The 88th Academy Awards: What did we learn, anything?

oscar-2016-07Like an M. Night Shyamalan plot twist Chris Rock did in fact show up to host the 88th Academy Awards, and the event did go off without a hitch — no crazed protestor drove their car into the Dolby Theater anyway. This night wasn’t at all Billy Crystal-y; this was definitely more Degeneres-ish with Rock shouting loudly from the stage, shouting his way through the cues that were going to make him the evening’s secondary centerpiece hopeful (the main attraction obviously being the sight of Leo with the Oscar in his hands finally). And there was a lot of talk about the lack of racial diversity amongst this crop of nominees, stuff that once sounded like rumors were now things Chris Rock was spurting out loudly on stage — calling out Jada Pinkett Smith and by extent William over there, and other actors who were protesting the Oscars for the lack of inclusion of black nominees. He got some kind of a mild reaction from the audience.

Rock was good though, even after a somewhat Rock-y start (cha-ching!). He hesitated not one second to delve right into the controversy of the perceived white-washing of the nominations — not even Comedy Central’s comparatively conservative usage of the ‘bleep’ button would’ve allowed him to say what he wanted to say here. Rock does address the issue and he even (considerately) redirects the focus away from the nature of this year’s nominees and towards an industry that continues to struggle including more roles (not necessarily high-profile ones) for a variety of ethnicities.

Interesting how this ceremony didn’t for one second address the even smaller chunk of the Role Playing pie, those representative of the LGBT communities. Successes like Tangerine are just going to have to sit tight for now. Those minorities will be addressed at the next telecast. Rock’s an odd choice though for this event, as his performance recalls his meta performance in his recent comedy/drama Top Five. With that, naturally, come the expectations of profanity and vulgarity and in these ways he’s certainly restricted but he makes some pretty good stabs with some visual gags and a trio of Asian kids who essentially become props to one of his jokes.

In the brightest spotlight imaginable Rock largely succeeds as a host, he doesn’t tiptoe around as if there’s broken glass everywhere. Rock’s never been one to care if a feeling or two gets maimed in the process. So while this definitely wasn’t, and was never going to be the Obscenity-Laced Oscars this was about as memorable as any other and there is already speculation as to who will be the host next year. There were surprises while some really good guys were finally rewarded for their efforts (and patience). Fury Road won like, everything. Someone sang. There were too many commercials. Too many names mentioned during the In Memoriam segment that I did not recognize. And there definitely weren’t enough Girl Scout Cookies.

pinochoop


WINNERS — WHAT ARE THE ODDS?!

(Winner / What I picked)

Original Screenplay: Spotlight / Spotlight

Adapted Screenplay: The Big ShortThe Big Short

Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander Alicia Vikander

Costume Design: Mad Max: Fury Road Mad Max: Fury Road

Production Design: Mad Max: Fury Road / The Martian

Hairstyle/Makeup: Mad Max: Fury Road Mad Max: Fury Road

Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki Emmanuel Lubezki

Film editing: Mad Max: Fury Road The Big Short

Sound Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road Mad Max: Fury Road

Sound Mixing: Mad Max: Fury Road Mad Max: Fury Road

Visual Effects: Ex Machina Mad Max: Fury Road

Animated Short Film: Bear Story World of Tomorrow

Animated Feature: Inside Out Inside Out

Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance Mark Rylance

Documentary Short Film: A Girl in the River . . . . . . um . . . .yes

Documentary Feature: Amy Amy

Live Action Short Film: Stutterer . . . um . . .sure

Foreign Language Feature: Son of Saul Son of Saul

Original Score: Ennio Morricone (The Hateful Eight) John Williams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)

Original Song: Writing’s on the Wall (Sam Smith) ‘Til it Happens to You (Lady Gaga)

Best Actress: Brie Larson Brie Larson

Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio LeoSchmardo DiSiprico

Best Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Best Picture: Spotlight Spotlight

(16/24) 


 OBSERVATIONS FROM THE NIGHT (like a Twitter feed but way less redundant)

 

Chris Rock seems uncomfortable. Wow he’s jumping into the race thing head-on, eh?

Jacob Tremblay is standing up in his seat to get a better look at C-3P0 and R2-D2 when they come on stage. Heh. That was funny-bone-tickle worthy.

Chris Rock is currently shamelessly selling his daughters’ Girl Scouts Cookies to random members in the audience, meanwhile Olivia Munn is hoarding them by the box.

Chris Rock seems uncomfortable again.

Why is Mad Max winning everything?

Pete Docter seems to be the only one (so far) who has really grasped the concept of the Academy tweaking the acceptance speech formats (scrolling across the screen a list of the names the winners would like to thank and thus saving all of us from listening to that trollop). Good for you, Pete. I hope others follow because really so far nothing has changed.

