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

OSCAR RACE: Best Supporting Actor



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Continuing my analysis of the Oscar race (or as I call it, I need to get a life), it’s time to focus on the supporting acting categories.  One would think that supporting categories, whether male or female, would be much more difficult to predict and in one way they are.  While there is only one, maybe two, leads in a film (per gender), every film is crowded with supporting since, by deduction, if you’re not one of the two leads, you only have one alternative—supporting.   At the same time, like most categories, the possible nominations actually, and perhaps surprisingly, tend to settle rather fast to usually little more than six, or on rare occasions, seven possibilities.
I’ll start with the Best Supporting Actor category or as I and a friend of mine call it, the Don Ameche Award, named after the win by that actor for his role in Cocoon, not so much for his acting skill (which was often considered a joke by critics and film aficionados, though he did get better as he aged, like fine wine and cheese), but as a career award (like James Coburn, Christopher Plummer, Jack Palance, Sean Connery, Martin Landau, Alan Alda).  At the same time, I’m being facetious.  This doesn’t happen as often as one might think, and most of these performances were very deserving.  But I believe someone once did a study and discovered that supporting actor winners on average were older than supporting actress winners.  In the supporting actor category, it helps to have paid your dues more than in the distaff side, where voters (mostly male) tend to like their winners young and up and coming (even to the point of being a bit too Humbert Humbert in their choices, perhaps?).
At any rate, the dust has started to settle and it looks as if the list is becoming fairly clear.   At the same time, predictions are a bit hampered here by some of the films not having opened yet, so the performances in those movies are still somewhat unknown quantities.
Alan Arkin for Argo to win.  This now seems pretty settled and it would take a lot to unseat his position.   He’s already won his career award for Little Miss Sunshine, but that probably won’t cause him any problems this time around.  It’s a tremendous performance, a masterpiece of comic timing, in a very popular movie.   At the same time, Argo may have peaked a bit too soon and I may be speaking a bit too early. 
Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master.  The Master went totally over my head (and apparently, based on audience reaction, I’m not the only one).  Everything about The Master is a bit iffy when it comes to nominations just because it didn’t connect with viewers, including Oscars voters.  But everyone is still saying that Hoffman is a shoo in (some think he may even win, but I don’t see it yet).  A lot may depend on the campaign, since the movie has disappeared and may take a little doing to get people to remember it even opened this year (critics’ awards may help here).
Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln.  He steals every scene he’s in and somehow breaths life into the somewhat stilted dialog.  Lincoln is coming along as a major contender against Argo for best picture with a success at the box office that exceeded expectations (Argo may now have peaked too soon), and Daniel Day-Lewis is almost certain to win best actor, which could give Jones’ nomination a boost.
Robert de Niro for Silver Linings Playbook.  It has now opened, been reviewed, is doing very well at the box office and no one has stopped saying de Niro is going to get a nom, so it seems that he will be included.
Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained.  This is an unknown quantity as the movie hasn’t opened yet (apparently a story about a slave rescued by a bounty hunter with said slave now out to get revenge against the white men who abducted his wife is seen as the perfect choice for a Christmas opening).  What helps is that DiCaprio is a leading actor doing a supporting role, and this is always a plus when going for a nomination (and sometimes you win—Robin Williams and Renee Zellweger).   But until the movie opens, it’s hard to say.  This has caused some problems for Christoph Waltz.  The talk is he has been pushed to go for Best Actor (an unlikely nom at best), possibly to give DiCaprio a better chance.  But that’s mere speculation based on information I don’t really have, so do with it what you will.
Also possible is Dwight Henry, so deserving for Beasts of the Southern Wild, but it’s a very crowded category and he may get squeezed out; Russell Crowe for Les Miserables, too unknown a quantity right now; Matthew McConaughey for Magic Mike, and in a weaker year he might have a chance since he’s done so many movies this year and has worked hard to broaden himself as an actor, which translates as really paid your dues (which the voters like), but it looks like he won’t make it; anybody else from Argo—very doubtful. 

