#OscarsQuiteUnpredictable

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Steve Harvey reaching out to Warren Beatty after he was involved in what has got to be the most embarrassing SNAFU in Oscars history — and possibly of the actor’s career — strikes me as humorous for some reason. I know it isn’t funny, but what if there really is some support group for this sort of thing? Victims of Award Ceremony Gaffes Anonymous, does that exist?

Look, I’m not here to point fingers and perpetuate the blame game because, well, I feel as though a sufficient pall has been cast over Barry Jenkins’ legitimate victory and Jimmy Kimmel’s first Oscars hosting gig. Poor guy. It’s not like he was the greatest host ever — the highlight of his night is without a doubt his manipulating the pit orchestra in order to rush Matt Damon off stage as he was presenting, which was amusing but not good enough to make me stop missing Billy Crystal.

But Kimmel’s night was going really well and for it to end in such a bizarre and awkward way, it’s hard not to feel bad for the guy. Or just assume that M. Night Shyamalan had played a part. And we all know that while it was probably the decent thing to do to try and divert the awkwardness away from the presenters (does anyone know what country Faye Dunaway is now living in by the way?) and towards himself, we also know this was not his fault. A scheme like this would be too complex for Jimmy Kimmel to mastermind, anyway. Besides, I don’t feel bad for the talk show host in the way I feel bad for La La Land.

ryan-gosling-snubbedI suppose the good that came out of this “custody battle” — besides the fact that one of the most deserving films in recent memory actually took home top honors — was that we got to know a little bit more about La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz. It’s almost unreasonable how composed he was. How gracious in defeat he was. How sincerely his congratulations were offered to his competitors. I think there’s something we can all learn from the way he (and others) handled their situation.

I rated the two films differently but truth be told, and given everything that happened on Sunday, I think I would have been alright if the honor were shared between both films. That’s where the Academy really screwed things up. (Okay, I guess I am going to have to do a little scapegoating here.) Sure, PwC has taken the heat and rightfully so, but even if there were not enough trophies to go around on stage, I don’t know how you can allow for something like this to happen.

And it’s not like ties haven’t happened before, because they have. Six times actually. Six times a producer or director or cast member was spared the humiliation of being cut-off mid-acceptance speech because they hadn’t, in fact, any right to be making it. Of course, the way the 89th Academy Awards ended feels like a first. This wasn’t an example of indecision or voter fraud. This was an unprecedented production fiasco that unfolded in real time. To further troll the Academy and PwC, I’m really not sure if there could have been any protocol for this. And I really doubt there will be a ‘next time,’ so there probably never will be.

With the elephant in the room having been addressed, allow me to breakdown the categories that I featured in my preview post:

Best Picture (Winner: Moonlight) 

What I predicted: La La Land

If I had it my way: Moonlight

Well, the cast and crew of La La Land certainly went skipping up on stage because for a fleeting moment, as I had predicted, life for them was but a dream. But oh man, how fleeting that feeling was . . .

On the bright side, Moonlight becomes just the second LGBTQ-related film ever, behind Midnight Cowboy in 1970, to win Best Picture. And it is the first time in Oscars history a film with an all-black cast has won the award. Just let that sink in for a second.

Directing (Winner: Damien Chazelle, La La Land)

What I predicted: Damien Chazelle

If I had it my way: Jeff Nichols, Midnight Special

No real surprise here. The art that lives within the 32-year-old director is undoubtedly unique and profound. For him to go from directing a film like Whiplash to La La Land in the span of three years is, well, the guys at Consequence of Sound said it best: it’s just baffling.

Actor in a Leading Role (Winner: Casey Affleck, Manchester By the Sea)

What I predicted: Casey Affleck

If I had it my way: Casey Affleck

Amazing. To go from being the architect of your own potential destruction to Oscar-winner in the span of a few months is about as crazy as #EnvelopeGate. When a sexual harassment scandal reared its ugly head once again in the lead-up the Oscars, it seemed Ben Affleck’s younger, smaller and generally awkward brother had the odds stacked against him. Not to trivialize the troubling story that has been following the actor for some time, but his work in Manchester By the Sea deserved the win. It is almost enough to make us forget that hey, Oscar winners ain’t saints. I said ‘almost.’

Actress in a Leading Role (Winner: Emma Stone, La La Land)

What I predicted: Emma Stone

If I had it my way: Amy Adams, Arrival

Emma Stone, you need not worry if I’m doubting the legitimacy of your win. Your work in the movie speaks for itself. Your ‘Audition’ scene took my breath away, and I never quite got it back. I’m so glad Leo didn’t have any trouble with his presentation, because the Oscar absolutely went to the right person this year. Emma Stone has further cemented herself as one of the most meteoric stars of her generation. Jennifer Lawrence, watch your back.