Ennio Morricone seems genuine. That was a highlight moment, especially because I totally didn’t peg his work as the winner this year. Cool.

Hooray for Emmanuel Lubezki and Alejandro G. Iñárritu on their back-to-back wins. That’s three in a row for the incredible cameraman and dós for Iñárritu for his expertise in the director’s chair. Birdman and The Revenant couldn’t be two more different films; this is an incredible filmmaker who has seriously earned himself a new fan. (He did last year, actually.)

Who’s the most deserving of their awards? I’ll list my Top 5: 1) Leo (Best Actor); 2) Brie Larson (Best Actress); 3) Spotlight (Best Picture); 4) Jenny Beavan, Mad Max: Fury Road (Best Costume Design); 5) Inside Out (Best Animated Feature)

Leo got the Oscar you guys. His acceptance speech was about as quality as his name being called was predictable, but predictable sounds really negative. His words were from the heart and certainly important and powerful. Good for him for, as per usual, using the stage to talk about something much bigger than himself and his chosen profession.

dbfa8_0a4b8_Oscars-Theater-600x310

What were your thoughts of the winners and the overall show this year? 


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Because Oscar Said So: Best Supporting Actress Nominees

BOSS - supporting actress nominees

Because Oscar Said So (B.O.S.S. for short) is yet another first for this blog. In years past I haven’t spent much time going into detail about the major categories recognized at the Oscars ceremony, particularly the official selections as quite often I find myself at odds with the Academy’s choices. Longtime readers of the site know that I like to take matters into my own hands by putting together a mock awards ceremony, a post in which I break down overwhelm my poor readers with my ramblings on several different aspects of the year in film. If you’ve yet to come across The Digibread Awards, you can click here to find out what’s up with all of that.

I talked at some length (maybe rambled is the better term) about the Oscar nominations for Best Actor in a Supporting Role last time, so naturally the conversation  turns now to the Supporting Actress nominees. If you’re wondering why I’m focusing on the supporting roles instead of the leads, I refer you back to that post here.

The year 2015 marked some improvement in the availability of strong female characters, and thankfully these ran the gamut from mega-popular leads (Daisy Ridley, is she a lead or a supporter? Whatever she is, unfortunately one thing she is not is an Oscar contender anymore) to more subtle, less commercial-friendly bit parts (Alicia Vikander has been ridiculously busy this year but only one of her roles has garnered the Academy’s attention). Still, 2015 does have strength in numbers.

We already know Gal Gadot is about to become the year’s most fervently discussed heroine, stepping into the role of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman in the upcoming mega-blockbuster Superman vs Batman: Dawn of Justice. (Have fun dealing with those press junkets!) Amy Adams will be right there with her, albeit probably not quite as prominently in the conversation, and likely will be still fielding questions as to whether she was the right fit for Lois Lane.

Alicia Vikander as Gerda Wegener in 'The Danish Girl'

Looking ahead at the 2016 slate, opportunities once again abound for female leads and supporting performances. The Natalie Portman-starring western Jane Got a Gun (a by-now infamously troubled production), finally set to premier at the end of January, features Portman as one of two or three women in the entire film; contrast that with indie drama About Ray and the hotly contested remake of the Ivan Reitman classic Ghost Busters, a production attempting to further distinguish itself by pushing the words together to form Ghostbusters — how crafty.

Like them or not, these are some of the year’s most notable productions. The headstrong rebel fighting for survival in a dystopian world remains alive and well this year, with the final installment in the Divergent series set for a mid-March release. Meanwhile, Melissa McCarthy continues to try to impress with her ability to carry an entire movie on her back in the form of The Boss. Kristen Bell, for some reason, found something to like about the story and she’ll offer support.

That’s of course just a small sample of what the year has on offer, but suffice it to say that’s already a pretty eclectic mix of things to look forward to. One could make the argument that last year still has the upper hand in terms of offering more prominent roles for female talent, and that’s a difficult argument to defend against. But 2016 won’t go down without a fight. Felicity Jones takes on perhaps a career-defining role in the upcoming Star Wars spin-off, Rogue One, which is looking to be unleashed upon rabid audiences this coming  December. I think the only obvious question that should be asked is how will Jones compete against Daisy Ridley’s break-out performance as the orphan Rey, within whom the force apparently has awoken?

But enough about the lead performances. B.O.S.S. isn’t interested in those insanely high-profile characters (even though I know I am) — this is all about shining a light on the top-grade supporting performances we were treated to last year. With one major exception, I find myself once again nodding in agreement far more this time around than I have in years past. Maybe it’s just that I was able to see more award-contenders this year than I have before; or maybe I just got lucky. Whatever the case, the five actresses on display here are more than deserving of any and all accolades that have been coming their way.