ARGO and SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS



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Argo, the new thriller written by Chris Terrio and directed by Ben Affleck, has been described as one of those throw back Hollywood studio movies, one that isn’t based on a franchise or comic book, but is instead a solid, well written, professionally made piece of entertainment aimed at adults.  And this is a very accurate description.  But at the same time, this also means that it reduces a terrifying and important and politically complex situation to a routine thriller; has jokes that are as old as the Hollywood Hills (though I seemed to be the only one that laughed at the screenwriting/free meal punch line); and has character arcs and plot turns that are obvious and formulaic and have everything but subtlety (and the kitchen sink, I suppose). 
But does any of this matter?  Does anyone care?  It doesn’t seem so.  Mainly because it is also highly, if not, incredibly entertaining for the most part (or enough part to make it work very well on its own terms).  Indeed, the approach may reduce the circumstances to a Casablanca like simplification, but it doesn’t ignore the historical reality altogether (and gives it more attention and depth than expected).  The jokes may be stale, but they are still funny and delivered with the timing of pros.    The plotting may be predictable, but it still keeps you on the edge of your seat.  And the character arcs may be formulaic, but they still bring a tear to the eye. 
So I suppose the conclusion is: go for the entertainment, but leave your aesthetic at the door.
The story revolves around a group of American embassy workers who manage to get out a back door and take refuge in the Canadian ambassador’s home during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.  To rescue these six people before the Iranian government finds them (and most likely would kill them), a CIA agent, Tony Mendez, is assigned to rescue them and he does so by coming up with the “best, worst idea” they have: Mendez will pretend to be a Canadian movie producer scouting locations in Iran and then take the six out with him pretending that they are part of his crew. 
There’s nothing that wrong with the movie.  It more than gets the job done.  And it has some wonderful aspects to it, especially in some of the supporting roles.  Alan Arkin plays a once big movie producer now reduced to accepting life time achievement awards and he plays his part as if it’s the role of his life (he may be as old as the jokes, but he makes them zing as if they’ve never been told before).   John Goodman solidifies his career as one of our most enjoyable supporting actors as John Chambers, a make up artist who won an Oscar for the original Planet of the Apes movie.   Victor Garber takes a nothing role as the Canadian Ambassador and fills it with such humanity, one wants to give him the Nobel Peace Prize.  And there’s a scene at the end where the annoying Doubting Thomas/Debbie Downer character, who had bad talked the mission the whole way, fulfills his arc by suddenly becoming more invested in his playacting than the others, describing the fake movie they are not shooting to some Iranian guards as if he was pitching the project that could make or break him (which it could, I suppose).
At the same time, as fun as it is, one does wish it could have been better.  The rest of the cast is filled with a bunch of TV actors as if the producers were hoping that casting them alone would cover up a certain flatness in most of the roles (it doesn’t, though, as hard as people like Bryan Cranston try).  The second act drags a bit, and though the third act is exciting, it is also a bit over the top (so over the top, it’s obvious it didn’t quite happen this way—and it didn’t—the most suspense the real participants had at the airport was a ticket agent who suddenly disappeared for no reason for ten minutes, only to return with a cup of tea) and relies on the authorities turning into a bunch of Keystone Revolutionary Guards (one wanted to shout to them, “Just call the tower, you idiots”).
And then there’s Ben Affleck.  Many, including yours truly, were relieved when he became a director.  He wasn’t doing anything that interesting from an acting standpoint and his career seemed to stall.  Then he gave us Gone, Baby, Gone and he was back with a vengeance.   Since then, he has become a more than competent director.  Unfortunately, he’s also gone back to acting and keeps putting himself in the lead in his films.  There’s nothing wrong with his performance here, but like most of the supporting ones, he can do little with breathing real life into the role and I just kept thinking how much more interesting the film might have been if someone with more screen presence, like Jeremy Renner or Ryan Gosling or Michael Fassbender, had been in the lead.
But then I saw the movie Seven Psychopaths (the second feature by writer/director Martin McDonagh, who gave us the deliriously wonderful In Bruges in 2008) the same day as Argo and what a study in contrasts.   
Where Argo was made with a studio finesse, …Psychopaths is a shaggy dog of a story; where Argo is the perfect movie to study for formula with all I’s dotted and tittles crossed, …Psychopaths feels made up as it goes along;  where Argo is filled with a supporting cast of actors that seem to be used to cover up a lack of depth in the characters, …Psychopaths has one of the most impressively written ensembles inhabited by perhaps the best and most exciting cast of the year (even when it comes to using TV actors, Argo comes up with Kyle Chandler of Friday Night Lights where …Psychopaths uses Boardwalk Empire’s Michaels’ Stuhlbarg and Pitt); where Argo feels like the poster child of how-to screenplay books and college classes, …Psychopaths seems to revel in saying “fuck you” (and not just implicitly, but also explicitly over and over again in the screenplay) to anyone who thinks one should write according to the rules; and where Argo feels satisfied to be what it is, a well made thriller, …Psychopaths feels infused with the passion and a desire to really do something personal. 
So whereas Argo is fun and extremely entertaining (and you will not be disappointed if you see it), Seven Psychopaths is something else: a wonderful, witty, perhaps brilliant rag tag of a movie that does nothing you expect and surprises you in ways that very few movies do.
The basic story line revolves around Marty, a screenwriter who is blocked, (Collin Ferrell, who along with Renner, et al., would probably also have been a better choice for the lead in Argo) and his best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell, in perhaps his finest performance to date), who makes a living kidnapping dogs with his friend Hans (a heartbreaking Christopher Walken).   All Marty has for his opus is the title, Seven Psychopaths, but nothing else.  But in working out his storyline, he finds himself caught up in Billy and Hans’ world, especially after they abduct a dog from the sociopathic mobster Charlie (Woody Harrelson, who seems to be having more and more fun the further he gets away from the role that first made his name, that of obtuse, country boy Woody in the TV series Cheers).  Let’s just say that chaos, violence and hilarity ensue.
McDonagh  does some remarkable things in Seven Psychopaths.  The story is ridiculous.  It’s almost never believable.  It’s so over the top, it makes Scarface look like Little Lord Fauntleroy.   But the more preposterous the movie becomes, the more caught up you are in the whole stupid, insane mess.  And just when you don’t think it can get any more outrageous, McDonagh pulls a rabbit out of his hat (both figuratively and literally) and doesn’t just go one level higher, he makes a tiny adjustment and suddenly you’re so emotionally caught up in the whole thing, you find yourself on the verge of tears.   No matter how far from reality the story gets, there’s something so real at the core, that the emotions at times sweep over you in ways that never make any sense, but yet, there they are.  How does he do it?  I don’t know.  But there’s no point in fighting it; resistance is futile.
In the end, though I think Seven Psychopaths is a far superior movie to Argo, I think both represent what I wish movies would be.  If you’re going to do a studio driven, formulaic movie that doesn’t try to be anything more than what it is, at least make them as entertaining and intelligent and enjoyable as Argo.   But if you’re going to write something personal, if you’re going to revel in being independent and taking movies in a new and unique direction, then movies like Seven Psychopaths are indispensable.   Argo is the future of the studios.  Seven Psychopaths is the future of filmmaking.

