been that stellar, has been out of sight/out of mind for awhile, and he’s kind of pissed people off the last couple of years.  But I think he’ll make it.
Which leaves one opening.  Well, Murray is definitely out. That movie opened and didn’t make much of a connection with the public at all.  Trintignant, who was once a shoe in, is probably going to be pushed out due to competition (this is my biggest disappointment and I’m still asking for divine interference here).  Anthony Hopkins, though he gave an excellent performance, is finding that his film just didn’t make the impact it needed to in order to get a nomination.
That leaves Jackman and Cooper.  Cooper gave the weakest performance in his movie, but it is a Weinstein production and never count them out.  Jackman may depend on whether the movie crashes and burns when it opens.  Buzz is very divided right now.  There is the possibility of Phoenix and Hopkins are out and Cooper and Jackman are in. 
I am going to go for the following:
Daniel Day Lewis for Lincoln to win
Joachim Phoenix for The Master
John Hawkes for The Sessions
Denzel Washington for Flight
Hugh Jackman for Les Miserables.
Best Actress
My original list was:
Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook to win
Quvenzhane Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild
Emmanuelle Riva for Amour
Marion Cotillard for Rust and Bone
Helen Mirren for Hitchcock
Other possibilities:  Naomi Watts for The Impossible; Keira Knightley in Anna Karanina; Helen Hunt in The Sessions.
As you will have immediately noticed, I blew it big time here.  I didn’t mention Jessica Chastain as a serious competitor for two reasons.  First, at that time, ZDT was still too much an unknown quantity.  Second, it was unclear at the time that her role was large enough for the lead.  Apparently, it is.  Also, in this time, Rachel Weisz for The Deep Blue Sea is making a comeback.
So of the five above, if I put Chastain in, who do I pull out?  I will put out Helen Mirren for Hitchcock was a movie that everyone thought was going to connect with the voters, but it doesn’t seem to have.  I still maintain that Watts, Knightley and Hunt will be out for the same reasons I listed before (Watts is in a movie that is probably being shown too late to get enough votes; Knightley’s movie was not well received at all, to be polite; and Helen Hunt is a sure nom in the race for Supporting Actress).  Though Weisz is worthy, it’s just too little, too late.
The big question now becomes, who is going to win?  Jennifer Lawrence was a sure thing until ZDT opened. 
But my current predictions are:
Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook to win
Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty (right now, this is for personal reasons since I just saw the movie and was not imporess)
Quvenzhane Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild
Emmanuelle Riva for Amour
Marion Cotillard for Rust and Bone
.
Supporting Actor
My original predictions:
Alan Arkin for Argo to win
Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master
Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln
Robert de Niro for Silver Linings Playbook
Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained
Also possible is Dwight Henry for Beasts of the Southern Wild; Russell Crowe for Les Miserables; Matthew McConaughey for Magic Mike.
What might strike you first is the absence of the name of Javier Bardem for Skyfall, even on the list of possibilities.  In my defense, no one was really including him as a possibility.  Now he’s doing better in other awards groups, so that does put a Gremlin in the works.
I still maintain my first four above.  The question right now is who is going to win.  De Niro is out for that.  So right now it’s a three way battle between Arkin, Hoffman and Jones.  Arkin had it in the bag, but Hoffman started creeping up on him.  But now Jones is creeping up on Hoffman.  Part of this will depend no how much of a following The Master really has.  But since right now I have no idea who is going to win, I’m going for Arkin.
Now, the only nomination above in danger is DiCaprio.  If anyone is not going to make it, it’s probably going to be him.  And in his place will be either McConaughey or Bardem.  There is a huge ground swell to give McConaughey a nom for all his hard work lately and because he was really well received in Magic Mike.  Bardem may make it because no actor has ever been nominated for a James Bond film before and the voters may find it a bit impish to do it this time around; and his performance was well received.
So my new list of noms are:
 Alan Arkin for Argo to win
Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master
Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln
Robert de Niro for Silver Linings Playbook
Matthew McConaughey for Magic Mike
Now last but now least, Best Supporting Actress:
My previous list:
Anne Hathaway to win for Les Miserables
Helen Hunt for The Sessions
Sally Field for Lincoln
Amy Adams for The Master
(I only had four at the time)
As for the other possibilities:
Maggie Smith for Best Exotic Marigold Hotel; Ann Dowd for Compliance.; Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook; Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty. 
Of course, remove Chastain immediately.  She’s going in the lead category.