Rooney Mara as Therese Belivet in 'Carol'

Picking a truly dominant performance from this batch is nigh on impossible. Kate Winslet perhaps comes the closest to being a lock, what with her typically effortless grace and charm lending her Joanna Hoffman, marketing executive under the thumb of one Steve Jobs, a power that rivaled that of Michael Fassbender’s eminently watchable and simultaneously loathsome Apple co-founder. Joanna Hoffman is imbued with the kind of humanity that leaves viewers with little choice other than to empathize with her as Jobs’ petulant behavior reaches critical mass. Time after time she’s the one left picking up the pieces of a slowly crumbling man who would rather deny his responsibility to family than sacrifice a single opportunity to show off his new shiny toys.

The biggest surprise nomination has to be Jennifer Jason Leigh’s contribution to The Hateful Eight, the brand new chapter in Quentin Tarantino’s apparently very finite filmography. As Daisy Domergue, two-thirds of Leigh’s presence is rendered silent, and that’s by design. For most of the runtime, any time she speaks she is rewarded with violence at the hands of Kurt Russell’s hostile John “The Hangman” Ruth, who, as it turns out, makes for a rather lousy bounty hunter. (Perhaps he shouldn’t have kept his captives alive after all.)

Swedish actress Alicia Vikander has exploded onto the scene this year with a trio of compelling performances — and, okay, a fourth that has been too easily forgotten (let’s just blame Burnt for being a disappointingly undercooked dish). Her work as an exceptionally intelligent machine in Alex Garland’s scintillating Ex Machina introduced her to a massive audience, blurring the line between human and robotic intelligence. She then moved into a slightly less demanding capacity playing a pseudo damsel-in-distress in Guy Ritchie’s throwback action-comedy The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Admittedly this role hewed much too close to stereotype, though Vikander still made it work).

Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman in 'Steve Jobs'

But it would ultimately be her emotionally hefty supporting part in The Danish Girl — the story of Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe, one of the world’s first recipients of gender reassignment surgery, in which she played Gerda Wegener, wife of Einar/Lili — that would earn her serious attention from the Academy. Will her own emotional transformation — from quiet outrage to eventual acceptance — be enough to actually win her the coveted trophy though?

The most subtle of all the selections this year are almost certainly Rooney Mara’s interpretation of Therese Belivet, a young lesbian who falls for an older, more sophisticated and upper-class woman named Carol (Cate Blanchett, herself in the running for Best Leading Actress); and Rachel McAdams’ resilient and emotionally restrained Sacha Pfeiffer, a Boston Globe reporter who helped expose the decades-long cover up of the Catholic church’s involvement in child molestation at the hands of Boston area priests. Neither of these performances are the flashiest you’ll see this year but they’re certainly deserving of recognition, if for no other reason than they’re marks of exceptional maturity for both actresses.

All five of these nominees have epitomized why Hollywood should be populating the cinematic calendar with more female-driven productions. Each one of these unforgettable characters lend significant weight to their respective projects and I for one am delighted to see their hard work pay off. As easy as it is to criticize Hollywood sometimes, it is, slowly but surely, moving in the right direction.

Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer in 'Spotlight'

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Spotlight

Spotlight movie poster

Release: Friday, November 6, 2015 (limited) 

[Theater]

Written by: Thomas McCarthy; Josh Singer

Directed by: Thomas McCarthy

Every so often a film drops with little or no warning and leaves a lasting impression. 12 Years a Slave did it three years ago via punishing violence and bravura performances; a year later Gravity achieved unparalleled visual grandeur films two years on are still trying to match. Spotlight almost undisputedly fits the bill as this year’s crowning cinematic jewel, though its impact is far less visceral.

Thomas McCarthy has chosen to revisit The Boston Globe’s 2003 Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into the systemic and enduring sexual abuse of children at the hands of Boston-area Catholic priests and the subsequent cover-up by the Archdiocese under Cardinal Bernard Francis Law. What began as an inquisition into the number of isolated incidents quickly evolved into a more encompassing exposé in which it was discovered priests, rather than being dismissed from the church outright, were simply reassigned elsewhere in the country and were being protected by Cardinal Law. The publishing of the first article led to his resignation as Archbishop of Boston in 2002.

‘Spotlight’ refers to The Globe’s investigative journalism team, presently the oldest such unit still in operation in the nation. McCarthy’s methodically-paced and consistently compelling approach brilliantly and subtly pays homage to the work of Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) while exposing the underbelly of an institution that traditionally (or ideally) exercises superlative judgment of character and protection of cultural, spiritual and societal values.