Actor in a Supporting Role (Winner: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight)

What I predicted: Mahershala Ali

If I had it my way: Daniel Radcliffe, Swiss Army Man

I love that in an era where Muslims are feeling more and more persecuted and marginalized in this country, one has just taken home Oscar gold. It feels something close to poetic justice, even if other artists this year have indeed suffered the effects of an unprecedented travel ban. I was introduced to Mahershalalhashbaz Ali as Remy Danton in Netflix’s brilliant political drama House of Cards. I was impressed right away. In Moonlight, his turn as an empathetic drug dealer who exerts major influence on the young Chiron early in the narrative, is enough to break your heart. But in ways you might not expect. It’s a stunning supporting turn, and a big part of the reason I thought Moonlight was able to reach some other psychic level that La La Land just couldn’t.

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Actress in a Supporting Role (Winner: Viola Davis, Fences)

What I predicted: Viola Davis

If I had it my way: Viola Davis

Viola Davis was one of the only true locks for the evening, the other being the winner of Best Documentary Feature (congratulations to Ezra Edelman and O.J.: Made in America for a well-deserved but, yes, very inevitable win). So while I didn’t exactly jump for joy when Davis won, I was nonetheless psyched for the woman. The Oscar win identifies her as the first black actress to complete the Triple Crown of Acting. She has officially taken home an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony Award for her scintillating work as beleaguered housewife Rose Maxson.

Animated Feature (Winner: Zootopia

What I predicted: Zootopia

If I had it my way: Moana

Blah. Zootopia was good I guess, but this is becoming one of those movies where, the more I hear about it, the more I’m feeling disdain for it. Studio animations have this unprecedented burden of becoming message movies these days, so I guess that’s what the Academy was looking for this year. How many heavy, controversial issues can you jam into one colorful little narrative? That’s the competition. Me, personally? I would have taken anything over the contrived kumbaya of this Disney “classic.” Even The Red Turtle, whatever the hell that is.

Cinematography (Winner: Linus Sandgren, La La Land)

What I predicted: Linus Sandgren

If I had it my way: Emmanuel Lubezki, Knight of Cups

So you could look at the Best Picture fiasco two different ways. You could feel terrible that La La Land lost in the manner that they did, or you could look at them as being a production that simply missed out on lucky #7. Yeah, they were involved in one of the most egregious mix-ups in an event of this magnitude but they also walked away with SIX OTHER TROPHIES. Inarguably one of the categories they absolutely had in the bag was this one. Linus Sandgren’s ability to capture Los Angeles in a classically romantic, old-fashioned way while reminding the viewer that they are experiencing events in the present tense is truly astonishing. La La Land is a technicolor dream sequence executed to perfection. The iconic Griffith Observatory has rarely looked so good before.

Costume Design (Winner: Colleen Atwood, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them)

What I predicted: Colleen Atwood

If I had it my way: Timothy Everest and Sammy Sheldon Differ, Assassin’s Creed

For a film that I actually never bothered to see I was really pleased with the final result. Though I really didn’t see any of the other nominees challenging the fantastic (sorry) and ornate wardrobe drummed up by the costume designer of such classics as The Silence of the Lambs and Edward Scissorhands.

Production Design (Winner: David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, La La Land)

What I predicted: David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco

If I had it my way: Patrice Vermette and Paul Hotte, Arrival

I conclude my wrap-up with another fairly predictable result and La La Land‘s first Oscar win of the night. I could make the case for Arrival‘s ability to craft iconic imagery out of simpler elements being more impressive than what the Wascos (a husband-and-wife duo who worked on such films as Inglourious Basterds and Pulp Fiction) were able to achieve. After all, the latter were afforded the unique and historic architecture and landscape of metropolitan L.A., while Arrival‘s production design team were tasked with making the rural pastures of Montana seem eerie. But, call it what it is: La La Land is a gorgeously rendered production whose heart and soul is owed to more than just the infectious lead performances and a few jazz numbers.


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The 86th Academy Awards Afterparty: Will there be pizza?

Despite my fascination with film, I consistently have never really cared for the awards ceremonies as I’ve always seen them as rather trifling procedures. The night of Sunday, March 2 barely amounts to more than a shallow beauty pageant. The proceedings inside L.A.’s famed Dolby Theater are in effect an incredibly expensive circus in which wealthy people converge on a single venue to watch their extremely well-off colleagues accepting gold statues as a way of validating that their work was actually experienced by more than just the people in that stuffy little room.