It now looks like Maggie Smith is a lock for a nom for her brilliant performance in …Marigold Hotel. 
So, if someone else gets knocked out, I think it’s going to be Amy Adams for The Master.  It’s a movie the critics love, but did not connect with the general movie goer and possibly not the general voter.  If she is out, I would think that it’s Ann Dowd.  Jackie Weaver is out due to tough competition.
So my new list:
Anne Hathaway to win for Les Miserables
Helen Hunt for The Sessions
Sally Field for Lincoln
Maggie Smith for The Beast Exotic Marigold Hotel
Ann Down for Compliance (just to go out on a limb and be stubborn).
Next: Screenplay

ANY DAY NOW and THE INVISIBLE WAR




If Any Day Now, the new film starring Alan (The Good Wife) Cumming and Garret (Raising Hope) Dilahunt, were made in the 1930’s or 40’s, it would have starred some movie star couple like Irene Dunne and Cary Grant.  I suppose this means that times have really changed because Any Day Now is about a gay couple in the 1970’s who try to adopt a mentally handicapped teenager.  Can’t get much more Irene Dunne and Cary Grant than that.
The movie is very well made.  It’s been created with a lot of love and care by writer George Arthur Bloom and Travis Fine, who also directed.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry.  It’s one of those movies that is usually described as working very well on its own terms.    It would be carping to complain. However, though it does work on its own terms, I can’t say it does any more than that. 
Cumming is the female impersonator who gives closeted D.A. Dilahunt a blow job in his car and the next thing you know, they’re moving in together (well, it’s a little more complicated than that, but it is one of the fastest courtships I’ve ever seen—a case of premature engagement, I suppose).  Problems occur when Cumming’s next door neighbor, a drug addicted party girl, gets arrested and leaves her mentally handicapped son at home alone (no Macauley Culkin jokes allowed).  Cumming wants to adopt him and Dilahunt uses his legal expertise to help.  Melodrama and homophobia ensue.
Cumming plays his role as if his career depended on it.  He’s fine, but a tad over the top with a somewhat outrageous accent that is a bit more camp than his Carmen Miranda outfit.  The movie almost feels as if it was written for him since the writers found a way to have him non lip sync a few torch songs in male drag along the way (the same thing was done for James Darren in The Guns of Navarone, but it’s much more convincing here).  Dilahunt, perhaps, is the more effective of the two in the quieter role as the lover who is overwhelmed by his new life.  In the end, when all is said and done, it’s one of those movies where opposites meet and change each other for the better: Cumming helps Dilahunt become a proud gay man and Dilahunt helps Cumming become a proud non-drag queen gay man (i.e., one helps the other become less uptight, the other helps the other become more uptight). 
Though the acting is first rate, I think the true stars are Samantha Kuester as the costume designer and Ayse Arf and Ashley Prikryl as the art and set directors.  The 1970’s were one of the worst periods for male fashion and Kuester is not only not ashamed to be true to it in all its bland glory, she almost revels in the wide lapels and flared bottoms.  Arf and Prikryl give the same attention to detail in the furniture and props.  All in all, a painful, but enjoyable, reminder of ghosts of Christmas past. 
The Invisible War is the new documentary by writer/director Kirby Dick.  It’s about rape in the military and it’s devastating.  No, it’s more than that.  It’s a Kafkaesque nightmare of Charles Dickens proportion.  Women (and men) are raped while serving their country and then find almost no way to prosecute their attackers because their commanding officers don’t have the experience to handle it; they come up against officers who think that the person was asking for it; they find the system is rigged against them; they’re prosecuted themselves and discharged for committing adultery; and/or their commanding officer is the attacker.  The movie consists mainly of a series of passionate and painful interviews of the ones attacked backed up by experts in the field.  Occasionally, the filmmakers venture outside this world and talk to the ones in charge.  These last are a series of tone deaf talking heads who define the word “disconnect” (you see people like this all the time on the news—politicians and lobbyists who never respond to the questions asked, but recite a series of talking points).
There was one somewhat false note.   When the issue of men raping men is raised, the filmmakers are lightning quick to make sure the audience knows this doesn’t say anything about being gay, because the rapist really isn’t gay, he’s just after power over others.  But times have changed.  There are good gay men and bad gay men and it’s time for us to accept that.  I don’t need the kind of protection the filmmakers are offering here and, in fact, I find it a little condescending. 
But beyond that, see this movie.