Spotlight is information-rich and faced with the prospect of weaving together multiple, fairly complex relationships. McCarthy spares precious little time in getting to work. At the request of editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) the foursome are encouraged to suspend their current assignment in light of Baron’s concern over The Globe’s failure to dig deeper into a past case involving child molestation that was put on the back burner as far back as the 1980s. In the wake of the 2002 revelation over 600 follow-up articles would be published by the same paper, though the film elects to depict the researching and ultimate crafting of the very first story, one that, as Schreiber’s pragmatic Baron predicted, would have “an immediate and significant impact upon [the paper’s] readers.”

Drama presents investigative journalism as one of the last bastions of truth-seeking, as well as social and cultural enriching, and its vitality seems particularly quaint set against this day and age in which increasing numbers turn to social media for their ‘news’ — a concept that, in and of itself, could do with some spotlighting as it’s becoming harder and harder to separate the wheat from the chaff. A cherry-picked cast of certifiable A-listers, one that includes John Slattery as projects editor Ben Bradlee Jr. and Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup as Boston lawyers who specialize in sexual abuse cases, collaborate on an inevitably award-winning screenplay, penned by McCarthy along with Josh Singer.

There’s a collective energy amongst the group that affords Spotlight much of its profundity and their natural portrayals effortlessly absorb, a notable lack of melodramatic tension between key players resulting in a kind of harmonious interaction between spectator and creator that’s rarely been seen this or any other year. It’s impossible to single out a role without mentioning another; though if I were compelled to nitpick I’d nominate Keaton and Ruffalo as the performers with ever-so-slightly more screen time. Still though, Spotlight is an example of a true team effort and if the film finds itself in the running for Best Actor in a Leading Role the sextet of performers, in an ideal world, should find themselves on stage accepting the golden statuette.

What nudges McCarthy’s undertaking into the realm of bonafide classic is the delicacy with which he approaches the grim subject matter. We’re talking about — and periodically confronted with the survivors of — child molestation. I doubt I need to repeat the term to send chills down your spine. Yet, if you fear for the worst: depictions of the acts themselves, graphic or otherwise, or even a considerable amount of time dedicated to traipsing through the vileness of the Catholic Church’s most shameful hour, fear not. Spotlight isn’t interested in dwelling on the past. It is interested in and, more importantly, reliant upon history however, and getting hands dirty is a requisite if we are to get to the bottom of an issue that has consequently spread like a cancer across the globe. One that, sickeningly enough, has just as much relevance more than a decade on.

Indeed, what’s most crucial in recreating this wholly unsettling discovery, in acknowledging the effects it had on not only the Catholic faithful but on those asking the tough questions, is the mirroring of several pillars of fundamentally sound journalism. The film, though it may not be quite as timely as it could have been, is as concise as is feasible for a story with this many implications; accurate (despite a few outcries over the depiction of a select few characters) and brutally honest. Dialogue-driven narrative plays out with the tenacity of an Aaron Sorkin screenplay, though it’s far less poetic and lends itself more to conversation. Never mind the fact it continues to build in intensity as the statistics and evidence continue piling up to a level few, if any, seasoned reporters at The Globe could have been prepared to embrace.

Rare are the films that understand the importance of shaping events and characters in such a way that they appear the genuine article. Rarer still are those that transcend the form so as to actually become reality. Spotlight qualifies as one such film, blurring the line between dramatic feature and documentary presentation if only in how it confirms that the best films truly manifest as art imitating life. If McCarthy’s restrained focus on the life and times of these writers and this paper and the relationship between the church and the people of Boston has any one, significant impact it’s that reality can be (and indeed is) uglier than anything movies fabricate, convincingly or otherwise, in an effort to entertain or disturb.

decisions, decisions, decisions

Recommendation: Spotlight is a remarkable production. It manifests as a powerful advocate of journalism as a mechanism for change (an admittedly ever-weakening one at that in today’s gossip-geared papers and online posts) and a noble profession. It simultaneously unearths a disgusting, alarming reality that continues to trouble the Church to this day and it provides audiences spanning multiple age brackets some sense of what it was like to become involved in this story. Mind you, this isn’t a film that means to entertain. It’s 100% informative and revelatory. In my mind, it’s one of the most impressive works I have ever seen for these reasons and more.

Rated: R

Running Time: 128 mins.

Quoted: “It’s time, Robby! It’s time. They knew and they let it happen to kids, okay? It could have been you, it could have been me, it could have been any of us. We gotta nail these scumbags, we gotta show people that nobody can get away with this, not a priest or a cardinal or a freaking pope.”

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