And don’t even get me started on the actual reporting on the event beforehand. Christ, the quality of the news on the Red Carpet makes a mockery of journalism to the highest degree. There isn’t an apology to be found or heard. Ever. Cameras (and conversations) prefer to be aimed towards fashion trends, intentionally converting performers into walking billboards for the young and impressionable. People aren’t really people in these moments. But that’s okay. . . .I guess. After all, these centers of attention are the same folks who gave us those great moments in the films we liked over the past year. Now it’s fun seeing Jennifer Lawrence stumble all over her real-life awkwardness. Or how about seeing sworn on-screen enemies pal-ing around together over a drink? That’s the stuff that causes the warm, fuzzy feeling in your tummy to grow intensely, apparently.

In spite of my ranting, the end-of-the-film-year presentation is actually greatly entertaining to watch. Why is that, you ask, understandably now confused.

Perhaps its partly because of the phenomenon of the fourth wall still protecting these successful and talented individuals from the claws of the public. We have a right to see our favorite action hero star stripped of his/her dramatic veil so we can get a better look into that person’s mind and see how they do what they do so well. Harrison Ford struggling to look sober during this year’s Oscars is one such insight that might well cause an obsession-fueled Twitter thread. Then there was Ellen Degeneres doing something as mundane as delivering pizza to certain members in the first few rows of the audience while Brad Pitt humbled himself by serving plates and napkins that caused us to nearly soil our pants from laughter.

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They aren’t on the silver screen at the moment, yet the likes of Amy Adams, Chris Hemsworth, the aforementioned Lawrence who can’t seem to catch a break from intentional or unintentional public embarrassment as Degeneres appeared to roast her before kicking off the ceremony this year, or a legend like Robert DeNiro — they all still possess a mystique we can never hope to chip away completely because they are in some way, shape or form still performing for us, the humble viewers. They give possibly the most honest performances of their lives before these particular cameras, but we will never get to be at the Oscar afterparty with them when they all shed the burden of the pretense and of the pomp and circumstance. And, possibly their clothes, too.

As a person who loves film I have been notorious for either accidentally or purposefully avoiding these sorts of events because a great majority of the time I either vehemently disagree with the ultimate selections or I just have no comment on what is going on at the time. There’s also that little issue I have with the false emotion surrounding it all. But nevermind that for a bit. This year I watched the Oscars from start to finish, even tapping into the Red Carpet action (which I will probably never do again, based on the intro paragraphs above). But with a few staggeringly honest acceptance speeches delivered by gold statue recipients, my faith in what these people are doing with their lives has been reinvigorated.

There were obviously the requisite number of speeches that dragged on for far too long, some that became dangerously close to sounding arrogant, and some that were borderline unintelligible. But thanks to highlights in Jared Leto (who took the stage for his snagging of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar), Lupita Nyong’o (with her remarkable work in 12 Years a Slave garnering her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar) and the potentially crowd favorite Matthew McConaughey (the McConaissance can now be officially acknowledged following his Best Actor prize) this year’s Oscars offered up strong doses of humanity and humility, a display of appreciation that extends to those who have spent any amount of time paying attention to them — that includes us bloggers! There comes that warm, fuzzy feeling again. . .

Dedicating three hours to watching the awards ceremony proves that this movie-watching business is indeed an addiction. It is equal parts exciting and frustrating knowing that famous names are to receive even greater plaudits than they have already earned in being cast into money-making machines. Such is the nature of their jobs. Everyone should save themselves a pat on the back for me. Especially Mr. McConaughey. I say good for him.


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Photo credits: google images 

Captain Phillips

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Release: Friday, October 11, 2013

[RPX Theater]

“Oh, Captain my Captain. . .!”

Expecting Tom Hanks’ name to circulate around when it comes time to talking Best Actor is about as safe a bet as expecting more movies to be made for the rest of forever. Can’t say for sure, buuuut I’m pretty sure that’s going to happen.

And so, he’ll all but confirm that outrageous theory of mine as he takes on the titular role in Paul Greengrass’ new biopic Captain Phillips, a particularly tense rendering of the experiences of the real-life cargo captain and his written accounts.

His book, A Captain’s Duty, details the drama that unfolded off the coast of Somalia in 2009, when a freight ship carrying food and other relief supplies was hijacked by four Somalian fishermen. The siege was violent and intense, and culminated in the skipper being held hostage for several days as the hijackers escaped the ship in a rescue vessel, bound for the African shores. This was the first successful act of piracy since the early 19th century. I haven’t read the book myself but considering the nature of the events and the authenticity and emotion that first-hand account narratives tend to offer up, I’m sure it’s a compelling read, and one I cannot wait to get my hands on. Especially now.