THIN ICE


One of those films that does nothing, but does it rather well, like Fargo and The Ice Harvest (though it falls a bit short of both of those). It’s all about insurance fraud and a valuable violin (hey, why not). And snow. Lots and lots of snow. The acting is first rate with Alan Arkin having the best time trying to speak with some sort of vague Germanic accent while Billy Crudup really lets go having anger management issues. The unsympathetic hero, a sad sack compulsive liar who sells insurance (I know, a bit redundant), is played by Greg Kinnear and I always enjoy him in these small, independent type films. You can’t say he’s a great actor, but he at least tries to make interesting movies, and he’s just so damn likeable, even when he’s playing assholes. The finale where everything gets explained falls flat, but the movie does answer the burning question on everybody’s mind—whatever happened to Lea Thompson. Written by the excellent sister team of Jill (who also directed) and Karen Sprecher who also did Clockwatchers and Thirteen Conversations About One Thing.

Reviews of Sunshine Cleaning and The Great Buck Howard


Sunshine Cleaning is a movie about estranged sisters who bond after starting a business cleaning up crime scenes. It’s one of those formulaic films that have been the basis of American movies since the dawn of silents: someone goes on a three act journey and has a character arc change by the end. As such, the movie is obvious and takes no real chances. At the same time, the script is intelligent and well written (by Megan Holley) with some moving moments and it’s doubtful the audience will be disappointed. It also has some fine acting, especially by Amy Adams and Emily Blunt as the sisters and a fine supporting cast of Alan Arkin, Steve Zahn and Clifton Collins, Jr. In the end, it doesn’t quite work as well as it should because the gimmick, the cleaning service, actually overshadows and distracts from the hero’s journey rather than really informs it. The sisters bond more in spite of it all rather than because of it. And there’s one scene, where Amy Adams attends a baby shower, that doesn’t have a strong enough pay off and falls flat. It probably doesn’t help that she has a big speech about what she’s gotten out of cleaning up crime scenes when in reality it’s Blunt who is the one who has come to realize what Adams has supposedly, but not really, learned here.

The Great Buck Howard also has Emily Blunt and Steve Zahn (though this time Zahn is playing the typical Steve Zahn role, complete with unflattering mullet). Like Sunshine Cleaners, it’s also formulaic as well as entertaining and intelligently written (this time by Sean McGinly, who also directed). In it, a man played by Colin Hanks, leaves law school in a huff and against the wishes and knowledge of his authoritarian father (play by Hanks’ real life father, Tom Hanks, who probably isn’t as authoritarian as his character or Colin would probably have never entered show business). In the end, …Buck Howard works better than Sunshine Cleaning because the gimmick here, an over the top character based on the real life over the top mentalist Kreskin, is more central to Hanks’ character arc and provides an ending that is wittier and cleverer than Sunshine Cleaning’s. It’s also buoyed by a delicious performance by John Malkovich as Howard and an equally delicious performance by Tom Hanks playing an unsympathetic character, something he’s actually very good at and the kind of role he hasn’t really played since perhaps That Thing You Do. It’s nice to know that if the public grows tired of Hanks being cast because he’s instantly likeable, he can always take a page from Alan Alda’s page book and revive his career by playing assholes.