I can’t vouch for its faithfulness to the source material, but Greengrass’ film is simply magnificent, and a more-than-competent stand-alone piece of work. He marries the formula of a biopic to an unusually intelligent script (written by Billy Ray) that grounds all characters in a reality often lacking in films similar to it. (Sorry Sam Jackson, The Negotiator may have more “motherf**ker”s in it, but this film is just so much more engaging.) The director’s latest also benefits from a performance from Hanks that may be his most inspiring yet. Those who appreciated his level-headedness as astronaut Jim Lovell haven’t seen anything yet. And his Chuck Noland in Cast Away now just seems to be practice. The New England-born Rich Phillips is truly a remarkable human being, and Hanks does the man justice, as only an actor of his caliber can.

The film begins with a suspiciously insouciant opening scene in which Rich and his wife, Andrea (a very limited Catherine Keener) are headed to the airport for his upcoming assignment off the coast of Africa. Despite its initial immateriality, there’s plenty of exposition to be had here and Hanks’ character instantly is painted as a doting, concerned parent who’s just having to do his job.

Phillips seems to be quite the meticulous and cautious man, albeit a thoroughly disciplined and capable leader, whose experience on the water has always served him well. His latest route will take him and a crew of twenty around the horn of Africa, to dock in Mombasa, Kenya with a massive shipment of food and other relief supplies. However, they soon find themselves in hostile waters off the coast of Somalia and become the latest target of a group of vicious and desperate fishermen/hijackers.

The degree to which Hanks elevates the film cannot be overstated, yet the rest of the cast deserves equal attention. Newcomer Barkhad Abdi who plays Muse, one of the hijackers, is mesmerizing, bringing a level of despair and aggressiveness to a character that is acting completely out of necessity, motivated by desperation.

Along with him, the other hijackers represent varying states of fraying sanity as they impose their will upon the crew of the Maersk-Alabama. The advantage we are given as the audience is that we are introduced to these folks in their towns; we watch them gather frantically in the hopes of scoring another payday, fighting for the right to be the next person to get to hijack a ship.

Indeed, one of the achievements of Captain Phillips is providing many perspectives, all the while Greengrass remains neutral with his camera. Points of view shift with increasing frequency between the rapidly high-profile hostage, the pirates and the numerous Navy officials who work tirelessly to solve the situation peacefully. The moment in which the ship falls under control of the pirates is so much more compelling as we see both walks of life converging in one chaotic, unbearably tense scene. Early on in the film, we are treated to a moment that may rival the stress levels of anything demonstrated in Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity

Greengrass also really knows how to wrap up his film. The ending is one of the most emotional and difficult things to watch in the entire two-plus-hour hold up. I won’t call it a predictable film, but at the same time, it can’t really end in any way other than how one will probably suspect from the very beginning. The takeaway here will be the way in which Hanks sells the aftermath of his rescue; the emotional and physical toll that he suffers from is remarkable, and should leave you in a state of exhaustion when its all said and done.

Sharp character writing and a well-developed story, one that withstands the toughest of scrutiny, propel Captain Phillips into the league of 2013’s finest offerings. Not only is it a well-articulated recounting of the hellish experiences of Rich Phillips in the days following his ship’s hostile take-over, but there are larger brushstrokes at work as well.

Time and again the ever-diplomatic captain is apt to question the motives of his captors. It’s a 36 hour boat ride from where his Maersk-Alabama sits dead in the water and to the Somalian coast, where the pirates are attempting to reach. All Captain Phillips can do to pass some time in incredible discomfort is chat up his captors, at one point suggesting that “Surely there’s more you can do than fishing and kidnapping people. . . ,” to which Muse has only one response: “Maybe in America, Irish. Maybe in America.”

Ultimately, this movie comes down to an acting battle between Abdi and Hanks — a competition to see whose spirit will crack first, and when it does, what will happen next? A surprisingly complex morality tale, Cap’n also demands strong willpower from its viewers — its long, somewhat limited in terms of its scenery, and emotionally draining. That said, it’s a voyage you’ll completely regret not embarking on, especially on the big screen.

Tom Hanks

4-5Recommendation: I can’t believe I am doing this yet again, but Captain Phillips makes a strong bid for one of my favorite movies of this year. (October and the tail-end of September seems to have been a sweet spot this year.) I HIGHLY suggest as many people as possible get to the theater to experience the latest Tom Hanks masterpiece. The setting isn’t quite as novel as Gravity‘s, but its just as intense, if not more so. I could not get enough of the adrenaline rush this film provides.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 134 mins.

Quoted: “Look at me. I am the captain now.”

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